After skipping it last year (much like how the Rockets skipped the whole season), today marks the return of the Annual Preview Guy Mailbag!
Disclaimer: This idea is stolen directly from Bill Simmons. It’s all done in fun and games. Please don’t sue us.
As always, these are actual (read: completely fake) emails from actual (read: mostly fake) readers. Also, there are no footnotes available to us. Otherwise I would abuse the crap out of that.
Q: We have to talk about the TNT “Future” video from a few years ago. Some of those things have kinda happened, right?
AK: So this is the video is question. TNT dropped it before Opening Night in 2013. I’ll give you a moment to watch it. It’s safe for work, as are every other video embedded or linked in this mailbag.
Let’s break down some of these “predictions.”
- The Oklahoma City Thunder win the NBA title: Nope. Last year seems to have been their last real shot at it. They were up 5 with 5 minutes to go in what would have been a decisive Game 6. And if OKC had beaten the Spurs and Warriors, there was a really good chance they were taking down the Cavaliers too. Luckily for us, we got a dream Finals matchup that ended the way everyone outside of the Bay Area wanted it to end.
- James Harden wins the MVP: Well, we’re a little over a month from that being a reality. Sure, there’s a few other contenders for a top individual prize in basketball. Hold that thought.
- Phil Jackson comes out of retirement to coach the New York Knicks: Close, but no cigar. Phil is the President of the Knicks, but not the head coach. However, that shot of him and Carmelo Anthony being upset with each other does seem pretty realistic.
- Derrick Rose sets a Bulls record in scoring by dropping 70 on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden: Again, nope. Rose’s career high in points is a modest 42, which he accomplished twice back in 2011 during his MVP campaign. Neither game occurred at MSG. Injuries shortened his prime, but he still shows flashes of brilliance. He’s dreaming if he thinks he’ll get a max contract this summer, but he’ll get paid.
- Kobe Bryant retires: That’s an easy “prediction” to make because the retirement rate of NBA players is 100%. Plus, Kobe stuck around for another two seasons after that one.
- The Clippers win the NBA championship: Well, they were one quarter away from the Conference Finals two years ago so...
- LeBron finally competes in the Dunk Contest: Never gonna happen. He knows the Dunk Contest depends on some luck. You have to make the dunk the first time to have a shot. Otherwise, he could tarnish his legacy by pulling an Aaron Gordon from this year. He’ll continue to pass on the event. Also, TNT could have picked a better dunk to show there. That little two handed semi-windmill would have gotten a 37.
- The Chicago Bulls win the NBA championship: Nope.
- The Golden State Warriors win the NBA championship: one year too early, but that definitely happened.
So by my count, the TNT video got one right, one that could be right soon, another that was a lock to happen, and six incorrect predictions.
Side note: the footage from James Harden’s acceptance speech comes from his Sixth Man of the Year Award win in 2012. I would lose all of my shit if he wore the same outfit and delivered that same line if he wins the MVP.
Speaking of the MVP race...
Q: Why is no one talking about the superstar my team has? He is amazing and he’s way better than James Harden and no one talks about him? I’m tired of talking about Harden vs. Russ. What about ____________ (insert LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas, DeMar DeRozan, Steph Curry, or Kevin Durant here)?
-Super Biased Fan who Pretends they Are Objective in their Love for their Superstar, NBA City
AK: Okay, so here’s the deal. Due to mostly laziness from the national media, NBA awards are based almost entirely on narrative. What’s the best story? Who’s the most intriguing winner? Who had the stones to say they deserved X Award early in the season?
All of that is to say that awards require a year-long campaign. You can’t just get to January and go “Hey Isaiah keeps scoring a bunch of points in the fourth quarter! He should be MVP!” Where was he in November and December? Johnny-Come-Lately doesn’t work in the NBA Awards races anymore.
That’s why Draymond Green is winning Defensive Player of the Year. Should he? Heck no. Kawhi Leonard is so good defensively that teams are trying their darnedest to hide him in the corner. But Draymond started campaigning for it early in the season. That, combined with voter fatigue for Kawhi will hand the award to Green.
But let’s talk about the MVP, since that’s the crux of the thing. Other awards are nice, but no one will remember who won Defensive Player or Sixth Man of the Year in 10 years. But winning MVP makes you an MVP for life.
I have to get this off my chest first: I don’t go a single day without seeing a new piece/post/article that extols the virtues of Westbrook, Kawhi, or LeBron. So the whole “Are we sure Player X is the MVP because Player Y is doing things too” needs to stop. All four of these guys are taking over my Twitter timeline and Reddit feeds. Arguing that your guy isn’t getting enough space is preposterous.
