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NBA PM: The ‘Shop – Rivalries & Best Big Men

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Allow us to welcome you back into The ‘Shop for another week of entertaining (and maybe a bit enlightening) NBA talk. Our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene will be joined by Justin Rowan (Fear The Sword, Hoops Habit and Press Basketball) for this week’s conversation.

Jabari: Great to have you with us this week, Justin. We certainly appreciate you taking the time to stop in for a few Reggie Miller lines and a Dwight Howard faux-hawk. We’ll kick things off in your neck of the woods with the Cavs and start by asking for your gut reaction to the Kyle Korver deal? Was it enough to make you believe the Cavs are the clear-cut team to beat or were you already comfortable with stating that given the way their last four meetings have gone?

Justin: Thanks for having me. My gut reaction to the Korver deal is that it’s another steal for David Griffin. Everybody knows what Korver can do and how seamless the fit should be, but it also gives the team the ability to address other issues via trade, free agency, or on the buyout market.

I still think the Warriors are the favorite heading into the Finals. They’re still figuring things out, but they’re likely the most talented team ever assembled. However, unlike last season I think the Cavs have a much better chance at winning. Last season took a tremendous amount of luck with injuries and a suspension to win, whereas this season these teams appear to be on much more even footing.

Lang: Welcome to the mix. Appreciate the time, bro. I’ll simply say this. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. Salute to Ric Flair. The Cleveland Cavaliers absolutely walked through the fire last season to get their hands raised in victory versus the Golden State Warriors. And since then there has been no shortage of folks talking about Draymond’s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury and whether or not Stephen Curry was at full strength.

But I’ll say this, when the Warriors dispatched Cleveland back in 2015, I didn’t hear any of this stuff last season when the Warriors were on their way to 73 wins. I didn’t hear about Kevin Love being injured. Crickets about Kyrie Irving being hurt in game one of the Finals. Heck, Matthew Dellavedova was hospitalized for dehydration during the series. No one put an asterisk on Golden State’s win. But Cleveland’s epic 3-1 come-from-behind series win has all types of asterisks placed on it – at every turn.

Right now, I still favor Cleveland. I tend to lean toward teams that have won together. Teams that have been through that fire and persevered through the stormy weather. Golden State’s original core has too … but they also have a new member in the fold in Kevin Durant. When (or if) the chips are down, how will everyone react? I am looking forward to Part III. Hopefully neither side will have an excuse come the end of June.

Justin: Oh I definitely get that. In my opinion the Finals should be 1-1, just in the opposite order they happened. The Cavs have the pieces to disrupt the Warriors and come away with their second title. Now that the season series is over, it’ll be interesting to see what chess moves are made by each team before the seemingly inevitable June showdown.

Jabari: After the way the Dubs beat the brakes off the Cavs last night, I definitely understand you being hesitant to say Cleveland is the clear-cut favorite, Justin. That said, can we all acknowledge LeBron’s “this isn’t a rivalry” talk is total nonsense? I know we are skipping all types of steps and presuming general team health in ways we really shouldn’t when it comes to professional sports, but barring anything crazy happening, we are headed for a third consecutive matchup in the Finals. The players can “act” like it doesn’t matter whether they square off once again, but we can all tell they want Round 3, can’t we? Also, Justin, is there an EC team you see that can really challenge the Cavs along the way? Are we going to pretend the Raptors finally have enough?

Justin: Hahaha. For the record, I was saying for about a week that the Warriors would win by at least twenty. I think what LeBron is doing with the rivalry talk is playing mind games with his own team. He’s constantly trying to enforce a mindset that the Warriors are the better team and that they must keep pushing to get to that level. He understands the dangers of becoming complacent or overconfident. Hell, that was a big part of why the Warriors lost last year.

I’m still out on the Raptors as a legitimate threat to the Cavs. They simply don’t have the defensive personnel to combat the Cavs. If you look at the player tracking data, Jonas Valanciunas is worse defensively than Enes Kanter in many key areas. The issue is they don’t have many alternatives. They also don’t have a secondary playmaker, meaning if you put length on Lowry they’ll fall apart. Which is a big part of why they’re 1-8 against the Cavs, Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, and Clippers this season.

If anybody is going to give the Cavs a hard time, it would be Milwaukee, assuming Middleton returns. They have the length to bother the Cavs and force a tough series like round one against Detroit. While that series was a sweep, it was a much closer series on a game to game basis than the six-game series against the Raptors. Milwaukee has the ability to turn a series into a slugfest

Lang: Justin makes a very good point. Like I said last week, no one is beating the Golden State Warriors in a track meet. It just isn’t happening. And no one is beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in a series out East unless they turn it into a flat out, pier six brawl (slugfest). From what I can see, there isn’t a team out in the East that has the mental toughness and grit to do it in a seven game series.

