The Finals on ABC Media Conference Call Transcript


The Finals on ABC Media Conference Call Transcript

Earlier today, ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy discussed the NBA Finals on a conference call with members of the media. The NBA Finals tip off exclusively on ABC this Thursday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET between the San Antonio Spurs and the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. Van Gundy will join Mike Breen – the voice of The Finals – and reporter Doris Burke to provide commentary throughout The Finals on ABC. Full coverage details were announced in a press release earlier today.

Here is the replay of today’s conference call.

JEFF VAN GUNDY:  I’m looking forward to the Finals. I think Miami [coming off] a hard‑fought series, I’ll be very interested to see San Antonio’s layoff, if that hurts them early in Game 1, and if Miami’s hard‑fought series has kept them in a better rhythm or they are a little bit tired going into Game 1.

I think that, to me, is always intriguing when you have two teams with so much dissimilar rest.  I’m really looking forward to watching that, how it plays out in Game 1.  But I think you couldn’t have two teams that are more of what the NBA should be all about:  Great team play, great individual players and obviously great, great coaches, as well.

Q.  What would you look at as Miami’s greatest matchup concern in this series, and also, could you see Duncan and Splitter giving them the type of problems that West and Hibbert did?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I think, you know, Tony Parker’s pick‑and‑roll game is obviously as good as any point guard’s pick‑and‑roll game in the NBA.  So it’s not an individual matchup.

But the way that San Antonio plays, where Parker has such great offensive energy, he’ll hit you not with just one pick‑and‑roll.  But it will be a pick‑and‑roll and he’ll make a pass; if they don’t have anything, they will go into a dribble hand off; if they don’t get anything off that, right into another pick‑and‑roll for Parker.

So you have to defend multiple actions almost every trip down the court, and Parker to me has such great offensive stamina and offensive energy that from a team standpoint, I think that will be the toughest cover that they have.

I think San Antonio has great roster flexibility.  I think it’s really a well put together roster.  They can play, you know, really big, and then they can down size and play a shooting four as well as to really stretch the floor without getting too small when they put Bonner in.  I think Boris Diaw is somewhat in between a big guy and a shooter.  He’s not a great shooter but he is a great passer.

So I think their front line flexibility is absolutely terrific and a great advantage against most teams.

Q.  As you travel around to games, how have you seen fans view the Heat evolve over these last three seasons?  Do you feel it’s changed some over these years?

VAN GUNDY:  I do.  I think in general, the Heat in that first year were loved in Miami and for the most part, outside of Miami, were looked upon negatively.  Only because, you know, nothing I think that happened on the court; I think it was all the off‑the‑court build‑up and how they put their team together.

But once they lost the championship, and some were happy that they did; I think when they won the Championship the next year, and we saw them I thought handle themselves and the negative attention so well for two years, I thought that they became, like most champions, really respected.

That Game 6 win in Boston, I think people really ‑‑ they are down 3‑2, to go into Boston, to have LeBron James play such a dominant game and win that, after coming back in the previous series down 2‑1 to Indiana and Dwyane and James played so spectacularly; and then in the Finals, down one game to nothing and went four straight against a great Oklahoma City team.  I think those three straight comebacks really were respected by most basketball fans, and I think that changed the dynamic on how Miami was viewed.

And then going into this year, being the defending champion, winning 27 in a row; again, I think all that negativity from the average fan is way in the past.

Q.  How would you evaluate where you are regarding a possible return to coaching against staying in broadcasting?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, you know, I think when you’re talking about broadcasting, I’ll never feel as comfortable broadcasting as I do in coaching because I’m just not ‑‑ I’m still a novice at it.  Thankfully I work with the Tim Duncan of broadcasting in Mike Breen; his understated greatness really helps out a novice like myself.

You know, as far as coaching, in particular, listen, if anything ever makes sense for a team and for myself where there is a fit of vision and values, I’d obviously consider it.  And ESPN has been, you know, so generous in allowing me to do that.

But I also realize just how good I have it with the job I have right now.  I don’t take that for granted.  I enjoy working with the people I work with.  I enjoy being around the game.  I’ve just been a big beneficiary of Mike and Tim, the producer, to help me try to get a little bit better every year.

