With the NBA just past the midseason point, there has been plenty of drama to fill the headlines. From the Carmelo Anthony saga to the rise of the spectacular Blake Griffin, the league is full of things to talk about.
Last week, I got the privilege of interviewing Hall of Famer, Boston Celtics legend and current NBATV analyst Kevin McHale. We discussed a variety of current topics going on around the league as the season approaches its stretch run.
I got the three-time NBA champion's take on some burning questions that surround the league, including Carmelo, Griffin, the Miami Heat, LeBron and the Lakers.
Here is what McHale had to say.
Allen Levin can be reached at his website, where you can find his contact information, as well as his blog posts, including this interview.
Carmelo rumors have consumed the headlines this year
Allen Levin: The Carmelo Anthony trade has died down recently, but what have you heard that’s going on, and what uniform do you expect him in by the end of the season?
Kevin McHale: Well, that’s a good question. It just keeps on taking different turns. I think New Jersey did the best thing by pulling it off the table. After a while, when you're getting a deal done, it takes a long time. Sometimes, it’s just better to stop and give it some rest.
I anticipate that the Knicks will continue to try to get him. I think the Knicks can put together a package with a young guy like Anthony Randolph and maybe a couple other players like Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler and possibly some future draft choices. It’s really hard to say.
It has actually taken way too long, and it has been in the news way too much; it’s been disruptive for Denver.
Wilson Chandler has been big for the Knicks this season
AL: Do you think it’s in the Knicks' best interest to give up a lot of their core in order to acquire Carmelo?
KM: I think you can go out and find the Gallinari’s and Randolph’s and Chandler’s. They’re very nice players, but they’re not Carmelo Anthony. I think if they did have Carmelo at the three-spot and Amar’e at the four, and Raymond Felton in the backcourt, as well as keeping Fields and some other guys, I think they’d have a chance to compete.
Now, they need some other pieces around them. They need some bigs, and they’d need to replace some shooters they would lose in this trade. I think it’s a lot easier to get quality role players than a superstar like Carmelo Anthony.
Will the Heat have what it takes to win this year?
AL: What’s it going to take for this superstar Miami Heat team to win a trophy this year?
KM: They’re going to have stay healthy, of course. In the playoffs, they’re going to have to keep the game up-tempo and speed the game up. They’re going to have to get out and run. When you get later on in the playoffs, you’re not going to be able to have silly turnovers against teams like Boston. They’re a veteran team, you're just not going be able to turn them over.
For the Miami Heat to win, they’re going to have to turn their defense into offense. They’ve got to get steals, blocked shots and long rebounds and then run and push and attack. They are best when attacking in the open court with Wade and LeBron at the wings and then you have Chris Bosh stepping in with that 17-18 footer.
They are fantastic at getting the ball up and down the floor, but as the playoffs progress, your ability to turn other teams over gets harder and harder. Teams are going to hold on to the ball and be very careful with the ball, so for the Heat to win their game, it's going to have to be phenomenal, and they're going to have to continue to get turnovers and transition points.
Is Bosh Miami's key ingredient?
AL: A couple of weeks ago, coach Erik Spoelstra was quoted saying that Chris Bosh is the “crutch” of the Big Three? How much do you buy into that statement?
KM: No, LeBron is the key to them. You look at the Cleveland Cavaliers—they’re essentially the same team that LeBron left. They may win 15-16 games this year. They won 61 games with that guy last year. You look at when LeBron sprained his ankle, the Heat looked completely different. To me, LeBron is the heart and soul of that team—the fact that he’s such a dominant player and he can make so many things happen.
What they have now that they didn’t have in Cleveland, which should give LeBron a huge edge in trying to win a championship is that Dwyane Wade is a good closer. They got to get the ball to Wade late in the game, and he’s got to quit deferring to LeBron late in the game. For some reason, late in the game, LeBron just shoots too many jump shots.
So, to me, Bosh is the third most important, however, he’s still very important in that he can go out and play and not have many plays called for him, just get in the flow and get them 17-18 points a night. He’s got to rebound and defend and be big in the paint for them to win the playoffs. Coach Spo knows these guys' personalities. Every once in a while, you got to stroke some of the players and make them feel good. I’m sure that’s what he was doing with Bosh.
Can Derrick Rose lead the Bulls to the Finals?
AL: The Chicago Bulls are only three games behind Boston for the first spot in the East and are doing it all without Joakim Noah in the lineup. Are the Bulls a legitimate title contender?
