Discover more from Marc Stein
Where's the (NBA) beef?
I think we found some in Las Vegas last week featuring two Western Conference powers
The Western Conference finals weren’t close enough to suggest that the Denver Nuggets and the Los Angeles Lakers are now firm rivals.
One playoff encounter, even had it rumbled on for seven games rather than a mere four, is generally nowhere near enough to even start using the word rivalry.
Yet it does seem plenty fair to suggest that the Nuggets and the Lakers, who have indeed played for a spot in the NBA Finals twice in the past four seasons if you rewind to the Walt Disney World bubble campaign of 2019-20, will be taking some tangible beef into next season.
That much was evident last week when Lakers coach Darvin Ham appeared on a live edition of the #thisleague UNCUT podcast alongside Turner Sports’ Chris Haynes and me in Las Vegas. Ham recoiled at the mere mention of how openly giddy his Nuggets counterpart Michael Malone has been since Denver won it all in June.
“Mike Malone did a lot of celebrating,” Haynes noted as Ham sat to his left in Part 2 of the podcast.
“Oh, wow,” Ham replied. “You’re gonna bring up Money Mike, man? The Lakers’ daddy? That’s what they call him now? The Lakers’ daddy?”
“I guess you can talk when you win a championship,” Haynes said.
“God bless his soul,” Ham answered. “This s--- ain’t over. God bless his soul.”
You’ll recall that it was actually Nuggets broadcaster Vic Lombardi — not Malone — who asserted during Denver’s championship parade that Malone “came into this world as the son of a coach … but in these playoffs he became the Lakers’ daddy’’ thanks to the Nuggets’ 4-0 sweep of the conference finals. The comment appeared to rankle a vacationing LeBron James (judging by the enclosed Instagram post) and clearly stuck with Ham, too, presumably because the Nikola Jokić-led Nuggets beat the Miami Heat in the actual NBA Finals … while a decent slice of the talk emanating from Denver seemingly remains focused on LeBron’s Lakers.
I decided to assemble some of Ham’s best lines here as one last illustration of how much we enjoyed the banter with him and how grateful we are for his participation in last Tuesday’s live show at Caesars Palace. He really didn’t have to keep the date given what was happening at the hotel that morning, when a standoff situation that generated several hours of police activity and became a national news story prompted NBA security to send text warnings to countless team representatives in Vegas to “avoid the area.” Ham duly arrived for the interview as scheduled and delivered so much candor that the Bleacher Report aggregation machine saw fit to send out four quoted excerpts from the visit.
Part 1 and Part 2 of the podcast are enclosed below for your listening pleasure. My pals Harrison Faigen and Jacob Rude did some detailed recaps of their own via Silver Screen and Roll if you want to check them out.
Some extended highlights from the convo if you haven’t had a chance yet to listen …
Ham on Austin Reaves’ future:
“I’m putting it on record right now: Austin Reaves will be an All-Star at some point soon. I think what you saw him being invited to be a part of the World Cup team? It’s the first step in that direction. Everything you saw him do last year, the kid is a flat-out competitor, one of the greatest human beings you could ever be around, always fun, keeps things simple, but yet works at his craft. [He] is fearless in the biggest of moments. And my plan is to continue to feature him. He’s our starting 2 guard. I think there’s a lot more levels [he’s] going to get to before it’s all said and done. He’ll be an All-Star and a world champion … with me in the room with him.”
Ham on the 10 teams that interviewed him for head coaching jobs before the Lakers finally hired him:
“Yeah, they f----- up royally.”
Ham on coaching Russell Westbrook:
“Shout out to Russ, man. He takes a lot of blame and everybody seems to want to talk stuff about him. ... I appreciate him for just giving it a chance and complying with what I wanted to do and just to take a bullet for the team. And like I told him, it's not a demotion, bro. Like, OK, we got you, AD and Bron in the starting lineup. All of you guys need the ball and most times you give it up and you going to go stand somewhere. Like, why not realign? Why not allow me to help you? Help us by realigning the rotation to where now you're coming off and you get to dominate, dictate and do everything. And people forget, man, like he came in from that reserve role and we would put runners and shooters and rim-rollers and finishers around him. There’s times they were chanting MVP for Russ. He saved our ass a bunch of nights where we started off flat and he came in and he pushed the tempo. He brought that energy and you look up and we've gone on a 12-2 or 10-0 run as soon as he stepped into the lineup off the bench. So shoutout to him. I’ll always be thankful and respectful for him, again, just meeting me halfway and really trying to buy into what we were trying to do."
Ham on how much he still respects the Nuggets, beef aside, even after the departures in free agency of Bruce Brown and Jeff Green:
“Did they lose Jamal Murray? Did they lose Joker? If they didn’t lose those two, then they really didn’t lose a damn thing.”
The Stein Line is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, please consider becoming a Free or Paid subscriber. Many, many thanks to everyone who has already joined our community to contribute to and fortify this independent endeavor.