#IMHO: The Return of the NBA? Plus, bringing the noise, and a new coach in New York

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, June 9, 2020 at 3:30 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO




OK, maybe not quite back, but it does seem like the return of the NBA closer than it’s been since we lost the league. NBA owners and players reportedly voted to approve a plan to bring back 22 of the 30 teams and send everyone to Disney World. Once they’re in Orlando they’ll have 22 of the teams finish out the regular season, and then have a full 16-team playoff, or something like that.

To be honest, it’s the 22 teams part that has me a little puzzled. I mean sure, I get it, safety first, and it’s safer to have 22 teams in one place than 30 teams. And you know what’s even safer? Inviting just the 16 teams that qualified for the Playoffs.

But I digress… at this point there’s no point crying about it. It’s always been Memphis vs. Errrbody, and if that how it has to be, so be it. Although it does seem odd that… OK, fine, never mind, I’ll stop complaining. It is what it is. If the Grizzlies are going to make the playoffs, it’s going to be a fight.

My question to you, then, is what do you think it’s going to take for the Grizzlies to be able to hold on to that 8-spot in the Western Conference?


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at 4:43 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I, too, was in favor of proceeding straight to a 16-team playoff – simply for risk aversion and expediency. But from a competitive fairness standpoint, I don’t have a problem with where the NBA landed with the 22-team format. I also don’t think the Grizzlies are in an unfair predicament, since both their current standing in the conference and their 3 ½-games lead for the final playoff spot will be respected. Plus, if they land in a play-in as the 8th seed, they’d have to be beaten twice – which is essentially a playoff anyway.

But here’s the funny thing: the NBA could have further reduced that field by two or three teams if everyone would be completely honest. The Spurs basically conceded their spot with news that LaMarcus Aldridge, their second-best player, opted for season-ending surgery instead of bubble life. And both the Suns and Wizards are so far back that they might mentally check out after one or two games in Orlando when their fates are mathematically sealed.

The Grizzlies haven’t been given anything all season, so they go in embracing the challenge to keep earning everything the rest of the way. I think a 4-4 finish over those first eight games would put them in position to not only lock up the No. 8 seed, but also to avoid having to deal with a play-in round. If the schedule is set as many expect, the Grizzlies will have two games against the Pelicans and one against the Blazers – two of the three teams bunched together behind Memphis. Win two of those three, and pick up another two wins along the way, and the Grizzlies should be fine. That should create or maintain too much of a cushion for outsiders to overcome.

What I wonder now, though, is could the league have done more to allow the other eight teams not in Orlando to productively use this time for their development? Why not gather those eight teams at a separate site, such as Las Vegas via Summer League, and allow them to use a combination of their current rosters and G League affiliates to also play an eight-game mini-season among each other? Or is there a better way the NBA can make this right and balanced with the Obsolete Eight?


Ja Morant against the Spurs

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at 5:11 PM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

The Obsolete Eight! Like I said, I understand why those eight teams aren’t involved, and why those teams want to be involved, from a player development standpoint, and why they might NOT want to be involved—like avoiding a serious injury to a young player in a meaningless game.

Even though the other eight aren’t done with their seasons, these are mostly teams that are in player development mode, and they’re likely looking for a way to improve the younger players that they have. Which should mean getting those guys reps, one way or another, in game-like situations. Maybe the NBA could host a tournament for the bottom eight and incentivize it with a cash prize, or give the team that wins it an extra draft pick at the end of the first round, to ensure organizational buy-in. Some teams, like the Warriors, are more focused on next season, surely, but what team wouldn’t want an extra draft pick?

Whatever the answer is, it feels like there’s got to be some way for these other eight teams to have some closure for their seasons.

For the Mighty 22, Mike, here’s something I’ve been thinking about. We’ve seen reports that the league is considering using piped-in crowd noise from 2K to make it seem as though the stands are rocking. And I don’t completely disagree with the notion of using some sort of sound to enhance the experience — when I’ve watched some of the G-League games from Vegas without fans, it’s odd to hear no reaction when a player throws one down.

Do you think we should bring the noise for these broadcasts? And which teams do you think will benefit the most from having empty stands?


Steph Curry

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, June 9, 2020 at 9:40 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Really appreciate the Public Enemy song reference there! This piped-in crowd noise issue is lost on me for one clear reason. If we know it’s fake going in, would we still be compelled by it? Or would it just be an annoyance or a distraction? I’m fine hearing the awkward exchanges between teammates, trash talk between opponents and admonishments from the coaches in heated moments. Anything extra noise that drowns those things out would be a detriment to the product.

As far as which teams would benefit most from NOT having fans around, my guess would be just about every team seeded fifth through eighth and wouldn’t have home-court advantage anyway. I really think this environment would give young teams a bit of a boost, theoretically. They won’t have to deal with the emotional roller coaster of playing in hostile environments on the road. They should be able to better navigate the wild momentum swings and just play ball. Really, the underdogs have little to lose in this situation. This will be a completely uncomfortable setup for established vets and experienced teams.

But ultimately, it’ll come down to what it always comes down to: talent. The favorites will still be the favorites in this thing. But look out for the dark horses, especially Denver in the West and Miami in the East. This format could be full of surprises.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: It seems like every other year, the Knicks are looking for a new head coach. Once this NBA season eventually ends, there is sure to be some movement in the coaching ranks, as always. But the Knicks have a shot to get a head start. It appears Tom Thibodeau is the hot name tossed around. But would he be the right fit for the Knicks? If not, who out there – legit candidate or someone from a hypothetical wish list – is the ideal fit for arguably the toughest coaching job in sports?


Nuggets vs. Heat

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, June 10, 2020 at 11:25 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Mike, I lived in Manhattan for fifteen-something years, just a few miles from Madison Square Garden. I’ve probably covered more Knicks games than I have games of any other NBA team, and spent more time around that franchise than any other franchise.

It doesn’t matter who the Knicks hire as coach. Until they are able to establish a long-term, cohesive plan from the front-office down, a plan that they’re able to stick to for more than a season or two, the coach is almost superfluous to me. The best NBA franchises have a system in place, both on and off the court, and when you have that in place you’re able to plug in different people to what you’re doing.

The one time the last decade that the Knicks really seemed committed to putting someone in charge and letting him get his system in place was Phil Jackson, who turned out maybe wasn’t the right person to have in that position. Now Leon Rose is running the show, and I suppose we’ll just have to see how that goes, as he transitions from being an agent to the team side.

The newspapers in New York, particularly the Post, have been pushing for Thibs to get a crack with the Knicks for like a decade now. And maybe Thibs has learned from his previous stops, and maybe at his next stop we will see a kindler, gentler Thibs. Only in New York, kids, only in New York.

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