Greg Anthony is a former NBA player and current analyst and announcer. Anthony will call Game 2 of the Bobcats-Heat series Wednesday at 7 p.m. on TNT. He spoke with the Observer’s Jonathan Jones about the series, the Bobcats' season and what the future past this series holds for Charlotte.
Q: LeBron James has scored fewer than 20 points in just five of his past 46 playoff appearances. How does one player, or one team, stop James in the playoffs, and who on the Bobcats must that be?
A: I don't know that you try to stop him. The biggest headline for me is to try not to allow him to do what he does best, which is make others better. He had the monster game against Charlotte earlier this season, and there's a reason why that rarely happens--even the great ones aren't going to go for 61, 62 every night. What makes him so difficult is that he's great at making others better. One reason why they haven't been as good is his assists are way down, and part of that is that team has gotten older, with (Dwyane) Wade not being out there, those guys haven't been as good and he's had to score more. I think when he's got to score more, that means the Heat are guardable, and that should make this more interesting.
Q: Nationally this series is viewed as a stepping stone for the Heat in its attempt at a three-peat. How difficult is it to win three championships in a row, and do you view this series as a cakewalk for Miami?
A: It's extremely difficult to win three in a row and you've only seen it done for a few times. Go back to the '80s and remember how difficult it was just to repeat, and then the Bulls were able to do it twice, the Lakers have done it. It's extremely difficult, and to take it a step further for Miami, they would be going for their fourth consecutive finals. That's only happened three other times, and that's never happened in this era when you play seven games in the first round. You could say stepping stone, but it's going to be a challenge. And Charlotte's gotten a lot better, but the one question will be about their confidence. Will they truly believe they can win, or are they just going to be happy to be here? And we'll get a better sense of that in these first two games.
Q: Al Jefferson has been Charlotte's MVP, and he's made a strong case for a spot on the All-NBA team. Where do you rank his importance to the Bobcats compared to other star players on playoff teams?
A: I think he's right there. Everything's relative, but he's their franchise player. You see the difference when he's healthy as opposed to earlier in the season when he had to deal with injuries. He gives them something that a lot of teams don't feature which is a dynamic back-to-the-basket player who's pretty efficient, as well. I just think he creates a challenge for Miami as we've seen over the season. He's had a monster season against them, but the Heat have had a lot of success against him because they have, in essence, limited everybody else.
Q: What does Kemba Walker need to do for the Bobcats to be competitive in this series?
A: I think he's the key. With his speed and his ability to score, but also to create opportunities for others, I think that's going to be critical. And one thing for Charlotte, they're going to need to get easy baskets in transition. This Miami team is not as good as years past at taking care of the basketball and in transition defense, and he can be a one-man wrecking crew in the open court. I think if he gets a few of those he'll be better even in the half court.
Q: Charlotte had seven wins two seasons ago, and this year, with a historically good draft, the Bobcats win 43 games and play themselves out of the lottery for the first time in years. Is Charlotte a case against tanking in the NBA?
A: The thing about the whole tanking thing is, it guarantees you a certain lottery pick but it doesn't guarantee you a transcendent player. Orlando and Philly got the two guys (Victor Oladipo and Michael Carter-Williams) who had the two best rookie seasons in the league, and if you look at their win total, they didn't go up necessarily. I think this group coming in is a very talented group, but it's not a transcendent draft meaning, none of these guys will come in Day One and double your win total. They're not those kind of players. Their talent is there, but their ability to play the game at the next level, I think that's going to be a few years away.
Q: Regardless of how this series turns out for the Bobcats, what's the upside for this team considering the salary cap room, the number of draft picks and securing a head coach in Steve Clifford?
A: I would say the future is bright and I think it started with the Al Jefferson deal, a deal a lot of people questioned. He's given them an anchor on their front line offensively, especially on a team that doesn't shoot it well. I like Kemba Walker. I think he's definitely a guy that he will be a guy you can rely on to be the starting point guard for many years to come. I think he'll continue to get better. A couple things are going to have to happen. The hope is Michael Kidd-Gilchrist offensively becomes efficient enough to where maybe his defense can get back to a level where it should be. I don't think he's defended quite as well as he's capable of. I think some of that has to do with the fact that his offensive game hasn't matured yet. He's going to be a key in terms of pieces they have in place. They have money under the cap and they also have some draft picks, but the free-agent dollars from Charlotte's standpoint, they're probably never going to get the A-list guy in free agency. They're going to have to be able to make shrewd moves, and probably have to overpay, similarly to what they did in some respects to Al Jefferson to be able to participate. Having said, the way the collective bargaining agreement is set up, there's going to be such good value for good players. You may not get A-list guys, but you can get really important and impactful guys. You look at what Marco Belinelli has meant to San Antonio this year. If you do it the right way in terms of your front-office decisions and everyone's on the same page, Charlotte will have the opportunity to move itself into the upper-echelon of the Eastern Conference. When you look at Brooklyn, they have a really small window. (Paul) Pierce and (Kevin) Garnett's best basketball is behind them, so there's no guarantee that they'll be in the position they are moving forward. Miami and Indianapolis you'll expect to continue to be very good. You see Toronto is making the jump that Charlotte has the opportunity to make as long as those young players continue to develop.
Q: Michael Jordan's resume as an executive and owner contrasts starkly with his resume as a player. How much influence do you see Jordan having on this Bobcats team, and how would you rate him as an owner?
A: I think what we've seen is how difficult it is to win in this business. I think he's gotten better by virtue of the fact that they're participating in the playoffs for the second time in the history of the franchise. I thought the Al Jefferson move, I thought it was a good move. In order for you to get to that point you're going to have to be able to participate in the free-agent market, and you're going to have to get a nice return on your investment in the draft. I think the Kemba Walker selection has worked out, the Al Jefferson deal has worked out. They've got some decent pieces, but it's hard to judge somebody at this stage. This is the first real piece of success that we're seeing. They've been in the playoffs but they haven't won a playoff game yet. I think it's still too early to tell. But what I do sense is he's committed to winning and investing in winning. And I think that's showing itself now, because that team has really improved. I think he's committed to proving to people that he can win, not just as a player but as a front office person as well.
Q: So what do you expect out of this series? Do you think the Bobcats will be able to pull out a win or two?
A: I would be disappointed if they don't win a game at least, and possibly two. Obviously I think Miami's a better team, I think they're going to win the series. But again, if you're Charlotte, it's about showing growth and being competitive. And the best way to be competitive is to win. To play four games and be in a couple, that's nice and you'll still have the success of getting to the postseason, but in order to really make another leap, you want success in the postseason. If you're able to win a game or two off the two-time defending world champs, you're going to feel a lot better. Your offseason workouts are going to feel better because you feel like you're starting to really see that light at the end of the tunnel.