Q.  If you had to sort of go with your gut today, do you imagine you’ll be back in broadcasting next year?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, you know, that’s the job I have right now, so I would think so.

One thing I’ve learned is I don’t look too far ahead.  I don’t try to plan my life out.  I have enough trouble getting ready to go to the airport today.  So for me to plan too far ahead, I don’t do that.  I just enjoy what I’m doing.

My dad gave me good, sound, solid advice when I was coming out of college, and he always told me, “Don’t worry about your next job.  Just do the job you have as well as you can.”  That served me pretty well and I’m trying to stick with that.

Q.  What do you think Popovich and Spoelstra think about having to be interviewed during the game and what do you think of that concept?  Do you think it’s a gimmick? 

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I think there’s no coach that looks forward to it.  I think some hide it better than others.  I don’t consider it a gimmick.

But I also don’t ‑‑ because they are distracted and they are trying to, you know, get to their time‑out huddle to do what their job is ‑‑ I used to like it when they had the boom mics in the huddle because you didn’t have to do anything different.  I mean, the mic was different in there but you as a coach didn’t have to do anything different.  And because they are distracted, I don’t think those are particularly revealing.

I think what would be as good is interviewing the head official; what does he see what’s happening in the first quarter.  You know, what are they looking for; what is the scouting report on these two teams.

And you know, like when my brother did it, and sometimes with Pop does it, I think it would be just as interesting interviewing a random fan, because they are just not into it.  It’s almost become funny how short Gregg is.  I think he thinks he’s [not] getting paid by the word, because really, some of his stuff is very, very funny; short, and to the point.

Q.  You coached against Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich many years ago.  Are you blown away by the longevity in a league in which referendums are passed down each season and where people like them were able to stay this relevant, this contemporary, this long?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, sustained greatness is the hardest greatness to achieve in any line of work.  And to see Duncan playing so well at this age speaks to his level of dedication, but I also think it shows his willingness to change.

So the offense has become more and more pick‑and‑roll centric versus. So if the team had not bought that change, I don’t think they or he would be nearly as effective.

When Gregg Popovich and the Spurs got that first pick right with Tim Duncan, you’re always looking for your best player to also embody the highest level of character.  So if you combine great talent and great character, which Duncan most certainly does; and then you combine it with great coaching, you have something that can stand on its own for a long period of time.

I don’t know if I could respect anyone more than I respect Gregg Popovich as a coach or Tim Duncan as a player.  I love his teamness.  I love how he deals with his teammates.  I love even how he deals with his frustration.

Think about it, Gregg Popovich sits him out down the stretch of a playoff game, and how many stars, Top‑10 players of all time, would not happily, but would accept that decision and allow Gregg Popovich to do what he thought was best for the team in that situation.  A lot of stars would try to hijack that situation and make it about how they were disrespected.  You never hear that with Tim Duncan, and I have such great respect for how he’s conducted himself.

Q.  The idea of great men make great organizations; you worked for Pat Riley, obviously seen what Popovich has done.  Is this a testament to the owners putting the right people in charge and how much difference that makes for an organization?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, every great ownership or every great team has great leadership and that starts with great ownership.  You look at the two owners, Peter Holt and Micky Arison, I don’t think you could have two better owners in the Finals; humble, not seeking the limelight for the success of their organization, and then the two men in charge in Pat Riley and Gregg Popovich, tremendous; and then the people that those great leaders hire in Eric Spoelstra and R.C. Buford, and then the people those people hire.  So you have people that stand for something, they stand for putting great people around them.

Obviously talent is important, but talent without basketball character will not put you in a position to sustain your excellence, and that’s exactly what both of these teams have done:  Sustained excellence because they have the right pieces in place.

Q.  What is your level of understanding of Dwyane Wade’s injured knee, how hurt is he in your mind?  And two, could you contrast the two coaches in these Finals, and are they alike or different, and if you were filling in one of those boxes that if you were evaluating a team forward, backcourt, center, would you check Popovich’s box as the one that San Antonio has the advantage because of his experience?

