A month from now, the NBA playoffs will take off, getting people into far more heated debates about who’s better than who, which injury hurts more and where will members of the Free Agent Class of 2010 head after the final shot of the season is taken.
So, mark today as special as it’s the first of what will be many roundtables to come. Of course, this isn’t just any blogging roundtable, but one with some twists.
I’ve reached out to three NBA pundits, fans and chatterboxes who can provide different perspectives than what you’ve heard in recent weeks. The questions asked are not going to be “LeBron or Kobe?” and “what’s wrong with _____?”. The responses were quite interesting, to say the least.
- Stephon Johnson is a name you’ve seen on here before. Beyond having known half my life, he’s a staff writer for the famed New York Amsterdam News, covering a range of news stories as well as hoops for the history African-American weekly paper. In addition, he is also a contributing writer for The Perpetual Post and has done a multitude of music reviews for other websites. Check out his Tumblr and follow on Twitter (Warning: he’s not as good looking as me).
- Rey Moralde is the founder of the very fantastic and popular Los Angeles-based NBA blog, The No Look Pass. Along with great analysis of all four Californian squads (writers for the NorCal teams), if you still think the very existence of Clippers fans is an urban legend or that there’s no such thing as a true Lakers fan, let this site dispel those myths. For further witty banter and superb in-game comedy, you can follow Rey and TNLP on Facebook and Twitter.
- Finally, rounding out this triumvirate is aspiring scribe Kyle Hoffman. A cool cat like Heathcliff (that’s a reference to a Sean Price freestyle), Hoffman is a die-hard Sacramento Kings fan… from Allentown, Pennsylvania? Yes, you read that correctly. A true hoops head, he certainly holds down the fort for other teams as well, as you will read in moments. Follow Monsieur Hoffman on Twitter.
There’s no question that Kevin Durant has made a few people stand up and take notice this season. In his Sunday interview with Magic Johnson, he talked about how comfortable he is in Oklahoma City and how he wants to help the city become ‘big time’. Obviously, the cynics of the world believe he has to say that, but any thoughts on his future with the Thunder?
Johnson: I definitely see Durant wanting to make a life permanently in Oklahoma City. What got me was that he said he was comfortable in OK City. If an athlete really wasn’t comfortable, he would’ve said something to the equivalent of “It’s different” or “There was an adjustment period, but I’m happy.” I think Durant is genuine and I, personally, would like him to stay. Not everyone wants or needs to be in the big city. Spending five years at St. Bonaventure University gave me a small taste of small town/small city life. I liked it and I understand the appeal.
Moralde: He's going to stay. Sam Presti has been awesome in the front office (well, maybe except picking James Harden over Tyreke Evans) and has stockpiled a lot of assets over the years. There's no reason to believe he WOULDN'T take care of Kevin Durant now... especially since Durant actually wants to stay with the Thunder. I expect this contract signing to get done this summer. He'll be the franchise player for OKC for many years to come.
Hoffman: He definitely “has” to say all the right things on camera about Oklahoma City but most people can tell when a player is genuine or if they are forced. For example I see LeBron James as being very scripted and his actions forced when it comes to things that aren’t court related, you can tell the way he carries himself in interviews.
With Durant you don’t get the vibe that he needs to be in a big market, as some superstars do, such as Wade, Bryant, and LeBron. Some guys are fine with the small market team. I can see him spending the majority of his career in Oklahoma City. All the guys are friends on and off the court. You can see it in games and also when they tweet each other. The Thunder have a great young core moving forward and are just a legit PF/C away from being a force in this league.
Speaking of the Thunder and some other young teams in the Association, there are quite a few of them in the NBA that will make the postseason. Which of them have the best chance at making a contender sweat?
Johnson: For me, it would have to be Atlanta. Even though they’re in the upper-half of the conference standings, I still consider them a young and rising team. I’m such a huge admirer of that squad because I think they’re fearless. I’m not sure that even the media-crowned championship contenders can say that much. I look forward to watching them give people hell.
Moralde: Well, the Thunder will definitely make any contender sweat. I don't think any of the lower-tier East teams will lay any fear into the elite unless the Bobcats face the Cavs. I also think the Suns facing any top-tier team other than the Lakers will be interesting... and if Portland sticks into the 8th Seed, they'd scare the Lakers. But I'd bank on the Thunder going the furthest. They don't know any better as a team.
Hoffman: I really see the Charlotte Bobcats causing any of those teams trouble if they can get in. They’re a very athletic and scrappy team who is tough on defense, a sign of having Larry Brown as their head coach. They can cause matchup problems for teams with guys that can play multiple positions. That alone will help them if they get in.
