Phil Jackson wins his opening Knicks press conference preaching culture change

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It doesn’t get him a 14th ring, but Phil Jackson won his first press conference in New York.

Jackson was formally introduced as the Knicks team president at a press conference on Tuesday. He won it by talking culture change — and for a day at least getting the organization to walk that talk. Jackson talked about a fundamental shift in how the Knicks operate that will build a potential championship foundation. And he also played to the fans.

“There is no better place to win than New York City,” said Jackson, who won two rings as a Knicks player in the 1970s before his Hall of Fame coaching career. “It really is something that is special. It had a definite impact on my decision to come here.”

Jackson said the word “culture” gets overused in the NBA but that is what got him the job, the promise of change. Evidence of that culture change: Owner James Dolan had barely said two words publicly (save for some scripted comments) in the past seven years, but after this press conference where Jackson talks about the Knicks needing to be open and honest — with the fans, with the media and most importantly with the players — Dolan agreed to an interview on a New York radio station.

More than that, Dolan said all the right things about pulling out of his role of making basketball decisions and leaving that to Jackson — who Dolan signed to a five-year contract at a reported $12 million a season. Dolan said he would cede power to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.”

“The two gentlemen to my left here are the two experts in basketball, I am by no means an expert in basketball,” Dolan said while Knicks fans nodded at home. “I’m a fan but my expertise lies in managing companies and business. I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team, I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision making for a while. It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do but as the chairman of the company I felt obligated to do. And I am happy now that we have a team in Phil and Steve to do that. My whole job now is about supporting them in winning a championship. That’s a lot easier than what I had to do in the past.”

We’ll see if he can stick to those words. Jackson certainly knows about winning teams and focused on the system and team aspects of the game in his comments.

“We want to build a team,” Jackson said. “A team doesn’t have an ‘I’ in it. We’ve used that expression a few times as coaches, but this is a franchise that developed a team back in the 1960s that was consistently playing team basketball for seven, eight years (and won titles)…

“I believe in system basketball. (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.”

Jackson said he wants free agent to be Carmelo Anthony to be part of that future.

“There is no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league, maybe the best individual, isolation players in the game,” Jackson said. “I have no problem committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans. There are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward, and I think I’m on record from a year ago saying that Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. I hope together with the team we create we can get there.”

Dolan said talks with Jackson started before Christmas at the home of Irving Azoff (the manager of bands such as Dolan’s favorite The Eagles, as well as acts ranging from Christina Aguilera to Van Halen). Dolan started pitching the idea of Jackson coaching the Knicks and was quickly shot down, but the conversations steered toward Jackson in a front office role.

With that Jackson laid out his vision of the organization and how to turn it around to Dolan — that includes a more open relationship with the media and doing more public speaking. For now Dolan has bought in.

“This is someone who knows about winning, about the importance of a clear vision and how to install a culture that ensures a team wins, like his team did when his team played for the Knicks,” Dolan said. “Now that vision comes back to New York.”

Jackson said he wants to be “established” in New York but will split time between there and California, where his fiancee Jeanie Buss (co-owner of the Lakers) and much of the rest of his family lives.

That can work fine (although will become an issue if the Knicks don’t win) — Jackson is not going to be the details guy, that’s Mills. Jackson said he didn’t know that he would be spending a lot of time at the Portsmouth Invitational or other scouting spots, that physically (with two replaced hips, one replaced knee and likely another knee replacement in his future) he is not up for that kind of grind.

What Jackson is there to provide is the big picture things. He is a name and personality that can recruit free agents, he can help put in place an on court system that will move the Knicks away from the isolation heavy ball of the past years.

More than that, he can take what had been a secretive and dysfunctional organization and disinfect it with sunshine — open up the windows and let the light in. Not completely, but there is no reason for a basketball organization to have a terse (sometimes hostile) relationship with the media, to have players looking over their shoulders at the politics of the organization.

The real question is will Dolan let him do that, and if so for how long?

For a day, it looks like Jackson is winning.

If he can keep on winning and really change the culture, the Knicks will be winning, too.

Report: Hornets’ center Cody Zeller out six weeks following knee surgery

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Charlotte just cannot get over the injury bug this season, and we found out last week it had struck again.

Now we know how severe the damage is, as reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Ouch.

Zeller has been solid off the bench behind Dwight Howard this season, averaging 7.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in just under 20 minutes a night. He plays around the basket, 75 percent of his shots come at the rim, but his efficiency has dipped a little this season and he is shooting just 50 percent inside the restricted area.

The Hornets had to start the season without Nicolas Batum, and Michael Carter-Williams has missed time as well. On top of that, coach Steve Clifford had to take a leave of absence from the team for personal health reasons. Stephen Silas has stepped in to replace him.

Report: LiAngelo, LaMelo Ball have deal to play professionally in Lithuania

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This feels like a publicity stunt. Whatever the under/over is on how long it will last, bet the under.

