This afternoon, ABC and ESPN NBA analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Jalen Rose appeared on a media call to discuss the launch of NBA Saturday Primetime on ABC – a new, first-of-its-kind franchise, which will feature the game of the week in the NBA. The debut of Saturday Primetime will feature the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James hosting the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler this Saturday, Jan. 23, at 8:30 p.m. ET. Both Van Gundy and Rose will be integral parts of the coverage team each Saturday. NBA Countdown will precede each Saturday game at 8 p.m.
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Q. What do you make or what does it say about the state of the league that it’s able to carry a primetime network broadcast here in 2016 and not even in the summer, at a time of the year where primetime actually matters in TV land?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Well, I think, number one, it talks to the interest in the NBA. I think no matter what you broadcast, if it’s not what the consumer wants, they’re not going to watch. We feel and the company feels very strongly that it’ll be well viewed. We’re excited about the league and the story lines and the players. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and the games they have scheduled appear to be really good.
Now, as we saw last night, sometimes what you think could be a great game doesn’t turn out that way, but I think the league and ESPN have worked together to put a great schedule together.
Q. After last night, what’s your impression of the Eastern Conference compared to the Western Conference? It’s kind of strange this year; a losing record could get a Western Conference team into the Playoffs. We never probably thought we’d see that in our lifetime the last few years, and with the East, everybody is so balanced but with obviously the top eastern team and the top western team seeming pretty far apart.
VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I think certainly the East is the deeper conference this year, but the West has the two best teams. Those two teams, Golden State and San Antonio, are so good and so dominant that right now it would be very hard to see a team from the East being able to overcome either one in a series. But someone will have the opportunity, and like I said, I think the Eastern Conference has a lot of good parity. I think Cleveland, despite their play last night, is by far the best team in the East, but I do think Chicago and Toronto could push them in a series.
Q. Jeff, you did your very best a few nights ago to warn people about the dangers of watching the Rockets on television, but yet they continue to be a telecast and continue to struggle. Is there any hope for a turnaround for this particular configuration this year? And is there any way to summarize their lull in a way that you haven’t summarized them many times already this season?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I think early in the season, they appeared to be frankly at times disinterested. I think now they’re playing better. They’ve been injured. Motiejunas continues to be out, which I think is a huge loss to them. Josh Smith, who they lost to free agency, I think it’s a loss for them. So I think their front line depth has been hurt by both of those things.
And then they obviously have a great, great and Howard is playing really well, but then they have a great perimeter player in Harden. I thought the Ty Lawson thing would work out great. It didn’t so far, or it hasn’t so far, and so right now they’re clearly going to be a Playoff team, and depending on the match up, they’ll be a dangerous one in my mind.
Q. But your comment about I would encourage every child to turn this off during a game previously, does that just reflect the degree to which they’re still capable of not playing up to playoff standards?
VAN GUNDY: Well, again, just like Cleveland had a really bad night last night, the Rockets against Cleveland, they had a bad a really bad night.
I didn’t think in particular that they showed a lot of fight in that game when it was going bad for them. Unfortunately in many instances that we’ve seen this year in the NBA, that’s the norm for a lot of teams, not just the Rockets.
When it doesn’t go well, you have to bring some fight, even though, hey, everyone has been humbled in this league. No one is above getting their butt kicked.
Q. Can you tell me, with other high profile and primetime broadcasts, what will separate this particular program, this series? And then also go into what makes the Bulls a good choice for opening this program against the Cavaliers.
ROSE: It’s just as important for the NBA to do what the NFL has been the master of. We all remember the days when NFL football was really played on Sunday, then there was one game on Monday night, and before you know it they have games on Thursday, and it seems like they’re controlling the moment when they need to all the way through even at Thanksgiving.
For us to own Christmas like we have and then now expand to Saturday, I really appreciate now we have Friday, Saturday and Sunday basketball. If you’re going to have Eastern Conference basketball and it’s the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Chicago Bulls, a team if there is a team that can push them along with the Toronto Raptors, as Coach mentioned, it’s great to see that star power in the league on display, especially on the opening night, going against LeBron James, the four time MVP.
