In our exclusive interview, the former Celtics guard looks ahead into the 2023-24 NBA season, and reveals his MVP and finals predictions.
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Who do you think is going to win the NBA championship this season?
That’s a good question, man. I have two teams – I think it’s going to come down to Milwaukee or Boston. I feel like Milwaukee just has a complete team with Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Dame [Lillard]. I just feel like they’re very strong. Dame has something to prove this year, and I think Giannis does as well. And then Boston obviously have another complete team after adding Jrue Holiday. They did lose Marcus Smart, which was a big loss because he’s a great, great leader, a great defensive player and I think he was an anchor for their style of play. But they’ve added Jrue Holiday just as another ball handler, another scorer, another defender. Those are my two favourites to win.
Any thoughts on early MVP favourites?
I think this year if Boston can finally get over that hump and win a championship, I have Tatum being the favourite for MVP. I think he has an opportunity, for sure.
Any surprising teams you think are flying under the radar?
I think OKC, that’s my shocker this year. OKC has a great young core, and Shai [Gilgeous-Alexander] is emerging as a star in the NBA right now. I really like the way he plays and my surprising player of the season is on their team – Jalen Williams, look out for him this year. I really like him, I think he’s going to show he’s a future starter in the NBA and could potentially be an all-star.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Victor Wembanyama during this preseason – what do you make of him? Do you think he’s the lock for the Rookie of the Year?
I think Victor is a very good player, a special talent – one of a kind. He’s definitely going to make the team better on both ends of the floor. I think he’s going to change the game of basketball, kind of speed the game up a bit with his style of play, leaking out a bit, contesting shots and then just running to the other end of the floor. But I think Scoot Henderson is going to give him a run for his money. I think it’s going to be really close. The keys have been handed over to Scoot in Portland and I think it’s going to be a race the entire season between those two.
On your former team, the Celtics, they’re one of the favourites to win the championship this year. Do you think that they can do it, or at least win the East and outpace Milwaukee?
I do. In the postseason it’s a matter of players. Who’s healthy? If the Celtics are healthy around that time, they’re my favourites to win at all. If Jalen Brown can stay healthy this year, and Kristaps Porzingis, I really like their chances to win a championship. Especially for Al Horford, he’s had an amazing career, and Jrue Holiday, I think he could go down in the NBA as one of the most underrated players ever. So they’re my favourites to win it, especially if they win the East and beat Milwaukee.
The Celtics have arguably lost some of their depth from previous years. Do you see that being a factor?
I still think they have a great roster, and have a really good coach. I’ve really liked Payton Pritchard, he’s a really good player and I think he’s underrated as well, and now he’s going to have the opportunity to really show what he can do. I love their entire team, and I still think that even with their bench they can get it done.
Another of your former teams, the Detroit Pistons, will have Cade Cunningham finally returning from his injury. How important is this season going to be for him and for the Pistons, in terms of where they’re at in this rebuild?
First, I want to say I’m a big Cade Cunningham fan. I’ve always been a fan of his game. I think he’s always been a player years ahead of his game. But the most important thing for Cade is just being healthy. If Cade can stay healthy this year, I think Detroit can be a decent team. I don’t think they will make the playoffs and I still feel like they’re a couple years away in this rebuilding process. I love their coach, they have a good GM, but I still think they’re a few years away.
We’ve talked about the East being loaded, so it’s not exactly going to be an easy journey for them, but maybe they can sneak a play-in spot?
Yeah, I hope so. I think, again, if Cade can stay healthy, I really love their draft pick. I think maybe a play-in game is just going to be hard, man. The East is pretty loaded this year, and they’re still a young team, new coach, new style of play. They still have to learn how to play with one another in a brand-new system.
You were an NBA champion with the Lakers. How do you reflect on that season?
Outside of maybe my second year in the NBA – the Celtics team that I played for – that Lakers team one that I knew from day one of training camp had a chance to win a championship. It was just a special team, Rob Pelinka did a great job putting that team together from top to bottom. You don’t always have an opportunity to have free agents that you can kind of just plug and play, and put them into perfect spots. It was a special, special team and a special year for that team. So I’m thankful for that opportunity.
What was it like playing with LeBron James? Turning up every day, training with him.
