Earlier today, ESPN/ABC NBA analysts Magic Johnson and Jeff Van Gundy along with ESPN senior vice president and executive producer Mark Gross discussed the start of the 2012-13 NBA season with members of the media. Here is the replay.
Q. We had obviously the LeBron‑Kevin Durant final last year, which did very well. But the one people have wanted for years is the LeBron‑Kobe, and I guess if it happens, how much bigger would that be bringing LA in, and is this the year it finally can happen?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I think that the Lakers first of all got a lot of work to do to get there. When you’re bringing in a player of a caliber of a Dwight Howard, a superstar in his own right, and then a guy who I think is just one of the probably best passers in the NBA and courageous for getting his teammates shots in Steve Nash, then to go along with Kobe Bryant and Gasol and Metta World Peace, I think it’s going to take some time for them to gel because the one thing that the Thunder have over them is a sense of knowing each other. And the Thunder are ‑‑ people don’t give them credit, but are a pretty good defensive team, as well. I think the Lakers are really going to have to come together, and I know Coach Van Gundy will appreciate this, and learn how to make stops in crucial times.
I don’t know right ‑‑ right now we can’t say the Lakers are there. Do they have the potential to be there? Of course. But it’s going to come down to not whether they can score the basket, because we know they can do that, and adding those two guys, and then I think the bench have gotten better. But we’ll have to see if they perform during the season with Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks.
But I think what we’re going to have to see if they can stop people in the crucial times in the last four or five minutes, can they come up with big and crucial stops to win the game.
So I think that, yes, the possibility is definitely there for them to go to The Finals. It won’t be easy for the Heat, as well. I think the Celtics are going to give them all they want, but I favor the Heat getting there, and I think that it’s going to come down to the Thunder and the Lakers to see who represents the West. And if we see that match‑up, Kobe versus LeBron, I think it will break all the records. I think that the viewership will be off the charts. I think you have so many story lines, and Jeff and I would ‑‑ I don’t know how Jeff and I would talk about the series leading up to it because it would be incredible how many stories within a story a potential Heat versus Lakers final.
Coach, I’ll probably throw it to you now.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, for me, I think certainly the Lakers are one of three or four teams that could come out of the West. Like Magic, I think Oklahoma City, I would favor them. I favor them to actually win it all. I think their speed, quickness and depth advantages over LA could be the turning point in a possible series. LA does have a lot of work to do. They do have an exception level of talent.
Dwight Howard, his addition is ‑‑ Andrew Bynum is a great basketball player, but Dwight Howard is a huge upgrade. He is absolutely dominant defensively in rebounding and can score.
I think their starting unit is the most talented starting unit in the NBA. But do they have the speed, quickness and the bench to get over that Oklahoma City hurdle? I’m not sure.
Q. For Magic, how does the star power and buzz surrounding the Lakers compare to when you played for them? And for Jeff, have the Lakers and Clippers ever been this good at the same time, and what’s it like to see the Clippers as relevant players in the NBA after so many years as doormats?
MAGIC JOHNSON: I think that from the star power that the Lakers have today, it rivals what we’ve had, no question about it. It’s just a little different because we ‑‑ the fans already knew us. I think they’re going to get to know this team. I’m talking about with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But I’ll tell you what, the buzz is just as strong, the anticipation to a season just as strong as when I played.
And I think that it’s not just in LA, it’s around the world. Everybody really is waiting to see what this team is going to do. So I think they may have us around the world because every ‑‑ because social media things are so much bigger today than when I played. So I think anticipation around the world is definitely bigger than our team.
And so it’s going to be interesting to see how it all unfolds. I’m excited for Coach Brown, I’m excited for the Buss family and for Lakers fans, so let’s see what happens.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, as far as the Clippers versus the Lakers, the Clippers have been good in so few years that this has to be the best chance they’ve had to meet in a significant series. I think the Clippers most definitely could compete with the Lakers in a series. I think Chris Paul is an outstanding point guard, but more so a great, great competitor; Blake Griffin I think will continue to improve and evolve as an offensive player. Again, I think someone like Lamar Odom has to get back into form and become the versatile, excellent player that he’s been previous to Dallas, because if he can’t do that, I think they would miss Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans, guys who I think did a very good job for them off the bench last year.
But the Clippers are a legit contender. They may be a dark horse in the West, but they’re a legit contender.
Q. Question for Magic: How do you feel going into the season about working with Bill Simmons in the studio? Obviously he’s kind of a different background from most analysts you see who are former players or coaches.
MAGIC JOHNSON: I’m excited. I think Bill brings a different element to it. Like you say, he’s different, and that’s good. But he’s a basketball junkie and a big Celtics fan, and he always reminds me of that. It’s great that he’ll come on and join myself and Michael and Jalen. I think he’ll add some excitement, and also I think the fans will like his point of view because he is different and he’ll bring something different to the table.
I think that’s what it’s all about. And Jalen is outstanding, as well.
No, Bill is very, very ‑‑ he’s off‑the‑cuff, he speaks his mind, he’s funny at the same time. So it’s exciting to have him join us.
