Celtics  legend and current NBA TV analyst Kevin McHale  joined the Dale & Holley show to talk about the upcoming NBA playoffs  as well as the impending trade deadline. McHale touched on how important the Caron Butler trade was for Dallas, why Cleveland now is the top team in the NBA, and why the Celtics ‘ even without making a move Thursday ‘ still can make a run at an 18th banner.
I think ever since the Cavs lost to the Magic last year, they were worried about that matchup against Rashard Lewis at the 4 spot, that got real funky for them last year in the playoffs. They needed somebody, kind of a hybrid 3-4 to be able to guard him, but also he’s someone that can be able to attack him on the defensive end and make Rashard play defense. You know, with Anderson Varejao more comfortable guarding in the paint, Shaq and Ilgauskas, neither of them could guard him, so I think the whole year long they were looking at that.
Cleveland has played better than anybody else in the NBA the last six weeks, but I think this helps quite a bit. I think when you’re playing really well and you go out and add a guy like Jamison, I think he’ll fit in pretty easily. I think a lot of times teams are really struggling, they make a trade and a guy comes in and they’re thinking, jeez, this guy really didn’t help very much, but you know when a team’s struggling, and you add a guy, it’s hard. And I think this is a really good trade for Cleveland. And I picked the Celtics to come out of the East at the beginning of the year, and I’m still waiting on them to be able to hit their stride, and they’re going to have to get going.
Looks like the Celtics are going to trade Eddie House  for Nate Robinson  ‘ looks pretty silly compared to this move for Jamison. Are the Cavs clearly the team to beat in the Eastern Conference?
Yeah, but I think you could have said that starting about six weeks ago really. Cleveland really started playing much better. I saw them earlier this year, and I wasn’t very impressed ‘ I thought there was just something really funky about Cleveland ‘ I didn’t like them. But the more I watched them, I would say right around Christmas, I saw them really come out and play some defense, they got up, they got some energy going ‘ they looked like a different team to me. So they’ve actually to me, have been better than the Lakers, better than everybody in the league the past six weeks. So, I think going into the trade deadline they were the team playing the best.
The Celtics, they just have not hit their stride yet this year, I’ve seen them have a couple of periods where they’ve played really well, and I’m thinking OK, here they go. But for a championship-caliber team, it’s really how you play after the All-Star break. Prior to the All-Star break, you’re getting your rhythm, you’re pushing yourself, after the All-Star break you really have to go.
So as far as the trade, Eddie House for Nate, Nate’s more dynamic ‘ I actually have always liked Eddie with the Celtics because he’s a great finisher, as far as just making shots. And when Paul’s got the ball, and he’s doing his thing from the elbows, his little isolation spot on the right side over there, it’s always great to have guys that can just knock down shots. And I think Eddie’s done that for them. I think with Nate, you get a little bit more of a dynamic player, he can do a few more things then Eddie, but I still think Eddie’s a better shooter than Nate Robinson.
But to be truthful, I don’t think that’s a big deal. I think the much bigger deal is getting Garnett playing better, Rasheed Wallace  playing a lot better, getting Ray Allen  playing better, getting Paul Pierce  healthy ‘ that’s what’s really got to happen for those guys, and getting Marquis Daniels  acclimated and playing better. But I don’t think you’re ever going to add a player that will be better than Ray and Paul and Kevin and Rasheed ‘¦ but they’ve got to start jelling and playing well together. If they’re playing like this going into the playoffs, it won’t be good.
Celtics fans are kind of hanging their hat a little bit on Kevin Garnett  getting healthy. Isn’t it a little naÃ¯ve to think he’ll get healthier between now and the playoffs?
I don’t know exactly what the injury is. I know his knees have been bothering him, but without knowing the exact injury it’s hard to say, but I think you can. I think Doc has done a good job at keeping their minutes down, and I think Doc has really been conscious about trying to make this push after the All-Star break, and not wearing them out. So I think they’re set and poised for a push right now, and sometimes when you get older and you’re looking for that push, it just never materializes, and they have got to be able to get something going right now. I watched them the other night against Sacramento, and honestly, Sacramento missed six free throws coming down the stretch, had they made those free throws it could have been a different game.
So, I just haven’t seen the Celtics defense and where they’re at, but as far as getting healthy, you can get healthy as long as you’re not playing 40 minutes a night. But I’ll tell you what, as you get older, it is really hard to get healthier. And Charles made a good point the other day when we were talking, Charles said that forget the amount of games played by KG, look at the minutes he’s played. He’s just played an unbelievable amount of minutes, and that’s really what takes its toll at the end of the day, it’s the minutes played, not the games played.
You’ve seen KG since he came into the NBA ‘ and in the Orlando game, Rashard Lewis went baseline on him, and against New Orleans when Kris Humphries abused him. … Do you think we’ll see Kevin Garnett again? He looks like a different guy out there.
You know, Kevin, always, even when he was younger, he had the habit of allowing guys to get a step on him, but then he’d come from behind and make a great block, or his length would make up for it, his length, quickness and athleticism. I used to always tell him, some day all your athleticism and quickness is going to start to go away a little bit, you got to keep people in front of you. He does a good job of keeping people in front of him, but I saw exactly what you’re talking about, he did this whole habit of letting Lewis drive and he was going to make a play from behind him and Lewis just took it to the other side of the rim and laid it in. When I saw that, I just said, ooh.
As you lose a little athleticism, you’ve got to be a lot more solid, more fundamental, keep people in front of you, move your feet more and really concentrate on not making the spectacular defensive play at the end of the play but making the good solid defensive play at the beginning of the play, which means just keep the guy in front of you and make him take the jump shot over your hand.
