Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Finals Media Call with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson

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Transcript: ESPN 2015 NBA Finals Media Call with Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson

With the NBA Finals upon us, ESPN NBA analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson, also former Warriors head coach, took part in an ESPN media call. The Q&A focused on the 2015 NBA Finals matchup between the Golden State Warriors and MVP Stephen Curry against the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

The NBA Finals Game 1 will begin on Thursday, June 4 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC. Van Gundy and Jackson will join Mike Breen and Doris Burke to form the official commentary team for the Finals series exclusively on ABC.

Also as a note, this season marks the milestone 10th time that Mike Breen has served as the voice of the NBA Finals, a run which has included all six LeBron James finals appearances.

More details on the NBA Finals on ABC, click here.

Click here for the replay of today’s media call.

Q.  How far have the Warriors come in the past few years and just how bad did it look that night Chris Mullin’s jersey was retired when the fans booed so strongly.

MARK JACKSON:  Well, it seems like yesterday, and at the same time, it seems like a long time ago.  It says a lot about the incredible fan base that has been loyal through thick and thin.  It says a lot about ownership, about management, and coaching.  That includes guys on my staff and this current staff.  And it’s about the players.

It’s been an incredible run for them, and they’re on the cusp of having a chance to win it all.  It’s a lot of hands and a lot of recognition across the board.  You’ve got to give Steve Kerr and his staff a lot of credit and this group.  They’re looking to seal the deal.  But it’s been a heck of a run for the entire organization and as good a fan base as you’ll find.

Q.  Mark, you seemed to get a little emotional the other night during the trophy ceremony when the Warriors clinched. What has it been like doing their games this year? Have you ever thought, ‘What if I had stayed?’

JACKSON:  No.  To me, people blew out the emotional ‑‑ a guy came over and said thank you.  If you came to my church, you would say, ‘Well, he cries every week.’  People say thank you.  People show appreciation.  I’m an emotional guy.  That was all it was.  One guy saying thank you and me appreciating his thoughts and his feelings.

Other than that, there’s no emotion.  To me, I’m calling games between two teams, just like The Finals.  I read articles that I shouldn’t be doing it.  To me, it was laughable.  I’m absolutely winning and having the time of my life calling games with incredible friends and incredible people and working for an incredible organization.  So it’s been a blast for me.  I’m excited about having the opportunity to be part of an incredible group to call a spectacular Finals.

JEFF VAN GUNDY:  I just want to add something.  He bought me dinner the other night, and I said thank you, and the dude was bawling when I said thanks to him like that.  This guy, he is emotional.  He’s crazy.

Q.  Now I want to know what Mark Jackson bought Jeff Van Gundy for dinner.

VAN GUNDY:  McDonald’s No. 7.  He went all out.

Q.  Mark, how would you self‑evaluate how forthcoming you’ve been with the TV audience regarding the Warriors?

JACKSON:  Well, to me, it’s an assignment, and my job is to tell the story.  To me, it’s easy, and to me, it’s what I’m paid to do and what I’ve dreamt about doing from day one.  Sometimes people don’t like the stories, but it is what it is.  So to me, I absolutely feel like no matter, if I’m calling a game between my brothers or my parents, the facts are the facts.  The story dictates itself to me, and I relay the message to the viewers as good as I possibly can.

That’s going to be my job whether it’s the Warriors or anybody else.  I think the best thing going for guys like Jeff and I is when you look at a Warriors‑Houston series, any game that we call, both teams’ fan bases think that we’re being biased.  So you get your people that think I’m against the Warriors, and then you get your people that think, oh, I’m rooting for the Houston Rockets.  And I think at the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for from people watching the game.

Q.  Jeff, could you identify with what Mark’s assignment is the last two rounds for the Warriors, given you were very up front in your feelings about calling The Finals when Stan was there.

VAN GUNDY:  Yeah, it was ‑‑ for me, it was extremely challenging because I absolutely wanted the Magic to win.  I wanted the shots for the Lakers to roll out.  I wanted the shots to go for Orlando.  But Mark made a good point.  Those were my emotions going in, but the game dictates what you say.  You don’t make up a story.  The game plays out, and you tell what you see despite whatever bias I may have had in that series, wanting Stan’s team to win.  The game tells itself.

You know what’s interesting too, and Mark was talking about how both sides think you want the other team to win sometimes, but you asked an interesting question.  I thought how forthright is somebody?  I think a similarly good question is how forthright does the audience want the broadcasters to be?  Because when you tell your truth, there’s a lot of anger that comes out.  Even within ‑‑ like I think it’s a good question to ask TV people too.  How much truth do they want to be told?  How much truth does the league want told?  Because the truth isn’t just a positive truth.  If you’re going to tell the truth, you would be telling a lot of positive and some negative.

