Episode 2.26: Rest for the Weary in Today’s NBA

March 24, 2017
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Resting healthy starters is not exactly a new phenomenon, as LeBron James recently pointed out; heck, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been doing it for more than a decade. However, there hasn't been a time in NBA history where the practice has stirred up such a high level of controversy and discontent. The panel aims to explore the issue from the perspectives of the commissioner, NBA coaches, current and former players and, of course, the fans. Be sure to get your rest in advance of the stretch run (we won't blame you for taking care of yourself), but don't sleep on this episode. Just don't do it.

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.25: Blake Murphy: “Raptors Will Be Measured By What They Do Against Cleveland”

March 17, 2017
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O Canada! Our home and native land! Blake Murphy, who writes about the Raptors for ESPN TrueHoop's Raptors Republic and The Athletic among other sites, joins the podcast to share his knowledge on Raptors topics such as how trade deadline acquisitions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker enhance lineup flexibility and the irony of Jonas Valanciunas' situation in that the better he plays seemingly the less chance he has of sticking around next season. Among other salient team-centric subjects, Murphy addresses how Kyle Lowry could have better handled his controversial wrist injury. Unfortunately, this episode does not come with universal healthcare, but here are some soothing excerpts to help alleviate those pains of yours. Plus, preexisting conditions do not preclude you from enjoying:

4:21-5:09 on Serge Ibaka's fit with the Raptors:

"He's had a nice positive impact. The 3-point shooting, he's knocking down 40 percent of his shots on 4.5 looks per game. The best thing for the Raptors is that most of them have been above the break. Normally the Raptors get a lot of corner shooting, especially from their power forward position, but as Ibaka has played some center, he's given them a nice pop threat, which is a different wrinkle for guys like DeRozan, and when he's back, Lowry to use. The Raptors defense has been much much better since the trade deadline. They're seventh in the NBA in Defensive Rating over the last 10 games. That's not all owing to Ibaka, but he's been a nice rim-protecting presence…Ibaka's seeing a lot of time at center and in close games they're closing with Ibaka [there]."

9:16-10:09 on the injured Kyle Lowry's importance to the team:

"Lowry is the engine of the team. Dwane Casey referred to him as the 'queen bee'...you look at the things they do offensively, and even though his usage is 10 percentage points lower than DeRozan's, Kyle Lowry is their best 3-point shooter, so when DeRozan is operating, Lowry is the best floor spacer they have to help DeRozan's game. Look at their 3-point shooting since he's gone out. It's almost all catch-and-shoot. They don't have any pull-up 3-point threats, and Lowry is one of the best, alongside Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving at pulling up, even from 30 feet, and that's an element, especially in the transition game, that opponents have to pay attention to…The Raptors are obviously notorious for not moving the ball particularly well. Well, Lowry's their best playmaker."

27:16-28:36 on the Raptors' chances against the Cavaliers in the playoffs:

"It's tough. What we saw last year was that, when Toronto is at its best, they can hang with Cleveland. The two games that the Raptors won in that series and the two they won in the regular season, they played a good game. They ground things down a little bit, they made the game physical, and they matched up with Cleveland well that way. But what we also saw that time was, in the four games Cleveland won, they ran Toronto off the floor. And in the regular season meetings this year, Cleveland didn't have a ton of trouble with them. That talent gap is obvious there. The fact that Cleveland can spread the floor across all five positions, and the way they've killed the Raptors this year is posting LeBron up, forcing the Raptors to send help and zone up behind LeBron, and then LeBron pings passes to shooters all over the floor. You add Kyle Korver to that mix, who wasn't there when the Raptors last played them, and that's pretty deadly…The one thing the Raptors are better able to do now is they're a little more flexible lineup-wise…When the Cavs downsize…The Raptors have that option in Serge Ibaka, where last year they tried Bismack Biyombo in that spot."