KM: Yes, I think they are. I love their defense. I love the fact that they can go out and defend with a bunch of different lineups that don’t necessarily include Noah. Taj Gibson is a tremendous defender. They had no Boozer, who gives them an offensive push, for a while. But, the thing that is impressive to me with that team is they start on the defensive end, no matter who they have out there; they’re tied together defensively. They really work at it and take pride in it. They may have two to three bad individual defenders out there on the floor at one time, but collectively, they look really good as a group defending.
Flipping it over to the offensive end—when you have an energy guy like Noah coming back hitting the offensive glass, running the floor and being able to catch, that’s always big. If Derrick Rose gets it up on the boards, you have Noah that can tip it in. If Rose gets in trouble, he can throw a tough angle pass, and Noah can catch it and finish it.
When you get Boozer healthy, that’s a really dangerous team. Again, it’s because you’re not going to turn Rose over that often. He’s mature with the ball, he attacks the paint and finishes left-handed or right-handed. He’s one of my favorite players to watch. So, I think Chicago has a legitimate chance to really push Boston, Orlando or Miami, or in any playoff series.
Griffin has taken the league by storm
AL: There is no doubt that Blake Griffin has been the best rookie this season. However, some analysts have argued that Blake Griffin might not deserve Rookie of the Year honors because he’s not a “true rookie.” Do you agree with that?
KM: I think you got to look at it this way—since the rules allow him to be Rookie of the Year, then yes he is Rookie of the Year. Well, if you said that rule has to change, then no because he wouldn’t be eligible for it. But, the way the rules are right now, there’s no doubt that he’s Rookie of the Year because he qualifies for that award. He’s been phenomenal.
Do I agree with those guys? Absolutely. Those rules should probably be changed. I think after you sit a year, even if you sit on the bench, the NBA is so different than college. Blake appears to be a guy who watches the game, loves basketball, is a basketball junkie. He probably absorbed so much sitting there and watching the length of the season. He was better prepared than a guy like a John Wall. All that being said, he’s eligible for the award, and he’s by far the best player for anyone eligible for Rookie of the Year.
Coach Gregg Popovich has done a great job leading the Spurs
AL: Moving over to the West, the Spurs currently have the conference’s best record. What do you make of their rebirth?
KM: I love Coach Popovich and what the Spurs have done. He’s done a great job with his team. He used to play with a grind-it-out defensive style. Really unless you’re a basketball nut, it wasn’t fun to watch. It was ugly ball, they won, but it was brutal. If you enjoy the intricacies of good defense, (five guys playing defense, helping out), then you’ll love it.
This year, they play a really exciting brand of basketball for an average NBA fan—they’re up and down and attacking. They used to play a lot of games in the 80 point range during their championship runs. Now, Popovich has opened up their offense and lets them go. Ginobili’s open in the wing, Richardson is running and you got Tony Parker who is playing really well. Timmy’s really been a secondary piece to that team, and I think they will use him more when the game slows down in the playoffs.
The Lakers are looking to three-peat
AL: But, can they beat Los Angeles?
KM: I don’t know. You’re still talking Bynum, Pau Gasol. Again, will the Lakers turn the ball over and be compliant and help feed the Spurs break? No. They’re going to take care of the ball and hit the offensive glass. For the Spurs to be effective, they need long rebounds, a lot of multiple defensive stops so they can get the ball and they can get out and run.
I love what the Spurs have done, but would I pick them if the playoffs started today? I’d have a really hard time, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they won. Everything changes when you play the seven-game series; it would still be very hard to beat the Lakers.
Chris Paul has helped the Hornets to the 5th seed in the West
AL: After winning 11 of their last 15 games, what do you make of the New Orleans Hornets this year?
KM: I love their defense. You talk about boring games to watch—you watch the New Orleans Hornets—they have some boring games (chuckles). They hold the possessions down, and they lock it up. Again, they are a team that is not going to beat themselves. I love teams that don’t beat themselves, and the Hornets are one of them.
When you have a point guard like Chris Paul, and the games are close, he just takes over the game. They’ve won so many close games. He doesn’t turn it over; he makes the right plays. They’re going to get you playing in their style. Trevor Ariza is a good defender and can make some shots when they need him. Okafor is a solid defender that can protect the rim. David West has been making some big shots. But if they’re going to play the slow style like that, they’re going to have to have some closers, and when the ball is in their hands, they got to make big plays. And that’s what Paul does along with David West.
