I’ve done this for the last couple of seasons. My quotes are last. LeBron, as usual, was a major topic of conversation and Lakers/Celtics as well.
TNT will tip off the 2009-10 NBA season on Tuesday, October 27 at 7 p.m. (ET) with a special preview show, NBA Tip-Off presented by AutoTrader.com, followed by an exclusive opening night doubleheader. The first game will feature the Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers at 7:30 p.m. (ET), followed by the NBA Championship ring ceremony for the defending World Champion Los Angeles Lakers before they take on the Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m. (ET).
Doug Collins, TNT NBA analyst
Reggie Miller, TNT NBA analyst
Chris Webber, NBA TV/TNT analyst
Collins on the competition between the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference: “It’s going to be so exciting to see which of the top three teams (Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic) in the Eastern Conference will be able to get the best record and get that number one seed. That will be so important this year because that will prevent you from having to go through two of those teams to get to the NBA Finals. The three-horse race in the East is going to be really exciting to watch.”
Miller on the defending NBA Champion Lakers: “Who is going to step up and challenge the defending champs, the Los Angeles Lakers? The rich get richer; you basically have the same team with the addition of a former defensive player of the year in Ron Artest.”
Miller on the San Antonio Spurs: “San Antonio added the veteran presence of Antonio McDyess and Richard Jefferson, but the key will be the health of Manu Ginobili.”
Miller on the Denver Nuggets: “I’m questioning Denver, who made it to the Western Conference Finals last year. I’m curious to see what (head coach George) Karl will do at the shooting guard position, with Dahntay Jones signing with Pacers.”
Miller on the Portland Trail Blazers: “To me, the scariest team in the West is the young Portland Trail Blazers lead by Brandon Roy. He’s a guy that Ron Artest (said) was one of the best players he faced in the playoffs since he’s been in the league. They are a young, hungry and well-coached team.”
Webber on the San Antonio Spurs challenging the Lakers in the West: “I’m somebody that I’m the biggest San Antonio fan in the world and I think ever year they are not given the credit they deserve. They usually come through but they do it in a methodical way so it’s not interesting or sexy. I’m really looking for them to challenge and dethrone the Lakers.”
Webber on the Portland Trail Blazers: “Portland is the most exciting team in the NBA and I’m looking for them to take a big step and make their mark in the NBA.”
Miller on the New York Knicks plans for the prized 2010 free agent class: “Everyone has their eye on the prize of the 2010 class from LeBron James to Chris Bosh to Dwyane Wade to Joe Johnson to Amar’e Stoudemire. If I’m (Knicks general manager Donnie) Walsh and the New York Knicks, we know that your focus is LeBron James. But if you could get two of those guys in New York, I think that would pay bigger dividends than getting one big fish in LeBron James.”
Miller on if the Lakers will be distracted by Lamar Odom’s marriage to Khloe Kardashian: “I think that if you play for the Lakers, you are used to the circus-atmosphere. Whenever you step on the court, you’re not really thinking about anything else that’s going on in your personal life. You are thinking about how can I win this basketball game in the next 48 minutes. You’re worried about winning.”
Collins on the Lakers having strong leadership: “Anytime you have a team with the diverse personalities and all the glamor and glitz that goes along with being a member of the Lakers, leadership becomes so vital. When (Lakers head coach Phil Jackson) coached Michael Jordan, it was like (being) on a rock tour every single night. If you go through the years with Phil and the diverse guys and personalities he has (coached). Kobe Bryant has a strong personality and the guy that is so vital to this team is Derek Fisher. When they got Derek Fisher back, he was such an anchor for that Lakers three-peat. He was always the voice of reason and a wonderful leader.”
Collins on if the Los Angeles Clippers can make the playoffs: “When you look at the Clippers and you don’t play in paper but the key is Baron Davis. Is this the Baron Davis who played 82 games in Golden State; played so well and was such a leader? They’ve got a ton of talent but will they be able to put it together? When I look at the Western Conference, to me there are (already) six playoff teams and two open spots. Houston is vulnerable without (injured) Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming for a while and New Orleans is a team that has slipped. There are two spots and I think the Suns could slip in (to the playoffs) or Golden State or the Clippers, they have talent.”
