Kurt Helin

Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek directs his players in the second half of an NBA exhibition basketball game against the Houston Rockets Monday, Oct. 13, 2014, in Houston. The Rockets won 95-92. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Report: New York Knicks near deal to hire Jeff Hornacek as head coach

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This is as surprising as a Robin Lopez three.

The New York Knicks are going to hire former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek as their new head coach, reports Howard Beck of Bleacher Report.

This comes after weeks of hearing that Kurt Rambis was the front runner — backed by team president Phil Jackson — while names like David Blatt and Frank Vogel came into play. It also leads to some interesting questions:

• Is Hornacek going to run the triangle offense that Jackson wants? Did he say he would run parts or principles of it? Did Jackson lose a power struggle in the organization over this (and he could only lose that to owner James Dolan)?

• Can Hornacek get the team to defend, something he didn’t do fantastically in Phoenix (his teams were average, and something the Knicks need)?

• Will Kurt Rambis be part of his staff? If so, then the triangle stays. Either way, Rambis will have a job in the Knicks organization, possibly in the front office.

Carmelo Anthony should be happy — he wanted a broad coaching search, and ultimately Jackson hired outside the comfort zone of his coaching tree.

Knicks fans should be happy because it likely means a lot of Kristaps Porzingis at the five. And they’re happy because it’s not Kurt Rambis.

Hornacek could be a good hire by the Knicks, but with all things New York it will come down to the strings attached and backroom politics involved to see if he gets an honest chance to make it work.

Hornacek was let go mid-season by the Suns. Maybe the thing that doomed him most was the surprise 48-win campaign his first season in 2013-14 — after that, the Suns abandoned the idea of slow growth and tried to double down on the two point guard lineups. It never worked, more because management’s flawed building of the roster than anything Hornacek did. He was fairly creative with his sets, within the confines of the rosters he was given. It just didn’t work, the Suns were 14-35 last season when he was let go.

Hornacek replaces Rambis, who was the interim coach replacing Derek Fisher.

Pat Riley’s first free agency call come July? Hassan Whiteside

SPRINGFIELD, MA - AUGUST 8:  Pat Riley arrives for the 2014 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Symphony Hall on August 8, 2014 in Springfield, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Officially, the Miami Heat can’t talk to free agents until the clock strikes midnight and the calendar turns to July 1. (Well, midnight on the East Coast, but for this a lot of players and agents head to Los Angeles because it’s only 9 p.m. so they can get in a meeting or two and still hit a club if they want.)

Who will be Heat president’s first call come 12:01 a.m. July 1?

Hassan Whiteside. Retaining the free agent center — which will eat into the Heat’s cap space — is the team’s highest priority, Riley said when addressing the media Wednesday, via Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel.

“He will be right there at 12:01 a.m.” Heat President Pat Riley said Wednesday of the shot-blocking center and the July 1 start of NBA free agency. “I want to build a team that can win and he’s got to be part of that…

“I really believe it’s important for him to be a part of that. Now, when you get to the other part of negotiations, then you find out how much he wants to win, too. That doesn’t mean anybody needs to take a haircut or anything, but it’s all part of the game.”

Someone is going to have to take a haircut — the money matters.

Miami’s July is going to be interesting because of money, even though they will have more than $40 million in cap space. It starts with landing Whiteside. Not only is Whiteside an unrestricted free agent, so are Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson. Then there is the question about Chris Bosh‘s future — he’s likely back, but that’s not a lock.

Then there is this complication: The Heat do not have Whiteside’s Bird rights. What that means is they can’t go over the salary cap to re-sign him (as they can Wade). Whiteside made $769,881 this season and he is in line for a four-year, $80 million contract, if not a full max — Miami has to take that out of their salary cap space. You can be sure other team’s will come calling with a Brinks truck as their ride, Riley has to be prepared to pay to keep his star. Then with what’s left over in the till he needs to lure other players to fill out the roster, and re-sign Wade and the other key guys they want back.