32:41-33:51 on DeMar DeRozan's stellar efficiency:

“He might have the best post footwork now that Kobe is out of the league. What he's been able to do is, a couple years ago those 20-footers he took became 18-footers, then they became 16-footers, and he's able to get these shots off just a little closer now. And he's added this nice floater game to his repertoire, where some of these shots that show up and maybe look midrange-ish or are on the fringe of the paint, those are better looks because he's got a floater that he can make with either hand and take off from either foot. He's got all these savvy moves in and around the midrange area…The biggest part of DeRozan's overall efficiency might be that he doesn't turn the ball over.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.24: Justin Rowan: LeBron James Is “More Comfortable in His Own Skin”

March 11, 2017
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Most listeners are aware that LeBron James has consistently guided his teams to NBA Finals appearances (six straight, to be exact), yet this season’s Cavaliers continue to be tested by a number of key injuries that threaten to derail their hopes of repeating as champions. Issues stemming from these injuries have resulted in the team’s recent mediocre play, as Eastern counterparts like the Wizards and Celtics angle for the No. 1 seed currently occupied by Cleveland. Justin Rowan of SB Nation’s Fear the Sword is here to break down those struggles and also illuminate how the Cavaliers can reasonably overcome them. In addition to LeBron James’ MVP case and the importance of the Kyle Korver acquisition, Justin speaks about Larry Sanders rumors, Tristan Thompson’s underrated contributions, J.R. Smith’s outsized role and more.

5:17-5:56: "[Larry Sanders is] definitely going to bring a lot of personality to the team, which can be a good thing. I think they have the right type of culture for that. They also have a history of dealing with players who have suffered with mental illness issues. Delonte West had some public issues with the Cavaliers and has talked recently about how LeBron is still a big part of his life and supporting him and helping him work through that. So having LeBron, who is familiar with having a teammate with those issues and what's involved there, it could be a supportive situation for him."

8:46-10:09: "It's tough because…the extensive pregame routine that [LeBron James] goes through, which is hours of physical preparation, if he doesn't play at least 34 minutes, he views it as if he shouldn't even have played at all. He views it as a waste for the all the preparation he goes through. His minutes per game are up, but when you look at total minutes played, he's about 13th in the league. Getting him those off nights, making sure that he doesn't play a lot of back-to-backs—almost all of his rest situations have come in back-to-backs—I think they're allowing for his body to recover. He does sit out practices as well, so those are minutes taken off his body that don't necessarily show up in minutes per game. Basically, he spends more money and pays more attention to his body than anyone else. With him feeling confident that he is getting enough rest and not being concerned with it, as well as the medical staff assigned to him, I'm not too concerned. It would be nice if the minutes were lower, and theoretically, if they were healthy, the depth of this Cavs team would almost force him to rest.The addition of Deron Williams is a big part of trying to get him rest."

13:50-14:31: "They really like what [Kyle Korver] can bring to the floor: the spacing that he provides, the offense he can generate. He obviously doesn't have the same quickness and defensive ability that he's had in the past, but he's still a smart team defender and he has quick hands. And he's a willing passer, which works well in the Cavs system. I still do expect him to get around 20 minutes a game, even in the Finals. He's such a matchup problem and he creates so much spacing for LeBron, as well as Kyrie Irving, that the more minutes you can have him on the floor—as long as he's not getting abused on the defensive end—you try to keep him out there as long as humanly possible."

17:38-18:26: “The playmaker thing, that became a bigger issue after J.R. got hurt, because then LeBron with the second unit without Shumpert was just getting absolutely torched. It was one of the Cavs’ worst lineups. Channing Frye was in there, but teams were really doubling LeBron, trying to get the ball out of his hands and daring anybody else to kind of do anything. So without a secondary playmaker, without someone that could dribble and create looks, that lineup really lost a lot of its effectiveness. I do think the addition of Deron Williams does help that a lot. Derrick Williams has also helped as well. Having an athletic guy to play with those bench units really is a weapon that LeBron likes to utilize with his passing.”

21:55-22:41: “This year, [Tristan Thompson has] turned into one of the better rim protectors and defenders within six feet of the basket. So when you see that addition to his game as well as improved passing out of the short pick ‘n roll, he really has embraced the role that this team needs him to play. He’s kind of the opposite of Iman Shumpert, who can go rogue and try to do too much. Thompson’s a role player that accepts his role, he gives you the same effort if he’s getting 15 shots or if he’s getting none…Really, when it comes down to being a model of consistency and what you want from a role player on a championship team, Thompson embodies a lot of that.”

