#IMHO: NBA Ratings, the unstoppable Lake Show, and the end of the Spurs dynasty?

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

Sent: Tuesday, December 03, 2019 at 9:47 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike,

The thing about former NBA players is they wear their buttons on their chest. Buy which I mean, it’s usually pretty easy to get these guys riled up – you know exactly which buttons to push. On the podcast I used to do with Rick Fox, for instance, we knew that if we could get the topic to something close to how much easier the players have it these days, Rick would launch into a “get off my lawn” segment where he complained about how tough it was back in the day.

Sir Charles Barkley is no different. We hear him all the time complaining about how tough it was then in relation to how easy today’s players have it. And I’m not saying he’s wrong – it’s clearly much easier to fly charter and make millions for playing basketball than it was decades ago! But I don’t think we need to be reminded of it weekly.

Anyway, The Chuckster was on a radio show last week and he went into the same material, but he threw in a wrinkle at the end that caught my brain. “The thing that bothers people is when guys are resting healthy,” said Barkley. “Guys are making 30 and 40 million dollars a year. If Doctor J, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem, Bill Russell and those guys could play every night in crappy shoes, fly commercial, and make $100,000 a year, a guy making $40-$50 million a year don’t need ‘Load Management.’ These guys don’t have any loyalty to a team or a city and it’s why ratings are down.”

I’ve been thinking about that last sentence for the last two weeks, and I wonder if Charles is onto something. When I was a kid, Dominique Wilkins was all that us Atlanta basketball fans had. He was our superstar, and he was always our superstar, at least until they traded him late in his career. These days we see stars changing teams almost at will, and while I don’t know exact rating information, in giving players the ability to have more freedom than ever before, do you think the NBA will lose some fan loyalty in the long run?

 

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, December 3, 2019 at 5:20 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Lang, I think the reasons why this is such an issue and a challenge for the NBA ahead of other major pro sports is because the players and their personalities are so visible. You once got so attached in Boston to Larry Bird, in Chicago to Michael Jordan and in Los Angeles to Magic Johnson in a way where you no longer can feel the same about LeBron, Kevin Durant or Anthony Davis.

There’s free agency and movement all the time in the NFL. But the team brand will forever be bigger than the individual player – no matter who it is. In MLB, free agency is so normal and expected that no one even raises a stink anymore when Pujols rolls to the Angels or Stanton ends up with the Yankees. It would be strange if there WASN’T drastic player movement in baseball. But the NBA is all about player brands, and it can be to the detriment, at times, of team loyalty from fans as much as players. The explosion in popularity of fantasy leagues and gaming have also contributed to our numbness. We mix, match and blend star players on rosters all the time.

Ultimately, the NBA will recover. There’s just a lot to catch our attention right now in the heart of the football season. Check back with me after college football playoffs and the Super Bowl on how the NBA is faring in fan interest and ratings.

I do know one guy fans across the landscape can’t keep their eyes off – and that’s Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant. Although Morant has been down the past few games with back soreness, the No. 2 overall pick just collected the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month award for November. Ja has ranked atop the rookie stats in scoring and assists almost since Game 1. We had high hopes and expectations for Ja when he arrived, but is it beyond the realm of possibility that he may have even exceeded expectations a bit with his debut month in the NBA?

 

Lebron James and Anthony Davis

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 11:49 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Yeah, I agree with you on the current ratings being shaded by other sports at the moment. The Christmas Day games seem like a more fair barometer of where things stand. I’d also like to see the League Pass subscription numbers w/r/t television ratings to see how they connect. With all this cord-cutting going on, all those eyeballs must be looking elsewhere, not just completely closing.

Ja has been amazing. I know you and I have watched every minute he’s played thus far this season, but I thought this little highlight video I stumbled across on Twitter last night did a nice job of rounding up all those little things that Ja does that make him so special…

The points and the assists and all that stuff have been awesome, but it’s the little flourishes on his game that make him so special. I love that he’s not afraid to do things most people don’t even attempt to do. And the fact that’s just scratching the surface is exciting. Like, when he actually starts making those floaters he’s going to up his points per game by 6 a night. Now we just have to keep him on the court the rest of the way instead of on the injury report.

(Also, I don’t think there’s a stat for this, but the Grizzlies must lead the league in missed floaters. But I digress…)

As I write this, the Lakers are currently 18-3, and they’re undefeated outside of the Staples Center. LeBron is still doing LeBron things, and Anthony Davis is taking IVs at halftime and playing on both ends like the player everyone thought he might become coming out of Kentucky. Mike, is this sustainable? Or is this the equivalent of a new Hollywood blockbuster opening strong but fading at the box office?

 

Ja Morant driving

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 1:06 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Although the Lakers’ depth is still a major question, their frontline play has been spectacular with LeBron and Davis leading the way. Dwight Howard has been a pleasant surprise, too. Much like anything in this league, whether the Lakers stay healthy will ultimately determine how far this intriguing, made-for-TV masterpiece can go.

We saw what happened to the Lakers after LeBron went down to injury last season and missed the middle months. The Lakers quickly plummeted from the top half of the playoff standings to completely out of the postseason. I believe they will avoid that fate this time around, though. Davis just gives them so much insurance, and they are able to trade off the heavy lifting between them.

Now, are the Lakers better than the Clippers in a seven-game series with both squads healthy and a trip to the NBA Finals on the line? I’m not convinced just yet. But I can’t wait to find out!

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: On the opposite end of the Lakers spectrum are the San Antonio Spurs. They recently ended one of their longest losing streaks of the Gregg Popovich era. They’re still stuck among the non-playoff teams in the standings. We’re just not used to seeing the Spurs sort of stumbling through a season.

With Golden State, it’s clear the injury bug has poisoned the Warriors’ season. But the Spurs still have headliners in LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and even battle-tested vet Rudy Gay available. Is this finally the end of a brilliant two-decades long run in San Antonio as we knew it?

 

Demar Derozan

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Thursday, December 05, 2019 at 9:09 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, all three of the Spurs you mentioned have one thing in common: They’re old. They may be the present of the franchise, but they’re definitely not the future. For now, that future is in the hands of players like Dejounte Murray, who is coming off an ACL injury and still looks a bit out of sorts. And other young guys like Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV are also playing major roles right now.

As I write this, the Spurs are 8-14, and coming off a crazy game where they beat the Rockets after a James Harden dunk was disallowed and Lonnie Walker went on a run to personally outscore Houston in the fourth quarter. Things like that give me confidence that all is not lost, that perhaps this Spurs team got off to a rough start but they’ll be able to figure it out and get back to beings Spurs-y the rest of the way.

But I can understand anyone else’s hesitation. Aldridge and DeRozan are former All-Stars, but neither plays the NBA game the way it’s generally played today, where the midrange is mostly irrelevant. They’re both valuable, and I wonder if at some point the Spurs try and flip them to a contender for assets? I don’t think, however, that either of them are cornerstones for a long-term championship run.

The only thing I know for certain about the Spurs is that I am not going to be the one to stick a fork into Gregg Popovich. He’s proven himself to be the best coach in the NBA over the last two decades, ringing up five rings, and until he tells me otherwise, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

For now, at least.