Q. Do you think the star power is Jimmy Butler, or is it still Derrick Rose?
ROSE: The star power is who’s playing at an All Star level, a top 12 level, and that’s Jimmy Butler. He’s become one of the best players in the league, a terrific two way player. So he’s the marquee. Derrick Rose, he’s had his opportunity. He’s been an MVP in the league. His efficiency isn’t what it used to be. They still need him to play at a high level, however, if they’re going to advance, and hope to push the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the Cleveland Cavaliers are head and shoulders better than any team in the East.
Q. Beyond the injuries Grizzlies have had this year, what do you think has gone wrong with this lineup, and do you see them trying to work themselves through it for the rest of the season or maybe making some major trades before the deadline? How long before the Pelicans are about ready to start worrying about Anthony Davis, questioning whether this organization has the ability to put a championship contending group around him?
ROSE: Well, they were devastated by injury. Well, first, I thought Monty Williams did a really good job, and while I love Alvin and I think he’s going to do a good job if the team is healthy, I just thought they could have continued to go in that direction.
But that being said, they started off the season with a lot of injuries. Jrue Holiday has been an All Star; Eric Gordon when he’s on fire is a 40 percent three point shooter; Tyreke Evans can get to the basket and is a guy that flirts with triple doubles when he’s really playing at his best. When those guys are in and out of the lineup, it’s hard for them to get going, and their slippage was really on defense.
And Anthony Davis, he’s still maturing into being one of the better young stars in the league. I would like to see him playing in the paint more, attacking the basket more. His efficiency has dropped some since he’s drifted further away from the basket in a league that encourages its bigs to shoot the three. I just think that getting off to that slow start and playing in a conference that has Golden State, has the San Antonio Spurs and some other teams that, while they’re not playing to the level they were last year in the West, and they will be a team that’s under .500, I just don’t think at this point they’re going to be able to muster enough to become a playoff team.
And what happens with Ryan Anderson is going to be a key, going into free agency as a stretch 4, one of the best ones in the game. I think he’s going to have a lot of people wanting his services, and rightfully so.
Q. How long before the Pelicans, if not already, or Anthony Davis, if he signs a max contract, how long before he starts having doubts or perhaps the organization is worried about can they put a championship group around him?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I think you can look at that question two ways if you’re Anthony Davis. You can look to what your teammates have to do better around you, or, and I think this is the better perspective, what you can do better to help them play better. I do not think Anthony has had a good year for him this year. He has the capability of carrying a team, as we’ve seen. Like Jalen, I think his work 99 percent of the time offensively needs to be in the paint, because when he’s attacking the paint that is when their three point game can open up. And I don’t mean just with the roll. We saw when they beat the Hornets; he rolled and got a dunk. Well, the other thing it opens up is when he’s rolling hard to the rim, it opens up some of their shooters who may not have the gifts he has, and so they’re more specialists.
I think that’s critical, too, and I think when you’re a great player, that burden of being great every night is one that is very challenging and difficult. That’s why there are only a handful of players like Anthony Davis who I think can and should be called superstars, and I think those guys, those level players, look within when there are issues with the team, and they don’t pin the problems on lesser talented, lesser paid players. They take that burden of responsibility.
I think Anthony is very much capable of leading that organization to great heights.
Now, championship heights? They’re a few steps away from where they are now to that level, but they have to take strides hopefully in the second half of the year and then in the off season to accomplish that.
Q. Players in the high school and college ranks, and now it’s trickling into the NBA, are wearing shorter and slimmer shorts. Their warm up apparel is not tighter. Jalen, as the forefather of the baggy and longer short, have you noticed, and what do you make of the movement?
JALEN ROSE: That’s funny. I mean, the baggy shorts had its run. It’s been 20 years. I think that it’s more about compression now. I always joke with warmer athletes, and sometimes the older you get, the longer the walk was to school, I tell them, we worked out, these guys train. So now everything is about, instead of being baggy, it’s compression. You’re paying more attention to the dynamics of how everything is I was talking to Rick Barry at an event recently, and he was telling me that he’s upset at the Fab Five because he was trying to get his son to shoot free throws like he did, but the shorts were too long.
