BT Sport analysts Jalen Rose and PJ Carlesimo preview Christmas Day’s five-game TV slate, starting at 5pm with Heat-Pelicans.

What is it about Steph Curry that’s made him as popular as he is? What is the biggest improvement in Steph’s game, and what does it say about him winning an MVP and a championship and still be at it as much as he has? 

P.J. CARLESIMO:  I just think the fact that he continues to get better.  He’s somebody who, I mean, all the great players, all the great players throughout history, I always used to laugh at it because other players who need to work on their game in the summer, sometimes you have trouble getting those guys; and you’ve got a guy you could say, well, he played late in the year, he should be tired, maybe he should shut it down a little bit.  Those are the guys that have always worked more.

His work ethic I think is excellent.  His decision-making is a little better this year.  Steve and Luke would like them to turn it over a little bit less than they do.  But I think his decision-making is better.  It’s scary to say he shoots the ball better.  But I mean, he’s just one of those guys that every single time the ball leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.  I think people don’t talk a lot about his ability to finish at the rim.  He and Kyrie use the glass better than any two, I think, smalls in the league.  When they go in, they’ll just shoot it as high as they have to finish inside.  It’s the whole package.

On top of that, he’s such a great kid, you have to, if you’re not sitting on that other bench.  You’re rooting for him.

JALEN ROSE:  I’ll piggyback off what coach said and take a little different spin because he covered that really well.  Steph actually looks different.  Like the best player in the league usually is also physically opposing.  6’6″ plus, scowl on his face, menacing.  With the attitude that we appreciated because like a Michael Jordan or Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant, you know, just a cutthroat nature.

Steph allows us into his living room.  We see him on a national stage be a son, a dad, a husband, a father, a brother.  And he does all of it while, as coach mentioned, continuing to improve.  Inside five feet, he’s shooting above 60%.  Outside of 28 feet, he’s shooting above 58%.  So he’s become unguardable.

The sweetest thing about basketball for the casual fan is the ability to watch someone make shots, and I have not seen a player that can shoot the basketball off the dribble with accuracy the way Steph Curry does.  Also, he’s clutch.  He makes shots and we many almost take for granted the shot he made in the left corner last year in the playoffs over Anthony Davis that he shot in a split second, and it was a big time shot.  He shot 90% in last year’s playoff from left corner threes.  So it’s something that we have not seen, and it’s also a point guard leading his basketball team to championship level heights.

Tony Parker has Tim Duncan.  Before that, Allen Iverson tried it, but he wasn’t able to pull it off.  So really the last point guard led team that also was able to win the championship were the Detroit Pistons in the early ’90s, so all of this looks different and Steph Curry continues to amaze.

How can a guy    I was fortunate enough to win most improved player in 2000.  Shaquille O’Neal won MVP.  Our careers have no comparison in any way, shape or form.  He’s one of the top 10 players of all time.  I never made an All Star team or won the championship.  Steph Curry has a chance to be both in the same season.  It’s just remarkable.

 What are some of the challenges that Billy Donovan might have coming in and taking over a team like the Thunder where Russell Westbrook and Durant have been through two coaches, they’ve been established guys there for a while. Does Billy Donovan have to coach with kids gloves, so to speak, when it comes to those two guys? 

CARLESIMO:  I don’t think so.  As you know from working with him, they’re easy to work with.  People from the outside are always speculating about those guys and do they get along.  There’s been more stories over the years.  The truth is they really like each other.  When your best players have the work ethic those two guys have or are as competitive as those two guys are, easy is the wrong word, but you couldn’t ask for a better coaching situation.

The whole thing in the NBA to me is the essence of the team, is the coach’s relationship with his best players, and that’s a fantastic situation to come into, what Billy has done.  His learning curve because he’s such a good basketball player and coach himself is to learn the league.  That’s just more personnel.  If he had changed conferences, if he had gone from the Western Conference to the Pac 12, it would have taken him a little while to learn all the players and all the coaches, just go into different buildings, learn how this guy coaches, how that guy coaches.  That’s a relatively simple transition when you’ve got guys that work as hard as those two work.

So I expected Billy to do well.  I think he’s thriving.  I think he’s doing extremely well.  But I expected that, and I’m sure he’d tell you the main reason are those two guys.

 Relating to first year coaches, Billy Donovan, Fred Hoiberg, what did you two take from Jimmy Butler’s comments about Hoiberg needing to coach the Bulls harder? Do you feel like that could also apply to Billy Donovan in some instances?  What did you take from Butler’s comment? 