And then he has an unbelievable following, too, so he’s ‑‑ we would say very large in his business and what he does for ESPN, and his following is off the charts. So he brings that along with him, and so I think that he’s quick and he’s witty, so he’ll make the show that much more exciting, and he’ll bring his loyal followers to watch our show. So that’s great, too, as well.
And then I’ve just got to hold him back from cheering for the Celtics too much (laughing).
Q. My question is for Magic and Jeff. Obviously the Magic have experienced the loss of Dwight Howard, and the Eastern Conference has gotten even more competitive with Boston getting better with a bunch of young guys, Indiana is still in the hunt, the Knicks, et cetera, et cetera. Do you think the Orlando Magic have a shot at making the Playoffs, and what kind of a season do you envision for them?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, if I go first and then I’ll let Coach because he’ll probably know a little bit more than me. Do I think they have a shot to make the Playoffs in the East? I don’t think so. I think that the East has gotten even better. I think that the Nets are going to be unbelievable. Bynum going to Philly, if he’s mature, if he can come and shape and just play his game and also try to make the other guys around him better, because that’s the one thing that Jeff and I don’t know if he can do, because be careful what you ask for sometimes. Okay, you wanted more shots, you wanted your own team; well, you have it now. So are you mature enough to handle that you have to perform night in and night out, so we’ll have to see if Andrew can do that. I think he can. He’s showed us signs that he can. But he just has to do it for 82 games. And then the last piece of that, stay healthy.
But I think when you look at the East, you know that the Celtics, Miami, when Derrick Rose comes back for the Bulls, the East is going to be awesome, and so I don’t see them. But I thought that they’ve done a good job of getting all these young guys together, and I’m sure that it’s going to take them some time, but I think they’ll get there.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: As for me, I think they arguably have as good a team as they had last year going into the Playoffs when Howard was out. And I think they competed hard in that series, and I think you’ll see Orlando play exceptionally hard. They have veterans with some ‑‑ a very good pride level. Nelson, Redick, Turkoglu, Glen Davis started the Playoffs last year, so I would suspect that they would play a major role again this year.
And then I really like the addition of Aaron Afflalo. I think he’s a very sound player, and the rookie Nicholson from St. Bonnie’s looks like he in the preseason has performed very well. Moe Harkless has been banged up a little bit it looks like injury‑wise, but I think they’re going to be more competitive than most think. I think people who think they’ll be a 20‑win team ‑‑ I think they’ll be in the 30s somewhere, depending on their health and breaks and how everyone else plays.
I think they could be in contention in the last month to make a playoff run, but they’re going to have to get up probably into the high 30s to do that.
Q. Two questions for Jeff: First, you were remarkably forthcoming in that recent USA Today piece earlier about Stan. It got a lot of traction. I know a lot of people appreciated your honesty. Question one is do you expect him to be working in broadcasting somewhere this year?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think he has some opportunities in radio, and then I think he may try to do some stuff, either college basketball or some work with an NBA team. But I don’t think anything has been solidified.
But I think he’d like to dip his toe in the water and see if, one, he likes it, and two, if he finds it fulfilling, because I think when you do get fired, there is a grieving period you go through as a coach, and I think he’s trying to figure out what’s next.
Whatever he decides, he’s smart, he’s hard‑working, he’ll figure it out.
Q. And then secondly, I realize you do have bosses on the phone, but how would you characterize ‑‑
JEFF VAN GUNDY: You think? (Laughing.)
Q. How would you characterize the feedback that you received from that piece, either internally at ESPN or within NBA circles? And I ask that because it’s just rare that we see somebody talk about how truthful, really truthful broadcasters can be on the air.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I think this: As I pointed out in that article, ESPN has been really, really good to me, and even after things that I said that some of them may have agreed or disagreed with, they’ve never really tried to squash my opinions. And yet I think you can probably understand, I wasn’t really looking for a reaction from the outside to either support or disagree. I just said what I felt was my truth. From ESPN it’s been fine. I haven’t heard anything positive or negative.
But from an individual standpoint, I really ‑‑ I said what I said, and now I really want to move forward and not really go back and rehash my opinions.
Q. How much, if any, do you think the Knicks have closed the gap with Miami? Do you see them as a top four seed, and do you think they’re going to regret letting Jeremy Lin go to Houston?
MAGIC JOHNSON: I think it’s going to come down to the health of Stoudemire and whether he can play a full season, and right now he’s out again. That’s a concern. And then my other concern is hopefully those other guys who they picked up who are also older, whether they can have ‑‑ Camby can stay healthy, because we know he can block shots. He is a great defender when he’s in there. But I see that he’s been hurt, as well.
You’ve got a lot of guys hurt right now, and Shumpert to me is just an amazing defender. He’s athletic. They’ve got to get him back in there.
And once he comes back, they get their full team, if they can stay healthy, yeah, they’ve got a great shot. I mean, I think that they just have to stay healthy, and that’s the big question because to me the last couple years Stoudemire has not played a whole season, he hasn’t been healthy, and he has to be ‑‑ I wouldn’t say the old Stoudemire, but he’s got to be close to it. He’s got to produce and produce in a big way because you can’t rely just on Carmelo to just provide all of the scoring.
And then will they miss Jeremy Lin? We don’t know because it’s funny when you say that because if they go on to have a great season, everybody will say no; if they don’t, then they’re going to say, well, they should have had Jeremy Lin.
