ABC and ESPN NBA Countdown analysts Jalen Rose and Doug Collins discussed the start of the 2014-15 NBA season on a media conference call. ESPN’s NBA season tips off Wednesday, Oct. 29, beginning with an hour-long NBA Countdown at 7 p.m. ET with Rose, Collins and host Sage Steele. The program will feature a live performance by International recording artist Aloe Blacc. Following Countdown, the Chicago Bulls and the returning Derrick Rose will visit the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony at 8 p.m. while the Portland Trail Blazers and Damian Lillard will host the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook at 10:30 p.m.
Here is the replay of today’s conference call.
Q. With a couple of the top title contenders this year coming in San Antonio, Cleveland and Oklahoma City, while some of the big markets rebuild, I was wondering if you think that it’s a good thing for the league that a lot of the top teams and most marketable stars are in smaller markets rather than bigger markets now?
JALEN ROSE: Well, a couple of things. The game has graduated with social media, international and world presence, television sponsors – to where you can get the game and get the experience on so many different avenues. You know how people today basically watch television on their phone as they’re moving around.
So playing for a storied franchise – the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets – it’s not necessary per se to continue to make big time endorsement dollars, to continue to be the face of a franchise that’s successful, to be in one of those markets. So if you’re a really good player like a Kevin Durant who gets drafted by Oklahoma City, you can become the MVP of the league and get exorbitant dollars from a shoe company, and at that point it’s all about winning. It doesn’t work out for everybody like it worked out for Kobe Bryant getting five championships and spending his entire career in LA or even a Carmelo Anthony who just got a max deal.
If you’re in a good situation now, instead of chasing a large market like Kevin Love could have, he chose to chase the championship rings to Cleveland, something LeBron James couldn’t get people to do a handful of years ago.
Q. I’m going to go parochial here with the Heat. What do you expect from them this year?
ROSE: I’ve got to see how many games Dwyane Wade is going to play, just like everyone else. He has a few different phases to his career and that’s what happens when you become a veteran. You reinvent yourself on and off the floor. He’s been really mature and handled himself like a leader and a champion off the floor, but on the floor early in the career, it was drive to the basket, contest and/or block shots, one or two spectacular dunks a game, Finals MVP champion.
Then there was what I consider, I guess, The Flash versus Flashes stage where you’ve got LeBron. First year he plays 76 games. This past year he missed 28 games. Four Finals, two championships.
Now can he be that guy again that the team can rely on to play over 65 games? I don’t know health wise if he’s going to be able to hold up, and because of that, that’s what’s going to make it a tough season for the Miami Heat, especially based on the recent success they’ve had.
Q. I know the city of Boston has changed dramatically since you were in the league and you came out in ’94. What would be your impressions for the city as a free agent destination? They’re going to have cap space next summer, and obviously Doc is not here to sell the team, nor is Garnett or Pierce or Allen. It’s going to have to be maybe Rondo or if not, a bunch of young guys. How do you see Boston as a free agent destination?
ROSE: Now if you’re a city like Boston where you haven’t been able to land terrific superstar level free agents other than your big three scenario with KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. It was literally a perfect storm with Doc Rivers standing on the sideline, a young Rajon Rondo, who developed into a high-level point guard. That was more of the exception than the rule.
I know that they flirted somewhat with Kevin Love and didn’t get too far on trying to attract him as a free agent. I think when you’re one of those destinations like Boston, you have to draft real well and hope that one of the guys that you’re taking with all the picks you’ve been stockpiling for the last few years either becomes a player that’s already under contract from another team that really has no choice but to come and play there, even if he wouldn’t sign as a free agent, or hope that one of those players turns into a multi-time All-Star that can play alongside Rajon Rondo. Since that has not happened, you kind of have the picks, you kind of have the money. You’ve still got Rondo, but you’re not contending in any way, shape or form, and you have the cap space next year.
I think it’s going to be crucial to see what happens with Rondo. They have to turn him into a player and/or a few players that are going to be multi All Stars, and then once you’re able to do that and you’re a winner again, people always want to try to play for a winner.
Q. How much does the city itself, obviously with Miami and LA it does, but in terms of just the money you get versus the city you’re playing in, can Milwaukee or Sacramento attract free agents if they have the right amount of money?
ROSE: Yeah, absolutely. I joke all of the time, keep getting them checks. You’ve got enough money, you’ll get some players. Now, the thing is, is it going to be the New York Knicks? You sign Amar’e Stoudemire, it doesn’t turn out, all of a sudden you bring in Andrea Bargnani, you’re paying him over $10 million to go with Melo and Tyson Chandler. All of a sudden you’ve got the highest-paid front court in the NBA’s history, yet you’re not a playoff team.
So you want to be responsible with how you spend the money, but the second part of the league as the finances start to change and everybody knows the new TV deal is going to be in play, there are players who have role-player statistics now looking for max dollars. So when you see what they ended up having to pay for Avery Bradley, who I really like his game, he’s tough defensively. He’s learned to make an open shot, and he is somebody you can have in the game the last two minutes. If you take his salary base, if you’re going to be a great team, he’s probably going to be your fourth or fifth highest-paid player. So who are those other guys? That becomes the dilemma.
