After his first regular season at the NBA level, Basketball Insiders sat down with Cleveland Cavaliers guard John Holland to discuss the experience, his road to the league and more.
Basketball Insiders: The regular season is over. The playoffs are here. How do you feel about the guys’ chances?
Holland: I feel good. I think we’re in as good of a position as any team to win.
BI: There was a brief time in Boston a few years back in the playoffs, but for you, this was your first taste of the NBA life. The experience overall, how would you describe it?
Holland: It’s been great. It’s been such a crazy year. You basically see two different teams almost. That first half of the year where you got everybody—this whole big super team coming together—and now you have the second half of the year where it’s a whole different type of team. So it’s been a crazy year, fun ride.
BI: Nonetheless, being teammates with the best player in the world in LeBron James had to be an amazing way to come into your rookie year, right?
Holland: I mean, yeah…(pauses) He’s—when it’s all said and done—probably gonna be the best player to ever play the game, so to be able to say you were teammates on the same court, same floor is something I’mma look back at probably. It’s gonna be an experience.
BI: Do his accomplishments leave you in awe? You’re seeing this night-in and night-out from this guy.
Holland: It’s pretty amazing. He finds a way to amaze you every single time you see him play. Especially with the things he’s accomplished this year. I don’t know what it’s been like. I haven’t seen him day in and day out in years past. This year, it’s been really amazing.
BI: Have you studied how he goes about things on a daily basis?
Holland: You can learn so much by just being around him. It’s crazy how much you can learn just from being around him and this whole basketball culture right here. It’s amazing. I’ve learned so much just from watching.
BI: What about the Cleveland Cavaliers organization’s culture stood out to you?
Holland: Just how they do things. Just about the professionalism, the approach and how they handle things. Because you know it’s no easy task to have the media scrutinizing literally every single game every single day. From the smallest thing to the biggest thing, it’s under scrutiny. It’s a lot.
It’s a lot of pressure on the guys. It’s a lot of pressure on the coaches. It’s a lot of pressure on everybody around. So just to be able to see how they deal with that is impressive.
BI: Is there anybody in the locker room you got particularly close to this year?
Holland: All the guys are cool. Cedi [Osman]. Obviously the guys that were down in Canton a lot. Ante [Zizic]. Before they left—obviously I spent some time in Boston—so Jae [Crowder] and [Isaiah Thomas]. I knew them a little bit. And just now, everybody’s close. It’s not like one particular person. It’s the team.
BI: The NBA introduced the two-way contract before the season. Was it beneficial to you in your eyes?
Holland: I think so. I mean…if you could stop me at the beginning of the year and say, ‘You’re gonna play this many games. You’re gonna have an opportunity to be up [in Cleveland] and experience this,’ I’d do it again.
BI: You’ve spent three years in the G-League. Before that, four years overseas. That’s a long time to get to the pros. Is that something you take pride in?
Holland: Yeah! It’s something that I made the conscious decision to come back from overseas and try and pursue it. I’m not all the way there (laughs), but I’m making progress. It’s better than nothing. The first year I was in the G-League, I was able to get called up to Boston. Second year, didn’t nothing happen. I went back one more year for this two-way and I think it worked out.
BI: The world saw the opportunity that Andre Ingram got and the success he had in his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers. Do you know him? Have you played against him before?
Holland: I believe I may have played against him…like maybe once. I didn’t really know him, but seeing the story…It’s just such a great story because it’s about perseverance. Like, who knows? I don’t know if I could’ve done it for 10 years. G-League is…three years felt like 10 (laughs), you know?
For 10 years, to deal with it day-in and day-out and be able to persevere through that and then finally get your opportunity? It’s a great story. And then to do what he did with that opportunity in that game—I was rooting for him, I know. It’s hard not to root for somebody like that that’s been through so much.
BI: That’s my next question as it relates to you—do you ever stop and think about how you gutted it out for those three years down there and the time before that?