I think Felton is a tremendous defender, he’s tough, he came in in shape. And of course Jeremy plays different. He can probably score more than Raymond. But Felton is a better defender, and he’s tough as nails.
We’ll just have to see. And then the question is Jeremy Lin, can he really ‑‑ for 82 games can he really be a great player? So that’s another thing we have to see, because he did it in a short span, but can he really do it, Coach, for 82 games. That’s the question for me with Jeremy Lin is was he a flash in the pan or is he the real deal for an 82‑game season?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yep, that’s a good question. I think ‑‑ I was thinking about how old the Knicks were. Camby and Kurt Thomas played there when I was coaching there, and that’s like years ago. But I think they’ve had some other ‑‑ and Magic mentioned this, losing Shumpert to a knee injury last year in the Playoffs and not having him to set a tone defensively on the perimeter is a loss. I thought Landry Fields was a good glue player, and they lost him by free agency.
MAGIC JOHNSON: Good point.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: So they’re going to have to find their way. I do like the addition of Jason Kidd. I think he can play with Felton because he can guard 2s and he is a spot‑up shooter. Now he’s really developed his spot‑up shot as he’s lost some athleticism.
But I think Felton obviously did not have a good year last year in Portland. By his own admission, he was out of shape. This year ‑‑ he played well with the Knicks previously when he was there.
And to me their front line is very good, how Anthony and Stoudemire fit together, whether they play at 3 and 4 or Anthony plays 4 and Stoudemire plays 5 when Chandler goes to the bench, however they have to work that where they share the ball but keep their defensive intensity intact I think is going to be the critical point this year.
But I think certainly they could be ‑‑ I don’t think they should count Boston ahead of them. I think they should have their eyes set on getting as high a seed as possible, and yet I don’t think there’s a guarantee that they’re a top four seed, either.
Q. Going back to Jeff’s comment, he said that Oklahoma City could win it all, and there was no follow‑up. Do you mean win it all in the West or just win it all period?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Like to me if I was picking a favorite to win it all, I like Oklahoma City. I thought Miami was incredible. I think we’re going to see a repeat of Miami and Oklahoma City in The Finals. Both teams ‑‑ the thing that impressed me is both teams came back from adversity in their respective Conference Finals, Oklahoma City being down 2‑0, Miami going into Boston down 3‑2 and blowing the Celtics out to get that Game 7 back at home and winning it.
But I think it’s going to be a Miami‑Oklahoma City final, and I just think this year Oklahoma City is going to figure out a way how to win it. But certainly both teams are great, great basketball teams with tremendous versatility, speed and quickness.
Q. And a follow‑up on that, of course the traditional local angle question, how about the Denver Nuggets this year? What do you expect from them?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I love the way they play. They play fast and they play hard. I love the tandem of point guards, Ty Lawson, Andre Miller. Iguodala will be an interesting addition. From a defensive standpoint does he play well in their fast‑paced game? It seems like it should be a really good fit. And then inside JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried, they have a bunch of younger guys to see how they continue to evolve and grow. I think they’re going to have a really good year. I think they have such a distinct style playing so fast that they are a hard match‑up for every team in the NBA.
Q. Obviously Miami is sitting at the top of the East and everybody is saying Boston is the second best team in the East. Where do you see the Pacers, and then part B is can they take the next step without a true All‑Star go‑to guy down the stretch in games?
MAGIC JOHNSON: I would say that toughness‑wise, whether it’s physical‑wise or mentally tough, I think they’re the toughest team with the Chicago Bulls to me in all of basketball. Those two teams, the Pacers and the Bulls. They’re just so physical. They showed that against the Heat. I think it kept them ‑‑ it gave them that 2‑1 lead.
But the Heat showed the Pacers it still can come down to this. I can throw it to two guys that can go get their shot, that can take the game over, and we saw that. I think that was the last three games in a row. We saw where LeBron James and Dwyane Wade said, you know, we’ve had enough, and we’re going to take this series over. And they both just said, okay, just give it to me and we’re going to win it.
I think the Pacers are ‑‑ probably team‑wise they play better team ball than anybody. They play well together. They know their roles. They’re going to play hard. Very well‑coached; I love the way that they’re coached.
But Coach, to me it still comes down to the last five‑minutes and they’ve got to go get it. Who’s going to bail them out? I’m talking about in the Playoffs. Who’s going to say I can take you to the promised land? And that thing is missing. We haven’t seen a team yet that hasn’t had that go‑to guy take over a game.
Coach was just talking about what happened with Miami and the Thunder. In both situations, Coach, Kevin Durant and Westbrook said ‑‑ Harden said, we’re not going to be denied. They had guys that take over, that’s why they were able to come back and win the series, and the same thing for the Heat. And to me that’s what’s missing, but everything else they have.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I agree with Magic. I think Frank Vogel and his staff have done a tremendous job formulating a great plan for their team. I thought an underrated signing last year was David West. I think he will be ‑‑ continue to improve coming off that knee injury from two years ago.