CARLESIMO:  I’ll go quick, you know where I’m coming from on this one.  I love Jimmy Butler.  I was really disappointed.  I think almost without exception everything is better kept inside.  It would be just as wrong for a coach to call out a player in the media when he can talk to him one on one or talk to him in front of the other players when something needs to be said.  Hey, it’s a free country.  Adrian Peterson did something similar.

I guess what happens now, I don’t think it’s productive in any way, shape or form.  I just think things like that are better said in your family, and your family being the team, the coaches, and in some cases the front office, depending on their level of involvement.  I was disappointed.  I love Jimmy Butler.  I love how much he’s improved and how hard he worked.  I was very, very surprised by that comment.

No, I don’t see parallels.  You’re there every day.  It’s hard from the outside, but I don’t see any parallels to the OKC situation.

ROSE:  And I echo what coach said.  I really do.

 What does hard coaching look like in the NBA? Can you describe for me as a former player, what does hard or soft coaching look like and how have players responded?

ROSE:  All of that is about the coach’s personality, so a couple of things.  You don’t make it to the NBA without wanting to be great.  So the only way to achieve that goal and/or that dream to be one of the 450 players to actually wear a uniform is you have to push yourself.  And players love to be coached.  That’s the essence of competition.

So when you talk to players, they always talk about the people that were influences in their careers.  They always elect to point to that notable coach who was a major influence.  Now it looks different.  Fred Hoiberg looks different coaching than Tom Thibodeau, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.  I think as long as you’re staying true to your personality, you’re honest, you’re hard working, the players trust you.  They trust that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll believe in you and they’ll follow you.  This adage of players may or may not be coachable, I think that story line kind of gets overblown, because guys are really disciplined and want to do well.  Even if it’s for selfish reasons in some cases, you still want a coach that can put you in a position to be successful.

CARLESIMO:  That’s saying a lot.  After the fact, when things don’t work out and you lose and the coach is too hard, you usually spin for the next guy again.  I still think the way it was done was disappointing.

 Obviously [the Heat has] gotten off to a pretty good start. I know the East is pretty jumbled up. But Pat Riley spoke to me and said he doesn’t necessarily think they have to make any moves with this roster.  Do you guys consider them contenders as is?  Legitimate contenders as is, or do you think this is a team that needs to make a move to get better? 

ROSE:  Playoff team, yes.  Contending team, no.  They’re not better than the Cleveland Cavaliers.  They will not beat the Cleveland Cavaliers four times in ten days.  They, however, are amongst a few teams in the Eastern Conference that have an opportunity to fight for second in that Eastern Conference with Atlanta.

What’s going to happen with Indiana, Toronto, Washington remains to be seen.  Those squads have been up and down.  But the Cleveland Cavaliers are clear cut the best team in the Eastern Conference.  But, however, the Miami Heat, they just want to wake up and be in the playoffs healthy with Dwyane Wade playing the way he’s playing.  By the way, he’s playing really well this year, attacking the basket, making his open shots.  He looks rejuvenated.

Chris Bosh has shown flashes also.  Whiteside continues to improve.  He can contain his emotions, continue to compete on each play, contest shots, grab boards, finish around the basket.  Goran Dragic is going to be a key.  Can he be as effective and as efficient as they need him to be?  They’re a definite, legitimate playoff team that’s worth advancing, but beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, I don’t see it.

CARLESIMO:  Agreed.  Cleveland, what they’ve done without Kyrie, they’ve clearly reestablished themselves as the best team without Kyrie.  You have to think, if anything, they’re going to get better.  I love Miami.  I think they don’t get the credit for how good they are defensively.  You see them all the time.  They’re quietly one of the best three defensive teams in the league.  Very seldom do you hear people talking about that.  I love their experience.  I love all the things they bring to the table that’s going to make them dangerous.  But you can’t put anybody.

It’s like Cleveland, and then you can put the next gap.  Miami’s right there.  But I don’t think realistically anybody can think, well, we’re ready to go.  We’re ready to go in Cleveland.  Nobody’s shown they’re that good yet.

 Would it just be a matter of adding some three-point shooting? I know they’re at the bottom of the ledger there and they don’t have much of it.  Is that something that could make them a contender with Cleveland or is it more than that?

ROSE:  How about adding LeBron James?

CARLESIMO:  Those two guys from Oklahoma would help them.  There are a couple guys that would help them.  There are some guys that would clearly.  I don’t want to say it’s hopeless.  Obviously they have more reason to be confident than probably anybody because of their experience and the coaching and the whole deal.

But I just think Cleveland’s not coming back.  Cleveland, if anything, is going the other direction.  That is the biggest problem the teams in the east have.  It’s not so many teams in the East are better, even significantly better.  The problem is those guys in Ohio are better also and still getting better.

