Notes from Today's Inside the NBA 2015-16 Season Preview Conference Call

Editor’s Note: Full audio of today’s media conference call –

TNT will open its 32nd consecutive season of NBA coverage with a doubleheader tomorrow, Tuesday, Oct. 27, with the Sports Emmy Award-winning Inside the NBA studio team providing a live pre-game show from San Francisco’s Pier 43 at 7 p.m. ET. The Opening Night doubleheader will feature the NBA Eastern Conference Champion Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James visiting the Chicago Bulls and Jimmy Butler at 8 p.m. ET, followed by the Golden State Warriors and Kia NBA MVP Stephen Curry hosting the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis at 10:30 p.m.  TNT’s live game coverage will also include the Ring Ceremony for the Warriors prior to its showdown with the Pelicans. 

Marv Albert will call the Pelicans/Warriors telecast with analyst Chris Webber and reporter Craig Sager, while Kevin Harlan will provide play-by-play of the Cavs/Bulls telecast alongside analyst Reggie Miller and reporter David Aldridge.

Earlier today, the Inside the NBA team of Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Shaquille O’Neal and Ernie Johnson shared their insights on the 2015-16 NBA season:

O’Neal on Kobe Bryant’s return from injury and what drives him at this stage of his career: “For him to be a Laker his whole career [is one motivation]. He’s already passed Michael Jordan; knowing the guy he is, I could see him trying to pass Karl Malone.  It would be nice if two Lakers are No. 1 and 2 all-time on the scoring list.  That’s probably his only motivation at this point is to keep climbing up the charts.”

Barkley on if this will be Kobe’s final season: “I hope it is his last year.  He is one of the greatest players ever.  I don’t want to see him out there just playing, just for the heck of it.  He could play, but it wouldn’t, obviously, be the same.  He keeps getting hurt; his body can’t take the NBA pounding anymore.  Everybody’s body gives out at some point.  I want to remember the great Kobe Bryant.  I want him to come out and play 20-25 minutes a night and have a farewell tour.”

Barkley on Steve Kerr’s expected early season absence from Golden State: “I don’t think it’ll matter at all.  They’re elite, one of four great teams in the West.  I’ll pick Oklahoma City to win the West, followed by Golden State, the Clippers and San Antonio.  Those are the four elite teams in my opinion.  If any of them won the West, I wouldn’t be totally shocked.  It’ll be a dog fight out there.  The regular season out west won’t be that important, just get to the playoffs healthy.  It’s going to be crazy out west.”

Smith on the outlook for the Western Conference: “I like what San Antonio has done, their role’s more definitively defined.  Billy Donovan is a new coach in Oklahoma City and will have to figure out some things about the NBA that are different from college, that could keep him from winning a title in his first year.  Steve Kerr did it, but he had an NBA pedigree for a long time.  David West added to the Spurs allows Duncan to miss multiple games and not be missed.”

O’Neal on the Warriors’ key to repeating: “The key for Golden State to repeat is for them to not get out of character.  We’ve all played with guys [that change] after winning a title.  If they stay in character, they’ll be tough.”

Barkley on the expectations for the New York Knicks this season: “The Knicks are one of my sleeper teams.  I think they will make the playoffs.  I think Phil Jackson has done a good job getting good, quality players.  [Kristaps] Porzingis is a young kid with some tremendous upside, but I am picking the Knicks to make the playoffs. They have actual NBA players on their squad this year, to go along with Carmelo Anthony.  Robin Lopez is a legitimate player, Arron Afflalo is an NBA player, Jerian Grant is an NBA player and you’ve got Derrick Williams. They got actual NBA players.  I’m picking the Knicks to make the playoffs. I’m guaranteeing it.”

Barkley’s expectations for Anthony Davis this year: “He’ll be the best basketball player in the world in the next couple years.  LeBron is the best but he’s breaking down a little bit from the minutes and Olympics.  Anthony Davis will be the best alive in the next 2-3 years.  He is unbelievable and a great kid also.  New Orleans is in a little trouble when you look at the teams out west.  Oklahoma City is going to make the playoffs.  They’ve got to get a lot better to make playoffs in the Western Conference this year.  Oklahoma City won’t be battling for the No. 8 seed if Durant is healthy.”