And I think Magic makes a valid point; where do they go for offense, is it a West point guard pick‑and‑roll, is it Danny Granger, but there’s no obvious answer. But I think one of the things that people don’t talk about enough is Roy Hibbert to me has made incredible growth offensively. But when you’re trying to play that size in a pick‑and‑roll defensive situation, it’s very challenging against a team like Miami where Wade and James are coming off with incredible force at a less mobile center.
No matter how you try to play the pick‑and‑roll, he has to try to guard then Chris Bosh because I think Miami has shown that they’re going to play Bosh at center, James and Battier at the forward spots, and they’re just tough match‑ups.
But last year they were up 2‑1, they were up I think 9 at half in Game 4, they had a legitimate chance because they play well together, they play hard and they have depth of talent.
But I think they have still a ways to go to overcome Miami. I think Miami is just that good.
MAGIC JOHNSON: And let’s give Larry Bird a lot of credit. He put a great team together for Coach Vogel, and Coach Vogel has done a wonderful job, and naming Coach Vogel. And now they’ve got another guy who I really respect and admire, Donnie Walsh. I think that he’s going to continue and he’s going to grow. And one thing about Walsh, he’s going to find the one guy that they probably need. But hey, the Pacer fans should be excited because they are the third best team to me in the East.
Coach is right; when you’re up 2‑1 and then you’ve got the lead going into Game 4, anything can happen. So I think let’s see what happens. But I love their team.
Q. Magic, can you elaborate a little bit on Andrew Bynum? You seem to have a few doubts. And then also talk about the Sixers, and what do you see for them this season? They made a lot of off‑season moves. What do you see them doing in the Eastern Conference?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, the good thing is I don’t have doubts in his ability. I’ve seen Andrew dominate. I saw the game against San Antonio where he went and grabbed 30 rebounds. Andrew Bynum is our ‑‑ right with Dwight Howard, talented ‑‑ second talented most big man in the game today. And offensively he probably got ‑‑ he’s got more moves than Dwight Howard. Andrew Bynum can play basketball.
The problem with Andrew is when he gets down or when he has a confrontation with a coach or if he’s not feeling good about a teammate, then he lets that bother ‑‑ he lets that come to the court instead of leaving that in the locker room. He then goes out and gets five rebounds or he plays and is 10 and 5 or he pouts, and it not only hurts himself but it hurts his teammates. So is he mature enough to handle the fact that now it is his team, he is the man. When it’s not going good, will he still come and play 150 percent.
And then last but not least, will he be able to make his teammates better, because Andrew Bynum got all the talent in the world, and when he wants to dominate, he dominates; we’ve seen that. Shoot, every year he goes through a stretch of about I would say 10 to 15 games where he just dominates the league. I mean, it’s unbelievable the numbers that he puts up.
But then after that he reverts back to a guy we scratch our head about. So I’m just hoping that he just plays for 82 games, also stays healthy for 82 games, too, because he hasn’t been healthy every season that we’ve had him here in LA.
But when he comes to play, he can play. Now, I think they did a wonderful job because Jason Richardson has been on fire. I’ve seen him three times in exhibition, and I think he’s going to be great. Drew Holiday is just an incredible point guard who’s getting better and better every season. I thought the addition of Nick Young, Darrell Wright, shooters, so when Bynum is in there you can put a lot of great shooters around him.
And so I think that Evan Turner now will have less pressure on him. It looked like he was forcing ‑‑ he was trying to be a high draft pick instead of just relaxing and playing basketball, he was pressuring and he was playing under pressure.
But I think that Doug Collins, who I love and respect, is a great coach. And Bynum and Collins got to get on the same page. That’s another thing that has to happen for them to really excel.
But I’m excited about the team. Athletic‑wise they’re off the charts. They’re going to play defense because Doug Collins is about defense, and they’re going to play together, and so that’s ‑‑ I see great things for them now but also in the future.
Q. Magic, you must have been hearing from Laker fans a lot of frustration and worry that they aren’t going to be able to see Laker games at the start of the season because of the new Time‑Warner cable deal. Are you able to talk them off the ledge a little bit?
MAGIC JOHNSON: (Laughing) Well, you know, it’s out of my control what could happen. But I think all LA fans and the Laker fans are hoping that Time‑Warner makes deals with the other cable companies. That’s what it’s all really coming down to. I believe they’re working on that. For all Laker fans, I’m hoping that that happens.
The hype on this team and the anticipation of this Los Angeles Laker team is so off the charts ‑‑ actually I think even more so than I’ve ever seen it, even when we played. It’s just incredible to bring a collection of these All‑Stars together and these type of players together. And then already having the most recognizable player in the world in Kobe Bryant along with LeBron James.
So when you add Kobe with Nash and Dwight and already having Gasol, this is incredible.
So hopefully they’ll make a deal and get this thing settled and Laker fans all over will be able to see their team play.
Q. A production question for Mark if I could real quick. Aside from the additions of Bill and Jalen on the talent side, can we expect any enhancements in terms of the studio or any kind of production elements this year? And then also kind of following that up, how can we expect a different style for the studio show with the new talent additions?
MARK GROSS: Sure, a couple things in regards to NBA Countdown. There will be a new set in LA that will debut on Christmas Day, so that game will start on Christmas Day on NBA Countdown on ABC.
