Q&A: BARRY AND MILLER

With new NBA season starting on Tuesday, we get the thoughts of regular BT Sport commentator Reggie Miller and NBA TV’s Brent Barry.

 

What are you expecting from Orlando Magic and why?

Barry on the Magic: “The Magic are an interesting team. (Former head coach) Jacque Vaughn was doing something there, trying to put a foundation with the development of younger players and get to a point where they are competing and talking about the playoffs. That cycle seemed to keep going for them with the Scott Skiles hire, a veteran coach. It’s an interesting hire with Jacque being a point guard and Scott being a point guard, what they can get out of Elfrid Payton and behind him C.J. Watson. And at the two guard with Victor Olapido…“It’s a new direction and an opportunity for these guys to play some minutes – get in there, get their feet wet and compete at a high level.”

Where do the Los Angeles Clippers sit?

Miller: Any time you had a Hall of Famer in Paul Pierce, and then Josh Smith and Lance Stephenson to your locker room, along with their Big Three, it’s going to be an interesting mix. The best guy to handle that is Doc Rivers.

They will have the deepest bench in the league. I love their chances. I love the Paul Pierce pickup. I think what was missing from that team was a closer. Throughout his career, Pierce has been a closer. Come the fourth quarter, come crunch time, you have to have a closer. He doesn’t have to set it up but he’s going to be a closer. He’s going to add that mix to the Clippers.”

The GM survey has picked Miami to be fourth in the East. Where will they go?

Miller: “It will depend on health. How many games will Chris Bosh stay on the court, along with Dwyane Wade? Having Chris Bosh back healthy and ready to go, and drafting Justise Winslow, I could easily see these guys as a top-four team. But if they aren’t able to stay on the court, I can easily see the Heat barely scratching in and getting into the playoffs. However, talent-wise, they are top-four team.”

Barry: “There should be more consistency in the Heat’s second unit this year. With their depth and the way they handle the minutes throughout the year, Erik Spoelstra can find ways to get that second unit some time and make sure they stay fresh and confident.”

The GM survey says LeBron will be NBA MVP and the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the NBA Championship. Is that fair?

Miller: “They aren’t far off. I have Oklahoma City and Cleveland in The Finals with Cleveland winning. The pieces that (General Manager) David Griffin and (head coach) David Blatt have put together with the re-signing of Kevin Love, and working on getting Kyrie Irving back and healthy…I think they will start off slow because of the injuries…but it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish. If last season was any indication with them being banged up in The Finals and still taking the Warriors six games with LeBron James playing off the charts, something special is brewing in Cleveland.”

“You want LeBron fresh. I wouldn’t be surprised if he takes another two-week sabbatical this year just to make sure his body is right. The Cavaliers will only go as far as LeBron will take them. He has shown us that. I would want him fresh and ready to go.”

Guys have come in and declined after 30 years old. Will LeBron James’ age be a factor and what makes him different than other veteran stars?

Miller: “I think a lot of it will have to do with that training staff in Cleveland, as well as David Blatt and those minutes. From LeBron’s own words, ‘I’m going to lead this team, but I don’t have to carry this team.’ We saw last year, down the stretch, with no Kyrie (Irving), no Kevin (Love), that he was not only leading and carrying. He was averaging 30 and 15 in the Finals and he ran out of gas. I think he recognised that. When everyone is whole and this team is healthy, he is going to lead by example, but he won’t have to carry them. He is going to delegate a lot of the scoring to Kyrie. From the exhibition games, they are going to put Kevin Love in better positions to score the basketball.

“But it’s all about LeBron. As long as he stays healthy and stays on the court, it’s hard to beat that dude four times. It really is. If he is healthy, engaged and has the rest of these guys around him. He has changed J.R. Smith’s game. It will be interesting if they resign Tristan Thompson, and you’ve got the man in the middle in Mosgov. You’ve got experience and the best player on the planet…it’s all about minutes and how you manage them. Can LeBron win the MVP?  Depends on the success of his team, but he’s certainly more than capable of putting up those huge numbers, we saw that in The Finals versus Golden State.”

How will the Boston Celtics fare, with a lot of good young players, could they even get into the second round?

Barry: “The second half of the 2014-15 season was absolutely amazing for the Celtics. They went on an incredible tear and played some great basketball. One of the things that I do like is their perimeter defence with their bigs, and bringing in veteran David Lee to teach guys like Tyler Zeller. And look at their depth. Last year, they shot more shots than any other team in the league. Brad Stevens had done a great job of establishing a ball moving culture with this squad. I just don’t know who it is that’s going to stand out other than Isaiah Thomas, being a guy that you are absolutely threatened by what he can do on the floor. Is there another Celtic that can make that kind of stride this season? I’m not sure there is.”

