Jackson

Phil Jackson to Knicks could work. It probably won’t, but it could.

32 Comments

Ultimately Thomas Wolfe will be proven right, you can’t go home again. Not even Phil Jackson. It’s easy to sit back and list the reasons Jackson’s return to the team that drafted him, taking over basketball operations of the New York Knicks, will not work:

James Dolan; Jackson has never had any front office experience before; Jackson will surround himself with his people and they may not be best for the job; James Dolan; the lack of Knicks draft picks to provide needed affordable quality players; the bad contracts on the roster that even Jackson can’t move for anything of real quality; and James Dolan.

With the $12 million a year Jackson is getting (or even a little less) the Knicks might have been able to poach a proven front office guy like R.C. Buford or Sam Presti, something ESPN’s Marc Stein noted. Instead they rolled the dice on Jackson.

Despite all that Jackson to New York could work.

Could.

Here’s what has to go right for Jackson to turn around the New York Knicks.

• Keep Knicks’ owner James Dolan out of basketball decisions. I have no doubt that during contract negotiations this was discussed — Jackson wanted full and final say, Dolan said something along the lines of “of course you can have it, that’s why I’m going to pay you $12 million a year.” Nobody thinks it will last. History tells us this partnership will eventually end poorly (what Dolan professional relationship ended well?), the only question is when. This may be Phil’s biggest challenge since trying to hold together the Shaq vs. Kobe locker room. If Phil can use his Jedi mind trick — the one that got so many players to buy into their role and think it was their idea — to keep Dolan happy and agreeing with his decisions then Jackson will have the chance to build a foundation that can work in New York.

• Figure out what you’re going to do with Carmelo Anthony. This also came up in negotiations — if Dolan says you have to offer him max or near max money, that keeping Anthony remains the priority then Jackson will have to try and make it happen. This is where Jackson’s skills are needed — can he get Anthony to stay and take less money (as Anthony has hinted he might)? Can he get Anthony to believe in the plan? Keeping Anthony is not a bad thing, his skill set offensively makes him a potentially fantastic fit in the triangle (if you follow Jackson, if you read his books, you know they will run the triangle or at least some of it in a “triangle light” kind of system, he believes deeply in what the triangle does). Honestly, the best path to rebuilding this roster would be to let Anthony leave as a free agent, try to trade the big contracts and just be terrible next season — the Knicks have their 2015 first round pick and that summer they will have a lot of cap space to chase free agents. Tear it all the way down then rebuild, don’t keep taking half measures and doing it on the fly. But if Dolan wants Anthony that badly Jackson has to get him, the question becomes at what cost?

• Get whatever you can for the terrible contracts on the books. Let’s be honest: in today’s NBA and with the current CBA the Knicks are not going to get real value back in trading the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani or Tyson Chandler. If they can move them at all. The days of expiring contracts having great value as trade chips are gone. Still, Jackson has to try to move them and get rebuilding pieces if he can — Chandler in particular still has some trade value left. His defense has slipped this past season but he is still the kind of quality rim protector a lot of other teams could use. That said, if you ride all these contracts out for one more year and let them walk it’s not the worst thing. Still you try to get something — and don’t turn down deals because you think you should get great young talent or first round picks for them. Did you watch the Lakers try to move Pau Gasol at the 2014 deadline? Those offers are just not out there. Take what you can get. A version of that applies to young players like Iman Shumpert as well, if you can get real value in moving him, you move him.

• Build a culture, a structure in New York that can sustain success. Dolan has built a secretive, distrustful corporate culture that clashes with Jackson’s stated philosophies. Jackson has to change some of that culture to succeed. One key part of this is “let the basketball people make the basketball decisions.” All of this kind of ties back to the first bullet point above. Right now, with Dolan jumping in, the Knicks tend to make moves for the short term not thinking or caring about the long term (see the ‘Melo trade, when they could have gotten him as a free agent that summer). That’s why they don’t have a first round pick to trade until 2018 (you can’t trade first round picks in consecutive years by NBA rule). They let outside entities have too much influence — they go get Andrea Bargnani under some pressure from CAA, the agency that represents ‘Melo, when there were far better moves to make last summer. That kind of thinking has to end. For example CAA players can’t get treated differently. If you have to be bad for a year to rebuild, that’s okay. Just don’t panic and let the basketball people make the calls. By the way Dolan, if Jackson wants to talk to the media, that’s not the end of world. He’s done it before, he’s good at it and doesn’t reveal state secrets. Plus it improves your credibility with fans. Just a thought.