Riley is a magician who has convinced players to sacrifice for the greater good, but with the league awash in cash and big dollars being thrown about this summer, that becomes a much harder,

After rough fourth quarters during season, Thunder find late-game swagger in playoffs

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 16:  Kevin Durant #35 (R) of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates with Russell Westbrook #0 during the final moments of game one of the NBA Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on May 16, 2016 in Oakland, California. The Thunder defeated the Warriors 108-102. 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)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The team that struggled to protect a fourth-quarter lead all season long suddenly has figured out how to stage late comebacks in the postseason – against the toughest teams and in the most hostile environments, no less.

Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder will look to build on their 1-0 lead in the Western Conference finals after rallying down the stretch to hand the defending champion Golden State Warriors their first home loss these playoffs and just their third all season at Oracle Arena.

“Just being able to go in and lock in,” Russell Westbrook said Tuesday. “You’ve got to give credit to our guys just coming in and focusing on the task at hand. We couldn’t have done a better job of that, especially in the playoffs.”

The Thunder won three straight road games against teams that had lost only three times combined at home all season. On Monday night, they did it with a fourth-quarter comeback against the defending NBA champion Warriors, who had won their first six playoff games at Oracle Arena. Game 2 is Wednesday.

Oklahoma City lost 14 games during the regular season when it led going into the fourth. But with Monday night’s 108-102 victory to open the best-of-seven series, the Thunder won their second straight road game when trailing after three quarters. They also came back in the crucial Game 5 in the last round at San Antonio.

“We just find a way to finish the game,” Thunder guard Dion Waiters said. “Early in the season when we had a lead into the fourth quarter, we let a lot of games slip away. And I think just coming down in the postseason we’ve just been finding ways just to finish it out. We get up big, just try to keep the lead just to get the win.”

Now, Golden State is embracing the chance to rally from down 1-0.

“Every team that I was on that won a title lost at least a home game during the playoffs, so it happens,” Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said. “There’s a reason we pour champagne on each other when we win. It’s hard, it’s a grind, and this is a great reminder of that.”

This is the first time the Warriors have lost a series opener under Kerr, but last year they had to rally from 2-1 down in both the second round against the Memphis and the NBA Finals facing Cleveland on the way to the franchise’s first title in 40 years – an experience they believe could help them this time.

“I was telling the guys when we look at our championship run, anytime we talk about it, we talk about being down 2-1 to Memphis. Being down 2-1 to Cleveland. We never talk about beating the Pelicans 4-0. We never talk about beating the Rockets 4-1,” Draymond Green said. “You talk about the trying times. So right now is one of those times. We’ve never been down 0-1, so this is foreign territory for us. But at the same time we’ve been in positions where we’ve had to battle back before.”

After leading 60-47 at halftime, the Warriors allowed 38 points in the third quarter and scored only 14 in the fourth. They got outrebounded 52-44, with MVP Stephen Curry‘s playoff career-high 10 boards leading the way along with his 26 points and six 3-pointers.

“Long series, we’ll be able to bounce back and get back to who we are,” said Curry, who last week was named the first unanimous MVP in NBA history.

Kerr begged for a traveling call against Westbrook with 17.2 seconds left and the Thunder ahead 105-102, but a timeout was given. NBA senior vice president for replay and referee operations Joe Borgia went on NBA TV after the game and said Westbrook did drag his pivot foot.

Going forward, the Warriors want to handle what they can control down the stretch.

First-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan appreciates how his team has responded in crunch time when adjustments are needed. Oklahoma City lost Game 1 to San Antonio in the last round before beating the Spurs 4-2.

“I’ve always said this about these guys, I think as a coach, when you bring things to their attention of areas that we’ve got to get better at, concentrate and try to improve on, they really give a good, concentrated effort to do that,” Donovan said. “We just kept playing, and that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas says he’s about 50 percent; don’t expect him for Game 2

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01:  Jonas Valanciunas #17 of the Toronto Raptors smiles in the first half of Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 01, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, 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.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals did not exactly go the way Toronto hoped. To put it kindly. It was more like how Billy Batts ended up in “Goodfellas.”

