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Transcript: ESPN NBA Start of Season Media Conference Call with Jeff Van Gundy & Mark Jackson

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Today, ESPN NBA analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson discussed the start of the 2018-19 NBA regular season on a media conference call. For information on ESPN’s opening week of NBA coverage, visit ESPN Media Zone. Here is the link to the audio from today’s call. The transcript is below.

Jeff, I know there was a time when Stan was very close to becoming a broadcaster and joining ESPN. And it seemed rather clear that the league had other ideas. Why now was this the right time for Stan and in terms of his ability to get this job was it as simple as a commissioner change?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I think it was that simple. No, I mean, I’m not trying to be short, but I mean everybody does things differently when they’re in leadership. Some embrace diverse thought and others believe you should spout company lines. And so, it truly is that different. It’s not saying one leadership style is best, I’m just saying that that’s the reason.

I appreciate you answering that, Jeff, thank you.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: You got it.

I apologize for this being a parochial question but how important is it overall to the league that Chicago have some sort of resurgence and where are the Bulls on route to that?

MARK JACKSON: I think obviously the league is at its best when these big market teams are relevant and good. We remember those days. I think Chicago is a young, talented team headed in the right direction and I think Eastern Conference they’re more than capable of being a playoff team when healthy and whole. So it will be interesting to see, I think they’re close, but it’s no secret that the league is at its best when these teams in major markets are playing good, solid basketball and they’re relevant.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: For me it’s amazing to me how viewership of TV and all of that has been so great when the Lakers have been bad for a while, the Knicks have struggled, the Nets have really struggled, and Chicago over the last couple years has been in a down turn. To me it’s been, it’s fascinating how the NBA popularity is still growing. And then I think from Chicago’s standpoint I think they have made some good moves and there’s some moves that you have to wait and see. Will the Zach LaVine contract prove to be a great decision? Lauri Markkanen looks to be a terrific player. So that looks to be a good draft choice. I think Bobby Portis has outperformed where he has drafted, he continues to be a really good sixth man candidate and so I think they have done some really good things and some things you just have to wait and see, but the one thing is, rebuilding is hard and it’s hard to get good again. We have seen that with Chicago in the past after Jordan, they thought it was going to be quick and it was absolutely painful.

Mark, I’m not asking you this because we discussed part of this in Las Vegas, so two things for Jeff: Do you put the Heat in a tier with the Washington’s Milwaukee’s, Indiana’s, behind Boston, Philly, Toronto, or do you say Miami is not as good as those teams, Washington, Milwaukee, Indy. And Jeff, also on Jimmy Butler, would you, if you were the Heat, trade multiple of their appealing young assets for him. Meaning Adebayo, Richardson, Olynyk, Justise Winslow, guys of that ilk.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: The first question is I put them as definitely a playoff team. If they traded for someone as talented as Butler is then I would put them in that next group. The one thing about Miami I think Miami has more, they have like stuff you can count on, depth, great defense, move the ball, they just aren’t as talented as the teams you mentioned in that other tier. So could they get there? Yeah. I would feel better about their chances if they made an impactful trade. And as far as would I do it, you know, obviously everything, you don’t, you have to know the specifics of a trade to say I would or wouldn’t do a specific thing. But the idea to trade for Jimmy Butler, yeah, I like that idea for Miami.

Both you guys, sort of to follow-up on that a little bit, obviously Jimmy Butler is an All-Star talent, but we’re also talking possibly about a five year deal that takes him out to 34 years old. If you were a general manager, would you have any consternation about paying a 34 or 35 year old player 43 million dollars? So how do you sort of look at the spectrum of that trade when considering the five year extension or new contract Jimmy will get next summer?

MARK JACKSON: I think that’s the hundred thousand dollar question. It’s not Jimmy Butler today and what he’s worth, it’s, if you give him that extension, at 34 years old, making that kind of money, it can really handcuff your franchise and those are the tough decisions that you boil it down to, whether the trade is worth it or not. But he’s certainly a heck of a basketball player and he’s going to help them today. That really makes it tough and if I was a general manager I would try to meet somewhere halfway where I’m not paying that kind of money when he’s 34 years old.

Jeff, your thoughts?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I’m not at all convinced that every team, like Miami, I’m not convinced that they would do that. I’m not convinced, like people would say, well, Houston did it for Chris Paul, but I think Houston, two things, Houston was, is and was closer to a championship than Miami and secondarily I think Chris Paul is going to go down as one of the all-time greats. So I’m not convinced that every team that will trade or the team that ultimately trades for Jimmy Butler will feel necessary to give him five years. I really do think there will be negotiations. I think the only team that’s committed to paying him five years right now would be the team that has him.

I’m from Australia and the game over here at the moment is growing because of the influx of Australians in the League and I’m interested in both your takes on the Aussie guys like Ben Simmons, Joe Ingles and Dante Exum and what their impact on the League has been and whether any of their teams can actually challenge the Warriors for title.