ROSE:  Also, Erik Spoelstra doesn’t get enough credit by the media, because everything that happens positive in Miami we give the credit to Pat Riley, and rightfully so.  He’s one of the all time great puppet masters in the league.  But seeing how Spo’s helped develop Whiteside into a player that’s going to be looking for a major deal when his contract is up, how they’re bringing along Winslow in their lineup, I just really applaud the job he’s done in Miami as a head coach.

CARLESIMO:  I’ll piggyback that, Jalen.  I had the Christmas Day game.  I had radio last year for Miami Cleveland, and I remember vividly at practice on the 24th, Christmas Eve.  Spo’s said to me, and this was kind of before, maybe you guys in Miami know, but you know he’s going to be a player for us.  He’s going to be an impact player.  We like what he’s shown in practice on a regular basis.  He’s going to surprise people.  That was really before he kind of burst on the scene and did the things he’s done.  So Spo’s deserves enormous credit.

 Obviously the Pelicans started the year with a lot of guys on the injured list. But other than that, what do you feel has gone wrong for this team?  Do you see them blowing up the roster by the trade deadline?

CARLESIMO:  I don’t know what they think.  I think clearly the injuries just were insurmountable, the amount of guys they had.  They had more guys out that were playing of the key rotation players.  So I thought from day one it was just an impossible situation.

On top of that, you put the coaching change, which, again, I was not a fan of that move.  I love Alvin, don’t get me wrong.  I think Alvin was an excellent choice, but that took away the continuity, too.  It was going to be hard enough with the injuries.  On top of that you’re changing coaches.  There was no way    I didn’t think there was any way they could do much to begin the year.

Going forward, I have no idea.  I still think there are a lot of players there.  I’d go lightly trying to make wholesale changes with that group.

ROSE:  Anthony Davis is still a terrific young player.  He’s going to blossom into an MVP candidate.  But I agree with coach, once they started the year with so many injuries, it basically just devastated their roster.  You have guys playing more minutes than they’re accustomed to, playing in roles and situations that you really wouldn’t prefer them to be in.

The major change that’s going to take place is going to take place with Ryan Anderson.  He’s one of the better stretch forwards in the league.  However, Anthony Davis also prefers to play power forward, so for a lot of lineups, they truly play the same spot.  So if and when a move does happen, I think it’s going to take place, and he’ll be involved.

 If you’re Anthony Davis, do you think you have a little buyers’ remorse in signing that max contract?

ROSE:  No, I like picking up my check.  Not at all.  We’ll figure it out.  We have five years to get it together.  Same as Jimmy Butler, he’ll get it together.  Same with Carmelo Anthony, you want that extra year or 25 million?

 We know this is the last Christmas game for Kobe, but it could well be for Paul Pierce. He’ll decide after this season if it’s his last.  What have both of these players meant to the league?  And would it be nice symmetry to see them go out at the same time against each other?  Obviously, it’s not the last game of the season, but a big Christmas Day game for them both, could be their last. 

CARLESIMO:  I just have in one sense I’ve got great memories.  Most of my great memories are when I was broadcasting.  My memories are not as good as when I was coaching about Kobe or Paul, to be honest with you.  They’re two guys you never wanted to see have the ball at the end of the game.  They’re two guys that have been great competitors throughout their career.  They’re champions.  Yeah, it would be nice to see them both play well, a good way to end Christmas Day.

But I’m split on it.  I want to see them play well, period, not just Christmas, but for what’s left this year.  It’s inevitable.  You look at these guys and you think of what they’ve done over the years and it’s hard.  You see a guy like Duncan, KG, I think to a lesser extent, it’s so hard.  Jalen could speak to it.  But to play at the level, and when you set the bar as high as those guys set it, it’s really difficult to go out there and play.

ROSE:  Both Hall of Famers, champions.  For Paul, I never liked the fit with the Clippers, because if you look at their bench all of the guys need the ball to be successful.  That’s just who they are.

So for him, since he left Boston, it’s really just searching for a title, trying to find a landing spot where he can, I guess, bow out gracefully, and he deserves to do so, being a California kid playing for the Clippers.

For Kobe Bryant, an all-time graded top 10 player, it almost reminds me of watching the end of Derek Jeter’s career with the Yankees.  Because on one hand, you know that guy is so competitive that it’s hard to imagine him being on a team that has no chance to win at all, but it shows you the beauty of team sports that it just can’t be about one guy.  So I hate to see Kobe Bryant playing on a team that’s virtually irrelevant.  But he does deserve the opportunity to finish with the Lakers, as he will.

