ESPN analysts Paul Pierce and Jalen Rose participated in a media call today to discuss the NBA season restart. Pierce and Rose are both regular contributors to the ESPN NBA Countdown show and will be an integral part of ESPN and ABC’s studio coverage, documenting the NBA seeding games and NBA Playoffs.
ESPN will produce a two-hour ABC special, NBA Countdown presented by Mountain Dew: NBA Restart, on Saturday, July 25, beginning at 8 p.m. ET to preview the restart of the season and the NBA seeding games
A transcript of the conference call follows:
Q. Jalen, what do you think of the Sixers making a run in the restart? What are your thoughts on that?
JALEN ROSE: We have strong favorites in the West with the Lakers and the Clippers. Other squads that may have a puncher’s chance like the Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers.
The reason they’re so solid, championship-level favorites, is because they have, each of those teams have two legitimate All-NBA performers in LeBron, AD, as well as PG and Kawhi. Even though the Bucks, with the number one overall seed in the NBA — if people are going to question whether they can win at all, it ain’t about Giannis’s greatness, it’s about who is second and who is third.
I see them potentially being vulnerable in the East to a couple of teams. The Sixers are one of those teams because they have two perennial All-Stars in Joel Embiid, one of the most talented players in the league. You know, Paul Pierce, I have to hear about his Kansas guy all of the time. Shake Milton is now a defender that can make threes. Ben is about to be a flasher, a scorer, and a finisher.
With Ben and with Joel, I anticipate Tobias is going to have a big Playoff. I do see Philadelphia as a team that can potentially win the East, especially how they lost last year. They weren’t really going to be judged by the regular season. Their seeding doesn’t equal their talent. I know they dealt with some injuries. They were going to be judged by the Playoffs, how they lost last year, images of Embiid crying. I do believe they have a legitimate chance to win the East.
Q. Paul, you want to comment?
PAUL PIERCE: The Sixers, they regressed from a year ago, to be honest. When we talk about the lack of a go-to guy, what you need in this league to be a contender, to be a threat, to be in the Conference finals, and be in the Finals, you need that guy. I don’t know who that guy is on the Sixers. It’s usually coming from a premier perimeter player. Ben Simmons is that but he’s not that offensive juggernaut you need on the wings to carry you over the top in close games like they had in Jimmy Butler. So I don’t agree.
JALEN ROSE: When the Celtics were healthy, they have four of those guys. This is what makes Milwaukee vulnerable, which makes it into the conversation. If I was going to ask you that same question, Paul, who is the Bucks go-to guy?
PAUL PIERCE: It’s got to be Giannis. It’s just got to be.
JALEN ROSE: You like that to be a 6’7″, 6’8″ guy.
PAUL PIERCE: He plays like a forward who can get to the basket and find open guys. From what I’ve been seeing, J is looking legit right now.
JALEN ROSE: Yeah, it is. Back off the dribble. He’s going to be a problem. He’s going to be a problem. He going to be a problem.
Q. No Jimmy Butler for the Sixers this year. That makes them a little vulnerable from the perimeter.
PAUL PIERCE: Every championship team, you have to have that premier wing guy. Think about it, over the last 20 champions, you can go back from 20 champions, outside of the San Antonio Spurs in one year where Tony Parker was the best player and the one with Chauncey Billups, outside of that, 90% of the best players were Iguodala, which was the MVP of the Finals. Perimeter guys, Durant, Kawhi, LeBron, Kobe. All wing men. You have to have that premier wing guy.
JALEN ROSE: Jordan and Pittman. The only other squad that was able to do it was the Mavs with Dirk.
Q. Do you think this format, does it favor a team with superstars or does it favor that deeper team that could maybe withstand some injuries or anything as this unfolds?
PAUL PIERCE: Every game you going to have a question, regardless of what happens with this coronavirus where guys have to sit out. It’s a factor every single year. But the league at the end of the day is all about the superstars. With fans, no fans, coaches, no coaches, it doesn’t matter. You have to have the stars in place in order to get to where you need to go.
The Bucks are deep as anybody. Bledsoe, he’s out with coronavirus. We don’t know how that’s going to affect him. This coronavirus is going to play a factor down the road.
I think the healthiest team at the top is going to win it between the Bucks, the Lakers, and Clippers. Whoever is healthy by the end is the team that’s going to win it all.
Q. Is it more wide open in terms of who can win it? Any team has a shot?
JALEN ROSE: That gets said, but no. Paul just said it, all the teams that win Championships, especially multiple, they have All-NBA Hall of Fame players on the team.