MARK JACKSON: I think their impact has been outstanding. The talent of all three of those guys, especially led by Ben Simmons, I think he’s a generational talent, what he does on the basketball floor. He came with expectations on him from day one and he has not disappointed and continues to get better and better. I thought he had an outstanding year last year and he’s going to build on it. Exum is about being healthy, playing very well, I expect a great season from him being healthy and whole. Tremendous size, tremendous athletic ability. And then in a great system. And with Ingles, he just knows how to play. Dangerous player. Smart player. I remember him starting with the Clippers and having an opportunity and now in Utah, that’s a heck of a basketball team. I really think Utah and Philadelphia, out of those, both of those teams are more than capable of advancing in the Playoffs and having long rubs. They’re that good.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I want to echo what Mark said about Exum. I really don’t know very much about him. His time in the NBA has been so choppy due to injury it’s hard to see all that he’s capable of doing. Hopefully this is the year that he can be healthy and play along, productive year. I love Joe I think else. I think Joe I think else is a tremendous glue player, terrific shooter, passer, defender, what a pickup by Utah and I know the Clippers regret waiving him back a few years ago. Ben Simmons, everyone wants to focus on what bench Simmons can’t do, which is shoot and try to rush him into being a range shooter. And I think Simmons and Philly has done a good job in focusing on what he does great versus what he doesn’t do as well. And I think that’s hard to do with all the critiques that you get as a player, but I think it’s been very wise by both Simmons and Philly. I think Utah is the third best team in the West and I think Philly, everybody talks Toronto, they talk Boston as the top two teams in the East, but if Philly plays well they don’t have to take a back seat to anyone.

Do you think any of them can knock over the Warriors?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: No.

Even with their best player on the shelf indefinitely do you think Knicks fans should be optimistic about the right leadership being in place now, president, GM, coach? Do you think they are headed in the right direction or at least have the guys that can point them that way?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’ve always thought the coaches have been good, all right? I mean, so much of the coaches, how well you do is based strictly on the roster. So I think David Fizdale’s very good, and if he has a good roster, they will have a good team. If he has a mediocre roster, they will have a mediocre team. So I don’t look at it as like changing coaches is the most important part to improvement. I think who picks the players is absolutely critical to your success or lack of success. And they have had some spotty things go on in the last three, four years, whatever it is, as far as picking players, both in the draft and free agent. So right now I don’t think you can expect them to have a quick fix. Porzingis’s health and improvement, it’s not just his health, he’s got to get better to be a best player on a really good team. And then they have to supplement their talent. When you look on the floor right now even if they had Porzingis, Knox has got a chance, but like you look at their team, they’re just not a talented team. Now I like Kanter, I think he was a tremendous trade, I’m interested to see if they can sign him or will sign him. But I think he’s a very good player, but their back court needs some shoring up.

MARK JACKSON: I think Eastern Conference after you look at the top teams that obviously will make the Playoffs and have home court, I think it boils down, looking at the rest of the conference, which teams are committed, which teams defend at a high level, which teams don’t take nights or possessions off, and those teams will have an opportunity to sneak.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: The Playoffs. That’s been proven. There’s clearly some teams that are better than the other ones in the East but you play hard, you compete, you defend and you buy in, and the Knicks are one of those teams. They have an opportunity to show growth and be chasing a playoff spot.

Two part question. The first one being San Antonio Spurs, they had a really tough season, now looking ahead of this season what impact will they have, if any at all and what players do you think will be stand out players this season. And then also why is it important for the NBA to collaborate with people like the Euro League when it comes to the global basketball globally, especially looking at talent like Luka coming to the league and making an impact straight away so far in the Summer League.

MARK JACKSON: I think the Spurs, I think they will be the Spurs. We expect them to play hard, compete, win ball games. I expect them to be balanced for home court. You look at that roster and you look at the age and you say how, but we have been saying that for quite awhile. Pop finds away to get the best out of his guys, they’re a talented team, they added some youth. I think DeAndre at the point guard position hurts them. I expect White to be back soon and I expect him to be playing great basketball when he does come back. And I expect the Spurs also to be on the hunt for help at the point guard position until he comes back to add depth. But that’s a team that’s talented, they know how to win, they know how to defend. I think Rudy Gay will have a very good year for them. I thought last year he was bouncing back from injury but I think this year he’ll play more minutes and show his true versatility. As far as your second question, I didn’t really hear it all but this is truly a worldwide league. They have done a great job of getting talent from all across this world and not just talent just to be sitting object the end of the bench, but home run talent. And it’s exciting to see and a great time for the league.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Last year the Spurs won 47 Kawhi Leonard only played nine games, I believe. And so I think by getting DeRozan and getting Poltl for Leonard, I think that’s a huge upgrade from where they were last year without Leonard. So I think offensively they will be fine. I think defensively losing Leonard and losing Danny Green and losing Kyle Anderson, I think there’s going to be some struggles there on some nights. With Murray hurt and Derrick White hurt, their top two point guards are kind of converting a smallish two guard in Bryn Forbes to the starting point guard, I’m interested to see how that works, because he’s a very, very good shooter. But I think like Mark, even though they have some defensive question marks, I have no doubt that they’re going to play hard, smart, and together. When you do that in the NBA with the goal being about the team versus about the individuals, you can overcome at times more talented teams that aren’t as committed to doing things together. As far as the European players or the non-Americans, to me it’s not just the Europeans, as Mark mentioned, there are players all over the world now and our league is so much better for going out there and finding the very best players worldwide because their skill level, their talent and as important their commitment to the team make the NBA a better place.