I’ve thrown out there, to make that ticket more attractive, because they’re getting a pretty penny for watching a poor team play, they should start erecting a statue right now.  Why wait?  Then unveil it the last home game of the regular season.  I think that would be a great culmination to an all-time great player.

CARLESIMO:  Just piggyback one quick thought on what Jalen just said.  We saw Paul kind of step up in Brooklyn in the playoffs and Washington in the playoffs.  You know he’s capable of doing something in the playoffs and he’s going to have that opportunity and that stage to close it out.  Unfortunately, Kobe is not.  That’s a huge difference.

 Is there a team out there that would take the next step to becoming a contender by trading for Dwight and then still being able to resign him next year? On the Rockets, how would you coach James Harden?

ROSE:  My quick answer before coach talks about Harden   Atlanta, his hometown.  If they could find a way to add him to their squad without having to give up Millsap or Horford and they could keep their front line intact, I would say that is a landing spot for Dwight that I would like to see, because a lot of times when you have the potential that he has and the physical tools that he has, a lot of people see him as a disappointment, so to speak.  But when you look down at the stat sheet, he’s still a double double.  He’s still getting a couple blocks.  He’s still running the floor and getting rim runs and finishing at the Hoop.

Yes, he’s mechanical on offense.  He doesn’t have the best post moves.  But a player like him needs to flourish in a pace and space offense like he had in Orlando versus an isolation type offense in LA playing with Kobe and/or in Houston playing with James Harden.

 So would you then not resign Al Horford in the off-season?

ROSE:  Six in one hand, half dozen in the other.  I love Al Horford.  So going forward, if I had to choose between the players, that’s a tough call.  I would take Al Horford.

CARLESIMO:  I don’t know where    Dwight could go anywhere.  He’s going to make them a contender.  He still impacts the game as much as any player in the league because he can impact it on both ends, dramatically.

James, watching them recently, I’ve been watching them a lot lately, they’re clearly playing better right now.  Clyde was going off, listening to the Houston broadcast, that they involved Dwight so much.  They went to him early.

But I think what Jalen said, the isolation thing, James is such a unique player because he’s so good with the ball.  He is so unselfish.  I mean, his passing is incredible.  His assists some nights, what he does, but he does command the ball.  It’s a unique team and he’s a unique individual to play with.

I never thought I’d be saying Houston had to shoot the three better, but that’s one of their major problems right now, James included.  Although it’s coming along.  I mean, you know, anybody would love the opportunity to coach him, but I think it’s not easy to design a system, and I think that’s been the challenge with their roster for a while.  It was Kevin’s challenge.  It’s John Blair’s right now.  Offensively fitting the pieces together is a challenge, and defensively right now they’re not playing nearly at the level that they need to win consistently in the West.

 It’s been almost two decades since you were coaching the Warriors, but given everything that’s happened they have such a long spell of more or less irrelevance, is this a little surreal to see what’s happened there in the last three or four years?

CARLESIMO:  You know, it’s great.  I think everybody is happy for it.  Throughout all the years, the couple constants were the support, the fan support.  Everybody always liked the franchise.  It’s one of the franchises, you talk about some others that go through tough times and people go who wants to go there?  Nobody said that to me.  Everybody always wanted to play at Golden State.

So I think it’s great to see what’s happening and whether it be Oakland or in the future, San Francisco.  It’s great for the league, and I think everybody feels good about that.

Surreal is the way they’re playing this year.  Now last year was great.  It was a good enough story the way they played and what they accomplished, and that was great.  What’s happened the first 25, 26 games, whatever the heck it is, that’s surreal.  The biggest problem, in my opinion, they made it look too easy.  People can’t comprehend    when you’re coaching, you want to win back to back, to win two in a row.  You go on a trip and you want to win three out of five or something like that.  What they did and how easy they made it look, to me makes it impossible for people to comprehend what they accomplished.  It’s beyond remarkable what they’ve done.

 Andrew Bogut is injured going into the Christmas game. We also notice that he didn’t exactly have a great series against Cleveland last year.  So even if he were healthy, would you think it’s visible to start him or would you start Festus Ezeli or would you consider going with Iguodala?  And how would your decision differ considering it’s a regular season game versus a playoff game? 

CARLESIMO:  I’ll take a crack at it first.  I’ll just say whatever Luke and Steve come up with, it’s going to work.  I just think that Andrew Bogut is really important to the Warriors.  I think if he’s healthy, play him.  I think that’s the only consideration for the regular season, based on what happened in the playoffs last year.  I think if he’s healthy, you play him, because Festus, whether he started or come off the bench, has played well.  Andrew brings a dimension to that team that’s different.  It changes the team.  So I think he’s a real asset.

