ESPN analysts Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson discussed the NBA restart during a media conference call this morning. Van Gundy and Jackson will call five NBA seeding games in three days, alongside play-by-play commentator Mike Breen, and reporter Lisa Salters, to begin ESPN and ABC’s seeding games coverage this weekend.
Game coverage for Friday, July 31, tips off at 6:30 p.m. ET with a marquee Eastern Conference matchup as the Boston Celtics and Jayson Tatum square off with the Milwaukee Bucks and reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Breen, Van Gundy and Jackson will call the action with Salters.
Full transcript below:
Q. Given the different nature of this setup, no fans and general restrictions, how do you approach this new task with all the games and what do you think will be similar and what do you think will be different?
MARK JACKSON: With me, and I’m sure Jeff has the same mentality, it’s somewhat difficult, but I wouldn’t want to do this task with any other crew. I’m simply with the best in the business when you talk about Mike and Jeff. They make it so much easier. Obviously, with no fans, the energy has to be generated, but we have been doing this for quite a long time and like I said, I’m extremely comfortable working games with these guys and they truly make it easier.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think it is going to be interesting, playing around with crowd noise, manufacturing crowd noise in your ear, reactions to the calls like you would normally see in a game, you’re not going to see. It’s just going to be different.
But the group I think that it impacts the most are, you know, the players. I think the coaches’ job stays the same. Official’s job stays the same. Broadcasting job stays the same.
I think for the players it’s going to be a mental challenge, and particularly what they are used to from getting a higher seed is that home-court advantage, that will not be there this year, and going to be fascinating watching it play out.
Q. What do you think of a potential Miami/Philly first round series if it does play out that way? What will you think of Miami’s chances and will they fare better against the Pacers?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think you have to be very careful about what you hope for as a team, and I think it’s — you know, Sabonis is a heck of a player, but you would be underestimating an Indiana team and a Nate McMillan coached team if you thought was the better matchup. They are tough and play exceptionally hard and they have good depth.
I think Philly is really good. I’m interested to see how the Ben Simmons morphing between point guard and power forward works out; how Hartford adjusts to the bench. They are an exceptionally talented team and I think Miami can beat anybody in the east in a series if they are healthy and playing at their best.
They wouldn’t be the favorite obviously. I think Toronto, Boston and obviously Milwaukee are terrific teams. But Miami, their combination of defense, unselfishness and depth I think is going to make them hard to beat no matter who they play.
MARK JACKSON: I agree with what Coach said. If I’m Miami wouldn’t be concerned about competing. I would be concerned making sure we’re mentally and physically in the right frame of mind. It’s about the way they shoot the ball, the versatility, the depth, and the extremely well-coaching they have in Erik Spoelstra.
Q. What do you think about the New York Knicks hiring of Tom Thibodeau, and what do you think about the teams not in Orlando if the longer run will have an advantage for having this longer break, or a disadvantage for not participating in this?
MARK JACKSON: Obviously was a great hire. Tom is a brilliant basketball mind, extremely successful. Has done it before, and knowing him, obviously, playing for him as an assistant coach with Jeff in New York and in Houston, have tremendous respect for him. He’s in a great situation, and I’m sure he’ll do a fantastic job of turning things around. I couldn’t be more happy for him.
Second part of the question, I don’t think it’s an advantage any time you have a layoff. I truly don’t think it’s an advantage for the teams not in Orlando and not participating in this part of the season. So that would be my answer to that.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Before I answer about Tom, I think Mike Miller did an absolutely terrific job in his time as interim coach. Very difficult situation. I had the privilege of working with him at USA Basketball, and he’s a terrific coach and I think about Tom – Leon Rose did a great job in identifying many capable coaches and then picking one in Tom that’s absolutely elite. The roster needs a lot of work. You win with great players. They need to fortify the roster over the next few years, but if everyone is patient and realistic, and allows Tom to work, they will reap the benefits, because he’s exceptional in every way.
And so a coach is an important piece, but all coaches will tell you that the players are more important.
And far as the eight teams that didn’t qualify, obviously I think they would be better served if they had qualified, practiced and played. But they weren’t good enough. It remains to be seen as they have like the losers bracket tournament or whatever they are going to do. I think it would be better if they just got to have mini-camps and practice, because I can’t see players wanting to be in a bubble where there’s no possible reward.