Two questions here. I’m wondering what do you think LeBron James needs to do with the Lakers this upcoming season for each of you to consider it a successful campaign. Because he’s had this Finals or bust mentality for years now but I’m assuming that mentality changes a bit this year. So what does he have to do for it to be a successful season in his eyes. And secondly I think we can all agree we’re not going to have a Cleveland/Golden State matchup for the first time in a number of years, but is there any reason that anyone should not expect the Warriors to be back and have a very familiar ending to this season?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’m not sure how James would consider it a success. To me all a player or a team can do is play as hard as they can together with a level of intelligence. The other teams have an impact on how many games you win. So I’m not sure how he would consider it a success. But as a coach that’s how, if I was coaching him, that’s how would I consider it a success. Did we give what we had to the process. I think as far as Golden State, if you gave me, hey, you can take the field or you can bet Golden State, I would bet Golden State. I was shooter they would win last year until there was 20 games to go. Then I thought Houston would get them and I still think they would have if Paul hadn’t gotten hurt, but going into this year, if Golden State is into it and which they really weren’t last year in the regular season and still won 58 games, if they’re into it, they’re by far the best team with the best talent and will win.

MARK JACKSON: To answer your second question first, Golden State is the clear-cut favorite. I’m in agreement with Jeff. I do think in this league anything can happen so there’s some teams in the Western Conference, if clicking right, if healthy — injuries plays a role not just for the Warriors but throughout this league, so that can play a part in it. But the Warriors are the clear-cut favorite. To answer the LeBron part, I think it’s about the improvement that the Lakers show. The continuing to develop, I think the goal is to win a championship like there is a handful of teams in this league. You have the best player in the world, that’s the goal. Is it realistic? I’m not sure. But to show improvement, to show growth, and it’s a win already because the Lakers are once again relevant, now it’s about developing winning habits and progressing towards that march.

 Jeff, you spoke about Ben Simmons shooting and Mark I was just wondering if you wanted to add to this as well because it seemed like smart coaches like Brad Stevens last year in the Playoffs sort of took advantage of that and really crowded the 76ers shooters. Can you talk about Ben’s development, can he rise to that level if he’s not going to be able to shoot?

MARK JACKSON: Well, to me it’s just about continuing to put the time in and become a better shooter and he has already. He’s shown an incredible talent, he’s shown an incredible commitment to competing at a high level and I’m sure he’s going to become a better shooter. I think you can nitpick as a coach orphan and say what a guy can’t do as opposed to look at the great way he impacts the game and puts you in position to win night in and night out. So I wouldn’t overreact to it. They surrounded him with great shooting last year they still have very good shooting this year and I think it’s, you know, that team was a call away from winning on the road in the Playoffs. I wouldn’t over react. They’re in great position and the future’s awfully bright.

For both of you, the Jimmy Butler situation here, has it sullied his reputation so to speak where he as a player wherever he may go and how much will this have an impact on the Timberwolves in terms of cohesiveness, playing this year with all of this going on, especially since he’s not been traded yet.

MARK JACKSON: It’s going to have an impact, without question. We have already seen that. It’s awfully tough to have situations like they are having right now and not allow it to impact your team. So that’s the concern. They’re still talented enough to win games, but it wears on you. I think the quicker they make a decision the better off they will be down the road moving forward. Will it hurt Jimmy Butler? I think it has hurt him to an extent thus far, but at the end of the day you win in this league with talent, without question he’s a high level talent in this league, and someone will benefit from his presence in the lineup. But it does wear on you as a basketball team and the concern is will this mess up the Timberwolves growth from last year and their development moving forward.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I agree with Mark. I think it’s had a huge negative impact on Minnesota already. If you look at their performance in the preseason it’s been overwhelmingly poor. I think they’re caught in a quandary. I don’t think people are giving them good trade options. They’re trying to bully them into taking a bad deal. If they get that that would set their franchise back years. If they keep him and he’s not all in, which he seemingly is not, from what you hear, then that too is a bad option. So to me right now they have, they don’t have any good options on the table, unless somebody comes up and decides from what I’ve read about these offers, right, to make a reasonable offer. The offers I’ve seen in the papers, again I don’t know how true they are, but they’re certainly under whelming.