Q. My question specifically is about the Philadelphia 76ers and what you feel about Sam Hinkie’s approach toward turning this team from a loser to supposedly building it into a winner, and he seems to think it’s maybe the only way you can do it in the NBA. Do you agree?
ROSE: There are a lot of different ways to do it, so just because you get the No. 1 pick, that guy has only went on to win a championship with that team – if it was Hakeem Olajuwon and Tim Duncan, those are the only No. 1 picks that have gone on to win titles with the team that drafted them. It’s not an exact science that tanking is going to get you a great player or a franchise championship player, or it’s going to turn around your forces. You still need Nerlens Noel to become that shot blocker he was at Kentucky and play hopefully reminiscent of how Jermaine O’Neal played. He kind of reminded me of him; Jermaine has a softer touch. You hope he grows into that kind of player.
You hope Embiid becomes a guy that was worthy to be the No. 1 pick. He was a game changer defensively in college and all of a sudden you’ve got two rim protectors to go with Michael Carter-Williams, who was the Rookie of the Year.
But now, what price do you pay as fans? How long are you willing to wait? Because Philadelphia does have knowledgeable fans but also ticket prices are so exorbitant in today’s landscape. If you support your team, are you going to spend your money to support your team, which makes it bad for the rest of the league because what happens when other teams that are moderate come to town, a .500 team comes on a Wednesday night? You have guys taking pictures like he did last year, a guy I think bought basically a whole roll of tickets for $75. So that becomes bad for the entire league.
Hopefully if that is the plan, which they’re definitely engrained to have that as being the plan, this is the last year for that for everybody involved.
And one other thing that affects that is it’s a league issue. It’s when you decide that you can pay rookies 500K or first year contract or people in their first contract $500,000 but a 10-year veteran is around $1.5 million. It waters down the roster to where not only do you have a team that’s struggling, but you have a team of young guys that aren’t experienced that are struggling. So they don’t understand how to be professionals and bring it every night, compete every possession, still work hard in practice, know what to say to the media, still be involved in the community. Those are learned behaviors because of the reasons of trying to save money that teams hurt their roster from just having a competitive team on a nightly basis.
Q. I’ve got a couple Bulls questions. How much of an upgrade do you think Pau Gasol will be over Carlos Boozer, and how would you compare Joakim Noah’s game?
ROSE: I think the Chicago Bulls on paper right now, you’d have to argue the players that they’re going to have playing minutes at the four and five position, and I’m including McDermott because of his size, I’m including Mirotic because of his size even though they’re rookies, and I think the team drafted well to add those two guys. But when you have Pau – who averaged 17 points last year, still is a factor around the basket and is a really good passer high low and he’s an unselfish player and he’s a cerebral player to go with an all-NBA performer in Noah, who was the Defensive Player of the Year, and then add Taj Gibson, who they still have, who can finish over the top, who’s tough to the point where they allow Carlos Boozer to be expendable because he’s so good defensively in the fourth quarter. That’s as formidable as it gets, and that’s what I’m looking at when you compare them to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You know what you’re going to get from Kevin Love. You can book his 20 plus and 10 plus. Tristan Thompson, he was close to a double-double last year. Is he going to be consistent? Can he stay out of foul trouble? How many games are you going to get from Varejao? I’m not really a big believer in Haywood at this point of his career playing quality playoff minutes.
If I had to go interior and give a team the edge, it would be the Bulls, and that’s why at this point of the season, if I had to pick who I felt like was going to come out of the East, it would be Chicago for those reasons.
Q. So I take it you have really high expectations for Derrick Rose this year then?
ROSE: Yes, I like a guy that can get 30 points in 24 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coach Collins broke down a play on our Countdown show where it was 0-0 and Derrick Rose got a long outlet, dribbled up the left side, went over a high pick and roll, drove right to the basket and laid it up. So what that showed me is that that’s another thing that’s going to make that rivalry great. Kyrie can boogie with the ball. I joked that he’s like, I guess, Turbo and Breakin’ outside of the store dancing with a broom. He can really make it happen, but he has to learn as well as Love and even Waiters to compete defensively.
Chicago has a toughness about them. They have a defensive identity, and they have the coach in the league with the highest win percentage that has never won a championship in Tom Thibodeau. They have those pieces in place, and I think they could be ready to take that leap.
Q. What do you think about Chris Bosh as a No. 1 option offensively at this point?
ROSE: When you look down at the stat sheet, I think he’s still going to be 18 points, shoot a high percentage, cause matchup problems for the opposing four. He’s shown that he can be an All Star level player, whether in Toronto, and/or a champion in Miami, who’s clutch. He makes big shots at the end of the games. But the difference is the wear and tear that’s going to happen with him now having to play closer to the basket, doing more post ups, and grabbing more rebounds. That’s the biggest decrease that I’ve seen in his game is that as he’s shot more threes and basically it was because of their system that was successful for that team, that took him away from the paint, and he got less rebounds.
