By the time MVP announced in June ceremony, playoffs will have changed the narrative

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It’s the most anticipated matchup of the first round of the NBA playoffs: Oklahoma City vs. Houston.

Or, more accurately, Russell Westbrook vs. James Harden.

MVP candidate vs. MVP candidate.

Those two have gone back and forth all season, trading monster stat lines and putting up historic numbers, both pushing their teams. It all led to as intense and evenly split MVP debate we have seen in more than a decade, and these two are the frontrunners (although watch Kawhi Leonard is going to get a lot more votes than some people expect).

What happens in this playoff series starting Sunday in Houston will shape the narrative of the MVP debate. If Harden puts up big numbers and the Rockets wipe the Thunder out in five games, The Beard will look like he should run away with the award. If Westbrook puts up four or more triple-doubles in a series that goes seven games, he will look like the MVP when it is done.

And none of it will matter.

That’s because the media voters for the award must have their ballots in by midnight Eastern this Friday. Before this series even tips off.

Also, for the first time the NBA is putting on an awards show, to be broadcast on TNT, where all the league’s end-of-season awards will be handed out in one night. It’s a made for television event similar to what the NFL and NHL have done.

The NBA ceremony is June 26. Two months after the votes were taken.

After the NBA Finals.

After the draft.

When everyone’s minds have turned to free agency, the NBA is going to turn back the clock to the regular season one more time.

As a byproduct of that schedule, by the time the league announces the award winners, the playoffs will have changed how all of us perceive the race.

Fans — and the media members who vote — can’t help but have their perceptions of the season altered by what we all will witness in the playoffs. And not just the Harden vs. Westbrook matchup, it could include Leonard — if he can lead the Spurs to the Western Conference Finals and push (or beat) the Warriors, he will look more and more like the  rightful MVP.

Intellectually voters will be able to say “my vote is a valid one based on the regular season” and they would be right — a vote for Westbrook, Harden, Leonard, or LeBron James is completely justifiable. There is no wrong answer among those four. Today.

But it will feel different by the time we learn who won two months from now.

The league used to roll out its awards over the course of the first round of the playoffs and guys would get the chance to celebrate the awards with their fans. To use the examples of likely winners this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo could receive the Most Improved Player award in front of the Milwaukee fans. Houston fans could celebrate Mike D’Antoni winning Coach of the Year with him.

Not this time — it’s all being packaged for TV.

Which works for the NFL because their awards ceremony falls between the Conference Finals and the Super Bowl — the season just ended one month ago and the interest in the game is near it’s zenith.

But for the NBA, it will all come after the Finals, maybe a couple of weeks after someone hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy (depending on how long it goes). Fans will have turned their focus to if their team can land Blake Griffin or Gordon Hayward or whomever else in free agency for next season, not the long-past regular season anymore.

So remember who you picked for MVP today, because how you may feel in a few weeks may be different — and it will not matter.

Report: Phil Jackson thought Carmelo Anthony was trying to sabotage him

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In March, Kristaps Porzingis offered a strong endorsement of the triangle.

That put him between then-Knicks president Phil Jackson and forward Carmelo Anthony.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to an NBA source, Anthony was furious to read Porzingis’ positive sentiments on an offense he disdains.

“Melo really chewed him out, lit into him,’’ the source said.

Actually, some Knicks officials believe Anthony’s influence on Porzingis has been detrimental and a key reason why Jackson became adamant about removing him from the roster any way he could.

“Phil thought Carmelo was trying to sabotage him,’’ an NBA source said.

Jackson tried to pressure Anthony out of New York, tweeted criticism of Anthony, sidestepped Anthony’s requests to meet, seemingly pushed an anti-Anthony narrative, publicly called Anthony a ball hog and used racially insensitive language to discuss Anthony’s friend, LeBron James.

But Anthony was trying to sabotage Jackson?

It’s unhealthy for a team’s president and highest-paid players to be on such different pages, but it’s also unhealthy for a team to be caught up on an antiquated offensive system. Anthony acquiescing to Jackson might have made the Knicks’ better in the short term. But if he widened the fractures that eventually caused the Knicks to split from Jackson, Anthony did the team a favor in the long run.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?