Last week, I got the time to speak with two-time NBA champion and current Turner Sports Analyst, Brent Barry, about some burning issues going on in the NBA.
Barry is best known for his 1996 Slam Dunk Championship and his strong three-point shooting. He also won two championships with the San Antonio Spurs in 2005 and 2007 as a crucial role player on the team. He was a first-round pick out of Oregon State University.
Now as an NBA analyst, Barry continues to be involved in the league. In our interview, he gave me some solid insight as we discussed the Celtics, Magic and Lakers, as well as the All-Star Weekend.
Here is what Brent had to say.
Allen Levin: The Heat are now 0-5 against the Celtics and Bulls. Should Miami be troubled by this trend in the playoffs?
Brent Barry: “Yes. I have to reference to Dwyane Wade’s comments about the Celtics being their 'Big Brothers.' LeBron alluded to it as well with his struggles against Detroit. The fact of the matter is the Celtics are a team of players who understand their roles and can take their game to another level. They have so many instances that they can draw upon from past experiences down crunch time. That’s why the edge to Boston is so distinct.”
“The fact that the Heat weren’t able to beat the Celtics with Paul Pierce not making a field goal and Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal not playing—those are physical guys that will cause Miami problems. So, Miami should worry about that. But what Miami can’t lose sight of is that they have to get past their first-round opponents too. And there is going to be formidable teams in the playoffs that could potentially cause problems for them because they are an untested team in the playoffs. They have tested players, but they’re not a tested playoff team.”
AL: With Orlando continuing to fall in the standings, do you see Dwight Howard leaving in a trade or free agency if the Magic aren’t able to win a title?
BB: “I don’t know—they have done a lot of shifting and maneuvering to revamp the team. You remember last year when Dallas made that deal for Caron Butler and they won a bunch of games and then when it came down to the end of season, they were untested together as a team.”
“It’s sort of what Orlando faces with their scenario. They have more time in the sense they did it a month before Dallas did. But, it is still an untested team. The decision that Dwight has to make, obviously, is predicated for him on his chances of being on an elite team. Two years from now, if you think about Boston, LA and San Antonio—they are older teams, teams that have been together for a while. So, the window of opportunity to keep winning championships is smaller.”
“Dwight will have to weigh whether or not the window is going to be opening up in Orlando where he can enjoy the sunshine or if it's going to be someplace else for him to be competing at the elite level.”
AL: The Magic are a new team, but they currently hold the fourth seed in the East, which is a step back from the last two seasons when they made the East Finals. So, was trading for Gilbert Arenas possibly a mistake?
BB: “I’m not going to go that far and say that it was a mistake to bring in someone of that talent. Obviously around the league, the talk is does Gilbert Arenas have anything left in his tank? Is he playing inspired basketball? Is he a difference maker for Orlando being a better team? Will he make the right decisions and the big shots and do some of the things we have seen him do earlier in his career? The jury is obviously still out on him. I don’t think Gilbert, to this point, has shown any flashes of those things in Orlando yet.”
“But again, there is still time and maybe the change of scenery might be something that eventually draws those things out of Gilbert Arenas. Certainly, that was what Otis Smith was hoping for when he made the deal.”
AL: The Lakers have a sub-par record against the elite teams in the league. What do you make of LA’s "struggles” or is it like Kobe said—it’s not playoff basketball; it’s just the regular season.
BB: “Yea, I would never discount what both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant are talking about as far as the regular season goes. They’ve been dealing with some health issues. They have Matt Barnes coming back soon, which will certainly help the bench. That’s where the production needs to start coming from as the season goes on.”
“Steve Blake to this point has not done some of things that I know Steve is capable of doing. They certainly have got some inconsistent production from Shannon Brown off the bench. I still believe from within, the Lakers are going to find that rhythm and get themselves right towards the end of March and be ready to go.”
AL: With the way San Antonio has been playing this year, it appears like they’re the defending champs' biggest competition in the West. Do they have a great shot of upending the Lakers this year?
BB: “Absolutely. The one issue with San Antonio is their age and their window is closing. They have to make sure Tim Duncan is well-rested and Pop has done a great job managing his minutes. He’ll be leaning on him heavily in the playoffs. Between the coaching and their big three, you have to respect what they’re capable of doing. We’ve seen that throughout the regular season.”
“The issue for them is their bench guys and who they rely on. Can their bench guys step up and play on that level of competition? Obviously, what Kobe has been talking about with the Lakers is that it’s the regular season and they’re waiting for the playoffs."
"Well, for Pop and the Spurs, they don’t know what they have on the bench. The Lakers, they know what they have in terms of their players and what they’re capable of doing. San Antonio doesn’t quite have that kind of definition with Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter, who’s been injured for a while and they were going to rely on him.”
“So, there are some guys that they are hoping are primed and ready to go. So, it will be interesting to see how Pop plays those guys down the stretch of the season and try to get them all in a pretty good rhythm.”
“Everyone wants to talk about the power teams or the glamorous teams and Popovich is fine with that. They’ll go about their business and they’re going to possibly push 60-65 wins this year and earn the homecourt.”
AL: The Heat’s bench play has been improving lately, but still is inconsistent (as shown against Chicago). Who is the Heat’s most crucial bench player and why?
BB: “I still think it comes from the bigs. I mean they need Udonis Haslem back. They need an interior presence; it’s not about the perimeter guys. LeBron and Dwyane are going to take care of that business. If Eddie House knocks down a few shots, great. If Mike Miller is in there, doing what he’s been doing in recent weeks, which has basically been rebounding the ball and creating extra possessions, great.”
“But they don’t have an interior presence, somebody down there that can get gritty, in terms of rebounding, hard fouls and good positioning. They’re going to go up against some beasts in Chicago with Noah and Boozer and in Orlando with just Dwight by himself; and obviously, in Boston, all the bigs that they would face. The Heat have an issue down there in the painted area and that’s really where they need to find some improvement.”
AL: Finally, who was your All-Star Snub Team from this season?
BB: “In the Eastern Conference, I would have to say Josh Smith with the way he’s played with the Hawks. The rest of the team is pretty solid. But I think Josh deserves consideration for the East. As for the West, LeMarcus Aldridge comes to mind first and foremost because he’s been on an absolute tear since he didn’t get the call from David Stern and Kevin Love did.”
“But it’s between him and Zach Randolph because the way Memphis has played and because they’re over .500. The Grizzlies are looking at a playoff berth for the first time in a few years, so those would be the two guys in the West I would point out.”