VAN GUNDY:  What was that first question again?  Oh, Dwyane Wade.

To Wade and Miami’s credit, they are not talking about whatever health issues he may be having.  Now, the media are trying to give him the excuse on a nightly basis, but he’s not biting, and I have great respect for that.  And I truly have no idea if he’s fine or if he’s a little bit unhealthy or a lot unhealthy.  I have no idea.

I know this, though:  San Antonio is not overlooking him.  He played a dominant effort game last night.  The six offensive rebounds, the cuts to the rib; I think he’s figured out how to be successful even when he didn’t feel totally comfortable offensively.

As far as who gets the checked box with coaches, I’ve always laughed at that a little bit, because so much of who gets the checked box and who has been around longer; listen, most coaches are great.  Popovich obviously has had the opportunity to do it for longer.

But if you give Spoelstra 17 years with LeBron James, which may be a little hard, because I think James will be in his mid‑40s; but if you did that with a great player with great character, he would also have that long period of success.

So one thing do I know:  It’s easier to talk about how they are similar versus how they are dissimilar.  They are both going to the Hall of Fame.  They both have tremendous respect from the coaches they coach against, and they both have a level of humility that I believe shows NBA coaching in the most positive light possible.  The one difference is Eric was going to be a spy in the Soviet Union (laughter).

Q.  The fact that you have gotten enjoyment in broadcasting and stayed close to the staple, has it made it easier for you to stay out of coaching?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, the thing about broadcasting is the lifestyle of broadcasting is great.  Like you said, you get to stay around the game.  Now, it’s not as rewarding to me as coaching, but it’s also not as disheartening at times, either.  So you have a more even‑keel lifestyle I think.  That’s been great.

Like I said, I’m more than fortunate, more than fortunate with the job I have.  I love to watch NBA basketball.  I love to talk NBA basketball.  And to the irritation of others, I like to talk about how I think NBA basketball can improve its game, too.  Like I said, I’m very, very fortunate.

Q.  Wanted to ask you what you thought the Thunder needed to do to get back to the Finals next year other than having a healthy Russell Westbrook. 

VAN GUNDY:  I think the positive of Westbrook getting hurt, and there’s not many positives.

A, I think everyone who was critical of Westbrook, just how important and how good he was.  Gave them a better evaluation going forward about how good some of their younger players like Reggie Jackson could be.  I was impressed with what he was able to do, and I think they have got to be excited about his future.

I think the Kevin Martin issue, did they sign him back or did they ‑‑ how do they fortify that bench; is it Kevin Martin or is it younger players like Lamb who they already have and spend their money someplace else.

But other than Westbrook getting back healthy and that resolvement of the Martin situation, I think they will be back in the Finals if healthy, and I think they will be the favorite to win it all.

Q.  Do you think that players such as LeBron and Duncan, how do they view their own legacies and how do you view their legacies?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I think the really good ones don’t start skipping steps and start thinking of how they are going to be viewed till long after they call it a career.

So I think, you know, they are just locked into the present moment that it is very hard to do what they have done, and one of the reasons they have been able to do what they have done is because they have stayed in the present moment.

I think from my viewpoint of them, I mean, they are going to go down as two of the greatest to ever play.  Duncan’s longevity has been incredible.  His ability to come in as a power forward and then evolve into this center, you know, I think is a testament to just his willingness to adapt and change to the changes in the NBA game and their roster and how they play the game offensively.

I think that, you know, what you’re always looking for in the great players is not only how great they were individually, how much team success they had, but also how they handled themselves under the everyday scrutiny and I think both guys have done a remarkable job with that.

Q.  Do you see this playing out as a physical battle or San Antonio, if they are going to win, they have to be physical like Indiana was?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I just don’t think too many teams play big anymore, so they can’t really be physical, and the NBA rules really don’t allow it as much.  But I think the beauty of San Antonio’s roster construction is that they can play big with Splitter and Duncan, or they can downsize, make more four‑out, one‑in type of action, with Matt Bonner and Diaw.  So I think that flexibility gives them the ability to adapt to whatever the game situation calls for.