Milwaukee is going to be a live dog against anyone come playoff time, make no mistake, but the problem with Milwaukee right now is nobody knows how Khris Middleton will return to action. Will he return ready to play 28-32 minutes a night and give 17-19 points per contest? Or will his comeback from injury mirror Chandler Parsons’ long road to recovery down in Memphis – slow and plodding. Still getting back into game shape versus the Cavaliers during “money” time isn’t an island you want to be on.  The other issue I have with Milwaukee is their lack of offensive firepower outside of Giannis and Jabari Parker.

The Raptors don’t have enough defense and Boston is too – sorry, I didn’t do this on purpose – green. What I am looking forward to is hopefully a series between Toronto and Boston. I’ve heard it various times how ticked off some of the Raptors were that people automatically had Boston leapfrog them this past summer by adding Al Horford.  The battle for #2 in the East is like a right of passage. Remember when Indiana and New York would have absolute wars just to get served up to the Chicago Bulls in the next round? Ha.

Justin: Boston still freaks me out with their lack of rebounding. When you get to the playoffs and each possession matters more, that’s the type of thing that can kill you. Isaiah Thomas has hit some huge shots in the fourth quarter this season, but those shots would feel a lot greater to me if it was coming from behind, rather than stopping the bleeding as they blow another lead. A Raptors-Celtics series would be fantastic, but if I had to make a bold prediction I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance one of those teams collapses in the first round. Toronto almost lost in game seven to Indiana last season, while this Boston roster can’t seem to make it past the opening round.

Jabari: Milwaukee was my sleeper team in the EC heading into the season, but that Middleton injury killed that noise. Whether he comes back for the final playoff push (or not), I agree that isn’t the ideal time to attempt to make a run at dethroning the defending champs and I wouldn’t anticipate them putting everything together on the spot. I feel like we all wanted to continue proclaiming just how much of a “genius” Brad Stevens is, so we ‘hoped’ the addition of Horford would have even more of an impact. The truth is, Isaiah Thomas is their best player and while I want to see him on the All-Star team, his exploits (tremendous as they’ve been) won’t likely be enough to knock off one of the top teams.

Before we transition out West for a bit, what’s going on with Brooklyn and why can’t they seem to turn things around? I know we laugh at the Sixers and other perennial losers, but it feels like we give Brooklyn a pass because they “act” like they are trying to win each offseason by bringing in free agents. Let me get each of you to put on your GM hats on for a few moments and tell me how you would turn things around with the Nets. Blow it up, entirely? Make another run at putting together the cap space to lure a couple free agents the way they attempted to about five years ago? You tell me.

Justin: I think they get a pass now because they just brought in Sean Marks. I loved what they did this summer of trying to snag restricted free agents with big offer sheets. While those deals were matched, it was a smart strategy I expect them to use next summer. As for what I would do, I’d try to shop Brook Lopez in an effort to get some young talent. I’d want at least one legitimate building block in return, otherwise I’d probably stay put. But their options are incredibly limited due to the situation the previous regime put them in. They need young talent desperately.

Lang: I believe Brooklyn is getting a pass for the moment because there aren’t many signs of dysfunction. Toward the end of the old regime, you were dealing with the remnants of acquiring Joe Johnson’s contract and the sudden decline of Deron Williams as an elite player (after paying him tons). If you also factor in the “all-in” trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (and please don’t forget the Jason Kidd power grab drama), you have all of the necessary ingredients for the soup the New York media loves – drama and noodle.

So out goes the old GM and old coaching staff. For all of the mistakes Brooklyn made in recent years, the new GM and coach were well received by the media. Then the team swings for the fences in restricted free agency to get immediately better. But Miami and Portland matched. If you have the media praising the hires just a few months ago, I wouldn’t expect too many hit pieces right now – especially devoid of DRAMA.

Jabari: You guys make some good points about the Nets, and I suppose we have to give the current regime some time to get things together, but I just wonder why we never hear much about them when the discussion about rebuilding franchises take place. So, in an effort to completely alienate that market, let me shift the focus to the Knicks for a moment. Justin, let me get you to speak to what they should do with Carmelo Anthony. I realize he has the no-trade clause, but it certainly appears like those conversations are taking place behind the scenes … and quite publicly. Lang, feel free to respond to that, but let me also get you to comment on the best possible options for ‘Melo if they elect to move him.

Justin: I think Melo believes he will outlast Phil in New York. It doesn’t sound like he is going to be waiving his no-trade clause. While he shoulders some blame, I think the organization has failed him more than he’s failed them. If it wasn’t for the Noah contract, they wouldn’t be in such a bad spot.