You’ve read enough about why James Harden should be the MVP. I’m not going to bog this already-way-too-long mailbag with more James Harden talk. But he’s deserving. I think there’s little doubt there.
Narrative or not, Kawhi Leonard has played himself into the MVP race. And as the best player for a 2 seed with a better record than the other top candidates, he’s got that argument going for him. Of the top 5 candidates, he’s easily the best defender by miles. But his play started cresting a few weeks ago and has continued cresting during two comeback overtime wins for the Spurs. Obviously, I haven’t used the verb “crest” enough yet so I’m going to hit my quota now. Seriously, have you read The Book of Basketball? I used some form of the word “crest” 378 times, cresting in Chapter 3 when my “crest” usage crested at an astonishing 15 times per page.
Russell Westbrook has the triple double average. You’ve heard it everywhere. At this point, it will follow him to his grave.
“Hey remember when Russell Westbrook went psycho and murdered 11 people in Tulsa?”
“Yeah, that was horrible. But he did average a triple double though.”
That’s said jokingly. What Russ is doing is ridiculous. Sure, you could nitpick that most of his rebounds are uncontested or that his team seems to be actively trying to get him assists by shooting when he passes to them even when they wouldn’t have normally. I’ve seen players that give 100% on every possession. That’s not new in the NBA. I mean, no one could forget (insert a long paragraph about some random Celtics player from 1952). Right?
But Russ is the first superstar I can remember that goes all-out on every play. It’s impossible for guys to go 100% when they are initiating the offense like Harden does or LeBron did back in his first Cleveland stint. Yet, there’s Russ, going a million miles per hour into the paint in the middle of the second quarter. He does everything for the Thunder. He’s a joy to watch, truly. There’s never been anything like him. Except that guy from the Celtics in 1952. They’re neck-and-neck.
Voter fatigue is a stupid phenomenon, but it exists. How hard is it to type “LeBron James” for MVP every year? He’s still the best player in the NBA. The Thunder, Rockets, and Spurs would all trade their MVP candidate for LeBron in a heartbeat. Don’t pretend it’s not true. Is LeBron surrounded by two superstars and a handful of above-average role players? Sure. But he’s still the best player in the NBA.
Look, three players are going to get screwed. There’s no way around that. So get your excuses ready.
If I had a vote, here’s how it would go:
And you guys think I’m a Celtics homer!
Q: What would The Kawhi 1 look like?
-SpursFan4Lyfe, San Antonio
AK: First off, can we agree that the Kawhi logo is super dope as a play on his claw hands?
Secondly, should Kawhi even have his own shoe? Wait don’t hurt me I can explain!
Leonard is unlike any other superstar to ever play the game not named Tim Duncan. He shows zero emotion while having the talent of the best players in the league. He’s understated and nonchalant. Like Duncan, he isn’t a brand because that’s not in his character. Kobe, LeBron, Harden, Russ: these guys are just as much flash as fire. Kawhi is all fire all the time, with no room for flash (though it does peek through now and then).
I hate the idea that he’s boring. He’s anything but. Just watch and you’ll see a guy who’s crazy athletic, incredibly coordinated, and supremely talented in most facets of the game. That’s not boring.
If you’re just desperate for a design idea, what about a shoe that looks like a spider with a bunch of legs coming out of it? Spider...claw...claw...spider. That sounds like a thing.
Q: You can’t possibly go an entire Spurs preview without talking about an HEB commercial featuring the Spurs, can you?
AK: Dammit you caught me. Due to time constraints, my first few previews against the Spurs weren’t given the attention and love I normally heap on San Antonio. But I never forgot about the HEB videos!
The Spurs have had some great commercials with HEB. There was Kawhi saying “indubitably” for no reason. Tony Parker got defensive about his cooking (“Oh my bad” from Kawhi is the best line). The Big Three compared muscles.
But this is my favorite.
I’m a sucker for some cute kids, so that’s an easy win there. But I have some questions.
- Admittedly, Duncan’s rating system is pretty rigged. A “1” and a “10” are basically the same. I understand why the girl with freckles is confused.
- Who thinks Duncan is spelled with a “k?” You know these kids are from San Antonio. You have to know how to spell “Duncan.” That’s like the first thing you learn in San Antonio. I get that you’re thinking about “dunking,” but even a 6-year-old has to understand there’s a difference there.
- “Why are you so tall?” “My parents?” Classic conversation with children.