Miller on Pacers forward Danny Granger trying to lead the team back to the playoffs: “You’ve got to grab the fan-base in Indiana. It’s been up and down in Indiana the last few years, but they have backed off of the up-and-down, run-and-gun style of play and they want to be more defensive oriented. Danny (Granger) had a fabulous All-Star year last season but you’ve got to be able to grab the fan-base in Indiana and give them something to look for. In Indiana, it all has to be done on the court. You have to come every day with your hard-hat on with a lunch pail mentality, because all (the fans) want to see is your 100% (effort). They’ve got good character guys on the team and they are on their way back.”
Miller on what it will take for the Lakers to repeat as champions: “If Ron Artest plays like Ron Artest. That’s the only difference. Trevor Ariza, in my opinion, the Lakers don’t win the championship last year without Ariza’s defense on Carmelo Anthony (in the WCF) and Hedu Turkoglu in the Finals. I understand what Ron (Artest) can do and how he can help a team out. I also know how he can hurt a ball club with his misguided actions. Ron doesn’t have to do a lot on this team and I hope he recognizes that he’s not the second or third option on this team offensively. If he recognizes that…the Lakers will win the championship.”
Webber on the Celtics being able to match the Lakers intensity: “The Lakers have the best chance to win the championship if they don’t play the Celtics (in the Finals). I think the Celtics with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are the only team that can match the (Lakers) intensity.”
Miller on what LeBron James is going to do when he becomes a free agent following the 2009-10 season: “I don’t even think that LeBron knows what he is going to do. I think LeBron is focused in on this year. They added Shaq (O’Neal) and wing players in (Anthony) Parker and (Jamario) Moon. I think that LeBron is just focused in on winning a championship this year and he’ll worry about free agency next June. It’s hard to get into another man’s head and wonder if he’s going take off for free agency. I want LeBron to stay in Cleveland, I think it’s better for the league to have superstars in smaller markets. You don’t always have to be in L.A. or New York to get all of the endorsements. Peyton Manning is the face of the NFL and he’s in Indianapolis.”
Collins on the Washington Wizards improving this season: “I hope Gilbert (Arenas) comes back (from injury) because he’s such an exciting player. Washington has the chance to be very good this year. (General manager) Ernie Grunfeld has done a nice job there. They hired (head coach) Flip Saunders to come in and I like what they’ve done in the off-season. They added Mike Miller and Randy Foye and they’ve got some nice, young talent. Washington has never had a problem scoring but are they going to get the critical defensive stops and rebound? I’ve got them being a top five team in the East this year if they can stay healthy.”
Collins on if Rajon Rondo’s contract situation is a distraction for the Celtics: “I don’t think the Rondo is a factor at all. If you’re Rajon Rondo and you’re out on the floor every night looking at Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Rasheed Wallace, guys who are great players and competitors. I think he’ll be fine. He’s coming off a brilliant playoff series. He’s the one guy on that team that (provides) speed that enables them to get some easy baskets. They don’t have great team speed but (Rondo) is the one guy who gives that push.”
Webber on the Sacramento Kings: “I still think Geoff Petrie is one of best GMs in the game. I think it makes it harder for guys to come together when there isn’t a system to rely on. Are you relying on defense or on pick and rolls? Of course, there’s experience from playing that style of ball. I think Tyreke (Evans) is going to be the Rookie of the Year and they are looking to grow. They are probably not going to make the playoffs and definitely won’t win a championship but if they are looking to grow, it’s great to have a teacher and that’s what they need in Sacramento. Someone who will teach them, let them build on something and not just waste a 82-game schedule.”
Collins on what his coaching strategy was when he went into losing situations: “I took over three bad teams (as a head coach) and there were three criteria I always thought I could bring to a franchise regardless of what the talent-level was: we were going to be well-conditioned, well-prepared and I was going to play the competitors. Anytime I went into an organization those were my three thoughts. Then the more talent you got you kept that in place and then you started to win basketball games.”
