Bulls & Kings Playoff Bound? + More Way-Too-Early 2022 NBA Predictions!

Grind City Media’s Kelcey Wright Johnson and Jon Roser make their boldest predictions yet for the NBA’s Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, and Sacramento Kings to have breakout seasons and why months in advance to Opening Night.

#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?

Giannis Ignites in Game 5, Space Jam 2 Review, John Cena Surprise Return! | 3-Point Stance

3-Point Stance: Giannis Ignites in Game 5, Space Jam 2 Review, John Cena Surprise Return!

Grind City Media’s 3-Point Stance segment is a Skype-styled conversation between 2 friends, with 2 perspectives, on 3 topics from the weekend centered on sports, entertainment and pop-culture presented by MTN Dew. On Episode 82, Devin Walker and Jon Roser discuss:

(0:31) Giannis Antetokounmpo
The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Saturday and are now leading the series 3-2 after winning three games in a row. In the midst of this wild Bucks comeback, what superstar play from Giannis will you remember the most?

(4:29) Space Jam: A New Legacy
Space Jam 2 featuring LeBron James came out over the weekend smashing box office estimates. What is your review of the movie and is it worth it to see? *Potential Spoiler Warning*

(6:49) John Cena
Money in the Bank went out with a bang last night with WWE Superstar John Cena making a surprise appearance for the first time since March 2020. After over a 16-month hiatus, do you think fans will welcome him back to the ring with open arms?

#IMHO: The Olympics are here! Plus, the NBA Finals, and what should the Sixers do with Ben Simmons?

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 12, 2021 9:21 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: IMHO

Kelcey! Let’s start this week with what everyone in the basketball world is talking about. Nope, not the NBA Finals, but the Olympics! It’s interesting to see how, even as the Finals reach Games 3 and 4, we suddenly find National Teams from around the globe assembling, much like the Super Friends. There hasn’t been a ton of attention paid to it, at least here in the USA, I think probably because of the Finals happening. But I’ve seen some social media noise about Team Canada (shoutout Canada!), and I also noticed Team USA lost an exhibition game last week against Nigeria, coached by Mike Brown.

Since I know you have national team hoops in your blood, what can you tell us about the start of Olympic b-ball season? We know the days of Team USA rolling out a team of NBA players and destroying everyone else are over. (A few years back, I wrote this story about the start of that era.) But is Team USA still the favorite? Or does someone else have a legit shot at knocking them off?


From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Tuesday, July 13, 2021 10:38 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Hey Lang!

The Olympics feel like they’re right around the corner and this week we got our first glimpse at the men’s USA team…and it was….not what people expected. Don’t get me wrong; it’s star-studded (before I start, just know that I am cheering on the American men full-on because the Canadian men didn’t qualify).

BUT they lost their first exhibition game against Nigeria and then lost their second to Australia and then it felt like everyone started panicking (don’t worry, they did pick up their first win though in their third game, against Argentina).

As for favorites? Team USA has won 5 of the last 7 gold medals available at the Olympic Games — and the years they didn’t win, they still medalled. But don’t let that deter you from the fact that there are some seriously strong rosters this year. Take a look at Australia for example: they’ve got Patty Mills, Dante Exum, Dellavedova, Thybulle, Baynes, Josh Green. In fact, I think Iran and Slovenia may be the only teams that have no NBA players.

The USA though? All 12 are NBA players and the majority are superstars. Plus, they’re in a group with France, Iran and Czech Republic. Czech Republic has one NBA guy and France has a few including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier, but if you’re the USA, you’re very happy with your pool.

I was thinking about this Lang…how do you think the Olympic team would do if we just dropped them into the NBA? Would they dominate? Or would it be too many mouths to feed?

Patty Mills playing for Australia

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2021 2:42 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: RE: IMHO

I mean, if you had an NBA team with Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard alone, you’d have a pretty good team, right? Much less Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal and Kevin Love and Draymond Green. This would be the best team in the NBA, and I think they’re going to prove that they are the best team in the world. Losing to Nigeria and Australia aren’t ideal outcomes, but I think it proves a few things. First that the NBA has done a great job spreading basketball around the world, creating amazing players all over the place. It also shows that the US can’t just roll out a team of all-stars and think they’re going to dominate right off the bat.

Putting these teams together for international competitions has always been a precarious task – even when we sent the Dream Team in 1992, people at USA Basketball were worried about their chances – but today more than ever, these teams need time to figure out what they’re doing and get on the same page. It’s tough to play an exhibition when everyone expects you to be perfect from the jump. This team has the potential to be awesome. I just don’t know if they have enough time to get there. In the meantime, being pretty good might be good enough.