So he’s going to be in there trying to get more rebounds and be more of a physical presence, and it’s going to be good. I think he’s going to be able to live up to the fact that they need him to score buckets, but they’re going to need a lot more points from that roster than he’s going to be able to deliver, I think.
Q. Two quick questions: One quick one with regards to the Wizards and your thoughts about the entire Southeast Division, and secondly, your thoughts about the Cavaliers’ first year coach, David Blatt?
ROSE: I’ll go Coach David Blatt first because it was last and it was fresh. Having LeBron James, Kevin Love and also Kyrie Irving with the fact that he is a really successful championship international coach that’s been really creative with his teams, and his players have really enjoyed playing for him, playing in his system – the way that he wants them to move the basketball and not really play a lot of isolation – for that I think they’re going to be one of the most efficient teams that we’ve seen in the league.
If I had to pick two players to play with LeBron just from an offensive standpoint, it would be Kyrie Irving and it would be Kevin Love. When is the last time that guy has played on a team where one guy is going to get the rebound, somebody else is going to get the outlet, and he can actually be on a 2-on-1 break trying to dunk on someone? I’m excited to see that.
Q. Not since college.
ROSE: I joked that the best point guard that he’s probably played against his high school was Rich Paul. And the second question?
Q. The Washington Wizards and your assessment of the entire Southeast Division.
ROSE: The Washington Wizards, I really enjoyed seeing the emergence of John Wall, becoming an All Star caliber player. It’s hard sometimes as a point guard where that’s the toughest position on a nightly basis in the league to come into your own, and he ended up staying healthy last year and became an All Star level player. Couple him with Bradley Beal, I really like them as a young, talented backcourt. I affectionately call them Hustle and Flow.
You bring in a Paul Pierce. The last two or three minutes of a game, Paul Pierce has shown that he’s a guy that you want the basketball in his hands because he can make plays with the best of them.
You’re really going to lose Trevor Ariza’s athleticism, his defense, his ability to switch multiple positions, and he has quick hands, so I think they’re going to miss that. Can Nene stay healthy? When you look at him, whether it was in Denver, every time I see him, I was like, wow, if that guy could stay healthy, he could be an All-Star caliber player, and then he just had health issue after health issue. You saw what he can bring if he’s healthy come playoff time, what he did in this past playoffs, and Gortat, who they just signed to new deal, that’s a real formidable four/five. They basically remade their bench and those guys have got to prove their worth.
As far as the entire division?
Q. Do you feel it to be kind of an up for grabs situation, that there’s Washington, there’s Miami, there’s Carolina, literally any number of teams that could really jump in there and take it?
ROSE: Absolutely, but I want to grade Miami on a curve for a second. They’re getting graded on having Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and going to four straight Finals, okay. The other teams in this division still have a lot of work to do, and they did add Luol Deng, and I don’t think that they’re going to be an Eastern Conference finalist, but don’t be surprised if the Heat are a playoff team.
Atlanta, I love Al Horford. He’s going to back in the lineup. You put him back with Millsap, they’re a team no one really talks much about. They can also be in the playoffs again.
Lance Stephenson is now with Charlotte. Put him with Al Jefferson, Kemba Walker, they’re quietly putting their team together, who’s going to make three point shots for that squad.
And Orlando, they’re dealing with Oladipo’s injury, and I really like Vucevic and Tobias Harris. It is a division that’s up for grabs, but don’t be surprised when the smoke clears if the Heat is not a lot closer to the top than people really realize on paper.
Q. A couple more Cavs questions: Starting with LeBron’s thing that the offense that they’re running is unlike anything he’s done in his 11 years in the league, and in watching the preseason games, have you picked up on any of that that you could explain to us as to what they’re doing that’s so different than the rest of the league is doing?
ROSE: LeBron gets to play as a small forward. In Miami he was a point power forward. Early in his Cleveland days he was basically like a point forward because he wasn’t playing post-up basketball much at that point in his career.
His whole dynamic of how he’s seeing the game has changed because his positions have literally switched. When you have a legitimate All Star point guard in Kyrie, you don’t have to come and get every outlet pass because you know, A, that’s his job; B, you want him to make the second pass sometimes. And then all of a sudden, Kyrie, while he may get the hockey assist, LeBron is in a position in transition to make a play for himself or for others.
In the half court, it’s basically throwback NBA basketball. Some teams still play power basketball like the Memphis Grizzlies where they go and throw it to the elbow and drop it to the box and see if they can take advantage of a mismatch or set a small screen for the big weak side like Stockton used to do Malone, then all of a sudden we can get some action that way.
How they’re trying to do it, it’s just have five-man basketball. Pass, cut, moving like your hair is on fire, no standing around, the basketball finds the energy, the energy finds the hot man, and you hope to get a good shot and have a situation where people never feel like they have to force their offensive flow.
