Thunder weaken title chances to save almighty dollar

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Mark Cuban once said that there are two kinds of NBA owners: Those that want to win and those that want to make money.

We know where the Thunder owners fall.

Oklahoma City traded their Sixth Man of the Year and best playmaker James Harden — the guy with the sweet beard who often had the ball in his hands at the ends of games — to the Houston Rockets, along with Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and at least two 2013 first round picks.

Here’s why it’s a mistake for the Thunder — when you’re a title contender, you go all in to win now. These opportunities are too rare to take a step back. The Thunder just did that. The Thunder were one of the three NBA teams with a legitimate chance to win a title this season, and they got worse right now with this move. Not a massive step backwards, but it was a step. And in a West with the Lakers — and an NBA where the Heat got better — any step back is magnified.

The Thunder went from serious contender to “team that needs a lot of things to go right for them to win it all this year.” Two 2013 picks in the double digits (the Raptors are better than you think) is not a huge help in winning a ring. Not this year. Not for a contender. You can make the argument they are better in the long term if you want, I’m not sold, but they are not better this year. They still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they didn’t become bad, but they didn’t get better.

Kevin Martin can shoot the three and get up points, but since changes to how fouls are called — not calling a defensive foul on the offensive sweep-through move, for example — he is not the efficient machine he was. He’s not the same guy he was years before, and even if he was he’s more of a spot-up, isolation player. Harden was a playmaker

It will be on Westbrook to keep the ball moving in this offense now. The Thunder can tend toward isolation and that would make them easier to defend.

This was about all about the Benjamins for OKC. Harden wanted a max extension (around $58 million for four years) and turned down a $52 million offer from the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t want to pay a tax after two seasons from now that could be more than $28 million, that could give them a $100 payroll (with tax). So they made a trade. Now they avoid the tax problems. Congrats.

If you own and NBA team and you move it from the 22nd largest city by population and the 14th largest television market (Seattle) to the 30th largest city and 45th largest television market (Oklahoma City), you sacrifice potential income. And the Thunder knew the Harden price and tax when they made the Westbrook extension and gave Serge Ibaka $50 million deal this summer. The Thunder knew the cost, they just don’t want to pay it.

For the Rockets, Daryl Morey had been going after an elite star for a while, someone he could build a contender around. He struck out with getting Dwight Howard and others.

But is Harden really the answer? That’s the plan. I’m not sold. He’s certainly very good, but he and Jeremy Lin are similar in that both are pick-and-roll players. On a team that now needs to get a really good roll man. I’m not sure either Lin or Harden works as well off the ball.

But I get the logic of why the Rockets did this.They are a team than needs bold moves and this was that kind of trade for them.

For the Thunder, they looked to save money and were willing to make the team a little weaker in the process. And you can bet Kevin Durant is not happy about this.

What’s next for Knicks? Owner reportedly targeting Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but it’s longshot

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Phil Jackson is out as the Knicks head of basketball operations. The Knicks just made it official.

That’s a good thing for the future of the franchise and has New York fans celebrating, but making this move just four days before the start of free agency is the most Knicks of timing. While other teams are laying back-channel groundwork for the July 1 free agency onslaught, the Knicks will be trying to figure out who is in charge (likely trusted GM Steve Mills for a while).

Who is next in line to lead the Knicks? Before you say “anyone is better” think back over owner James Dolan’s hires. The worst of the lot was Isiah Thomas, and he and Dolan are still friends. Plus there are the times Dolan himself was involved in the basketball decision making.

There are a lot of potential quality candidates available, but Dolan appears to be going with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” idea of chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein of ESPN adds:

Leiweke hired Ujiri in Toronto.

It’s been known for more than a year that if/when Jackson was pushed out, Ujiri would be the Knicks target. Dolan wants to hire the guy that keeps beating him. Ujiri was the GM in Denver when the Knicks traded far too many young assets for Carmelo Anthony, stripping the team of any chance to win by gutting it to get a star. Then when he was in Toronto, Ujiri orchestrated the trade that sent Andrea Bargnani and his massive contract from the Raptors to the Knicks. Dolan reportedly was so worried about being fleeced by Ujiri again he blocked a trade for Kyle Lowry out of fear of being burned (of course, the Lowry trade would’ve been a good one for the Knicks).

However, this is a longshot. Last year, Toronto gave Ujiri and extension and the title of President of Basketball Operations. The Raptors can simply refuse to let him talk to the Knicks, and even if Ujiri wanted the job (which is not clear) then it will be very expensive to buy him out.

If not Ujiri, then the Knicks could and should consider just released David Griffin, who was able to help turn the Cavaliers into a contender when LeBron James decided to return home. Griffin did an impressive job, came up with creating ways to get more talent on a capped-out roster, all while working for a notoriously difficult owner. That seems like the right resume for New York.

There are a number of other qualified candidates available, or the Knicks could hire a smart up-and-comer ready to make the leap such as Mike Zarren out of Boston, or a host of others in that spot.

What would be a mistake is to chase big name who has no front office experience. Or one with a questionable history as GM. Which is to say, don’t make the Phil Jackson mistake all over again. The Knicks need quality front office experience, someone who has proven they can do the job well. With Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, the Knicks have what can be the cornerstone piece of a championship roster in place — drafting him was Jackson’s one shining moment in the job. Building a team around him needs to be the priority (not getting in stupid squabbles with the star and threatening to trade him).

Knicks fans are right to celebrate Jackson being gone, but until the next shoe drops they shouldn’t completely relax.

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns ticked he didn’t make All-NBA team

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Players in their first few years in the NBA almost never make an All-NBA team. There are exceptions — Larry Bird was First Team All-NBA as a rookie, for example — but it usually takes time and development before a player can crack the top 15 in the league.