If there is a season that somebody like a Denver could win it, surprise people, sure, I guess. Injuries and/or COVID-19 is a factor, but if the Clippers and the Lakers are healthy… If a team upsets them, it’s just because they didn’t perform well.
In the East, to be honest, I feel like I want to root for Milwaukee because I don’t want Giannis to leave. I feel like if they lose in the first or second round, he could become potentially LeBron leaving Cleveland, KD leaving OKC, versus being Patrick Mahomes signing a big deal in the off-season because they just won.
Q. Where are you guys individually on the Bol Bol bandwagon now that he’s the star of the day?
PAUL PIERCE: I’ve been around too, too long to get messed up with highlights, one good game, scrimmage, practice. I mean, I’ve been around too long to go off of that.
Yeah, he got tremendous potential, but it’s just like summer league. How many guys we see get the summer league MVP, then, Oh, wow, he’s the next All-Star, he got a bright future. Then they turn out just to be average players.
The potential is there, but I’m not going to be one jumping out of my seat after I see one highlight. I have to see them through the course of 82 games, see them through the course of playing against all the competition. That’s just a practice game. I’m seeing practice games out there. My boy down the street there can have one good day. The potential is there. He got all the tools.
I don’t look at that. I need to be there, measure his heart, his drive, his competitive spirit. I got to see all that in a player for me to be like… Them is the things I really look at because I’ve been seeing guys with the whole skill set that just didn’t have it.
JALEN ROSE: I appreciate the consistency there. That’s why we’re here as former players. We’ve had one Hall of Fame appearance and one championship combined. We’re very capable to talk about this.
I’m glad that Bol Bol has a familiar NBA name, and it’s only three letters, because otherwise Paul wouldn’t even know his name right now. Paul would not know his name.
PAUL PIERCE: No, I followed him in high school and college, I actually followed this. I’m not going to jump on it too fast.
JALEN ROSE: I believe what the Nuggets are doing, Paul kind of touched on it earlier, you build out so much depth to try to actually figure out who are your main rotation players. That’s what Denver has done. Their roster, if I’m going 1 through 15, I don’t want to speak too fast, they have to have a top three or four roster in the whole NBA. I’m talking about every player. They have Craig, so many players up front.
What you’re trying to do is find who is going to be most compatible with the Joker. You have a point center, Jacoby calls him Stretch Mark Five, that can initiate offense. You could try in the summer league, I think they were playing Washington or the Nets, one of the scrimmage teams in the bubble. Yeah, you have five guys out there 6’10”, 6’11”.
If Bol Bol can make an open shot and continue to guard the rim, he, Plumlee, Michael Porter Jr., all three of those guys, in particular Bol Bol and Michael Porter, if those two emerge, that takes the Nuggets to another level.
Gary Harris didn’t have the season you hoped for him to have. They don’t have a consistent second All-Star. They’re going to need Bol Bol’s potential. Like Paul said, I don’t know if he’s going to be that impact player for them to get them there this year, but I do like his promise, his height, the ability to make threes, protect the rim. I thought he went too low in the draft anyway.
Q. In a normal year you would be on the ground to do your analysis for the NBA Playoffs. You’re all over the country. Obviously this year you’re not going to be able to do that. How are you preparing to give your insights and analysis without the benefit of being there? What are you going to miss most about having to do this remotely?
PAUL PIERCE: Most of the time we do it from studio anyway until the Playoffs. This is still familiar territory for us, being able to sit down with a lot of monitors, analyze and watch the games. It’s just different doing it from our homes. In some cases, Jalen will be in the studio a little more than me. This is nothing new for me or Jalen.
Unless it continues this way in the Playoffs, the Finals, that is what I will miss most, if we don’t have the opportunity to be in that situation.
Q. You touched on the Celtics a little bit earlier. Who do you think is the biggest key player to make a run? Is it Tatum, Brown? Do you look at one guy in particular that has to step up for them to really make a long run here?
PAUL PIERCE: What do you think, J? I already know what I want to say. I got a lot to say about this, but I want to hear what you got to say.
JALEN ROSE: We kind of alluded to it earlier. This is going to be rec ball. The guys that can have the most players who can dribble, pass, shoot, and score 20 points in a half, 35 points in the game, I have those teams with the best odds. That’s why I like the Celtics and the Clippers if everybody is healthy. Those are the teams that I like.
