Is there still a place in the league for veterans like Kemba Walker and Blake Griffin?
Coach Norman Black: The NBA has a long season. You really don't know what's going to happen, what injuries will come upon you. You just don't know whether these guys will play their way back into the rotation in practice, which could happen over a period of time, even if NBA teams don't really practice that much. You never know if you're going to be undermanned.
To be honest, I don't really understand the thinking behind announcing that a player would not be a part of the rotation, unless they just want to make it clear to everybody that they don't want to answer questions that come along with not playing those players. I say that because how do you know whether you're going to need them in a game or not? Somebody might get in foul trouble or get hurt. I would probably avoid aggravating my players in that way. I'd expect them to be professional, but they can't possibly feel good.
Isaac Go: Most definitely. These are players who have had multiple individual accolades and team success, and they are able to keep up with younger players. These are guys that may have been in the league for decades, but are still working hard to achieve more and more each season. While they might not provide the same level of production as their younger years, it is always good to have that calming presence, steady hand, and leadership on the court that you can only get with years of experience. Plus, it’s almost equally important to have veteran leaders to provide guidance off the court such as life, relationships, and investments.
LA Tenorio: Definitely there’s still a place for them. They’re probably two of the premier vets who are playing in the NBA right now. But of course their time on the court is limited already because there are a lot of really good young players now. I think they have a place in a team, if they can get into the right team, I think they can help a lot in terms of teaching and mentoring young players because of their experience.
The two best teams in the league faced off twice this past week. Who impressed you more: the Suns or the Warriors?
Coach Norman: I'll say that I was impressed with both teams' offense. Golden State and Phoenix are two of the best teams at having not just offensive ball movement, but also offensive body movement. In other words, they're not one of those teams that would create offense from a pick-and-roll and having three guys space out. The Warriors and Suns will back door, curl-and-cut, split post – they have all kinds of movements to get their players open shots. Their offense is superior to most NBA teams. I love the way their offense has constant movement.
Isaac: As much as the Warriors have been great on the back of Steph Curry’s MVP-like performances, I’d have to say that the Suns have been more impressive. At the beginning, I honestly felt that they would not be able to replicate the success they had last season because of how competitive the West is. But now that the season is ongoing, I quickly realized that the Suns are out to redeem themselves. They found another gear and are silencing the doubters, me included. And of course, I do want to see Chris Paul get his ring.
LA: To be honest I was impressed with the Suns and how they played. In the first game, they beat the Warriors who are really playing well, and they beat them convincingly without Devin Booker in the second half. They are playing consistent basketball. With how they finished last season, although they fell short of the championship, we see the consistency of their play now even minus their star player. Golden State is always at the top of the conversation with regards to the best teams, but I think the Suns – especially with what happened to them last season – have been playing consistent basketball.
Is Nikola Jokic right about the not-so-tough NBA crowd? What was your toughest crowd experience?
Coach Norman: The Miami fans weren't too tough on Jokic. They did boo him, but I was expecting the fans to be on top of him the entire game. Depending on what city you're in, it could have been worse. Some cities are more laid back than others. I thought the New York crowd was hard on Trae Young in the playoffs last year. I've never been to Serbia before, but I don't doubt it's tougher there.
Obviously, if you're playing against Ginebra here, it doesn't get much tougher than that. They're going to boo your team on everything and they're going to cheer their team on everything. They could be down 40 points and Ginebra fans would still be cheering like it was a two-point game. The Ginebra crowd would be considered tough, no matter what part of the world you're in.
Isaac: I think it comes from the history of its people. Serbia has had a rocky past. It’s gone through a lot of turmoil in its recent memory and it is still evident when you go there. When I went there, I still saw buildings that have been bombed, and the city hasn’t been fully modernised. People are still living with the memories of those tough times. This might be the reason they are harder on themselves and the people around them. This might have been the environment that Jokic grew up in, which may have made him more thick-skinned than others.