24:52-25:15: “The most points per game any LeBron teammate has ever had is Wade with 25.5 and Kyrie’s right up there with 25.2, and as I already mentioned he’s averaging the most assists per game out of any LeBron teammate. So when you look at those two factors, that’s just a load that LeBron has never had carried by a teammate.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.23: Darius Soriano: “Onus Is on Lakers’ Player Development Folks” to Maximize Potential

March 3, 2017
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The Los Angeles Lakers have a new president of basketball operations and general manager, as first-year head coach Luke Walton leads a youthful squad headlined by lottery picks from the past three drafts, Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. At this critical juncture for the team, Forum Blue & Gold Editor-in-Chief Darius Soriano stops by to break down the biggest storylines for LA's present and future.

2:44-3:43: Sadly, the biggest Lakers-related news this season happened off the court with last week’s management shakeup:

“The writing was sort of on the wall once Magic [Johnson] was hired as an adviser to Jeanie Buss…The timing of it, though, was awkward and just the way it was handled, I thought, was rough for everyone involved…I’m sort of intrigued by the [Rob] Pelinka aspect, and I think the Magic Johnson thing – I don’t want to say ‘cautiously optimistic.’ I’m more along the lines of ‘I’m just sort of hanging back and waiting to see how things go.’ Magic’s very well respected in the business world, and obviously he was an amazing player. We’ll see how all of that translates that to a final decision-maker on the basketball side [for the Lakers].”  

13:26-15:14: First-year Lakers head coach Luke Walton’s professional approach to dealing with players could not be more different than that of previous coach Byron Scott, according to Darius:

“It’s basically night and day. I think it was after the Lakers lost to the Spurs very recently…and he [Luke Walton] was kind of like, ‘That’s basically between us, and the way that I coach I’m not going to really get on my guys in public. That’s not really the way that I do things.’ That’s night and day to the way that Byron Scott coached this team…When he was hired, I think that he knew what he was getting himself into, whereas I think when Byron Scott got hired he had this impression that he had Kobe Bryant and that everything was going to be OK, and maybe that influenced the way that he handled things…But I do think that Walton very early on built up some equity with the young guys and sort of got in their ears early about how much he supported them and believed in them, and he said that very publicly to a lot of people.”

22:26-23:24: Our guest contends that while D’Angelo Russell continues to improve his passing, his current difficulties driving to the basket are slowing down his progression when it comes to facilitation: 

“Since Russell’s not necessarily a penetrating guard at this stage of his career, the types of passes that he’s creating are mostly those skip passes [or pocket passes] that come out of the pick and roll…I don’t want to oversell his passing ability, but I think that he’s actually a really good passer who just hasn’t opened up the rest of his passing game based off of the limitations that come from his dribble penetration or lack thereof. One of the things I like about Russell is that he can make the next-level read when it comes to passing…The guy who sort of makes that pass best in the league is James Harden. And I’m not comparing Russell to Harden, but he has sort of similar vision and instincts within that play.”        

30:57-32:27: You won’t hear (or read) Darius complaining about the Lakers’ decision not to deal teenage forward Brandon Ingram. He thinks the kid will be a star some day. 

“One of the things I’d like to see from him for the rest of the season is just sort of continue to remain aggressive. Earlier, I spoke to how he’s this natural ball mover, and I really like that aspect about him, but I also want to see him continue to look for his own shot and not always just so quickly move the ball on to an open teammate just because that guy is open. I’ve mostly liked his defense. He can get a little bit lost off of the ball, but he’s had some really good moments of on-ball defense, and he’s really started to leverage his length defensively…I was totally in agreement when the report came out that the Lakers did not want to include him in a trade for Cousins. Ingram is still only 19. In fact, his whole rookie season is going to be an age-19 rookie season. So he’s just so young, and he has so much potential. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he works really hard…I wouldn’t be so quick to bury him. I just think that he’s going to turn into a real player for the Lakers even if he’s not showing it necessarily right now. We only see it in fits and flashes.”   