The hardest thing in the NBA is to find, you know, the best player that you can build around or best players, and in San Antonio’s case, it’s Duncan, Parker and to a lesser extent now, Ginobili.  And then it’s as important ‑‑ and this is where San Antonio has thrived:  It’s surrounding them with the pieces that specific roles that you need to win, and they have done a remarkable job.  R.C. Buford and his staff, to me, have done a remarkable job in picking the right guys to go around the best players.

Q.  There was a report yesterday that talks with the Clippers had become, quote, I think dormant, was the word.  I wonder if you can touch on your interest in that job and also what about that job is so interesting

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I made it my personal and ever‑changing philosophy to really stay away from specific questions about jobs.  I think if individual teams want to talk about their job searches, that’s great.

But for me, I don’t think it does myself or any teams any good by me being out there and talking about interest level or their interest level or anything like that.

But the Clipper job in general is a great job.  I think you have seen with their acquisition of players, they have done a good job building their roster.  Obviously it’s imperative that they re‑sign Chris Paul, and it seems like that will happen.  They have great practice facility, great arena, a fan base that has really grown and swelled.

And so to me, they are coming off a record‑breaking year win‑wise, road win‑wise, won their division, and just met a very, very good Memphis team in the first round.  And Blake Griffin gets a little banged up, and it doesn’t take much to swing the tide in these playoff series that are so tight and so close.

Q.  Popovich and LeBron have expressed a lot of respect for each other over the years.  I was just curious, as a coach, the level LeBron is at right now, is there anything that a coach can design over a period of, say, a week or ten days, that Popovich has had to make somebody more uncomfortable for somebody who is playing at a level that LeBron is playing?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I think you go back to your base defense and your habits, and I think the only thing that ever makes a star uncomfortable is the individual match‑ups.

If you have a guy that has the belief, the instincts, the basketball IQ, the mental toughness it’s going it take to withstand the assault that he’ll bring, the length; so all those characteristics, you have a guy like that that wants the challenge.  And if you have a guy like that or a couple guys like that, then you can do a couple things.  Not anything he hasn’t seen but to try take away what he does the very best, you can try to do that.

But it starts with who do you have to matchup and who wants to be locked into that head‑to‑head battle.  And then the scheme is almost secondary.

But the thing about San Antonio is they have good habits defensively.  I love Kawhi Leonard.  He is like the human mute button:  He doesn’t say a lot, but his game talks very loudly.  He’s improved dramatically offensively.  He’s always been ‑‑ he came into the league an aggressive defender, and so I think they have a matchup that gives them a chance.

Now, you’re not obviously stopping LeBron James, but you want to try to at least make him work for it, reduce his efficiency somewhat.  You know, similar to Chicago; I think he shot like 43 percent against Chicago.  Most people would go home and celebrate that if they shot 43 percent against a great Chicago defense, but that’s the small reduction in efficiency that you’re looking for against a great player to try to swing the pendulum your way in any one game.

Q.  I wanted to ask you about Chris Andersen.  Can you describe the value of the X‑factorness of the Birdman?

VAN GUNDY:  Do I have to call him ‘Birdman’?  All right, I’m going to stay with Andersen.

Well, listen, he plays really hard and with great energy, and he does it every night.  And energy and effort is an NBA skill.  Consistent energy and effort is hard to find in big guys, and then the added skill that he has is, he can catch and finish.  He has good hands.  He finishes at the rim.

And he has some things he doesn’t do as well obviously.  He doesn’t play huge minutes, but his minutes that he does play are impactful, and it was a big, big acquisition when they got him, and it was ‑‑ everybody saw it as a gamble when they did it, and it’s turned into a stroke of genius.

Q.  As a former coach, do you buy into the fact that a player can get a crowd going so much that it affects the energy of the players on the court or is it just mumbo jumbo, if you will?

VAN GUNDY:  Mumbo jumbo, to me.  Get the crowd into it ‑‑ I never understood like the players waving their arms to get up.  How about make a good play and then the crowd does get up.

If you are going to be impacted by loud noise ‑‑ what’s the difference between loud noise when you are home and loud noise when you are on the road?  I don’t understand how noise would be a factor.

