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Bill Simmons talks some hoops

10.30.09 at 2:11 pm ET

Bill Simmons joined Dennis & Callahan to talk about his new book, ‘The Book of Basketball’, among other things. Here is a transcript of the conversation (To listen to the audio click here.):

(Transcript courtesy Dan Rowinski)

That is a long book.

Take your time with it. It was never meant to be a book that you read in two days or three days or whatever. It was actually kind of designed that if you want to put it next to your toilet and read it in six months, that’€™s fine.

How long did it take your to write it?

It took me three years. Actually five years from a research standpoint. But really like three solid years of watching games and taking notes and going through every NBA opinion I ever had to make sure that I did not repeat myself. Reading, I read like 100 books. I have ever NBA book that’€™s ever been written including some of the worst books you have ever seen.

Why don’€™t you just make it clear and say those books sucked?

Some of those books were good. I had a bibliography at the end and I wanted to make it clear which books helped my book and some of the books just didn’€™t help, you know?

If it took three years to write, did you ever write something in Year 1 that you ended up changing? Because I know you already changed your thoughts on who will be in the NBA Finals next spring.

Yeah, I did. I wrote the prologue in the summer of ‘€™07, before the KG trade. That’€™s when I really started writing the book. And, we had just lost the lottery and if you remember it was just so depressing to be a Celtics fans. Like, what are we going to do, are we going to take that Chinese guy where he has the workouts where he just goes against the chair. What’€™s going to happen? So, I had this whole thing that it was once great to be a Celtics fan and then the wheels came off and what’€™s going to happen now? As I was writing the book, things totally change, we win the title. That was the thing I had to change the most.

Heard you had some big book signings. Are you so big that you got Tim Donaghy’€™s book squashed because it would have been competition for you?

No, I am not big. Because if I was big that same book company would have sent me those excerpts instead of the sports blog.

Will we ever be able to get Donaghy’€™s book in our hands?

I think we will. I got to say, that when I read those excerpts that I didn’€™t feel like the guy was making some of that stuff up. Being kind of immersed in the NBA and knowing some of the quirky things that go on, a lot of that stuff, referees do have relationships with players, referees do get signed stuff from guys for charity auctions. There is a sketchiness that I don’€™t think has ever really come out. We’€™ve all been to games where the fouls where 30 to 10 or 35 to 10 and the refs have it in for one of the players or something like that. Doc Rivers last year, there were some refs that really seemed like they didn’€™t like him. If they looked at him cross-eyed they were going to give him a technical or toss him. So, you can’€™t tell me these refs are unbiased because I don’€™t think they are.

True or false: If the Celtics stay relatively healthy throughout the seaon, they will be in the NBA Finals.

Um, I can’€™t give that either because I don’€™t know what we are getting from Orlando. Orlando, to me, is the big X factor. I have kind of written off Cleveland. Did you see Shaq?

I think he is heavy, I think he is relatively washed up and I think they have real issues with the coach. You know, it was the same old thing, LeBron going 1-on-5 against the Celtics. LeBron had and awesome game and they lost.

I mean, Shaq is clearly just playing because he likes being a celebrity at this point. I don’€™t think Shaq lost that game on Tuesday night and went back to his hotel room and sulked in the dark for an hour. He probably went to a Wal-Mart and bought TVs.

The Celtics though, they looked awesome these first two games, I know every body is excited. But, you know, it is a long season, they did this last year where they kind of started off great. I think this team is kind of built where they are going to come out the gate strong because they are so strong defensively. A lot of these teams haven’€™t really figured out like who their best guys are, what their offense is. So, it is a huge advantage for them November to December. I want to see what will happen to them January, February, March. I want to see what will happen with KG’€™s knee. I want to see if Kendrick Perkins starts sulking because Rasheed Wallace is playing the last five minutes of the game. I want to see how Rando handles not getting a contract extension. There are a lot of variables here that haven’€™t really kicked in yet.

They were basically unbeatable last year until KG went down. That is why I preface my true or false with relatively healthy.

Well, that’€™s not true because they lost that Christmas game. When they lost to the Lakers that sent them into a tailspin. KG didn’€™t get hurt for another two months. They were so good those first seven weeks that were all saying, 72 wins, 73 wins. I was saying it. I thought it was potentially one of the best teams ever. They look deeper this year. But, you know, they are a little bit older. We saw it with San Antonio against Chicago where, as teams get older the back-to-backs and the four games in five nights, they really need Rondo this year. Rondo is key.