That said, the two younger brothers of Lonzo Ball — LiAngelo, 18, and LaMelo, 16 — have reached a deal to play for a team in the highest level of the Lithuanian league. The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski and Jonathan Givony of ESPN (before the signing became official).

LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball are in serious discussions to sign professional basketball contracts with Lithuanian club Prienu Vytautas, sources told ESPN.

The club plans to decide in the next 24-to-48 hours whether to finalize agreements with the two American teenagers, sources told ESPN.

If signed, the franchise has hopes that the Balls – including their father LaVar — could be a marketing boon for the fledgling franchise, sources told ESPN.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports the deal is done.

Lithuania is a hoops-mad Baltic country of an estimated 2.9 million people who has three players currently in the NBA — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total, including Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis. You might remember the Lithuanian National Team wearing Grateful Dead inspired uniforms and taking the bronze medal in the 1992, 1996, and 2000 Olympics.

This is a country that takes its basketball seriously, and the Balls are a traveling circus and reality show. The Lithuanian league doesn’t have NBA-level players, but they guys they suit up have a real feel for the game and play a disciplined style. This could be a real culture clash, the kind of thing that ends quickly and spectacularly poorly. Here is some insight into the team from FIBA’s Lithuanian hoops writer.

Don’t expect the Ball children to play much, especially not at first.

The pay at this level is reportedly north of $1,500 a month, but that could be higher if the brothers are seen as a draw. With the report of the tight financial squeeze, this is likely a gambit on the coach’s part to boost revenue (in Europe, coaches are the CEOs of the organization, much more akin to the power top college coaches have than an NBA coach).

This is a league where men play and the game is taken seriously, it has produced not only Lithuanian players but Boston Celtics center Aron Baynes played there. This team apparently does not run the (suprisingly standard in Europe) two-a-day practices on non-game days, but their practices are longer and harder than most American versions. There are a lot of quality players — former American college/D-League guys, as well as good Europeans — who would love a shot like this. Who deserve a chance like this. If the younger Ball children do not perform and do not take this seriously, it will turn on them quickly.

LiAngelo Ball had gone to UCLA to play basketball this season, but after being suspended for shoplifting in China, his father LaVar pulled him out of college, designed a “Gelo 3” signature shoe for his son from the Big Baller Brand, and started looking for a professional contract. I’m not sure LiAngelo belongs at this level. As one scout told me last summer, LiAngelo was only at UCLA because Lonzo was a top recruit and LaMelo had a lot of potential. That scout wasn’t sure LiAngelo could stick in Europe.

LaMelo is a generally highly-rated recruit with NBA potential, a guy with crazy shooting range for a high-school Junior and good handles, but scouts had a lot of questions about his defense and most of his game outside of just shooting. LaMelo put up 70 points in an AAU game, but he cherry-picked the entire time, and the sense is there is a lot of that in his game. His father LaVar pulled LaMelo out of Chino Hills High School this season after a new basketball coach said he was going to push his guys to play within a system on both ends. How well LaMelo adapts to a very different culture on and off the court at his age is a big question.

Maybe this works out. Maybe the Ball children are more mature in personality and game than I think, maybe this is the financial boost that Prienu Vytautas needs and it works for them. It’s possible. I just don’t expect it.

Matt Barnes announces retirement from NBA after 15 seasons

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When too many fans think of Matt Barnes, they think of the guy who tried to fight Derek Fisher, the nightclub incident in New York, the guy who was a pest on the court and racked up more than his share of technicals and fines in a 15-year NBA career.

Ask Barnes former teammates about him, and they loved him — off the court and on. He was the quintessential guy you wanted on your team and hated to play against.

Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well for the team after signing in Golden State — Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes stepped up his role and play. He earned that ring. However, this season there seemed to be no fit for him in the league.

Barnes was drafted in the second round out of UCLA by the Memphis Grizzlies and went on to play for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

I’m going to miss him. While he had a rough exterior and was plenty chippy on the court, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off. I wish him the best and know he’ll enjoy life after basketball.

Shaq on free throws: ‘I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand’

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Rick Barry famously made 90% of his free throws while shooting underhand.

Shaquille O’Neal infamously shot just 53% on his free throws, inspiring hack-a-Shaq.

Why didn’t Shaq use Barry’s technique?

Shaq, via Emmanuel Ocbazghi, Noah Friedman and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider:

Shaquille O’Neal: Because it’s boring.

Business Insider: But it’s been proven to be somewhat effective.

O’Neal: No, it’s not. It’s not proven. Just ’cause a couple guys did it doesn’t mean anybody can do it.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

O’Neal is somewhat trying to protect his larger-than-life, jokester image. But he’s also speaking to truth.

Barry would have been a good free-throw shooter overhand, too. Shooting underhand wasn’t necessarily going to fix Shaq’s problems at the line. Just because it worked for Barry doesn’t make it a “proven” technique.

Yet, every poor free-throw shooter – from Shaq to Andre Drummond to Andre Roberson – has been pestered about shooting underhand. It might be the right form for some players, but it’s no silver bullet.