It’s playoff time and there will be games over the next 40 nights, many broadcast by TNT and its “Inside the NBA” crew, featuring the always opinionated Charles Barkley.
Barkley spoke for more than an hour this past week about the playoffs and all things NBA and, as expected, held nothing back.
■ On the Celtics:
“I think they’ve done a really good job. I think everybody knew [coach] Brad [Stevens] was going to be successful, but the problem we’ve got in sports is y’all let every idiot on Twitter dictate who gets hired and who gets fired, and nobody has any patience.
“It was just a matter of time. [Team president] Danny [Ainge] has done a good job drafting every year. They’ve gotten better every year. When you had the three guys who are going be in the Hall of Fame, they just let them get old, and you don’t get good draft picks when you get old. You just have to start over. I give Danny Ainge credit for being patient and building through the draft.
“I think they’ve got 102 No. 1 draft picks in the next few years. I give them credit for being patient.”
■ On whether a prominent free agent would sign in Boston:
“A free agent would sign in Boston, they’re the Boston Celtics. And they’ve got some good young players and some great draft picks coming up, too.”
■ On whether he was too friendly with Michael Jordan during the 1993 Finals:
“I’ve got to laugh at that because me and Michael laughed about that 10 years, 20 years later. They said we played golf together every day [during the Finals] and we never played golf. They said we had dinner together every night and we never had dinner. We always found it funny. We never saw each other except during games. This notion that we were too friendly has never been true.
“Anybody who knows Michael Jordan, there’s no person you want to beat more in the world. When he beats you in anything in your life, you have to hear about it until the day you die. We never hung out at all during the Finals. I haven’t done half the stuff they say I’ve done in my life.”
■ On the chances of either the Hawks or Warriors winning the championship:
“The only reason I’m not sold on the Hawks, I think they’re too little. I just don’t think you can win three or four series in a row shooting jumpers. I love Steph [Curry] and I love Klay Thompson, but when they get off the bus, I would start busting them in their chops and in their ribs. By Game 3 or 4, it’s going to wear on them.
“I’ve got no idea who’s going to win the championship. I’ve been in the NBA for over 30 years, I’ve never seen where there’s never been a clear-cut two or three teams [to win the title]. This year there’s seven teams that could win.”
■ On Chris Paul’s failure to reach a conference finals:
“Chris is not the reason the Clippers have not advanced, it’s not even close. But you have to blame somebody. That’s the way it is when you’re a star, everybody loves you when you become a star and when you don’t win they say you’re the reason. Chris Paul is the best leader in the NBA. He is not the reason the Clippers haven’t advanced past the second round. That’s just the TV pundits trying to nitpick.
“I’d be curious to see when’s the last time [DeAndre Jordan] scored but didn’t dunk. Blake [Griffin] to me, I like him a lot as a player, but he has not gotten better in the half-court. If I’m guarding Blake, I want him shooting jumpers. Every time he shoots a jump shot the defender is saying, ‘Thank God, he shot a jumper.’ He keeps saying he wants to round his game, [forget that] man, you get to the basket.”
■ On picking Chicago to beat Cleveland in the second round:
“ LeBron [James] has to play great for Cleveland to win. You look at Chicago, there’s nobody on that team that has to play great for them to win. When they play in the second round, that’s going to be a terrific series. The problem with the Bulls, we don’t know what their ceiling is.”
■ On whether the playoff system should be changed:
“I think people overreact. It’s a fluid situation on East-West. We’ve been talking about the same stuff for 30 years. There’s always been one conference better than the other, so I think the conference seeding is fine.”
■ On a potential coaching change in Oklahoma City:
“If [the Thunder] get everybody healthy, for the next five years they would be legitimate contenders. But for some reason [critics] keep wanting to fire the coach, and I have no idea why. Scott Brooks has done a good job. Without the MVP [Kevin Durant] basically all season and still almost make the playoffs, I don’t know what more y’all want in Oklahoma City, I really don’t.
“The news that [they] are even thinking about firing their coach has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”
■ On criticism of his work as an analyst during the NCAA Tournament:
“I mispronounce a guy’s name and people made a big deal about it. That’s where I’m at now, people are going to take shots at me. If they don’t want to watch, turn off the television. Being famous is like being the beauty queen, all the ugly girls hate you.”
AND THE WINNER IS . . .
Here’s one man’s picks for the league awards
This is the second season that the media voting for NBA awards is public, and this writer has decided to reveal his ballot before the awards are announced and offer reasons for his choices.
|LaMarcus Aldridge||Trail Blazers||5||23.4||10.2||1.7|
By far, the toughest decision. A strong case can be made for James Harden and how he nearly singlehandedly led the Rockets to the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs with 56 wins. Harden was second in the NBA in scoring and improved defensively.
Stepehn Curry, however, is a maestro on the court, scoring points in bunches and also facilitating as a point guard. He got the edge here because of the Warriors’ team-record 67 wins and his ability to score and distribute.
LeBron James led the Cavaliers to the best record after the All-Star break, and he could win the award every year. Russell Westbrook couldn’t get the Thunder to the playoffs but was brilliant in his attempt, scoring at will and notching triple-doubles. LaMarcus Aldridge remained steady for the Trail Blazers and played hurt, passing on thumb surgery at midseason and playing in 71 games, averaging a career-high 23.4 points. Aldridge also turned himself into a decent 3-point shooter, canning 37, 13 more than his previous eight seasons combined.
Rudy Gobert was the reason the Jazz had no issue trading Enes Kanter to Oklahoma City. His vast improvement made Utah one of the better defensive teams in the NBA. His numbers increased dramatically over his rookie season and he grabbed nearly 10 rebounds in just 26 minutes per game.