You are the only guy I have heard that isn’€™t giddy over the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace.

Here’€™s the problem: he was terrible last year. You know, I thought he looked washed-up. His stats were awful, if you look at his playoff stats, they got swept, and I think he averaged six shots per game and hit 30-percent. To me he looked like a guy who was kind of on the other side of the mountain. Then we signed him and the spin was that, no no, he is not washed up he just quit on the coach. So, that’€™s better? He quit on the coach? I am supposed to be excited about that? So, I think he is a little bit like Randy Moss where he is a front runner and when the situation is good he’€™s great and when the situation is bad he’€™ll check out. We’€™ve seen him do that a number of times. I do think that, my biggest fear with this time is Doc, for whatever reason last year, was really ornery with the refs and that was an issue. I think there were a lot of games where we didn’€™t get a lot of calls. Rasheed is a notorious ref baiter and seems to suck everybody else in to the ref baiting. That is what I worry about. I worry about a really close game, like a Game 6 on the road where we really need calls and everybody is yelling at the refs and things fall apart. It does seem like the frame work is there for that.

Is Rondo a max contract guy and if the answer is no is he at least a top-five point guard?

He is a top-five point guard but I think they have played this perfectly. I think that, the salary cap has gone backwards, it makes absolutely no sense, no sense at all, to sign somebody to an extension right now. The worst case scenario is that is that it goes to next summer and somebody gives him an offer sheet and the you match it. There is really no benefit at tall to locking a guy up unless he is a franchise guy. If this was Kevin Durant, then yeah, you do give him the max because he is going to get it anyway. But, with the salary cap going backwards you have to look at what Portland did with LeMarcus Aldridge where they gave him $65-million dollars, the guy is a borderline All-Star. People thinks the cap is going to drop like 6-million dollars next year. So, I think the Celtics are afraid of that and I think, though they would never say this, you can’€™t trade a guy once you extend him. He becomes what is called a base-year contract guy and a base-year is basically impossible to move. So, I do wonder if they didn’€™t want to extend him because it is very easy to package him, the Big Baby contract, the Daniels contract, Scalabrine’€™s contract is expiring. They have a lot of options, which they are not going to tout, but all those options are there. A lot of flexibility on this roster. They might have one big move left in them.

For the sake of argument, the Celtics stop at $55 milion-$60 million, they wait a year, doesn’€™t he get a max contract from somebody for $80 million and then doesn’€™t it cost them $20 million more if they want to match?

There is no way. Not with the current landscape. Nobody has the cap space. Or, the teams that have it, a team like the former Seattle Sonics, a team whose name I still refuse to mention, they don’€™t need a point guard. Then, some of the cheap teams, they are not going to spend $80-million dollars on a point guard who is not a franchise guy.

So, if the Celtics are at $60 million, does he go somewhere else for $65 million?

No way, no way. Did they really go as high as $60 [million]?

Well, the Celtics were at $45 million but Rondo’€™s agent wants $60 million.

Good luck. Go find your $60 million. Go see if you can find that on the open market. I don’€™t think people realize like the salary cap and what is going to happen with revenue and attendance and what not. This is not 2005 any more. In 2005 Rondo could have easily got $60 million dollars. But this is the 2009 Rondo, not 2005. Heading into the summer of 2010, the guys who are going to be on the market, yeah, Chicago has cap space, they don’€™t need Rondo. The Clippers have cap space, they have Baron Davis. He is going to be in for a rude awakening if he thinks there are going to be multiple bidders.

You talk about moving contracts. Is the other shoe to drop the Celtics going after one of the other-worldly free agents?

The Celtics? I think their best chance to add one more piece is going to be in February. Their best chance is that teams are going to be losing money and there are going to be guys available dirt cheap, a little bit like what happened with Pau Gasol the other year. The Celtics have a lot of flexibility, that is why they signed Big Baby. They didn’€™t need to spend $6 million for two years for a guy that is going to be playing 11 minutes a game, because that is what he is going to be playing. You know, they have his contract, they have Scalabrine, they have the artist formerly known as Tony Allen they have Marquis Daniels. They can add up those contracts to $11 million or $12 million and maybe the could get Michael Redd, somebody like that. They can get somebody really good.

