#IMHO: The running of the Bulls, possible postseason matchups, and HORSE

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, April 14, 2020 at 11:27 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike:

I’ve always felt the worst place you can be in the NBA isn’t at the bottom of the standings, but somewhere in the middle. Because good teams are going to the postseason and playing games that matter; really bad teams are generally at the bottom of the standings because they’re at some early stage of a reboot; and then you have all the teams in the middle, who are there because they have nowhere else to go.

I bring this up because it seems like the Chicago Bulls are a team that has been stuck in the middle for a while. They had Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah and a fun young core, but somehow that all didn’t really work, and now they’ve been a 20-something win team for the last three seasons.

And now their lead basketball guys, Gar Forman and John Paxson, are both gone, replaced this week by former Denver Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas. Mike, is this enough to get the Bulls out of the middle? Or are they stuck there for the time being?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2020 at 5:27 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I don’t see anything necessarily wrong with being in the middle, as long as you’re transitioning through it and headed toward either a peak run or a sensible rebuild. Some would say the Grizzlies and Hawks were sort of stuck in the middle as perennial mid-level playoff teams for nearly a decade straight. For both franchises, it represented the most sustained success in the history of the respective organizations. Then, there are other teams, such as the Bulls you referenced, or the Pistons or the Magic or the Pelicans. Teams that have had top-salaried players, decent depth and potential, but could never really make it all make sense.

Those are the teams that are in NBA purgatory, so to speak. Only three or four teams a season are truly championship-worthy contenders. Then, there are three or four that don’t seem to value winning at all and are poised to play the ping-pong ball game every year in the lottery. That leaves about two dozen teams each year that are essentially at some varying stage of middle-ness. As far as the Bulls are concerned, they are the league’s biggest enigma to me. I love their young talent in Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford. They have serviceable vets in Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young. Yes, they probably overpaid in absorbing the long-term deals for Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr. But, all in all, it’s not a bad mix. Or, rather, the results shouldn’t be as bad and inconsistent as they’ve been the past few seasons.

I think the Bulls’ problem is that they’ve struggled to find a coach to match the makeup of the roster. They’ve struck out on coaching hires more than they have on roster talent in recent years. That said, a clean start at the top of the basketball department should represent a fresh mindset. That fanbase is starving for a respectable, contending product on the court. And they deserve one. No one’s expecting a remake of Jordan’s Bulls. But at least deliver another dose of the Baby Bulls of the early-to-middle 2000s or Derrick Rose-led Bulls of the early 2010s.

Lang, this weekend was supposed to feature the opening games of the NBA playoffs. We obviously know that’s not going to happen on schedule – if at all – because of the Coronavirus pandemic that shut down the NBA on March 11. If the standings held the way they stood this time a month ago, we would be seeing the Bucks-Magic, Raptors-Nets, Celtics-Sixers and Heat-Pacers in the Eastern Conference first round. The Western Conference opening matchups would have been the Lakers-Grizzlies, Clippers-Mavericks, Nuggets-Rockets and Thunder-Jazz.

We’d both be working the Lakers-Grizzlies matchup, so aside from that one, which potential series would have most caught your attention? For me, it would have been the Clippers-Mavericks. Everything that ever made sense about basketball would have me believing Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers should simply dispatch Dallas and move on to bigger business later in the postseason. But there’s something magical about those Mavericks. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, assuming both are healthy, would be matchup problems for even a great defensive team like the Clippers. And Rick Carlisle is one of the best tacticians in the league on the bench, especially defensively. There might not necessarily be sky-high upset potential. But the entertainment value of that series would be off the charts for an opening-round showdown.

What would have been your can’t-miss series of the first round?

 

Coby White Jr. celebrating

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, April 15, 2020 at 9:56 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

One more thing about being in the middle, as you mentioned the Hawks and Grizzlies being in that zone for years. Having grown up as a Hawks fan, looking back on the Hawks run of making the postseason for ten years in a row, it was absolutely a great achievement, and no fan would dismiss it. But at the same time, the franchise couldn’t figure out how to get any better. They went to the playoffs for a decade straight! Then lost in the first or second round for nine of those 10 years. (And the one time the Hawks made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, for the first time in franchise history, they got swept.) Hawks fans knew they weren’t good enough to win a title. Is it good enough to go to the postseason and get participation medals year after year? Hence my thought about being stuck in the middle. Either you’re at the bottom hitting reset or at the top fighting for a title, but being good but not great can be frustrating.