As far as the structure and kind of the design of the show, it will feel a little bit different or it will feel different than it has in the past. One way it will feel different is we’re going to cover the league, and we’re not just going to focus on our games. In the past we spent a lot of time on the two games that we have or the single game that we have coming up. This year we’re going to spend more time on the league. For the first ‑‑ if it’s an hour show, for the first 45 minutes or so, and then as tip approaches for that first game, we’ll start to zero in on our two games that night.
So we want to be broader and then get more narrow as we get closer to tip.
As far as ‑‑ I think that we’ve got such ‑‑ the four guys out there all come from different backgrounds, all have different takes on the league, on teams, on transactions, on strategy, and I think, again, it gets back to what we try to do best: We’ll take some chances; we’ll be in the business of informing people about the league; we’ll be in the business of making sure our guys share their opinions; and we’ll also be in the business of entertaining people.
Q. Magic, I’d like your thoughts on the Lakers and what they’re doing with the Princeton offense, kind of a hybrid, and if you think the system will work with the personnel they have, and is it important to have an offensive system like that, especially with the talent level?
MAGIC JOHNSON: I think that eventually it will work. It’s going to take time. I don’t think this time is going to be clicking until well after three months. I think that it’s going to take them time to learn each other, to know each other. Steve has got to learn where everybody likes their shot, what their favorite spots on the floor. They’ve got to learn how to now play without the ball because Steve is going to have it in his hands. They’re going to have to learn how to play pick‑and‑roll basketball because with Steve Nash the Lakers will probably be doing that a lot more.
Once it gets down to the last 10 seconds or so, the Princeton offense will probably be either having it in Kobe’s hands some kind of way or having it in Steve’s hands where it’s probably going to end up being a pick‑and‑roll.
Everybody has got to get used to each other, and then at the same time where they’re really going to struggle is understanding just how to play with each other defensively. Okay, do we push him this way or how will we push him to Dwight, what’s the rotations if they double‑team, how are they going to play the pick‑and‑roll, on and on and on. So these things that Miami already knows, that the Thunder already know how to work with each other, Boston, they do it probably better than anybody, they already know each other and know the rotations and know how to help each other.
The Lakers got to learn that, and it’s going to take some time. It’s not going to be like they’re going to come out like gangbusters. I think they’ll be hitting for me on all cylinders probably after the All‑Star break and really have an understanding of each other and just what they can do and what they can’t do.
I don’t think it’s about the offense as much as just really learning each other and putting each other in easy scoring positions.
And then last but not least, Coach Brown has got to learn the guys and they’ve got to learn him. But I think that it will happen, but it’s going to take time. The Princeton offense should be fine, and if it’s not, trust me, Kobe Bryant will say, hey, let’s go back to the triangle if it’s not working. The players probably will voice their opinion to Mike to say, hey, it’s not working with us or we’re struggling with it, or he may see it himself; Mike may say, hey, it’s not working and he can make an adjustment. Mike is smart enough to know and then Kobe is smart enough to know. They’ll make it work or they can take some of it and still do some of the triangle at the same time.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I agree with Magic. I think they’re going to combine the Princeton offense with the Santa Clara offense with the Lower Merion offense. Mike Brown is a very, very good basketball coach. He’s not going to run the Princeton offense at the expense of not putting Steve Nash in as many pick‑and‑rolls as he can because when you combine Nash’s incredible shooting with being just an incredibly unselfish and accurate passer, you would be doing your team a disservice.
But I think ‑ and Magic was pointing this out ‑ I think it’s more so trying to get them to fit together because World Peace is going to have to shoot the ball well. They’re going to have to have somebody space the floor as a spot‑up shooter when Nash is coming off these pick‑and‑rolls or the lane is going to be crowded.
I think the real key to their whole offensive game is going to be the versatility of Pau Gasol. I just think he’s so talented as a scorer, passer, ball mover that they have to make sure with all this other talent that they continue to take advantage of his talents.
The biggest issue I think they have offensively is how do they keep enough scoring on the floor when they integrate their bench into the game because I think their bench just ‑‑ it does not have the weaponry that some of the other teams in the NBA have.
Q. Magic, obviously Luol Deng in the absence of Rose is going to have to carry the Bulls a lot this season. He’s done it already for Great Britain, but how well equipped do you think he is to make that step up?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, with Deng, I love Deng, I really do. I think it’s hard to find a guy that can score from different spots on the floor but also who can play defense, too, and also who never complains about their role or whatever Coach asks him to do, he just goes out there and do it.
He’s one of my ‑‑ him and Noah are some of my favorite guys. They’re so about the team. Deng is all about the team and the success of the Bulls, and I think that he can step up. It’s going to be a lot to ask of him, of course, but I think he can do it. They’re used to playing without Derrick Rose, so they know what they have to do, and he knows that he has to probably be the leading scorer on the team if they’re going to be successful.
But last but not least, the one thing about Deng and the Bulls, they always hang their hat on their defense. They’re going to be in games because of their defense. He can ‑‑ I love a guy who says, hey, I’m going to take the best scorer of the team and I take pride in that, and that’s what Luol brings to the table. But I don’t think the key is going to be him. I think the key is going to be Boozer and whether he can have a great season, as well, with Deng, because they’re going to need Boozer to step up and score, be the old Boozer like when he was with Utah, because they’re going to need two guys, three guys that do the scoring until Derrick gets back.