You can’t beat yourself in the NBA, and the Hornets do not beat themselves; they know how to play. I like where the Hornets are right now. Can they beat the Lakers or Spurs in a seven-game series? I don’t know, but it would sure be fun to watch.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lead a young Thunder team
AL: With teams like the Spurs and Lakers only getting older, is it only a matter of time before the Thunder become the No. 1 team in the Western Conference?
KM: Oklahoma City bears down and plays good solid defense for stretches in the game. There are still times when they don’t, and they’re still at that point where they’re finding themselves. A lot of the times, they beat you with their offense. They come out and attack. Westbrook has been phenomenal. I love Kevin Durant—when you start making three-point fadeaways at the buzzer, there is no defense for that. That’s crazy.
I think for them to take that next step—they need to understand the clock, not beating themselves, not turning the ball over in the last few minutes of the game. There are so many different factors that go into being a solid, smart, NBA playoff-ready team—not ready to win a game in a seven-game series but win all four games. I think they’re getting closer to that. I’d like to see them get a little more dedicated on the defensive end. They are definitely a fun team to watch.
Dwight Howard and the Magic have won the Southeast three straight years
AL: Atlanta and Orlando are scratching at Miami’s heels in the Southeast Division. Do you think there is a chance Miami could be overtaken in the Southeast?
KM: Yes I do. I really like the trade that Orlando made—there a much better passing team. Prior to the trade, I didn’t like them at all. I think they have more weapons now, and the ball moves better; Dwight will get easier shots. They have to get their commitment back to the defensive end.
As for Atlanta, every time I’m ready to say I’m done watching Atlanta, they go out and win four out of five or seven out of 10—they just keep on winning. They really are a unique team. They’re such a wildcard team. If Jamal Crawford starts making non-defendable, step-back fadeaways and runners, all that’s in his repertoire—which is so hard to guard—they are awful tough.
I still think Miami will win the division. I don’t think Orlando or Atlanta will catch them. Odd things happen in the NBA, so you just don’t know. But all things equal, if everybody stays healthy, I think you’ll see Miami go on another run here. Maybe not 21 out of 22, but they’ll get on another run where they play some good basketball.
What you look for after the All-Star Game is the teams that are clicking, that are healthy and that are really running. Those next 15-20 games after the All-Star break; those are the ones you look at. Who’s catching fire and who’s healthy at the right time. That usually leads to who you start picking in the playoffs.
LeBron's conraction comments several weeks ago angered fellow players
AL: Several weeks ago, LeBron made comments in favor of NBA contraction. What do you make of LeBron’s comments?
KM: It only makes sense. I’m not for contraction. I think David Stern has done a great job. But if you are just talking about a pure basketball stand point—of course it would be better basketball. If you have 20 teams, of course the talent is going be better. If you want to make it great, make it a four-team league (laughs).
With the economic situation that our country is in, there are a lot of new normals. So, I’m not sure what the new normal for the NBA is going to be. I doubt that anybody would want to include contraction. But from what LeBron said, it just makes sense. It’s like in baseball if you had 10 less teams, you’d have better pitching staffs.
I understand what he’s saying, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’d be beyond shocked if the league did contraction.
Rose has elevated his game greatly this season
AL: We are just past the midseason point, so give me your midseason MVP, coach and executive of the year.
KM: I’d go with Derrick Rose right now. I think with the injuries that the Bulls had, not having Boozer to start the season, then losing Noah and having Taj Gibson in and out of the lineup for awhile. He’s just been the one constant; he’s fought so hard every single game. He needs to get paid time and a half because of what he has to do for that team on the offensive end when Boozer is not playing. It’s amazing.
Midseason Coach of the Year:
I’m going to break it up into three guys and one of these three will get my final vote later on in the year. You look at what Erik Spoelstra was able to do—take that 9-8 team and turn them around and get them to play the style of ball he wanted to play, which is up-tempo, running and defensive-minded.
Popovich—turning that team from a slow-grinding team to a fast-running team. I think he has done a great job.
Lastly, I think Tom Thibodeau has done a great job in Chicago. And I always give a shout out to Doc Rivers, as well as Nate McMillan because of what he’s been able to do in Portland is amazing. There are so many good coaches in our league, so it’s hard to pin it down.
Midseason Executive of the Year
I think Pat Riley getting the Big Three out in Miami—that’s pretty much a no-brainer.