Holland: Listen, everybody—the thing about it is, everybody has a journey they go through. To get to this level, you gotta persevere through something. There’s nobody out here on this court, whether it be from LeBron to anybody to me, they’ve gone through challenges to even be where they are.
It’s a great story. It’s a story that a lot of people have. They have to persevere through things to get what they want and that’s just…it’s life, really. But it’s good—to be able to see it on this level, it’s clearer when you see somebody that’s been [in the G-League] for 10 years and then they have this opportunity and they take advantage of that opportunity. It’s so clear how much [Ingram’s] had to overcome.
Maybe it’s not as clear as how much LeBron had to overcome or how much another player has to overcome. You don’t really see it because you think, ‘Oh they’re here. They’ve been here.’
BI: That’s true. So let me ask this: Through your journey personally, how many guys have you seen come and go because it was too much or too tough to get to the next level?
Holland: I think the G-League is one of the hardest routes to take to get to the [NBA]. There’s a lot of opportunity, but there’s a lot of people that want that opportunity.
BI: There’s what, 26, 27 teams next year. You’ve got to think at least 12 players on each roster…
Holland: Exactly. It’s really a dog eat dog world down there. And thing about it is, in college you have four years. You’re competing with everybody in the G-League. It’s about winning and it’s about being able to show what you can do to help a team win or help a team in any type of way. So it’s tough, it’s tough. You see guys that don’t make it.
But also, honestly in my time in the G-League, Quinn Cook was my roommate for two years. We had that guys that I saw that went through that and that put in the dues and they made it. Eric Moreland was my teammate last year. He’s up in Detroit. So like, you see these stories where people make it, but then you don’t see some stories. There’s teammates all around that don’t make it, that don’t have that same story—but they’re still playing. They’re still doing something.
BI: Which in that case, in the end, it’s worth it, right? You got the opportunity this year.
I know it’s not under the greatest circumstances because it’s the very last game of the year and a lot of guys are resting, but you went out there and had yourself a career-high. That had to feel good at least.
Holland: It always feels good to get that type of opportunity and to try and do at least something. I wish we could’ve won, but the only thing could do is the best I could do you know what I’m saying? That’s my only mindset, to go out there and not be timid, not be shy, just play my game and do the best that I could do. That’s the only thing that I could bring to the table. And the position I’m in, that’s all I try and do.
BI: On the six-game road trip on the west coast, you guys were battered by injuries and that led to some huge experience for you.
You got an opportunity to play big minutes in Portland, for example. I remember you had to match up with C.J. McCollum for a good chunk of time.
Holland: Listen, it’s all part of the experience. Everything I learned here, in the G-League, all my years overseas—it all’s gonna add up to getting better and better and experience, and when it’s all said and done, a career. It was fun. Actually getting to play and feel like…getting those meaningful minutes, somewhat meaningful minutes (laughs). It’s a good feeling because this is the level I wanted. This is what I wanted, so it’s just that opportunity alone is worth it.
BI: With the year as a whole—playing with Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Love, IT—guys that have left their mark, is that wild to you? That you’ve gotten to that point where you were teammates with these guys and you shared the floor with them?
Holland: Can I be honest? It’s not wild. ‘Cause I’ve always believed that I could play at this level, to be honest. It’s surreal in the fact that that I used to look at Dwyane Wade and LeBron and look at their highlights and be like, ‘Wow. These guys are amazing.’ I used to watch them before games, watch their highlights and wanna be like that. But as far as me, I always believed in my ability to be able to play at that level. Even if nobody else did, I think that’s something that, me personally, I believe. So when I’m doing it, I try not to be like, ‘It’s crazy’ because…
BI: Because you belong.
BI: That’s awesome. Alright, last one. What are your goals moving forward in the summer, after this playoff run of course and watching the guys?
Holland: My goal is just to get better as a player. Come back next year better than I was this year, learn, grow and watching this whole run just to try and absorb it. Try and learn and see what it’s like as they make this run. Just try and help any way that I can.
BI: What does getting better entail for you as far as on the court?