As to your question, the series I was keeping an eye on was the 3/6 matchup in the East, where the Celtics were in the mix to play the 76ers in the first round. The Sixers had been trying to play through the Ben Simmons injury, while Brett Brown‘s seat seemed to be getting incrementally warmer. The Sixers used a huge contract slot to woo Al Horford away from Boston, and the Celtics also lost Kyrie Irving, but they seemed to be finding their identity this season, as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown enjoyed breakout seasons. For a first-round series, the way it played out may have decided the future path of one or both of the franchises.

I think I also would have loved to watch the Nuggets/Rockets series. It seems like it was years ago, but just before the league hit pause on this season, the Rockets had fully embraced their smallball concept (the “Six-Three Mafia,” as I called them). And the wild thing was that it seemed to be working — other teams were not running their offenses and instead were getting confused and trying to hunt mismatches, which played right into Houston’s hands. I don’t know if someone else would have figured out Houston’s tactic by the postseason, but it sure would have been fun to find out.

With the League on pause, one attempt to fill the airtime has been airing games of HORSE between current and former players. I’m of the age that when I think of HORSE, I think about the Jordan and Bird McDonald’s commercial where they were banking in shots off ceiling beams and everything else…


Mike, if you could draft your all-time HORSE matchup, who would it include? I’d probably try and get Magic Johnson in my game, since he wasn’t really a pure shooter so much as he was a shot-maker, with a great imagination that should produce some interesting shots. To go against him, I’d like to see someone like Steph Curry, who can score from literally anywhere in the gym. Who would you want to watch?

 

Ben Simmons

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, April 15, 2020 at 10:53 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I’ll admit it: HORSE never really appealed to me, especially at the elite NBA talent level. It’s a game for playground legends and blacktop junkies to match wits and differentiate their skills and talents from one another. But when you have elite NBA athletes and players, they’re great and entertaining just because they are blessed with talents only a small few folks in the world possess. I’d rather see home videos of random folks playing HORSE than NBA players. I watched, just to see how it would be presented as programming. And I found myself drawn more to the stories the players shared about other players and the tours they shared of their homes than the actual shots portion of the show.

That said, if there are two players I’d like to see go shot for incredible shot, combining remarkable skill with supernatural athleticism, it would be Vince Carter and Jamal Crawford. Over the course of their careers, those two guys have made more than their share of acrobatic and unimaginable shots – and they did them in actual games. And it doesn’t hurt that Vince and Jamal are two of the smartest guys to ever come through the NBA. And both are compelling storytellers, too. So we’d enjoy their action on the court and their explanations and details along the way.

Lang, we’ll get out of here on this: There’s been plenty of speculation about when – or if – the 2019-2020 NBA season will be completed at some point in the coming months. Last week, commissioner Adam Silver suggested no potential plan for a resolution would come before May. From Day 1 of the hiatus, I always believed that the longer this draws out, the more it would compromise the 2020-21 NBA season in some form or fashion.

None of us know how this COVID-19 pandemic will play out from here. We’re already into the second month of the shutdown, and this crisis has a timeline all its own, it seems. But if you had a one-on-one video meeting with Silver about an ideal return plan for the NBA season, what would you suggest?

 

Vince Carter and Jamal Crawford

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, April 15, 2020 at 4:03 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, first I would probably spend ten minutes trying to get into the Zoom meeting and making sure my mic and camera were working. Which seems to be the way the first ten minutes of every Zoom call begin.

Jokes aside, I have no idea what the answer to your question is, and I don’t think there’s anyone else out there who knows the answer. Which is what’s so frustrating about all of this. We have dozens of questions but answers seem so difficult to come by, particularly concrete answers. We don’t know when anything returns to “normal,” or even something resembling “normal.” So the best answer anyone can give right now is going to just be a guess.

Disclaimers aside, out of all the scenarios that I’ve heard floated, to me the one that makes the most sense is having some sort of self-contained tournament somewhere where the environment can be controlled as well as possible. Of course, if there’s anything we’ve learned over the last few weeks, it’s that this virus can’t really be controlled.

So, I don’t know what the right answer is. All I know is I just want everyone to be safe.