NBA Playoffs Suns Lakers Game 1: It's in the league's best interest to reel Phil Jackson in

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Thumbnail image for NBA_philjackson.jpgIt seems like a fun little sideshow, doesn’t it? The grizzled veteran coach, waxing basketball philosophic and occasionally using his razor-sharp wit to jab at other players and the officials. A basketball legend using the media to gain as much leverage over the calls as he can get. It’s a charming story.

And it’s got to stop.

Yesterday, we clued you in to Phil Jackson’s latest dig at officiating related to Steve Nash and his penchant for “carrying.” It’s yet another in a long history of Jackson swinging out in officiating-related matters.

There’s been a lot of talk about increasing the punishment for coaches that complain about officiating. David Stern spoke about possibly suspensions, a notion Jackson laughed off while calling the commissioner by his first name. And yesterday’s little dig shows that he doesn’t actually think Stern will go far enough to lean on him. It’s a small, careful, and quiet comment that Stern can’t really punish him beyond fines which amount to asking someone for whatever they’ve got in their pockets.

If Stern’s serious about this, if he wants to make the point that coaches cannot, under any circumstances, attempt to influence officiating in any way, the next time Jackson speaks out, he’s got to suspend him. Especially if it happens in the next two weeks.

Bear in mind that this is a crucial time for the league’s public officiating situation. Tim Donaghy is still flitting around like a hobo trying to ask anyone outside the league’s office for money in exchange for his windshield wipers of allegations. But there have been no officiating disasters in the playoffs this year, unlike the Mavericks no-call among others last year. The league has a real chance to get past the lingering outside perception that certain officiating wrinkles are influenced by league folds.

But a mess in a series against the Suns from the most winningest franchise in NBA history?

That would be unfortunate timing.

The league already flinches every time the Robert Horry hipcheck and subsequent suspensions are shown. They flinch whenever discussion of the 2002 Game 6 are brought up. They flinch whenever Tim Donaghy’s involvement in both of those series are brought up. They don’t waver, but they flinch.

Ensuring that we don’t end up in a situation where the Lakers look like the favored son, where there’s no chance of Jackson successfully bending the officials knees to his liking, that’s a sound strategy to end the controversy. Allowing Jackson to flaunt whatever influence he wants is a flawed approach. The carrying issue is nothing, it’s a blip on the radar. But the league needs to be ready to suspend Phil Jackson, in a playoff series, if he seeks to influence the officiating again, even if he’s right.

The Lakers are more than capable of dismantling the Suns based solely on their basketball ability and length. Making sure there’s no funny business is a win-win for the league.

The questions about the league’s officiating history are on the ropes, dazed, and stunned. Phil Jackson is unknowingly, or unconcernedly slipping them Gatorade. It’s time for the Commissioner’s office to knock them out.

Report: Knicks to discuss coaching vacancy with Hawks’ Mike Budenholzer

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Mike Budenholzer is restless in Atlanta, seeing a rebuild coming and looking at other jobs (something Hawks management is fine with). He went down the road a ways with the Suns before pulling out of that process, but he’s still looking around.

The Knicks are casting a wide net in their search, talking to virtually everyone looking for coaching jobs.

So, this seemed inevitable, right? Budenholzer and the Knicks are going to talk, according to Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

This will be very preliminary. The Knicks have already had some level of conversation with Mark Jackson, David Fizdale, Jerry Stackhouse, David Blatt, Mike Woodson, and TNT analyst Kenny Smith (Jackson and Fizdale are the rumored early leaders). Budenholzer has established a style and culture in Atlanta, giving the franchise a path forward. New York could certainly use that.

However, the Knicks job comes with real challenges, too. That starts with James Dolan as owner and the erratic, at times paranoid culture he has created there. Also, expectations in New York are always high, but the team will be without Kristaps Porzigis for at least half (maybe all) of the upcoming season as he recovers from an ACL injury, and that puts a ceiling on the team in the short term. Is all that worth leaving Atlanta for?

 

Stephen Curry to begin “modified” practices with Warriors

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Golden State has flipped the switch in the first round, going up 3-0 on overmatched San Antonio. The Warriors have been outscoring the Spurs by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in the series, allowing less than a point per possession on defense and scoring when and where they want. Kevin Durant is averaging 27.3 points per game, Klay Thompson is shooting 63.3 percent from three and scoring 25.7 points per game, and the Warriors are clicking.

But they are not yet whole — they need Stephen Curry back. Not for this round, but before the Western Conference Finals for sure.

Curry was re-evaluated Friday and will begin practicing with the team in a limited — or “modified” to use the team’s term — way.

The target has always been a return somewhere during the second round, and that still seems to be on track. That is also a little faster than traditional for a Grade 2 MCL sprain, which can take up to two months to heal (not the 4-6 weeks of the Warriors timeline), but the Warriors are being cautious here for now.

Eventually, the Warriors will need him back — their offense is built around Curry and his ball movement and movement off the ball. Curry’s gravity to draw defenders, even when he doesn’t have the ball, opens up the floor for others. Put simply, if he’s 28 feet from the bucket on the weak side defenders still have to watch and be near him, and help defenders need to be aware, which pulls the defense to wherever he is. Without Curry and the Warriors take more midrange jumpers, it’s just in the first round series against the Spurs they are hitting them.

 

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.