Q. I realize you guys have a lot of games to call from now, but what do you think will be the challenge in the arena, from lack of sounds, your vantage point, you’re a little bit higher. Curious of your initial assessment of this unprecedented broadcast?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: First how these people, you don’t know their names, how great they are at their jobs, how they constructed this. I tried to put together a dresser togther at home for three days, and had no chance of completion, and then I watch all this stuff, wires and monitors and different monitors; it truly is amazing. I wished they had one of those time warps that you could see what they started with all the way to what they ended with, because it’s utterly to me fascinating how brilliant these people are that you’ll never know their names.
So we are up higher, but I like it. The vantage point is great. Even as different as it is with Plexiglas in between us; we did practice games the other day and we are doing another one today, I thought it was great. I think that the lack of crowd noise is going to be hard for everybody. The lack of fans, I think shows us all once again how important they are to the product and to the experience of both the players and the broadcast. So that’s going to be a challenge more so for the players.
I think two games in a day sometimes is going to be fun. The only time I ever did two games in a day was Mark’s first game as head coach of the Warriors in that we did a game in Dallas and then did his game at night which was a thrill, so that will be fun.
Yeah, I think there’s a lot of differences, but also, to point out during these times, just how good we have it. People around us, helping us try to do our job as well as we can; we truly are blessed.
MARK JACKSON: I think to echo what Jeff said, they have done an incredible job putting this whole thing together and making it as safe as possible for us and allowing us to do our job and should be acknowledged and commended for it.
The difference in being off the court is obviously one of the main things — because certain things you pick up whether it be players, referees, coaches, but we’ll make the proper adjustments.
And then the other obvious thing is the fans, the crowd, which elevates the intensity of everybody in the building and now that somewhat has to be generated. Again, we’ll make the proper adjustments, but it is totally different than what we are used to.
Q. Both you guys have served as head coaches in the league. I wanted to ask about your perspective and the challenges that a coach in an interim situation – like Jacque [Vaughn] -trying to put his best foot forward for a full-time gig while coaching uncertainty in the bubble?
MARK JACKSON: Jacque is a guy who’s played in this league and had success in every level, he’s been a leader. That will come easy. The adjustment is not having some of his best talent but as a coach he will make the proper adjustment and he’s done an outstanding job.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: Having been an interim coach, there’s a lot of anxiety I think day-to-day –not knowing what your future is, but I think because he has been a head coach in Orlando, he understands that while you control some things, you certainly don’t control everything. And the only thing you do control is how well you can do your job.
Now, he is bringing a very decimated team to this bubble, and most likely they are going to really struggle once they get to the playoffs because of just being out-talented.
But I think it’s important that he knows that he can’t be judged on winning and losing in this. Sean Marks and their management and ownership are going to make a decision based on what they see in totality, because it would just be foolish to try to judge him off of eight games and most likely one playoff series with a decimated roster. I wish well for him because I know that interim job is difficult.
And I think he’s also filling in for big shoes. I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about what a great job I thought Kenny Atkinson did during his time. I thought he got them playing hard and unselfish and he did a magnificent job in a difficult situation.
Q. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but Tom doesn’t have the reputation of being a patient kind of coach. Jeff, you mentioned how patience is going to be required here because the Knicks aren’t really ready to contend. Do you think he has the stamina to coach and rebuild and what are your thoughts on that?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: He took over the worst team in basketball in Minnesota, so he’s not afraid of the challenge, and I think they had the longest non-playoff streak, 15 years, and they broke that.
So I think you want a coach that’s both patient and impatient. You have to understand, and I think Mark is a perfect guy to talk to because of an incredible job he did in Golden State bringing them from awful to really good. You have to be patient, but if you’re too patient, you don’t drive change where the culture has to change. And so I think what Mark did in Golden State was he elevated the confidence level, he elevated the commitment to defense and I think Tom is going to be tasked with the same thing.
The roster is not his issue. They got to do something about trying to get more better players, right. But as they build that roster, he’s got to build their confidence, give them a plan that allows them to be put in the best position to be individually successful and team-wise be most successful, but also then be demanding that we’ve got to guard on a nightly basis, we’ve got to pass it on a nightly basis and we’ve got to play harder than people on a nightly basis.