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin Macleod

Episode 2.22: James Ham: Kings “Rip the Band-Aid Off” by Trading Cousins

February 25, 2017
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Last Sunday, the Sacramento Kings finally dealt the player who served as both franchise cornerstone and a near-constant thorn in their side for his first six and a half NBA seasons. Comcast Sports Net California Kings Insider James Ham breaks down the complexities of the divorce as only he can. Royal excerpts from James' responses can be found below:

12:35-13:07: Don’t compare Buddy Hield to Stephen Curry, but there is reason to be excited about the young shooting guard:

“Just take that and throw that out the window. He’s not Steph Curry. He can average 14 to 16 points per game in the pros. He can also struggle. But from what I saw of him in limited action on Thursday, [he had a] very nice teardrop in the lane, I thought he handled the ball well, he was able to take guys off the dribble, I thought his defensive prowess was better than what people have talked about, and [post-game] he even talked about not being critiqued the whole time.”

19:48-21:41Hands-on Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé was persuaded to move on from DeMarcus Cousins in a very specific way: 

“I know that he’s got his fingers in every pie in the organization. And in this situation, he was convinced to trade DeMarcus by management as it got closer and closer to the deadline. He was pretty adamant about not trading DeMarcus, and he has been [since he took over]…Is he the right owner for the Sacramento Kings going forward? I don’t know the answer to that. But what I do know is he has no problems opening his checkbook and that he was really loyal to DeMarcus Cousins, but he became enamored with Buddy Hield, which might actually tell you how management was able to shift him away from DeMarcus…so when they made the deal with the Pelicans, he was on board.”

23:02-24:01: Listening to or reading this fascinating anecdote about former general manager Geoff Petrie’s pursuit of Giannis Antetokounmpo is not advisable for squeamish Kings fans:

“Geoff Petrie was there just for a little while, and just to make Kings fans just cringe, Geoff Petrie had a dossier, a giant binder on Giannis Antetokounmpo. He had scouted him almost exclusively, and that was the selection he was going to take with the McLemore pick, and Pete D’Alessandro came in and just said, ‘Well, thanks. See ya.’ And then two weeks later, drafted Ben McLemore and ignored the dossier that they had produced. He had flown to Greece to scout him himself…When you’re looking at the overall package of what’s happened here in Sacramento over the course of time, there’s a lot of instability. There’s a lot of ups and down…They’ve made a bunch of mistakes.”

26:56-27:32: Kings general manager Vlade Divac has received his fair share of criticism, but only time can truly tell how he’s performed, argues James. He also asserts that Divac has begun to recover from his miserable start in the role:

“It’s not like every move he’s made has just been an epic blunder. I think he has shown improvement. I think he’s always going to get graded on one transaction, maybe two – both of which he’ll be graded negatively on – but I think you have to let it play out, right? You have to see if this team becomes better and they move on without DeMarcus. And then you also have to consider the other side, too. What if DeMarcus is DeMarcus in New Orleans and he implodes and he takes down that group with him? Not that I’m saying that’s going to happen, but there’s a potential there.”

35:00-36:39: Our guest raves about DeMarcus Cousins, the man. Although he is certainly flawed on and off the court, Cousins’ huge heart has transformed him into a role model in the Sacramento community:

“He’s a big, lovable dude. I’ve had plenty of run-ins with him over seven years, but I’d say the last two years, he and I kind of came to an understanding of each other. We had some conversations, and we had a very, very good relationship as time has gone by. I genuinely think he’s a good dude who doesn’t always do good things, but deep down he cares. There was a situation where a Grant High School football player was shot and killed before a playoff game, and DeMarcus quietly reached out and paid for everything for that family. Their pastor decided to go public with the fact that Cousins had done that. He wanted nothing to do with any credit for any of it…his stuff that he’s done in the community is amazing. He was emotional [after he was traded away from Sacramento], and it’s not fake at all. He was in shock. He was absolutely crushed.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin Macleod

Episode 2.21: Dan Devine: Pelicans’ “Bully Ball” Could Take Toll on Warriors in Postseason (Trade Deadline Special)

February 23, 2017
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Less than 24 hours before the NBA's annual trade deadline, Yahoo! Sports NBA editor Dan Devine (Ball Don't Lie) fits us into his busy schedule. Dan breaks down the league's biggest trades to date (chief among them, this past weekend's DeMarcus Cousins deal), hints at what may be on the horizon and touches upon the Clippers' postseason prospects and two dark-horse contenders in the Rockets and Wizards. He even provides a glimpse into New Orleans cuisine. What a guy! What a show!  