Do you thinks the Rasheed Wallace experiment will fail before our eyes in the coming months or are we praising him because he quit on his coach last year?

I think people need to remember that this guy quit on his coach last year and has not really been a major playoff force since, I would say, 2005.

The front-runner theory. Some guys just really like winning situations and if not they just check out. That is the problem with Rasheed Wallace. And, you know, one thing I did underestimate, you’€™ve seen some of the things they did Tuesday night, it is really interesting when they spread the floor at the end of the game with Rasheed and they basically have four guys around the three-point circle and the keep Pierce attacking one-on-one. I don’€™t really know what you do if you are the other team and everybody keeps hitting shots. I guess eventually what teams will do is just leave Rondo alone because that’€™s what Orlando did last year is just make Rondo hit 20-footers, that is how we are going to live or die this season. I thought that was pretty hard to stop. Because Rasheed, he is like a 35-percent three-point shooter, but if he is wide open it probably bumps up. It was pretty interesting.

Do you want to claim temporary insanity on the statement that, when all is said and done, that Kevin Durant will be better than LeBron James?

Well, I think he is going to be more successful. You know. I said that, when everything was said and done, that we might book back on both their careers and say that Kevin Durant was better. And it is going to come down to, from day one, they put him in a better situation. They weren’€™t rushing him, they were building a young team around him, they have cap space. They have money to spend next summer. Cleveland, from the get go, were panicking to put guys around [LeBron]. They were signing older guys, over-paying for guys. They never had a plan. He’€™s been on bad teams and he has had a coach that has never known how to use him and now we are in Year 7. You watched the game the other night, he is still a one-man team. This is Year 7, he should have teammates by now. What if he goes to the Knicks? In my opinion that is Gretzky with the Los Angeles Kings all over again. It is just LeBron carrying this crappy team in his prime. I think the stars are aligned for Durant. They have four straight lottery picks, they have a ton of cap space, they have one of the best executives in the league. He is in a position where he could be the best player on a really good team for 12 to 13 years, potentially.

The guy associated with Durant, Greg Oden, is he destined to be a disappointment?

Did you see last night? I tweeted last night that somebody needs to release a poster of Greg Oden squinting at the Jumbo-tron to see how many fouls he has. Because that is all that his career is right now. But, he went to the line and they were down one with like six seconds left. You could tell by the look on his face that he was just going to brick them and he did brick them. The weird thing is that he is just not that good. It not like he isn’€™t healthy, it is just if you watch him . . . I have Clippers season tickets and the Clippers have a back up center named DeAndre Jordan, and I watch Oden and the whole time I think, is this guy better than DeAndre Jordan? I can’€™t even tell. I don’€™t think he, from what I have seen, I don’€™t think he will ever even make an All-Star team. Pretty unbelievable.

You make the case for Magic Johnson over Larry Bird in your all-time rankings. Is this just a cheap way to show that you aren’€™t biased and you are not all pro-Celtic here?

You left out the worst part that I put Kareem over both of them. You don’€™t know how agonizing that was. It is supposed to be an objective book with all these variables and one of the variables is, would you rather have however many years one guy played verse however many years another guy played. And Larry Bird only had nine good seasons. Magic had 12. You remember when Bird hurt his heals and he only played six games that year and then he came back and his back was going out. You know, the last four years of his career just weren’€™t very good. Meanwhile, Magic was still making Finals on a team that wasn’€™t really that good and they were winning 60 games every year. So, that’€™s the only reason. It is just 12 years of Magic versus nine years of Bird. And, of course, Bird retired because he had a bad back. Magic retired because he was having sex with everybody in California. A little bit of a difference from that standpoint.

The goal is to outsell Rick Reilly’€™s book?

Is this the part of the interview where you try to get me in trouble with Rick Reilly?


Oh, I didn’€™t realize. Shouldn’€™t there be music playing or something?

So you are hope to outsell Peter King, Jackie MacMullan and Mitch Albom?

I am not worried about the sports books. I think I am fine in that department. I want to outsell Sarah Palin. She rushed out her book. I spent three years on my book. She probably spent one year in a log cabin writing her book and shooting moose. If she beats me I will be very upset.

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