Earlier today, ESPN NBA analyst Jalen Rose (NBA Countdown) answered questions on a media call to preview the NBA Playoffs 2016 first round. ABC & ESPN will combine to televise the first five games of the playoffs starting Saturday, April 16, which includes a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals. For further details of the ABC & ESPN NBA Playoffs 2016 schedule, click here.
Rose will join the rest of the NBA Countdown crew for three shows throughout the weekend plus a special NBA Playoffs Preview show on Friday, April 15 at 9 p.m. ET.
Q. Can you give us some underwhelming or under‑noticed story lines that you can share with us about this year’s Playoffs.
JALEN ROSE: One is the ‑‑ where is Dwight Howard? From a player that obviously showed so much promise in Orlando, and then we know about what happened in LA and now to Houston, a perennial All‑Star player, if his numbers continue even just because of longevity, he’ll be in the Hall of Fame, yet at the end of games, there are times where Clint Capela is actually finishing, so it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out going into his free agency. We know how the league works; he’s earned the opportunity to get another contract, which is going to happen, and a lot of people are going to look up over the summer and be like, how did he get X amount of multi-millions to play basketball.
So I’m just kind of watching that dubious situation play out, especially going against the Warriors, a team that probably should win that series in five games.
You said under the radar. What about ‑‑ I’m trying to dig deeper into the box score for you. We talked about Charlotte. I think they’re underwhelming. How about the resurgence of Paul George? I always felt like he was a top‑10 player, a terrific two‑way player after shattering his leg with Team USA. For him to come back and play the way he’s played and basically help lift an Indiana team to the Playoffs that’s made some changes over the last couple of years, and if you ask the casual fan who he plays with, they probably wouldn’t be able to name the rotation.
And I talked about Dwight Howard. It almost looks like Stan recreated what he had in Orlando around Dwight with Andre Drummond and added Tobias Harris, you add Marcus Morris, gives you some versatility up front, different skill sets obviously that Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu, but those type of players.
So those are the ones that initially stand out as story lines that people are not necessarily going to talk about.
The killer instinct of Steph Curry—I think baby face smile, first family of basketball. We know his parents. His brother is in the league. We’ve been introduced to his wife and to his family, yet he still has what it takes to go out, lead a team to 73 victories, just snatch MVP as a defending world champion, and go into the final game needing eight threes to get 400 and makes 10; scores 40 plus in three quarters. He is not playing around.
So those really stand out to me.
Oh, Kawhi 50‑40‑90, a defensive‑oriented player in a category of historically great offensive players that weren’t known for their defense. For him to be in that category is great, too. I think he made it. Did Kawhi make 50‑40‑90? I know he was close going into last week.
The Miami Heat tend to play well against the Cavaliers, particularly at home. If the two were to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, what type of threat do you think the Heat would pose against the top‑seeded Cavs?
ROSE: So besides the obvious Golden State and the Spurs, the individual intriguing series that I’m looking forward to will be that one, because the dynamic that’s going to have to play out is something we as fans really wanted to see every time the Cavs went back to Miami, and in particular the last time when they got blown out and LeBron was fraternizing with D‑Wade during the game, and we know from talking to Coach Blatt and talking to the general manager, he’s basically played great basketball since.
So the great thing that’s going to have to happen for the Cavs to advance is there’s going to have to be a hatred, there’s going to have to be a dislike that LeBron is going to need to carry versus that former jersey that he hasn’t and against his brother Dwyane Wade and against his team that he won two championships with, and vice versa. I’m really fascinated to see how that’s going to play out because Wade, if they were losing by 25, if he was down there fraternizing with LeBron, I don’t know who would have go to him first between Pat or Spo.
Q. So with the Warriors, when they go small with Green at center, beyond just hoping for a bad ‑‑ for them to have a bad day, is there a particular team or strategy that you think can be effective against them, other than against the Spurs? Is there somebody out there that you see that could really give them some problems?
ROSE: The talent level from top to bottom that the Oklahoma City Thunder have on their roster, but the problem with that is while Russell led the league in triple doubles, 18, the most since Magic and KD, always seems to be flirting with 50‑40‑90, I think he eclipsed it, as well, this year, it’s head scratching that they were the worst fourth‑quarter team in the league this year. So if they’re clicking on all cylinders, I give them a punter’s chance obviously to put the kind of firepower out on the floor to go head‑to‑head with the Warriors four quarters, four minutes, for the last few minutes of a game, have clutch players that are really accomplished and have shown that they can play at a high level.
And then other players like Kanter, who when given the opportunity gets you points, gets you rebounds. They have the talent, but I just ‑‑ other than the Spurs, I would say OKC, and then it would be interesting to see what happened obviously with the Cavs in The Finals with both teams.