Smith on Davis: “Overall, that team has to take that next step in terms of maturity.  Alvin Gentry is installing a new offense, a little more free-flowing which probably will have Anthony Davis’s numbers go through the roof.  I’m not sure if will translate to wins and that’s the key.”

O’Neal on Davis: “He’s three years from being the best player in world.  For now, he’s the best big man in the game; I like how he runs the floor and plays the game.  The expectations are high, I’m looking forward to see if they can advance further than last year.”

Barkley on the passing of Flip Saunders: “That was tough, he was a nice man and a terrific coach.  Our paths crossed a few times and he’s just a really nice man and a good man.  He’s really going to be missed.  When you lose someone like Darryl Dawkins, Jerome Kersey, Moses Malone, or Flip Saunders, it affects the entire NBA family.  We’ve all spent quality time with them in our lives.  Living in Philly in the summer, the losses of Darryl and Moses hit close to home and it was tough for the 76ers family.  They’re all going to be missed.”

Smith on Saunders: “It was unfortunate and shocking.  I know a lot of people and the University of Minnesota and the Timberwolves and everyone from top to bottom said the same thing, they are distraught.”

Johnson on Saunders: “I just know when you talk about a situation like he was in, and we’ve seen Craig Sager deal with cancer, Flip with this battle, I went through it about nine years ago, as I said on NBA TV yesterday, my thoughts go to the family at that time because I know when the dad gets news like that, I see what it does to the family.  His four kids having to come to grips with the fact that he had cancer was one thing.  To see relatively quickly everything that happened has to be a complete shock to their systems.  My thoughts are with the kids who have had a dad taken away from them way too early.”

Barkley on Miami’s outlook: “I think Pat Riley has done a good job retooling that team.  The big key is [Hassan] Whiteside… Those top three teams in the East are really good and Miami is probably in that fourth slot.  Erik [Spoelstra]’s done a good job, but Whiteside’s the key.  Dwyane [Wade] will play solid, [Goran] Dragic is an All-Star.  [Chris] Bosh and Whiteside will be the key.  That’s a lot of pressure to put on a kid.”

Smith on the Heat: “They have quality NBA players on their roster.  The Heat probably have eight guys that started at some point in their career.  That’s a big upside for them.  Gerald Green and Justise Winslow can come off [the bench] and give you some energy.  They’re underrated and forgotten about but they’re probably second or third most talented on paper in the Eastern Conference.”

Barkley on Kevin Durant’s pending free agency and the outlook for the Thunder: “It could be a distraction if he lets it be.  I love Enes Kanter.  What’s interesting about Oklahoma City is that [Sam] Presti has done a good job but he shouldn’t have fired [Scott] Brooks.  Scott wasn’t the issue, their inside game was the issue.  [Russell] Westbrook has to become a superstar.  Instead of being a great individual player, the next step is making guys around you better.  When you can get your shot every time, you don’t take it.  You [share the ball], that’s what a star, a really great player does.  LeBron takes role players and makes them stars, that’s why he’s the best.  Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon did that.  I’m picking Oklahoma City to win the West, I think they have a deep team.  I love their low post scoring with Kanter, that’s the only thing they’ve been missing.  If Durant is healthy, they’re the team to beat.”

Barkley on how LaMarcus Aldridge will fit with San Antonio: “There are going to be some bumps in the road.  It will be very difficult for LaMarcus because he’s not going to get all of the touches that he got in Portland.  He doesn’t do other stuff to help the team enough to off-set his lack of touches.  In Portland, he was the guy, taking 25-30 shots a night.  That’ll go to 10 or 15 in San Antonio and it’ll be tough to adjust for him.  Is he a good enough defender or rebounder to offset that?  When you go to another team and are the third option, that’s a major adjustment.  He’s going to have to learn and say ‘OK, I’ll be a better rebounder and a better defender.’  He’s a very good player, don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be an adjustment without getting all of those touches.”

Smith on the Spurs: “I have faith in Gregg Popovich understanding the adjustment [Aldridge will go through].  I think he’s a really underrated rebounder and his ability to shoot from the outside will give Tim Duncan some good looks inside.  You add David West to that mix, I don’t see how they don’t win the West.”

Barkley on how the Wizards stack up in the Eastern Conference: “They can’t beat Cleveland, Chicago or Milwaukee.  They will battle with Miami for the fourth spot.  They have a terrific backcourt, I love [John] Wall and [Bradley] Beal but they have to hope Beal stays healthy.  Atlanta won’t be in the top five in the Eastern Conference.”