So I think that question is interesting on a lot of different levels.

Q.  When David Blatt took the job, LeBron hadn’t come back yet. It was a very different situation. What do you think he’s done throughout the season to allow him to find the success that he has? 

VAN GUNDY:  I’m amazed that the coaching piñata that is David Blatt has succeeded because no one was ‑‑ no one was giving this guy any credit.  It was like, throughout the course of the season, every leaked article that came out was attacking this guy’s talent, acumen, abilities, and he took all the blame, and the players took all the credit for the wins.

So now I do not see those same people writing the story, ‘Oh my, I was saying he couldn’t do it,’ and now he has done it, and here he is having his team in The Finals.  Chicago pushed them, but they pretty much swept the other two opponents.

He was masterful.  I think it was masterful in that he simplified the game.  He might have had one idea of how he was going to come in and play, and then he saw what the players could do, should do, and were willing to do, and he modified his approach, and it’s been very successful.

I think he and David Griffin really have shown tremendous leadership qualities throughout this turbulent year.  David, in his unwavering support, without giving a vote of confidence, but like this unwavering support that all the coaching turnover was done in Cleveland, that they were going to stay the course, even when they struggled.  And David Blatt doing the same thing.

When he got a good roster, when they added Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith and Mozgov and they got a good roster, you saw what he could do with a good roster.  They were a dominant team from January on.

And I’m really happy for him because he really faced unwarranted and unjust criticism through sources and all those types of articles that are meant to try to demean and diminish, and I really applaud him for that.

Q.  What are your thoughts on what the Rockets need to do between this season and next season to perhaps take that final step toward The Finals.

JACKSON:  They had a very good year.  I thought Kevin McHale did an outstanding job all season long with a team that wasn’t totally healthy, having guys in and out of the lineup, not having Dwight Howard for a huge amount of the season, playing without two starters.  So I think they have a lot to be looking forward towards next year and what they were able to accomplish this year.

I think it’s about ‑‑ James Harden alluded to it ‑‑ getting another playmaker.  He was the one guy who had the ability to create his own shot on the offensive end and made it easier ‑‑ when you’re in the playoffs and you have time to try to dictate where and when he hurt you and where and when help is coming, it’s an easier task to go against, and he’s an outstanding weapon.  But I think adding another piece on the offensive end will make life so much easier for him.

Having a healthy Dwight Howard from day one is also going to play a huge part of it.  The future is bright for them.  They’ve done a very good job of continuing to build and continuing to progress.  This was an upgrade off of last year’s performance.  Now it’s building on it.

VAN GUNDY:  I second Mark’s initial thought that they had a tremendous year, and Kevin McHale’s leadership through the rough waters of injury, I thought, was really so fun to watch, living there.

I think they have a lot of good pieces.  They have an owner that’s serious about winning.  They’ve got a general manager that is unafraid in pursuit of a championship.  And in the last four years, they’ve gotten ‑‑ they traded for an MVP, which is nearly impossible to do, in James Harden, and they signed a free agent in Dwight Howard.   And I think Dwight Howard’s health and his habits are critical to them taking that next step.  This is a guy that on an every night basis should be the best center in the league, he can be, he’s proven it, and if he’s healthy and locked in, he can be dominant.

You can’t just wait until the playoffs to try to get locked in or to establish habits, and I think Daryl has always been bold.  Trying to improve their team, but getting Motiejunas back, I think, is critical.  Beverley, obviously, is free agency.  I don’t know where that takes him, but Motiejunas was a huge loss, and how they were able to cover up for those injuries was really impressive.

Q.  Did you do okay on the flooding, by the way?

VAN GUNDY:  I waited for 40 minutes, and then I ran into people who had been taking the train that were friends of ours, and so I got in the car with them.  I got on the highway, 59 South was reduced to two lanes by the flooding, but it wasn’t bad.  But when I got off and got into the neighborhood, theirs was fine.  They were over by Rice.  But when I went into West U, it was bad.  I did make it home, but it was tough.

 Q.  Mark, what do you think of Andrew Bogut’s role with the Warriors this season?

JACKSON:  He has played well.  They’ve had a total team effort.  They’ve done a great job of buying in and following the game plan and filling the role that is the blueprint of Steve Kerr and his staff.  Collectively, they’ve got to be extremely proud of what each and every one of them have done to put them in position to possibly win a championship.