The real problem for Toronto is when you start to break down things they can do differently — don’t sit Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan at the same time, try to drag Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love into more pick-and-rolls, adjust the defensive strategy to get more rim protection — at best it adds up to a less embarrassing loss. It’s hard to envision Toronto winning a game…

Without Jonas Valanciunas anyway. The Raptors miss their big man — who is recovering from a severe ankle sprain — and his presence the paint on both ends. Here is what the Raptors GM said about missing JV:

Any chance he plays Thursday night in Game 2?

That doesn’t look good. And it’s fair to ask if we will even see him this series — by the time he gets healthy it may be too late.

Bryan Colangelo: Sixers “trading the No. 1 pick is a highly unlikely situation”

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The Philadelphia 76ers went into Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery having a roster already loaded with young players: Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Nik Stauskas, Joel Embiid, Jerami Grant, and (if he comes over from Europe next season) Dario Saric are all 22 years old or younger. Stockpiling that youth was all part of the long game the Sixers were playing with “the process.” While current Sixers management wants to distance itself from the negative byproducts of that process, parts of that plan still drive this team’s future.

This June the Sixers will get even younger.

Philadelphia won the NBA Draft Lottery and landed the No. 1 pick, which they add to the No. 24 and 26 picks (Miami’s and Cleveland’s via trades) they already had — that’s three more guys fresh out of college added to the roster next season. That’s a lot of youth, maybe more than GM Bryan Colangelo is comfortable with.

“I’ve been quoted as saying you can only have so many developing players in your fold,” Colangelo said after his team saw the lottery balls bounce their way in a win. “There’s a lot to consider to finding a balance… I think there needs to be a blend of young talent and veterans on your roster, there needs to be a balance.”

Don’t think that means the Sixers are moving the No. 1 pick.

“I would say you never say never, but certainly trading the No. 1 pick is a highly unlikely situation,” Colangelo said.

Yes, Colangelo said last week that “nothing is off the table” with the Sixers picks, but he quickly clarified that he said that in response to a hypothetical question about what might happen if they had two of the top four picks (they would have had the Lakers’ pick if it had fallen to No. 4) and could package them for a quality veteran.

“I never said we would consider trading the No. 1 pick,” Colangelo said.

While reports have surfaced that the Sixers are leaning heavily toward taking Ben Simmons of LSU (and he is on top of most teams’ draft boards), of course Colangelo was not about to commit to one player or the other publicly yet. He probably will not before draft night.

Colangelo did say he and his team are already well into their deep dive on both Simmons and Brandon Ingram of Duke, the clear two players on the top of every team’s draft boards. They have seen both players play live as well as having watched a lot of video, Colangelo said, but now decision-making efforts move toward more finding out how they would fit in with the team and the city of Philadelphia beyond just basketball players.

“We’ve got extensive research done on Brandon Ingram and Ben Simmons, and we will do more, and we will bring in both for workouts. We also interviewed Ingram in Chicago where he participated in some events,” Colangelo said. “We’ve got a lot of observations of who they are as basketball players, but we want to get to know them as people.”

Don’t, however, confuse Colangelo’s plan with that of his predecessor in the GM chair, Sam Hinkie. Colangelo will benefit from the trove of picks Hinkie amassed, but he’s not going to throw all those young players out there to learn lessons the hard way. Colangelo wants veterans who can both help the team win games — think journeyman point guard Ish Smith last season — and leaders in the locker room who can mentor all that young talent, guys such as Elton Brand last season.

“The Process” in its purest form is dead.

“We want to win basketball games, that is somewhat a transformational transition in thought here,” Colangelo said of the franchise’s mindset.

This is still a development process, the Sixers are not going to challenge Cleveland next season, but Colangelo has said it’s time to enter the next phase of rebuilding and start to win games.

However, first they are going to add more young players to the mix.