Holland: Well I wanna get better at…probably ball-handling, shooting, decision-making, defending, rotations. That’s stuff that you could get better at every year, I think. It’s always something that you can work on. And also just like working on my body, trying to come back better physically than I was this year.
It’s a process. Anything you try and get better at every single year, and when you can’t, that’s when it’s over. Always gotta try and keep developing. I don’t believe that there’s anytime where you could stop developing, any age. If you’re still playing, you could still get better at something. There’s still something you can get better at. Your game’s gonna change, but you still can develop and get better, and that’s the fun of it, for me at least.
NBA All-Star Friday Recap
Basketball Insiders recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2019, which featured a four-point shot and a deep pool of talent in the Rising Stars Challenge.
NBA All-Star Celebrity Game
The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game had a variety of big names to trot out on Friday night. This list included former NBA players such as Ray Allen and Jay Williams, current WNBA players Stefanie Dolson and A’ja Wilson, entertainers such as JB Smoove, Mike Colter, and Hassan Minhaj, and last year’s MVP, Quavo.
The Home Team was coached by WNBA legend Dawn Staley while the Away Team was coached by WNBA superstar Sue Bird.
Team Staley pulled ahead multiple times throughout the game, but every run they made was followed by a run by Team Bird. Team Bird’s comeback attempt fell short as Team Staley ultimately won 82-80.
Internet Comedian Famous Los led the way for Team Staley, scoring a team-high 22 points on 10-16 shooting while dishing out three assists in the team’s victory. Jay Williams razzled and dazzled as well, scoring 18 points on 8-15 shooting while dishing out five assists – including this beauty.
— NBA (@NBA) February 16, 2019
What could have been with Jay Williams…
Quavo topped his performance last year for Team Staley, scoring a game-high 27 points in total, highlighted by what may very well be the only five-point play to ever happen in an NBA-sponsored basketball game. Quavo shot 13-19 from the field while also corralling nine rebounds as well. Ray Allen also put up a vintage performance, putting up 24 points on 11-21 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.
There were a few interesting wrinkles to this game. A four-point shot was implemented in which $4,000 would be donated to charity for each shot made from distance. Ten four-pointers were made in the game, totaling $40,000 in charity donations.
Two more fun facts: We didn’t even get a tip-off in this game. Comedian Brad Williams stole the ball from the ref to start it off. Also, just because it’s a harmless exhibition does not mean participants won’t get into it. JB Smoove and Hassan Minhaj got a little testy at the end of the first quarter.
Other participants included:
From Team Bird: Ronnie 2K (Director of influencer marketing, 2K Sports), AJ Buckley (Actor, “SEAL Team”), Bad Bunny (Singer), Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks’ Co-Owner), Adam Ray (Host of About Last Night), Amanda Seales (Actor/Comedian), James Shaw Jr. (Hometown Hero), Brad Williams (Host of About Last Night)
From Team Staley: Chris Daughtry (Singer), Terrence Jenkins (TV Personality/Actor), Dr. Oz (TV Personality), Rapsody (Rapper), Bo Rinehart (Musician), Steve Smith (Former NFL Player), Jason Weissman (Hometown Hero)
MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars
If last year’s Rising Stars game had an overabundance of talent, this one may have very well topped it. That’s how loaded this year’s class was.
Let’s start with what could be a preview for what’s to come next year: Luka Doncic’s performance. More specifically, his connection with Lauri Markaanen. Throughout the first quarter, Doncic found Markaanen everywhere, either for easy alley-oops or wide open threes on the pick and pop.
Why bring this up? Because this is exactly what we could expect to see from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis when they share the court together, as Markaanen has a similar skill set offensively to Porzingis’.
As for the game itself, Team USA jumped out to a 12-point lead at the half, thanks primarily to the likes of Jayson Tatum (16 points on 6-12 shooting) and Kyle Kuzma (21 points on 10-16 shooting).