Q. And then to follow up, you were on a Phoenix team with some big time personalities and stardom between Nash and Stoudemire and Marion. When you have a group like this Cavs group where you have Love and Kyrie and LeBron, how much is that on the responsibility of the players to fit together, and how much does David Blatt shoulder that to make sure everyone is on the same page?
ROSE: Well, the ultimate responsibility is going to fall to LeBron because I think those pieces are in place even though they hired the coach before. He officially decided to come back to Cleveland. When you have a four time MVP on your roster it’s going to start and end with him. He’s the marionette that learned from the puppeteer Pat Riley and Dwyane Wade how to be a champion, how to lead the team, how to recruit players to come play in Cleveland.
He even poached a couple of the Heat players off their roster, formerly Mike Miller and then James Jones.
So when you’re now in Cleveland, his whole goal is to show a young Kyrie Irving, a young Dion Waiters how to be a pro, how to work, how to compete, and Kevin Love how to transform those numbers that he was getting into wins and losses, into more wins.
I think that dynamic is really ironed out, and there won’t be any gray area at all.
Q. LeBron James basically transformed the Miami Heat franchise, obviously the players, the roster, everything from the organization, top down. What’s the toughest thing for the Heat, the players on the roster and the organization as a whole going forward while that shadow of LeBron’s departure hovers over the franchise?
DOUG COLLINS: Well, the thing about it is you know with Miami, the blueprint is in place. You know, Pat Riley has been there, Erik Spoelstra has been there 20 years. They call it the Miami way. This is the way we do things.
The big thing for Erik now is he’s got to find the best way for this particular team without LeBron to win basketball games. It’s going to be a different offense. It’s going to be a different defense, and you’ve got a lot of different dynamics. Last year, so often LeBron was the point guard, so now you’re asking Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole to assume those duties of being the point guard and running whatever kind of offense that Erik feels they need to run to be able to be successful.
Chris Bosh has gone from being the third guy, a spacer shooting the ball and not being in the post much, shooting threes, to now being the No. 1 option, being in the paint more, scoring on the block, going back to a lot of the ways that he played in Toronto.
The big question to me is going to be Dwyane Wade. Last year he missed 28 games and the blueprint looked like it was working until into The Finals, where it looked like he didn’t have a lot left at that particular time. How are they going to manage him this year? What role is he going to play? We know that when he’s healthy, he’s still a dynamic player.
You’re adding Josh McRoberts, when he’s healthy, to be a starting power forward. Chris Bosh is a center. Who’s their bench going to be?
The Miami way is in place. It’s now going to be what do we have to do in the absence of the best player in the NBA to find a way to win on both ends of the floor. How can we maximize our bench? How can we maximize our starters? But to me at the end of the day it’s how effective are Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh going to be, and everybody has got to play off them.
I didn’t mention Luol Deng. I think it was an excellent acquisition in that deal. We know what kind of player Luol is, but it’s going to be a totally different team, and how long it takes them to come together is going to be very interesting.
Q. And then for Jalen, as a player coming out of this, what’s your perspective? How do you deal with this? Just everything in general from the lack of media circus to maybe lower expectations now?
ROSE: This is where your pride and professionalism kicks in, in particular for Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. They want to prove like, wow, LeBron was a leader and the MVP, that they weren’t just living off his fumes. That’s what’s going to drive them. I can be a first option if I’m Chris Bosh. I can put up the numbers that people feel like I wasn’t able to put up because I was sharing the basketball and sacrificing myself for championships.
And for Dwyane Wade, already one of the top two guards that the league has seen, can he go back to being a guy that was blocking shots, getting steals, being active, playing multiple games a year?
It’s hard just to imagine on paper to have a maintenance plan with LeBron James that called for him to miss 28 games, and unfortunately he got fatigued come Finals. I can’t imagine how that could go stronger this year without LeBron James on the roster.
Q. With the Lakers not being able to land like a big time free agent in the off season, a lot has been made about the fall of the Lakers and that franchise, and a lot of the blame seems to be going towards Kobe Bryant. How much blame for the struggles of the franchise do you believe should be pointed towards Kobe?
COLLINS: I’m not going to put any blame on Kobe Bryant. That guy has played for almost 20 years now. He’s played over 50,000 career minutes. When he’s healthy, he’s been the best player at his position throughout his time in the NBA. He’s been all defense.
You have to understand, success is cyclical in this league. How did the Celtics do after they lost Bird, McHale and Parrish? How did the Lakers do after they lost Magic and Kareem and Worthy and that group of guys? How did the Bulls do after they lost Michael, Scottie and Phil and that group of guys?
And sometimes we don’t understand, the league has changed a lot, where super teams are put together to last for a while with each other. Look at the Boston Celtics right now. They had the run with Doc and Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Look where they are. It’s a cyclical part of the NBA, and what’s changed, and maybe Jalen can talk about this, is if you look at it, when is the last time the Boston Celtics signed a big-time free agent? When is the last time that the Philadelphia 76ers have signed big-time free agent? When is the last time the New York Knicks have signed a big-time free agent?