But I’ll tell you what, the Bulls are not going anywhere. They play too hard, they play too well together. I’ll tell you, Coach Thibodeau has them ‑‑ every night they’re going to come out and they’re going to throw the kitchen sink at you, they’re going to push you, D you up, they’re going to be physical, they’re going to keep coming at you, and you just normally just say you’ve had enough because you just can’t take that defensive pressure that they put on you.
That’s what I love about them. So they’re going to always be in games. But yes, Luol has definitely got to step up, and he definitely will.
Q. The subject very close to your heart is how basketball can help in the community. We have new franchise owners in Glasgow at the moment and they are very keen to bring the game to help the community. Have you any advice, specific advice or general advice on that?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Yeah, I think really just take the players into the community, take them to the schools, take them to the community groups, let them get to know the guys and the guys get to know the community, make sure you take the ‑‑ if you have dancers, take them with you. If you have mascots, take them, because I think if you make it a family environment, you have a chance to really be successful.
So I think making the community a part of the organization is very, very important, and then have community outreach programs. Invite the community to practice. Let the guys go to ‑‑ like we have a Chamber of Commerce here. If you’re doing something in the city, make sure the players are there and be a part of it in their uniform. Let them go to schools and put on clinics for the kids, because that’s very important. Community outreach is very, very important, especially when you’re trying to break basketball in somewhere.
I think that will help.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: And from me, it’s a couple things. Keep it as affordable as possible, and then secondarily, I think what Magic was saying is try to get the kids to want to be a fan, come to the games, because their parents will take them where the kids want to go, and come up with some good gear, like have a great logo, great team colors so that everybody wants to wear your stuff, which is a great marketing tool in itself.
MAGIC JOHNSON: And to Jeff’s point, and give some of that away. Yes, you’re going to sell some, but to get it going, give some away.
Q. With Kevin Love being out and Ricky Rubio coming back from an injury, what’s a realistic expectation for the Timberwolves this year? People were obviously excited about having those two guys together. What do you think is realistic for them with the injury situation?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I think to me, this team could be a playoff team. If Brandon Roy ‑‑ he doesn’t have to be the old Brandon Roy, if he can get 75 percent of that Brandon Roy, he’s going to be effective. He is a great player who makes great decisions, and he can score that basketball.
I didn’t see Kirilenko. Did he finally come over?
Q. Well, he’s here, but I think he’s still hurt a little bit.
MAGIC JOHNSON: Oh, he’s hurt.
I think defensively and the things that he can do and the way he can run that floor, man, when you get Ricky back, you’re going to ‑‑ Kirilenko is going to love him and Ricky will love Kirilenko because he can run that floor and get out on that wing and create havoc.
I still love J.J. Barea, the toughness that he brings, the fact that he can score the basketball off the bench. I think this team should be looking to try to make the Playoffs. To me they were very close last season, and it’s all going to come down to if they can defend and what’s going to happen at that center position.
I think that they’ve got a good chance for that seventh or eighth spot.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I agree with Magic. I think Rick Adelman is such a great basketball coach that even when they’re injured here with Rubio and Love, they’ll be able to hold the fort because he’ll put players in positions to play to their strengths and avoid their weaknesses. Pekovic last year to me was a revelation. I thought his play was outstanding.
But you can’t underestimate the greatness of Love. Him being out six, eight weeks or whatever it turns out to be, and then the time it takes him to get back into game shape and rhythm, for a team that’s right on the edge of trying to make the Playoffs. Losing he and Rubio is just a really tough blow to start out the season. You hope that they don’t dig themselves too big a hole right out of the gate.
MAGIC JOHNSON: That’s a great point, especially when you’ve got the Golden State, who has an unbelievable coach, talent wise if Bogut could come back. You’re going to have a lot of teams right there going for that seventh and eighth spot. They’re going to really have to hold the fort, to Coach’s point, and I forget how long both of them were out; Coach just reminded me. It’s going to be tough. But the talent is there, no question about it.
Q. So the NBA is not allow flopping anymore and taking out the Reggie Miller kicking when you’re doing jump shots and have cut down intros to 90 seconds. Is the NBA sort of taking out some of the showtime from the NBA?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I don’t think flopping is showtime. I think flopping is just trying to deceive an official, which I’m glad they’re trying to address. Now, whenever you put in a rule, it’s always about the enforcement of the rule as much as the rule itself, so we’ll see how it gets enforced.
Somebody was speculating that no one will get suspended this year. They won’t get six flops in a year. I think if it’s enforced correctly, someone will be suspended after Game 1 of this year. They’ll get the warning and the six flops all in one game because I think it’s become that big and epidemic.
As far as the leg kick, that really was always there. It’s a difficult call because these guys have become very good actors. Reggie obviously was tremendous at being able to draw contact and get the calls even when he was the initiator of the contact, and it’s a good thing that they’re trying to clean that up.
And the 90‑second intros, you know, I didn’t have problems with how they shook hands. I could care less, really. Throw chalk, play to the crowd, whatever it is; I really don’t care. But if they think it’s a big deal, then they feel to have to address it, they’re going to address it. I think the guys will just modify their pregame routines.
