Today, we’ll start a new series called The Shop, where Jabari Davis and Lang Greene debate a few topics in a somewhat less formal style than what you may be accustomed to from us. Consider it an ongoing ‘virtual barbershop’ conversation, if you will. Both writers cover the entire league, but Davis is based out of the Los Angeles area while Greene is in Atlanta.
Davis: Alright, Lang, let’s kick things off with death, taxes and the freaking San Antonio Spurs since Gregg Popovich’s soldiers absolutely ran the Golden State Warriors ragged in their home opener, no less. We won’t overreact to one game, but two things were very evident: the Warriors’ adjustment period will be tougher than some of us may have anticipated and the Spurs truly don’t give a d*** about our narratives or preconceived notions about the season ahead.
From Golden State’s side of things, obviously the addition of a player the caliber of Kevin Durant didn’t cause such an extreme drop-off as we saw in the opener. The total impact of all the roster changes, however, definitely seemed to make a difference with the overall connectivity this group had enjoyed these past few years. Guys like Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes and even Leandro Barbosa and Marreese Speights may not have gotten a ton of the credit along the way, but each seemed to play a vital role in contributing to the chemistry and perhaps even the culture that led to their success. Lang, how long before they get that second unit together and how long before Golden State’s staff gets that interior defense in order?
Greene: Listen, man: It is going to be fun this season to observe how the class bully (Golden State) acts after returning school after finally getting a beatdown by an underdog (Cleveland, Finals). Quick question … remember when Mike Tyson was considered “The Baddest Man on the Planet” before James “Buster” Douglass starched him in Tokyo? After that, Tyson still showed up to arenas with a can … but do you remember how his opponents stepped to him after he was KO’d? He was still a bad man, but the fear factor was gone. I liken it to when Rocky cut Ivan Drago (Rocky IV) and his corner yelled out “He’s just a man!”
Anyway, back to basketball. Make no mistake, Golden State is still going to run roughshod on the league, but teams are going to step to them differently because the mystique was dimmed by their Finals collapse.
How many championships would guys like Shaq and Kobe have without dudes like Ron Harper and Rick Fox? How many would MJ and Pippen have without guys like Steve Kerr, Horace Grant and B.J. Armstrong? Role players are key. Not even just on the court, but off the floor as well. Guys like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli were BIG parts of the team’s chemistry. I’ve said it before … this isn’t NBA 2K; chemistry and trust matter in real life.
Davis: Without a doubt. We like throwing those cliches out at times like “championships are actually won during the summer.” That sounds nice and they are certainly ‘prepared’ for during the summer months, but there’s a difference between being a paper champ and actually doing it on the court. I think Golden State eventually puts it together, but the transition is never going to be easy when you have that much roster turnover.
And from San Antonio’s angle: If Kawhi Leonard takes another step offensively (as it certainly appears he has), then we need to have a serious conversation about whether he is the league’s best player not named LeBron James. His overall impact is just absurd. Also, where in the world did Jonathon Simmons come from and does Popovich basically have a huge cauldron of basketball greatness that he just churns these players out of?
Greene: Kawhi Leonard is just ridiculous. I know a lot of people feel he is a system offensive player and not a true go-to scorer or offensive dynamo. But the man was rumbling on opening night in Golden State. My goodness, he was eating whenever he wanted and took all of the Warriors’ lunch money. I can’t take the leap and say he is the best player in the league … but he IS the best two-way player right now.
In regards to Simmons, systems matter. How many times have we witnessed young player A struggle in one situation and then blossom in the next? In San Antonio, there is a system in place and guys have a clearly defined role. The problem with a lot of young guys is getting into situations that are chaotic. Just look at the difference between Hassan Whiteside in Sacramento and him in Miami. Now I know Hassan matured a great deal, but are you telling me NO ONE in Sacramento saw that raw talent? But yes, Popovich, Pat Riley and even Mike Budenholzer seem to get these young guys ready, pronto. Simmons could be next up.
Davis: It’s WAY early to even have this thought, but it does make me wonder about Danny Green’s future role and standing with the team if Simmons is able to continue to flourish in that system. I’d imagine a team in the playoff race near the deadline might consider giving up a decent pick or asset to have a guy like Green in their rotation.
Greene: Oh for sure, there would be teams lining up quick to bring in Danny – a guy who plays his role without complaining or creating drama … which is exactly the reason why Popovich and R.C. Buford won’t trade him. San Antonio does a great job monitoring playing time so I’m sure once Danny gets back, they’ll handle this seamlessly – as usual. Death, taxes and the Spurs, bro.