7:57 - 9:15: Dan explores how the DeMarcus Cousins acquisition will likely affect the Pelicans' position in the race for the Western Conference's No. 8 seed:

“Adding Boogie to the lineup, giving them that core three with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, gives them, from a talent perspective, maybe the best core that you can offer in that group. It's also worth remembering that New Orleans is three games back of Denver in the loss column right now, and they've got to leapfrog both Portland and Sacramento...They've got some work to do…and they're going to have to integrate a gigantic piece with 25 games left in the season. The talent of DeMarcus Cousins is such that it made all the sense in the world for them to take the gamble on him, especially given the very low price they had to pay for him, but making the fit work neatly and fluidly with him alongside Davis in the frontcourt, two of the five or six highest-usage players in the league...getting them acclimated to playing off each other and having times where they're not going to have the ball for long stretches...all those sort of things can be difficult to figure out, and they're going to have to figure them out immediately to make up the ground that they need to make up to get to the eighth seed." 

15:19- 16:01Dan analyzes Magic Johnson's first move as the Lakers' president of basketball operations:

"Lou Williams, on a relatively short-term contract, is not going to be a long-term piece of their [the Lakers'] future. The idea being that he's having a career year and is an attractive piece at a nice price was going to be to flip him anyway. You wind up getting a first-round pick and Corey Brewer, who's obviously just there as a salary filler...That seems like a pretty shrewd move as you continue to try to build your young talent base, especially if Lou Williams being gone makes the Lakers a little bit worse now down the stretch. The more losses they stack up, the better their odds of falling in the top three of the lottery, and if they're outside the top three, they lose their pick to Philadelphia."

25:29 - 26:48Dan remarks on the calculations the Celtics organization must make when determining whether it is going to make a transcendent trade ahead of the deadline:

"It's a delicate balance. You come to a point where you've got to make a decision one way or the other. Everyone's been waiting for years for Danny Ainge to swing for the fences with his accumulating all these assets with young players and picks and an amazing haul from the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade where they're still benefiting from the pick swaps...And advantageous moves bringing in Isaiah Thomas and below-market contracts they've thrown at guys like Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder...There's the concern of, if you blow up something big and you maybe disrupt the chemistry on a team where everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction and it's been good enough to get them within a couple games of the Cavs and the No. 2 seed so far, do you risk blowing that up by swinging for the fences for a big star?...The goal is at some point not just to be pretty good for a long time. It's to put yourself in a position where you have the capacity to add that picture-shifting player, the guy that can change the landscape." 

35:44 - 37:08Before lauding the Wizards as his dark-horse contender in the East, our guest selects the Houston Rockets out West, and he feels good about their chances:

"Houston, that offense is a straight-up meat grinder. It chews you up and spits you out. When they've got everybody going, they can be absolutely terrifying. James Harden can be the best player on the floor, even in a game against the Warriors. Because of how disappointing last season was with the Rockets and the way things fell apart with Dwight and Harden, we forget the season before when they did meet up in the Western Conference finals. Those first two games in Golden State, the Rockets were right there. The Rockets could have easily stolen at least one game in Oracle. And if they do that, who knows how the complexion of the series changes? And Harden was tremendous. They had zero answer for him. Yes, the Warriors are better now and have Kevin Durant, but the way the Rockets can spread the floor, the way they can bomb away, they have so many good shooters and players who can make plays. Lou Williams only adds to that. If they can keep Harden fresh down the stretch here and they enter the playoffs with that arsenal, 3-point shooting is the great variable. If the Rockets hit 20 3s a game, I don't know what the Warriors do about it. They would have a great puncher's chance based on the volume of shots they generate and the way they can knock them down."