My opinion, if he were healthy, you trot him out there, for sure, because you know what you’re going to get from Festus either way, whether he comes off the bench or starts.

ROSE:  I agree with coach.  They both rim protect and they both shot block.  The difference when you have Bogut out there is instead of him being on the post or on the baseline like Festus would be, they like to keep the floor spread.  People underestimate Bogut’s ball skills from the top of the floor, with the simple hand off and the screen and his ability to pass to open shooters.

 It’s been six months since we saw the NBA Finals. Just wondering what your favorite memories from that were, and what you expect to see on Christmas from the Warriors Cavs game? 

ROSE:  My favorite moment was seeing a jumpshot shooting team actually win a championship.  We’ve seen teams dating back to the early days of the NBA, whether it was Doug Mo, whether it was Donnie Nelson, whether it’s Mike D’Antoni, there were so many teams that played what we now call small ball or (indiscernible).

The Houston Rockets were able to do it with Horry, but they had Hakeem Olajuwon as their anchor.  But to see it happen in reverse where a point guard, who is Steph Curry, who is the MVP also leading his team to a championship, he’s only the third point guard to ever do that.  The other two to win a regular season MVP and a championship at any point in their career is Magic Johnson and someone else.  So that’s truly remarkable what I saw from the Golden State Warriors.

Also, a lot of people felt it was a fluke.  I almost felt like a Golden State apologist.  Yes, every team that they faced did have an injury in their backcourt.  Yes, they did have to face the Spurs or the Clippers because those teams actually got beat.  And yes, they did play against a shorthanded Cleveland Cavaliers team, but I still think they would have found a way to win the series had the Cavs been healthy last season.

CARLESIMO:  I just loved going into the series really with the exception of LeBron.  I mean, there were some other gray beards that had been there before.  But you had two teams that were new to the situation.  Nobody knew how they were going to be able to play.  I thought it was a phenomenal championship series.  More so, and I’ll throw some kudos to Cleveland, if you had said before anybody, if you had said before the playoffs started they were going to lose Kevin Love in the first round and they’re going to lose Kyrie in whatever game that was, it was very early in the series    particularly, and I remember vividly being in Oakland the night that Kyrie went down.  You said, well, that’s the end of the series.  And far from it.  It was a very competitive series.

So what Cleveland accomplished and what those two teams did in terms of basically first time teams on that stage, you know, even though Cleveland had been there one other time, but not with that team, I thought it was a great series.  I really was impressed with what Cleveland was able to do with those two major injuries and still be more than competitive.

 Do you guys see this Christmas Day game as a chance for either team to make a statement or is this too early in the season for that kind of thing?

ROSE:  It’s always an opportunity to make a statement.  That’s why they toss up the ball.  Both of these teams in particular    it was Bob Cousy, it just came to me, Bob Cousy and Magic Johnson are the two that won the MVP and the championships.  But this could very well be the teams that meet in this season’s championship as well.  When you look how the Cavs are built, they’re built to try to combat what Golden State does well.

The one thing I want to see is when a team puts their best forward defender on Draymond Green, in particular if it’s a three, as opposed to Steph Curry.  A lot of people think, for example, if you go Spurs, you try to put Kawhi against Steph.  I think the person you’ve got to try to stop is Draymond, because he’s so underrated, will be an All Star this year.  He’s actually the anchor to what they do up front.

But never too early to make a statement.  I think both teams will be looking to do so, especially if Golden State only has one loss, one loss.  They only have one loss.  That is just insane.

CARLESIMO:  I agree.  And don’t be fooled by any of it.  It’s just another game.  It’s regular season.  It’s December.  It’s a huge game, a huge game for both of them despite the statement that’s will come out of it.  And January 18th, they’ve got that one circled too.  I guarantee it.  MLK, the rematch.  Those are big games.  They’re not going to decide anything, but they’re going to be very important for the team’s psyche.  I think they’re enormous games to both of them.

 Jalen, you had said early in the conference call that you thought that Ryan Anderson would be the guy that would be traded with the Pelicans. Are you basing that move on the fact that he had the most value?  Second question for both of you guys, do you just feel the chemistry is not working on this team, trying to be a push it up the floor team?  When they were with Miami last season, they weren’t really that type of team.  You know, one of the moves that was made was to bring back all of these guys.  The reason was because of continuity.  Obviously, when you have a new coach, continuity is hard to come by.  So do you think some decisions were made wrong with this team coming back off that 45-win season?  And what do you think about Ryan Anderson? 

