In the NBA (and all professional sports for that matter), players have a fine line to walk when discussing their opponents. Don’t give them enough credit, and they feel wronged and the comments become bulletin board material. Give them too much credit, and there’s a perceived psychological shift and the comments become bulletin board material.
Al Jefferson’s comments on Dwight Howard, in light of how well the Wolves defended Howard last time the two teams met (via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel’s Magic Basketblog):
“To me, when Dwight Howard’s on the floor, it’s a plus for his team,” Jefferson said after the workout ended. “I don’t think you can stop Dwight Howard. I think you can try to maintain him, try to keep him from just taking over the ballgame. We did a good job of maintaining him, but he’s such a great player he made his teammates around him better, and that’s why other guys got open shots and nailed them.”
You can parse the lines if you’d like, but I’m not sure there’d ever be consensus on where this falls in the spectrum of opponent praise. The fact that Minnesota performed so well against Howard last time around definitely factors in, as the notion that one can’t stop Dwight could be a compensation tactic to keep the gentle giant at bay.
Then again, much of what Jefferson tells us is obvious, making it not so much high praise as a statement of fact. Yes, Dwight Howard improves his team’s performance when he’s on the floor. Yes, opponents want to keep him from taking over the game. Yes, his presence will open up the game for his teammates. But at what point does Jefferson cross that imaginary line and cede the supposed ‘psychological edge?’