Karl-Anthony Towns is frustrated he didn’t make All-NBA in his second year, he felt snubbed. He was the person with the most points/votes of anyone not to make the team, but the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan had one more first team vote (three to two) and ended up just four points ahead of Towns. Here’s what KAT told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News about that.

Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just his second season, but still was snubbed from the All-NBA team, beaten out by a mere four points by DeAndre Jordan.  And now it can be told: It bothered him — a little.

“You know what, it did a little bit, it did a little damage to me,” Towns told Sporting News. “But that’s all right, because it is all about team success. You’ve got to win. You’ve got to win to be respected in this league. You have to do little things, there are things we can do as a team. We have to come back as a stronger team and win in the playoffs, because the playoffs are the most important thing.”

For the record, I was one of those official voters who had Jordan in front of Towns (Jordan was my third team All-NBA center). It was close and something I debated (and watched film on, and talked to people around the league about), but for me the deciding factor was not winning, it was defensive impact.

Towns is improving fast on both ends, and the Timberwolves should win more with the addition of Jimmy Butler next season. Having Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wings should help the Timberwolves defense that held the team back last season. Minnesota is poised to make the leap into the playoffs (although it will not be easy, with the Nuggets and Pelicans both improving the final few slots in the West could be tough to get).

Towns is going to end up with a ridiculous amount of All-NBA honors before his career is done. However, the best players use anything as motivational fuel, and if this is what fires Towns up, then go for it. We’re all expecting big things from him next season.

Suns’ Dudley has surgery on left toe ligament and bone

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PHOENIX (AP) Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley has undergone a left toe ligament and bone procedure.

The Suns issued a statement on Tuesday saying Dudley had surgery last Friday and is expected to return to full basketball activities in 3-4 months.

The 31-year-old averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 64 games with Phoenix last season. Dudley is in his sixth season and second stint with the Suns. He has two years and nearly $20 million left on his contract.

Dudley has career averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons.

Report: Knicks owner James Dolan expected to part ways with Phil Jackson Wednesday

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Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting with the Knicks to express his frustration with the way the organization is being run. He is spending the summer working out in Latvia rather than the Knicks’ facilities. If a franchise cornerstone, unicorn of a player skipped the exit meeting with 29 other franchises, the team president and GM would have been knocking on his door the next morning looking to talk about his concerns, listen, and make a guy the team should be building around feels appreciated and listened to.

Instead, Phil Jackson took it as a slight and threatened to trade Porzingis to send a message.

Add that to a treatment of Carmelo Anthony that has free agents seeing the Knicks as a refuge of last resort, not to mention forcing the triangle offense on players who do not want, and there’s a lot of reasons to question Phil Jackson’s leadership of the Knicks.

All of that has James Dolan, the Knicks owner, ready to let go of Jackson and make a change, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports. The move will be sold as a mutual parting of the ways, which is true in the sense that Jackson started to realize in the past week what was about to go down and made it so.

The New York Knicks are planning to part ways with embattled President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson later this morning, league sources told The Vertical.

Owner James Dolan has been weighing Jackson’s future role running the franchise and seriously considering his dismissal despite two years and $24 million-plus left on his contract, league sources told The Vertical….

Dolan has become increasingly concerned about Jackson’s fitness for the job and the long-term prospects of success for the franchise, especially in the aftermath of Jackson entertaining trades for Kristaps Porzingis, the franchise’s 21-year-old burgeoning star, league sources told The Vertical.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN added:

Conversations about what was best for the team’s future between Jackson and Knicks owner James Dolan accelerated this week when the franchise decided it would not buy out embattled forward Carmelo Anthony, sources said….

It had become clear, sources said, that Jackson had no plans to remain beyond the two years left on the five-year contract he initially signed in 2014. So with no clear path forward from the toxic situation with Anthony, a constant public relations war over Jackson’s preferred triangle offense, and new concerns about the organization’s relationship with Latvian phenom and 2015 No. 4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis, sources said it was clear things had reached a breaking point by the eve of free agency.

How are Knicks fans reacting?

HALLELUJAH.

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With free agency starting in just days, the timing of this is tough, but frankly, the Knicks stand a better chance of landing free agents without Jackson in the mix. Expect current GM and trusted Dolan confidante Steve Mills to get the job temporarily.

When Jackson took over the Knicks it was hoped that for $12 million a year he could keep James Dolan at arm’s length from basketball decisions — he has done that — and that he would finally provide a direction and for the Knicks. The latter part has not happened. He hired Derek Fisher as coach, who realized the Knicks were not ready to run the triangle so he tried to run a hybrid offense, but that never clicked. Fisher also never clicked with the players, and got into a spat with Matt Barnes that was very public. Fisher was let go and Jeff Hornacek was brought in to run his more modern, up-tempo offense, but then he was given Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to go with the aging Anthony, with little else but Porzingis around them, and that didn’t work. Now the Knicks are back to the triangle, and players are not happy.

Jackson is unquestionably one of the great coaches the game has ever seen, a man with a great basketball mind, but the skills of coaching and the skills of running basketball operations are different things.

You can say it’s time for the Knicks to move on from Jackson but If not Jackson, then who?

Go ahead and joke that “anybody is better” but we have seen Dolan’s hires before and know that’s not true. Isiah Thomas is still out there. Much like Dan Gilbert in Cleveland, you don’t want to just fire your GM at this point of the year unless you have the next guy lined up. Does anyone believe Dolan has thought that far ahead? There are plenty of quality candidates, including the released David Griffin from Cleveland, but how fast can the Knicks get a man with a plan in place.

Still, this is a good thing for the franchise. The timing of it is just very Knicks.