Chris Webber on the NBA playoffs, NCAA prospects, Barkley and more
Chris Webber knows something about making the Final Four on a freshmen-laden team, given his place in Michigan lore as part of the Fab Five. Ahead of the Kentucky-UConn final, Webber, who is starring in Burger King's Watch Like A King NCAA tournament campaign, spoke to SI.com about a number of topics, including the NBA playoffs, Phil Jackson, Charles Barkley, the top NCAA prospects and more:
WEBBER: Clippers/Warriors, by far. I think the Clippers are playing so well this year. I think Blake Griffin has really improved. I think that Chris Paul has conceded some of that leadership over to him and I think they're going to be a great team. But, you just don't want your [matchup] to be against the Warriors and you don't want to have to try to beat them in three games in Oakland. To me, the Warriors by far have the best home-court advantage. That would just be tough. I just wouldn't want to work hard and get the three seed and then as our reward get the six-seed Warriors team. That's just not the most positive thing they can have [as a first-round matchup].
SI: Hypothetical situation: Phil Jackson replaces Mike Woodson as head coach of the Knicks in the 2015-16 season. The Knicks land a big free agent that year, perhaps Kevin Love, to complement Carmelo Anthony, and Phil leads the Knicks to their first championship in more than 40 years, dating back to when he was a player on the 1973 Knicks championship team. Would that feat alone -- going from team president to head coach in a matter of three years and leading a team known for a narrative of irresponsible spending and early playoff exits to an NBA championship be more impressive than any one of the 11 rings Phil had as coach of the Lakers and Bulls?
WEBBER: Man, that would be the biggest feat in the history of sports! I still think in basketball that might be one of the most impressive things ever. I mean, if you think about, you know, Miami with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn't win their first year together. And I know this would be two years from now, but I mean that team is much better than anyone in the NBA even though they couldn't win in their first year.
When Jordan came back, they didn't win [his first year back], so for [Phil] to take the team that he hasn't been able to put his system in for four or five years, or talk to guys and put his team together, so if he does it that quick with players, like you said, Kevin Love coming over and getting the mentality together all in one time, it would be one of the most incredible things definitely in sports history to me, and especially with his body how he's been hurting and surgery and things like that, basically he's going to have to go through a lot to sit on that bench so I don't know if a coach will ever sacrifice as much as he has with pain as well, so it would just be incredible. I think everybody would have to say [that scenario] would be one of the most accomplished feats in sports without a doubt.
SI: If you were David Stern's successor, Adam Silver, what would you do to change the league? LeBron James has proposed to the new commissioner the idea of extending the All-Star break to make it longer because of all the injuries. There have been some ideas being floated around about changing the playoff format. Are these kinds of ideas feasible?
WEBBER: I love the fact that 16 teams need to get in. But what I would suggest is what if you put the best 16 in so you don't have the obligatory terrible team that just snuck in there with an under .500 record. You look at the [Western Conference] and probably nine teams are probably top five [in the Eastern Conference], so maybe just compare it in the NBA by their record no matter what conference. But I do agree [with LeBron James]. This year we had the All-Star game, Damian Lillard was in six events, which he chose to do himself. And he had practice on Monday [after the All-Star weekend] and a game on Tuesday.
If we want to protect our product, really what we're saying is give three days off, and add three back-to-backs, and I think players would still love to do that, because back-to-backs hurt, but at least a back-to-back offers you to get healthy. It's better than just having an All-Star game, which they want to enjoy, and then at the same time slides with practice, other guys are on vacation, resting, and you have to come right back. But I really think David Stern has left the game in a wonderful position, and it's kind of onward and upward as opposed to kind of looking back and seeing what we could have changed back.
SI: Silver has talked about possibly increasing the age from 19 to 20 to be eligible for the NBA Draft. Your colleague Charles Barkley recently echoed that sentiment, saying no player should be able to enter the draft until the completion of his sophomore year of college. What are your thoughts? Is 19 years old appropriate or is a change to 20 needed?