But I know that Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker have dealt with some injury issues. If one of them and/or both of them are hobbled, they won’t get it done. Now, if both of them are healthy, I think the key player is the guy that we were watching the basketball game, even though there’s no cheering in the press box, Jayson Tatum crosses over Paul George, makes a huge three-pointer, somebody that has his number hanging in the rafters was really excited about that shot.
I think that’s the answer to the question. Jayson Tatum, his ascension of superstardom.
PAUL PIERCE: I agree with that. The only real superstars in this league, common denominator, and I always say this to Jalen, to win a championship, number one ingredient, you got to have a top-five player. There’s, like, rare cases throughout history where that top-five player wasn’t in the Finals.
Now, Jayson is starting to emerge, head in that direction. But he has to be a key player, man. He was playing like a top-five player before the shutdown. I’ve watched him play since day one. He looks like a whole different player now. He’s going to be the key for them. If he can continue to play like that where he was averaging, like, 28 points, shooting 40-plus from the three, over 50 from the field, getting to the line, that’s that player they need him to be if they have any hopes of going to the Finals.
Is he a top-five player today? No. Was he playing like one before the break? Yes, he was, indeed.
Q. Paul, does any part of Tatum’s game, offensive game in particular, remind you of yourself at all? Anything he does? The way he stays in a rhythm the whole game.
PAUL PIERCE: The one thing that he reminds me of is just how smooth he is with it. He seems like it’s effortless the way he plays the game, the way he gets to his spots, his pull-up jumper, the way he’s starting to get to the basket.
Now, he got a ways to go to catch me on that. I got to the basket. That’s the next step for him, is continue to attack, get to the line. That’s the one criticism I have of him. He didn’t get to the line for his athleticism. I think he averaged like three free throws a game.
But I think just the smoothness of his game, man. Seems like he’s never sweating out there.
JALEN ROSE: Tatum is literally on the wings, live dribble, jab step, one or two dribble step back, jump shot. Pretty sure there’s multiple videos of both of y’all doing that. Unfortunately I was on the wrong side of that shot way too many times. I know that move.
Q. Do you think the Rockets could go deep in the Playoffs without having a true center?
JALEN ROSE: Yes, but it has to be a wild card situation. Here is what I mean. If they go against the Clippers at full strength, they go against the Lakers at full strength, they’re going to need some size against those teams. LeBron can be bigger than every player on Houston plus the still have Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard and Kyle Kuzma. You don’t have a chance.
The same thing with the Clippers. If they have Montrezl, Zubac, and Morris, those teams that have too many productive, big bodies. If they can avoid playing one of them, then all of a sudden they end up in the Conference Finals playing against another team, given a complete different style, with PJ at 6’6″ playing center, dribble, pass, shoot, spread the floor out, it gives them I guess a haymaker’s chance if James is leading the league in scoring, and Russell is leading the Playoffs in points in the paint, like he was doing since January, that gives them a chance to do it.
It’s not something I’m anticipating or picking. If somebody is going to upend the Lakers or the Clippers, I would pick Houston next.
PAUL PIERCE: That’s about right. I agree with that. I’m looking down the list. Houston has to be third on the list. They got two players, one definitely top-five player, one definitely top-10 player, and you can throw whichever one in there based on the way they played this year. They need a big man, I believe, especially going against the likes of Anthony Davis. I think they need a big man if they have to see Denver Nuggets first round. Joker, who is going to guard Joker? He’s a problem, a guy that initiates their offense. This is a team that can get to the Conference Finals. This is a team that can lose in the first round also.
Q. Who are your sleeper teams? Who is going to surprise people to get deep in the Playoffs?
PAUL PIERCE: Unfortunately this is the NBA. There is no surprise. We rarely see surprises. I don’t see it happening, definitely not in the Western Conference. If you’re going to have a surprise team that nobody is talking about it’s the defending champs, Toronto Raptors.
JALEN ROSE: Correct. Toronto make it to the Conference Finals, that’s a surprise, without Kawhi.
PAUL PIERCE: I didn’t even see them being where they’re at right now. That’s the biggest surprise of the whole season. They can still make the Finals with that squad.
Q. Given the documented friction there’s been between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert as a result of this COVID-19 situation, what are you going to be looking for from them on the court to see how their relationship is, how they’re getting along? Second, with the Bogdanovic injury, how much does that limit their chances to accomplish anything? What is their pathway forward to account for his absence?
JALEN ROSE: No replacing Bogdanovic. Underrated, 20-point scorer. A go-to kind of guy you can get a ball to late. Fearless, finishes, goes to the basket. He got game. That was probably one of the underrated pickups in the off-season for me last year.