Q.  As a former coach of the big man, have you seen him have a better season than in the past couple years or so or about the same?

JACKSON:  Well, he was healthy this year.

Q.  A lot of basketball minds have said the Warriors would not have reached this stage without the groundwork that you laid. I think that’s pretty clear.  Do you enjoy that role of being a change agent on the court, the way you try to do it through your church service?  I’m wondering if you would entertain another team that needs a cultural shift? 

JACKSON:  Well, I’m having a blast calling games, and that’s my sole focus right now.  As far as what the Warriors are doing, it’s a credit to the players, the organization, Steve Kerr and his staff.  They’ve had an outstanding year, and, again, they’re in position to, obviously, play The Finals and in position to perhaps win it all.  Give them all the credit.

Q.  Mark, does it feel awkward sitting there watching the guys that you coached a couple years ago take these steps further?

JACKSON:  Great question, and the answer is no.  As a kid, I dreamt of playing in the NBA, I dreamt of coaching in the NBA, and I dreamt of announcing in the NBA, and I’ve fulfilled each and every one of those roles, and I’m extremely blessed.  At the end of the day, I am absolutely winning, and I thank God for the platform that I have.

I’ve seen people fade to black when they were fired or let go.  I’m fortunate enough to have a job and a topnotch job working with incredible friends that I’ve known for over 25 years.

ESPN and ABC have been great to me.  So we move on.  It’s absolutely ‑‑ and I’m not exaggerating.  It’s easy for me.  As I told Jeff, I’m too blessed to be stressed.  I’m about to be part of an incredible team calling another NBA Finals.  Doesn’t get any better.

Q.  What do you guys see could play a major role that we’re not talking a lot about yet?

JACKSON:  I just think we know the stars or the superstars.  When you win these series and you win these games, the supporting cast, the little things they do defensively, offensively, timely hoops, timely plays, that will be the thing that will tell the story.  I think both teams have done an outstanding job of not just winning because of LeBron James or Steph Curry.  It’s been a total team effort, including the staffs, and they should be applauded.

VAN GUNDY:  Yeah, it’s Tristan Thompson versus Draymond Green.  I can’t wait.  I love how both people approach their jobs, the tenacity, intensity, passion that they provide their teams.  Thompson is versatile between four and five.  I think moving LeBron to four really makes them difficult, and when he’s teamed with Thompson at the five, really hard to guard their pick‑and‑rolls.  I love Thompson’s ability to switch.

And then you’ve got Draymond Green, who everybody now knows about his defense, but the next thing they’re going to know about after this series is how well he passes the ball.  George Karl said it a couple weeks ago, and it’s really true, you can never have too much passing on the floor, and when you have passing bigs, guys who can make quick decisions, like Green can, you really have a chance to be special on offense.

His ascension to playing huge minutes, to me, has been obviously great for his career, as he’s going to be a max guy, and I just love watching him compete, and that’s why I’m so interested in the first eight minutes of each half that they’ll be matched up for sure.  I just can’t wait.

Q.  Jeff, are you reliving any kind of good vibe memories as a kid growing up in the East Bay? Do you think back on those days of Rick Barry and stuff?  How big of a Warriors fan were you?  Did you attend games? 

VAN GUNDY:  My dad coached in the area.  He was a St. Mary’s assistant, Alhambra High School varsity coach, Cal State Hayward, Cabrillo College.  So that was his four stops, and we stayed in the same house the whole time, 1012 Blue Ridge Drive, Martinez, California, 94553.  So at that time, we would maybe make a game a year, but I often went to sleep listening to the Warriors, Jeff Mullins, George Johnson.  Everyone remembers Rick Barry, obviously, but Charles Dudley, the Hopper, there were like ‑‑ you know, it was a great time.

Everybody remembers the championship.  I thought we were a better team the next year, and we lost the Western Conference Finals, I think, to Phoenix.  I thought we had a better team.  So when I walked back into ‑‑ I don’t even know what it was called back then or if it was called anything, but when I walked back into the arena, I think the two things I think of, left field $1 tickets for the A’s back in the day, and I think of Rick Barry’s wizardry.  It was that good.

Q.  The Thunder hired a college coach in Billy Donovan, of course, and the Bulls are poised to hire Fred Hoiberg. How difficult do you think it is for a college coach to make the transition to the NBA? 

JACKSON:  Well, I know both guys, played with both guys, Fred in Indiana and Billy D. in New York and also against him growing up and then in college.  Both guys are class guys.  Both guys are very good hires.  And I’m sure that both guys are going to do an outstanding job.  I’m excited and happy for them, and I think, when people go back and say college coaches haven’t been successful; I played for one in Rick Pitino, who is an incredible coach, a Hall of Famer, and was successful in the NBA.

