Welcome to the first edition of “The Basketball Roundtable”! Every week, we’ll be throwing a few questions to some of our contributors, relevant to trending topics of news within the current week. This is meant to be a casual conversation, similar to those that we all have while sitting around a table. With that being said, welcome to “The Basketball Roundtable.”
- This week MLB levied serious penalties in the Astros sign stealing scandal, is there any cheating scheme that an NBA team could orchestrate that could lead to the NBA dropping the hammer?
Aram Hanessian: This is a little tough since a direct comparison doesn’t really work. With the amount of scouting in the NBA, everybody basically knows everybody else’s plays, especially in the playoffs. One thing I thought of is something with the coach’s review. A team could maybe have somebody watching the broadcast and indicate to the coaches somehow a particular call that the bench may miss.
Sam Shin: This isn’t necessarily “cheating” in the sense we’re talking about with the MLB, but this question makes me think about what the Pelicans did last year in the trade talks with the Lakers. The Lakers’ reported package was leaked by the Pelicans (though Pelinka never wanted and intended for it to be leaked), violating a pretty much unwritten rule in the NBA when it comes to trade negotiations. I know we hear what potential trades could look like all the time and maybe even hear about what type of package a team is looking for in regards to a player they’re selling, but what the Pelicans did last year (specifically Dell Demps) was frowned upon league-wide, and I could definitely see this happening more often so teams get the best package for a star that doesn’t want to stay.
Cooper Hird: I think Sam is on the right track here. As Aram said, there isn’t really a direct comparison to be made, as basketball is not a game that relies on shrouding calls and behind-the-scenes chess matches. I mean, what information are you gonna steal versus the Rockets? We all know exactly what they want to do, and more or less how they plan to do it. The question is – can you stop it?
Sad as it is to say, I believe the NBA is in for a cheating controversy of its own soon enough. I get that a lot of people were unhappy with the way Anthony Davis’ situation was handled, but let’s be real, AD unquestionably made the right decision in demanding a trade. Yes, there may have been some tampering going on, and maybe LeBron and AD were doing some scheming behind the scenes, but….yeah? Duh? AD’s team was god awful last year, and he has been carrying the franchise for over half a decade at this point. AD’s departure from New Orleans was a question of when, not if. But what happens if Giannis gets convinced to join Jimmy Butler down in Miami? Or Masai Ujiri takes the New York job and tampers his ass off to get Giannis in a Knicks jersey? Well what happens, I believe, is mayhem. NBA fans and media would lose their minds, and for good reason – the Bucks have done just about everything you could ask (other than sucking it up and paying Malcolm Brogdon) and have looked like a historically great team now two seasons in a row. If Giannis leaves this situation for a big market, and we get any sort of sense that there was legitimate tampering involved? I think the outrage will be a lot more real and a lot more lasting than when AD left NOLA.
Sam Johnson: I took a little different angle on this one. Given the recent news, this question naturally had me thinking about wearables, add-ons, and equipment that players could tinker with to carve out an edge. Along with the theme of baseball scandals, I’m guessing many of you remember the Sammy Sosa incident of corking his bat. Similarly, my cheating scheme would involve something each player brings onto the court of his own: his shoes. Players could have their shoes designed or altered in a way to give them extra height on their jumps. Yep, spring-loaded shoes. It might sound far-fetched, but when someone bruises their ribs on the rim in ten years…just keep your eyes peeled.
- Last week, news leaked that the NBA is likely going to shelve the idea of reseeding the final four. Would the proposal be an upgrade over the current playoff structure?
Aram Hanessian: I think I may be in the minority, but I actually like the current format. I sort of buy the argument outlined in Woj’s piece on why the league doesn’t seem to be going forward with the change — that it could potentially hurt rivalries. I’m not just referring to rivalries within a conference, but also cross conference. I think a lot of NBA eras are defined by NBA finals matchups; think about the Lakers-Celtics in the 80s, Jazz-Bulls in the 90s and Cavs-Warriors recently. Those would all face serious additional hurdles and the chances of them happening year after year would be diminished.