MAGIC JOHNSON: I agree with Coach. There’s nothing really I have to add. He did a wonderful job of explaining it.
But let me really explain the showtime to you. It’s watching LeBron James and Dwyane Wade; it’s watching Kobe Bryant and Gasol, Dwight Howard; it’s watching Kevin Durant, Westbrook and Harden; it’s watching Derrick Rose when he gets back being healthy; it’s watching Chris Paul do his thing, Blake Griffin dunking; it’s watching Kevin Love grab all those rebounds and be able to shoot three‑pointers and do the things that he does; it’s watching Deron Williams just be the strongest and most unbelievable point guard, one of the most unbelievable in the game today. I mean, that’s the real show.
The show is not how they shake hands. The show is not the flop. I am glad they’re taking it out. Thank God. Hold guys accountable for playing great defense, don’t reward them for flopping and all that. Coach covered all that.
But the real show is when the ball goes up in the air and it’s time for basketball. That’s the real show. It doesn’t stop that. I’m so excited about the season, and we’ve got so many story lines. So that’s the real show. It’s the guys out there, Dirk being so unstoppable at 6’11” to do what he can do. That’s the real show of the NBA. We’re ready for it. Coach and I, we can’t wait for it to get started.
Q. I’d like to know your views on Swedish player Jonas Jerebko of Detroit. What are your expectations of him this season?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, Jonas to me, I think he’s found his way. He’s found his role with Detroit. He can do a number of things. He runs the floor well. He can shoot it. He’s very athletic. I think that’s what really surprised me, how athletic he is.
It’s always tough, Coach, when you’ve got a young player and then all the other guys are young and they’re trying to figure out their way and the franchise has had some great success. But then they’ve had a number of coaches’ turnovers and you’re trying to adjust to the coaching philosophy and everybody is still fighting to see, okay, where do I fit with this team. And I think that’s the problem with Detroit. Everybody is still trying to figure out where do they fit. I think they’ve got a good young coach, though, and I think Jonas will only get better just with good coaching.
And also usually you get to about that third year or so, the second or third year, you have a better understanding of the league and what you can do and what you can’t do, and I think he’s figuring that out more.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I couldn’t agree with that more. I think he was set back by the Achilles injury, so he’s trying to get back, and that’s a difficult injury even when you get back. It sometimes takes a while to get back to your normal athleticism, quickness and speed. And I want to reiterate what Magic said. I think stability is so important to a young player’s development, from a coaching standpoint and also from having a carved‑out role. They have so many players, and they’re still trying to decide who are their core guys. So they have Tayshaun Prince and they have Austin Day and they have Jerebko, so they have a lot of guys who they’re trying to incorporate, and sometimes that leads to inconsistent minutes.
And so I think Detroit has to continually try to narrow down who their core is, give that core a time and a chance to play within the rules defined by Lawrence Frank, who’s an outstanding coach. Give them a chance over a period of time to get used to each other, to play well, to develop some chemistry, and if they do that, I love how hard Jerebko plays. Jerebko to me could play on any team in the league because of his effort, his energy and his enthusiasm.
Q. Basketball is a growing sport here in Ireland, and with the Pistons and Knicks playing ‑‑ this is the third time NBA season games have been played in Europe. What is your opinion on how the NBA can expand its market further in Europe and especially in small countries like Ireland?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I think that Commissioner Stern and the NBA have done a wonderful job of putting ‑‑ first they started with coaches doing a lot of clinics, way back when I used to go overseas and do ‑‑ and coaches, and we used to put on basketball clinics, and then it started with ‑‑ then it continued with bringing teams over. And I think the shoe companies have done a wonderful job of taking guys over to different countries.
And then the NBA has great programs to ‑‑ NBA Cares, that go over and do great things in countries. I think you have to continue to do those type of things, take ex‑coaches and college coaches and NBA coaches and ex‑players and current players and current coaches over there and expose the young people. I think Coach said it the best to another caller, just expose the young people. When the young people are hungry for it, then it explodes in a country because they want more of it and then they ask their parents and that’s what happens.
I think just continue to have those clinics and those camps, continue to have players come over and sign autographs, that would be big, and also continue to have teams come over.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, my wife just came back from there and said the country was so beautiful. I was just thinking, so many coaches, NBA coaches and players, love golf, and you guys have some of the best golf, if somehow you could in the off season tie golf trips into basketball clinics and some historical sites, I mean, I just think you have a wonderful opportunity to get NBA people over there because of some of the greatness of your country, what it has to offer.
The smaller countries sometimes don’t get the attention, especially in Europe, because of the strong foothold soccer has there. But basketball to me is beloved by most of the younger set because of the action up and down. It’s a great game, and I’m hopeful that your country gets to touch some of the NBA personnel players and coaches, because it would be a really wonderful opportunity for your youth.
Q. Magic, what’s more impressive, the Lakers on the court with the recent championships and now the big off‑season, or the Lakers off the court with the big new TV deal and their global branding efforts?
MAGIC JOHNSON: (Laughing) Well, you know, with the Lakers and I would hope any team, it starts with on the court, and I think that the Lakers are about winning championships. They only have this TV deal because of that. You have to produce on the court.