I believe that both of these guys, especially when you look at the teams that they’re taking over.  Some of these times, a lot of these college coaches take over bad teams.  These two guys, deservedly so, are taking over teams that are in position to ‑‑ obviously, Scott Brooks and Tom Thibodeau have done outstanding jobs of putting these teams where they are today, and they’re very fortunate.  I think both of these guys are going to do a very good job.

VAN GUNDY:  I agree with Mark.  I was fortunate enough to coach Bill for one year, my first year in college coaching, as a graduate assistant at Providence College, and we beat Mark’s team three times that year at St. John’s and made it to the Final Four.

I always said about Bill that ‑‑ it was Coach Pitino, Stu Jackson, Herb Sendek, who was just most recently at Arizona State, myself and Sean Kearney ‑‑ and I said Bill should have taken 10 percent of all future salaries of all of us because, by himself, he carried us to the Final Four, he and Coach Pitino.  It was the worst talented Final Four team that has ever been assembled.  This guy did it on his own.

Fortunately for me, I’ve remained good friends with Bill.  He is, in so many ways, like Scott Brooks, incredible class, dignity, grace.  You can’t have a better representative of an organization.  So to me, he’s just a tremendous guy, just like Scott was, and I think it’s going to work well for him.

I don’t know Fred as well, but I know him somewhat and always had such appreciation for his skill and his ability to carve out an NBA career, and then going from not coaching to Iowa State in a very difficult job, done an incredible job.  He has great dignity and class and grace himself.  One of my good friends, Tim Floyd, can’t say enough good things about him.  I’m sure he’s happy, and I’m sure he’ll do a fine job.

Q.  There seems to be a lot of emphasis being placed on perimeter defense in this series with good reason. Can you talk about how that changes the nature of the Finals?  And with all the emphasis on the outside, do you think maybe the inside strengths of both teams are being somewhat sold short?

JACKSON:  Just to answer that last part of that question, I don’t think you’re concerned with the inside strength offensively with either team, with all due respect.  That’s not the strength.  Probably the best offensive weapon would be Draymond Green, and that’s because of his ability to stretch the floor at the three‑point line.  So I think ultimately the pressure is on the exterior defense on the perimeter, and then the pressure is going to be on the bigs.  One luxury that both teams have is a power forward in Thompson and in Green that have the ability to switch on smaller offensive guys and also defend the pick‑and‑roll.  It’s going to be pressure on both teams that follow the game plan and have game plan discipline because both teams have the ability to knock down shots.  So you’re going to have to stay connected.

VAN GUNDY:  Hey, listen, the game has changed a lot.  The three‑point shot is highly volatile, and in a short series, one team may get on a roll.  They may have similar shots, but one team just makes and the other team misses.  You can never have too much shooting.  I think J.R. Smith, to me, people talk a lot about things away from the court, maybe some emotional loss of control on the court, but as far as an offensive player to compliment LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, he is an absolute bargain.  At his salary and with his skill set, he’s a great, great fit.

It’s hard to do both.  It’s hard to take away James and Irving at the rim and then not give up the three‑point shot.  Likewise on the other end, hard to take away Steph Curry and not give up three‑point shots.  I think, if you’re Cleveland, you’ve got to figure out how you’re going to make Curry drive it to the rim versus shoot it from beyond the line.

And then likewise, I think, for Golden State, they’ve got to make J.R. Smith put the ball on the ground.  You can’t have this guy lining up eight to ten good looks at the three‑point line.

Q.  How much of an impact do you think the fans of these teams are going to have on these Finals? Two great sports areas who are championship starved, how is that going to affect anything? 

VAN GUNDY:  I think it’s great for the fans.  It’s great to see their enthusiasm and their spirit, and I think the fans will have no impact on the outcome.

 

JACKSON:  I totally agree, couldn’t have said it better.

Q.  Just the importance of a championship to Oakland and Cleveland. How does that inspire the players themselves as opposed to teams who are more used to being there?

JACKSON:  I think the players will say the right things, but at the end of the day, you’re going to be recognized as a champion.  When Rick Barry is recognized as a champion, we don’t think the area, we think him and deservedly so.  Both places have incredible fan bases.

I probably would point to the one guy that it would probably mean the most to, and that’s LeBron James because he went back home for the sole purpose of putting them in position.  So other than that, it doesn’t play a role.