So that’s going to limit Utah, period. If they won a Playoff series, in my opinion, I wouldn’t be surprised, but if they did win two I would be.
As it relates to the relationship between Mitchell and Gobert, I think it will be fine because they understand what’s at stake.
What I would like to see from Donovan Mitchell is what I saw from Jayson Tatum. They both had really good first years, Jayson Tatum continued to ascend. Seems like Donovan Mitchell had more peaks and valleys this year.
For Gobert, one of the if not the best rim protector in the game, and rebounders, I think it’s going to be important for him to focus on being a finisher, not necessarily post-up plays, compete with energy.
Utah doesn’t have much expectations. If they win two Playoff series, they would surprise everybody just by doing that.
PAUL PIERCE: I’m not really looking for nothing because players, they don’t have to be friends off the court. Basketball, beauty about sports, you can never tell who likes or dislikes anybody on the court most of the time.
Utah, it’s a tricky team for me. I feel like they’re a treadmill team. I don’t see the upside in this squad, especially with no Bogdanovic. Gobert, he’s an impact player. He don’t do enough for me. He’s not the modern day big man that you need to compete for a championship like a Porzingis or Townes or Jokić. He’s more of a traditional Dikembe Mutombo, Alonzo Mourning type player.
I’d be surprised if they get out the first round. There’s something about them that’s not right. I can’t put my finger on it. They just don’t have enough.
Q. Obviously it took quite a while for Mike Conley to kind of find his fit with the team. How do you evaluate that move now looking ban on it? Do you think the fit just turned out to not be right?
PAUL PIERCE: I don’t really think it’s a good fit. I think Utah is at their best when Donovan Mitchell has the ball in his hands. He showed me that in the Playoffs. He showed me that when Conley wasn’t out there. He’s best when he’s making the plays.
He’s already an undersized wing man. He reminds me a lot of Dwyane Wade the year they went to the Finals with him at the point guard position. That’s going to make him more dynamic because he’s going to be bigger, more athletic than 99% of the point guards at that spot.
I think he’s better at the position. I just don’t think Mike Conley is a great fit.
JALEN ROSE: What happens with a guy like Donovan Mitchell, he plays bigger than he is. He looks a lot like Dwyane Wade as he moves, but the difference is Dwyane Wade is 6’4″. I don’t believe he’s 6’2″. Based on what Paul said, now you have Mitchell and Conley, if they’re not going to be a blowout there, both try to average 20 to 25 points, that will be too small defensively in a lot of ways, too.
Mitchell is definitely better with the ball in his hands, while Conley is also better with the ball in his hands. It’s going to be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out.
Won’t play out with a parade happening in Utah, unfortunately.
Q. Paul, how has the perception of playing in Boston changed for younger players? Now players want to play there. They want to re-sign. They like the culture. What has changed about that since you obviously started there and finished there?
PAUL PIERCE: I mean, I think players, when they get there, I think ownership is great. They’ve created a culture since as long as I can remember to where basketball is everything there. People on the outside looking in, this goes back to when I left and I started seeing guys play from Isaiah Thomas to now Kemba Walker and these guys. They didn’t know how the culture was in Boston.
The fanatics, the sports town, the management, the practice facility. People think there’s nothing to do in Boston, but they built that city up, man. It’s just a whole lot different now than it was when I was there. People actually enjoy the city.
When you go around the NBA looking at different NBA cities, where guys want to play, just the environment, the practice facilities, the arena, players fall in love with that, man.
Players want to be part of tradition. I think that’s something they fall in love with when they get there and they engulf themselves in it. Especially with these guys there now, it’s easier when you’re in an environment, have a great young coach, general manager, owners, and you’re winning. Winning creates culture. Let’s be honest. People don’t sign as free agents, sign max deals if you’re not winning. Winning creates the culture.
They’ve been talked about as a contender. It makes it easier no matter where you at, especially in Boston where you win, man. Just being all honest with you. Since Jayson Tatum’s rookie year, these guys have been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Fun to watch. It’s a lot easier when you win.
Q. What should guys do in terms of trying to get their social messages out down in the bubble? What should the NBA do? Are you pleased with what has been set up so far?
JALEN ROSE: For me, the NBA represents corporate America. I’m pretty sure each of us during this period has looked down at our phones over the last 90 days and seen a lot of the corporations that we are affiliated with or work for talk about how they need to monitor their diversity and be more inclusive for people of color.
