A Chat With ESPN’s Jalen Rose About the Craziest Summer in NBA History

The Fab Five alum talks team chemistry, addition by subtraction, and whom he expects to see in the Conference Finals

ESPN analyst Jalen Rose before a NCAA game in 2013. (Michael Hickey/Getty)
ESPN analyst Jalen Rose before a NCAA game in 2013. (Michael Hickey/Getty)
Getty Images

After a whirlwind first month, it appears that the courtside chalkdust has largely settled on the NBA offseason. But make no mistake, it’s been a doozy.

With a raft of new superstar pairs now in place in prime NBA cities like Los Angeles, Houston and Boston, a league which appeared as if it might be dominated by the Golden State Warriors for years to come now appears to be wide open.

It’s anyone’s game in the NBA, and ESPN analyst Jalen Rose will be there to see how it plays out. The former Fab Five member called this summer “the most notable NBA offseason in my lifetime” while speaking with InsideHook after the DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation’s Sports Matter panel event.

“I can’t think of what’s second,” Rose said. “You have Anthony Davis joining LeBron James in Los Angeles and the Clippers acquiring Kawhi Leonard after he just won a championship in Toronto and all of a sudden gets Paul George to join them. And by the way, they traded Russell Westbrook a week later and then Jimmy Butler goes to Miami, Tobias [Harris] re-signs in Philly with Al Horford. The frenzy has been amazing to cover. Kemba Walker in Boston, Kyrie and KD with the Nets … the NBA is as healthy and exciting as I ever remember it being.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks. (Claus Andersen/Getty)
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But don’t expect to see an offseason like this one again anytime soon.

“The league’s top players won’t be as involved as they were this summer,” Rose said. “All of the players I just described are not just All-Stars, they’re All-NBA, MVP and championship-level players. I don’t think what we saw this offseason will ever take place with the variety — even Chris Paul getting moved — that we’ve seen this offseason.”

So, does Rose see it all shaking out in the new-look league?

“The top team in the East for me continues to be Milwaukee,” Rose said. “Giannis Antetokounmpo is going to continue to improve, they re-signed [Khris] Middleton, re-signed [Brook] Lopez and I think they’ll be a No. 1 seed for the regular season. I would not be surprised if Houston is the No. 1 seed overall in the regular season for the NBA, because if you look at the history of Russel Westbrook and James Harden, they go full throttle for 82 games. And their coach, Mike D’Antoni, does too. For the postseason, right now I’d say it’ll be the Clippers and the Lakers being in the Western Conference finals. In the East, I’d say the Bucks and the Sixers could make the conference finals.”

Despite losing All-Star Jimmy Butler to the Heat, Rose thinks the 76ers have actually gotten better after poaching center Al Horford from the rival Celtics.

“I think they improved because you want to bolster your best players’ weaknesses,” Rose said. “It’s a reverse Benjamin Button-type situation when you add Al Horford, who’s eight or nine years older than Joel Embiid, to play minutes for him [Embiid] when he can’t go during the regular season. Horford’s a veteran who also plays really good defense on Embiid, so you solve two things by adding him to your team and get a quality guy in the locker room. But Tobias Harris has to take the Jimmy Butler step and close out games because we know Ben Simmons is a triple-double threat, but not much of a shooter. And I love Josh Richardson as a defender, his toughness. Philly’s got a dynamic team, but they don’t have a deep team. It’s going to be interesting to see if they’re able to add more people to provide quality bench support.”

As for the team Horford (and Kyrie Irving) left? The Celtics might actually be better off as well thanks to addition by subtraction, according to Rose.

“They won 70 percent of their games without Kyrie over the last couple of years, including making it to the conference finals,” Rose said. “It shows why chemistry in a team dynamic is so very important. If you looked on paper, you’d say Kyrie Irving was the best player on the Boston Celtics. But then they made it further without Kyrie than they did with him. Now, you take that same core group of players and it’ll be Gordon Hayworth’s second year coming off his injury. He’s going to be a lot better and I think he’s going to return to All-Star form. You have Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with another year in the league and now Marcus Smart along with Kemba Walker. I think they have the best collection of perimeter players in the Eastern Conference. Don’t be surprised if it’s the Bucks and the Celtics in the conference finals.”

Russell Westbrook and James Harden on Rockets
Russell Westbrook and James Harden have been reunited in Houston. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Rose also thinks ball-dominant ex-teammates Russell Westbrook and James Harden will have no problem playing together now that they’ve been reunited in Houston.

“They’re going to be terrific. Didn’t they win two of the last three MVPs?” Rose said. “People forget they had the Warriors on the ropes before CP3 got hurt. Now enters Russell Westbrook. I think you stagger their minutes but play them together for the first eight minutes of the first quarter. Then whoever’s playing better or worse you take them off, let the other guy stay in and feel like he’s leading the team. Same thing in the third quarter and in the last three or four minutes. Whoever’s been playing the best is going to take us home. And them being friends and the ability to sacrifice is going to allow that to happen. They’re going to be great.”

No matter what actually happens next season, Rose will be there to cover it with a smile on his face for ESPN.

“I think the best part of my job is I get to talk about sports, entertainment and politics. And I get to do it freely, uninhibited,” Rose says. “I get to express myself with what I choose vocally, fashionably, and it’s really refreshing to work for a company that allows me to do that on the biggest stages. I’m really fortunate.”

Despite how busy he is at ESPN, Rose still finds time to engage with organizations like Sports Matter —  which has pledged to provide access to sports for one million youth athletes over the next five years — as well as work with his own non-profit, an open-enrollment charter high school in Detroit called the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy.

“Being a founder of a charter school and doing the work that we’ve been doing in the community, I realized that Dick’s was doing some special things by trying to give back and help influence young people via sports,” Rose says. “It just happened to be a perfect storm where I got introduced to them and it quickly became a partnership. We get zero state funding for our facility or an allotment for sports and or extracurricular activities, so I was really honored for JRLA to be sponsored by Dick’s.”

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