I think the toughest crowd would have to be the DLSU crowds in the UAAP during my second year. The Ateneo-La Salle rivalry is one of the most (if not the most) decorated rivalries in Philippine sports history. This was the year that La Salle was parading their prized recruit Ben Mbala and new head coach Aldin Ayo. The DLSU crowd knew they had a dominant team that was going to win, so the crowd became more animated and hostile to other teams to rile the opponents even further. I would have to say that it’s these types of crowds that I love to play in. We may have lost that year, but it’s still one of the more memorable ones and playing against that crowd was one of the reasons.
LA: Well, that’s based on Nikola Jokic’s experience. I haven’t experienced playing in Serbia. Maybe it’s really worse in Serbia, we don’t know. NBA fans can be similarly tough, but I don’t think they’re going to do something bad to a player. Players are going to hear a lot of things from a lot of fans, but I don't think anyone will do anything to Jokic.
I think my toughest crowd experience was during my Ateneo days. That’s what I last remember – those Ateneo-La Salle games. It was always a tough crowd experience every time we played. I can’t say I have a similar experience in the PBA, because as a Ginebra player, the crowd is always on our side.
How would you talk to your teammates postgame after a 73-point blowout?
Coach Norman: "It was nice coaching you guys. I'll see you in the future somewhere else, because I'm not sure how much longer I'll be around after a 73-point loss." That would probably be my only comment. You lose by 20, 25, 30 points – you move on. I've never been a part of a team that lost by 70 points. That's somewhat ridiculous.
Isaac: Honestly, there isn’t much you can say. As an individual and collective, there has to be that drive within you to win, and losing by 73 points is basically a slap in the face and a kick in the nuts. However, the beauty of a season is that whether you lose by 1 or 100 points, it's only one tick in the loss column. The point differential doesn’t carry over to your next game. You get a chance to go out and show that you were better than your last game.
LA: Definitely it’s gonna be hard. I can imagine the dugout of the Oklahoma City Thunder after that game. I can imagine the management and the coaching staff talking to the players. It’s very frustrating. But I don’t think it’s the right time to talk to the team right after the game. You really have to face reality and get back to the drawing board. It’s very embarrassing, definitely, but you can’t do anything about it because it’s over and done with. A 73-point blowout is just one loss in the standings. If ever it does happen to my team, I will talk to my teammates not after the game but probably a day after or whenever we’re already calm and no longer as disappointed or frustrated postgame. I will tell them it’s over and done with, just learn from it, and let’s just show everyone that we can come back from that 73-point loss. OKC is really struggling but they just have to stay positive and trust the process.
IG Lives, boat commutes to the arena, practicing in full playing gear – which has been the best part of Klay Thompson's pre-return tour?
Coach Norman: I have no idea why Klay would practice in full uniform. My only superstition as a player was that I'd eat spaghetti for every pre-game meal. Maybe he's trying to tell his management and coaching staff that he's ready and they should let him on the floor already. I watched his clips from the G League and he looks good. They're being very careful with him because he's been out for a couple of years. It's going to be interesting how Klay, Curry, and Jordan Poole all play together. You'd think Poole's averages might go down, but he could end up getting more open shots with Klay on the floor.
Isaac: It has to be the boat commutes. I mean, who else in the NBA uses a boat to go to the arena? I remember watching a finance video on how Klay Thompson spends his money, and I was quite shocked to know that the sharpshooter is quite frugal. One of his biggest splurges was his boat, and it is nice to see him get some use out of it. He doesn’t regret his purchase and it’s a flex that I think only he can pull off.
LA: It’s very entertaining to watch Klay Thompson preparing to come back. He even played in the G League with the Santa Cruz Warriors. Everyone’s waiting for him to come back, but I think it’s too much entertainment from him. I think the most important thing is that people see that he really works hard to recover from his injuries and get back into shape. There’s also pressure on him once he comes back because the Warriors are playing good basketball right now. For me, doing all those entertaining stuff is too much.
If I have to choose the best part, however, it’s him shooting. I don’t think it’s necessary to show how he goes to the arena, or even wear a jersey with No. 77 just to make a statement that he’s not part of the 75th anniversary team. It’s all too much entertainment. I think he needs to focus more on how to get back on the hard court and play with the team. Everyone’s excited – me included – to see him with the Warriors again.