#IMHO: The Last Dance, Draymond and KD, plus NBA Awards

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 21, 2020 at 9:55 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike,

As we wade through week whatever-this-is of the quarantine period, with still no clear idea of when the NBA will return, I thought we could use the next few weeks to dole out some of our end-of-season awards. I know, the season isn’t officially over, but I think we’ve seen enough to know how we would be voting if Tim Frank was harassing us to get our votes in today.

This week I thought we’d start with Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player. For the MIP award, I thought of several players right off the bat, but the name I kept coming back to was just down the road from us in New Orleans: Brandon Ingram, who averaged career highs all across the board and even made the All-Star Game. Of course, a large part of that jump in production is likely due to his increase in playing time and responsibility, coming after his trade from Los Angeles to New Orleans. But the numbers don’t account for the increased attention on Ingram every night, as well as Ingram having to carry the scoring load most of the season while Zion Williamson was out injured.

As far as Sixth Man of the Year, I should begin by saying I think we need to rename this award for Jamal Crawford, who isn’t even officially retired but really redefined what it means to be a Sixth Man in the modern NBA. That said, this year I will cast my vote for a player who is sort of Jamal’s spiritual successor, Clippers guard Lou Williams. The guy walks into the arena getting buckets, and it doesn’t matter when he enters the game or what the matchups are, LouWill gets his.

Who gets your votes in these categories?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, April 21, 2020 at 12:29 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

The player catching my attention for Most Improved has evolved over the course of the season. That, alone, is a testament to the emerging young talent we see on a nightly basis in this league. Over the first couple of months, Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham jumped out. Then, I hopped on the Pascal Siakam train as the All-Star swingman pushed Toronto back into a top two record in the East in the season after Kawhi Leonard departed the reigning NBA champions. But by the time the season was suspended, I had moved again, as Miami’s Bam Adebayo emerged as my frontrunner.

In the true spirit of the award, I’m going with Adebayo, who just might be the most dynamic big man in the NBA. He’s risen from a late Lottery project to becoming a core piece in the Heat’s surprising surge in the East. Adebayo has posted three triple-doubles from the center spot and two other games when he finished with at least 10 assists. He’s averaging more than 16 points and nearly 11 boards a game for arguably the conference’s most improved team.

As far as Sixth Man, I’m with you, Lang, on it being a Los Angeles Clipper. In fact, they have two strong candidates, with Montrezl Harrell joining Williams for that distinction. But I’m going in a different direction with my vote and handing it to Oklahoma City’s Dennis Schroder, who is averaging career highs nearly across the board, including 19 points a game. He’s also chipping in 4.1 assists and nearly four rebounds a game. His impact lifted the Thunder’s bench, and after some shaky and unreliable seasons in Atlanta, Schroder has provided a consistent boost for OKC. In fact, you’d have a hard time finding a stronger three-guard mix than Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Schroder this season.

Lang, as expected, ESPN’s “The Last Dance” documentary on Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ final championship season in 1997-98 was a major success. It was going to draw great numbers regardless, but it became a sports culture phenomenon even more so because it really ran up against no competition for ratings at the moment. Still, what jumped out about the documentary to me was the aftermath of it. That’s where I saw Draymond Green basically light into Kevin Durant and refer to him as the elephant in the room during the Warriors’ failed bid at a three-peat last season.

Green, on a podcast produced by LeBron James’ production company, tried to draw comparisons between the Warriors final season and the Bulls’ Last Dance season. To Draymond’s credit, he also said the Bulls worked better together to face and cope with the adversity than the Warriors did, largely because Durant allowed his looming free agency to create a major distraction. We’re used to hearing wild and outlandish things from Draymond’s mouth. But does he have a point here? Sure, injuries to Klay Thompson and Durant ultimately derailed the Warriors’ three-peat bid in the end. But was Durant more trouble than he was worth as he allowed the free agency cloud to hang over that team throughout the season?

 

Draymond Green yelling

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 10:17 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I thought the most shocking thing in the first two episodes of “The Last Dance” was Scottie Pippen admitting that he waited until the end of the summer of 1997 to have surgery, essentially ensuring that he would miss a chunk of the ’97-98 season. As Pippen said, and I’m paraphrasing here, he didn’t want to mess up his summer by having to deal with rehabbing his injury. Instead, he’d leave it to his teammates to figure out how to get through the first half of the season.

There were extenuating circumstances there, of course — Pippen was mad about the contract he had signed, a contract that even his agents at the time advised him not to sign, which left him wildly underpaid. The Bulls wouldn’t renegotiate the contract, which left Pippen angry, and at least in part he took it out on his teammates by choosing to delay surgery. That spoke volumes to me.