And as the Finals play on, Kelcey, the NBA rumor mill keeps churning. The latest is that the Sixers may (or may not!) be entertaining offers for Ben Simmons. After the way he played in the postseason, this isn’t surprising news. But Simmons is good! Maybe even great? So if you were the Sixers, what would it take for you to trade him?

Damian Lillard during Team USA Practice

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Wednesday, July 14, 2021 9:49 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Sheesh! Well, that’s a loaded question because it comes with so much more. The Sixers will obviously only give up one All-Star for another All-Star caliber player (plus more, probably), then there’s cap space to talk about, then there’s the fact that Ben Simmons is owed almost $150 million dollars over the next three years.

I saw one trade rumor with the Kings and phewwwww they’re asking for a lot; it would be a trade that would include Hield and Bagley, and three future first round picks. Yes, yes, yes, that’s still a rumor but wow that’s a lot. But I don’t mind the Kings for Simmons, they’re a really young team with some money to spend and it would be Ben’s team…no more Robin to the Batman.

Let’s talk some other rumors; Sexton trade? Kuzma trade? Siakam trade? Hayward trade? Lowry trade? Kawhi? Dame? Eek! Do you think any of these will happen or are we all just looking for something kind of drama to watch out for?

Ben Simmons against the Hawks

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Thursday, July 15, 2021 10:41 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: RE: IMHO

I mean, I think at this point, something has to happen, right? It’s been almost a full year of trade rumors around Simmons. It started in earnest at the beginning of last season, when James Harden hit the trade market. And even though the Sixers ended up not finalizing the deal with the Rockets, once his name was on the market it’s tough to pretend like it was never a discussion. Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it’s tough to put it back in.

So at this point, you may just have to move on. Which might not be a terrible thing! You’ve still got Embiid, and you can surely get a bunch of great picks/players in exchange for Simmons, depending on what kind of deal you strike. I understand that Simmons’ value is probably low right now, but as I’ve always said when it comes to the NBA, it only takes one team.

And in this case, you only need one team out there willing to take a chance on Simmons. Hopefully, you can find the right team.

Giannis Beast-Mode Activated, UFC 264 Takeaways, Italy Stuns England in EURO 2020 | 3-Point Stance

3-Point Stance: Giannis Beast-Mode Activated, UFC 264 Takeaways, Italy Stuns England in EURO 2020

Grind City Media’s 3-Point Stance segment is a Skype-styled conversation between 2 friends, with 2 perspectives, on 3 topics from the weekend centered on sports, entertainment and pop-culture presented by MTN Dew. On Episode 81, Jon Roser and Meghan Triplett discuss:

(0:33) NBA Finals
The Milwaukee Bucks, led by a fuming Giannis Antetokounmpo, stormed back Sunday night with am impressive 120-100 blowout over the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the NBA Finals; inching the series closer to 2-1 Suns advantage. How does this affect the series moving forward?

(3:31) UFC 264
Aside from Conor McGregor’s horrific ankle injury in the main event vs Dustin Poirier on Sunday, UFC 264 provided a lot of entertainment between celebrity appearances, Sean O’Malley’s TKO over Kris Moutinho, and “Bam Bam” Tai Tuivasa’s reaction to beating Greg Hardy.

(6:50) EURO 2020
Italy handed England a devastating loss, winning the UEFA EURO 2020 in a penalty kick shootout after only tieing the match late in the second half. How will the English players recover?

#IMHO: Finals, Finals, Finals

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 5, 2021 9:52:07 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: IMHO

And we’re back. Well, not quite *back*. It’s the day after the 4th of July (plus a Happy Canada Day to you!) and while most of the world is taking today off, you and I and everyone else who cares about the NBA is tuned in and ready for the NBA Finals to start tomorrow night!

Do the Finals feel different to you this season? Last year everyone was bubbled up in Orlando, and to me things just felt off. This year there’s a little more anticipation, perhaps? Particularly since we’ve got two franchises involved who haven’t been in the title hunt in decades. And there’s no players on either team who have ever won a title before.

So Kelcey, who are you going with? The Suns? The Bucks? You go first and I’ll answer in my next email, along with whatever else you throw at me…


From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Tuesday, July 6, 2021 8:49 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Hey Lang,

I have been saying I thought the Suns were going to win it all this year since before the playoffs began…although I also thought it would be Philly or the Nets in the finals from the East, so what do I know?