Team World wouldn’t go down without a fight. In the third quarter, they managed to cut the deficit down to a point thanks primarily to Doncic and Ben Simmons’ collective efforts, but that was as close as they got. Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter as they went on to win 161-144.
Simmons led the way for Team World, as he finished with 30 points on 14-17 shooting on a squad where, outside of Simmons, the scoring was pretty well spread out as Doncic, Markaanen, DeAndre Ayton, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rodney Kurucs, OG Annonuby, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Okogie all had 10 points or more.
Team USA had a few standouts, including Kuzma (35 points on 15-27 shooting), Tatum (30 points on 12-24 shooting), Donovan Mitchell (20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), and Trae Young (25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds). All were deserving of the MVP, but the award ultimately went to Kuzma.
Tonight, we go a little deeper into All-Star Weekend with the Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shooting Contest, and the Skills Challenge. Stay tuned!
NBA Daily: Can Tobias Harris Put the 76ers Over the Top?
Shane Rhodes breaks down whether the addition of Tobias Harris can push the 76ers into the NBA Finals.
The Philadelphia 76ers made perhaps the biggest move of trade season when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Harris, in the midst of a career year, was on the path to a lucrative contract come this summer. But, with an uncertain future in Los Angeles, Philadelphia capitalized and made their move to win now.
In doing so, the 76ers have put together, arguably, the most talented starting roster in the Eastern Conference. But what exactly does Harris bring to the team, and can he put them over the top of their competition in the East?
Harris has very much looked the part of an All-Star this season and has given Brett Brown and the 76ers coaching staff yet another weapon with which to attack defenses. The 26-year-old has posted career highs in points (20.7), rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.8) per game, field goal percentage (49.7) and three-point percentage (43.0) this season and should prove a significant upgrade over Wilson Chandler, who was sent to Los Angeles in the trade, on both offense and defense.
In a superior lineup, his Harris’ play should only improve as well.
His statistical values may dip with the move to Philadelphia, but, in a way, the team may look at that as a positive; with so many talents on the floor together, Brown, in theory, should be able to utilize Harris in order to reduce wear and tear on his other players — namely Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler — and keep them somewhat fresh for the postseason, if not at the expensive of some personal stats.
Harris is another player that can handle the ball and should lead to even more movement within the 76ers offense. He has shown over the years an ability to push the ball up the floor in transition and should relieve some of the pressure from Simmons in that area as well. In the event that he is the lone star on the floor, or should the ball movement stop, Harris able and willing to break out his do-it-himself kit; he may not dance a defender like Kyrie Irving, but he is more than capable of sizing up his man and either hitting a shot in their face or brute-forcing his way to the basket.
Harris is a more-than-capable shooter and, off the ball, should provide Simmons with another reliable perimeter outlet and open things up on the interior open things up inside for him and Embiid as well.
Defensively, Harris isn’t a wizard, but the effort and energy are there and should shine in the already competent 76ers defense. While it may not be ideal in all situations, Harris has the size to bang down low with some centers and the quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter. Harris’ length — a near seven-foot wingspan — should also prove an asset, as he will allow the defense to switch on almost every possession. In the postseason, that could prove invaluable.
As good as this acquisition may look on paper, it isn’t without its cons or risks. Harris’ is another primary option on a team that already had three of them in Embiid, Simmons and Butler; could the presence of too many options bog things down a la the Boston Celtics earlier this season?
His contract situation, alongside the impending free agency of Butler, should give some pause as well.
The team has hedged its future on those two players and given up some good (and some great) assets to acquire them. Should Butler leave, Harris would provide the 76ers with the ultimate insurance policy but, should both players move on after the season it could set the team back years.
The 76ers have plenty of pre-existing issues to figure out as well, a losing record against their chief Eastern Conference competition — Milwaukee Bucks (0-1), Toronto Raptors (1-2) and Celtics (0-3) — most prominent among them.
But, with Harris in the fold, the 76ers seem to have all the pieces of the puzzle. If the players can put it all together, they could very well find themselves in the NBA Finals come June.