VAN GUNDY:  I agree with Mark on that.  I think it means more to James than anyone else as far as how it relates to winning it for your hometown fans.  I think everybody wants to win and the fans are a part of it, but I don’t think that’s the primary focus.  I think the primary focus is they and their teammates have worked long and hard.  Cleveland, for one year, really the Warriors for four or five years.

I was thinking about this when Mark was speaking earlier, and I forgot to say it.  The one guy, I think, that deserves recognition that doesn’t get any ‑‑ everybody’s talked to Don Nelson, and rightfully so because he was there with Curry when it started.  But Larry Riley, I think, was the general manager at the time and had a large part in identifying Steph Curry, and I think there’s got to be shared congratulations that go out to so many people, people that drafted him, people that felt good enough to trade Monta Ellis to be able to put him in position, the coaching that he has received from his rookie year on through.

I just think, oftentimes, we don’t share with all these people that have had an impact on Curry.  The year he’s had hasn’t come by magic.  He’s put in a lot of work and a lot of people have helped him along the way.

Q.  In the Bulls series, we heard LeBron say that he called off Coach Blatt’s play, and there’s also footage of him doing that throughout the regular season in time‑outs. In your coaching experience, is it normal for a player to call off a coach’s play like that, or do you think this is unique to a relationship like LeBron’s and Blatt’s? 

VAN GUNDY:  I think that ‑‑ and I think Mark will attest to it.  Coaches always listen to the players.  That doesn’t mean they’ll do everything that the player says, but if it makes sense, they’ll definitely go with it.

You give particular leeway to great players who have earned it, who have earned the right to speak.  You’ve got some guys on your team ‑‑ and every team has this ‑‑ that have earned the right to speak, and you’ve also got some guys on your team who have earned the right to never be heard because they either don’t know or don’t study.  So they don’t have the right to speak.

In this case, I think what made it different was LeBron publicly announcing that he called off or suggested that David Blatt not go with that play.  It’s not new that a particular star player says, you know, I want the ball here versus here.  I would like to run this action versus that action.  That’s not new.

I was fortunate to coach a lot of great players, and they made great suggestions along the way, including Mark.  So that’s not new.  Just the newness to me was a player stating that to the media, and I think it would have been much better for he and his team and his coaching staff if it had remained private.

JACKSON:  I totally agree.  Totally agree with everything Coach just talked about.  To me, it happens all the time, and if you ask Steve Kerr, I’m sure that Steph Curry has called off plays, and as coaches, when I coached him, he did it.  So it’s not a knock, and it happens more often than not.

Q.  How do you think the public views Blatt as a coach, since he is a rookie coach and this is happening?

VAN GUNDY:  That’s why I think it should have been kept private because if you’re ‑‑ the fans only know a certain percentage of what really goes on in the life of an NBA team.  Some of the great things are kept behind closed doors, some of the ugly things are kept behind closed doors.  So when something like that is told to the media, then the media runs with it and presents a perception to the fan base that David Blatt’s not in control, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth, but because it was presented like that and other articles before that that rely totally on unnamed sources and all this have presented a picture that David Blatt is just a caretaker, which is totally unfair, but it’s been presented like that.

That’s why I think it would have been better if James kept it to himself or said this, great call by Coach Blatt, and we got a great shot, and we won the game because, to me, that eliminates a lot of the chatter, the negative chatter that’s unnecessary.

That’s why coaches and players always have to be praising each other because, if not, the media will seize upon whatever openings they have that can possibly divide a team, and that’s one, I think, that could have divided a team if they hadn’t gotten the results that they wanted in the playoffs.

Q.  Mark, what do you think about having Gentry’s impact with Golden State? Did you feel that pace was a problem and do you think that that’s the trend going on in the NBA, particularly in the Western Conference, that you have to play fast? And do you think that’s what’s going on, obviously, with Golden State?  But how much do you think he’s made an impact being the lead assistant there at Golden State? 

JACKSON:  Well, let me just try to answer it different ways, and then you page through it whatever way you want.  Jeff has talked about it already.  Monty Williams doesn’t get enough credit for the job he did in New Orleans.  When you think about making the playoffs, there are so many key players, valuable players missing a huge amount of the season, keeping that team tied together and competing on a nightly basis and then making it to the playoffs, valuable experience.

As far as Alvin Gentry, proven coach, knows the game, has been successful.  And this is a Warriors team that they played with pace before.  They’ve had a great season.  And that staff has done an outstanding job and is being rewarded.  I wish them nothing but the very best.