Miller: “The face of the Celtics is Brad Stevens. They don’t have enough scoring to go against a Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto or Miami, but defensively, they can really get after you. I don’t think they have enough scoring on a consistent basis other than Isaiah Thomas coming off the bench to put the fear of God in other teams. Stevens and (GM) Danny Ainge are the face of the Celtics going forward.”

What’s the future of the young Los Angeles Lakers?

Barry: “This team is absolutely in flux. Who knows what they are capable of doing because there are so many dynamics going on from top to bottom; from the front office, to the team, to one of the most beloved Lakers to ever put on the uniform in Kobe Bryant. It’s a real soap opera. You have to think of the future and moving forward. How can you make sure that both D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle know what they need to do and focus on this year. There is always talk of what the Lakers are and what they represent. Byron Scott (needs to say they are not part of that yet. They wear the uniform. If (Russell and Randle) want to be part of what they are talking about, then they have to take strides… They have to stay in a bubble and develop. That is Byron Scott’s job, to challenge them, put them in a position to succeed, build their confidence and show flashes of the Lakers ability to be competitive sooner, rather than later.”

Miller: “All of these guys idolise Kobe. They grew up watching him and they want to put him in the best light, but Kobe has to allow them to put them in the best light. They can’t run everything through Kobe; not at this point in his career. He has to allow these young guys to grow, falter and fall down. I don’t mind tough love, but he can’t break them. There’s nothing wrong with being tough. If he allows them to grow within the ‘Black Mamba’ mantra, then the Lakers will be okay. Are they a playoff team? No. If the Lakers want to go forward as a franchise, these young players have to get better. They can get better under the tutelage of Kobe Bryant.”

With the changes around the Chicago Bulls, where do they sit?

Barry: “The most interesting thing that hangs over the Bulls is the cloud that is Derrick Rose, and if he can play. If he can’t play and the guys are questioning what they can get from him, it is going to be hard to find that consistency this year.”

Miller: “I like Chicago because of their bigs. Between Pau (Gasol), (Joakim) Noah, Taj (Gibson), (Nikola) Mirotic and the rookie Bobby Portis, you’ve got enough bigs (to take on) the hierarchy of the Eastern Conference. I can roll with Chicago if Derrick Rose is playing like Derrick Rose. If he’s faltering and you have to start (Kirk) Hinrich or Aaron Brooks, they are good…but they aren’t Derrick Rose. If Rose can’t do that, I think the Bulls are one of those teams that can easily slide to the four, five or six spot…even out of the playoffs.”

 Barry: “Every former player and everyone who watches basketball is rooting to see Derrick Rose play games and start to find that confidence on the floor, but you have to be realistic. Over the past two or three years, it hasn’t been there. Chicago has to come up with a massive Plan B if Derrick Rose does not ever assume what he could do on the floor prior to the 2011-12 season.” 

Kevin Durant hitting free agency, how much of a story will that be?

Miller: “I think it is only a story if Kevin Durant makes it a story. And from everything I’ve heard, he wants to focus on this season and winning a championship for the Thunder. But we know every day, after practice and after games, there will be a microphone in front of him asking these questions. He can come out and say he won’t answer on it until next summer or keep everyone guessing and light the match a bit. Bottom line, it will come down to the success of the Thunder. If they win and get to the Western Conference Finals, there is no question…he stays.  But if they falter, for whatever reason, if there are injuries or they get upset, and they lose in the first or second round, I can very well see Kevin Durant jumping ship and going somewhere else. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Barry: “The story is going to be kept alive by every team that will tell their fan base ‘We have a shot at Kevin Durant.’” Our hat’s in the ring. But Kevin will play this season in Oklahoma City and the only time it will become an issue is around the trade deadline. If GM Sam Presti sits down with him, and asks where he’s leaning.

You look at the Pelicans and Anthony Davis, is there enough talent around him to improve on last season, and what’s their ceiling?

Miller: “Davis got a taste of the playoffs last year. Winning and being in the playoffs is like a drug. You always want it. When you are Anthony Davis and you’ve had that type of success, you are the No. 1 paid player, you have a boatload of commercials, and now you’ve touched the playoffs…you were up 23 points in Game 3 at home and everyone is patting you on the back…you want to get there and go further. That’s the drug fuelling you. Now you bring in a championship head coach. If Davis wants to take that next step, he’s got to be able to do all of this. If he can be the No. 1 option that everyone assumes he is, then he can take the team to the next level.”

Questions and answers edited for clarity. Photo: Getty/NBAE

 

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