WEBBER: Well I've always kind of been against the age limit because I thought of the ramifications on the college game. But after hearing Jerry West's comments -- not Barkley or anyone else -- but when you hear Jerry West say the college game stinks and that's coming right into the NBA, I agree. It was much different when I grew up, the type of players, the type of coaching that you received in high school, on the AAU level, guys are getting to the NBA in the first 10 picks and don't know basic verbiage of basketball calls and things of that nature, and coming into a young saturated league where no one can play is not a good thing, and so if an age limit will make the game better, then I'm all for the age limit. If the age limit means better players come in, more mature players come in, players that are ready, then I'm all for the age limit.
WEBBER: San Antonio went to the [NBA] Finals last year and have the best record in the NBA. Houston has the fourth-best record. I think the West is going to be very fun to watch. When you're down three points in the fourth quarter of a big game, it's the history, the experience. The Heat are the favorite, but this is going to be a playoffs where we see more Game 7s.
WEBBER: Well, I would say right now the Suns look like they're on the outside. But you never know.
SI: Is Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek still a strong candidate for Coach of the Year even if Phoenix misses the playoffs?
WEBBER: If he makes the playoffs, I think he has a chance, but I think that [Gregg] Popovich is by far the Coach of the Year. I think we all have a Popovich team that we expect do well, do great, but if you really look at it, out of all the years, this is their best season together. They won 19 in a row, it shows you, you know, it's his system. It's who he is. It's not how fresh players are. It's really Coach Popovich, as well as his great player, but I'd have to give Coach Popovich that nod.
SI: So do you think the Spurs are for real this year again and will contend in the NBA Finals even though they've peaked at this time in previous years only to fade out in the playoffs?
WEBBER: They'd have a championship if they had that one rebound last year. With all the other teams, and the potential of the other teams, I think we don't look at San Antonio like potential. You look at them like they are who they are and they can't get much better. But if the teams with potential aren't any better, and you're just banking on them to become better, I just think the experience of San Antonio, you have to beat them. You have to beat them in a seven-game series.
SI: Is Indiana in trouble this year? They've fallen off the level they were playing at earlier in the season.
WEBBER: Yes, I think Indiana is in trouble. I've been saying this since the [Danny] Granger trade. I've been on teams where management has taken a guy out of the locker room because he wasn't producing, and actually the piece he was producing in the locker was something that people didn't know was going on. You see [Lance] Stephenson getting advice and they're playing as a team. You heard Paul George talking about how he misses that leadership.
With me, besides Rasheed Wallace, if you had to name a player that's built to come in the middle of the season -- not even Clyde Drexler, they had a championship before he came -- but in the middle of the season and come and make that impact, I just don't think Evan Turner and those guys. I think they lost a lot of talent as far as their culture and things like that. If I'm Indiana, I don't want to see Chicago at all. I don't want to see other teams because other teams have a feel for them as well. I don't think Indiana is going to stick around.
SI: In what would be the last year of his contract, does Mike D'Antoni deserve another season with the Lakers?
WEBBER: First of all, I don't think D'Antoni ever should have this job. It was not a team that was constructed for him. Second, once he was given the job, he was never given the players that he needed. Third, when he did try to get the players he needed, you know, [Steve] Nash has a back injury, or Kobe [Bryant] is hurt. So it's really unfair, I think, to Coach D'Antoni. He hasn't had the players that he needed.
Saying that, there's no way that you can bring him back as a coach if you're trying to win and trying to recruit. By not signing Dwight Howard, by not having that talent, I think that organization and management needs to look at themselves in the face and say we made some mistakes. I don't think he should've been given the job, and I don't think he's been given a fair shake because of everything that's happened. And now, because he's not necessarily waving the team in a new direction, I think he's going to be a casualty. I think Kobe has already said he's unhappy, so he's probably going to be the odd man out.
SI: In your mind, who goes No. 1 in this year's NBA draft? Jabari Parker? Andrew Wiggins? Joel Embiid?
WEBBER: Honestly, I don't know. I've talked to general managers, and they don't know. It's not a clear pick.
SI: All things considered, what's more impressive? Barkley's legacy as a Hall of Fame basketball player or as a Hall of Fame TV personality?
WEBBER: His legacy as a Hall of Fame TV personality. I think he not only opened the door for himself, but he gave guys like me a chance to be unique, not to be a status quo commentator. I really admire what he's doing not only in his preparation. What he's done off the court has really impressed me.