#IMHO: Championship Rings, Malice at the Palace, and staying Melo

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

 

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 9:08 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike,

Last season, the Toronto Raptors did the impossible: They won an NBA title. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t even likely, but somehow, through trades and signings and drafts, the Raptors assembled a team that managed to get a chip, even in the age of super teams and superstars.

But this week the Raptors admitted that several of the players who helped them get those rings – namely Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and C.J. Miles – would not be receiving rings. Those three guys were not on the roster during the postseason, as they were the ones traded here to Memphis for Marc Gasol, who helped the Raptors win the title. But they were in training camp and on the team for the first two-thirds of the season, helping their teammates become the team that they eventually became.

The Raptors’ argument seems to be that they’re just doing what everyone else does. As Raptors GM Bobby Webster told the Toronto Sun, “It’s not an easy decision, but, to be honest I think it’s standard. I mean we did our homework, we talked to teams and I think – I don’t remember – there was maybe one scenario where a team offered one. I think it was Anderson Varejao in Golden State but I think it was a really unique circumstance.”

The Raptors, it should be noted, are giving a ring to Drake. But not to the guys who were with them shootin’ in the gym.

How do you feel about the Raptors decision?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, November 19, 2019 at 9:50 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Lang, I think it’s professionally petty for the Raptors to take that approach. In fact, it surprises me, considering how gracious and how much goodwill the team’s top basketball executive, Masai Ujiri, has throughout the league. I know for a fact that a few other championship teams have reached out to players who were part of the team before trades or roster decisions were made, to make sure they got a ring if they were on the ride for any part of it.

The Warriors quickly come to mind, and for more than the Varejao example you mentioned. It was just last season when the Warriors gave Omri Casspi a ring during when the former Grizzlies forward went back to the Bay to face the Warriors last season. Casspi was released by Golden State at the end of the regular season to make sure they had a roster spot to sign Quinn Cook for that championship run two seasons ago.

So there’s that! I felt bad for Jonas, Delon and C.J. when it came to this, because I spoke to all of those guys for a Grind City Media column I wrote last summer as the Raptors were on the cusp of beating Golden State in the Finals and winning the title. All of those guys spoke fondly of the Raptors and how much they felt a part of that run, because they were there when the foundation was set. Several Raptors players also said the said thing about those players who were traded to the Grizzlies, in terms of how much they helped and were part of the Toronto DNA and mindset. Jonas and Delon, especially, were drafted and groomed by the Raptors, so that makes it even more unfortunate.

But let’s move on. This week marks the 15th anniversary of one of the most unforgettable and vicious moments in NBA history – The Malice at the Palace. I’ll never forget watching on TV as that wild scene unfolded when Ron Artest – aka Metta World Peace – ventured into the stands in Detroit and initiated that clash with a fan. What seems to be overlooked about that entire episode is that the whole thing started as the refs were trying to sort out an altercation on the court between Artest’s Pacers and Ben Wallace’s Pistons. The NBA fashions itself as the most fan-friendly and intimate of all the pro sports, because of proximity to the action. But this was one case when that proximity was clearly problematic.

We’ve seen a few player-fan altercations, mostly verbal, since then. But nothing, thankfully, to the degree of what happened in Detroit 15 years ago. What are your memories from that moment, and are you surprised that we haven’t seen anything escalate along those lines since then?

 

Malice at the Palace

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at 12:08 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I remember it clearly: I was at dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant near our apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, and since this was the prehistoric age prior to social media, was pretty much blissfully cut off from the world. And then I started getting emails and phone calls about what was happening, and I ran home to watch the endless coverage all night on “SportsCenter.” The next morning I had to fly somewhere or another for a story, and I recall being at the airport and seeing it on all the non-sports morning shows and realizing what a massive story it was. Years later, I found out my friend Sekou Smith was actually at the game, covering it, and the memory of the scene still haunts him today.

I’m not surprised we haven’t seen anything close to that since then, if only because every involved seem to have used that as a teaching moment. Even in other sports where we’ve seen wild acts of violence, like in the Browns game last week, I can’t think of anything since where the violence spilled into the audience. Thank goodness.

Meanwhile, LeBron James played against both of those teams 15 years ago, and he’s still in the NBA chugging right along. Last night, in fact, LeBron put up a triple-double against the Oklahoma City Thunder for the first time, and this made LeBron the first player in NBA history to have a triple-double against every team in the NBA. We both know LeBron is a student of the game who appreciates the history of the game; right now he’s 601 points behind Kobe for third all-time in points scored, and it seems he’ll hit that plateau before long. What other records do you think King James has a shot at toppling before he eventually abdicates his throne?

 

Lebron James and Chris Paul

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, November 20, 2019 at 1:08 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

LeBron is proving yet again that he’s an awesome freak of nature by doing what he’s doing 17 years into his NBA career. He seems to have made a deal with Father Time a while back, and it was funny to see him and Tom Brady have that playful banter on social media about how long they’d keep playing at a high level.

As far as records, I think LeBron will settle right in at No. 2 on the scoring list behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar, but just ahead of Karl Malone. I can totally see LeBron still being effective as he adjusts his game in the next few seasons to be more of a ‘Stretch-4’ as he continues to pile up points and games played. Eventually, he’ll become the third option if the Lakers keep rolling into the future should Anthony Davis decide to stick around well into his next contract.

But one mark I don’t see LeBron catching is Jordan’s run of six NBA titles. LeBron’s halfway there, but three is a long way to go. I’m not even sure if LeBron can match Kobe’s five NBA titles, but he’s got a shot to make a run at it, though.

And speaking of making a run at it, Lang, we’ll get out on this one: Carmelo Anthony finally got his chance to get some more run in the league by signing with the Portland Trail Blazers. We know how it ended in OKC for Carmelo. And we know how it ended in Houston. Portland is already struggling mightily this season, so odds are Carmelo will not fix the problem. But can he contribute enough to even make a difference and help the Blazers get back on track to some degree?

 

Carmelo Anthony return

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Thursday, November 21, 2019 at 9:18 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

First, a disclaimer: Melo is my guy. I ghostwrote his diary in SLAM during his NBA rookie season, and got to know him really well. His career hasn’t gone the way some people thought it would go, but considering where started to where he ended up, he’s had an incredible run. I’m glad he got another chance in Portland, and I think it’s a place where he can make an immediate impact.

But I hope he’s not expected to show up and save the day. Like I said, I expect Melo to be impactful – he can hit jumpers and spread the floor to give Dame and CJ room to do their respective things. But you can’t expect Melo to make them better defensively, or to make Hassan Whiteside less of a drag on what they’re doing. I know Portland really misses Nurkic, but more than that they miss guys like Evan Turner, Ed Davis and Al-Farouq Aminu, versatile veteran glue guys. It’s great to have stars, but the other guys matter, too.