- Getting the box signed for your dad. This kid is looking out. Or he could sell it on Ebay. Either way, he’s going to win at life.
- Where IS Coyote?
- Again, Duncan didn’t answer the poor girl’s question earlier. Of course she’s still confused about the ratings.
- I was 100% sure that Duncan would come out of retirement right before March 1. I was wrong. Sorry Spurs fans.
Q: I have a follow-up question. Speaking of commercials, why is “The Andersons got tickets!” still on television? Didn’t that commercial come out five years ago? Can’t they come up with a new commercial?
AK: The commercial has become a meme in every sense of the word.
There’s an entire backstory to the commercial here.
SI got an exclusive interview with the “genius” dad to explain what went down here.
Even Dwyane Wade wants to know how the Andersons got tickets. Here.
Mostly, I just want a new commercial. Like this work of absolute genius (or its brilliant sister):
I only have one problem. As someone who wears size 15 sneakers, I guarantee you that a shoe store in the mall doesn’t carry shoes up to size 19. You gotta order those suckers online or find a store that specializes in that stuff.
Q: The Rockets deserve all the awards! Harden should be MVP, Gordon should be 6MoY, MDA should be CoY, and Morey should be EoY. Someone else can win Most Improved or DPoY. But those four should be locks for the Rockets. Right?
P.S. If you disagree then you are not a true Rockets fan. Go back to being a bandwagon Golden State fanboy smh.
-Rockets 44-19, Houston
AK: Well, you didn’t really give me much to work with here.
I’m not disagreeing with you, necessarily. I think Eric Gordon is a lock to win Sixth Man of the Year. I think Mike D’Antoni is the runaway Coach of the Year winner.
But MVP is still up in the air. With four serious candidates at this point and over a month left, you can bet most writers are waiting for someone to fall off. But there won’t be a unanimous MVP again.
And remember the narrative? Bob Myers is the front-runner for Executive of the Year because Kevin Durant picked the Golden State Warriors. Is that a good reason to vote for someone as a great GM? No, but narrative.
Still, your question does bring to light a huge problem that is plaguing our country and threatening to become an epidemic.
Why do people put their teams’ records in their Twitter names? I can look up the standings. So can everyone else? Why the constant reminder? At least putting the current record is better than its oddball cousin, which is putting the best possible record your team could achieve if it won out. Again, I can do math. And if I can’t, a calculator can.
Q: This is bullshit! You haven’t posted the Joe Dumars picture yet. This is just a false copycat until you drop that wonderful image.
-Bill S, abandoned set of Any Given Wednesday
AK: That’s not really a question. But fine.
Are you happy now?
Q: What’s the best-case move the Rockets could make this offseason?
-Ali K, Houston
AK: There will be a bunch of really good free agents this summer, but most seem likely to stay with their current teams if the money is right.
We’ve talked about Golden State’s conundrum of having to deal with both Durant and Curry being eligible for $200 million extensions. Even if one of them takes a gigantic pay cut, their chances of holding onto Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are slim unless those guys are willing to sign for a fraction of what they can make on the open market.
All three of the Clippers’ free agents have stated their desires to stay in LA and continue building. And with LA’s cap situation the way it is, the Clippers cannot really afford to lose any of those guys. Chris Paul is unlikely to leave and JJ Redick would be fun here but redundant at this point. Imagining James Harden/Blake Griffin pick-and-rolls is the stuff of dreams, but Griffin knows his money is in LA.
The Rockets won’t have max money to toss around. Based on current projections, the Rockets will be about $13 million under the $102 million projected cap. So there’s money there. But there isn’t max money.
But that $13 million includes the loss of Nene. Even if he doesn’t return at a similar cost (he should get much more than that unless his agent is B.J. Armstrong), the Rockets will need a banger down low. Re-signing Nene will be the first option, but Houston won’t want to pay $10+ million for a backup center. So they will have to put some money aside for that.
The Rockets also need to address the issue at backup point guard. This is the part where Spurs fans pray that no one notices that Patty Mills is a free agent this summer and perfect for Houston’s offense. In fact, he’s perfect for a lot of teams. If he wants to start, there will be places he can do that. If he wants money, he could probably get that along with a starting role. But if he wants to win and make some bank, the Rockets are a reasonable option. The Spurs will have money for him, but Pau Gasol, Dewayne Dedmon (another reasonable Houston target), and David Lee all have player options. Manu Ginobili will have to be paid if he wants to keep playing. And Jonathon Simmons will be an unrestricted free agent along with Patty “Party Melt” Mills (this is a real nickname with a backstory; the details aren’t important except that Whataburger and Patty Mills need to make an arrangement, stat). The Spurs will have some money to work with if all three player option guys walk.
