#IMHO: Rebuilding, Giannis the MVP, and Heat Culture

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, December 10, 2019 at 7:09 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike:

Well, we’re officially two months into the NBA season, and we’re starting to find out the truth about some teams. We already knew what the Grizzlies were going to be: A young squad with a rookie coach learning how to win on a nightly basis. What we did not know, at least I didn’t know this, was how much fun the Grizzlies were going to be to watch each night, at least when Ja is out there doing his thing.

But there are other teams around the league where it seems as though, to borrow a phrase from the great Michael Ray Richardson, “the ship be sinking.” Or at the very least there are more than a few ships out there that appear to be taking on voluminous amounts of water. The Cavs spent most of last week refuting rumors that the players have tuned out the head coach. The Jazz keep getting blown out by 20. The Blazers have a terrible case of the injury bug. And the T-Wolves are playing worse than the Jazz.

We know there are plenty of GMs around the NBA with itchy trigger fingers. So Mike, my question to you is this: Which NBA team will be the first to hit the rebuild button?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, December 10, 2019 at 1:22 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Lang,

Of the teams you just mentioned, my guess would be that Minnesota would be the least patient to ride things out the way they’re headed right now. A new front-office leadership team is just settling in and that brass has inherited a team that has largely underachieved despite having two recent No. 1 overall picks on the roster. Karl-Anthony Towns is an All-Star and Andrew Wiggins is on course for the best season of his NBA career, but it’s still hard to trust the Timberwolves and their ability to take the next step and contend in the playoffs.

Minnesota’s inability to consistently win home games this season, all things considered, is a bit baffling. The good thing is that they have a few expiring contracts and a couple of other veterans they could potentially unload for assets – up to, and including, Wiggins. But this team doesn’t seem to have a clear direction, which is also evident in the coaching staff’s recent decision to play without a traditional point guard at the start of games. The Jazz and Blazers are too locked in on the stars they’ve built around, and doubled down with major trades and roster additions this offseason. But Minnesota seems to be a different case. Unless they get it going in the rest of December and early January, they might be a major seller as the NBA trade deadline looms.

On the other hand, among the teams going for it all right now is the Milwaukee Bucks. They visit FedExForum on Friday to face the Grizzlies as one of the hottest teams we’ve seen this season. It’ll also be Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins’ first time facing his the team he helped guide to the East’s best record last season in Milwaukee. But my question is this: Lang, has Giannis Antetokounmpo solidified his front-runner status as the favorite to repeat as league MVP based on the run the Bucks have been on this season. So much of the early talk has been on Luka Doncic, LeBron James and James Harden. But the Greek Freak has had something to say about that lately.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 at 8:32 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: RE: IMHO

I think the MVP Award is Giannis’s to lose for the next decade. We’ve seen the game evolve over the years as players of different sizes have become more skilled and blurred the lines between positions, and we’ve also seen players increasing get taller, faster, stronger. But we’ve never seen anyone who combined all that stuff the way Giannis does. He’s a giant, who is all muscle, who can drive to the basket and finish over anyone, from anywhere. Just look at this dunk he did the other night, where he gets into the post, stops, spins, jumps with one foot still outside the restricted area, and then dunks it all over Julius Randle

And the craziest thing is he still can’t shoot – he’s averaging five three-pointers attempted per game, and not even making two per game. So teams know to back off and encourage him to shoot from deep, and IT DOESN’T MATTER. He still can get to the rack and finish. And we haven’t even talked about the difference he makes on the defensive end. It’s sorta wild to think that just two years ago the Bucks were being coached by substitute teacher Joe Prunty and struggling to finish over .500, and now they can’t lose. Guess letting go of Malcolm Brogdon didn’t matter as much as all the basketball experts wanted us to think it would.