Hassan Whiteside came out of nowhere to become a cornerstone for the Heat, finally turning his talent into results. He won’t have to worry about a guaranteed contract as long as he is mentally invested.
Donatas Motiejunas won’t be able to participate in the playoffs because of an injury but had etched himself a role in the Houston rotation after averaging just 15 minutes per game last season.
Draymond Green is the main reason the Warriors are the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA. He can guard three positions despite his burly frame, including point guards. The best defensive player on the best defensive team usually garners this award, and that was the case with my pick this time.
DeAndre Jordan controls the paint for the Clippers and alters a plethora of shots along with his superior rebounding.
Kawhi Leonard would have been a strong candidate if he had played in more games, but he is the best one-on-one ball defender in the NBA. Green and Leonard are both impact players at small forward.
Lou Williams averaged 15.5 points in just 25 minutes per game and has given the Raptors a dependable scorer off the bench. He has started fewer than 10 percent of his games in the NBA, meaning he is accustomed to dropping buckets off the bench. With the Raptors capturing the Atlantic Division title and winning 49 games, Williams is the narrow winner over Thomas.
Isaiah Thomas helped lift the Celtics to the playoffs after a one-year absence, while Corey Brewer was a reliable scorer and defender off the Houston bench.
Andrew Wiggins has been the best rookie in what was a tough season for a heralded rookie class. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle suffered season-ending injuries. Joel Embiid never played one minute, while Aaron Gordon missed significant time with injuries. Wiggins averaged nearly 17 points per game and showed signs of being a future All-Star.
Nikola Mirotic became the fourth-quarter man for the Bulls, one of the team’s more reliable players. His scoring average jumped nearly 9 points after the All-Star break, and he would have won the award if he had played at that level for a full season.
For a team that did little but sign below-level NBA talent, Nerlens Noel turned in a solid season for the 76ers, averaging 9.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.9 blocked shots.
|Coach||Team||Vote rank||Regular season record||Playoffs|
It’s stunning what Mike Budenholzer has done in Atlanta after the franchise upheaval in the preseason because of racist comments from a former owner and also from general manager Danny Ferry. The Hawks won 19 consecutive games without a legitimate superstar, dismantling opponents with teamwork and ball movement. For a second-year coach whose team won 38 games the year before, leading a franchise with very little recent success to 60 wins is impressive.
Jason Kidd led a 15-win Milwaukee team to 41 wins, and that was mostly without Parker, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament. Milwaukee was among the better defensive teams in the league because of Kidd and the growth of its younger core.
Brad Stevens led the Celtics to the playoffs with a 24-12 finish despite team president Danny Ainge spinning several trades to improve the roster long term. The Celtics were turned into a difficult opponent by Stevens and his steadiness.
First team — Fs Aldridge and James; C Pau Gasol, Bulls; Gs Harden and Curry.
Second team — Fs Griffin and Anthony Davis, Pelicans; C Marc Gasol, Grizzlies; Gs Chris Paul, Clippers, and Westbrook.
Third team — Fs Leonard and Paul Millsap, Hawks; C Jordan; Gs Klay Thompson, Warriors, and Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers.
First team — Green, Leonard, Jordan, Paul, and Westbrook.
Second team — Trevor Ariza, Rockets, Davis, Gobert, Avery Bradley, Celtics, Jimmy Butler, Bulls.
First team — Wiggins, Mirotic, Noel, Elfrid Payton, Magic, Marcus Smart, Celtics.
Second team — Zach LaVine, Timberwolves, Langston Galloway, Knicks, K.J. McDaniels, Rockets, Jordan Clarkson, Lakers, Rodney Hood, Jazz.
While it was admirable for the NBA Players Association to agree to HGH testing for players beginning next season — 20-game suspension for the first positive test, 45 for the second, and league banishment for the third — the union is likely to want a concession for the players when the new collective bargaining agreement is negotiated. Is HGH use an issue among NBA players? The consensus around the league is that it isn’t. Now, what will the league concede to the players? Retaining the current age limit? Fewer back-to-back games? It will be an interesting next several months of negotiations . . . The Nets could get a major boost in their postseason efforts with forward Mirza Teletovic cleared for basketball activity after missing the last three months because of blood clots. Teletovic could be activated if he is healthy enough. He was a key bench player for Brooklyn but experienced health issues during the team’s Jan. 22 loss to the Clippers . . . The Hawks beat the Nets twice in the final month of the season, trying to send Brooklyn to the lottery because the teams will swap draft picks this season as a result of the Joe Johnson trade. The Hawks will receive Brooklyn’s 15th overall pick, while the Nets will choose 29th. And the Nets’ first-round pick next season goes to the Celtics courtesy of the deal that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn . . . Former University of Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein has signed with Roc Nation, the same agency that represents Celtics swingman James Young. Young said he plans to work out with Cauley-Stein in Los Angeles before the June draft. Cauley-Stein is a projected top 10 pick . . . Expect the Magic and Nuggets to search for new coaches although each team will interview its interim coach — James Borrego in Orlando and Melvin Hunt in Denver. Orlando is an intriguing job considering the Magic have so many promising young players but just need leadership. Borrego did a solid job after taking over for Jacque Vaughn but the team did not improve considerably under his tutelage. Hunt went 10-13 after taking over for Brian Shaw and impressed the players with his preparation and approach. But the Nuggets may be after a bigger name, someone who can help draw free agents to Denver. That has been a difficult task the last several years.
Gary Washburn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.