ROSE:  I agree with coach.  While I love Alvin, I think Monty was doing a good job with that team, and I think it gets highlighted right now.  But don’t understatement the fact that Alvin wants to run.  The last couple of offenses where he was an associate head coach, whether in Phoenix or with the Clippers or even with Golden State, like these were explosive offenses.

But they started shorthanded, when you don’t have your primary ball handlers to start the year.  Tyreke Evans has been in and out of the lineup, Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon.  It’s tough to institute an up tempo style of play when your primary ball handler and shooter aren’t healthy.

And I did say Ryan Anderson because I think he has a value around the league, and also he’s going to be a free agent and they probably won’t give him the deal that he’s going to command based on the team’s struggle with him on the roster still.

CARLESIMO:  I agree.  I think the problems are at the defensive end.  I mean, they’re scoring.  They can score points.  There’s no question about that.  That’s Alvin’s forte, but it’s not that he can’t coach at the other end.  He’s a heck of a coach.  I just think the way it started doomed them from the beginning.  He was dealt a very unfair hand because of the injuries and the coaching change on top of that and I think that’s been the essence, and being in the Western Conference.  That is the essence of the problem.

But when you look at them, and you see them every day, I don’t, to me, defensively is where they struggle.  They give up points.  Teams shoot a very, very high percentage against them.  You could make a case, they’re not that bad offensively.  Their problems to me are primarily on the defensive end.

 P.J., you coached Kevin Durant as a rookie, as a one and done, and Jalen, if you had come out 20 years later, you’d have been a main candidate for one and done. What’s been your assessment of some of these recent guys?  Is it worth it to stay in college and enhance your game?  Or do you just go for the money?  How do you view guys like a Nerlens Noel or guys who have obvious holes in their game?  They’re good at one thing, not so good at another, need a lot of work?  And can you improve vastly in the NBA when it’s a league that you work    when you work, it’s on your own?  You don’t have the guidance and perhaps the coach to jump on your butt as you do in the college ranks? 

ROSE:  P.J. was a great college coach, and I know he can speak to the development part of players.  But what I will say, however, you can work on your game whether you’re in college or the pros.  So the misnomer of whether you come out after high school or whether you come out after one year, you can still work on your game.  But it’s become a league of specialty because now you can get paid by just doing one thing.  That’s why I draw the line in designating why guys are in the league, and I call it skill versus will.

Look at a player like DeAndre Jordan.  Has all of the physical tools, run, jump, dunk, block shots, a defensive menace when he wants to be, but he can’t post up at all.  He can’t post up against a 6’5″ player, and he can’t shoot free throws.  The sad thing is he probably will not be able to shoot free throws.  But you know what happened?  He got an $80 million contract.  Players around the league see that.

So when Tristan Thompson goes to the table, he wants that same kind of money while basically showing those same level of skills.  So the league itself has become one of specialty, that’s why it’s refreshing when you see these high level players, like a Steph Curry, continue to work on his game.  Yeah, he’s not a defensive stopper.  But he’ll get down in the stands and steal the ball from them, or LeBron James.  These guys look to try to do it on both ends of the floor and play multi-facetted basketball.

So I don’t just attribute it to how long they stayed in college, more so that guys have to continue to work and expand your game as a young player.  That’s your responsibility as a young guy.  Come in and work on your game every day.  When it’s become a league of specialty, now all of a sudden, you can do what you do well, and that’s what sums it up.

CARLESIMO:  Yeah, Kevin was    it’s funny watching last night, Kevin was bubbling over as much about the blocked shot at the end as the jumpshot he made.  But it doesn’t matter.  I would be a big proponent if you could control it of guys staying    I think you could make a real case for staying a year or two in college, almost as much what you learn off the floor.  Not that they’re not great coaches and not that they’re learning a lot of basketball, but it’s not the same.  The development is so much better in our league.  The player development, the coaches, the time you have to work on your game in the NBA, there is no question you can advance your game more individually and there is more time to do it and more people to work with you in pros than in college.

But it’s irrelevant.  You can’t convince people to stay anymore.  There is too much money involved.  It’s not going to happen, as good as I think it would be, if they did.  But the work ethic, that’s what Jalen’s talking about.  We talked about it before with Steph.  That’s what blows my mind.  You see guys who their game is begging to be worked on, and they’re getting outworked in the summers by Durants, and Westbrooks, and Curries, and LeBron James.  I mean, what’s wrong with that picture?  It’s amazing.

So, no, I think there is great room for improvement in the league.  I think it’s so tough for those young guys to come, and normally they’re on a tough team where they’re just thrown in.  The good news is they get to play.  The bad, Kevin Durant in Seattle, how may years ago that was, in ’07 ’08.  But they get to play, but it’s a tough way to learn.  Some guys thrive with it, some guys struggle with it.