The days of those teams automatically signing those guys isn’t happening. Guys are going and playing other places. They understand that you don’t have to play in the biggest markets to have success as well as get endorsements and all. Look at Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City; look at the team down in San Antonio.
To put that on Kobe, I’m not buying it. The guy is one of the all-time great competitors. I think he’s an easy target right now because Kobe is not a warm and fuzzy guy, and he’ll step up to the plate and compete every night, but I just think that’s wrong to put all this on his plate.
ROSE: And I’ll second what Doug said because great teams in today’s era, the elite teams have three guys playing at All-Star levels; the contending teams have two; playoff caliber teams, especially in the East, can have one. Kobe was great when he had Shaq. He was a champion when he had Gasol.
I look back at one decision that changed the Lakers’ fortune that probably is going to put Kobe in a position not to get a sixth ring. It was the decision to hire Mike D’Antoni over Phil Jackson. Now, for a guy that’s won five championships with your franchise, and we know about the personal relationship he has with Jeanie Buss, but just professionally, when they decided to go to Mike D’Antoni, well, who else was in tow with Mike D’Antoni? Steve Nash. Well, Steve Nash we all know is already out for the season and Mike D’Antoni has been fired.
Those were the two catalyst decisions to me that put Kobe in a position to now say, of course I’m going to ask for maximum dollars. I see the team that’s probably a shell of itself taking me into my twilight, so of course, who am I going to leave money on the table for? So he looks at a young team and he looks at a situation that’s in flux, and he says, I’m going to be a pro, I’m going to get healthy, I’m going to show the world I can come back and average 25 points. But when he does that, he’s coming back to a Western Conference that 32 wins won’t get you in the playoffs, and I think that’s what they’re looking at.
Q. Feeding off that, comment on the notion that free agents don’t want to go play with Kobe.
COLLINS: When you’re a great player in this league, I mean, LeBron James had two choices: LeBron was either going to stay in Miami or he was going to go home. He wasn’t going to go to his third city. At the end of the day, Carmelo was not going to leave New York City and what that brings to him. I think that’s really unfair to say guys don’t want to go play with Kobe.
I think there’s a lot of chatter and all that kind of stuff or whatever, but I don’t buy that at all. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that.
ROSE: It relates to one All Star caliber player who’s listed around a top 10, top 15 player, and that’s about Dwight Howard, and since they didn’t click initially and Dwight didn’t stay, that was the other domino that I talked about with the other scenarios. Then all of a sudden you lose an All-Star guy to Houston and you don’t get anything in return.
Q. Clearly the biggest storyline of the offseason was LeBron returning home to Cleveland. What storylines are you most intrigued by as we’re getting ready to open up the season?
COLLINS: For me, obviously to watch this Cleveland team as they grow through this period of time. Some of these guys are going to be under the greatest scrutiny they’ve ever been under as players. You’ve already seen it. Kevin Love makes a little statement I need more touches to get going, and basically LeBron gets the guys together and says, guys, understand that every word we say is going to be parsed. Don’t you find it interesting that every press conference that they had in Miami, he and Dwyane Wade did them together? We’re going to make sure that we’re on the same page every single day, so it can’t be divide and conquer. This guy said this, this guy said that.
To watch them, David Blatt is a terrific coach. I think his biggest challenge is going to be handling the media and all that goes with this team as it continues to grow.
I think it’s going to be interesting with the Chicago Bulls. They’ve got new pieces. Jalen and I differ on this a little bit. I think they have the right pieces, but I think that’s going to take a while longer. Derrick Rose coming back, they’re still not solidified yet with that starting situation. I’m of the belief that McDermott would be a better starter and Dunleavy coming off the bench would solidify that second unit, but I think Tibs is concerned about having the best possible team he can have out there to start the season so they don’t get off to a slow start.
How do you incorporate Pau Gasol into the low post? They played through Joakim Noah last year. Now he’s playing as a power forward. He’s not catching the ball as much. He’s not much of a playmaker because you have Rose and you have Pau Gasol. Jimmy Butler has already got an injury. So there’s a lot of stuff going on there that we know they’re going to be great defensively. Can they get good enough offensively to be a team that can win a championship?
And then to me the West Coast, I mean, it’s unfortunate the injury to Kevin Durant, but you’ve got eight teams that made the playoffs last year. If any team is going to be able to break through, can the Pelicans break through? They’ve got six really good players. Do they have enough depth? Can they stay healthy?
Phoenix Suns had a feel-good season last year. Can they build on that? So to me there are 10 teams in the West for eight spots. How far is Oklahoma City going to drop with the injury to Durant?
I think as much as the Clippers had a great year last year, I think they still have some questions. Jalen and I both talk about I’m concerned about their size on the wings and on the perimeter. When it comes to playing teams, they really struggled against Oklahoma City last year, size on the perimeter. That three-spot right now is by committee. J.J. Redick has got to stay healthy. There’s a lot of things going on out there.
To me, so many storylines in the West, but the East, last year we were talking about two teams. Start of the year we said Indiana and Miami are going to be there in the Conference Finals, and they were. This year in the East, we’re talking about two teams: Cleveland and Chicago and everybody else, so it’ll be interesting to watch for me.