And if all 3 guys walk? They’re looking at max money. They could use that bring back Mills and another top player or two.
So yeah, the Spurs aren’t going anywhere. Not until Pop retires. Which will happen one day. As a Rockets fan, all you can do is hope.
And the media will continue to ignore them! Except for this preview, where I’ve basically written over 1500 words about them.
Q: This is a fake question so you can rant about how much you hate the “Spurs are under the radar” talk.
Oh I didn’t ask a question. Um, right?
AK: I get peeved fairly easily. Like when someone says that Larry Bird isn’t the greatest human being to walk on the Earth. Or when they say Bill Russell wasn’t that good because there were only 4 teams in the NBA when he won his 11 championships. You guys, he won 11 rings! That’s almost as good as two Michael Jordans!
Anyway, my biggest basketball-related peeve is the belief that no one talks about the Spurs. Or that the Spurs are “under the radar.” Or that everyone forgets about the Spurs.
The Spurs have been great (not good, great!) for 20 years in a row. We all know they are there. Any basketball fan worth their weight knows that San Antonio will factor into the championship. Golden State, Houston, or Cleveland will have to beat them. Otherwise, they’re winning another ring and continuing the “NOBODY BELIEVES IN US!” narrative. Maybe the media doesn’t talk about the Spurs because Pop keeps giving funny short answers to questions instead of detailed responses that could spawn insightful pieces. Maybe it’s because there are no divas on the Spurs so there’s little reason to talk about them. Go sign Matt Barnes if you want more empty attention.
So please, cool it with the “No one is talking about the Spurs” talk. Don’t give me any more “The Spurs are flying under the radar, and that’s how they like it.” And don’t tell me that I’ve forgotten about the Spurs. It’s insulting.
Wait, who were we talking about?
I wanna say...Orlando?
Q: Can you do an NBA trade value ranking?
AK: No. I don’t have time for that. We’re 3100 words in and my laptop is starting to look more and more like Ryan Anderson after a dunk attempt.
How about I just do a Rockets trade value ranking? I can’t write about trade value for guys whose contracts run out this summer since they cannot be traded again. So without further ado, here we go:
Want them? Sure, they’re yours for a pick.
11-13. (in no order) Isaiah Taylor, Kyle Wiltjer, Chinanu Onuaku
If you want them, you can have them. Taylor and Onuaku could have futures in the NBA, and Wiltjer is a shooter. Otherwise, they’re mostly trade fodder to make deals work.
Want a shooter for $20 million a season?
10. Ryan Anderson
4 years, $80 million keeps looking bad, doesn’t it? But the key to the signing was that it signaled a change in styles for the Rockets. Ryno will be tough to unload should Houston wish to do so, but I suppose it’s possible it could happen.
The young guys who improve every day
9. Montrezl Harrell
8. Sam Dekker
The rookies that aren’t rookies. Both Harrell and Dekker have shown real glimpses of potential, even if it appears Dekker has hit the rookie wall and Harrell is a victim of Nene and Capela playing some of their best basketball of the season. Harrell is under control for one more year at a reasonable $1.09 million. Dekker is under contract for two more years before the restricted offer sheet comes into play.
Dekker is more valuable to what Houston is doing, but the league is moving towards Harrell as an above-average center. This is really a 8a and 8b situation.
Want a shooter for a lot less than $20 a season?
7. Eric Gordon
6. Lou Williams
Again, similar players so they get lumped together. Gordon is younger and under contract for longer, but Williams wins here because I think NBA general managers will always be worried about Splash Gordon’s injury history.
At just $8 million next season, Williams’s contract is easily movable and could be a part of any deal Houston wants to make. Both of these guys also benefit in Houston’s system as being replaceable by the other one.
You’ll probably need four of these guys to beat the Warriors
5. Trevor Ariza
He’s the a 3-and-D wing that every team needs these days. And frankly, he’s the only one the Rockets have. I think Dekker’s ceiling is what Iguodala does for Golden State (I’m not saying he’s there yet or even in the same neighborhood, so stand down). In the meantime, the Rockets are riding and dying with Ariza as a do-everything wing that will be called upon to guard anyone from point guards to Anthony Davis. What he does for Houston is difficult to put in terms of value. And he’s just the fourth-most valuable guy the Rockets have.