Webber on working with Ernie Johnson and Kevin McHale on NBA TV: “I don’t know Kevin McHale that well but studied his post moves since I was in high school when I hated him since I was a Pistons fan growing up. The best part about working with these guys is after the camera goes off, (having the opportunity to) ask them questions and hear stories. (Being able to) pick their brain about the best players they played against. I’m definitely looking forward to working with him. Ernie Johnson is someone that has made it so easy and spoiled me by working with him on TV. Just having him around makes me feel safe and secure that I won’t make a fool of myself. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun this year.”
Michael Tillery: Congratulations Doug. Being from Philly, we share in honoring you here for your achievements. What’s going on Chris?
Doug Collins: Thank you so much!
Chris Webber: Sup Mike.
MT: I wanted to talk about LeBron. After what I’m sure he considers a disappointing season, he has to power up and do it all over again. Do you think Shaq’s addition will help soften the burden he has to absorb every time this year until he gets to the pinnacle?
Doug Collins: “The thing about it is I love that LeBron’s game has gotten better every year. I love the energy and passion he plays with. Shaq is in a good spot right now. He’s in the last year of a contract. He’s driven to say he’s won three championships with Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and maybe LeBron James. He will help on that front line. They really got hammered inside last year and had no answers for Dwight Howard. He will help in the paint, get some rebounds and take the pressure off LeBron dealing with the media all the time. Shaq is gonna be in the situation of dealing with the media as well. This team is gonna be fun for me. These are two different dynamic personalities that you’ve put together. I don’t know who is gonna be in charge of pregame introductions now (everyone laughs), so I can’t wait for Tuesday. It’s interesting with Jemario Moon and Anthony Parker they have some size on that team.
One of the things that wasn’t talked about last year with Cleveland is that with LeBron being able to move to that four spot, it gives them an incredible match up because they could go small. Against Orlando, they couldn’t do that because they got really poor play out of Pavlovic and Wally Szczerbiak. They also had to go small with Mo Williams and Delonte West. All of the sudden, you can go bigger in the back court because LeBron is a four if you want to. You have Shaq down there as a five. You can put Jemario Moon or somebody as a three and you have speed and size. Not being able to use LeBron as a four effectively hurt them. They’ll do more of that this year because of the added depth of Jemario Moon and Anthony Parker.”
Chris Webber: “I agree coach. One thing you mentioned earlier was that you like their versatility…and not only on the court. You have Shaq being a dominant post player and an All Star center in Zydrunas Ilgauskas coming off the bench. It spreads everything and changes the coverage because Big Z can shoot the jump shot and offensive rebound on one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league. Like you said, when LeBron can go to the four now. Being an ex player, the more people that’s in your same position the more you control the guys being in Shaq’s locker where he might can shut up silly questions, the more you can kind of joke with you and take pressure off. To have someone who understands what you are going through is really good. Shaq has been through everything.”
Reggie Miller: “Out of all the things that Coach and Chris are talking about my only question for Cleveland is can Mo Williams step it up when it really counts? During the playoffs, I think the loss of Coach John Kuester to Detroit to take over the Pistons hurt. He was the offensive guru and brainchild for the Cleveland Cavaliers. This puts a lot of pressure on Head Coach Mike Brown and whoever he is going to bring in to replace Kuester and help run that offense. If anything, is this offense going to gel without Kuester? I’m curious to see how this is going to play out.”
MT: KG’s ability to communicate the interior pick and rolls is well known. What is going to be Sheed’s effect regarding his defensive skills?
RM: “Both guys talk tremendously on defense. They are probably two of the best in the league in communicating with guards about oncoming picks. Showing, hedging, trapping, getting back…so I don’t see it being a problem. I definitely agree with coach…especially in the last five minutes of the game when you have Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett on the floor at the same time that you have great low post defenders. Both are long and lanky. Both can step out to the three point line and extend defenses. I’m going to agree with CWebb about if it was the Lakers and Celtics in the Finals. I think the Lakers will challenge the Bulls 70 game win season but they won’t win it all because when it comes down to it and they get into a 7 game series with the Celtics, i just think the Celtics have so much versatility. I love the changes that Danny Ainge has brought to the team. Marquis Daniels is a fabulous pick up. He can play one and two. To me, if it’s the Boston Celtics versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals, then I’m going with Boston in seven.”