I totally know the feeling you’re talking about though because I feel it too. And I think it’s probably a combination of having fanbases back at games, and also the excitement of not watching the same teams monopolize the finals again. It’s exciting for both the Suns and the Bucks, and I think fans around the league can get behind that raw emotion.

I saw a cool stat that said Jae Crowder is the only player to ever have even played in a finals — and that was last year. I kind of love that about this year’s finals…everyone is brand new and so hungry for the ring.

I can’t wait to see how it all ends up…I’m just hoping it goes to seven! I don’t want the season to end!!

Ok, now give me your take…who you taking?

Jae Crowder warming up

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, July 7, 2021 2:49:31 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, we’re one game in and the Suns looked pretty dang bright in that opening game. I loved seeing the Suns come out and play their style — uptempo, spreading the floor — and taking advantages of mismatches over and over. If the Bucks are going to switch everything, which suddenly seems to be their strategy, after refusing to switch anything for years, the Suns did a good job of getting the switch, opening the floor, and then beating defenders off the dribble.

I also really liked how the Suns would occasionally and randomly go to a zone defense, just often enough to make the Bucks think and keep them from getting comfortable offensively. I’m not a big zone defense proponent, but if you use it the way the Suns used it, it’s a great change of pace.

All that said, I think the Suns are going to win this thing. Ever since the bubble a year ago, the Suns have been red-hot, and even changing out their lineup and bringing in Chris Paul hasn’t changed that at all.

I know Giannis wasn’t one hundred percent, but he seemed awfully close to that mark, considering the way he was moving up and down the floor. I thought Giannis did enough to get the Bucks a win, but someone other than Giannis/Khris/Jrue has to step up and be a difference-maker for the Bucks. Maybe that’s PJ Tucker, or Brook Lopez, but their big three will need some consistent help to get to the next level and win a ring.

Or will they? Kelcey, there’s a time-honored tradition of having knee-jerk reactions after Game One of the Finals. So, if you were the Bucks, down 0-1 heading into Game Two of the Finals, what adjustments would you make? What would you do?

Giannis Antetokounmpo driving to the basket

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Wednesday, July 7, 2021 5:36 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Lang,

I’ve always been a big believer in the either-or method. Obviously this game plan doesn’t always work, or even apply to the roster but it’s always my go-to advice; let Booker go off and stop everyone else. Unfortunately I don’t think it works for the Bucks right now though because everyone scores on the Suns; Booker, Paul, Payne, Ayton. That’s what makes the Suns so dangerous…on any given day, any player can go off for 30 points.

But my secret go-to plan just won’t work for Game 2. For the Bucks, they haven’t won a game against the Suns this season so Game 2 is gut-check time… they do not want to go 0-2 in the finals.

I think you’re right though; the Bucks need a fourth guy and an even bigger game from their superstar Giannis. I know it sounds crazy because Giannis had 20 points and 17 rebounds but he’s the engine to this team, he needs to have at least 25 points. The fourth guy needs to be Tucker or Connaughton — neither of which really showed up to play during the first game.

On the defensive end, the Bucks need to focus on limiting Bridges (and don’t expect Crowder to go 0-for again in Game 2) and boxing out Ayton. They’ve really got their hands full and that’s why I like the Suns so much.

While I sit here and write this to you, Lang. I was about to say the Suns don’t have superstars but they have stars and pieces that just work really well together. But would you consider CP3 or Book superstars? What is Book’s ceiling? I’m excited for his bright future.

PJ Tucker press conference

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, July 7, 2021 2:49:31 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, we can agree to disagree to begin with, because to me CP3 is absolutely a superstar. How do we determine a superstar? Well, he has his own signature sneaker line, he’s been on SLAM magazine covers, he’s made multiple All-Star Games, and perhaps most importantly, CP3 made the first cut of LeBron’s banana boat ride. If that isn’t superstar caliber I don’t know what is.

I don’t think Booker counts as a superstar just yet. He does have the Kardashian connection, and he played at UK, so he has a huge fanbase, but it feels like yesterday he just made his first All-Star Game. That being said, I think he has a ceiling higher than CP3. Booker has the opportunity to be a generational talent. If he can continue to play at this level and get better, and if the Suns keep winning, he’s going to be one of the faces of the NBA for the next decade.

#IMHO: Top NBA Game 7 Clutch Performances of All-Time!

#IMHO: Top NBA Game 7 Clutch Performances of All-Time!

With the NBA Conference Finals in full swing, Grind City Media’s Kelcey Wright Johnson and Jon Roser discuss their most memorable NBA Game 7 performances of All-Time including Bill Russell’s game saving block, Kawhi Leonard’s heroic buzzer beater, Big Game James Worthy 37 points, and delve deep into Jon Roser’s resentment of LeBron (King) James.