 If you could talk about Porzingis in New York a little bit, and what you see him doing this year. Do you see him continuing to become an impact player in New York and in the league?  And the second question is they recently announced the Hall of Fame nominees, Shaq, Yao is on there, AI, Sheryl Swoopes, if you could talk about those four players specifically.

ROSE:  This won’t be popular.  Yao Ming does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  He does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  I don’t appreciate the fact that the bar is lower for international born players to where they have a committee that can actually vault them into the basketball Hall of Fame by comparing them to other international prospects.  I think that’s bologna.  That should change.

So that being said, if Porzingis stays on this course, we know he’s going to be a Hall of Famer.  How about that?  But seriously, I’m actually happy for the young guy because in working the draft I was one of the people that felt he could be a player, but he was going to be a project.  I didn’t know he put up the kind of production points, rebounds and blocks that he has in his first year, and a really good shooter as well.  I know he’s hit a cold stretch here, a rookie wall, but I’m excited about what I’ve seen from him as a prospect.  If I was handicapping the rookie of the year race, I would say he’s second to Karl Anthony Towns.

CARLESIMO:  I love Porzingis.  Working the draft for ESPN Radio last year, I think we even got him first.  I can’t remember whether we got him first or second off the stage, before TV even.  I love the way he handles the difficult situation in Barclays, getting booed, the whole deal.  He was so composed.  He was so I’ve got to win them over.  I’ve got to come in and play and do my job.  We loved him.  I thought it was the best interview of the whole night, Porzingis, and he’s far exceeded.

I heard so much about him, and I didn’t know him well.  He’s better than advertised.  I love the other aspects of his game, the rebounding, the defense, the other things he does.  He starts shooting consistently, forget about it.  There is no limit to how good he can be.  So I’m really happy for him, the kid.

Interesting international.  They have a huge advantage.  He’s not a rookie.  We talked about the one and dones.  Gary asked the question before the kid’s coming out of college.  He’s a pro.  He’s played professionally.  He’s lived away from home.  He’s played against men.  They’re so much better, oftentimes international players, even the young ones, are so much better prepared to step into the league, because they’re already pros.  They’ve already done a lot of the things that our young guys have not done.  So I think it’s an advantage.  International rookies oftentimes are different than our rookies.  By that I mean college rookies.

Yao, I hear where Jalen’s coming from.  I love Yao, but I think originally the intent of the international committee was for the Oscar Schmidts, the Andrew Gays, guys like that that played internationally that you might not be able to many compare them because they didn’t play in the league.

Now there are so many international players in the league that I think it’s a great question.  Do they deserve to be considered as NBA players?  Or do they deserve to be considered international players?  Because it’s a little different.  Almost all of them come over here now, Shaq and AI, and Sheryl Swoopes are no brainers.

I loved Yao.  I felt really badly for Yao because of the injuries.  I thought he played more than well when he was here.  But I think Jalen’s hit on a tremendous debating point right now.

Well, you could throw the ABA situation into that.  They just took the ABA away.  They limited that, and now they can’t put the guys directly in.  They put the ABA guys into the NBA.  It may come shortly.  There may be a time where they say the international guys deserve to be treated the same way.  They’re NBA guys and it all goes into one pot.  Maybe they don’t getting to directly in.  I saw that at the veterans committee.  But they take away the ABA, it will be interesting to see what happens with the international.

 Now that we’ve reached the quarter way point of the season, the Western Conference is kind of shaping up as the Warriors and Spurs on top, the Thunder a little bit below and then kind of honestly a mess of like trying to have competency and just kind of spurts of excellence from a lot of other teams. Do you think this will stay the same throughout the season?  And if so, do you think the Spurs vs. Warriors, Western Conference Finals potential match up will come about?  What do you guys think about that? 

ROSE:  I think that OKC is going to have something to say about that.  The great thing about this season is that while the Golden State Warriors have performed admirably, it’s just amazing that we have a team with one loss.  It just boggles my mind.  As a matter of fact, it boggles my mind that we have a team with one win too.  That’s another subject for another day.

I just have to say Klay Thompson’s name just because he’s really good.

The Golden State Warriors again, as I mentioned, they didn’t have to play against the San Antonio Spurs last year in the playoffs because they were obviously knocked out by the Clippers and didn’t face the Oklahoma City Thunder who, I felt at the time that Kevin Durant got healthy, they had a legit chance to actually up end Golden State last year.