As far as giving a contender a scare I will have to go with the Thunder just because Kevin Durant is playing at an elite level right now. I firmly believe he can carry them in a series if need be. Russell Westbrook is fast becoming one of the best young guards with his amazing athleticism and pesky defense, if he can get his jumper going, watch out! Add in the do it all forward in Jeff Green and that’s a good triumvirate to have on your team. Oklahoma City is one of the better defensive teams in the league, which is key to success in the playoffs.
Utah, Dallas and Atlanta seem to be overlooked. Fair or not?
Johnson: I think there’s some buzz around Atlanta now, but there’s so much buzz around the Cavs going back to the finals that it overshadows them. The fact that we are going to see Jamal Crawford in the playoffs for the first time is astounding. He’s a fearless, last-second shot taker. The playoffs are made for someone like him. He might make some shots that we’ll remember for a long time. As for Utah, I still think that the fact that it’s the Utah Jazz remains a deterrent to people who still have “Stockton to Malone” in their heads. People are not so quick to change. With Dallas, after their comeback-win against the Nets, someone on television mentioned that this is the best team Dirk has been on. That might be true and I think they’re going to make some noise when April and May come around.
Moralde: It's not fair but this is what people look at... Utah is a Western team that's caught fire but no one really believes any Western team can beat the Lakers in a seven-gamer. Most people have pretty much locked the Lakers into the Finals. That goes the same for Dallas but they have gotten pub recently as of late due to that winning streak. As for Atlanta? Until they make, say, the Eastern finals, they'll continue to be ignored.
Hoffman: With the Hawks you just don’t know if they can put it together in the playoffs. Their style of play won’t get it done, they really do not run any sets or a structured half court offense. Come playoff time that is vital. Atlanta runs way too much isolation in the halfcourt and most people know that does not lead to postseason success. They are a team that likes to run and get out in transition, but again, to beat a dead horse, that’s not successful in the playoffs… To me Atlanta wins in spite of (head coach Mike Woodson), not because of him.
With Utah, I don’t know if they’re overlooked or underappreciated. I definitely would not want to see them in the playoffs. Deron Williams is taking his game to another level this season and that could spell trouble for whoever they get in the playoffs. He’s perfected the pick and roll with Carlos Boozer, who steps his game up come postseason time (Don’t believe me? Look at his numbers in the playoffs.) Only weakness with this team is a lack of depth and a subpar two guard. With Jerry Sloan on the bench, you can never over look the Jazz.
I really believe this may be the Mavericks’ year with the additions of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood to put them over the top. These two guys have brought the toughness and defensive mindset that has been missing in Dallas the past several years. Their postseason depends on which Dirk shows up. If they get the Dirk from the year they made the Finals then the Mavs are legit, if the Dirk from the Golden State series shows up, they’re in trouble.
As usual, the same squads – Cleveland and the defending champion Lakers – are assumed to be playing in late June. Even if you believe that either team will do so, what flaws within will make them fall short?
Johnson: For Cleveland it’s simple. LeBron can’t do everything even though he really has done everything. Jamieson will help, but I’m not sure if he’s enough. Despite that acquisition (and the assumption that Ilgauskas will come back to the team) I don’t see them possibly Conference Final-bound, but I wouldn’t be too surprised by an upset. I just don’t have as much faith in this team as everyone else does. As for the Lakers, that team worries me sometimes because despite them being an excellent team, to me, they always seem t teeter on the edge of self-destruction and implosion at any moment.
Moralde: The Cavs are a complete team now. What I can see that will haunt them is their playoff past. Can they get past Orlando? And will Mo Williams finally step up in the playoffs? As for the Lakers, anyone can see that whoever's taking on their point guard will have a field day against them. And the talks of the frontcourt being soft has come back. Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will never be bruisers but they have to stand up against the bullies. If we get the Pau Gasol of last year, Lakers should be fine.
Hoffman: The Lakers really aren’t a flawed team with all the talent on their roster. If you were to point at a flaw you could say they lack depth, especially at the guard position. Lakers fans would say that Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown are fine, but I don’t buy it. Put them on another team away from Kobe and company and you have marginal players who wouldn’t see quality minutes. Depth may or may not catch up to them in the playoffs, but rotations are very short, usually 8 guys max.
As far as the Cavs go, I see the same thing, they’re only going to lose if someone beats them. They shored up their biggest weakness, a “stretch” 4 man, when they brought in Jamison, who also gave them a legit number two option… I will say Mike Brown may very well be this team’s biggest flaw. The man is not a very good coach; he has most of the same flaws as Mike Woodson. LeBron being on the floor makes that irrelevant, though. This could very well be Cleveland’s year.
Part 2 to come later this afternoon.