Khris Middleton Catches Fire, Chauncey Billups In (Dame Out?), Team USA Dazzles | 3-Point Stance

3-Point Stance: Khris Middleton Catches Fire, Chauncey Billups In (Dame Out?), Team USA Dazzles

Grind City Media’s 3-Point Stance segment is a Skype-styled conversation between 2 friends, with 2 perspectives, on 3 topics from the weekend centered on sports, entertainment and pop-culture presented by MTN Dew. On Episode 80, Jon Roser and Meghan Triplett discuss:

(0:00) Intros

NBA Playoffs
Over the weekend, the Phoenix Suns grinded out an ugly 84-80 victory over the LA Clippers without Chris Paul or Kawhi Leonard on the floor, and the Milwaukee Bucks overcame the Hawks 113-102 in a late 4th quarter effort after Trae Young hobbled off the court in an apparent ankle injury 3:18. How do you see these series ending and what role will injuries play for the victors?

(4:08) Chauncey Billups
The Portland Trail Blazers have hired Clippers asst. coach Chauncey Billups as their new head coach on a 5-year deal despite controversy surrounding a sexual assault allegation case from 1997. With Damian Lillard’s name being tied to the new hire, how do you think this will affect Damian’s future with the Trial Blazers?

(7:47) This Weekend
Jon Roser and Meghan Triplett report on what they watched this past weekend including UEFA Euro 2021 and Team USA Olympics members Simone Biles and Sydney McLaughlin’s electrifying, record-setting performances.

Beyond Grit - S3:E9 | "Season Finale" - PLAYOFF EDITION - Part 2

Beyond Grit – S3:E9 | “Season Finale” – PLAYOFF EDITION (Part 2)

In the season 3 series finale of Beyond Grit, see exclusive interviews and never-before-seen footage as the Memphis Grizzlies advance to Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs after eliminating the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of the NBA Play-In Tournament.

Joel Embiid & Trae Young

#IMHO: The End of the Sixers and the Jazz! Coaching vacancies everywhere! Plus, will Becky Hammon finally get that top gig?

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, June 21, 2021 12:14 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: #IMHO

Kelcey,

Welcome back from your summer vacation! From the glimpses I saw on the Gram, it looked like you were living your best life. And just curious, on your way back home to the 901, did you happen to cross paths with the number one seed Philadelphia 76ers or Utah Jazz? Because they’ve both gone fishing.

Because that’s where things are right now. The Jazz got detuned by the Clippers, who toward the end were without their best player in Kawhi Leonard. Meanwhile, the Sixers were mostly heathy, but still lost to the Atlanta Hawks, who look like the hottest team in the NBA right now.

Both of these one seeds had pretty obvious flaws. The Jazz had a defensive player of the year who could not make any impact on the game, thanks to the way the Clips were able to stretch them out offensively. And the Sixers had a marquee player (Ben Simmons) who wouldn’t shoot the ball in fourth quarters.

Let’s start this week in Philly. What would you do to get this team back on track?


From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2021 8:59 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: #IMHO

What’s going on, Lang? Thanks for the welcome back! You see, I didn’t run into the Sixers or the Jazz because I was busy in Brooklyn and Phoenix; two cities where the basketball (while I was there) was still going strong!

I don’t want to say I’m good luck, but the Nets didn’t lose until I left…so take what you will from that.

As for Philly though, I haven’t been in a few months so my luck must have worn off for them unfortunately. So, the question is what now for the 76ers?

I doubt Doc stays, and I doubt Simmons stays. I think the Sixers blow up the team and start a rebuild around Embiid.

I don’t mind if Doc stays (like I said, I doubt he will), but my opinion is strong with getting Ben out. I think Embiid needs to be surrounded by shooters in order to space out the floor; so I say re-sign Danny Green and then add another shooter or two around him. Maybe someone like DeMar DeRozan? Mike Conley? Kelly Oubre? Philly can afford to shop with Ben’s price tag and resume.

I think Ben Simmons just wasn’t the right fit — you and I both know the importance of fit on a team. Ben Simmons is an All-Star and he will continue to be great … just on a different squad. And the same goes for Philly as a team, they just weren’t thriving with Ben, and I truly believe they’ll do better with players that complement each other better.

Now let’s move over to Utah. Lang, what went wrong? Where do they go from here?