Q. With this Warriors team, is there anything about them that you see as a potential weakness during the Playoffs?
ROSE: They’re amongst the worst teams in the league, and I don’t know if this carried through the final game. I think they gave up the most points in the paint this year. Little‑known fact– You’ve got to pound them inside. What ends up happening is they shoot the three so well and they get them off in flurries, where the other team starts to press and doesn’t continue to attack the basket.
Look at the loss to Minnesota. In basketball match‑up terms, that really didn’t have to be an accident for them to win with Wiggins driving the ball the way he’s driving it and the way Karl‑Anthony Towns played inside as a big man but yet is mobile enough to play out on the perimeter, defensively especially.
So that to me is what you have to do against the Warriors, because while they defend really well, one of the best in the league, they’re short. Draymond Green, when they have that lineup out there, he’s 6’7″, Harrison Barnes is 6’8″ or 6’9″, so you have to take advantage of that, try to get to the free‑throw line, get them in foul trouble. In particular Draymond Green; he’s their tank, their rock. Teams also should and probably will try to do a better job of attacking him. It’s not like that’s something that they haven’t tried the last couple of years and failed because I think he deserves to be this year’s Defensive Player of the Year, but that’s just a strategy that you may consider.
Q. With this Hawks‑Celtics series, it seems like a lot of people have it going either way. My question is what’s going to be the wild card in this series? A lot of people have them evenly matched, outside of the Hawks having home‑court advantage.
ROSE: The wild card is Isaiah Thomas, and while Steph Curry has improved like no MVP we’ve seen and C.J. McCollum has I think has improved most points from last year to this year, he doesn’t have to be the best player on this team and wasn’t the All‑Star and doesn’t get the best defender; Damian Lillard does. But Isaiah Thomas was able to absorb that in Boston, have them in a position to go into the last day of getting a third seed, was an All‑Star, is their leading scorer.
So how he performs to me is a wild card. If he can get crazy hot, we know the Celtics are going to bring it defensively. Bradley’s shooting is going to come and go. Smart plays tough perimeter D. They lock down on that side of the floor, but I think especially up front they’re going to struggle to score, and that’s Atlanta’s strengths, in particular Paul Millsap, who quietly had the best season for a power forward in the entire Eastern Conference.
I feel like I’m giving them the edge.
Q. In the Pistons‑Cavs series, is it far-fetched to say that the Pistons’ biggest thing they can get from this is the experience because they’re loading up for next year and they’re preparing to make a bigger run next year, and even if it’s a sweep or they make it all single‑digit games or close games, that’s maybe as big a takeaway as they can get without winning the series?
ROSE: That’s the thing that doesn’t get talked enough about in sports that actually exists, like moral victories do happen. Like though Kobe Bryant didn’t win the championship last night, that was a championship performance. It’s the same thing with Detroit. It’s a process if you’re going to be a playoff team, and then the next step is to consistently become a playoff team, and any time you can get that experience, especially going against a Cavs team led by LeBron James, who basically his teams have had a rite of passage to the Eastern Conference Finals the last few seasons, but you can’t get swept.
I think they’re so talented that Reggie Jackson has shown he can get going, especially with the high pick‑and‑roll. I think he uses the high pick‑and‑roll more than any player in the league. Andre Drummond cleaning up the boards, blocking shots, scoring. Is he going to make his free throws late? So I think that they have what it takes to win a couple of games, especially if the Cavs aren’t making three‑point shots. But if I had to choose, I would say Cavs in six. But I’ll be going to the game with a Pistons’ hoodie on.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Kobe, not about the 81‑point game, though. But I wanted to ask you about those eight points, if you remember that he scored Game 4 overtime, the 2000 Finals. I wonder if you could talk about his performance in that series.
ROSE: I recall that being Kobe’s true coming‑out party because while ‑‑ unfortunately for our Pacers team, we saw the passing of the baton, 1998, losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Michael, who went on obviously to make the shot versus Utah, leaves Chicago after that year, and he goes, where, to Los Angeles, the birth of Kobe Bryant, where we lose to them in the NBA Finals.
And while Shaq was the MVP in the league and was the MVP of that series, Kobe was the closer. He was the finisher. He was the Mariano Rivera, and that helped validate the airballs he actually shot against Utah, that he was ready for those moments with Shaq in foul trouble, and thus him doing the memorable crossover dribble, making the jump shot from the top of the floor and looking over at the bench like calm down, I got this, I got this.
Q. He had hurt his ankle. Were you guys sure that he was going to play in that game?
ROSE: I’m not proud or I don’t think it’s cute or cool to say, but he didn’t just accidentally hurt his ankle. I kind of played a part in that by sticking my foot in there.