Sam Shin: You want to see the best teams playing in the NBA Finals. I get the whole argument that teams play an 82-game season for a reason (for seeding) that helps them avoid specific matchups, but I feel like we have a better shot at seeing the best teams in the NBA Finals if we were to re-seed the final four. A Lakers-Clippers NBA Finals is pure dynamite.
Cooper Hird: I do like the point Aram makes above about the sanctity of conference and cross-conference rivalries, and how fun it is historically to have these long-lasting dynasties butting heads over and over again in the Finals. However, I would argue that reseeding the final four teams doesn’t necessarily mean scrapping those great rivalries; it just opens up different rivalries in the Finals. The best two teams (assuming they win the most regular season games) will have the two two seeds in reseeding, and thus will be placed on opposite sides of the bracket – no reason they couldn’t still match up. In fact, I would argue the final year of the Cavs-Warriors run is evidence as to why this idea is such a good one. With reseeding, we would have seen Houston vs. Boston and Cleveland vs. Golden State in the conference finals, setting up an all-time NBA Finals matchup against two all-time great teams in the 2018 Rockets vs. Warriors.
Sam Johnson: I could go either way on this one. I do think the reseeding of the final four teams would be an improvement over the current scheme, but the “purist” in me pushes back against it ever so slightly. It is definitely a buzzkill when the “true Finals” takes place in the Conference Finals. Then, the Finals become like a mere formality – kind of like we saw in 2018 with the incredible Rockets-Warriors seven-game slugfest, only to be followed by a swift Golden State sweep in the Finals. The Finals should be the biggest stage and it has the most eyes on it, so it would be nice to see the best two teams battle it out for the title. This change might increase the likelihood of this occurring, but I still do have a little pushback. It would be very strange, at least to me, to see Boston-LA face off in the semifinals. More than the historical angle though, I think if they are going to make the change, just reseed the entire playoffs 1-16. I don’t really sympathize with the added travel being one of the biggest drawbacks, as you could have some lengthy West-West matchups (NO-POR) and close East-West matchups (MIL-MIN). Why only change it after two rounds? Either reseed entirely 1-16 or just leave it as is.
- One of our TDC contributors, Blake Hairston, wrote a piece this week on the disappointment of this year’s Pistons. Andre Drummond’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors recently, what potential destinations do you see for him?
Aram Hanessian: The easiest way to see who needs Drummond is to just find a rank of defensive rebounding percentage and scroll to the bottom, although it should be noted that one player can only do so much (Detroit ranks 23rd per Cleaning the Glass). The Hawks have been rumored and they rank 29th, so that makes sense. Another team that I haven’t seen rumored is Charlotte. The Hornets rank 26th and have the expiring salary to match; something involving the Pistons taking a shot on Dwayne Bacon and Willy Hernangomez that also saves them some money (Detroit is right up against the luxury tax) with Charlotte taking Langston Galloway back would work.
Sam Shin: I don’t know if I really see any potential destinations that make sense for Drummond right now. I mean the Hawks? Really? And the Knicks rumored to be pursuing him? For what?? It’s a rough time to be a Pistons fan (sorry Blake).
Cooper Hird: Yeah, this is a rough question. Unfortunately, I think Aram hit the nail on the head by bringing up Charlotte. The Hornets were in talks for Marc Gasol last year before the Raptors were able to make a deal, and just seem like the type of organization that would invest heavily in Andre Drummond. Cody Zeller is the current starting center for the Hornets, with Bismack Biyombo and Marvin Williams playing spot minutes. James Borrego has shown all the signs of being a modern coach (Devonte’ Graham can probably credit some of his breakout season to the opportunities Borrego has put him in) but Michael Jordan has shown all the signs of an owner who has no feel on the pulse of modern basketball. Especially given how low Drummond’s trade value is likely given to fall (because even center-needy teams aren’t going to be foolish enough to give up assets to pay Drummond), I really worry that the Hornets will see Drummond as a must-have player and give up a package of something like Batum + Bridges + a 1st, or even two 1st’s (poorly protected, of course), a deal that would wreck the Hornets’ foreseeable future in a move that sacrifices the team’s most valuable draft capital for the opportunity to overpay a decent starting center.
