NBA Q&A: Charles Barkley, Steve Kerr, Jeff Van Gundy

Posted by Unknown on Thursday, October 17, 2013 with No comments
Courtesy of Sam Amick

Can the Heat repeat again?

Charles Barkley, TNT: "I think that you saw the flaws in the Miami Heat last year, (specifically) their lack of size. And I think the key to me is going to be (free agent center addition) Greg Oden (who hasn't played in a game since December 2009 because of knee problems). If he gives them physical size, it's going to be very difficult to beat the team. But that's their real weakness - size. Every big guy they play against just dominates them. I think it really, to me, it depends on what Oden has left in the tank.

"You saw last year, where first of all they shouldn't have won the championship - (the) San Antonio (Spurs) just flat out blew it - but you see how (Indiana Pacers center) Roy Hibbert, (San Antonio forward) Tim Duncan had flashbacks. When they play against big guys, man, they just get dominated."

Steve Kerr, a fellow TNT analyst who won three consecutive titles with the Chicago Bulls in the mid- to late 1990s and is already on record saying he predicts the Bulls will unseat the Heat: "I think Miami trying to get to the Finals for a fourth straight year, since it hasn't been done since the mid-'80s, that's pretty compelling, particularly because the East is a lot tougher now. There are four pretty good teams besides Miami, with the Knicks, Nets, Chicago and Indiana. It's going to be tougher for Miami, and they've got to go through probably at least two difficult (playoff) series just to get to the Finals."

Jeff Van Gundy, ESPN/ABC analyst: "Miami's quest to get back to the Finals for a fourth straight year (is compelling). I think with their additions, it will be interesting to see if they're helpful, Oden and (former Heat draft pick and free agent addition Michael) Beasley, or do they detract from what they've been good at? Miami, their situation is so unique in trying to become a dynasty."

Who poses the greatest threat to the Heat?

Barkley: "There's a very short list of teams that can actually win the championship. I think Brooklyn is interesting. You have to wonder how much Paul (Pierce) and Kevin (Garnett) have left in the tank. I think that's going to be a great story line to watch. I think the Pacers - the Pacers are legit. The Pacers are flat out legit. I think you've got to figure out how well (Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell) Westbrook is going to come back to see what Oklahoma City has. But I think the big question marks - what we're talking about - to me is going to go down to the Dwight (Howard) story, which is fascinating, but the big key to me is going to be the Blake Griffin/DeAndre Jordan (story line) and how they got better as players. (The Clippers have) all the other pieces, they just don't have inside guys who can get their own shots and dominate. That's all they're missing. I'm happy for him. I'm a Sacramento fan. I pulled for that team. But any time these guys don't waste their money on cars and jewelry and put in on good investments, I think it's all good."

Kerr: "It kind of feels like it's all teed up for this to be (the Bulls') year, with Derrick (Rose) coming back (from the ACL tear that kept him out all last season) and then they've got Luol Deng in the last year of his deal. (With) he and Jimmy Butler on the wings, you have two guys who can really guard. Guarding (Miami's Dwyane) Wade and LeBron (James), you've got to have a couple of good defenders, and the Bulls definitely do. And they've just always given Miami trouble, just with their style of play. I think you could make maybe an even stronger case with Indiana, because of their strength and power inside offensively, with Hibbert and (forward David) West. But really, the main reason I sort of made that prediction is because (winning a third consecutive title is) so hard to do - it's so hard to keep coming back every year and doing it. Last year, they looked like they were kind of on fumes, and so I'd be surprised if they can pull it off. That's what makes it fun."

Van Gundy, who was believed to be a candidate for the Nets head coaching opening before Brooklyn, which traded for former Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce during the offseason, hired recently retired point guard Jason Kidd: "I think the Nets have the best starting lineup talent in the East. Whether that fits together or not, I don't know, because they have guys who are very dependent on the ball, other than Garnett, who have played as a first-option guy for their entire career. The fit? Who knows, but they certainly have a chance to be very, very good. I love the aggressiveness of their management, and I think it gives them a chance to be very good.

"I think Garnett, (with) his serious approach to the game, to every game, to every practice, is very unique. I don't think a lot of guys have his level of drive, and I think you saw it transform the Celtics immediately. I think it had a huge impact on how people perceive both Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (when they were together in Boston). And I think Pierce has developed the same serious approach as Garnett. They, too, are starting that aging process. But ... you don't see too many serious approaches in basketball anymore, and I think it is very helpful, that it's going to transform the mentality of the Nets.

"I think (Kidd will) do very well. He's got a very good team. So very few first-year coaches start out with a very good team. Most start out with a horrible team. ... That allows you to win and establish some credibility and confidence in yourself through the players. But like anything, you have to be committed. And I don't think anybody knows if they want to coach until they do it, until they go through the grind of it. I'll be interested to see at the end of the year - did he enjoy it? Is it something that he's happy he got into or was it too much of a commitment for him so quickly after a long, long playing career? But coaching wise, he'll be fine.

Can Oklahoma City overcome the loss of Westbrook? 

Westbrook, who missed last season's playoff run after tearing the meniscus in his right knee, is out for the first four to six weeks of the regular season because of a loose stitch that was causing swelling in the same knee and required arthroscopic surgery recently.

