#IMHO: The Bucks are the Champs!! Plus, finding the future of the Suns!

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Kelcey Wright Johnson weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Monday, July 19, 2021 9:55 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: IMHO

Welp, Kelcey, don’t look now, but it seems as though we are one game away – or maybe two games away! — from the end of the NBA season. It seems like months ago that Giannis seemed to suffer a serious knee injury, to the point where we wondered if he would be out the rest of the season. And now the Bucks are heading home this week with a 3-2 series lead, with Giannis making back-to-back game-winning plays showcasing his unbelievable athleticism.

(And let me add here, I know the word “unbelievable” has lost some of its luster over the years thanks to overuse, but how else should we describe the way Giannis plays? He’s literally unbelievable. I’ve watched the NBA my entire life and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen anyone quite like him. I mean, he can barely make a jump shot from outside of the lane and he’s still dominant.)

Anyway, I mentioned the game-winning plays from Giannis, but how about that steal from Jrue Holiday at the end of Game 5? It was funny, the Bucks were in control of that game for most of the second half, and I wanted to turn the game off and squeeze in a few rounds of PGA Tour 2K21 before going to sleep, but the Bucks just weren’t able to put the Suns away. Finally, I told myself that if the Bucks got it to a 10+ point lead, I’d switch over to the PS5. But they couldn’t get it there, so I stayed tuned, and the Suns closed and closed, and by the time the Suns got to that final possession, down 2 points, it felt like there was no way the Bucks were going to hang on to win.

And then Jrue ran in and ripped that ball away from Devin Booker, then ran down and threw it to Giannis for that dunk. There was no way I was expecting that to happen on that play. As an impartial observer, it was just such an awesome play that all I could do was tip my virtual cap to Holiday. He’d been terrific all night, and for him to essentially win the game with a steal and assist was just kinda perfect.

So now the Bucks have two games to win one. And the Suns have to win out, including a game in Milwaukee tomorrow night. Can they interrupt the momentum the Bucks are rolling with right now? And how have you felt about these Finals? I think the early consensus was that these would be boring, that they wouldn’t be fun, blah blah blah. Can we now agree that no matter how it ends, we’ve seen some memorable basketball?

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2021 7:04 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

This has been some fun basketball to watch in this year’s finals. As I type this, I’m getting ready to watch Game 6 and I’m getting nervous — not because I like the Suns or the Bucks better — but because I don’t want this series to end! I’m hoping for a Game 7 simply just because I want more basketball! I can’t believe there were people who thought this was a going to be a boring Finals because it wasn’t two marquee teams.

I completely agree with you, Lang; this year has been very memorable. I don’t think I’ll ever forget Giannis’s block in Game 4. That may be the highlight of the entire finals for me…what’s wild is we didn’t even get to see a replay?! It was so incredible that I think it went right past everyone’s heads until later on.

Time to go watch Game 6! My prediction is the Bucks win – let’s see if I’m right.

Lang, if you had to choose a Finals MVP for each team. Who would it be, and why?

Chris Paul boxing out Khris Middleton

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, July 21, 2021 9:49 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: RE: IMHO

Well, in the time between you emailing me and me responding, the Finals have ended, and in grand fashion, as the Bucks won Game 6 at home in Milwaukee, 105-98. While the Bucks had a few great moments throughout the series from key players, from Jrue Holiday to Khris Middleton to even Bobby Portis, make no mistake: The Bucks won this title because of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Both in theory and in practice. Giannis carried this franchise to contention, and then he basically single-handedly won this series. Giannis going for 50 in Game 6 was not only incredible, it was a perfect end to the Bucks’ evolution from contenders into champs.

I know Giannis isn’t the kind of player who is going to wow you with behind-the-back dribbles and spin moves and all that stuff, but that, to me, doesn’t lessen his greatness. As my friend and former SLAM co-worker Russ Bengtson tweeted this morning…

And I totally agree. Giannis is singular as a sports superstar, and I find it pretty hard to root against him (unless you’re a hater). He and his family came from nothing and made something of themselves. It’s pretty hard to root against him. I actually sent this clip to our Grizz Gaming group chat last week…

I love that soundbite, and I really respect his ability to be self-aware and sanguine even in the moment, as all of his dreams were in the process of coming true.

