I had a chance to question new ESPN “NBA Countdown” analysts Bill Simmons and Jalen Rose about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s prospects during a conference call Thursday. Here’s a transcript of my questions:
Q. I wanted to get Bill and Jalen’s take on the Thunder’s chances of getting back to the NBA Finals this season.
SIMMONS: I’ll go first. I actually think people are sleeping on them a little bit. They came very close in the first four games. Probably decided on a total of six plays. They got their feet wet. Everybody’s attention is on the Lakers, and rightly so.
I don’t know, I think those guys are going to be motivated. The one thing I have is with James Harden, the contract thing, whether that ends up submarining them if that’s not settled. I don’t think it will, but I’m also not a hundred percent it’s going to be the Good Ship Lollypop.
ROSE: I’m not a huge fan of predictions, but if I had to make one, the toughest one so far is who is going to win the West. If I had to give an edge to a team, everyone was playing healthy at a high level, right now the reason I would probably give the Lakers the advantage, they not only have two all-star bigs in Gasol and Dwight Howard, they also are threats on the offensive end that consistently gets you 15 to 20 points on a nightly basis where you can’t double-team off them.
Obviously we know Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook — on the perimeter with James Harden — and with the contract provisions that Bill just talked about, are going to have an exciting season.
The key is going to be home-court advantage. If Dwight is not going to be able to go early in Game 7 inOklahoma City, we know the numbers dictate the team that hosts Game 7 normally wins. So that’s the caveat I’m trying to hang out and see how long Dwight Howard is going to be out recovering from his back injury.
Q. Speaking of Harden, if you had to choose between keeping Harden or Serge Ibaka, who would you pick?
ROSE: Kerry Hilson. Over a few people’s head. That’s who Ibaka is dating right now (laughter).
SIMMONS: I just wrote about this whole situation. I think it’s a little disingenuous on Oklahoma City’s part to pretend they can’t afford everybody. The bottom line is, yeah, eventually they’re going to have to take a luxury tax and face a situation where they’re not going to turn a profit, or so they say. They just spent the last five years raking in profits.
Sports is a business. At some point you have to realize, yeah, we’re going to have ebbs and flows. Over a five-year stretch, we might make $75 million, over the next three we might lose $20 million. You can’t let that affect your chances to win a championship.
I looked this up. No team has ever made the decision to choose the financial bottom line over the championships by trading as big of a guy as Harden. I guess the closest was Phoenixwith Joe Johnson in 2005, he left. Part of the reason he left was they didn’t take care of him with an extension in time. The bottom line is they were still ready to pay him. He got fed up and left. You look at the ramifications that had on the Suns games, how close they came in ’06, ’07, even ’08, toe to toe with the Spurs, that was a catastrophic turn of events for them.
You can’t tell me Oklahoma City is going to have a better chance to win the title over the next five years if they lose one of their best three guys. In my opinion, Ibaka would be more expendable, but I would not get rid of the other three.
ROSE: My answer to that question is 30 teams, 15 roster spots, 450 jobs, there’s always going to be a competitive space, and you have to follow the tea leaves. Who did OKC draft? Perry Jones III. If he can play, be a sixth man on a rookie contract but play at a high level, that gives them leverage to moves James Harden.
That’s what they’re going to be looking to try to do if he’s playing at a high level and not necessarily give James Harden $10 million, $15 million a year, but try to trade him while his value is high.
ESPN2 commentator Skip Bayless says Oklahoma City Thunder star James Harden is partially to blame for Los Angeles Lakers’ forward Metta World Peace’s hard elbow that left Harden with a concussion during the Thunder-Lakers game Sunday afternoon.
Speaking Monday morning on ESPN2’s “First Take,” Bayless, an Oklahoma City native, said Harden moved into Peace’s path to disrupt his celebration after his dunk in the first half.
Because of the incident, Bayless said he no longer would refer to him as Metta World Peace, but as Ron Artest, his previous name.
“I’m going to give Harden a little bit of the blame here,” Bayless said. “James Harden is known to be a shrewd operator in the NBA already at a young age. He likes to get under the opponent’s skin. He likes to get in Kobe’s face. They got into it in Oklahoma City before the All-Star Game.”
Another “First Take” commentator Wale, a rapper, interrupted, “That’s basketball. That’s competition.”
Bayless: “Clearly James Harden was attempting to disrupt Artest’s chest-pounding celebration at his place, at Staples Center. He just wanted to cut it a little short by getting in front of Artest, just saying stop it. I also think he’s such a shrewd operator that he was hoping that the runaway train that was Artest at that point just might get called for an offensive foul, running over him without looking at him.”
Wale: “You just don’t put yourself in front of Ron Artest and roll the dice.”
Bayless: “Well, he rolled it, baby. Does it justify Artest throwing an elbow? Absolutely not. … But if James Harden had gotten out of the way for one more second and let Artest go by him, we’re not having this conversation.”
Analyst Rob Parker disagreed with Bayless. “It wasn’t contact in a malicious way,” Parker said of Harden. “He didn’t look straight at him or lower his shoulder.”
Melee disputed Bayless’ claim that Harden had a reputation for riling up opponents, calling him a “quiet guy.”
Bayless: “He’s an L.A. guy. He’s from Artesia (High School). He knows how to play the game.”
Bayless said he thought the NBA should suspend Artest for five games, including four playoff games. Parker and Melee said he should be suspended for the entire first round of the playoffs.
“That elbow can not be tolerated,” Parker said. “It is a black eye on the game.”
Bayless recently was criticized on “First Take” by fellow commentator Jalen Rose for overstating his basketball achievement at Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City. In a tweet, Bayless said he started on a team that lost in the state finals. According to team statistics, Bayless averaged only 1.4 points a game for the 1970 team and did not score in the 47-42 state championship loss to Norman.