I see LeBron shorten his apparel and his shorts, but he’s not going back to Isiah Thomas or John Stockton, so they’re kind of cheating it, but it’s fine. It’s a fashion statement.
Q. Do you think it’s just kind of reflective of fashion at large, just the way guys are wearing tighter and slimmer clothes?
ROSE: I just don’t want to see your Achilles, especially during the winter. That shouldn’t happen.
But other than that, NBA players have done a terrific job football is America’s pastime, but it happens once a week, so it’s kind of like a movie. Basketball is like a television show; it happens every day. So yes, football is more popular, but if you look at like the commercials and the Forbes list and things of that nature, basketball players find ways to distinguish themselves, and so fashion has become a big part of that.
Russell Westbrook has parlayed what he wears to the game into a business, and so I appreciate the fashion forward thinking of a lot of the players.
Q. The Thunder is a distant third in the West. Do they need to make a trade move? And could you rate Billy Donovan’s first half performance?
VAN GUNDY: Well, I think the Thunder are a legitimate championship caliber team. I think they’re the fourth team that could win it all. I think when you put Durant and Westbrook on the floor together, they are dynamic. I think for them to take that next step up to being able to really consider themselves a favorite with Golden State and San Antonio, their defense has to take a jump. I think they should be a dominant defensive team. I think Westbrook and Durant and Ibaka need to lead that charge, because if they become a dominant defensive team with the weaponry that they have offensively, they’ll be as good as anyone.
I gave Scott Brooks an A+ last year for the work he did with the Thunder, and I give Billy the same this year. I think Billy is filling big footsteps with Scott, the job he did, the amount of winning that they’ve done in the past, took over star power, which obviously helps you win more, but it also can be very challenging. And I think he’s made the transition very smooth for everyone involved, and so I would give him an A+, as well.
ROSE: I agree with Coach on if there is a fourth team that can win a championship, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder. I’ll touch on a couple of points that he didn’t hit, and that’s I want to see their bigs play more physical in the paint, in particular on the defensive backboard. I was surprised that Kevin Durant led the team in rebounding on a team that has Ibaka, Adams and Kanter, you would think you’d get close to a nine, ten rebound performer out of one of those games. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, while being the best players, you’re going to also be put in the most important moments. They also have to trust their teammates and be more efficient, especially if the game is close. A lot of times they’re so dominant and two of the top five players in the game in a lot of people’s eyes, they just feel like I’m going to take it upon myself to get a bucket. I’m going to go to the go one on one and take a low percentage shot versus continuing to move the ball and trust their teammates because Enes Kanter is a guy, he should always get double figure shots, 10 or 12 shots, because he’s a really good finisher; and Ibaka, while he can make the three, and I know a lot of people frown upon the mid range shot in today’s game, but he’s actually a good mid range shooter. I would like to see him do more of that, but more importantly, taking it to the basket and finishing at the hoop, because sometimes they become so perimeter oriented, and rightfully so, when their two best players just so happen to play on the perimeter.
Q. And Billy Donovan?
ROSE: I think he’s done, as Coach said, a really good job. He has championship berth expectations. He and Fred Hoiberg were put into that position. You once Steve Kerr goes to the Golden State Warriors and wins a championship, people expect that when they had a team that was close or in the Conference Finals the previous year. So he took on a tough task.
And the other thing he took on is those two guys, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, trust their teammates enough, where they’ll give up the ball in the shot clock, trust that they may get it back or someone else may have to end up taking a big time shot. That’s normally how it works. The defense, they’re going to try to do the best to bottle those two guys up and somebody else ends up having to make a big play.
Q. I wanted to find out from you, is there anything that you see within the Spurs that maybe can be considered a weakness? We obviously know they’re the best defensive team right now, we know their offense is going to create, but is there anything from what you’ve seen thus far they need to work on in order to win that NBA championship? And the second question is other than Golden State, is Oklahoma City the other team that can possibly derail them in the West?
ROSE: Yes to the Oklahoma City part of it, as discussed about again, there are four teams that one of these four teams are going to win the championship. We talked about we know the three in the West and we know the Cleveland Cavaliers coming out of the Eastern Conference. There are no surprises there.