• Recruit. The Knicks have the built in advantage of being in New York — players want to be there. They like the energy and diversions of the city, they love the marketing opportunities and endorsements that come their way in this market. The challenge is in 2015 and 2016, as New York starts going hard at the free agent market (2015 potentially has Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol, Tony Parker and many others; 2016 starts with Kevin Durant and has other big names), is the Knicks will be up against the Lakers, Mavericks and other potential good teams and destinations (including Chicago depending on their moves, for example). With the new CBA and today’s breed of GMs, you’re going to see more teams with cap space every summer, teams with good cores looking to add one player, as Houston did last summer. Jackson is going to have to win the recruiting battles, he is going to have to get top players to come to the Knicks. He’s going to have to convince some second tier players to come and take a little less money to do so. He is going to have to win free agency. How much his aura really helps in this task remains to be seen.

Bottom line is he has to upgrade the roster significantly and put together a real team and not just the random collection of players that is the current roster, one which resembles an ingredient basket from “Chopped.” They need players that just fit together.  Some of Jackson’s detractors like to say, “He’s only won as a coach with the best talent.” Well, of course. Show me a coach who won titles without elite talent. Red Auerbach pretty much had a roster of Hall of Famers when he was winning, doesn’t mean he couldn’t coach or didn’t know how to assemble a team. Jackson’s gift was getting that talent to play together in his system, to sacrifice a little and play their roles. Can he really do that with free agents as the team president?

Ultimately, the model in New Your is what Pat Riley has done in Miami — he built a culture in that front office based around his basketball values, he got people he trusted to execute it, he recruited players successfully and got them to make financial sacrifices to be there and win, and he got ownership to be on board but not in the way.

Phil Jackson could do all that in New York. Could.

I firmly believe that the Jackson/Dolan partnership is going to end poorly and in a very public mess splattered all over the back pages of New York tabloids. Followed a couple of years later by a Jackson book.

But the real questions are when does that breakup happen and how much success do they have in the interim? If Jackson can keep Dolan at arm’s length while providing a focused direction, a plan, then there can be success — real success — before it all goes bad. If Jackson can last for four, five years and if he can recruit, if he can get a system in place, the Knicks can be a threat. If it all blows up in 18 months Dolan will move on to his next savior. Who will fail spectacularly as well because lessons were not learned.

Jackson to New York is a big gamble by the Knicks and by Jackson. Both sides have real skin in the game. Despite that it likely doesn’t work out, with some of the reasons listed at the top of this post proving prophetic.

But it could work. Could. There is reason for hope in New York now.

Adam Silver says hack-a-player rule changes could come next season

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver speaks before the NBA all-star skills competition in Toronto on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Associated Press
Leave a comment

TORONTO — The stat laid out by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was head turning:

There have been 5.5 times more Hack-a-Shaq (or hack-a-player, if you prefer) fouls this season than last season.

During his annual All-Star Weekend address to the media, Silver again said that winds of change seem to be growing stronger on this issue —  and now the NBA’s television partners are weighing in on the issue. DeAndre Jordan shooting 30 free throws a game is bad television and this is an entertainment business. if television networks want a change, things happen.

We all know how American sports works — if television networks want a change, things happen.

“Well, first of all, change will not be enacted this season. But it’s an issue that we’ve been studying for some time now…” Silver said. “So far, up to the All-Star break this season, we’re seeing the Hack-a-Shaq strategy used at roughly a five and a half times greater rate than it was used last season. So to the extent that the data is coming in, it’s showing there is a clear trend and that clearly our coaches who are smart and using very complex analytics believe it is benefiting them. My personal view, as I said last week, is beginning to change on the issue. As I said last summer, I said I was personally on the fence as well. I’m beginning to feel that a change needs to be made. And that comes in response to conversations with our network partners. It comes in response to fan data that we look at, we’re constantly surveying our fans to get their sense of what they see out on the floor. I’m talking to players and general managers and our owners of course.”