ROSE: And I’ll give you a couple of quick nuggets because Coach killed it. The return of Derrick Rose. If he can play at an all NBA level, I feel like they should win the Eastern Conference. LeBron’s return to Cleveland, I mean, just the maturation to forgive the letter written by Dan Gilbert, but also that means an acknowledgment of his transgressions that he felt like he could have done things a lot different with the organization and with the fans, then to turn around and be able to recruit Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller, James Jones and possibly Ray Allen. Stay tuned for that one.
On the West, working the NBA Finals and being at those games, just appreciating the Spurs fans, I just have a soundtrack in my head that just literally says, Go Spurs Go! I think I’m so wound up that I might just blurt it out every now and then because that’s how dominant they were and how impressed I am with the way they do things.
Their offseason included re-signing Pop, re-signing Tony, re-signing Tim, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw and Matt Bonner, and they’re hoping to obviously get an extension going with Kawhi Leonard.
They’re back in tow, along with what Coach said, the Clippers. Is it their turn? CP3, Blake Griffin, all-NBA performers. DeAndre Jordan is going to be in position to lead the league in field goal percentage and blocks and rebounds, probably the first guy to be able to do that in NBA history.
So I’m trying to see if it’s going to be the Clippers’ turn because I think they have what it takes to push the San Antonio Spurs.
COLLINS: Just to build on what Jalen said, too, to me there’s some really intriguing teams in the West. Golden State, can they cut down on their turnovers? Steve is really working on having a more free flowing offense. Can they keep their defensive integrity? You look at a team like Portland; last year their starters were healthy most of the entire year. They win 54 – they hope to be able to have some internal improvement. They’ve added Chris Kaman and Stevie Blake. Can C.J. McCollum help them? Can they have a bench?
To me, Memphis, all these teams, first of all, the success of every team as Jalen knows is all based upon health. So given every team stays healthy, to me it’s going to be interesting to see at the end of the day who comes out of the mix.
ROSE: And also, me and Coach really love Dallas and we didn’t mention them.
COLLINS: Yes, sir, absolutely, I’m glad you mentioned them. They’ve got a great coach. I like Tyson Chandler going there, Chandler Parsons. They’ve got depth. They’re going to be able to score the ball, but the big thing is can they defend well enough to win a championship.
Every team, as great as their strengths are, every one of them is flawed. There’s not a team out there that doesn’t have a flaw. You say Spurs, the only flaw they would have is they’re older. Other than that, they play beautiful basketball. They’re locked in, they’ve got the corporate knowledge, they’ve never had a back to back champion. Can they do that? There’s so many things to talk about.
ROSE: And also Houston with Harden and Dwight Howard, you add Trevor Ariza who I really like, can Terrence Jones become a guy that’s consistent as his career high nights.
Q. I just want to get your impressions on Brad Stevens, his second season. What kind of coaching job do you think he did in his first season, and how do you manage a roster like I’m sure you did where everybody is about even, you’ve got one star but you’ve got, the rest of the guys have got chips on their shoulders, something to prove, maybe have underachieved in other places and it’s pretty even? How do you manage that?
COLLINS: I think Brad is a terrific coach. The first thing, when you’re Brad Stevens, you’re walking in, you’re navigating basically an 80-game season, and you’re coming in. I mean, we saw what he did at Butler. That team was as well coached as any team that was in college basketball. He’s got a great feel for the game. He’s got a nice demeanor. He’s a terrific teacher. The hardest part is dealing with the losses. I mean, he’s never lost before. The guy has been to two Final Fours with Butler.
So when you go in, and understand doing your job on a daily basis, and a lot of it was almost like a developmental league team, D League team, where your job is as much to try to get players better and create the assets of your team to put your team in a position to move forward as it is to focus in on how many games you can win. That’s tough because as a competitor, all you think about is winning that next game.
I give him a lot of credit. Brett Brown had 63 losses last year. That’s tough to take to keep your energy up, the positive energy, to walk in practice every single day, to continue to teach, to do the things you do.
I’m a big Brad Stevens fan. I think he did a wonderful job, and he’s going to be more comfortable this year because the second year going through it, you’ve got a better feel for the pacing of everything. Your practices, the days off, who needs extra work, who doesn’t.
You know, I had a team in Philadelphia when I went there, probably Andre Iguodala on paper was our best player. He became an All-Star my second year there. Drew Holiday became an All-Star my third year there. But when I looked at our team, I thought we had strength in numbers, and I thought if we could get seven guys averaging in double figures and develop a bench, we had a chance to get a lot better, and we went from 27 wins to 41, a 14-game improvement, was the second most in the league. We got an identity of how we wanted to play, we defended, we didn’t turn the ball over.
But the two keys for me were Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. They were two of my five best players, and I went to them and I asked them if they would come off the bench for me to make us a better team. They would play crunch time minutes. Lou became the leading scorer for me. Thad was one of my best players. Lou was second in sixth man of the year, I think Thad was five. Our team grew and we got better.