VAN GUNDY: And for me, like I said, I think Oklahoma City has more than enough if they make a jump defensively to insert themselves into that equation.
The only thing I see San Antonio the answer to San Antonio, do they have anything to improve on, and the short answer is no. No, they’re a dominant team. They are absolutely rolling over people right now. If they’re healthy, and like the same question for all four of those teams that Jalen mentioned, health, stay on it, because listen, if they got in a first round series with Houston, they would beat Houston, but I think Houston, they have athleticism, they have two outstanding players. You’d have to be sharp, but listen, San Antonio is an incredible basketball team, and if they’re healthy, they’re going to be really, really difficult to beat.
ROSE: They’re definitely wonderful to watch, especially during the regular season. The Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs will be running away with the league the way they are combining with only 10 losses. I mean, they have no weaknesses. Kawhi Leonard, this is going to be his first time being an All Star. That just shows you how much he’s grown and will continue to grow, has become a 20 point scorer, always been an elite defender, now leading the team and now an MVP candidate. I see no weaknesses in the Spurs.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about the respect Kobe is getting from fans, considering the number of votes he’s gotten? It seems to even be surprising him.
ROSE: Well, basketball fans can’t get it right sometimes, and other times they get it wrong. I joked about it one time when Allen Iverson was in Detroit, he was a substitute and started in the All Star Game. But for Kobe Bryant, they’re definitely getting it right. He’s one of the all-time greats, one of the top 10 players on anyone’s list of all time, and he deserved to be celebrated, and that’s going to be a great stage for him in his 20th season, to be celebrated by fans and his peers. He deserves this type of happy ending. That’s the one thing about being an all-time great player, when you can call your last shot, when you can say this is going to be my last year and you get a chance to enjoy a farewell tour, so it’s well deserved and I’m happy that the fans got that one right.
VAN GUNDY: Yeah, and for me, I think sometimes the hardest thing to do is to end a storied career, anybody’s storied career, gracefully, and I think you’re seeing a different Bryant personality coming out: Patient, embracing seemingly every game and every arena and every fan. It has surprised me just it’s been almost like a personality transformation when you watch after games. Before he was very stoic, and now very, very endearing, really, to everyone, other players, coaches, officials. Certainly going through this last year without a chip on his shoulder, and because the Lakers are so bad, I think it’s absolutely the right personality to show in your swan song. =
Q. Do you think Porzingis will be durable enough to last the whole season, and do you think they’re a playoff team?
ROSE: Well, they play in the Eastern Conference, and while the East has improved, I mean, there is a good chance that their eighth spot could be below .500, as well, because those teams are in a cluster. But Porzingis has shown that he’s had a couple of nicks and bruises, but that happens as a young player. You’re growing into your body, growing into your game. It’s a long season. He’s seven foot tall. He’ll finish over the top, but he’ll make the three. He’s really athletic, can play facing the basket; can play with his back to the basket. I do think he’s going to be durable enough once he continues to grow into his body.
VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I love Porzingis. I love everything about how he’s handled his situation, love his game, love his mental makeup. You know, I know he had the game last night where he didn’t finish because of a foot injury. Hopefully he’s all right. But listen; with men of great size, you’re always concerned with lower body extremity issues. I’m hopeful that he has a career of great health because he has given the New York Knicks fan reason to fall back in love with their team.
If they had fallen out of love since over the last decade or so, you can fall back in love now because this guy, along with Carmelo Anthony, gives you a chance to be competitive every night.
I think they will make the Playoffs. I think they’re a really good team.
Q. My question is I just want to get your thoughts on the growth of the game of basketball in Canada and your impressions on the NBA All Star Game coming north of the border to Toronto.
ROSE: It’s great for Toronto. I take it as somebody that played there a couple of years. It’s great for the city of Toronto. You see how so many players in the NBA Draft have not only been from Toronto but you see a player like Wiggins who has a chance to be a cornerstone type player in Minnesota, Tristan Thompson playing with LeBron James in Cleveland, playing on a contending team. You give Steve Nash a lot of credit for that as a two time MVP. The Raptors have done a good job of also having a productive team, consistently led by DeMar DeRozan and Lowry, a team that while the fans would always support, now a team that’s consistently been in the Playoffs.