And people wonder why I refuse to be a Hornets fan despite living in South Carolina…
Sam Johnson: Like Shin, I actually don’t see a great fit for him elsewhere, at least not during this season. I don’t think any contenders are exactly champing at the bit to add a high-priced low-post only threat. In this “one big” era, most of the good teams simply don’t have a need for him as they have solid centers already (DAL, MIA, DEN, UTA), so it would make little sense to risk mucking up their system to throw in a big-name center who is used to getting a high volume of offensive looks. For others (BOS & LAL), it’s tough to match the salaries to complete the trade even if they did want to. Finally, any interested teams without much playoff aspirations this year might just choose to try their hand in free agency after Drummond expires in a handful of months. If he is on the trading block, it would seem clear that he isn’t a part of Detroit’s future so why give up assets to acquire him? I also have a feeling that the Pistons value him higher than most other teams, or at minimum, wouldn’t want to dish him for such a low return even if they did think it was a fair offer. The most likely scenario that I see is that he just stays put.
- The Lakers seem to have the #1 seed in the West locked up, but only 2.5 games separates 2nd from 5th. Who is your favorite to grab the #2 seed?
Aram Hanessian: Houston is my pick. The Rockets are currently 3rd in the conference in point differential per Cleaning the Glass behind the Lakers and the Clippers. The big advantage the Rockets have though, is their willingness to push their stars. We can debate the merits of that strategy and the impact it has had on Harden in the playoffs, but it is a path for regular season wins. Harden is currently 2nd in the league in minutes and has only missed one game. Eric Gordon also recently came back after missing most of this season. The Clippers will obviously rest Kawhi and maybe Paul George. The Jazz have been great recently, but there are questions about how they’ll look when Mike Conley comes back, and the Nuggets point differential isn’t really in this tier.
Sam Shin: The Denver Nuggets. They’re currently tied for second in the West with the Clippers, but the Nuggets have proven to us over and over again that they can be a fantastic regular season team (the postseason is a different story). They have the depth to cover up for injuries, and Michael Porter Jr. is starting to come into his own as he earns more minutes. This isn’t a knock on the other teams in the West at all, but Denver’s the only team I see locking up that second seed without too many issues. The Clippers will rest Kawhi and PG (and have some locker room issues to figure out too). Utah is rolling but it remains to be seen how they’ll play with Conley fitting back in. For Houston, I’m still just not that big on the Westbrook-Harden pairing, and the Rockets need to play some better defense to lock up that second seed — simply put.
Cooper Hird: For me, it’s gotta be Utah. As of right now, Denver’s ahead of Utah by half a game, but Utah just came off a 10-game winning streak, and it really seems like the team is firing on all cylinders with the addition of Clarkson and insertion of Joe Ingles back into the starting 5. Now, there is a huge disclaimer here, as my peers mentioned above. 0-time All-Star Mike Conley just returned from injury, and before his injury, struggled mightily this year integrating with a new team for the first time in his NBA career — after playing the first decade or so of his career in Memphis. I will concede that I expect this hot run to fall off soon, and that Conley’s re-integration into the lineup will cost the Jazz a couple of victories. But I believe Quin Snyder and the Jazz staff are simply too smart to ignore what they are seeing right now, and I trust those coaches to replicate the type of performance we are seeing now later in the season, even if it takes some tweaking once Conley returns.
To be fair though, I listened to the Lowe Post episode with Jingles yesterday, so I’m all Jingled up right now.
Sam Johnson: Utah. Just recently winners of 10 straight, they are the hottest team in the league at the moment and I think they are meshing together very nicely with Bogdanovic playing well and Mitchell looking extremely comfortable in Year Three as the primary playmaker. As long as they can integrate Conley back into the fold without too much of a problem, I like the Jazz to finish 2nd.