Austin Rivers calls out James Jones for career critique; Jones responds

Austin Rivers’ proclamation that 30 NBA players could easily make the transition to the NFL has been met with great backlash in the football world.

Former NFL receiver James Jones joined the chorus, going on a nearly 90-second rant disputing Rivers’ claim on “Speak.” 

“Let’s just get this straight: No. 1, they put in a flop rule in the NBA because you guys are soft,” Jones began. “If you wanted to say one dude or maybe Anthony Edwards could play safety or something, I would’ve listened to you. You said 30 dudes. No. Put respect on our sport. It is not just run, catch the ball and turn around. It ain’t just hand the ball off and do that.

Rivers responded in short order.

Jones offered a swift rebuttal to Rivers Thursday.

“You’re 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, maybe you should’ve tried football. You might’ve had a better career, homeboy, because basketball wasn’t your career,” Jones said, as Kendrick Lamar’s hit single “Not like us” blared behind him.

While Jones took a harsh stance against Rivers’ take, the “First Things First” crew was actually a bit more understanding. Former NFL receiver Greg Jennings actually agreed when Nick Wright said that Rivers “almost has a point.”

“I could see some guys in the NBA right now being able to play in an NFL game,” Jennings said. “How long they last, if they can play an entire season, obviously changing their bodies — that all matters. But, if we were to take them as they are, the shape that they’re in, the physical abilities that they currently have, there’s a few guys.”

There is a fair amount of precedent for basketball players making their way into the NFL. Most of them were two-way players in college, including Terrell Owens, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Julius Peppers, Donovan McNabb and Antwaan Randle El being among the most notable.

In addition to that list, some have suggested that NC State basketball star DJ Burns Jr. could be the next to make the switch. However, Burns has stated a desire to remain a basketball player even though NFL scouts reportedly expressed a desire to work him out. 

Though the “First Things First” crew agreed that the number of players Rivers said could make the jump was too high, Wright began to make a football roster of NBA players. Here’s who made his list and where he projects they would play in the NFL:

Boston Celtics F Jaylen Brown: Defensive end
Minnesota Timberwolves G Anthony Edwards: Running back or safety
Denver Nuggets F Aaron Gordon: Tight end
New York Knicks G/F Josh Hart: Wide receiver
Los Angeles Lakers F LeBron James: Tight end or defensive end
LA Clippers G Russell Westbrook: Running back or safety
New Orleans Pelicans F Zion Williamson: Tight end

“Jaylen Brown I put at defensive end because that’s what Chris Long said,” Wright began, explaining his picks. “Anthony Edwards, I put at running back or safety. Aaron Gordon’s going to be a Jimmy Graham-style tight end. Josh Hart with his rebounding and his toughness, I thought can be a WR3. LeBron, defensive end or tight end — younger LeBron, not age 39 LeBron. 

“Russell Westbrook, running back or safety. I’m not being a jerk here, I mean this about Zion: I think Zion with his feet and [if he] put on weight [could be an offensive tackle]. He’s 6-foot-6, crazy athlete with nimble feet. A Jason Peters-style offensive tackle.”

Chris Broussard disagreed with Wright’s notion that Gordon could play in the NFL due to his height (6-foot-10), but threw out a pair of smaller players he thinks could make the switch.

“Donovan Mitchell and Jalen Brunson,” Broussard said. “They’re built a little bit. They’re 6-1, which doesn’t seem big in basketball, but in football, could they be a defensive back? A safety?”

As for the flipside, there hasn’t been an NFL player who has played in the NBA. In fact, on Wednesday, ex-receiver Devin Funchess became the first former NFL player to ever sign a professional basketball contract, agreeing to a deal with the Caribbean Storm Llaneros in the Professional Colombia Basketball league.

Wright and Jennings agreed that there are some NFL players who have basketball talent, but their relative lack of height would make it difficult to succeed in the NBA.

“When I look at NFL guys, how we’re configured, it’s tough,” Jennings said. “The size in the NFL [compared to] the size in the NBA. We’ve all seen Myles Garrett playing and dunking; he would be Charles Barkley in the NBA. I don’t know if he could do that in the NBA.”

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