#IMHO: David Stern, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, and contenders or pretenders

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, January 7, 2020 at 2:18 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike:

Welcome to 2020! And welcome back to IMHO!

 

Plenty happened while we were away, but the most consequential story to me had to be the passing of longtime NBA Commissioner David Stern. I wrote this week for Grind City Media about dealing with Commissioner Stern over the years and how he will be missed, but I also wrote about how he managed to flatten the world, so to speak. His vision for making the NBA a global league was ahead of its time and so prescient, and I’m not sure any commissioner of any sports league, ever, can top that.

In your opinion, what was Stern’s signature moment while in office?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, January 7, 2020 at 2:39 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Stern had numerous signature moments over the course of his 30 years as NBA commissioner. His sheer fearlessness resonated in every single instance that ever stood out to me. Overseeing the launch of the NBA Draft lottery in 1984 was the breakthrough moment, but that was simply the beginning. I will never forget how he handled the 1991 Magic Johnson HIV announcement, retirement and comeback with so much care, class and compassion for one of the league’s most iconic players. Stern sticking beside Magic during those difficult days was symbolic of not only how much Stern cared about the sport, but also showed the depths to which he loved and cared for the players who made the league what it is today.

Opening the door for Magic to participate in both the All-Star Game and the 1992 Dream Team Olympic run – against much criticism and even some backlash from some of the league’s top players – is a shining example of Stern’s fearlessness and foresight. He’s one of the greatest visionaries in sports.

Lang, we’re officially a month out from the NBA trade deadline. If you could execute one trade that would boost a top-four team in either conference, what team would it be and which player(s) would that squad land in the transaction? If I’m Boston, I’d figure out a way to get Andre Drummond to Beantown for this stretch run and send back Marcus Smart, a first-round pick and salary filler to Detroit as the foundation of a deal.

 

David Stern, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 9:16 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I like that call re Drummond, if not to Boston than somewhere. If I was a contender he’s the exact player I’d be targeting right now, especially with Blake Griffin going down with more knee trouble and Detroit looking like they’re ready to hit the reboot button. Drummond is only 26 years old, and he’s averaging 17.5 ppg and 16 rpg, which is ridiculous. He’s a game changer on the inside for whoever can go get him. He doesn’t space the floor, which is all the rage these days, but I’m OK with that as long as he’s cleaning up the paint, which he seems to do really well.

If I’m Boston, I hate giving up Smart, because he’s such a pest of a player. Watching him play against Patrick Beverley in the Finals would be like looking at the Spiderman pointing meme. But if that’s what it would take to get Drummond, I’d be all in. It would also be fun if Denver could figure out a way to go get Chris Paul, who is playing his trade value up and through the roof these days.

Speaking of trades, I assume you saw Cleveland’s Kevin Love apologizing for his on-court temper tantrum the other night.

Everyone thought Love was mad at Collin Sexton, but he later came out and said nope, he was made at the play call, I assume from the sideline. And here’s the thing: I’d be mad about that play call also! The Cavs were down 13 points in the second quarter, they weren’t going to get the last shot of the half, Love had Chris Paul guarding him in the post, and the Cavs won’t give him the ball? I guess barbecue chicken is not a popular dish in The Land!

Love handled it all wrong, sure, but he wasn’t wrong to be mad about the play call. Or was he?

 

Kevin Love and Collin Sexton

From: Michael Wallace

Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 3:17 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Players can be mad all they want about specific play calls. But elite players, or at least the really good and smart ones, actually do something about it on the court. I’ve seen hundreds of instances in games when a star player disagrees with the call coming in from the bench, and then makes his own adjustment or tweak to the call and lives with the consequences of that decision. Kevin Love may be past his prime years, but he’s still a very influential player on that Cavs team, and he still has the clout to change a play or dictate a different set or option within that play call.

So throwing a temper tantrum on the court isn’t exactly the best way to go about your frustrations. But I get it. Kevin Love isn’t the only Cavs player who has had issues with how things are done up there in Cleveland these days.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this, we’ve almost reached the midpoint of the 82-game regular-season schedule. Who’s your biggest title contender and who’s your biggest pretender at this stage of the season? My biggest contender, surprisingly, is the Denver Nuggets. I just think they have the depth, hunger, coaching and playing style to finally make a Raptors-style breakthrough this season and reach the Finals in the West. My biggest pretender right now is Philadelphia. The Sixers have legit title aspirations and feel like they should be on the verge of a breakthrough. But I just don’t trust them, especially on the road. And I’m not sure if they have the adequate depth to get over the hump. The Rockets also qualify as a pretender to me, as they do every year.

 

Denver Nuggets team

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Thursday, January 9, 2020 at 8:12 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I don’t trust the Rockets either. They’re my biggest pretender. I know they’re putting up giant offensive numbers night after night, and what Harden is doing is incredible, but… yeah, I don’t trust them. Pop exposed them in the postseason a few years ago by baiting them into midrange shots, and I haven’t seen anything different from then since to convince me they’re a contender. I’m kinda with you on Philly as well – they’ve got so much talent but I still think they need a conventional guard to pair with Simmons if they’re going to get over that hump.

My biggest contender is the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis is even better than he was last year, and they have so many good players who are in clearly defined roles, from Khris Middleton to Eric Bledsoe to Wesley Matthews to the Lopezes. Last year I didn’t think they were good enough, and they weren’t, as it turned out. This year I think they’re better than they were last year, and in the absence of any real competition in the East, right now they’re on pace to flirt with a 70-win season.

If that’s not a contender, I don’t know what is.