The Once and Present King
4. Clint Capela
If the league is moving towards Montrezl Harrell as a perfect center, it’s currently in a place where Clint Capela is the man. The Mavs (ugh) were the first team to find a center and use him the way that the Rockets are using their center. Most centers of the past wanted post touches. No, Dwight Howard was not the only one.
Capela does everything Houston needs in a James Harden-centric offense: make rim runs, set screens like they’re your oxygen, and finish demoralizing alley-oops (defense and free throw shooting sold separately).
Seriously though, if Capela becomes half the defensive presence Tyson Chandler was for Dallas, he’s going to make a lot of money. And he’s just 22.
Don’t call unless you’ve got an All-Star to trade
3. Patrick Beverley
The heart and soul of the Rockets. He’s so valuable that both Daryl Morey stated emphatically and James Harden reiterated that he was never available at the trade deadline.
This about summed up my feelings:
You can pry Bev from our cold dead hands. He’s ours. https://t.co/cpwyseUzCG— The Dream Shake (@DreamShakeSBN) February 22, 2017
Don’t call us. We won’t call you.
2. James Harden
He’s everything to this team. He could be making $50 million and he would still be the most important player here.
“Wait, how is James Harden not number 1?” you ask.
Easy. Number 1 is Daryl Morey.
All of this is his doing. Who cares that Bob Myers is leading the EoY race? Who cares that David Griffin is finding ways to add pieces to a Cavs squad way over the luxury cap?
Daryl Morey turned a dysfunctional 41-win team into a juggernaut at 44 wins and counting. He brought in the pieces that allowed the Rockets to completely change their identity to fit their leader. He went into a make-or-break offseason with his job on the line and reminded the whole damn league who owns their lunches.
He’s the one who puts people in body bags.
He’s the most iconic scene in Miami Vice history.
He’s David Ortiz and Johnny Damon combined in 2004.
He’s Harry Potter.
He’s Daryl effing Morey.
And he’s not coming for your throne.
He’s already sitting on it.
Wow, on that note you should probably give us your prediction and get out of here, huh?
-Everyone who got to this point without skimming
AK: This is a tough game for the Rockets. They are the underdogs here. It’s in San Antonio against a Spurs team that’s had a day off to recover from back-to-back overtime triumphs. They’re not vulnerable. They’re ready.
All I know is that whichever star’s team wins this game, their fans will use it as an argument as to that player’s MVP candidacy. Because the MVP should totally be decided by a game in early March.
Prediction: Spurs control this one from start to finish, win 112-100.
Q: Do the thing where you give us a shoutout! But put some AK spin on it. Please?
AK: As always, Tony must dominate fisher. Because fuck fisher.
And go check out PtR. They don’t use subject lines in their comments. Yes, it’s weird but they’re good people.
Q: Okay, so everyone wants a Space Jam sequel, but there’s no way to improve upon perfection. How about an Air Bud sequel (DON’T DISCARD THIS STAY WITH ME IT’S WORTH IT!)?
I don’t want a sequel with Air Bud playing Australian Rules Rugby or some other obscure sport, but how about another basketball sequel? Let’s go back to our roots. It’s what made Creed such a great film in the Rocky franchise.
Okay, so we pick up 10 years after the end of Air Bud. Josh Framm learned to love basketball and got really good at it, even when they changed the rules and stopped letting his dog play. He even got a scholarship to the University of Washington, but on the night before his opening game, his mom calls. Buddy is dead.
Josh spends the next four years in a funk. Buddy was his best friend. He withdraws socially. He quits basketball because it isn’t fun anymore. There’s PTSD flashbacks. Instead of seeing his teammate in the corner, there’s Buddy open for 3.
He scrapes together a degree, but he’s unhappy. Soon, he’s a functioning alcoholic. He relocates to Minnesota and works some dead-end desk job during the day, but it’s back to drinking at night. One night, he gets caught driving under the influence.
The judge takes pity on him and assigns him to community service. Upon seeing that he was a great high school basketball player and that he played at UW, the judge orders him to coach a team of pee-wee basketball players that lost their coach to a heart attack.
IT’S AIR BUD MEETS MIGHTY DUCKS!
The team sucks, and Framm wants nothing to do with them. But one day, one of the kids (we’ll call him...Charlie) finds a stray golden retriever. It looks like Buddy! And the dog does the same things Buddy could do!
And in Minnesota,
In the Finals, they beat Iceland or something. Who cares? You watching this movie? I know I am! Make it happen Hollywood! Who says no???
AK: Yep. These are my readers. And my inner thoughts.
Tip-off is at 7:30pm CT.