I think the narrative will still be great with Kobe retiring right now with Kobe with four rings and I have one. I think that’s fair. I didn’t want him to get injured. I just wanted him to miss a couple of games. But he did come back, and he and Gary Vitti tell a great story about how he popped his ankle back in place, because after seeing it, I didn’t think that he would play. But it really just was, you know, the maturation and the birth of what became the Black Mamba.
Q. What I wanted to know about is Heat Nation seems to be pretty split on Goran Dragic still. He kind of struggled at the beginning of the season but has kind of proved his worth since then. Do you think he’s a good fit in this particular Miami Heat system, and if so, how do you think he’s going to do in the Playoffs?
ROSE: I do, because he’s a smart basketball player, a crafty lefty, can finish in the paint, finish at the hoop, make mid‑range shots and even make threes when he gets going. He can be a really effective offensive player and he’s a willing passer, but he was playing different in Phoenix where they play four on one, sometimes five guys surrounding the three‑point line, whereas Miami plays more traditional, more conventional. Wade is not a three‑point shooter, Deng can shoot but he’s a driver. Winslow is not a three‑point shooter. They’re one of the worst three‑point shooting teams in the entire league. That in itself suppresses the floor, based on what he was used to playing and seeing as a point guard.
But now I like the way they’re using him in side pick‑and‑roll situations where he has a lob dribble to get to the paint or do a lob to Whiteside, and also using his side pick‑and‑roll so he can drive the middle with his left hand.
I think he’s been a lot better recently. It’s always tough, also, when you get a new contract and you weren’t necessarily a franchise‑caliber player or even an All‑Star, and a lot of Heat Nation are probably saying, why are we paying this guy $80 million. You never get what you deserve, only what you have the leverage to negotiate. So he probably won’t live up to being an All‑Star in the East, but I do think he’s effective enough to help them get to the Eastern Conference Finals this year.
Q. I have a question about a franchise trying to get back into the Playoffs. The Sacramento Kings made it official probably during the call issuing a statement that they will not retain George Karl. Assuming DeMarcus Cousins is on the roster, who do you think would be a good fit to take the reins in Sacramento as the next head coach?
ROSE: Loaded question… or even bigger than DeMarcus Cousins. George Karl in this case as the head coach while still getting $6 million next year not to stand on the sidelines for the team is definitely in my opinion not the reason why they haven’t been to the Playoffs recently.
As far as DeMarcus, you can’t deal him. He’s been an All‑Star player, one of the top bigs in the game. You have to build around him, and they initially seemed to look to build through the draft. Well, I talked about Isaiah Thomas, last pick, second round, went to Phoenix, became an All‑Star. Ben McLemore, the least efficient starting shooting guard in the NBA. Nick Stauskas, he’s now with Philly. So if you look back at some of the players they could have taken, Willie Cauley‑Stein, they took him in this year’s lottery. This cripples the growth of your franchise because who’s their second‑best player consistently, and also, when you go the route of trying to build through the draft, you also want to have that veteran stability, and while Rondo led the league in assists, I wouldn’t necessarily deem him as being that. Rudy Gay is a productive player, but his best years are behind him.
The situation definitely needs an overhaul, and it’s hard to say who would be a really good coach because I think they’ve gone through 10 in the last nine years or something like that.
ROSE: So if you do it eight times, I’m pretty sure they’ve tried some of everything. So it’ll be interesting which way they’re trying to navigate, but we know the top coaches that are out there that can do a good job. I know George Karl can do a good job. I played against George Karl when he was coaching Milwaukee when they had Glenn Robinson, Sam Cassell and Ray Allen and a stacked power play that people run, a back screen to get the baseline jump shot with a strong‑side guy drive the right baseline and throw it along the baseline, they were doing that 20 years ago, so I know he can coach. I saw him in Seattle. I know he can coach. Denver, as well. They haven’t been as good since he left, either.
Q. From seeing Whiteside this season, do you look at him as a max player?
ROSE: Basketball ‑‑ and I’m still scratching my head why only football, the NFL and the NBA, are sports that have those salary constraints, so that kind of makes this a tough question because really when that question is asked to me, is he worth the salary they’re going to give him, and I talked a lot about not getting what you deserve, only what you have the leverage to negotiate, and he’s going to create himself a lot of leverage if he keeps playing the way he is. You wouldn’t think on paper that Gordon Dragic makes more than Dwyane Wade, but he does. It’s just kind of how it worked out. So he’s going to command top dollar. A lot of players are going to command top dollar with the cap rising, so I would not be surprised if he got a maximum deal, but it probably wouldn’t be for maximum years.