At the same time, I felt pretty bad for Chris Paul as he left the court there at the game’s final buzzer. He’s busted his tail to get to this point, and to come so close without a title must sting. I know this is a young Suns team, but they also benefitted from injuries in the Western Conference, which gave them a smoother path to the Finals than they might have had otherwise.

The moment the game ended, I started thinking about what was next for these teams. Other than PJ Tucker, all the Bucks are under contract for a while, so I’d assume they’ll bring most of their core back. The Suns are so young, other than CP3, that I guess they’ll mostly return their stars. But Kelcey, if you were running these front offices, how would you improve each team heading into next season? Or would you do nothing and try and just run it back?

Jrue Holiday on the court

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Thursday, July 22, 2021 3:19 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Oh gosh. The times you ask me to play the role of a GM really stresses me out.

It’s easy to look at a team that just won a championship and say ‘nah, don’t change anything…run it back’, but the Bucks didn’t play a perfect series and you know the Nets and Lakers are coming back angry next year.

I would probably add a back-up small forward to the roster; one that could legitimately play minutes to give Khris Middleton some time to catch his breath. The main thing I hated about watching them was how often they turned the ball over but I can almost guarantee Coach Bud cleans that up in the off-season (and part of is nerves too, as well as learning to play with each other AND lack of practice this entire season).

They may also benefit from another knock-down shooter like Connaughton. He had 23 minutes in Game 6 and helped space the floor really well. With a team that doesn’t go super deep into their rotations (in close games) it may be nice to have another reliable shooter off the bench for those games where Connaughton isn’t hot from deep. He shot 37% from the three on the season, but there were games where he scored 20 and there were others he scored zero…consistency off the bench would be nice.

And last but not least…I think they kind of missed the intensity off the bench that Torrey Craig brought to their defense. Now, Craig will still get a ring…but he was on the other bench for this Finals, repping the Phoenix Suns and I think he was a great pick-up for the Suns. He’s an unrestricted free agency this year, so I’d start by resigning him. He was a great sub for Jae Crowder (who we dearly miss from some of last season with the Grizz) when Jae needed water or got into foul trouble.

As for the Suns’ needs…Cam Payne is also up for a re-up and I would definitely bring him back. The journeyman brought a nice spark to the squad. Did you know he was 26 years old? Am I crazy for thinking he was like max 22? Sheesh, that just means I’m getting up there.

But what do the Suns need in general? I don’t know, Lang; in Game 5 they shot 55% from the field, including 68% from deep. What the heck else can they do?

Do you have the answers? I’m passing the Suns on to you. You’re James Jones now…what off-season moves are you making?

Cameron Payne and Devin Booker

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Friday, July 23, 2021 9:39 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: RE: IMHO

The problem with the Suns is that they are faced with two different timelines. Of course, Chris Paul is your point guard, and he’s not getting any younger. At 36 years old, and with free agency an option this offseason, CP3 is likely looking for one last big contract.

At the same time, the Suns’ second- and third-best players are Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, both pretty young and still not at the top of their games. Booker and Ayton are only going to get better, and if those two are among your core, it stands to reason that your team should only improve with time and experience.

But that same clock that helps part of your team is ticking against your point guard. So do you sign CP3 to a three-year extension and hope he stays at the same level and the others get good enough to get you back to a Finals? Or if you’re James Jones, do you make a bold move and go out and find a younger point guard who can grow with the rest of your core?

Also—and I hate to say this, but it’s true—the Suns got lucky this season, as injuries kinda cleared their path to the Finals in the West. You can’t plan on that happening again, so do you have enough firepower to get you back? Or do you need to take a step back in order to take that next step forward?

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