Joel Embiid looks on

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2021 11:37 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: #IMHO

The thing I liked so much about Utah this season is that they built this team from within – well, basically. Sure, they gave up a lot to our Grizzlies to add Mike Conley to the mix, but for the most part the rest of the Jazz roster was assembled through the draft and smaller free agency deals. Quin Snyder has been there for a while, also. So I like that the Jazz took their time and essentially invested in infrastructure and bet on improvement from within. So often these days we see teams try and trade half the roster and flip five draft picks and… well, I just like that the Jazz did it the old-fashioned way.

They had the best record in the league, at least during the regular season. But when they got to a series against a deep team like the Clips, they got found out. The Clips went five out and spread the floor and completely took the Jazz out of their element. And I know the Jazz were without Conley during some of the series, but clearly, the issue with the Jazz was how bad Rudy Gobert looked. I know that’s a strong thing to say, particularly when you’re talking about a multiple-time defensive player of the year, but man, the Jazz just looked awful when Gobert was in there. The Clippers kept creating problems, and the Jazz really had no answers. They couldn’t hide Gobert.

Gobert is a divisive figure. He famously broke into tears a few years ago when he found out he didn’t make the All-Star Game, and I don’t really fault him for that—he felt he deserved to make it and he reacted how he reacted. But he also seems to spend so much time on the court flopping and whining and complaining. If you’re one of the five best players in the League, maybe you can get away with that. But when you can’t stay on the court in the Conference Semis, at some point you have to realize you gotta put up or shut up. My guess is the Jazz hang onto him and try it again next season, but maybe invest in an athletic big who can spell Gobert when teams try and stretch them out next season. Because you know that’s what’s going to happen all season next season. The Clippers left everyone the blueprint; now everyone else just has to follow the plan.

Since we last emailed, thing have gotten spicy down in the Big Easy! First the Pelicans parted way with coach Stan Van Gundy after just one season on the job, then a report dropped that the family of Zion Williamson was disgruntled with the ways things were going in N’awlins. So while the Pelicans prepare to hire what will be Zion’s third coach in three seasons, if you were making the hire, who would you look to bring to the bayou to get things turned around, quickly?

Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert

From: Kelcey W. Johnson

Sent: Wednesday, June 23, 2021 1:31 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: #IMHO

The Pelicans head coaching job is probably one of the most coveted jobs in the league; despite no coach sticking the last couple years, the next coach has the opportunity for real success coaching a superstar in Zion along with some talent like Brandon Ingram, who are both ready to reach new heights and grow into their potentials.

But this next coach needs to stick. Zion can’t have four coaches in four years – that would be insane. And I say that with experience; did I ever tell you that I had four coaches in my five years of playing college ball? It’s not fun.

Part of what didn’t work with Van Gundy this year was he didn’t have the buy-in with the team. I think the next coach should be a young, communicator who has a resume working with a young team. New Orleans has gotten permission to interview both Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn and Bucks’ assistant Charles Lee — both of whom I think would be great candidates to lead this team to a playoff appearance.

Vaughan is a former player and has coached with multiple teams around the league — I like his experience, his youth and some of the coaching philosophies that he’s had experience coaching under. I also saw somewhere that he likes reading and writing poetry, so how could I not root for that sweet soul?

And then Charles Lee? I said youth was important — this guy was born in 1984! He’s young young, which may be a great thing for the Pels team. He’s also a former player who has coached in the NCAA and on a couple squads in the NBA.

HOWEVER! Part of me wants Becky Hammon to be interviewed for every coaching vacancy available in the NBA, but seeing her interview for Portland seems like a way better fit anyway.

Who do you think is the best fit to coach Dame and the rest of the Blazers?

Becky Hammon and Gregg Popovich

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Thursday, June 24, 2021 11:14 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: Re: #IMHO

Well, sounds my top choice is off the market, at least as of this morning: According to reports, the Pacers have hired Rick Carlisle to be their next head coach. I’ve always admired Carlisle and thought he was one of the more underrated coaches in the NBA, despite winning a title with the Mavs a while back.

We know who Dame and CJ want: When the T-Wolves fired Ryan Saunders and brought in Chris Finch, those dudes were pretty adamant that T-Wolves assistant David Vanterpool should get a look. So you would assume those guys would want Vanterpool to get a shot. At the same time, I’d love for Becky Hammon to get a chance, and I think Portland would be a great fit for her. I’ve also seen Mike D’Antoni‘s name thrown around, but being worse on defense than they were last season seems like a bad idea.

At some point, Hammon is going to get a shot. It feels like we have this same conversation every year, and it seems like every season it seems like Hammon gets closer and closer to getting that head coaching gig. I’m wondering if this is finally the year that it happens.