I will never fault a player for caring about money. They get one shot at an NBA career, one chance to rack up cash, and the decisions they make all matter. So, I don’t really understand what Draymond Green is so worked up about. Essentially, Draymond is upset that Kevin Durant didn’t know what he was going to do at the end of the season during free agency? The same Durant who left a franchise in free agency to come join up with Draymond in Golden State a few years ago?

We all knew the superteam the Warriors assembled was likely unsustainable long-term, either financially or because of personalities. And now it sounds like maybe it was a little bit of both that played a part in breaking up the Warriors, and probably the Bulls as well.

Mike, you and I both grew up during the Jordan/Bulls era. We lived through all of those titles, watching in real time as the Bulls romped their way through the rest of the NBA. I’m curious what your feeling was after watching the first two episodes of “The Last Dance”? Were you, like me, a bit underwhelmed? For me it was more about nostalgia than it was educational. Which is fine! I loved spending those two hours dipped back in the ’80s and ’90s — the MJ highlights set to Eric B. and Rakim made my night. But, at least early on, I found myself wondering if this miniseries isn’t really aimed at people like us?

 

Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 11:39 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I actually got hyped and moved out of my seat when they played the Rakim and L.L. Cool J tracks under the Jordan highlights of that 1986 playoff series against the Celtics. It might have been the best combination of hoops highlight and hip-hop in a documentary in the history of documentaries.

For me, “The Last Dance” was a case of both nostalgia and reaffirmation. You’re talking to a guy who bought his first pair of Jordan’s in 1988-89 when the Jordan IV’s came out after saving up two paychecks from my first summer youth job in Washington, D.C. My freshman year of high school started with me wearing Nike Jordan-themed t-shirts every day for the first three weeks of the school year, with the Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee) “Noooooobody” commercial line with Jordan as my favorite. And I’ve still got the letter my mother wrote to Jordan inviting him to my 15th birthday party on the week the Bulls were in Washington to play the Bullets (as well as the nicest rejection letter ever from MJ’s publicist that included a wristband or some kind of trinket).

 

 

Years later, when I got to ESPN, I actually had a brief moment to share that birthday story with Jordan when he used to hold his annual preseason media availability after taking over ownership of the Charlotte Hornets. By the time the Bulls went on their run of six NBA titles in eight years, I was transitioning from college into my journalism career and was fully aware of the level of greatness we were all witnessing. What this documentary SHOULD do is put to rest any debate whether this recent Warriors team was better than those Bulls squads. What I hope this documentary will also do is put to rest any of these silly Jordan/LeBron debates. One is the G.O.A.T. The other is the G.O.H.T. (Greatest of His Time).

But the fact is, arguments and debates aren’t started to reach a resolution. They’re raised to rage on senselessly, often despite facts and reasoning.

Lang, we’ll get out of here on this: you and I are huge Mike Conley fans, of both the player and the genuine person we got to know when he played in Memphis. Although I wasn’t a fan of the presentation and aesthetics of the HORSE competition broadcast, it was good to see Conley actually win it and enjoy some positive vibes after what has been an excruciating season for him. Between the injuries, the struggle to find his game, the trade that brought in another player at his position and then the Jazz confirming the first cases of COVID-19 that prompted suspending the NBA season, it’s been a rough run in Utah for Conley.

Regardless what happens the rest of this season, Conley holds a player option on an expiring max contract next season. Which means he’ll likely be the subject of trade talks again. My question to you is was this season more a case of Conley not being as good a fit as expected in Utah, or more an exposure of what he may—or may not—have left in the tank as a high-impact player at this stage?

 

Michael Jordan staring

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, April 22, 2020 at 1:14 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

As someone being forced to play HORSE or PIG daily against my 7-year old son, I have to agree with you on the HORSE competition broadcast. HORSE is too long of an animal name—a PIG or even an OX broadcast might have been better suited for live television.

Before we get to Conley’s fit in Utah, one thing about his expiring contract: I know his deal has a player option to where he can choose to renew it or go elsewhere, but let’s be real: There is no way he’s not renewing it. Especially now, with the work stoppage and probable change to expected BRI, I just can’t see any way Mike will walk away from being one of the twenty highest-paid players in the NBA.

As for his play in Utah, I haven’t watched every game they’ve played this season, but I watched every game Mike played last season, and it’s hard for me to believe he fell off some productivity cliff in the last few months. This is a guy who averaged 23.2 points per and 7 assists in the last 16 games he played for the Grizzlies. It’s also worth realizing that Conley has been asked to play a different role in Utah, being more complementary than he was in Memphis. There’s also been talk of chemistry issues in Utah between franchise cornerstones Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, so who knows how much that has played into what’s been going on this season in Utah?

I know numbers never lie, but I also put a lot of stock in the eye test, and from what I’ve seen, Mike Conley hasn’t lost a step.