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin Macleod

Episode 2.20: Kacy Sager: Dad, Craig, “Always Referred to (NBA All-Star Weekend) as His Christmas”

February 17, 2017
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With NBA All-Star Weekend upon us and her dad, Craig, slated to be inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame Friday, Kacy Sager joins the podcast. In addition to sharing some special anecdotes about her legendary father, a man who adored the annual All-Star festivities, Kacy describes her love for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s game, gives her pick for league MVP and provides insight into the wild Eastern Conference landscape and Atlanta’s handling of Paul Millsap, among other topics. Kacy, who serves as a contributor for Basketball Breakdown and a member of Turner Sports’ stat team, is honest and entertaining as ever. Here’s a select sample of what she has to say:

5:01-6:35: Kacy’s all-time favorite NBA player is a precocious 22-year-old named Giannis Antetokounmpo:

“As much as I’ve always known that he was going to end up being a really, really big player, I didn’t even expect it to happen this year. I thought it was going to happen next year. So it’s really cool to see him already taking that big of a leap, and he still has so much potential. He’s doing things out there that shouldn’t physically be possible… Some of it is so mundane at this point, which I feel horrible saying. I feel like we’re going to start taking him for granted at some point. It was fun to watch him during the shootaround before the game though, just shimmying and dancing out there. He always has the hugest grin on his face, and it’s so cool to know that he just so frickin’ excited to be an All-Star. And I’m so excited for him. I cried. I legitimately shed a tear.”

12:50-13:43: Her father, Craig, will be tremendously missed this weekend in New Orleans. He covered every NBA All-Star game between 1988 and 2014, as well as the 2016 festivities. It was “his Christmas,” as she explains:

“He just always referred to it as his Christmas. He has in his basement a basketball signed by all of the different winners and the MVP from every year of the All-Star game. I don’t know how he did it. I know it says on your credential pass you’re not supposed to get autographs, but apparently, that doesn’t apply to him. It’s going to be really weird without him there. They flew my step-mother and half-siblings down there again for this year, so they’ll be doing that again. I think Foot Locker’s doing something to honor my dad… I know he wore that ridiculous silver suit, the aluminum foil-looking thing and he walked around the court in it, and around halftime of the game they ended up calling him and telling him he had to change because it was messing with all the cameras because it was so reflective.”

14:27-15:07: Kacy sheds light on the always memorable exchanges between Craig and infamously-terse-with-reporters Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich while offering a glimpse into her dad’s psyche:

“A big part of who my dad was, he always liked to be the 'good guy.' I mentioned it in my eulogy. We’d be playing a game of basketball when I was like 5 years old – he never let me win at anything – and he would be dunking on me and he’d be like, ‘Another basket for the Good Guys.’ He was always the “Good Guys.’  And I think that it was really cool for Popovich to feel so comfortable almost playing like the villain to his protagonist… it’s so funny to me that people actually thought that Popovich was being a jackass to him. He’s such a good man.”

18:43-20:10: Our guest opines on why, despite the injury concerns, the Cavaliers are still kings of the East:

“I had the Celtics finishing second in the East preseason. To me, they kind of remind me a little bit of where the Hawks were a couple years ago, though. I think they just seemed like a team that was going to win a lot of games just because they’re well coached and [they have] a lot of overachieving guys who play really well together and know their roles, but I don’t know how well that’s going to translate to playoff success… In the East, you have to get through LeBron. You have to have size. You have to have a decent frontcourt. That’s why I’m a little surprised that Washington has been doing this well. I don’t know how sustainable that is. I didn’t think that the Raptors did enough to improve their frontcourt to be in a better position to beat the Cavs than they were the year before, so I don’t know if that [the Serge Ibaka acquisition] fixes it. It’ll be interesting to see how he works in there. I know he’s not the same player that he was a few years ago.”

26:05-26:40: Kacy also tackles the Paul Millsap trade rumor issue. What’s the deal?