Gordon Hayward Clearing Hurdles, Finding Joy In Comeback From Injury
Spencer Davies sits down with Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward to discuss the first half of his season, returning from a devastating injury and the team blocking out the noise.
As his Boston Celtic teammates got some shots up to prepare for a morning practice in Cleveland, Gordon Hayward sat in a chair on the baseline watching.
Quicken Loans Arena held a particular place in his mind. Not because of a championship memory, nor for any individual accomplishment.
But because nearly five months after an emotional return and season debut, Hayward had come back to the scene where the course of his career shifted in an instant.
“It’s something that I was thinking about sitting in the hotel last night,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders before shootaround at The Q. “Like, last time I was here, my whole world changed. I’ll probably think about it, be a little anxious about it at the beginning when I first check in, but then when I get going it’ll be fine.”
If there was any trepidation, it was either short-lived or didn’t show. The 28-year-old looked as confident as ever, packing a powerful punch off the bench as a scorer and a distributor for a depleted Boston team. He finished with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“I didn’t even think about that until this morning,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Hayward’s return to Cleveland. “I thought about it in the preseason and then for whatever reason, I probably should’ve thought about it.
“I just think he has played enough now where he’s past that initial hurdle, right? So it’s probably not fun to walk out on the court the first time and shoot around and those type of things but ultimately, I think he probably moved past that really quickly. I thought he was great tonight, both ends of the court. I thought his offensive playmaking passing the ball was as good as his scoring.”
Hayward has scored 20 points or more on just three different occasions this year. It’s a far cry from the All-Star numbers he used to put up nightly. He understands, however, that perseverance is necessary as he slowly, but surely gets re-acclimated to playing.
“Physically, I’ve felt pretty good. I think I’m definitely moving way better than I was at the beginning of the season,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting more and more confident with each month, each week. There’s definitely still games where I just don’t feel like myself, but I think I’m trending in the right direction.”
When asked about those areas that don’t feel right yet Hayward pinpointed attacking the basket, specifically going at big men in the paint, taking contact and finishing.
Knowing that he can go up, get hit and be able to come down fine is a mental hurdle Hayward admittedly still has to clear—and the only way to get past that is repetition.
“You just have to do it, and do it more than one time,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “It’s like an experience-type thing. You’ve got to just do it and feel confident doing it, and until that happens, then you’ll just keep thinking about it.”
Once Hayward is driving and dunking on a regular basis without thinking about what happens next, he says he’ll officially be back. Until then, an appreciation of being able to play the game he loves again is the true big picture—especially after an injury that could’ve taken it all away from him.
“That’s been a mental thing as well is trying to find some joy in just the fact that I’m back out on the court,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Because some people don’t return from that and a blessing that we have the technology that we do these days that they were able to fix my ankle. So I guess just being patient with the whole thing, that’s been a challenge.”
CELTICS A WORK IN PROGRESS
Coming into the 2017-18 season, the excitement in Boston was palpable. Hayward signed a four-year maximum contract with the Celtics that summer. Shortly thereafter, Danny Ainge made a blockbuster deal to acquire Kyrie Irving, creating a dynamic duo to begin a new era of C’s basketball.
The Celtics started the campaign on the road against the defending Eastern Conference Champion Cavaliers in October. Since the storyline of the night was Irving facing off against the franchise he had won a championship with on opening night, Hayward’s debut took a bit of a back seat…until the unthinkable happened.
Less than halfway into the first quarter, Irving saw a cutting Hayward with an open path to the rim and threw up a lob looking for an alley-oop finish. Cleveland’s Jae Crowder and LeBron James came to double before Boston’s pair could connect, leaving Hayward afloat in an awkward position.
Hayward came down almost horizontally, with only his left leg there to brace himself for the fall. Tragically, he dislocated his ankle and fractured his tibia simultaneously in one of the most gruesome moments in the history of sports.
