Monday night NBA grades: Masked LeBron James is a bad mutha (Shut your mouth)

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while watching Lionel Messi be Lionel Messi….

source:  Masked LeBron James, Miami Heat. The rest of the teams may petition the NBA asking that LeBron not be allowed to wear any mask again. In the three games since coming back and wearing a mask he is shooting 67.1 percent and has scored 31, 20 and on Monday night 61 against the Bobcats. And that’s a good defensive team in Charlotte — seventh best in the league this season (in points allowed per possession) and a couple nights ago Kevin Durant shot just 8-of-24 against them. LeBron hit 22-of-33 and had eight three pointers in a vintage efficient night. This was just his night.

source:  Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats. He had a really good game against LeBron and company — 38 points on 18-of-24 shooting plus 19 rebounds. It just got overshadowed. Jefferson scored 26 points in the first half and completely worked Chris Bosh and others. Jefferson has played well for much of the season, but like this game it just got overshadowed.

source:  Mike D’Antoni, Los Angeles Lakers coach. He takes an unholy amount of abuse from Lakers fans — and he deserves some of it, but he’s also the coach of what was not a great roster to start with then has lost more man games to injury than any other team. He deserves a pat on the back for the Lakers win in Portland — down one with six seconds left he drew up the inbounds play that won the game. It’s a play the Lakers have used before (in Detroit) where Jordan Farmar runs a little misdirection then sets a back pick that freed Wesley Johnson to sprint to the rim. LaMarcus Aldridge got hung up on Farmar’s pick just enough that he was a step behind and Johnson was able to catch the lob and lay it in. Portland’s response (they had six seconds left) was to run a Damian Lillard isolation that led to a contested 24-foot shot that had no chance. D’Antoni had the better late play — the Lakers ran an actual play.

source:  Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks. Ilyasova had complained lately about the way the Bucks had a playoff team last season but rather than build on it they tore it down (they needed to, the Brandon Jennings/Monta Ellis combo didn’t work). He took those frustrations out on the court Monday night and dominated the Utah Jazz, dropping 31 on 13-of-14 shooting to lead a blowout Bucks win. He was doing it all, driving the lane and knocking down threes. He tends to have strong second halves to the season, this seems to be a sign of another one.

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. It was a vintage Minnesota win — they didn’t play a lick of defense but were able to get the win with a flood of offense. Love led the way with 33 points on 10-of-21 shooting, plus pulling down 19 rebounds. It’s amazing how numbers like this can seem unremarkable from him; he just does it so often. With the win Minnesota went 4-1 on its road trip, they continue to make a late (but likely futile) push to make the playoffs.

Report: Clippers trading Chris Paul to Houston Rockets

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All last season and up through another disappointing end to the Clippers season, Doc Rivers kept saying he wanted to bring this Clippers’ core back — re-sign Chris Paul and Blake Griffin because how often do you get a team this good together?

Jerry West was reportedly not a fan of the “run it back” plan. West won.

The Clippers are trading Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets after CP3 opted into the final year of his contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Los Angeles Clippers have reached agreement on a trade to send All-Star point guard Chris Paul to the Houston Rockets, league sources told The Vertical.

Paul, 32, agreed to opt in to the final year of his $24.2 million contract, clearing the way for the Clippers to execute a trade with the Rockets and bring back assets for Paul, league sources said.

The Rockets will send the Clippers a package that includes guards Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams, forward Sam Dekker and a 2018 first-round pick (protected Nos. 1-3), league sources told The Vertical.

Paul told the Clippers he planned to sign with the Rockets as a free agent but it would better if they tried to work out a trade, according to Woj. Paul will become a free agent in 2018, but the Rockets will have his bird rights and can re-sign him to a $205 million max deal then.

What this means for the Rockets is if Mike D’Antoni can get Chris Paul and James Harden to play well together — not a sure thing, these are both guys who like to operate best with the ball in their hands, controlling the action — they become the biggest threat to the Warriors in the West. It also is a blow to the Spurs, Nuggets, and other teams that had Paul on their radar.

For the Clippers, it means they will likely let Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick go and start a rebuilding process. Whether Doc Rivers sticks around for that remains to be seen.

Report: Kevin Durant will wait until late July, let Warriors sign other players, before inking his deal

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Kevin Durant isn’t going anywhere as a free agent this summer. He will remain a Golden State Warrior. He wants to stay and he wants to win, which is why he already said he would take a little less money so the Warriors could re-sign players such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Now he’s taking it to the next level, saying he will delay signing his deal — something he could start negotiating on July 1 — until the team’s other players are taking care of. That according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant plans to wait until after the team completes the bulk of its summer business before re-signing with the NBA champions, according to league sources….

