The upside of landing a current NBA player or coach as a PodKast guest is their insight is as good as it gets. Even a former player or coach isn't in the loop quite like an active member of the NBA frat. However, there's a catch-22. These are also the same folks often reluctant to be truly candid out of fear of alienating a future teammate or coach. You get a good "name," but not necessarily as great an interview.
Thankfully, former Clippers head coach Kim Hughes is the exception proving the rule. The man is famous for his honesty while taking all questions, including those about his very odd setup with the red, white and blue. This quality makes him an ideal candidate to break down the good, bad and the ugly of what to expect between the Lakers and Jazz in the Western Conference Finals. Give it a listen and learn something.
- (2:15): If you were among those failing to peg the Suns as Western Conference Finalists back in November, join the club. "I was stunned," admitted Hughes. So how did it happen? As Hughes explained, the Suns are hardly the Bad Boy Pistons or 2008 Celtics, but there's finally solid enough lockdown mixed in with the high octane O. Thus, he expects better basket protection from this round's opponents than the previous foes.
"(Phoenix has) morphed into a semi-decent defensive team. I would never have expected that. They've got Amar'e Stoudemire occasionally playing defense on the weakside, taking a few charges. I've gone on record as saying I thought he's a poor defender. As is Carlos Boozer. But at this point he's a much better defender than Boozer. As badly as Boozer got pounded by the lakers inside (in the semi-finals), giving up offensive rebounds, not defending in the post, not helping on the weakside, Stoudemire will be more effective."
Ouch-ke on Boozer. But on the plus side, while Hughes also labeled CB a "selfish player and a player who only cares about offense," it's conceded he's a good, if selfish, offensive player.
-(3:43): As the result of a competitive first round against the Thunder, questions marks began to surface for the Lakers. Were they too old? Too injured? Too complacent? Then came a second round sweep, which instantly returned them back to front runner status. I asked Hughes how, as a coach, you distinguish between challenging moments vs. dangerous and perhaps insurmountable trends. At the risk of sounding insensitive towards analysts (or spouses), the problem is overly reactionary natures.
"I think the media, and I'm not bashing you guys at all, I know it's your job, but I think you radically change opinions kind of like wives do," laughed Hughes. "You just bounce from good to bad and as a coach or a guy we can't figure out what the heck is going on here."
Oh, it's funny because it's accurate.
Hughes also noted how the Lakers --and in particular, Kobe-- were pretty dinged up during the first round and Derek Fisher was "exposed for not being able guard quickness." A combination of quality adjustments and extended rest between games did the trick. From there, the Lakers undoubtedly ran into some luck playing a Jazz team matching up poorly against them, with two injured starters (Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur) to boot.
"I've got nothing against Kyrylo Fesenko, but I don't think he's a quality NBA big."
Sure, but have you seen the man boogie, Kim?
-(6:00): Despite those qualifiers, Hughes does think the Lakers are playing legitimately well at the moment. Not that issues don't linger, of course. Like most of the planet, he "questions some of Ron Artest's shot selection." Specifically, shots launched from behind the arc. Hughes loves Ron-Ron working down low and thinks his strength can be utilized scoring against Phoenix. The hope is Artest doesn't fall "victim to thinking if he's open he has to shoot three-point shots."
On a related note, Artest and Hughes are now in a twitter war.
Also, despite being a huge fan of Artest's D, Hughes isn't sure how the small forward will make a pointed impact on that side of the ball. He's not likely quick enough to stay with Steve Nash. Ditto Fisher, for that matter. Hughes predicts Kobe will inevitably spend a decent chunk of time checking the Canadian. On the flip side, he'd love to see Phil Jackson turn the tables and unleash the uber-tall Artest-Bryant-Odom-Gasol-Bynum lineup so often fantasized about. The coach is curious who'd Nash guards in that situation.
"It would present a defensive nightmare for Gentry."
-(9:50): As was made often painfully evident during the OKC series, the Lakers often struggle to prevent a fast breaks at the rim. Well, not only does Phoenix kill it on the run, they're able to either get a layup OR set up shooters to drill treys. With that double trouble in mind, does the approach in defending transition situations change against the Suns? Yes, and Hughes explain how/why.
-(12:00): Andrew Bynum's role in this series strikes Brian as rather curious. On one hand, he could abuse Phoenix in a size mismatch. On the other, he could become an afterthought if lost when the Suns go small. Hughes says the outcome is ultimately "up to Andrew." If he doesn't punish Robin Lopez and consistently get back on defense, the "negatives outweigh the positives" of playing him against a speedy, undersized squad. Plus, the Lakers will be just fine with Lamar Odom-Pau Gasol tandem. It's Drew who'll force Phil's hand one way or the other.
Along those lines, the Lakers want impose their size on the Suns while Phoenix in turn wants to use the accompanying lack of speed against L.A. Something obviously has to give and whatever outcome may be the result of how matchups are handled. As a coach, I wondered if Hughes prefers to force advantages --even while leaving yourself theoretically vulnerable on another level-- or to outplay an opponent at their own game. He's decidedly an "option A" kinda guy.
"I don't want to adjust to what another team is doing. It's important to know their play sets and what they prefer and all that. In terms of if they go, do we have to go small, I don't believe in that. If they sub small and you're big, then you want to pound them inside... If you don't use your advantages, then you're gonna suffer the consequences. If they have an advantage on you, you have to make sure you take advantage of their weaknesses as well... If you've got a situation where your matchup isn't working, then you've got to change. But I think there's nothing wrong with riding it out for a couple of possessions... I don't think you should hesitate in your philosophy. I think you should try it out and see how it works and it may take a couple of minutes to get it going for you.
"You've got to run a risk of taking a chance."
-(15:46): Beyond the purple and gold size advantage, Hughes sees Phoenix's ability to slow Kobe as the big key. Of those likely to get the call, Hughes actually thinks Grant Hill may find some success, particularly if his length can be utilized guarding 24 in the post, but has less faith in Jared Dudley or Jason Richardson.
-(18:00) For years, Brian and I always maintained the conventional wisdom Phoenix's style can't win a title was, in fact, conventionally incorrect. If you're talking about a B-List crew playing flightless Nellie-Ball, yeah. But with high-caliber players and a floor general like Nash, the the championship potential was real. Thus, we've both always felt the D'Antoni core was unnecessarily busted up. Hughes doesn't disagree. While he points out how the S.S.O.L. philosophy has been tweaked for the better (taking closer shots earlier in the clock, more attention to defense, etc.), he doesn't think the general approach "isn't built for the playoffs," as many claimed.
And finally, he's got Lakers in six.