#IMHO: The last dance of “The Last Dance,” NBA Draft Lottery and The Big3

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, May 19, 2020 at 9:32 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike:

Finally, we have danced the last dance of “The Last Dance.” For the last five weeks, the miniseries has captivated NBA fans stuck at home looking for something to watch, and I think the series managed to win over most everyone. Even those of us who were looking for something not to like about it managed to find something in there that was new or fresh or different than we’d ever seen before.

On this week’s final night, for instance, we learned that the famous “flu game” perhaps really should have been called the “food poisoning game.” It also illustrated the differences in athletic training today versus yesterday. Like, I was surprised to know that even not that long ago, on the eve of the biggest game of the season, an athlete’s trainer would pick up the phone late at night, and order that athlete a pizza, and then let the athlete eat the entire thing by himself. Michael truly was amazing.

Still, even as exhaustive as the series was, there was so much left untold—you could probably do a 10-part series about each of those Bulls’ title seasons. The more I watched the more I realized just how much we were learning not so much about the Bulls but about Michael. He’s clearly reached the stage most retired players get to where they’re willing to just be honest and they don’t really care about the consequences. Like, it wasn’t just that MJ was dismissive about the shove to Bryon Russell, it was how he casually dismissed Russell as an elite defender entirely, noting almost as an aside that he played defense on his toes.

Anyway, when it ended on Sunday night, it got me thinking about what I’d like to watch next, and I think a documentary on Jordan’s return with the Wizards would be fascinating. He was 40-something years old, averaging 20 points per game, and then it ended as strangely as it all started. While I’m guessing this is one topic MJ probably wouldn’t talk about, as it basically ended in failure, it sure would be compelling to watch.

How about you? Now that our “Last Dance” is over, what would you want to set your DVR for, MJ-related or otherwise?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at 12:19 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I’ve still got to catch up on the final episodes of “How To Get Away With Murder,” “Billions,” “Homeland” and a couple of other shows. So, I haven’t completely run out of viewing options just yet.

It’s funny you mentioned Jordan’s real last dance that came during an underwhelming two seasons with the Wizards after his second NBA comeback. For as much as folks dismiss that time and venture, even the most humbling of Jordan’s experiences can be viewed as redemptive successes. It was in Washington where he learned the ropes as a front-office executive. Yes, his biggest blunder at the time was drafting Kwame Brown with the No. 1 overall pick. But the value Jordan added to that Wizards franchise just with his presence sent Washington’s valuation through the roof, just as they were settling into a new downtown arena and a rebranding away from the Bullets. He took those hard lessons into the next phase of his career when he assumed ownership of the Charlotte franchise, which Jordan still runs right now.

So, for those keeping score, Jordan was the GOAT as a player, a billionaire pitchman/businessman who lifted Nike to the forefront of the sneaker industry and a trailblazer as the first NBA player-turned-majority owner of an NBA franchise that’s valued at close to another billion dollars. In other words, Jordan’s receipts have got receipts.

Lang, although there are no NBA games being played right now, there’s still no shortage of debates waged in the sport these days. One of the latest is courtesy of a Bleacher Report piece that re-drafted the 2019 NBA Draft this week based, in part, on the performance and impact of rookies this season. There were no changes in the top three of Bleacher Report’s ranking, with Zion Williamson still going to the Pelicans, Ja Morant still going to the Grizzlies and R.J. Barrett still going to the Knicks.

But here’s where it got dicey. Brandon Clarke, who was taken No. 21 overall last June, was slotted at No. 8 now by Bleacher Report. That jump alone is a testament to Clarke’s encouraging rookie campaign as a player who leads all newcomers in rebounding and field goal shooting percentage. But there’s a strong case that he should have been even higher, and ahead of others Bleacher Report ranked in front of him, such as Charlotte’s P.J. Washington, Miami’s Tyler Herro and Chicago’s Coby White. Did Bleacher Report get it right? Or was this a legit slight?

 

Michael Jordan with the Wizards

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at 2:41 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

So, these re-Draft columns are really all about revisionist history, right? A chance to look back at something that’s already happened and, with the benefit of actually knowing how players will pan out, re-write the past to make everyone look smarter.

The thing is, we’re not even one year past last year’s draft. While Brandon Clarke had an incredible rookie campaign, he also had the benefit of coming off the bench for a Playoff team and having a clearly defined role. Meanwhile, there are other players who didn’t have that advantage or still have some growing to do — Tyler Herro, for instance, is still just 20 years old.

I get it—we’re in a content desert and need stories and things to chew on. But to me, it’s too early to get a mulligan on the 2019 Draft. Yes, we have some clearer ideas of how the careers should play out for some of these guys—and I still think Brandon Clarke is more talented than most people even realize—but there’s still plenty of time for these guys to improve. Or not.

Mike, the NBA Draft lottery was supposed to happen this week in Chicago, and while that (and the Draft) have now been shifted to some unknown future date, it’s still going to happen, presumably, eventually. And while I haven’t been following the mock drafts closely, it seems as though the guy at the top of many is UGA’s Anthony Edwards. (Go Dawgs!) My question to you, Mike, is which NBA lottery team is most in need of getting that number one spot this season?

 

Brandon Clarke flex

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, May 19, 2020 at 4:33 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

So, based on the standings at the time the season was suspended, you’ve got the Warriors, Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Hawks and Pistons all bunched up with the NBA’s worst records. The new lottery odds now flatten the chances of the bottom four teams to land the No. 1 pick. I don’t really have a rooting interest in this, but I never like to see teams rewarded for not putting their best efforts or players on the court when available.

The Warriors aren’t a typical lottery team. This is, or should be, a one-year drop-off for them strictly due to injuries to frontline players in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. The Timberwolves shouldn’t be as bad as they’ve been the past few seasons. They’ve done essentially nothing despite having two No. 1 picks from recent drafts on their roster. The Cavaliers have won the lottery more times than they should have, more than likely. So that leaves the Hawks and the Pistons. And if a team ever needed a reset and a boost of hope, it’s the Pistons. That proud franchise has a rich history and an amazing fanbase that’s been starving for something to feel good about for a decade now. Having traded or released core pieces in Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson, the Pistons only have an injury-plagued, aging Blake Griffin to rally around. It’s time for a fresh dose of talent. Detroit deserves it more than anyone.

Lang, we’ll end on this. Among the basketball casualties created by the COVID-19 crisis is that we now won’t get to see Zach Randolph make his Big3 debut in Ice Cube’s popular basketball-league-slash-reality-series. One of the stops for this season’s 3-on-3 tour was supposed to be at FedExForum, but now the league is pushing its return back to the 2021 season. I know you’re disappointed, so I’ll give you a minute to regain your composure. What will you miss most about not having the Big3 around to watch this summer?

 

Blake Griffin and Dwane Casey

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 at 11:10 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

It’s funny, the day they announced the formation of the Big3, I was texting with a veteran NBA player, and I joked with him to make sure he stayed ready to continue his playing career when he was done with the League. He said many teams he played on ended their practices each day playing 3-on-3, to practice their cutting and screening and passing, and if you had the right players out there, it was a lot more fun and interesting than playing 3-on-3 sounded like otherwise—a chance to learn how to read, react, and hone those skills.

Then they started announcing the players who were participating in the Big 3, and it was mostly guys known for playing 1-on-1 ball. So, to be honest, I never really watched the Big 3. And it’s a shame for them not to be playing this year, because right now there are so many sports fans literally starving for action. I think there’s definitely a market there, especially as so many popular players age out of the NBA and into their post-playing days. It’s just right now, it’s tough. For everyone.