“I don’t think that he’s taking this as personally as people are maybe thinking he is, because he’s the most professional guy ever and it made sense to at least see what they could get for him during the offseason. It made so much sense. I didn’t think there was any chance they weren’t going to at least entertain some trade offers this year, especially after Horford walks. The fanbase would have retaliated if they hadn’t at least tried to move him and risked having both of them walk two years in a row. But at the same time, I didn’t think they were going to move him unless they got a really good offer for him. I think he wants to stay. I don’t think he’s butt-hurt about all the trade rumors. I think he gets it.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin Macleod

Episode 2.19: Michael Pina: Celtics Should Grow With Current Core, Resist Butler Trade

February 3, 2017
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As Massachusetts readies for another Super Bowl appearance by its Patriots, the Boston Celtics are playing terrific basketball, guided by two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, who turned in one of the most prolific scoring months in franchise history this past January. To help us praise IT and get to the bottom of swirling trade rumors and Boston’s defensive woes, Michael Pina is on the scene. Pina, who covers the Celtics for Bleacher Report, hosts The Big Three podcast and writes about the league elsewhere, delivers a frank, spirited analysis of the team. In addition, this wide-ranging discussion hits on how Al Horford is fitting with this squad, how Brad Stevens’ coaching enhances Marcus Smart’s game, what the Celtics see in 20-year-old Jaylen Brown and why the Cavaliers and Tristan Thompson pose very specific problems for the postseason Celtics, among other topics. Oh yeah…the longtime Patriots fan also provides his Super Bowl prediction. Enjoy some excerpts below:

 

7:38 - 8:04While Michael acknowledges Isaiah Thomas' shortcomings on defense, he also highlights the diminutive point guard's many defensive strengths

"For all the bad things about Isaiah Thomas' defense, I think his effort is always there despite the high offensive usage. He's extremely tough, extremely physical, he does not die on screens, he fights over them, and really makes ball handlers work really hard, and he knows where to be. He gets up into guys, even when teams force switches and he's up against a much larger player."

11:47 - 12:13If Bostons is able to hold the East’s No. 2 spot through Sunday’s games, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens will be coaching this season's Eastern Conference All-Star squad:

"He deserves to coach an All-Star team. I think he's one of the better overall coaches in basketball, let alone someone who's that young, commands respect from everybody on the team. He's fair to the players, and they appreciate that. He's a great communicator. Since he was hired, he's done a fantastic job of putting guys in positions where they can succeed, not asking too much of his players."

16:38 - 17:52Our skeptical guest explains why now would not be the right time for the Celtics to pull the trigger on a Jimmy Butler trade given the steep asking price:

"If you were to acquire Jimmy Butler, you would in all likelihood have to ship out valuable rotation players who have helped you get this far, who have built up continuity, who know their roles in Brad Stevens' system, and there is the potential for disruption with that if you were to bring in someone like Butler. And you don't know for sure...if that trio [Thomas/Horford/Butler] is [good enough] over the next couple years to dethrone LeBron James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. If you do trade both Brooklyn picks for Butler, your avenues for improvement are basically nil. You don't have the cap space...they have trade assets, and if they move those for Butler, then you're locked into that being your core."

25:45 - 27:18With the No. 3 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Danny Ainge surprised many by selecting a freshman out of Cal. Michael explains what the Boston front office loves about Jaylen Brown:

"Despite the poor shooting in college and the very, very worrisome advanced numbers that came out, I think the reason they took him is that he is a superb athlete, he works extremely hard in every area of his game, he's mature beyond his years, takes the game very seriously, he's in the gym...[and] the weight room constantly...His versatility and his size are something that the Celtics need. When you look around the league at who the best players in basketball are right now., the [Paul] Georges, Kawhi Leonards, Jimmy Butlers, these two-way wings who are extremely versatile and extremely athletic, who can guard multiple positions, score from all over the floor, that's what they envision Jaylen hopefully, maybe, one day becoming, and that’s why they took him."

34:43 - 35:37Finally, our Celtics insider previews a potential playoff series against the defending champion Cavaliers:

"With the Cavaliers, I think this Celtics team is closer than Celtics teams in the past to toppling that LeBron-led team, but there are still too many holes in the ship for them to seriously compete. LeBron, the mismatches that he creates, are still so worrisome...There's no one on the Celtics, including Jae Crowder or Jaylen Brown, one-on-one who can stop LeBron and prevent help from creeping in from the three-point line, and that's exactly what LeBron wants."