But what I will say is you can’t take away what Monty Williams has been able to do to that New Orleans team.  Sometimes you try to make changes too fast, and it can hurt you in the long run.  You don’t appreciate what a masterful job he did during the course of the year.  But I’m sure Alvin Gentry is an outstanding coach, outstanding offensive mind, and he’s going to do a very good job in New Orleans.

Q.  Jeff, what is your reaction. You were a finalist for the job in New Orleans, and they went in another direction. Was input any factor, or can you comment on anything publicly about what your thoughts were and the job and what made you have interest to pursue it, the Pelicans opening? 

VAN GUNDY:  There’s only 30 jobs, and my interest was twofold, basically, was, obviously, going back to what Mark said, Monty Williams had done such an incredible job establishing a foundation and a culture.  Think about what that organization had been through ‑‑ the forced trade of Chris Paul, the injury to Eric Gordon, the injuries to Ryan Anderson, Tyreke Evans, all that along the way.  So they have a good year in Monty’s first year.  They’re forced to trade Chris Paul.  They build it back up.

Listen, most times when you get a job in the NBA for whatever reason, there’s been a lot of losing that has gone on, and there’s been a lot of bad habits that need to be corrected.  That’s usually not just a coaching issue, that’s a roster issue.  In New Orleans’ case, the foundation is so solid because of the job that Monty has done, that Anthony Davis, his greatness, but also his character, and I think Dell Demps has done a good job of building the roster.

So the hiring of Alvin Gentry is a really, really good hire because what you need to succeed in the NBA today goes beyond having a really good coach.  You have to be a really good coach that ownership and management believe in and support, and not support only when you’re winning but when you go through some difficult times.  So I think the belief by ownership and management is sincere, and it’s squarely behind the vision that Alvin has for his team going forward, and I think he’s, like Mark said, just people are talking about his record.

Let me just say this.  Your record is usually reflective of your roster, and if you’ve got good players, you’re going to win, and if you’ve got bad players, you’re going to lose.  He had bad teams and bad players in his first stop, and I thought he got the most out of them.  Then with Phoenix, I thought he squeezed everything out of Phoenix with Steve Nash, the Hall of Fame guard.

Now he’s getting another Hall of Fame player in Anthony Davis, and I think he’s going to do a terrific job, and I think the fans of New Orleans should be very, very excited about their star player and their head coach.

Q.  I’m just kind of expounding on the question you were just asked, but I just wanted to ask you a little bit about Anthony Davis. What does a guy like Alvin Gentry, who is sort of known for his offense, what can he do for a guy like Anthony Davis, who averaged 24, 24 1/2 points this season?  What can he do for his career?  And also, do you think that’s a hire that will keep Anthony Davis here in New Orleans? 

VAN GUNDY:  I’m going to say this, and I don’t know if Mark will agree or disagree, but listen, I took over, and I got Patrick Ewing in his prime.  I made 100 mistakes that he covered up because his greatness was so superseded most guys we played that it covered up, like I said before, my mistakes.

I don’t think ‑‑ you don’t hire a guy to bring out the best in a Hall of Fame player.  Anthony Davis could be coached by someone off the street, and that dude’s going to average 25, 11.  I mean, he’s going to the Hall of Fame.  I think, when you hire, it’s like you’re trying to help build the best fit around him to get the right players.

To me, they need to add shooting of the three‑point variety.  They were already the ninth rated offensive team in the league, right?  So they have a good enough offense to compete.  Then they’ve got to get their defense right.  I think they were 22nd in defense.

But it’s not just ‑‑ you don’t hire a guy like Alvin Gentry for one guy.  You hire him for the whole team because, at the end of the day, Anthony Davis wants to win and is going to be judged by whether he wins or not.  There’s a lot on the line.  You want him to re‑sign, and I think he will, but you want to put the best people around him as you can and win the most as you can to cement that because this is ‑‑ you know, this guy could be Tim Duncan.  He’s the type of guy ‑‑ I don’t mean Tim Duncan greatness.  I mean Tim Duncan stay and play for a long time with one coach.  Alvin and he could ride this for a decade if they get the right pieces around them.

JACKSON:  No, he said it all.  That was great.  I will say this, I guess, and this doesn’t answer your question.  Jeff Van Gundy is an incredible coach.  There’s no question about his body of work.  There’s no question about his work ethic.  There’s no question about his track record.  And it was an honor and a thrill for me to play for him and also to learn from him not only as a player, but more importantly, my daily grind as a head coach in the league.

So to me, it’s a question of if he wants to and when someone makes the right decision, but he’s an incredible basketball mind that I have the luxury of sitting next to every night.