Now, NFL, I get it because they are not making noise when their offense is on the field and then they are making noise, that might.  But the noise is pretty constant in an NBA game.  I’ve never understood the whole concept of getting the crowd into it or taking the crowd out of it.  I don’t understand that.

Q.  My question is just about maybe the perception of Pop ‑‑ I remember when Pop got some brush back for naming himself the coach when it was going bad in ’95 or ’96, whatever it was and the perception of Spoelstra when he started was just a Riley puppet and LeBron sort of landed in his lap a couple years later.  Do either of these guys get the appreciation level that you might think they deserve?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I think Pop does.  But I think that whole notion that, you know, well, if you add Tim Duncan ‑‑ name me a coach in any sport who didn’t have a great player attached to their name.  I mean, of course.  But the quality that I admire so much about both guys is that they are able to get the most out of that great talent.

And I think because Pop has done it for so very long, I think he does get the credit he deserves.  I mean, this is one of the great coaches to ever coach a team sport.  The longevity, the creativity, the ever‑evolving change in their roster and also who is the best and featured player on their roster; I think their ball movement sets a great standard for NBA teams to try to achieve.

And most importantly, I love the class that they demonstrate when they play.  I love how they handle winning.  I love how they handle losing, and I think that starts from the very top with ownership and obviously Pop.

Eric to me has never gotten in his short time, the credit that he deserves, particularly those first two years that he took over.  He’s taken over in a pretty down period in Miami Heat basketball, and with Haslem and Wade, Wade obviously being his best player, but the cornerstone of Haslem, that they were able to win as much as they did the first two years showed his true greatness in coaching.

And then how he’s done these last three years, now being in the Finals three consecutive years, and actually delivering more than ever could have been expected with James; and to reach three consecutive Finals is an incredible feat.

And Eric is still in the phase where he gets more blame for their losses than credit for their wins, but he’s going to the Hall of Fame.  He’s that good.  His even‑keel demeanor, his humility, I think helps him really get the most out of his best players and you know, it’s fun to watch his teams, fun to watch Pop’s teams.  I just love the grace and humility both teams play with.

Q.  As a very quick follow, when you watch the Heat now, do you still see the effect that Stan had ‑‑ which Spoe speaks of often?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, Spoe doesn’t eat the same food Stan does, so that’s good.  He doesn’t eat Oreos by the package.  He still seems like he’s relatively together.

No, I think ‑‑ I don’t know how that has manifested itself, but I know that Stan really appreciates Eric’s friendship.  And always, even when Eric was in the video room way back, he used to rave to me about the greatness that this guy had in him.

Watching from afar, Stan was absolutely correct.  Pat Riley, when he could have gone out and hired other coaches, I think also knew what he had in Eric Spoelstra and it has proven to be another great decision by Pat Riley.

Q.  Were you surprised about Jason Kidd’s retirement after watching him in the playoffs and where do you think he rates all‑time among point guards?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I don’t know if you’re ever surprised that a 40‑year‑old retires from playing.  You know it’s coming at some point.

But I thought Kidd, his ability to age, was remarkable; in a backcourt position, to take on a microfracture surgery, play heavy minutes, 40 years old and sort of change his game from a blur in the open court to more of a two‑guard type who defended twos and multiple positions; I just love the way he handled his evolvement throughout his career.

And Kidd, to me, when you talk about like the winning that he was able to impact in Phoenix, and then taking a downtrodden New Jersey Nets franchise to two consecutive Finals; and then win it in Dallas and then come to New York and play a big role and them winning a division title and winning 54 games, man, this guy individually put up great numbers.  But the winning that he impacted, I think tells the true story about Jason Kidd’s greatness.

Q.  Considering what the Pacers did with the Heat, taking it to seven games, does it put the Knicks in a different light, maybe a little more favorable, or not really?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I never was on that bandwagon that their season was anything but a success.  You know, it’s steps in the NBA.  You don’t usually go from really bad to championships.  There’s intermediate steps, and I thought the Knicks took a big step this year and I thought the Pacers were very good.

