#IMHO: Giannis or Harden, plus awards favorites

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, March 3, 2020 at 10:43 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO


Let’s open with an exchange from a recent episode of the incredible new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm:

“You want to impress people with lies?”

“How else do you impress them?”


Mike, we are all taught as kids, and then the lesson is reinforced throughout our lives, that honesty is the best policy. Why over-complicate things, right? Just speak the truth and save yourself a lot of trouble down the line, when you’re trying to remember which lies you told to which people.

But professional athletes often avoid telling the truth, because when they tell the truth if can get blown up and blown out and turn into something they’ve get to deal with for weeks after. I bring all this up because in a recent interview, James Harden told what he believes is the truth: That Giannis Antetokounmpo is overrated, that Giannis isn’t skilled, that Giannis is just tall and dunks.

Which isn’t necessarily wrong! But it was a pretty dismissive breakdown of the reigning MVP. Giannis kinda responded, although it seems like if they wanted to, it would be pretty easy for an NBA player to eviscerate Harden’s style of play as well.

Harden gave us his truth, and we’re still talking about it a week later. My question to you is, was Harden right?


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at 3:26 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

No. Harden wasn’t right. His feelings were hurt, and he took an open shot to undercut how Giannis decided to build his All-Star team the other weekend in Chicago. First off, there are plenty of 6-10, 6-11 guys in the NBA. Hardly any of them have the same level of timing, skill and athleticism as the Greek Freak, which is why Giannis is the reigning league MVP and is likely headed for another this season, too.

There’s a huge difference between truth and biased opinion. There’s another big difference between objective truth and a specific person’s view of his or her own spin on that truth. But here’s the reality: Both Giannis and Harden are all-time great talents who will be Hall of Famers when their careers are done. The question is can either or both of them take the next step and lead their respective teams to a championship. It takes tremendous talent and skill to do what Harden does as a prolific scorer, shooter and facilitator. It takes the same elite blessings of talent and skill to dominate on both ends like Giannis. Case closed.

Lang, we’re in the last full month of the regular season. That means this is the last great push among top candidates for the league’s marquee awards. So, entering the final lap of the season, who are your frontrunners at this stage for the NBA’s top honors as candidates prepare to make strong closing statements with their performances. Here are mine …


Coach of the Year: Billy Donovan

Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant

Most Improved: Bam Adebayo

Defensive Player of Year: Rudy Gobert

Sixth Man of Year: Montrezl Harrell

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo


Whose awards are these to lose for you, at this stage?


Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, March 3, 2020 at 11:51 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

You know, I was recently texting with an executive from an Eastern Conference team, and he mentioned to me, almost in passing, that if the Grizzlies made the playoffs, Taylor Jenkins should be in the running for Coach of the Year. Which to be honest, I hadn’t thought that much about, since usually coaches of the year are guys who guide their team to finishes atop a division or conference.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized you could build a strong case for Taylor. He took a team that wasn’t expected to make much noise and turned them into a team with an identity, a team that had a chance no matter who the opponent was on any given night. I wondered if perhaps Taylor had a chance, if all the coaches that Taylor had worked for and with maybe voted for him, and then my friend texted back and said, “Oh right, I guess Bud’s going to win it.”

I, too, had forgotten that Milwaukee’s been incredible this season, because they’ve won so quietly, and Mike Budenholzer probably deserves the award. I’d also throw Doc Rivers and Nick Nurse into the conversation, as well as the guy you mentioned, Billy Donovan. As for the rest of my ballot…


Rookie of the Year: Ja Morant, easy.

Most Improved: Bam Adebayo is a solid pick. I’d also consider Devonte’ Graham, Duncan Robinson, and how about our own guy Dillon Brooks?

Defensive Player of Year: Gobert doesn’t do much for me. I might actually go with Anthony Davis in LA, who when healthy is a transformational defender

Sixth Man of Year: As long as he’s playing, I’m giving this to Lou Williams, even if he’s not technically the sixth man.

MVP: I agree with you, this award should stay in Milwaukee with Giannis. At the end of the day this is an award about value to your team, and there’s no player more valuable than Giannis.


Tonight Gregg Popovich missed the Spurs game against the Hornets, and instead Spurs assistant coach Tim Duncan stepped up and coached the Spurs to a win. I love now that he’s coaching when he relayed early on that he has no interest in talking about how his surprise coaching turn came about. (I actually caught up with him while the Spurs were in Memphis a few weeks ago.. and he still has no plans of talking on the record about becoming a coach.) But considering how thoughtful and smart Tim was as a player, it’s not a surprise to me that he’s a good coach.

Chris Paul recently said he has no interest in moving to the sideline one day, because the time demands are so strict. I think LeBron would be an amazing coach, but I think he, too, wouldn’t want to bother with all the travel and time away from his family. But knowing the NBA landscape like you do, which current player do you think would make a great (and willing) NBA coach one day?


Tim Duncan coaching

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 8:56 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Two guys I believe would be excellent NBA coaches are Malcolm Brogdon and JJ Redick. Both are very smart people in general and know the game inside and out. They also are highly effective communicators, and have the right mix of intensity and composure to get their message across and inspire a team.

Lang, we’ll end on this: As someone who’s probably taken the Madison Square Garden employee elevator a time or two in your years covering the league in New York, did you ever run into Spike Lee? Seems like this spectacle between Lee and the Knicks has taken the league by storm. It’s more annoying to me than anything that it’s gotten this far. Now the Knicks’ biggest superfan claims he’s not attending Knicks games anymore the rest of this season. Fair or foul? Story or biggest non-story of the NBA season?


Spike Lee on the sideline

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 7:47 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

To me the funniest part of this whole situation is that Spike Lee is furious that he’s not allowed to ride the employee elevator at MSG, which also doubles as the media elevator. That entrance, on 33rd and 8th, is always crowded (because there’s only a single metal detector, so you have to stand in a long line) and the elevator is slow (one elevator going stopping on like eight different floors) and always, always crowded. It seemed like the Knicks were saying they had a difference entrance dedicated solely to celebrities and VIPs, which sounds terrific! But Spike would rather use the other one, which I just don’t get.

I had a few interactions with Spike through the years, but I didn’t really know him. I did, however, ride that darn employee elevator hundreds of times over the decade-plus I went to every Knicks home game in NYC, and I did get to ride that elevator with other celebrities.

One night in 2004, my former colleague Russ Bengtson and I squeezed on the elevator and waited to be taken upstairs to the press room. Just as the doors were closing, a voice called out asking to hold the elevator, and as the doors slid back open, onto the elevator stepped the actress Eva Mendes, fully made up, ready to film a scene from the movie “Hitch” in which her character attends a Knicks game. She squeezed in next to us, and for once nobody minded when the elevator took its sweet time to reach its destination.

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