Music: "We Like to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.18: NBA Reacts to Muslim Ban; Loren’s Jeopardy Run

January 31, 2017
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Last Friday's executive order from the Trump administration has drawn criticism from the NBA community, as well as from various corners of the country and world. The panel will discuss the NBA's reaction, why they believe it was justified and what more can be done by the everyday person. That conversation is preceded by Aaron's commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, also on Friday. His primary takeaway? The Holocaust's strongest, most enduring lesson: Silence in the face of discrimination of any group is unacceptable and must never take place in order to avoid repeating the costly mistakes of the past. But first, in a much lighter discussion, Loren takes us through his thrilling Jeopardy appearance, in which he won two games and took home more than $37,000. Stick to sports? Not this time. The stakes were too high.

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.17: KL Chouinard: Hawks “Have a Shot Against Cleveland”

January 27, 2017
00:0000:00

The Hawks’ season thus far can reasonably be separated into three segments: (1) a hot start, (2) a brutal stretch 11-game stretch, and, finally, (3) the successful period Atlanta is currently enjoying. Kevin “KL” Chouinard, digital writer for the Atlanta Hawks  and host of the new ATL and 29 podcast, graces the show with his presence, discussing how Atlanta bounced back from its miserable late-November, early-December slump, the process of integrating free-agent addition Dwight Howard, Dennis Schröder’s excellent first season as a starting NBA point guard and how Paul Millsap serves as the glue that keeps the team together. Of course, many other opinions are rendered, including why this season’s Hawks actually stand a chance against the defending champion Cavaliers who swept them one postseason ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals (not to mention the sweep in the 2015 Eastern Conference finals). Below, sample some exhilarating episode excerpts:

5:15-6:06Kevin details the keys to Atlanta's strong recent defense:

"What's changed recently, compared to the 1-10 stretch, is they put Thabo Sefolosha in the starting lineup, and he's really one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA...Millsap (is) playing more minutes with the starters and so that's a much better defensive unit they're using to start games. And it's not perfect, because in opting for more defense, they've got less offense."

9:02-9:31Last season, Dennis Schröder was arguably the best backup point guard in the NBA. Now, Malcolm Delaney is the team's backup after Jeff Teague was traded to the Pacers in the offseason:

"He's a professional point guard. He spent five years in Europe. He won a championship in France, won a championship in Slovenia, won a championship in Germany, and then he played two years for Lokomotiv Kuban (in Russia). In those two years, he brought them up a level and then into the EuroLeague Final Four, so he had a really successful career in Europe. It's not a flashy type of game that he plays. It's really an understated type game."

11:44-12:15Our guest explains why it is vital for the Hawks to integrate Dwight Howard more into the team offense:

"They need to be able to find him more and find him in a comfort zone...They don't really use the post game much, and I can understand why: it's not really part of their offense. They're more of a pick-and-roll type team, but they still need to figure out a way to keep him involved, just so that he keeps that touch. Because when he goes too long between touches, it's hard to stay involved."

13:52-15:05Paul Millsap has been integral to the Hawks' success this season:

"He's everything to the Hawks...When he's not around, they just collapse. He does a little bit of everything for them. He's their secondary creator...If it's not coming from the point guard, it's almost always going to come from him. When they face defenses that switch...it comes down to one-on-one play, and when it does, it's either Schröder or Millsap who is going to make the play in that situation. He's their best natural passer....Just defensively, he's unbelievable and even more so with someone like Howard playing behind him. He can play low...because if he misses it or if doesn't quite get the deflection, he knows that in most cases he's going to have Howard behind him.”

18:18-19:42Kevin analyzes the Hawks' chances in the playoffs:

"I think they want to at least take one chance at it....If there's a Boston-Atlanta series, Boston might have the upper hand. They've looked really good against the Hawks this season. But, at the same time, Boston would have a heck of a time trying to keep up with Cleveland, and I think that the Hawks using a Millsap-Howard-Sefolosha frontcourt, can do some things to slow the Cavaliers. You've made a team specifically with the goal in mind of trying to do something to the Cavaliers...And if you were to beat the Cavaliers, could you beat a team like San Antonio or Golden State with this Hawks roster? Probably not. I don't think that this particular Hawks team is built for the regular season. I think it's built for the postseason. It's a 47-wins-and-slog-through-some-seven-game-series type of team. I think that they would have a shot against Cleveland, but I don't know if they'll get that far or if Cleveland will get that far or how they could do beyond that. It's a reasonable chance."

Music: "We Like to Party" by Kevin MacLeod