Woj talks Harden, Giannis and the story that made his career on RADIO.com NBA Show

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By , RADIO.COM

Former Suns GM Ryan McDonough, who is also the younger brother of broadcasting legend Sean McDonough, landed the white whale, procuring one of the most coveted podcast guests in sports media, ESPN’s lead basketball reporter Adrian Wojnarowski for Tuesday’s episode of the RADIO.COM NBA Show. As you’d expect, the two had plenty to discuss with topics ranging from James Harden trade buzz, continued COVID fallout, the seemingly innocuous story that elevated Woj to ace reporter status and of course, the elephant in the room, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s expected free agency next summer.

Harden, who came out of hiding just long enough to undergo mandatory COVID testing Tuesday at the Rockets facility, is no doubt seeking a change of scenery with Brooklyn and Philadelphia reportedly emerging as his preferred landing spots. However, Woj cautions Harden’s trade market isn’t as robust as one might think. “There have not been any substantive talks between the Sixers and Rockets. The Sixers, Daryl Morey—they don't want to give up Ben Simmons. They don't want to give up Joel Embiid,” said Wojnarowski, who has always felt it would take a king’s ransom to pry Harden away from Houston. “As great as James Harden is, he's in his 30s now. While we're also told he's open to some contenders, it's a pretty short list of teams who are able to fulfill all the requirements that Houston is going to want in a trade.”

Though Harden would prefer a much speedier resolution, Wojnarowski believes the Rockets are prepared to play the “long game” with their disgruntled superstar, who still has two years remaining on his current deal. Harden’s uncertain status has been the main NBA talking point of late, though soon the attention will shift to two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who may not be long for Milwaukee. While the odds are typically against a comparatively small-market team retaining a player of Giannis’ elite caliber, the Bucks may be an exception, as Woj notes.

“In these situations with stars, especially in smaller markets, I think there’s a feeling that a player is either looking for reasons to leave or he’s looking for reasons to stay. And I’ve always put Giannis in the category of a player who is looking for reasons to stay in Milwaukee,” expressed Woj. “At his core, he is extremely loyal. He is somebody that values relationships. Who believes in his team and has loved that community and loves that the Bucks drafted him. [He] loves his teammates and wants to win with them.”

And who would know better than Wojnarowski, who recently hosted a three-part podcast series exploring Giannis’ meteoric rise from little-known foreign prospect to one of the league’s most recognized stars? “He was not dominant. He was averaging nine points per game in the second division of Greece. It was glorified rec basketball,” recalls Wojnarowski. “We’ve never seen a player come from that. Completely off the radar and then become what Giannis has become, which is a generational player, multi-time MVP and a certain Hall-of-Fame player.”

No one would argue McDonough’s assertion that Antetokounmpo is the greatest non-Lottery pick of all-time. The Bucks were lucky enough to have Giannis, who many at the time dismissed as “skinny” and a subpar shooter, fall in their lap with the 15th overall pick in 2013. And it’s a good thing the Bucks drafted him when they did, because another team was ready to take the plunge. In fact, no team was higher on Giannis than the Hawks, who held the 16th and 17th picks in that year’s draft. “Atlanta had essentially shut him down. Had him in for a workout, had him into their facility and their city for a few days. Got a physical, which nobody else could get,” explained Wojnarowski, sharing the story of how maddeningly close the Hawks came to landing the reigning MVP and Defensive Player of the Year. “Atlanta did try to move up, but they weren’t successful. Looking back, they probably would have offered everything they had to get up a couple spots, knowing what they know now.”

Looking back to his early days as a fledgling NBA reporter covering the league for Yahoo Sports, Wojnarowski remembers being the first to report Greg Oden’s season-ending knee injury in 2007 (just months after the Trail Blazers drafted him first overall ahead of future MVP Kevin Durant), a story that catapulted him from a little-known local reporter to a nationally-recognized journalist. “I just remember it was sitting on our site. And I would probably say it was 40 to 45 minutes, whether it was ESPN or the Associated Press, one of the two, acknowledged it,” said Woj, who credits the move to Yahoo as a major turning point in his career. “I was just a regional columnist in the New York market at the Bergen Record. Nobody knew who I was. So it was a chance to give me a bigger platform and I look back at it and I was just very fortunate.”

You can hear the rest of McDonough’s compelling sit-down with Woj on the RADIO.COM app, iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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