Q.  First of all, Jeff was very candid that he was rooting for Orlando when Stan was coaching. Mark, I’m going to ask you, first, are you rooting for the Warriors?  And, B, at the end of the game, do you expect LeBron James to tell David Blatt he wants to cover Steph Curry? 

JACKSON:  I guess I’ll answer the second part of that question first.  It depends on the flow of the game.  The best players want to take the best challenge.  I think, in an ideal world, if you’re LeBron James, the game plan being followed and the competitive spirit of your teammates following that game plan, hopefully, if you’re LeBron James, you feel like that’s going to put you in the best position, and the guys are going to do their job.

At the end of the day, you need a stop, Curry’s got it going, I’m sure it could wind up that way, who knows?  That will play itself out.

As far as who I’m rooting for, I work for ESPN/ABC.  I’m rooting for a great game, and that’s been consistent from the day I signed my name on the dotted line, and that’s not going to change. Q.  The reason I asked that is because Jeff did acknowledge that he ‑‑ you know, it was his brother coaching. Come on, you’ve got to –

JACKSON:  There’s no question.  To answer that, if my brother was the coach of one of these teams, I would be rooting for my brother to win.  There’s no question about it.  Unfortunately, neither one of them have given my brother a job.  So I don’t have to worry about that.

Q.  You two said you were looking forward to the matchup of Draymond and Thompson, especially in the first half, but a lot being made about Draymond, especially guarding LeBron. Do you think, if that happens, that’s going to leave Tristan open to get so many offensive rebounds to contribute to the Cavs winning the series? 

VAN GUNDY:  I think ‑‑ listen, when you put LeBron James at the four, and that’s what, to me, when Green will be guarding him, or on switches, on pick‑and‑rolls.  But if you put Green at the four and LeBron’s at the four, and they’re matched, and Tristan Thompson is setting a screen on the ball and he’s rolling to the rim and you surround James with three‑point shooting, it’s such a hard cover.

You’ve got this dynamic athlete going to the rim who has incredible vision and passing skills.  They surround him with three‑point shooting, and Tristan Thompson’s able to pick, roll, get below the man defending the screener.  So he’s able to get lobs.  And then even if he’s not able to get a pass, if James goes in there and misses, he’s cleaning up on the offensive boards.

I think how they play and who they play in the passion with which Tristan Thompson plays with, they all share the credit for his ability to be such a great offensive rebounder.  I just love watching him work the offensive board.  I really admire guys who put their hard hat on every night.  You know what you’re getting in him, and you know what you’re getting in Draymond Green every night.  Some other guys are up and down.  Those two guys bring it every night.

JACKSON:  I think Coach answered it.  Any time you get to The Finals, you’re talking about the two best teams in basketball.  I think both teams are going to present a lot of problems for each other.  It will be tall task.  Those guys will be matched up, and even when they’re not, you’re not asking one guy to keep Tristan Thompson off the boards.  You have to do that collectively.

We’ve seen big front lines like Chicago struggle at times to keep him off the boards.  He has a gift of piling up offensive rebounds and putting pressure on your defense.

Q.  If I could follow up real quick, kind of an unrelated question, just kind of wanted to get you guys’ take on the situation with Tom Thibodeau and Chicago. I know, obviously, the coaching fraternity is very strong, but just kind of what you feel about that from both your perspectives. 

JACKSON:  What I will say is Tom Thibodeau is an outstanding coach with a body of work, and he’s been great for this league, and he did an outstanding job in Chicago.

I guess the one thing I would say is Chicago people is upset with people saying Thibs was gone, and people could say a couple of months ago that Fred Hoiberg was the next guy.  Somehow, even though they were upset about it, it has played out the way that people predicted it.  Either Jeff Van Gundy and other people like him that talked about this who were scrutinized for it are incredible prophets, or there’s leaks within the organization, and I think ‑‑ I wish Fred nothing but the best, but Tom Thibodeau and the job that he has done deserves much better, and he’s going to wind up, if he wants to, in a great situation and have an outstanding coaching career.

VAN GUNDY:  I’ve got a couple comments.  One, I’m pulling my name out of the Chicago Bulls running for head coach.  Nobody has a sense of humor anymore.

To me, I think this is that the statement they put out when they let Tom go proves once again that every organization needs a vice president of common sense because when you have a public relations, high powered public relations business put that out and then you have multiple people have to co‑sign it to put it out, and it just absolutely wreaked of a lack of class, it shows that you just need somebody to say whoa.  Let’s just acknowledge his greatness, Thibodeau’s greatness, and let’s just move on, but it didn’t happen that way.