And if you think that all happens without patience, no, that happens with impatience, too. You have to be demanding that these things happen right off the bat and I do think that Tom is eminently qualified. He rebuilt Chicago. He rebuilt Minnesota, and now, you know, a hard task in rebuilding the Knick team but there’s no better place to win — and Mark can attest to — than Madison Square Garden.
MARK JACKSON: And I would be in agreement with everything that Coach just said. You don’t want to be too patient because that becomes contagious. What you don’t want to be patient on is the exact things that Coach just finished talking about; the things that put new position to win.
The realistic point is, they have to upgrade their talent but you can defend. You can compete. You can play hard. There’s no way that you can be patient about accepting anything short of great effort and energy and passion on both sides of the floor, and those things will put you in position to change a culture and begin to see results.
Tom is more than qualified and he’s proven it and I’m sure he’s going to put them in a position to win.
Q. What are your expectations for Luka Dončić in his first playoffs here and what do you think of the Mavs’ chances in improving their standings in the West?
MARK JACKSON: Again, I would answer the second part of that the same way I answered Miami. I think it’s about staying healthy, mentally and physically. A team extremely well-coached with a home run hitter in the middle of the lineup, as well as the No. 2 guy in Porzingis.
I think they are a dangerous team that can advance in the Western Conference. It’s about staying healthy, so I wouldn’t be too concerned about my seeding.
Obviously I want to play great basketball and attempt to move up to stay away from a Laker/Clipper matchup. But other than that, that’s a team that’s pretty scary and going to be dangerous come playoff time.
And Luka to me, he’s an absolute superstar, a combination of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, ready to play from day one, only getting better and he is worth the price of admission. Truly fun to watch and fun to call his games.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think like Mark said, they won’t fall to 8, so they are going to be fine. The Clippers are, obviously, I think the deepest team. You can’t avoid anybody. When you have Dončić, I expect him to be dominant from day one.
Now, the Clipper matchup, because of their wing defenders in Leonard and George, that will be a test. But Dončić is so good, I’m sure he’s confident regardless of who he plays against, and he should be.
And I think when all is said and done that Trey for Dončić on draft night is going to be one of — I mean, you think about the Dallas Mavericks history. They traded for Dirk Nowitzki on draft night and they traded for Luka on draft night. That’s some brilliance right there. Both Don Nelson getting Dirk and Donnie Nelson getting Doncic two of the great trades in NBA history.
Q. Jeff you talked about Mike Miller and I know you think the world of him. Have you told Tom about this and do you expect or hope that Mike can be on Tom’s staff? And for Mark, your name came up, a lot of fans were hoping your name would be in consideration. Jalen Rose told me, he thought he would chose you as the Knicks head coach and you deserve another chance. What do you see for your future? Do you still have head coaching as your career goal?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’m going to take your second question to Mark first. I don’t know about the Knick job because I didn’t talk to Mark about his interest in that. But I’m unbiased when it comes to coaches and what I saw in Golden State was truly a remarkable job of reconstructing a team’s fragile confidence because over the course of a lot of losing, and also the implementation of demands defensively that previously had not been asked of those players. And that the question is truly only if Mark wants to do it again, because if he wants to do it again, in today’s game, I don’t see another guy that I think is more equipped or better equipped than him of taking players who may not have achieved yet, but are hopes of becoming a winning player and having a guy help him both confidence-wise and challenging him to fulfill his potential than Mark.
If I was a GM right now, I would be really smart if I hired Mark. I mean, it would prove to pan out. And far as Mike Miller, I would never be arrogant enough to tell Tom what he needs on his staff. He knows that better than anybody. He knows what he needs.
But if you’re asking me about my experiences with Mike, not only did I think he was a terrific basketball man, but I thought he was a man of impeccable character and integrity. That benefit any staff, not just the Knicks. I think he’s a terrific coach, a terrific mind, but most importantly, has terrific character.
MARK JACKSON: I appreciated the love from the Knick fans and Jalen Rose, and I truly look forward to one day having the opportunity to coach again. I had a blast doing it at Golden State. Built many incredible relationships that will last a lifetime and I look forward to the challenge of one day coaching again because I am having the time of my life calling games with guys that I consider brothers. And I look forward to finishing this year the right way and crowning another champion, but I do look forward to the opportunity to coach again.