Add Drake to the mix, he becomes one of the top artists in the world. He’s an ambassador. He’s a basketball fan. He’s creating uniforms and has his own fan base and following.
I’ve been to the arena. They have a D.J. now up on the concourse. Before playoff games you see the mass crowd of people outside of the building watching the game on the big screen, while there’s another 20 plus thousand inside. Just to see how far that team and that franchise has grown has been great to watch, and hopefully for their team, they can find a way to keep DeMar DeRozan who’s going to be a free agent.
VAN GUNDY: Yeah, and going to high school in Rochester, New York, I became acutely aware of Toronto being one of the best cities in the world, regardless of sports teams. It is a phenomenal place, and for an All Star Game, it’ll be a great city to host it. There’s so much to do, so beautiful. And then as far as basketball, Jalen mentioned all the really good players coming out of Canada.
I think Vince Carter deserves a lot of credit; when the Raptors were an expansion team, he and Tracy McGrady gave them foundational pieces to be very, very good, and Carter really and you’ve seen Tristan Thompson quoted about this, it made a lot of fans fall in love with the Raptors. The Raptors’ home crowd is outstanding, one of the best in the league. It’s a great arena, and I think the All-Star Weekend will be a smashing success in Toronto.
Q. Spurs and Warriors both have some success going at Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on defense. I was wondering if you think there’s any way the Cavs can sort of work around that and hide those two, and also if you notice anything visually with LeBron’s shooting, he’s kind of been struggling from outside the paint.
ROSE: Well, for LeBron, his shooting outside of the paint is always going to be crucial because if you’ve got to settle for a lesser of two evils for a guy that’s so good, it’s going to be try to keep him perimeter oriented and hope you can get a contest or hope that he’s going to settle for shots, as well, because when he’s attacking, you know he’s going downhill, he has the opportunity to make not only the basket and/or get the foul but to create for a big for a dunk or for a three point shooter.
As far as Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on defense, there’s no hiding, and that’s the great thing about going against the top teams, is that they have multiple players. They’re going to be able to take advantage of you on defense, and they were doing a lot of dribble hand offs against Kevin Love for Manu Ginobili to go to his left hand against San Antonio. That was not an accident, the pick and rolls and the pick and pops. I’ve seen a YouTube clip of Kevin Love last night against the Golden State Warriors. He’s just going to have to get better and show a better effort.
But also, all players have strengths and weaknesses, so how do you combat that? Obviously you want to be a better team defender, but if you’re going to be out there, you’ve got to play to your strengths, as well, and he’s got to be scoring more than he scored and be a lot more aggressive than he was, not only just on the offensive end but on the boards because he has shown to be one of the better rebounders.
And for Kyrie, the exact same thing, has to play like an All Star caliber player. We all know when he gets going he can get going with the best of them. But I think last night was more about the Golden State Warriors sending a message that last year was no fluke, because a lot of people did question, and that is the burden that they’ve carried for themselves to try to send that message, and no better place to try to do it than in Cleveland, and that’s what they did.
VAN GUNDY: And I’d just like to reiterate what Jalen said. Listen, when you’re the level athlete that Irving and Love are, if you feel that they’re trying to attack you, that’s where your pride and your habits have to kick in. If you believe that teams are going to go at you, either individually or in pick and roll situations, you’ve got to figure it out. You’ve got to be more determined, and you have to make sure that you answer the call. If they’re going to put you in those situations, you’ve got to figure it out.
And then offensively, Kyrie Irving is he didn’t have a great night obviously last night, but he is an incredibly gifted offensive player. I think Love has to continue to try to find that balance between spreading the floor for Irving and James with three point shooting and getting his head under the rim where he can be the great offensive rebounder that he’s shown he can be.
That’s a really difficult combination to pull off, but I think that’s Kevin Love’s challenge. Listen, everybody has been humbled in games like what happened to Cleveland last night. They’ve just got to learn, continue to grow, get better, and for themselves, hope they get another shot at Golden State in this year’s Finals.
Media contact: Gianina Thompson at email@example.com (@Gianina_ESPN)