Even if he were to waive his NTC, a fair return for Melo would prevent you from picking in the top 7 or 8. The only way this team is going to truly improve is via free agency. I’d like to see them move Kristaps to the five and Melo to the four. But it seems anytime the organization makes some progress they get in their own way. Don’t forget, Toronto traded Lowry to the Knicks for pennies on the dollar only to have Dolan veto the deal at the last minute.

Lang: The best thing for both parties would have been not agreeing to that five-year deal to begin with. Melo had other options on the table that made better “basketball” sense. But he dedicated himself to the New york Knicks rebuild and also secured another 20-25 million for his trouble with the fifth year in the deal. Without Melo, Phil Jackson could have started a ground up rebuild in New York from a fresh canvas. I don’t always suggest hitting rock bottom, but the Knicks would be an exception. But Phil decided to play it safe. Now they’re both stuck with each other through the good and mostly bad. They both have had exit hatches and didn’t use them.

Jabari: You’re probably right about ‘Melo outlasting PJ in New York, Justin. Lang can tell you, I actually thought Phil would be out of there after a couple years, but that was before I remembered this was an ownership group that would probably still have Zeke in the front office in some capacity if it weren’t for all the legal issues from about a decade ago (let Google be your friend). I also agree the difficulty in getting a fair return is what might cause him to stick around.

Taking it out West for a bit, what is the answer with the Clippers at this point? I asked if they should seriously consider blowing things up prior to the year, but I think we all settled on the idea of making one last run with this group as currently constituted. Now, with Chris Paul out for the next 6-8 weeks and with Blake Griffin still “a week or two” away from returning, is it time to reconsider the idea before the trade deadline?

Justin: I’m all for the Clippers making one last run, but at this point they may need to find the gypsy that cursed them. They’re such a snake-bitten franchise that it just seems like they can never get a real chance to show what they can do.

If they were to blow it up, one interesting destination for Griffin would be Toronto. It would change the feel of the Eastern Conference and could present the Cavaliers with a legitimate threat. Beyond having tons of depth, the Raptors also possess the Clippers first-round pick this season. Something that would be very desirable should they detonate their roster.

Lang: The Clippers’ core ceiling was probably reached when they blew that big lead in the Western Conference Semifinals to the Houston Rockets a few years back. Playing Tuesday afternoon point guard, it’s easy to look back in hindsight and see all of the early warning signs. DeAndre Jordan attempted to bounce in free agency (which resulted in the Clippers’ whole contingent commandeering his house) and Blake Griffin has spent the past two seasons battling injuries — so has the normally durable Chris Paul. The team desperately needs a small forward and Doc Rivers has failed year in and year out, as an executive, to lure one into town. Nothing against Paul Pierce (too old) and Wesley Johnson (not skilled enough) but they aren’t capable of handling 30+ minutes. Doc Rivers trying to use his son, Austin, as a small forward was another warning sign.

But even after all of that, I still don’t think any of the top seeds would want to face them in first-round of the playoffs. That would be a potential No. 2 seed dropping to say sixth, seventh or eighth. Paul and Griffin fully healthy are live dogs versus any team in the league

Jabari: I think you hit it on the head, Lang. They’ve been a very exciting brand of basketball for the past five years, but are simply too top-heavy, which causes them to be worn down and oft-injured by the time we get to the playoffs. That idea of moving Blake to the Raptors is really intriguing, but leaves me feeling like Ricky Watters…”for WHO, for WHAT??” Keeping it with a somewhat related topic, give me your choice(s) for the top centers in the conference. Always a matter of preference, but I still have Boogie as my top center even though DeAndre Jordan is a player I’ve come to REALLY appreciate as he’s continued rounding out his game.

Justin: Boogie is definitely the center with the most dominant resume, but the well-rounded game of Gasol still makes me lean his direction. I wouldn’t put Gasol in my list of top 10 players and would likely put cousins there, yet I’d still pick him over any center right now if I was heading into a playoff series.

Jabari: You know something, the Gasol mention is great and a strong point. Boogie as an individual player is probably the most talented of that group, but Gasol’s overall impact is significantly more noticeable. Obviously, being able to play for a strong organization helps, but we have seen multiple playoff runs where Gasol was clearly the “straw that stirred the drink” when it came to Memphis. And that’s no slight or disrespect to Mike Conley or even ZBo (back in the day). We’ll let Lang chime in as the voice of reason on the topic as he wraps things up for us this week, but allow me to thank you for joining us again this week, Justin!

Lang: Bee-oh-oh-Gee-Eye-EEEE. No question. From a talent standpoint, the man is insane. Wears his heart on his sleeve a bit too much to this day even though he has matured greatly. But if I’m talking best center … DMC is my guy … for now. LG Out.

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As always, we appreciate all of your feedback about these discussions and encourage you to either leave it in the comment section directly below or via Twitter: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene.

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About Jabari Davis

Jabari Davis

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.