Phil Jackson

Phil Jackson promises return of system basketball to New York, wants ‘Melo to be part of it


You can’t win titles in the NBA without elite talent. Superstars matter. It is the nature of the sport.

However there is more to it than that, nobody ever just rolled the ball out and won a ring. Franchises have to put those stars in a system that benefits them but more importantly benefits the role players around them — true stars will thrive in any style, it is getting a system in place and the right role players for that system that elevates the stars and team to title contention.

Phil Jackson understands that better than anyone.

When Jackson talked basketball at the Tuesday press conference that introduced him as New York Knicks team president, he talked system. New York will always be able to attract stars, what they need is everything else. Jackson talked about balance — three guys going to the offensive glass, two guys back on defense to slow the break — and structure.

“I believe in system basketball,” Jackson said. “(Knicks GM) Steve Mills came out of Princeton. I came out of a system that we ran here in New York in which team basketball was an important aspect of playing. We believe that is what we want to accomplish here.”

They have a lot of work to do.

The Knicks are 27-40 this season and while they have made a little run of late (six straight wins) they remain five games back in the loss column to the Atlanta Hawks with 15 games to play. Even if they pull off the miracle and make the playoffs, it will not disguise the fact this is a bad basketball team right now. One largely locked into a similar roster next season with nine players under contract for $67 million — and that is without Carmelo Anthony, who has said he will opt out as a free agent. If the Knicks resign him that’s 10 players and they will be well into the luxury tax already.

Jackson said he wants to re-sign Anthony, saying that he is the best isolation scorer in the game but that Anthony can reach another level if he buys into the right system.

“Carmelo has had a load to carry this year, a scoring load, and he’s been remarkable in that,” Jackson said. “I think he showed in the last Olympics, coming off the bench and playing a role as a bench player on a magnificent team that won a gold medal, that he can play a role if he has to play a role. I think he’s a basketball player and I think that’s what players want to do — they want to cut, to pass, to be in a different spots on the floor, to attack and to play. And I think Carmelo will be just fine.”

To create that team where Anthony will be fine will require a lot of creativity. What Jackson talked about mostly was getting the right players for his system (which he said would at the least be triangle influenced).

“We’re going to have to go out and work the bushes for players the next year and we’re going to have to work them the coming years as we do go forward and we have draft picks, and we have the chance to build this team,” Jackson said.

The most probable rebuild scenarios come around in 2015 — the Knicks’ bad contracts come off the books (Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani) freeing up money to spend plus they have their draft pick. That’s the year potential free agents include Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and others. It’s not exactly a tabula rasa for Jackson to work with in 2015, but it’s far closer than this summer when the roster is clogged with contracts that, even if they can be moved, will not bring much value in return.

“Steve and I are going to work on how to manage the roster, and our financials, to have an impact in (2015 class),” Jackson said. “I think we need another contributor, someone that can score who can help Carmelo go along and contribute to this team and the winning experience.”

Jackson suggested most of the rebuilding will be done through free agency, which makes sense as the Knicks have traded away a lot of first round draft picks in the coming years.

How hands on Jackson will be with scouting remains to be seen, but don’t expect to see him in the bleachers of a lot of college games.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” Jackson said of his level of scouting involvement. “I think the first thing we have going on right now is the NCAA tournament and we will turn our focus on and watch. But I really want to turn our focus on NBA teams. The advent of the game, a lot of it is, that there are players that are on benches, that are on teams, that will be available, maybe not on high-priced contracts, that can come in and help assist and build a team. So there are a variety of ways in which we can build teams.”

Jackson is not the detail guy here — Mills will be the one dealing with agents, working directly with team scouts, figuring out the details of the salary cap. Jackson is going to be more of the CEO role, setting the tone and picking his people to execute it. On the court that will be a new coach (although Jackson said good things about Mike Woodson at the press conference, still everyone knows he is a dead coach walking) and it will mean new people in the Knicks front office over time.

Jackson suggested whatever system is in place will be triangle influenced, if not outright full triangle. That can certainly work. There is not one magical system that wins (or everyone would run it). Whether it is the Bulls and Lakers in the triangle, the evolving system of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, or the space and pace of Miami, what matters is having elite talent, having a system in place to support that talent, and having the right players in the system around those stars to make it work.

Jackson understands system better than anyone.

Now we’ll see if he can build and execute it from the front office.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.