The challenge, Silver said, is building a consensus around an alternative.

“So I think it’s my job right now to at least formulate an alternative together with the Competition Committee to ultimately bring to our Board of Governors (the owners),” Silver said. “I should point out that to change a playing rule in the league it requires two-thirds of the owners to vote in favor of it, so it would require 20 teams voting in favor of it. So we’re nowhere near that point where we’re even starting to count heads.”

By the time the owners meet in July, expect the owners to vote on this. And as those owners are stuffing all those dollars from the new television deal in their pockets, if those networks want a rule change, well, money talks.

And as those owners are stuffing all those dollars from the new television deal in their pockets, if those networks want a rule change, well, money talks.

Silver addressed a variety of topics in his 45-minute talk. Among the other news of note:

• After the All-Star break ends, expect the league to let teams know that when making one of those Hack-a-Shaq fouls by jumping on the back of another player (to make the foul obvious), that player could get hit with a flagrant foul. Silver said this is about player safety.

• Silver said the Collective Bargaining Agreement is working in the sense that the elite talent in the NBA is being spread out more evenly between big and small market teams.

“In terms of the effectiveness of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, yes, we think there is clear evidence,” Silver said. “One, we know that by tightening up the cap and putting in place a harsher tax, we’re seeing fewer teams go into the tax because the financial consequences are so great of going high into the tax and what it would mean for their payrolls.

“In addition, other changes we made in the system were once teams go into the tax, it dramatically limits what they’re able to do in terms of trades and the signing of free agents. So ultimately what that system is about is player distribution. So if you look now at the league, we see the way our stars are distributed throughout the league. You see seemingly no correlation between market size and where the stars are located.”

However, the spike in the salary cap coming up this summer (and the one after) because of the new television deal could change that dynamic. Maybe. Silver is not sure how this will shake out.

“The intention wasn’t that in this system that teams could sign without going above the tax that many max player contracts and that many All-Stars,” Silver said, referring to the rumor the Warriors could chase Kevin Durant this summer. “So if you ask me from a league standpoint, we would prefer that our All-Stars be distributed around the league rather than having so many All-Stars in one market. But we’ll see what happens this summer. I mean, as I’ve said, there will be unintended consequences from all this additional cap room this summer, I just don’t know what those consequences will be.”

• Silver said the NBA Draft could be pushed back in future years — but not much. He said the league wants the Finals and draft to be done before the end of June, and before free agency starts July 1.

• The NBA is “always talking” about the idea of an All-Star Game in Europe, but don’t bet on it anytime soon. The logistics are too complicated.

“It’s logistically more difficult than it may seem because there’s a ripple effect in terms of the number of days we take off on the rest of the schedule,” Silver said. “So right now we play an 82-game schedule in roughly 162 days. When we added the additional time off for AllStar, that took days off. When we added additional days of rest during The Finals days, which we did that season, that took days out of the schedule. If we travel overseas for All-Star, given our experience with largely preseason games, but some regular season games in Europe as well, players will need additional time to readjust their sleep patterns and to get re-acclimated when they come back to the States.”

Silver later hinted the next international All-Star Game could be in Mexico City.

• While there is no “center” designation on the All-Star ballot anymore (three frontcourt, two guards), don’t expect the center spot to go away from the All-NBA Team anytime soon.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 13, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Leave a comment

TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns didn’t know what to expect in the competition, given that it was his rookie season, and practice didn’t fully prepare him.

“Oh, I came in today at I think it was 11:00 in the morning and got a practice run,” Towns said after the competition. “But it doesn’t translate to what it is when you have millions of people watching, thousands of people in the stands and also your heart racing like mine was. So just to have that instance of just a feel of how it was.”

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

Towns sees his title as validation for the NBA’s decision to add big men to the competition, as well as a victory for bigs who are skilled in more than the traditional ways.

“The bigs were amazing today,” Towns said. “We were able to just come out with a W, and I’m glad I was able to help the bigs come out with this trophy. This is bigger than me. This is for all the bigs out there, with the game changing the way it is, to show that bigs can stand up with guards, skillwise.”

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

1 Comment

Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.