Do you think there have been more trades than normal as teams try to line up for free agency this offseason?
Well, I think you have teams like Cleveland who are close and are really trying to add pieces, and that’s what Dallas did also by getting Caron Butler. But there are also teams that are saying we’ve got to lose salary, try to open up some more salary for the summer, you see Chicago try to make a couple of moves to have more salary for the summer, so you have both ends of the spectrum, and that’s when a lot of trades happen. Sometimes there’s a bad free agent class, there’s nothing happening in the summer, all of a sudden the lower teams are trying to shed salary, get a little cap space for the summer, so sometimes there’s not a lot of movement there. But that’s not the case this year, there will be movement on the lower end teams trying to shed some salary, and also the upper teams looking at: Can we improve?
The fact that Danny’s out there working hard, trying to get something for the Celtics ‘ Cleveland made a big move, Orlando’s looking at some things, Dallas went out and made a move ‘ so you see some of the top teams making a move. So that’s what makes for a more interesting trading deadline, when you have the best teams in the league trying to make moves and get better and the worst teams in the league trying to make moves to create bait.
So personally, I think the Caron Butler trade to Dallas is a big move, I think he helps them, and you’ll see some salary shedding and some other considered to be minor moves. I think one thing you’ll see is at some point, and I think it already happened, is Houston being 2.7 over the luxury tax. Whenever you’re a couple of million dollars over the luxury tax, which is very penalizing, it’s a dollar for dollar outlay for a team that’s over the luxury tax. You’ll see them get under, and I think Houston got under it, that’s usually something that happens, you’ll see a lot of teams that are close to the luxury tax drop under the luxury tax before the trade deadline.
I have this ridiculous thought ‘ is Kevin Durant  the best 21-year-old in the history of the NBA?
That’s not very crazy, that’s actually pretty accurate. I think you’d be very hard-pressed to find another guy that’s as polished as he is. He understands the offensive scheme, has that type of size ‘ I agree. He is, for a young kid, amazingly adept at scoring the ball every single play. I just chuckle, because when people see guys score the ball, they think, ah, he’s a good scorer. You don’t know how hard that is. When the other team spends the entire shootaround and the entire day before the game preparing to stop you, it’s really hard to score, and that doesn’t deter that kid one iota, he’s out there scoring the ball as a young guy, they’re trying to double team him, throw different people at him, try to rough him up, they do a lot of stuff that usually throws you off your game if you’re a young player, but nothing throws him off his game. He’s really a unique talent. Oklahoma City’s got a good young group of players in [Russell] Westbrook  and [James] Harden  and Jeff Green  and Durant, their future’s really bright if they can keep them all together.
At the beginning of the year, I was calling Durant the new English ‘ because he reminds me of Alex English with more range. Then I heard Cedric Maxwell  say he reminds him of George Gervin ‘ does he remind you of anybody?
Yeah, George, he does remind me of George. I think all the guys that played with George see the similarities of just being able to score easy, rising up, got long length, the same kind of body that George had. And just, he scores in a variety of ways, like George did. Alex was more unconventional, he shot one-legged runners off the wrong foot, Alex English’s game was so unconventional and unorthodox, it was really hard to guard that guy. Kevin’s got more of a George Gervin type game, like I said, the guy can flat-out score the ball.
So you think Cleveland is the team to beat in the NBA?
I think Cleveland right now is playing better than anybody else, but like I’ve often said, the playoffs is a different animal. Unless Delonte West , an old Celtic, gets there and starts making plays and gets healthy and gets his head on straight, which has been a problem for Delonte all year long, I don’t know, because I think you can keep Mo Williams  out. Last year in the playoffs, they put a guy on Mo Williams, said don’t leave him, get after him, don’t let him catch and shoot, make him put the ball on the floor, make him make plays going to the hole, and he was Cleveland’s second-best player. Anytime your second-best player can’t create his own shot, it puts a lot more pressure on LeBron. But LeBron is playing at such a high level, it’s unbelievable. The game is so easy for LeBron to play right now, it’s ridiculous.
So I would tell you, right now they’re playing the best, but I still think they could be had in a playoff series, when you have a chance to really prepare for them. The regular season is different than the playoffs, but like I said, Cleveland is playing with an intensity level I like, LeBron is playing at a whole different level, they’ve figured out how to use Shaq and get him incorporated in the game. But yet, I’m just concerned when your second-best player has a hard time creating his own shot, which brings me back to Delonte West. If Delonte is able to get in there, make the plays, he’s a good perimeter expander, he posts up a little bit, he drives, kicks out ‘ Delonte doesn’t throw the ball away, he’s a nice distributor with the ball, if they get him back and playing well and now with Antawn Jamison, I think yeah, they have a chance.
Again, the Lakers are big, they’ve got Kobe, they can play, I still think the Celtics can get it going, and Orlando’s going to be dangerous. And who out West would want to play Denver in a playoff series? You’ve got J.R. Smith who can flat out score, Carmelo who can score as easy as anybody, and you’ve got Big Shot Johnson [Chauncey Billups ]. So, it’ll be an interesting playoffs.
Finally, the comment was that Paul Pierce is one of the top-five greatest Celtics of all time. Is he?
Oh, that’s hard to say. Who are you going to kick off that list? You’ve got Russell and you’ve got Cousy, and you’ve got Havlicek and you’ve got Bird ‘ there’s so many great players that have come through there. It’s a hard thing to, they’re just different ‘ and Paul’s been a tremendous, tremendous player for Boston for years and the guy can really score the ball, he’s won a championship there, so he’s definitely in the discussion. But I think you can take eight, nine guys and just say, these guys are Celtics and they’re just great players, and the Celtics would be proud of all of them.