Q. So he would seem worth that to you do you think from what he’s done this year?
ROSE: Well, I always joke that ‑‑ for a big guy, you can walk and chew gum and keep a job for 12 years. Now, if you can lead the league in blocks and get double‑figure rebounds and I’ve seen him shoot a left‑handed hook and I’ve seen him shoot a right‑handed hook, he’s got to keep his emotions in check and keep his temper ‑‑ control his temper when he gets upset or a call goes against him or he gets tangled up with an opponent, you hope he grows out of that, but he’s going to command that type of money based on the way he’s playing and his size. So yes, I would not be surprised if he was able to garner a max deal.
Q. I wanted to talk a little bit about last night and your impressions. What is more impressive to you, what the Warriors did last night with their 73rd win or what Kobe did in his final game as a Laker?
ROSE: As it played out, how can hindsight be 20/20, because that’s what you’re asking me to do. The Warriors to me were somewhat of a foregone conclusion because I felt that they would beat Memphis by double figures, so I wasn’t necessarily surprised, and it wasn’t a close game, so it didn’t keep me or the nation glued.
But of the 10 things that were trending on Twitter last night, nine of them were Kobe Bryant related, and I’m amongst those people, as well. To see a guy ‑‑ it was almost a perfect storm to end a career if you can’t ride out and be a champion and be productive on the team. The total opposite of that is what we saw last night. The perfect storm of the highest paid player in the league with the will and the ability to get up 50 shots, entertain the crowd from Jack to Jay‑Z, hug and kiss the wife and kids, be ready for the moment. Start out 0 for 5, score 23 points in the fourth quarter and end with 60. 60?
As the guy that was playing on the Raptors when he scored 81, I slept the best I’ve slept in 10 years last night. That’s a 37‑, 38‑year‑old player out there scoring 60. I like Gordon Hayward. He’s in his prime. Rodney Hood played well this year.
Q. With Kobe Bryant’s playing career officially over, where do you think a guy like Dwyane Wade and his legacy will rank amongst active shooting guards?
ROSE: Active shooting guards for Dwyane Wade? I put him in a separate category than the young upstarts like James Harden, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, because he’s done it longer, the longevity is there, the championships are there, and he’s a lot more accomplished. They are asked to do a lot more for their teams, so if we were taking a who‑will‑we‑draft going forward, we would probably take one of those guys because they’re younger, they’re healthier, and all the other stuff that comes with youth, but Dwyane Wade is still playing at an All‑Star level, played 70 games for the first time, for probably the third time in his career. So I like what I’m seeing from him headed into the Playoffs. I like how he’s been able to change his game, not shooting as many threes, still driving to the basket, still getting contact, still finishing, not only from mid‑range but he still has his bounce on his jump shot.
I really like what I’m seeing from him, and I’m expecting him and Joe Johnson to lead the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Q. Just wanted to know if you can give a quick comment about Sam Mitchell, who we unexpectedly got fired yesterday after the game, after their last season game, and what kind of coach does Minnesota need to move forward in your opinion?
ROSE: Sam actually did a solid job trying to develop a young team. When Wiggins was Rookie of the Year last year, Towns will be this year, and I always thought that LaVine just has what it takes to be a future star in the game, as well. With the unfortunate passing of Flip, I know how much Flip meant to him, to take over that job, to complete the season. None of us thought that he would finish up as their coach as the season waned.
My question that I kind of threw out there yesterday, while we got a chance to appreciate the greatness of Kobe Bryant, have we seen the end of Kevin Garnett. It’ll be interesting to see if he decides to come back and play or in what capacity.
But I think for the Timberwolves it will be an experienced coach, really, and someone that’s going to teach that team how to be more efficient on the offensive end. We want to see the assists go up from players like Wiggins, be more play makers. I saw flashes from Muhammad, as well, and institute a defensive philosophy where you can funnel the players to Karl‑Anthony Towns who has the ability to switch out, lay down pick‑and‑rolls, block shots at the hoop.
I really like their young talent, and I wouldn’t be surprised as all of the jobs are lined up, in my opinion, that’s probably going to be the most attractive one.
Q. In your opinion what do you think Miami is still missing on their roster, or is it just going to come down to the developments Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson?
ROSE: Well, that’s what’s so unfortunate about Chris Bosh being out, because if they had Bosh, I would flip a coin in Game 7 to say who would win between them and the Cavs. It would be that close to me.
So I think it’s remarkable how Pat has rebuilt the roster. Look at what happened to the Cavs when LeBron left. They were the worst team in the league, and there’s a reason why they got the No. 1 overall pick. So LeBron leaving, while he wanted to go home and play, the undercurrent for that was I probably have a bigger upside winning championships with Love and Kyrie. So for what they’ve done with their roster, they are in position right now if they had Bosh to go with Joe Johnson, but without Bosh in the lineup, the obvious thing is their three‑point shooting needs help. But other than that, it’s just unfortunate that he’s not going to be healthy, especially if they end up going against the Cavs.
Media contact: Gianina Thompson at email@example.com (@Gianina_ESPN)