And in some ways, in an odd way, I think it was good because, to me, that statement revealed exactly who each person was.  It reveals who Jerry Reinsdorf is.  It reveals who Gar Forman is.  And Tom Thibodeau’s statement reveals who he is.  Everybody had to put their name finally on who they were, and they did.  I think that’s great.

Q.  I have a quick question regarding the Warriors at home. Throughout the course of the regular season and the playoffs, they’ve been outstanding at home.  I just wanted to know the differences in a Cleveland Cavaliers team that may provide a different look for the Warriors. 

JACKSON:  They’ve had a great year in the regular season and also postseason.  I believe Memphis beat them in Golden State, but they responded.  They’ve been a very good team no matter where they’ve played.  They’ve been incredible at home, and they’ve been very good on the road.

The tough task now is you’re facing a team with LeBron James, and on a given night, anything can happen.  But they’ve earned the right to have home court advantage, and it’s a tremendous luxury, and now it’s about taking care of business at home, and it will present them an opportunity with, at the end of the day, wearing the jewelry.

VAN GUNDY:  I think the atmosphere in both places is phenomenal.  I think in the last few minutes of a hard‑fought game or if you’re really struggling in a period of time, the home crowd can energize your team, but I do believe, over the course of the 48 minutes, these teams are not going to be impacted by the level of noise.  I think they’re going to be able to play with energy and passion because they’re playing for something that’s very hard to do.

It’s hard to get there.  It’s hard to get there a second time.  It’s phenomenal what LeBron James has been able to accomplish over the last five years.  I’m just looking forward to the atmosphere in both places because I think Cleveland is a very underrated home court.

Q.  It’s been said that, since the Cavaliers only have one franchise player in LeBron James, that the Warriors are going to have the advantage because they have so much depth, any player that you put on the court is going to be really productive and effective. What are your thoughts about that? 

VAN GUNDY:  I think, if healthy, Kyrie Irving is an absolute star, star of stars.  This guy is so gifted on offense he doesn’t have to take a backseat to anybody.  I think, if he can play even with Curry, gives Cleveland quite a chance.

Cleveland has an 8‑man rotation, 8 1/2 some nights.  They may play James Jones.  They may not.  I think they’ve got great role definition, great role acceptance, and that’s why they play with great chemistry.

Golden State, I think they’ve narrowed their rotation down in the postseason.  But if you look at ‑‑ this is what, to me ‑‑ if you look at their team, they have four new guys that are playing in their rotation this year in the playoffs.  Bogut was out last year with, I think, a bruised rib for their series, or a cracked rib for their series against the Clippers.  Ezeli was out with a knee injury.  So their top two centers or their guys who are terrific defensively ‑‑ Bogut is a great passer, Ezeli, a terrific backup center, they’re back.  And then you add the backcourt depth.  They’ve got Barbosa, who started a lot in this league and was a great sixth man, and Shaun Livingston, who is a terrific multidimensional, multipurpose, multi‑positional player.  You take those four guys, and you add them to the mix that they had coming back in Curry, Thompson, Green, and that crew, and you’ve got quite a nine that you can go to every night.

Now, they may not go as many minutes, but it’s basically 9 for Golden State, and it’s 8 1/2 for Cleveland.  So I think both teams are playing with great depth.  They’re not playing too many, and they’re not playing too few.  I think they’ve really found what works best for them.

JACKSON:  And I agree with everything Coach just said.  I believe that, when you talk about the job that David Griffin has done, he’s added to the depth of this basketball team by adding Shumpert and J.R. Smith, their ability to play multiple positions, their versatility on offense and defense.  I don’t think it will be a big deal.

And to also echo what Coach said, Kyrie Irving is a franchise player.  He’s a guy that was an MVP of the All‑Star game.  Here’s a guy that was one of the leaders to bring back the gold medal representing the United States.  So healthy, he’s as good as it gets, and it’s going to be an exciting series.

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Media contact: Gianina Thompson at [email protected] (@Gianina_ESPN)

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Gianina Thompson

“Never wish for it more than you work for it.” My dad has told me this ever since we watched the New York Yankees win the World Series in 1996. Living by those words has brought me to ESPN as their Senior Publicist for NBA, MLB, FIBA, and Little League. Working for the World Wide Leader in Sports, it comes naturally that I have a competitive nature. Competing on a Division 1 college rowing team and receiving both my master’s and bachelor’s degrees before turning 22 years old, further illustrates that. Sports are more than entertainment; it’s hopes for something bigger than yesterday.
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