The Lakers have had incredible runs, and you think about going all the way back to Wilt and those days and Jerry West and Elgin Baylor up until our days with Kareem, myself and James Worthy and Byron and Kurt Rambis and the whole ‑‑ Michael Thompson, that gang, then here comes Shaq, and when you join forces with Kobe and what they were able to build, and then Shaq leaves and Kobe was with Gasol and they do it again a couple times, and now Kobe, who has been here, what, 17 years I think it is, 18, something like that, and it’s been unbelievable how he’s represented himself and the Lakers and the city, and now you continue to grow this brand and this team and now you bring Steve Nash with Kobe and you bring Dwight Howard here as well as with Gasol and Metta World Peace, I think that it’s still about the game on the floor.
All the other stuff really doesn’t matter. You get that because you’re successful on the court. The new Laker deal is great for Time‑Warner, great for the Lakers, and hopefully it will be great for the fans once they make deals with all these cable providers, and I’m sure they will.
But it’s all about on the floor, what’s going to happen, wins and losses. That’s what matters.
Q. I was just wondering, when you look around the league at the number of guys that you see who are having success well into their 30s, Garnett or Steve Nash, whoever it may be, conventional wisdom has always been you get to 32 or so and it’s a decline after that. How do you explain what we’ve seen in terms of old guys being successful well into their 30s, and is it time to sort of reconsider what old is in the NBA?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I think it’s really about the conditioning. You take a guy like Kevin Durant ‑‑ sorry, Kevin Garnett, and Kevin stays in incredible shape. This guy is a workaholic. Even if his off season he is on the beach running, weights. The eating habits are better. I look at the Lakers, we have chefs now. We never had that when I played. I mean, you have guys talking about their diets. You’ve got guys ‑‑ now you can come to practice, you can have breakfast there, you can have lunch there, you can have a chef cooking those things and they should what you should be eating, what you shouldn’t be eating. So I think from a diet and workout perspective, the guys are in much better shape, and then I think the medicine is so much better, too. When I had my cartilage, I had to be out for like eight months. Now you can go in and get that and be right back. Medicine is so much better, technology is so much better. We have planes now that can take the guys, where we had to go and travel on regular airlines. So things have gotten so much better.
But guys have gotten themselves in better shape, and they’ve got workout ‑‑ they’ve got coaches now, they’ve got trainers, they’ve got everything that is better. But give Kevin Garnett a lot of credit, give Ray Allen, all these older guys who are still performing at a high level, it starts with them first in their mindset and being professionals, too, and then also the teams have made it better for them, as well. So I would say start with the guys first and then the team second.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I would agree with Magic on that. I think inside guys you could always see playing a little bit later in their career, but it’s the guards to me, Jason Kidd at 39 still being competitive; Steve Nash still being the best offensive point guard in the NBA playing at an incredibly high level. I just think how they’re doing it, there has to be ‑‑ it has to be individual conditioning, but it also has to be modern medicine and the treatments and all the things that they’re getting from the teams to help them stay at an athletic peak for longer periods of time.
Q. First of all, regarding Miami Heat, do you think after a championship‑winning season they’ve got the monkey off their back and they’ll be able to play with the same intensity they had? And the other question is regarding Omri Casspi, the Israeli player in Cleveland that had a drop in numbers last season that seemed a little bit out of place. How can he find his place again with the Cavs?
MAGIC JOHNSON: Well, I don’t think you have to worry about the Heat. Coach Spoelstra is going to have them ready to go. LeBron James is going to be ready to go. Dwyane, Chris Bosh, then with Ray Allen coming over and then them signing Rashard Lewis, oh, man, Shane Battier sets the tone for this team defensively. They’re going to come back to me even better. I think LeBron James will be even better this season. And they want to go back‑to‑back. I mean, I think that they’re just committed to playing defense, they’re committed to each other, they play well together, and I think that once they won this past season, they know how to do it now. Dwyane will be healthier this season.
I just think that they’re primed to go back to the championship again. It will be ‑‑ they will be ready to go back and get there.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: And I agree. I think motivation is not going to be the issue. They’re going to have ‑‑ I like the changes that Erik made in the Playoffs last year to downsize, play faster, quicker with more shooting on the floor. I think it opened up the game for James and Wade a lot more.
And then Casspi, I think, again, when you’re trying to find your way on a really bad team like he was on last year in Cleveland, it’s difficult. There’s a lot of numbers, there’s a lot of people teams are looking at, and so you don’t get always the consistent minutes. I watched him earlier in the preseason, they were playing Chicago, I thought he played very well. He’s a good, solid NBA player. He’s just like a lot of players in this league: You’ve got to be in the right place at the right time, and if you are, you get opportunities; if you’re not, your prime can quickly evaporate in the NBA and your opportunities.
MAGIC JOHNSON: And then he has to also adjust to being not with Sacramento and now being in Cleveland, and I think, Coach, he had to adjust to ‑‑ Sacramento was running up and down, and the West was up and down, and I think that was better suited for him. Then you come to the East where it slows down and play half court basketball, and he had to make an adjustment to that.
And I think maybe this year he’ll be better because he understands now, oh, it’s not going to be up and down like the West and Sacramento used to play, where in the East they slow it down, play more half court basketball. He has to figure that out.