You mentioned the Bucks coming to town this weekend – another team in town soon is the Miami Heat, who hit Memphis next Monday. If the Bucks are the best team in the East, the Heat aren’t far behind, sitting at 18-6 and winning games with typically tough play. I know you’ve got history in the 305 and have spent plenty of time around Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, so you’re well suited to answer this: Are the Heat just burning hot right now? Or is this a fire that can rage for a while?

 

Erik Spoelstra

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, December 11, 2019 at 11:15 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Spoelstra recently passed Pat Riley as the franchise’s winningest coach, and he’s got four Finals appearances and two NBA titles under his belt. Yet, dare I say it, Spo is in the midst of his best coaching job this season. The Heat may not burn at this rate of success throughout the season, but they’ve clearly solidified themselves as a top-five team in the East with the work ethic and potential they’ve shown. And get this: Miami hasn’t even been all that healthy while doing so. Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow have been in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries.

Miami’s early success is about the rapid development of rookies Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn, second-year sharpshooter Duncan Robinson and third-year big man Bam Adebayo. The arrival of a sage vet like Jimmy Butler, who has come in and embraced the demanding Riley/Spoelstra conditioning standards, ties this team together. Miami defends like crazy, plays all sorts of unorthodox lineups and finishes games with a level of clutchness that defies their continuity and experience together. I see a Heat team that could place Spoelstra firmly in the Coach of the Year debate, Nunn in the Rookie of the Year discussion and Adebayo in both Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year consideration if this keeps up.

And on top of everything else – and I know you’ll appreciate this, Lang – Spoelstra may have the most impressive Jordan shoe collection in the league. I remember when he started it while working as a video coordinator in the bowels of Miami’s arena some 15 years ago.

Lang, we’ll end on this: I’m not sure exactly what $1.4 billion dollars is supposed to be able to buy you. But I’m pretty sure that Golden State’s new Chase Center qualifies as money well spent. That arena is amazing, man. I remember walking into the Bucks new arena last year and hearing visiting team executives marvel at the heated massage chairs on the home team’s bench. As cool as that was for the Bucks, the Warriors raised the stakes by providing a surreal fan experience with the biggest jumbo screen in the league, gourmet food options (lobster rolls, fried seafood, top-shelf cocktails, etc.), private chefs in courtside lounge areas and more. I know I’m forgetting plenty. But I’ve never seen an arena go to such lengths to provide visiting teams with such comforts, either. During the Grizzlies game there this week, their locker room areas included hot and cold tubs/saunas, among other features.

My question is this: Whatever happened to those days when Red Auerbach’s old Boston Garden didn’t even pump hot water or air conditioning into the visiting team’s locker room? Has the league gone soft on opponents, Lang?

 

Chase Center

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Thursday, December 12, 2019 at 8:57 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I wouldn’t say all teams are making it easy on their opponents – haven’t you seen the visiting locker room area at FedExForum? Not that there’s anything wrong with it – I’ve been to almost every NBA arena and I’d say it’s pretty standard – but it’s a series of rooms and a shower and some toilets and…well, that’s about it. What else do you need? If you’re playing against me, why should I go out of my way to make your job easier?

I was actually thinking about something similar earlier this week, when the Grizzlies were in Utah, and I saw a picture tweeted of the Jazz welcoming back several of their former players with big signs…

I saw that and thought, Why? They traded Grayson Allen and Jae Crowder. Regardless of how Grayson and Jae felt about playing in Utah, the Jazz did not want them there any longer, so they shipped them out. Welcoming them back feels strange to me.

Whenever society gets a little too sensitive these days, I like to blame The Millennials. These kids are all in their feelings, they want things handed to them instead of working them, they actually, I’m just poking fun. Every generation blames the next whenever anything goes wrong. Maybe the old locker rooms were a lot tougher, and maybe those guys had to walk to school through the snow for five miles. Things change, and I suppose expectations change along with the times.

Just know this: When you come to my visitor’s locker room, if the hot water doesn’t work let’s just say I’m not going to drop everything to fix it immediately.