Q. Just how safe do you think the bubble will be, and do you think they will be able to complete through the playoffs?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think the bubble that the players are in is as safe as you can be. It’s very restrictive and so the sacrifice by all who are in that bubble, players, coaches, team executives, officials, and a few media members, it’s to be really applauded. I mean, because it is very restrictive. The rest of the media is somewhat restrictive but not too much. But that nature of restrictiveness for that inner bubble is what gives us as a league the opportunity to complete the season.
I think the bigger question is not if we can finish this season, but when you start to see what baseball is going through today, what I expect to happen in some ways to football — how do we as a basketball league start next season when we wouldn’t be in a bubble. I think that would be my concern, but for this year I was not confident that way back when they announced that we were going to try this, I wasn’t confident that we could — that the league could pull it off.
But when I see all the work that they have put in and the restrictive nature of the bubble that they have created, it certainly gives them the best chance of finishing this off.
And I think Adam Silver and his staff and all the hours that went into planning this, should be applauded, and for the teams and the players and all those people that I mentioned before, their sacrifice, in living in that restrictive environment, away from family, should also be applauded.
MARK JACKSON: To echo what Jeff said, Adam Silver and his staff, they have done an incredible job, and if I was leadership in professional sports, and quite honest, leadership in this country I’d be on the phone with Adam Silver; he did a tremendous job of leading the way and really doing this thing the right way. Not saying that we’re going to pull it off, but he and his staff and the powers that be have truly put us in position to give us best possible chance to pull it off and it’s as safe as you can possibly get.
And not only the staff, but like Jeff said, the players, the staff, the coaches, the organizations, the limited media people all deserve a lot of credit for the sacrifices that they are committed to making and pulling this off. A job well done across the board.
Q. You mentioned the effect of not having a crowd on the dynamics of a game, like when a team is on a run, for instance, will those runs last as long or not as long because energy that the crowd might give you. Can you elaborate on situations that you foresee happening in a game that will be different because the noise isn’t there?
MARK JACKSON: To me, as a former player, more importantly, than any other role I’ve play, to me, the teams will buy in and generate — the good teams, the very good teams, will buy in and generate their own energy and enthusiasm which will allow them to be successful on the court. It’s almost like, I mean, some of the best competitive games we’ve had in my 17 years of playing were ones without the cameras and without the fans in practice, getting after it, competing against a second unit, against your teammates. So I don’t really see that as being as big a deal as everybody else, especially when the lights are on and you know it’s a real game.
I think that the best in the world will show up and to a certain extent, show out on the court.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think it will be interesting how much more can be heard from play calls which will, you know, make it easier for the person in charge of scouting to know what’s coming, to the amount of talk between coaches and officials, players and officials, and player and player.
I think there’s something like 39 mics around the courts or something, that will pick that up. So I think that will be interesting, as well. The sounds of the game, being picked up — and I am just so interested in the overall mental — it’s new right now. In a month, does not playing in front of a crowd impact the games, even if they are playoff games, or is the intensity the same level as we would be accustomed to seeing?
I can’t wait for the answer because I think it’s going to be a fascinating story to witness.
Q. This is a non-basketball question. What have you haven’t been asked or that you want to speak about regarding the players and even you looking at the overall conditions that’s going on in terms of the social justice awareness and what’s going on and their focus this season to continue to highlight those issues as they are trying to pray in these uncertain times?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I’m going to defer to Mark on this. He’s so much smarter about these issues than I am — No, I’m being serious about this.
I am blessed to be surrounded by him who enlightens me on so many things that are not in my everyday world. And far before the killing of George Floyd, but just overall the great grasp of social issues and so I will defer to him.
MARK JACKSON: I’ll just say and I’ll speak for all of us, we are really amazed at the job that the league has done, starting from Adam Silver to ownership to management to coaches to players, and leading the way, and taking a stand and making statements, not just on the back of jerseys, but putting all their chips in the middle of the table and not afraid to speak out against equality for all and justice for all. And I don’t want to minimize it to just the NBA. I want to recognize all the WNBA and the women and the staff have done an incredible job.