But it was because those players were willing to step up and play a role because they were two of my five best players and we got off to a 3-and-13 start that year, and for the guys to hang with it and for it to turn, it was a fun thing to watch. But when you’re losing every single night and you’re trying to build something, it’s hard because I don’t care what any coach says, you go home, and it eats at your stomach when you’re losing basketball games.
I give Brad a lot, a lot of credit, and also I said, Brett Brown, to take those kind of losses, to start to build something for Philadelphia and Boston. I’ve got a lot of respect for both of those guys.
Q. How do you feel about Sam’s approach toward rebuilding this franchise, especially the way you have kind of brought it up, especially the second year and the second round to see what’s happening now? How do you feel about his approach and the state of the franchise?
COLLINS: Well, I think, first of all, obviously I miss being in Philadelphia. You know what that franchise means to me, so I always root for them. I want them to do great. It’s a little painful for me right now to be a former Sixer and see the losses and all.
But the one thing I remember when I left, I talked to Josh Harris, the owner, and I said, Josh, regardless of what you’re going to do, stick with the plan. You can’t switch in mid-stream. If it gets painful, it’s going to be painful and you’re going to have to ride through it, and once you make the choice to do what you’re going to do and I felt they were going to do it, is to blow the team up and start all over again. This is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to do, we ask you to stick through the pain of what we’re doing.
And you can see that Michael Carter-Williams last year was the Rookie of the Year. Hopefully he’s going to be healthy and come back. Nerlens Noel looks like he has a chance to be a high-energy activity defender, shock blocker, rebounder. I don’t know if he’s ever going to be a big time scorer, but a guy who could be a part of a really, really good team. Embiid, can he get healthy? The Shved kid who’s overseas, all the draft picks and everything.
But there’s a lot of pain that goes with that, and that’s why I said I have a lot of respect for Brett Brown. He’s a tremendous coach. He walks in that gym every single day with great positive energy to teach that team.
It’s interesting when you get older you hope you can shoot your age in golf. You don’t want to lose your age as a coach, and last year had I coached, it was 63 wins, that’s how old I am. I did not want to lose 63 games. At my age I just couldn’t go through that.
Sam has got a plan. The most important thing is Josh, David Blitzer, and all the owners are on board, and they’ve made no bones about it with the city of Philadelphia, this is what we’re doing, stick with us. We think it’s going to work. Whether or not it does, I don’t think anybody knows, but that’s their plan.
Q. Is there any scenario in which you could see Miami competing with Chicago and Cleveland in the East?
COLLINS: I don’t see it unless there’s a major injury to one of those teams. I think I just look at Cleveland, I think they’re going to be one of the most dynamic offensive teams in the league. I said the first exhibition game they played, I think LeBron took seven shots, had two buckets, Kyrie didn’t play, and they had 122 points. So they’re going to be a team that can score the ball. I think the question is going to be for them as a champion. Can they become a top-10 defensive team? I think it’s going to be vital for Varejao and Tristan Thompson to stay healthy. They’re their two big guys that they’re going to ask to give them some size. They’re going to be a great rebounding team. And I think at the end of the day, LeBron has a chance to lead the league in assists, and I think once again, he’ll become a first league all defender, and so I think that they’re going to be awfully tough to beat.
With Chicago, polar opposites. Right now a team that is built on their defense. Can their offense come up to snuff? Can Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol give them extra points at all and make the game a little easier for them to where they don’t have to grind out every game every single night?
I’ve got a lot of respect for Miami. I just – when I look at their team, I say, you know what, there’s still a lot of questions with Norris Cole, Mario Chalmers being your point guard, still a lot of questions about how many games Dwyane Wade is going to be able to play at a high level because of the injury to his knee that he suffered, can Chris Bosh be back to that No. 1 option, Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng filling in, what kind of bench play they’re going to get. I know they’re going to be well prepared. I know they’re going to compete. I know they won’t beat themselves. I just don’t see them being in the class of those other two teams.
Q. As a coach, what do you think about running an offense through Chris Bosh? Is that viable?
COLLINS: Well, I mean, the thing about it is, I think when you look at their team, that’s the way they’re built now. It’s interesting to me because we played them in the playoffs the one year, and Bosh was a little bit more of an integral part of their offense. I thought that first year where they ran out of timeouts, they got him the ball at the elbows, they ran some isolations for him, they started games running plays for him, they got him the ball in the paint a little bit more, and I thought as time went on he became more of a home run hitter, where he was depending so much on that three, a little bit what you’ve seen with Kevin Love in the preseason in Cleveland. I think Jalen and I did a game the other night and 22 of his 45 shots, Love shot it in from the three point line.
Chris Bosh is going to be a guy, you’re going to go back, throw the ball in the post to him. It’s sort of interesting, but you go back to one of his quotes last year in the playoffs, he said, I don’t play down in the post anymore; I don’t take all that pounding. Well, that’s where he’s going to be right now and we’ll have to see how he plays.