Now how do you carry that out? For the NBA, one thing I appreciate and the players appreciate is at least you are working for a corporation that seems like it’s trying to work in your best interests, not work against it. Whether it’s Black Lives Matters on the court, select sayings on the back of jerseys, allowing players to express themselves at the podium like you saw with Tobias Harris with his Breonna Taylor answers. I’m sure you’re going to see a lot of players getting together, doing social media clips, videos and whatnot. I think that’s going to continue to improve.
But ultimately the game-changing agent in all of these scenarios, as we talk about systemic inequality, happens from the top down. True change is going to happen with power, when the ownership group, presidents, general managers, when that group looks a lot more diverse, when the contractors and the people the NBA does business with, when that group becomes a lot more diverse — those are the real changes that I hope players continue to drive the narrative to create the opportunities within the NBA.
PAUL PIERCE: The message is always going to be out there. It’s just about seeing what changes are going to be made. I got excited yesterday when I saw that Kevin Garnett was part of the ownership group to get the Minnesota Timberwolves. Wouldn’t that be great to see Kevin Garnett part of an ownership group, we need to see more of that. When we start seeing more of that, then…
Getting the message out is not the hard part, it’s about acting on it like what Jalen said. When I see more general managers, black coaches, then we know things are turning for the good.
Q. The Rockets ended the season losing four or five, so they’re not exactly coming into this restart on something of a roll. What do you think about the Rockets’ prospects as the season resumes? To what degree do you think the level of play or the dynamic of play that we’ve seen this season will be replicated or duplicated once games restart? Will this be sort of a different season than the season we saw before the stoppage of play?
PAUL PIERCE: I think it’s going to need some guys to get back in shape, get back into a rhythm. At the beginning I think we’re not going to see the brand of basketball that we saw coming down the stretch before the work stoppage. But I think as time goes on, I mean, the cream of the crop is going to rise. That’s always with the NBA.
As far as the Rockets, can they get back to where they were, when they first went small and they started out winning four out of the first five, I don’t know.
I look at the Rockets, if I have to put it into boxing terms, like Buster Douglas, he beats Mike Tyson, he had a puncher’s chance. He didn’t hold that title too long.
I think they got a puncher’s chance, man. Am I confident in them to go far in the Playoffs? I don’t know. They just ain’t showed me the consistency all year long. They haven’t proven that style of play has worked over the years.
I’m not that confident in the Rockets as far as going too far in the Playoffs or making any real noise.
JALEN ROSE: I agree with Paul. If there’s a wild card, it is the Rockets. You will win four out of five and/or lose four out of five when you’re very perimeter oriented the way they are. That’s why, for example, when they missed 27 straight threes against the Warriors, that was their chance to advance in the Playoffs.
Being that team when those shots are falling, they have a chance to compete with everybody. On the normal lineup going against these tall teams, I mentioned Lakers and Clippers, Paul reminded me of Denver with the Joker, so many squads with big bodies, they have to definitely be shoot lights out to have a chance.
Q. I wanted your views on players using their platforms to address social injustice.
JALEN ROSE: I think it’s important for NBA players to use their platform because they represent a powerful conglomerate. It’s the opposite of the battle that Bubba Wallace is going to have to take on for the next amount of years.
The NBA is 70% black. The players are powerful and visible. It’s important to use that platform and use that voice for social and political change where you can.
I think the players have and will continue to do a good job of it.
Q. What type of changes in terms of diversity representation are you looking to see as the NBA restarts?
JALEN ROSE: More diversity in the contractors that the league deals with. More diversity in positions of power within the teams. More exposure to jobs within the team that so many people that look like me and Paul watch the game and say they want to do what we do for a living. Paul Pierce is 6’8″. Guess what, the Boston Celtics also have hundreds of other people they employ to do other things, to expose them to those jobs.
I think those are the kind of systemic changes that the players and the NBA can work towards being a leader in that area.
PAUL PIERCE: This goes beyond the NBA. This is stuff that we shouldn’t even be talking about with the NBA, predominantly black league having positions of power. This is just something that needs to be going around the United States of America.
I think when I go into Apple, why I never see a black store manager in Apple? I want to see this change not only in sports but in the business world, too. I think we got people just as capable of doing anything. That’s the fight we fighting. It’s not just with sports, it’s just around America, around the world.
We just tired. I want to see more black people in positions of power, that’s capable though. Not just to say we did it, no. There’s many that’s capable of doing it just don’t have the opportunity.
I just hope this message gets across with the players using this platform and their powerful voice to promote this change. They’re doing a great job of it.