Smith on where the Wizards need to improve: “Washington hasn’t proven consistency.  They go through a lot of peaks and valleys, and have not found a lot of flat land.  That’s something in the dynamic of concentration that is missing.”

Barkley on Tristan Thompson’s value to the Cavaliers: “They’re one of the three or four best teams in the NBA.  What you get paid is what the market bears.  I’d love to see that team healthy all season.  Anderson Varejao back.  One thing they are going to learn, when they put LeBron James, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson in the game together, it’s a tough rebounding night for everyone else.  I don’t complain about what anyone gets [paid], the kid is a good player.  I want them healthy, Kyrie [Irving], Kevin.  They are the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.”

Barkley on the off-season passing of Moses Malone: “That was tough for me.  Moses was like a father for me.  I really appreciated everything he did for me and it was difficult to do that eulogy, but I was honored to do it.  I called him ‘dad’ for the last 30 years.  It was a tough time for me when he passed away, he was just a great man.”

Barkley on the Celtics: “Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have done a fantastic job.  They have a nice, deep squad with new additions.  Not on a level with Chicago, Cleveland and Milwaukee, those are the three elite teams in the east and Miami is a sleeper as the fourth best if everything works out.  As far as adding impact pieces through free agency, I just don’t know about that.  It’s not the old days, these guys all want to get the most money, nothing wrong with that, and play in major markets…I take my hat off to Danny and Brad, they’ve been getting better every year.”

Barkley on the outlook on Philadelphia: I think they got screwed by the [Joel] Embiid injury.  I like what the Sixers have been doing.  If he’s healthy, they would really be on the right track.  Unfortunately, you’ve got to be patient in Philly.  This season is about [Nerlens] Noel getting bigger and stronger, getting [Jahlil] Okafor together and finding some guards.  You traded away the Rookie of the Year, now you have to find out who your guards are going to be.  They’ll be in the lottery and will get another nice piece.  I hope Embiid comes back.  I like everything they did the last couple years but unfortunately he got hurt.  That kid from overseas [Dario] Saric is going to come over and if you can get Embiid back, they are going to have a bright future.”

Barkley on Karl-Anthony Towns’ rookie season: “It’s too early to project, they haven’t played any games.  I don’t waste my time with this preseason [stuff].  I want to see how they play when they really start playing against NBA players.  The guys have to play more than a half or a quarter. I like the rookie crop coming in this year, but they haven’t played any games yet.  I think Towns, the No. 1 pick in the draft, Jahlil Okafor, I like Okafor.  You have the kid with the Lakers also, D’Angelo Russell. It’s too early, to see how good these rookies are going to be.”

Smith on this year’s rookie class: “Some of them have shown their skill set, their NBA skills.  Towns has some skills that are transferable.  Justise Winslow in Miami has some.  I think some of these guys will have a hard time, because they are used to being the best player in their position, and now they won’t be.  Getting accustomed to playing with guys who are better than you will take getting used to.”

Barkley on the Clippers: “The Clippers are going to be interesting with Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, and Paul Pierce, that is going to be interesting. The biggest problem the Clippers had was no depth and now you have an old guy in Paul Pierce and two guys who can go either way.  Doc Rivers has his work cut out for him trying to control that situation. They are one of the better teams in the Western Conference.”

O’Neal on DeMarcus Cousins: “He’s the No. 2 big guy in the league.  He’s going to have to be a better leader.  A lot of times he’s very emotional, which can be good, but there are many ways to lead.  Lead by your play and your actions.  He’ll be responsible if Sacramento gets to next level or not he has all the talent in the world.”

O’Neal on Scott Skiles’ impact and his assessment of the Magic this year: “Scott Styles is a feisty individual, he is a fighter.  I hope he will be able to relate to today’s youth.  He did a good job in Indiana, played with a lot of firepower.  Orlando is definitely in the rebuilding phase, it will take him a year or two to get his feet wet, but he is the right man for the job.”

Smith on Orlando: “Nikola Vucevic is one of my favorite players in the game, so is Tobias Harris.  If they go past their sixth man, they can’t prove themselves in the NBA yet. As you saw last year, players seven through nine are invaluable in the season.”