Kerr: "I still think Oklahoma City, once Westbrook is back, is the best team (in the West) like they were last year in terms of the (playoff) seeding. They definitely need to take a step forward with their offensive execution in difficult games, in playoff games, and be more fluid and multidimensional. I think people have - I don't think written off is the right phrase - but because of the Westbrook injury and the early playoff exit, I think people are looking past them a little bit. But when they're fully healthy, they're loaded still, and Kevin Durant just keeps getting better. Even though I think there are six teams in the West who are all capable of getting to the Finals, I think Oklahoma City is probably the favorite.

"(The offensive challenges, considering the loss of third-leading scorer Kevin Martin to Minnesota in free agency are) not as much a personnel issue for me as it is kind of a system issue. I think you can always find guys who can be plugged in to come off the bench and play roles. But I think they've got to continue to get better. I thought they made improvements last year, but they have to continue to get better with their ball movement and their continuity, because in the playoffs, when that first option gets taken away, you have to have someone else. For them, the ball tends to stop when the first option is taken away. It's what the Clippers are trying to do, too. Once that first hit is not there, what happens? That determines a lot of NBA games, I think. It's easy to get bogged down, and when you start relying on hero ball - as Doc Rivers likes to call it - then you're in trouble."

Are the Clippers title contenders?

Barkley: "Obviously, Doc (Rivers) is a good coach, and I like them getting (free agent center) Byron Mullens. I think that was a sleeper pickup. But it's going to come down to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Have they gotten better as players? All that other stuff is irrelevant. That role player stuff (the Clippers landed Jared Dudley, J.J. Redick, Antawn Jamison and Darren Collison and re-signed Matt Barnes), that don't mean anything. It's going to come down to how much better Blake and DeAndre have gotten as players, but I do like the Mullens pickup. That was a steal. ... But unless Blake and DeAndre have gotten better as players, they're not going anywhere."

Kerr: "I think it was really good timing (to part ways with former coach Vinny Del Negro and sign Rivers). I think Paul and Griffin are ready to take that next step. And I think Doc adds so much credibility. And he's legitimately such a good coach that I think he could help get them to the next level - whatever that means. (It's) not necessarily to win the whole thing, but to be a better playoff team, to be more efficient, more difficult to guard. I think he'll make them better and they'll be in the hunt. I worry about their frontcourt. I don't think they have enough behind Griffin and Jordan. They're counting on Antawn Jamison and maybe Mullens, and those guys may fit in and find their roles. But to me they're one player short in the frontcourt."

Can Howard take the Rockets to the next level?

Shaquille O'Neal, the one-time Los Angeles Lakers legend who has consistently been critical of Howard: "I don't think so. I don't think so. Believe it or not, it ain't about him. But if he leads by good example and the others follow, they could be dangerous. They could be dangerous, but he's in his what, ninth or 10th year? He's been the same all those 10 years, so can he get better while working with (Rockets aide and Hall of Fame big man) Hakeem (Olajuwon)? Is that going to take him to the next level? I'm not sure. We'll see, but I haven't seen it. ... (But) if he's playing great ball and (James) Harden is playing great ball and everyone else is following them, they could be a dangerous team. But I don't see them winning it right away.

"Everybody can't handle that pressure (with the Lakers). You can't do it by yourself. You're playing with the Black Mamba (Kobe Bryant), and it don't get no easier than that. You're either going to be with the Black Mamba and it's going to be easier than trying to do it by yourself, or you're going to be with LeBron, or with Durant - the third choice - or with Derrick Rose, the fourth choice. You were with the No. 1 guy - it don't get no easier than that. ... I don't know Dwight personally, but a lot of people can't handle that pressure."

Barkley: "I like Houston. I love what Houston is doing. It's all the same thing - (a matter of) how much better Dwight is. No. 1, is he focused? I think the best thing that happened to him is he's going to get a chance to work with (Rockets coach and former Celtics great) Kevin McHale every day, because his game is not close to where it should be. But Kevin McHale is the best player I ever played against, and teaching him every day is going to be monumental for Dwight. ... He's not polished offensively. He's not even close to where he's going to be offensively. He's just got to develop his offensive game."

Can Kobe Bryant return to form and keep the Lakers competitive?

Van Gundy: "The medical community has made such great advances that to try to put a limit on somebody coming back is probably not smart. Certainly, as my (former broadcast) partner (and current Golden State Warriors coach) Mark Jackson likes to say, Father Time is undefeated. That process, you're not going to get better than you were, but hopefully Bryant still has a couple good years left and the Lakers then can have a couple good years left until they overhaul their team. Obviously losing Howard, some consider it a big blow, others say it's not. I think it's a huge blow to their franchise. It will be interesting to see how relevant they can stay in the playoff hunt with Bryant probably not back at the start of the season, (Pau) Gasol (is) still a little bit hurting (after having an offseason procedure to improve his consistent knee troubles) and (point guard Steve) Nash (is) at age 39 or 40. (Lakers coach) Mike (D'Antoni) is going to have some tricks up his sleeve to keep them relevant.

If the Heat don't stay on top, will LeBron James leave next summer in free agency?

Kerr: "I have a hard time seeing LeBron leaving Miami, but I had a hard time seeing him leave Cleveland (in the summer of 2010), so who knows? But assuming he stays in Miami and re-signs, then historically what has happened with teams like Miami - whether it was the Lakers and Celtics in the '80s or the Bulls in the '90s and the Lakers again in the 2000s - teams like that retool and rebuild around their superstars, and they kind of get rejuvenated because they get knocked off their perch and kind of regain their hunger. So if I had to predict, I would say there's a pretty good chance they don't make it this year and then there's a pretty good chance they turn around and win a title the following year."