Report: James Dolan meddles into Phil Jackson’s attempts to fire Knicks employees

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Willingly and gratefully.”

That’s how Knicks owner James Dolan chortled he’d cede control to Phil Jackson when the Zen Master was introduced as the team’s new president.

I believe Dolan meant it – or at least wanted to mean it. He wasn’t paying Jackson $60 million to preserve the status quo, and if that meant changing how Dolan himself did things, he probably believed he was up to it.

But like the scorpion who hitched a ride across the river on a frog and then stung the frog, drowning them both, Dolan is meddling again despite his best intentions. It’s in his nature.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.

According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

CAA represents two key members of the front office, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien, and has close ties to general manager Steve Mills. All three are likely to be cut loose or pushed into new roles.

Jackson, inexperienced as an executive, needs a seasoned general manager who shares his vision. That probably means a reassignment for Mills, who did little in his one season as the Knicks’ president and GM.

The same goes for Houston, a favorite of owner James L. Dolan who has been serving a front-office apprenticeship for six years but has gained little traction in NBA circles as a viable executive.

It would be easy enough to move Mills back to the business side, where he began his Garden career, and to leave Houston in charge of the Knicks’ D-League affiliate, a role he already has.

Warkentien is the Knicks’ most experienced (and most networked) basketball official. But with Jackson pursuing a thorough housecleaning, Warkentien is surely on his way out, too.

This was really inevitable. Dolan, over the years, has stocked the organization full of people he likes and forced out those he didn’t. It’s going to be painful to see those people lose jobs.

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Among Dolan’s faults or virtues, depending on your perspective, is an incredible amount of loyalty to his friends/employees. Just look how long a leash Isiah Thomas got, and Dolan still occasionally vouches for him.

You think Dolan going to let Allan Houston get shown the door much more easily?

Here’s the thing, though: Jackson shouldn’t have full autonomy, and if he was promised it, that was a mistake. Dolan controls the franchise, and he should have some say in what happens. The buck ultimately stops with him, and he shouldn’t give Jackson – or anyone – free reign to operate unilaterally.

There’s a line somewhere, and from the outside, it’s difficult to see where this falls. Ultimately, it’s up to Jackson – like anyone who works for a boss – to convince Dolan why these firings are justified. That’s part of Jackson’s job, though one of the less-glamorous aspects of it.

There are surely compromises available, including giving the employees Jackson wants to fire reduced roles or Jackson using his contacts around the league to help them find soft landings. Or maybe the best move is to leak it to reporters in hopes of applying pressure to Dolan to back off, but given Dolan’s history with the media, that might cause a bigger rift. (To be clear, there’s no telling Jackson or his people leaked the information. It could have come from many possible sources.)

Really, this could all blow over quickly and harmlessly. If this is the worst meddling Dolan does, that wouldn’t be so bad.

But does anyone really believe this isn’t just the beginning?

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.

Rumor: Lakers, Kawhi Leonard share mutual interest

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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The Spurs seem like they won’t trade Kawhi Leonard.

That won’t stop teams from trying.

There’s a clear disconnect between Leonard and San Antonio. Even the potential of a player as good as Leonard becoming available has teams salivating.

The Clippers are reportedly assembling a trade offer for the L.A. native. Los Angeles’ other team – the Lakers – are also apparently expected to factor prominently.

Sean Deveney of Sporting News:

“I think they go in hard for Leonard once the season is over and once the dust settles in San Antonio,” one executive told Sporting News. “(Leonard) wants to go to LA. There probably won’t be public demands on that, but he has leverage. He is going to be a free agent (in 2019). He’s an LA guy and he can just let teams know he won’t re-sign next year with anyone but the Lakers.”

But make no mistake, the Lakers are the favorite here.

“I would say that’s the most likely thing,” another general manager told Sporting News. “He’s going to be their target any way you look at it, this summer or next summer. There’s not many other ways to explain what’s been going on with that situation other than him trying to get out of San Antonio.”

Of course, every team wants Leonard. He’s an elite two-way player when healthy. But teams will go to differing lengths to pursue him. If the Lakers will “go hard for Leonard,” that means something beyond just desiring him.

Under Magic Johnson, the Lakers have made no secret of their plan to acquire stars. That has largely been centered on 2018 free agents, but with that well drying up, talk has turned to 2019 free agents. If the Lakers can get a top 2019 free agent – Leonard – sooner, why wouldn’t they?

One reason is the cost. Trading with San Antonio would require dealing at least some combination of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. Signing Leonard outright in 2019 would be simpler.

But a trade is the only surefire way of getting Leonard. If the Lakers don’t trade for him, another team could. With promising young players and cap space, the Lakers have the tools to make an intriguing offer for Leonard.

Or, more likely, the Spurs could keep him. Their relationship isn’t necessarily beyond repair, and they can offer him a super-max contract extension this summer.

They might not offer it. Even if they do, he might not take it. If he doesn’t, he could pledge to re-sign with only certain teams – like the Lakers – and steer trade talks that way. You can see how the thinking develops:

Leonard might be unhappy in San Antonio. He grew up in Southern California. Therefore, he’ll engineer his way to the Lakers?

Maybe, and maybe these anonymous executives know something to that effect. But this mostly sounds lazily speculative.

PBT Extra: Disciplined Celtics highlight bad habits of Milwaukee Bucks

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Giannis Antetokounmpo has been every bit the top five NBA player in the postseason — 32.5 points per game on 63.2 percent shooting, plus with 11 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game.

Yet the Bucks are down 0-2 to Boston.

The Celtics have had a strong series from Al Horford and Terry Rozier, but the real difference is in the discipline this team has shown all season — Boston knows who it is. Clearly, Milwaukee does not. They turn the ball over too much and make too many mistakes.

I get into all of that in this PBT Extra, and I wonder if that’s something the Bucks can really turn around mid-playoffs.

Ettore Messina to coach Spurs in Game 3 following death of Gregg Popovich’s wife

AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin, died yesterday.

That sad news was felt throughout the NBA, and it obviously affects San Antonio most closely. That includes for tonight’s Game 3 against the Warriors.

Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

Ettore Messina was a longtime head coach in Europe. The Spurs lead assistant also took over for a few regular-season games Popovich missed. So, making – rather than advising – coaching decisions won’t be a brand new challenge to Messina.

But down 2-0 to defending-champion Golden State is a tough place to make an NBA playoff debut.

On the bright side, there will be no pressure. Not only has San Antonio been outclassed the first two games of the series, focus is rightly on the Popovich family. A win would be a pleasant surprise and help Messina – who’s up for the Hornets job – in his pursuit of a head-coaching position. A loss would be quickly forgotten with more important matters at hand.

To that end, hopefully the time away allows Popovich the space he needs to grieve. That matters far more than a basketball game.