So in my 35 years of being around this league as a player, as a coach, and now as an analyst, I have never been more proud than I am watching where the game is today and how these guys have led the way in crying out for justice, and no matter who they have to hold accountable, they done just that and led the way.
Q. Some people are suggesting an asterisk on this season because of all the things happening. What’s your thoughts? Should an asterisk be put on the season regardless?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: An asterisk to me, I don’t understand that mentality. Is it a different season? Yes, it is. Just like the lockout seasons. And this season is even more different because the playoffs are taking place after such a long layoff.
People, significant people, have chosen not to participate with their teams. Which makes it even more difficult and more challenging. So I don’t really look at this asterisk of the 2019-2020 season. I think this is something unto itself. It was after four a half months; rosters are somewhat different. The mechanics of the playoffs are different with possible play-in games, no home-court advantage. There’s so much significantly different about this that to me, this is entirely a different thing.
But winning it is still significant. And if you win it, you will have shown great basketball skill, mental strength and togetherness, and I think that should be applauded.
MARK JACKSON: And echo what coach said. I’m in agreement. But I will say this: You can make the case that if everything goes as planned and everybody is healthy and whole in this bubble throughout the course of this, the rest of this season, crowning a champion, you can very well make the case that this has been the toughest championship to win, and that team should — if there’s going to be an asterisk, it should be the other way.
Q. When the Knicks were going through this process with Tom, there were people, outside critics, talking about his hard-driving style and minutes, and he talks about learning over the years. As guys who have been head coaches, is there an ability still for a coach who is demanding with today’s players and salaries they make, it as easy to be the guy that you guys were?
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think everyone always — and even when I was coaching the NBA, I think it’s always been said, players are hard, you know, and I think that does a disservice to players. Some players are hard, and it usually is about not wanting to work or not wanting to commit to sacrifice that it takes to win at a high level.
But I don’t think players have changed nearly as much as organizations and coaches have changed. You can’t demand less of players, and then complain that they are able to do less at times.
I find that does a disservice to players. I think good players in any era want to be challenged and pushed to be the best, their best. And they want to play on teams of significance. This idea that Tom doesn’t know how to pace a team is one of the great slanders that has been perpetuated by the media on a coach.
I think all coaches have to learn to adapt and adjust to the slights and not fight them, because you can spend a lot of time trying to fight against some slander-ish stuff that is said by really the unknowing. It’s not like people have gone into Tom’s practices and watched. The only time you pace a team is during games, and not every minute is the same for every player.
Like if I’m one of his players in which Chicago and I’m Keith, I can spot up in the corner for 50 minutes a game because I’m not being asked to do as much. The pacing — Bill Parcells said this long ago and it’s so true — one of the most important jobs of a head coach is to pace his team correctly. That doesn’t just go to game minutes. It goes to practice minutes. It goes to how much contact you do in practice. It goes into a lot of things, and I think, unfortunately for Tom, since they couldn’t get him on the results, they tried to get him on other stuff, and when you look at the factual nature of it, it’s just not true. Guys played more minutes back in those days, and then if you look at Tom in Minnesota, their guys didn’t play as much.
So if you want to win as a player, you’re going to do the things that it takes to win, and I think as coaches, we have to give them the chance to be pushed and to be challenged and not subjectively say the players aren’t the same and they aren’t willing to do as much.
Q. What to you guys think about the experience the fans will have from watching at home?
MARK JACKSON: The venue looks incredible. Again they have done an incredible job, and I think the thing that has been somewhat surprising to me watching first couple of days is the shape and condition that these guys got in and stayed in during the course of this layoff. They should be commended. They seem ready to play and excited to play, and I’m proud to watch them.
I think the fans at home are going to get a high level of basketball, which is what you expect when you turn on the TV looking at the best in the land doing what they do. So it’s going to be a fun time.
JEFF VAN GUNDY: I think there’s going to be some up-and-down nature to the games as far as some are going to be well-played, some not as much, because there’s a lot of games in a short amount of time. I think most teams are playing those eight games in 15 days, and I think you’re going to see some teams not as worried about seeding and easing into the games. The nine teams that aren’t assured a playoff spot are going to have to come out and play all-out to have a chance to either make it or move up.
So I think it will be interesting to watch how different teams handle those eight games, and I think because of that, you’re going to see some differing levels of play and intensity at times.