So I agree with the premise of the Spurs and the Warriors being the two teams in pole position to be in the Western Conference Finals, but I’m not overlooking the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The player I’m watching on their team that never gets the props I think he deserves is Enes Kanter.  He’s not a defender, but he has good hands.  He has good feet.  He can cut, he can finish.  He keeps his hands up, he keeps his eyes up.  He gets you ten rebounds.  I always look to see how many minutes he’s played and how many shots he’s getting, because I think he can be a valuable piece if they’re going to continue to advance and chase their goals.

CARLESIMO:  It’s strange because those stayed at a distance themselves, even from the Spurs.  The Spurs, what they’ve done is incredible, and it’s dwarfed by Golden State.  But I think the West, there are still more candidates.

Jalen’s dead on with OKC.  That team has been there.  They’re very good.  And obviously, with those two guys, forgetting the rest on the roster, those two guys alone, they’re capable of winning a series even against the Spurs and Golden State.

The New Orleans San Antonio game, the last game of the regular season last year, we happened to do it for ESPN Radio, changed the playoffs.  That one single game changed the playoffs.  It changed the match ups.  It changed so much.  It put New Orleans in.  It dropped the Spurs down.  I thought it was an impactful game, and I think that can still happen this year.  Even though at this point those two, Golden State’s on another planet.  Spurs are close, and Oklahoma City’s going to get there.  But these other guys are good, be it a Memphis or New Orleans.

There are other teams, the Clippers, these guys are capable of getting it together.  I think the Western Conference is going to be a bloodbath.  I think the playoffs are going to be unbelievable.  As great as those two have been so far, I think there is still the potential for the Western Conference playoffs to be very, very competitive depending on the match ups, a lot of which we didn’t see last year, unfortunately.

  1.  Did you see Kawhi’s improvement coming this way and Spurs being as successful as they have been with LaMarcus Aldridge having a down year in terms of statistics?

CARLESIMO:  I don’t think he’s having a down year.  I think the Spurs, one thing they’ve always had, Pop uses the term corporate knowledge, most years we talk about the Spurs.

Two years ago after they won, they brought back 14 guys out of 15.  By their standards they’ve had wholesale changes this year.  Key rotation players, a whole bunch of new guys.  So to me it’s going to take a little more time offensively.

I think LA has blended in well to this point, and he’s only going to get better offensively.  I see more high lows.  They’re moving the ball better.  I think they’re going to improve offensively.  It’s scary how well they’re playing defensively, particularly with new guys in the mix.  So they’re legit.  I did not see Kawhi.  They said it.  I still do a handful of games for Spurs TV, they said it.  I liken Kawhi to Jimmy Butler and Paul George.  People forget those three guys came into the league as defenders.  What they’ve become on the offensive end is remarkable.

Again, go back to that work ethic.  We talked about guys who make themselves better.  Kawhi Leonard is so much a better offensive player than last year.  Forget when he came in.  He’s another guy that put in, Jalen talked about double awards, he could be an MVP candidate and a most improved candidate, that’s how much better I think he is than he was last year.  So I’m a huge fan.  I’d be lying if I said I saw this kind of offensive improvement coming from him.  But I like where LA’s at, and David West and the other guys.  They’re scary good.

ROSE:  While we were fixated on the Golden State Warriors, and rightfully so, remember the Spurs were only a handful of games behind them.  And that is because of what you mentioned about Kawhi Leonard, and also his improved three point shooting, even from a knockdown three-point shooter.

 Outside of the Christmas Day games, wanted to get your thoughts on some of the other rookies out there. I know we talked about Townes, and Porzingis and stuff like that, but outside of that crop, who do you think the next guy that will take MVP with Russell and Mudiay, I know Mudiay’s been hurt right now.  But outside of the top four guys, who is the next rookie that you like so far this season? 

CARLESIMO:  I would have said the same two guys.  I was waffling whether I’d say Okafor or Winslow.  I like what both of them have done in totally different situations.

ROSE:  Want to see more consistency from Mudiay.  Stop turning the ball over so much.  It’s hard when you ask a guy who was more of a lead guard to be cast as a playing guard his first year, you expect that.

For D’Angelo Russell, I knew once they drafted him, while I felt he was a really good prospect, can he even look at the ball?  Like when you have Kobe, Nick Young, Lou Williams and Clarkson?  Like that was a no win proposition for a young guard to come in and be productive.  So it’s been refreshing to me to actually see the opportunity he’s gotten to flourish in a couple of games.

CARLESIMO:  I mispronounced their names, I’ll go back to those international guys again, Minnesota and Denver, Jokisch, and Bjelica, they’re good players, they’re really good players.  For rookies, they’re excellent players.  It’s a really good rookie crowd.

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