“Look for (Durant) to sign later in the month,” one source said this week.

The Warriors first order of business this summer will be to sign Stephen Curry to a “designated veteran” super-max contract, a five-year deal starting at $34.7 million (assuming a $99 million salary cap).

Then they will go about trying to shore up their role players. Iguodala, Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West, and Matt Barnes all become free agents this summer. Iguodala is the one other teams are targeting — including the Spurs, Clippers, and Timberwolves — and it likely will take $10 million to $12 million a year for the Warriors to keep the guy who just finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.

Durant’s moves help with all of this. Durant is expected to sign a 1+1 deal with the Warriors (a two-year contract where he can opt out next summer and get a larger deal), then opt out next summer and get his deal starting close to $35 million a year.

The Warriors are trying to lock up their core for as long as they can, and they should be a force for the next four or five years. However, the price tag will get expensive, and it will be interesting to see how the Warriors handle that when it gets to 2019 and Klay Thompson‘s contract is up, or 2020 when Draymond Green is a free agent.

It’s official: Phil Jackson out as president of the New York Knicks

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The build up was slow. It began simmering when the feud with Carmelo Anthony became public, as talk of a trade and then a buyout started to come to become louder and louder. Things got warmer with oversized contracts for older players such as Joakim Noah. It picked up steam when the triangle offense was being forced on players and a coaching staff that didn’t like or fit it. Things really got hot when Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting last April, and rather than try to smooth things over and find a solution it became about sending a message and threating to trade the team’s best player and the face of the franchise.

Wednesday everything boiled over — Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks have parted ways, the sides announced.

“After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” Knicks owner James Dolan said in a released statement. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.”

“The New York Knicks will always hold a special place in my heart,” Jackson said. “This team and this town launched my NBA career. I will forever be indebted to them. I am grateful to Mr. Dolan for giving me the opportunity to return here. I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. New York fans deserve nothing less.”

Knicks fans are celebrating.

HALLELUJAH.

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Dolan had picked up the extension on Jackson’s contract earlier this year, and Jackson is still owed two-years and $24 million.

All this comes just three days before free agency opens. This decison came on fairly quickly, with Dolan and Jackson discussing it the past week. However, aids to Dolan had been suggesting the team owner think about this move for some time.

Current Knicks GM and trusted Dolan confidant Steve Mills will run basketball operations for now. Former Raptors executive Tim Leiweke will work with Mills and with Dolan to find a new head of the Knicks’ front office.

Dolan reportedly wants to hire Toronto’s Masai Ujiri, one of the most respected team presidents in the league — and the guy who fleeced the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade from Denver and the Andrea Bargnani trade with Toronto. However, Ujiri signed a contract extension — with a raise and a title bump — a year ago, the Raptors have no obligation to let him out of that deal. If he does leave, it will cost the Knicks plenty.

Other viable options, such as just-released by the Cavaliers David Griffin, are available. What the Knicks need to do is hire someone with experience, they don’t want to repeat the Jackson experience.

This does not mean the Knicks are more likely to trade Carmelo Anthony — he still has a no-trade clause and would need to waive it for any deal. His family is in New York, there are limited teams he would consider a trade to, and there may not be a team willing to give up quality players/draft picks to take on the 33-year-old on the downside of his career.

Despite the public issues with Anthony and Porzingis, plus the insistence on running the triangle, Phil Jackson did some good with the Knicks. He drafted Porzingis, as well as Willy Hernangomez and the recent Frank Ntilikina (we will see how he pans out). He also stopped the Knicks ridiculous trend of trading away their first-round picks, the Knicks have theirs going forward (he did move some second rounders). Whoever replaces Jackson will have a foundation to work with that was not there when Jackson arrived.

However, Jackson’s unquestioned knowledge of the game — he does have 11 championship rings as a player and a coach for a reason — did not translate well into the front office. The mind-games Jackson liked to play, such as calling out a player in the media, work when as a coach and you see the players every day, if they have a problem they can come talk to you. It comes off very differently from the ivory tower of the front office. Jackson kept changing his team vision and plans, brought in expensive older players such as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and continued feuding with the team’s stars.

Now the Knicks are starting over. A good thing, but the timing of the move just days before the start of free agency was very Knicks.

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.