LeBron is just a special player, a special talent. His approach to the game every single day is something that I respect – coming in, being the first one there, last one to leave every single day. It really pushes you as a player and as a teammate to be the best player you can be, seeing someone at that level bringing that much to the game, every single day, on and off the floor. All you can do is respect it.
Is he the GOAT in your eyes?
Oh my gosh, that’s a tough question. You want to know something? I think everyone has a GOAT. I respect all the players that have come before us. Every single player, especially all the players that have really revolutionised the game. You know, some people might say Oscar Robinson, some people could say Julius Erving, then you have Michael Jordan, of course. But I think everyone has a GOAT. Even if LeBron is mine, his GOAT is probably Michael Jordan. I think it’s all the respect that we have for one another, and acknowledgement of the ones that come before. I do think he’s up there as the GOAT. I have a lot of respect for him.
There’s talk that he wants to play with his son Bronny in the league. Do you think he keeps going?
Do you think the Lakers have enough of a good roster here to put it together for one more championship?
Yeah, I think they have a really good team this year. But the West still has the Clippers, Phoenix, obviously. And then you never can count out Denver. I think Denver can still potentially come out of the West. They have a really good team and whenever Jokic is on the floor, I always think they have a chance to win.
You mentioned the Clippers, there are a lot of expectations for Kawhi [Leonard] and Paul George. Would you say that their time so far has been a disappointment? Or is the book not yet written for them?
I don’t think the book has been written yet. I would not say it’s been a disappointment, just out of respect for them, because injuries are never fun. It’s just been unfortunate. I’m hoping this year they can stay healthy, because I really think they have a point to prove. They have a great team, great coach, great organisation. I really think they can potentially make some noise in the postseason this year.
Do you think they should at least entertain the trade talks for James Harden to try to get them over that hump?
If that can happen, I really think he can help that team. Joel Embiid is a really good player on both ends of the floor, but I think James Harden played his part in helping that MVP run that he was able to make. All respect to James Harden, I really think he helps every team that he’s on, and can make a lot of people’s jobs easier. He makes the Clippers a championship contender for sure if that trade happens.
Jimmy Butler has been making headlines for his new emo hairstyle. Did you catch that, and what did you make of it?
I did. I like it. I mean, it’s entertainment. He wanted everyone to know that he’s upset, he’s sad, he’s in his feelings. It’s unfortunate that they weren’t able to get some of the big free agents or make some big trades happen this summer, but they’re a good organisation, great coach. They’re still in the pack every single year, because of their culture.
Do you think there’s a chance for them to make it back to the Finals this year and maybe even get over that hump and finally win that championship for Jimmy Butler?
I don’t. I feel like they will maybe get to the second round of the playoffs. I don’t want to just say no, because Erik Spoelstra is such a good coach and when it comes to playoff basketball, he’s just able to really get the guys to lock in, and his game plan is going to be on point. He’s going to prepare the players and put them in position to be successful. But I just feel like the Bucks with Damian Lillard – it’s hard to beat those guys. They’ve been able to beat Milwaukee in the past, but not this year. Not with Dame, it’s just not happening.
If Khris Middleton can stay healthy for Milwaukee, which has not been the case in recent years, you have to look at them as probably the team to beat, right?
Yes, and then I’m not sure how much he plays this year and contributes to the team, but MarJon Beauchamp. I think he’s a sleeper this year. I’ve known him since he was a kid. He’s a very talented, hard worker, and I think he can have a successful year as well for them off the bench.
And finally, the number of Canadians in the NBA has been burgeoning in recent years, with guys like Jamal Murray, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett. What have you made of that development?
I think it’s special. My senior year in high school, I really took notice of Canadian basketball. I feel like there were always talented players, but it’s like a switch just flipped for them. Once one player was able to make the NBA and open up the door for everyone else, they’ve always had talent. I think the Caribbean roots with a lot of the players as well, their athleticism, I feel, was always somewhat equal to the American style of play, and their skill was European basketball. So that combination of the two made them really unique players, and I just love their style of play. I feel like there’s only going to be more and more Canadian basketball players in the NBA, because of their style. They’re just really good players.
Obviously Canada won their first FIBA medal over the USA this summer. Do you think that would be good for the sport of basketball as a whole, if the two can really develop that rivalry and start competing on the international level?
For sure, man, especially seeing that all the players for Team USA or NBA players in Canada would most likely be the same. I think it would be a good competition. That would be really good for FIBA Basketball, for sure.