Q. You touched on the Bulls and Derrick Rose a little bit. I just wanted to get more elaboration on what you think Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic add to the front court. Do you think that’s going to be enough to get past Cleveland, and do you think Rose can stay healthy for the whole year?
COLLINS: Well, I sure hope that Derrick Rose can stay healthy because as a man who suffered injury, my heart aches when you see a great player, and I was never a Derrick Rose, an MVP, but I was a player who played at a pretty high level and loved to play. When the game was taken away from me, it was heartbreaking that I couldn’t play. I hope he can play. He’s taken a lot of grief from being hurt. Nobody wants to be hurt, and so for him to be back out there – I saw some great play from him in the preseason, and I think the question is going to be his building on the minutes. But his efficiency has been terrific.
I think when you look at the Bulls, I don’t think people realize that you have a lot of the same pieces back, but they’re a very different team. To me when I see Pau Gasol out there playing as a center, and I see Joakim Noah playing as a power forward, his defensive role has changed. Last year he was the Defensive Player of the Year as a center. Now you’re going to see him playing at that four spot a lot when Pau is in there as a five. You’ll see him play as a five when he’s out there with Taj Gibson.
But so much of what they did last year, their offense, they played through Joakim as an offensive player, not necessarily to score but to facilitate.
Now he’s got to find his role in that offense now because the ball is either going to be in Derrick Rose’s hands or it’s going to be in Pau Gasol’s hands in the post. So that’s a little different.
To me it’s going to be interesting at the end of the day who Tibs ends up settling on to be the starter. It looks like Dunleavy maybe to start the year, but that second unit has got to get an identity. I thought in the preseason they were very inconsistent.
When you had McDermott out there, when you had him out there with Mirotic, two rookies; you had Aaron Brooks, who was a new guy; you had Taj out there; and you had Kirk Hinrich, so I thought they were struggling to find who they needed to be.
I’d go on record and say I feel like at the end of the day, if somehow Doug McDermott can be a starter, I think he’s going to get better shots with that starting unit being out there with Pau Gasol and with Derrick Rose, and it’s not going to depend so much on Jimmy Butler having to make as many shots. And then I think Mike Dunleavy is a guy who has played off the bench in his career, and to me with him out there and Taj Gibson and Kirk and Aaron Brooks, you’ve got a little bit more of a veteran feel to it.
I don’t know what kind of minutes Mirotic is going to get because I don’t know if Tibs can play four bigs, and we know there’s 96-minutes between Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson, and I think the interesting thing for Tibs is it’s going to be – last year, it was a given, the third quarter ended, Carlos Boozer put on his warm up, he ended the game with Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. Now Pau Gasol wants to finish those games, too, so what’s it going to be? It might be from night to night he doesn’t always finish with the same two guys. I think that’s a dynamic that he has to figure out.
With all this said and done and Chicago coming back, I think they have as much work to do as Cleveland in getting themselves together to where they want to be.
Q. Quick question with regard to Coach Blatt in Cleveland. What are some of the challenges as a first-time head coach do you think that he’s got, and do you think that he’s up to the challenge?
COLLINS: Well, first of all, I think he’s up to the challenge. This guy has been a success everywhere he’s been. He’s coached everywhere, and he’s taken the talent of his team and he’s played that kind of basketball. I know there was one team that he played, I can’t remember off of top of my head right now which one it was, but it was a team that they had to win with defense, and then he’s had some of the most dynamic offenses.
So I think he’s a guy that knows both sides of the ball. I think to just say he’s a terrific offensive mind would be selling him short. I love his assistant coach; he’s got T [Tyronn] Lue in there, who played for me. I think LD, Larry Drew, is there with him, so he’s got a good group of guys. Jimmy Boylan I think is there. So he’s got a good group of guys who understand the NBA.
To me it’s going to be managing people. Every word that comes out of Cleveland is going to be parsed. Miami was the most scrutinized team in the NBA when LeBron was there. They’re going to be the most scrutinized team in the NBA with him back in Cleveland. So to me it’s going to be just managing the media, dealing with the day to day, managing the personalities. He has all the other stuff. He has all the Xs and Os; he has all that stuff he needs, and I think he’s got the greatest sidekick you can have, a guy who’s locked arms with him, is LeBron.
LeBron is going home, and LeBron knows that at the end of the day, whether they rise or fall, the pressure is on LeBron James. To me, it’s not on David Blatt. When LeBron went back to Cleveland, he said, I’m stepping up, all the pressure is on me, it’s not on Kyrie Irving, it’s not on Kevin Love, it’s not on anybody else. It’s on me coming back to help make sure this works.
What I’m feeling from everything I’m reading and everything that he and David Blatt have gotten together, they have a wonderful working relationship. But Cleveland hasn’t had a bump in the road yet, and until they have that first adversity where anything happens where they’ve got to fight through it, we don’t know how they’re going to be. But I do know this: There’s no more pressure in Cleveland LeBron is going to have on him than what he faced down in Miami on an everyday basis for four years down there.