As he was consoled by trainers and wheeled away on a stretcher with an air cast, the whole arena was dead silent. Players from both teams were praying in disbelief of what they’d just witnessed. Just like that, Hayward’s season was over, and even perhaps his career.
Following multiple successful surgeries and going through rehabilitation programs over the course of a year, Hayward was able to make a miraculous return to the court on October 16, 2018. He’s been on the floor for 26 minutes per night, playing in 53 of 58 total games.
Just as Hayward has tirelessly ground away to get back to form, so have the Celtics. With a healthy Irving and returning Hayward, along with the group that unexpectedly went seven games into the conference finals last year, they were supposed to be the top dog in the East.
It’s no secret that the Celtics boast an abundance of young talent. Jaylen Brown has shown plenty of growth after a shaky start to the season. Terry Rozier is on track to get paid in the offseason by a team in need of a starting point guard. Jayson Tatum is Boston’s second-best scorer (16.5 points per game) and rebounder (6.3 boards per game) at just 20 years old.
That goes without mentioning rookie center Robert Williams. Daniel Theis and Brad Wanamaker, while not quite as young, are two inexperienced NBA players who have overseas experience. The Celtics’ depth is a quality that is necessary for a deep run in the postseason.
“I think anytime they have an opportunity, they seem to make the most of it. That’s at every position,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders.
At the halfway mark headed into the All-Star break, Boston holds fifth place, locked in a battle with the likes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers for the three seed. The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors each have 43 wins with over five games separating them from the trio of teams behind them.
Despite back-to-back blown leads and losses to both Los Angeles franchises at the TD Garden, the Celtics have won 12 of their last 15 contests.
“I think when we all play with energy and when we’re connected defensively – and offensively, for that matter, but especially on the defensive end – we give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “Then, when we are able to move the ball and put together games where we have 30-plus assists, that’s when we’re really tough (to beat).”
TUSSLING WITH THE MEDIA
It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows, though. Early in the season, there were many things said by multiple players on the record, including some pointed words from Irving in more than one instance. These comments can be twisted and turned easily.
Add in an example: the day he told reporters, “Ask me July 1,” regarding his free agency plans, it turned into a big mess of speculation. What many people didn’t hear was Irving’s thoughts regarding the media’s spin on what was actually going on.
“This is like college recruitment for me all over again. I don’t know. This is just weird,” Irving said to the scrum of reporters in New York. “It’s a new position to be in answering all these questions, seeing all this stuff that I’m trying to avoid, and it’s just a distraction. It’s crazy how stories and things and storyline can seep into a locker room. You guys are part of the destruction of locker rooms. That’s just what it is….”
Hayward had plenty of his own thoughts on the matter.
“I mean, I think certainly all outside noise has an opportunity to put a wedge between people and between teammates,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “I think especially in today’s age where there’s social media and information is right now, all-the-time, like everybody sees what everybody says. There’s guys that are paid to give their opinions on things and, if you read into all that stuff, can definitely put a wedge in between guys.
“More than anything, just talking to people,” Hayward said of the proper remedy. “If you have an issue with somebody, just tell ’em, talk to ’em. But I think for the most part if you block all that stuff out and really just focus on yourself as a group and what the coaching staff is saying and what your teammates are saying, it’s usually better.”
FATHERHOOD IS A BLESSING
We talked about the youth Boston has already, but Hayward isn’t in that same category anymore. While it’s not that he’s old, per se, he is a nine-year man in the NBA.
Hayward considers it “weird” that he’s the veteran now. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t mind that time has flown by because of the gift of fatherhood. The injury he sustained was absolutely devastating.
But it put things in perspective for him, and no matter what happens from here on out with his career, Hayward will always be grateful for the most important thing in his life—family.
“No doubt. I think no matter what happens on the court, my girls don’t care,” Hayward told Basketball Insiders. “They just care that dad’s home and they want to play hot lava and play picnic and all that stuff. Like having three healthy kids and a wife at home, those things are good.”
If Hayward’s recent play is an indication of what we’re going to see from him moving forward, he might just get the best of both worlds.