Davis: Moving on, I’m really intrigued by all of the youth movements currently taking place around the league. After several years of focusing on tanking for top picks (whether they admitted it or not), it’s great to see the fruits of such labors actually coming to fruition in the form of Joel AKA “The Process” Embiid in Philly, D’Angelo Russell and a whole slew of young, talented guys in Los Angeles, Devin Booker and his trio of young (lottery pick) big men as well as a nice, promising group in Denver. Minnesota, Boston and Utah are sometimes lumped in with these groups, but I feel like those squads are ahead of the curve when it comes to this discussion, so let’s focus on those first three. If Embiid stays healthy, that young man is going to be a problem. To be honest, while watching that opener against OKC, I actually had a moment where I said, “Oh yeah, they do still have Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel.” Some of the grief many of us gave this squad is legitimate and I refuse to allow revisionist history to completely erase the reality, but if Embiid truly develops into the monster we always heard he could be, none of that will matter. Essentially, you really only need one of those guys to end up being incredible as long as the others are at least serviceable.
Same deal with the Lakers, as even though some of his antics rub folks the wrong way, it definitely appears that D’Angelo Russell is going to be special. Thing is, while Lakers fans were in agony over these past few seasons as the rest of the league (and Twitter) enjoyed, the front office went to work and appears to have stockpiled a nice crew to officially (finally) start their rebuild. I’ve been on record about it several times, but I also really like what Phoenix is putting together and I think Denver might be nice if they can continue to develop under Mike Malone. I know everything is about the Warriors, Cavs and Spurs (and the quasi-contending pack behind them), but geek out with me for a moment about the “next generation” teams that might be ready to go by the time we reach the 2017-18 season.
Greene: The NBA is in great shape, man. The money is flowing and the young talent is deep, marketable and on the rise, which means the revenue will continue pouring in. Before I dive into the three squads you asked about, don’t you feel a little bad for Anthony Davis in New Orleans? While all of these young prospects are surrounded by talented guys alongside them, the Brow is all alone in New Orleans from a youth core standpoint. Such is life.
Honestly, I had the same thought watching Joel Embiid on opening night. Did you feel the electricity through the TV every time he touched the rock? Then, I looked over and saw Jahlil Okafor and it seems like there is no comparison in the upside department. I mean, Okafor is no slouch but it’s starting to look silly there was a debate on whether he or Karl-Anthony Towns should have been selected first overall last year. Now, after just one game, I am latching on the Embiid train and believe Okafor is a supporting cast member. Crazy.
We talked over the summer, about the D’Angelo Russell and Devin Booker comparison. I think Russell has a chance to be a goodie monster. We already see Devin out in Phoenix putting veterans on the bench (sorry B. Knight). But Russell has more of a BOOM-or-BUST dynamic to him. He could become an All-NBA performer or he could become an All-Hollywood media scapegoat if he doesn’t mature quickly enough. Right now, I am on the All-NBA train.
I like what the Lakers built, stockpiling young talent and then spending money on vets this past summer. Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov aren’t sexy additions, but they have won at a high level in the league and the Lakers need that. Phoenix and Denver have loads of young talent and are about three seasons away from making serious noise. Right now, Minnesota’s young core is deserving of the hype. I won’t join their playoff express train this season, but it should arrive at the station next season.
Davis: Oh, I’m right there with you on Davis. In fact, I will no longer get irritated by the #FreeTheBrow when it scrolls across my Twitter timeline (Shameless plug alert: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene). He’s one of the league’s best players when healthy and you just hope they can continue to put pieces around him. It’s still early, but you just don’t want to end up seeing him frustrated and wanting to leave if the struggle continues beyond this season.
When it comes to the vets the Lakers added, part of that reaction was on the organization for not appropriately managing expectations (they’ve literally thrown gasoline on the fire at times), but part of that is because you know folks love to clown when you’ve been on top for a long time and then stumble. The reality is, if you’re truly embracing a youth movement, then you want to have guys like Mozgov and Deng because they can contribute in several ways and don’t threaten the further development of the young players. I’ll say it flat-out, the tone in the locker room is about as loose and comfortable as it has ever been over the five years I’ve had the fortune of covering the team and league. That isn’t a knock on the old regime or anyone no longer in the room (as needlessly harping on that seems pointless to me); that’s just a fact.
We can fully anticipate a ton of ups and downs over the next few years as each of these teams continue their ascent in the standings, but it sure is nice to see several young teams with so much promise and so many things to look forward to for those fan bases.
We’ll end this week’s introductory discussion at this point, but we can assure you the conversation will be ongoing throughout the season. It will expand and include topics from around the league and maybe even include a surprise appearance or two here and there. Whether you cover the NBA for a living or simply live to watch NBA basketball, we are ALL fans of this game; and these discussions will specifically permit you to enjoy or simply laugh at us for “fan-boying” just like everyone else.
If you have specific topics you’d like us to discuss or have general feedback on the previous conversation, remember to use #TheShop and tag us on Twitter and we’ll work as many of your recommendations in throughout the season.
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