And let’s face it, Game 1 swung the whole series.  Indiana took home court and were able to win three at home, and that’s how quickly home‑court advantage can go if you don’t play well.  Six months of effort to get the extra home game, lose it in two and a half hours.

Q.  What do you think of the Brooklyn Nets situation, and what kind of coach do you think this team needs to maximize what they have on the roster?

VAN GUNDY:  Well, I think they maximized their roster very well last year.  I thought the only down part of the year was when Brook Lopez was injured earlier in the year.  Unfortunately for Avery Johnson, who I think is an outstanding coach, that little downturn cost him his job.

And having been a coach, I know how difficult that situation is, and I thought P.J. Carlesimo and his staff did a really good job, a fantastic job, in guiding them to 49 wins.  And then unfortunately for them, they lost a huge lead in Chicago in the first round of that playoff series, and then I think they probably all regret their first half performance in Game 7 at home.  That was a game that I’m sure that they will all stay incredibly disappointed about throughout the summer, because they were ‑‑ they had better talent at that point than Chicago did with all their injuries and they didn’t take advantage of that.

As far as what coach they have, obviously they have a very ‑‑ an ownership that wants to win badly.  To me, that’s where it starts.  They put the resources into winning.  I think they need some other components to add to their roster to give them a chance to move up into that championship‑caliber team category, and I think they are going to get a really good coach, because it’s a really good situation.

And so it will be interesting to see who they pick out of the whole batch of really good coaches, who they decide on.  But it all starts with the players.  You can change coaches, but if you want different results, then there has to be more change than just the coach.  There’s got to be roster manipulation or tweaks, or, if you don’t have that, then what are their present‑day players willing to do differently to get even better results.

Q.  One of the criticisms of Deron Williams was that he wasn’t the type of leader that that team needed.  Do you think that was a fair criticism?

VAN GUNDY:  Not from what I saw.  I saw Deron Williams, particularly in the second half of the season, play with the energy and the intensity that NBA fans had grown accustomed to seeing.  He’s a hard‑playing, highly‑skilled person.

Now, everybody leads differently, and unless you’re there every day, I wouldn’t know if he’s a vocal leader or if he’s a little bit quieter.  But what I do know resonates with all players is not as much what is said, but what is done.

And to me, everybody I’ve ever talked to said Deron Williams was very good in practice.  He practiced every day, he practiced hard, and you see that in the games, as well.

So I think he’s a very good leader.  And the final point on that is often times it’s not as much about how someone leads as it is as much as who they are leading.  If you have the right guys that want to be led and want to be pulling the rope in the same direction.

Q.  How much do you buy into the speculation that we could be seeing the end to this Miami Heat team with LeBron possibly going to Cleveland ‑‑ how much do you buy into the speculation?

VAN GUNDY:  None.  None.  The rumors that surround pro sports are ‑‑ I wish somebody kept a percentage of how many were actually right.  I always wonder who ‘the sources close’ to the Heat are, because the Heat and the San Antonio Spurs are very, very quiet organizations.  They don’t talk to a lot of outside people and reveal their innermost thoughts.

So I always have a sense of distrust for sources say and rumors and innuendo because I don’t see them as usually coming true.

Q.  Talking about the Clippers and the Nets jobs, and there’s been debate about which is the better job because they are the two best on the market and both have different strengths to them, but from an evaluation standpoint, which do you think gives whoever they do hire the best chance to compete for a championship?

VAN GUNDY:  You’re talking Clippers and the Nets?  Well, I think that’s hard to discern without knowing the addition to the rosters, draft picks, how well they performed.  I think certainly if they re‑sign Chris Paul, the Clippers have a greater depth of talent right now.

But they are also in the West, which is a much more difficult conference.  I think the ownership of the Nets has proven time and time again that they are willing to now, you know, try to get elite talent, but how do they go about it, because of their cap situation.  That’s a little bit challenging.

And they are playing against ‑‑ they are in a conference that is weaker, but they have got a lot of people coming back next year off of injury:  Danny Granger with the Pacers; Derrick Rose, Luol Deng with the Bulls; Rondo with the Celtics.

So the Eastern Conference could toughen up, too, so it’s really hard to determine.  I would say both are not far away.  It just takes the right moves.

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