I would like to ask a question about Danilo Gallinari, how would you coach after all the injuries that he had, if you think that small forward can be still his most effective position or if he should move to the power forward and how do you see his evolution as a player through the years. And this is a question to Mark Jackson, Coach Larry Brown, now he’s in Italy and what you think about this kind of experience and what do you think about him at 78 years old being still a coach being still with that kind of will to improve and learn something, not only to teach.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: As far as Gallinari I think he’s paired with a good forward in with the Clippers in Tobias Harris, they’re both more three-four men, like small forwards and power forwards, which is an incredibly important position. I think Gallinari is so big that he, offensively, poses such matchup problems for their opponents, so I think’s terrific offensive player when healthy. I just think that unfortunately injuries have been a struggle and he has some defensive challenges, but offensively terrific player that you’re right, I think will morph more into a power forward as he plays longer and longer than at the small forward position due to his lateral quickness challenges but he’s a very good player.

MARK JACKSON: To answer your question about Coach Brown I did read something recently where he was coming back home for health issues just for some surgery, just thinking about him and praying for him and hope everything is fine. But everybody that knows him knows that he’s a lifer as far as a basketball coach and a basketball mind. It was a privilege for me to play for him a couple of times. He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s a class act that’s passionate about the game of basketball and has a gift to be able to teach the game. So I think it keeps him young and I think it’s a benefit for anybody that has the privilege of having Larry Brown be their head coach.

 Do you think the Clippers have enough to make a run to the Playoffs and also what do you think are the different tiers with regards to the Eastern and Western Conference?

MARK JACKSON: I think they’re a team that can be — they’re a sleeper team. They have veteran guys, they have an outstanding coach, they have added pieces, they play extremely hard, they’re versatile and they have the ability to defend and make plays around the floor. They can score at different positions. So I think that they have an opportunity to be a playoff team. I would not be surprised. Building off of their preseason I like the way that they have played, they have experienced success, it will be very interesting to see when the lights are on if they can continue to progress. But I see them as a team that’s more than capable of making it in the Playoffs.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I echo that, I think the Clippers, I like how they play, they play with great energy, passion, I like their team. Whether that translates into being a playoff team, it’s hard to say due to how many good teams there are Western conference.

For both of you, curious, given your years now doing broadcasts, what, if you could, if you were the product err of your broadcast or even had sort of larger responsibilities, what additional thing would you bring into a broadcast? What do you think, what’s the next iteration, basically, of a NBA broadcast that would be really interesting for fans?

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I don’t know how much I would bring into, but I would eliminate a few things and try to work with the NBA on limiting, on reducing the game time to a two hour time frame by reducing timeouts, eliminating halftime, putting ads on while the game is in play and at the free throw line like they do in soccer. I think with the free throws, there’s just so much dead time that you can take a lot of the ad time. And I would also eliminate the waste of time coaches interviews. I’ve never, I don’t understand why we ask coaches to do that.

MARK JACKSON: If I had a bigger position, the first thing I would do is sign Jeff Van Gundy to an extension and max him out.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: I like that. Max him out. Now we’re talking.

(Laughter.)

MARK JACKSON: The other thing, I really believe what Jeff was saying as far as the coaches, but I understand from a fan standpoint also the value in it, so I would probably try to make it more availability to coaches and to players, just to hear their input.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: And I want to circle back, the other thing I would do, but it would have to come from the league office, is I would like they used to under David Stern, with the TV, I hate using the term partner, because I don’t look at it that way, but with the client that spends all the money, I would make the players engage with the people that are spending all the money. And that was much more prevalent before and now it’s very rare.

Speaking of resigning, I was wondering what you guys thought of Hubie Brown signing a multi-year deal at 85 and whether the two of you are anticipate signing a new deal when you’re 85.

MARK JACKSON: I’m sure I could speak for both of us and hope we’re still alive at 85. That will be a win in itself. But, it’s a true testament to Coach Brown and his life in basketball, well deserved contract extension, I know he probably has his eyes on the extension that he’ll sign at 87. The guy is a tremendous example, he’s impacted both of us as TV guys and as coaches and as basketball lifers. So he’s a Hall of Fame coach, analyst, but more importantly a Hall of Fame individual.

JEFF VAN GUNDY: Yeah, I agree. If I had taken the injury he took last year, at 55, I would have been out for the year. This guy, he’s amazing. Like he’s smarter than me, he’s tougher than me, he makes more sense than I do, like I couldn’t be more impressed with Coach Brown and like he’s an icon at ESPN. Really, really an honor to be able to watch him work.

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