Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Report: Phil Jackson wants to hire Hornacek because he likes the way he thinks the game

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A month ago, Phil Jackson was set on hiring someone from his coaching tree and someone who would use the triangle offense.

Now, Jackson is negotiating with former Suns head coach Jeff Hornacek to take over the coaching duties. Hornacek and Jackson have no in-depth previous relationship, and Hornacek is not going to run the triangle.

Trying to read Jackson’s mind or guess his motivations can be a fool’s errand — he prides himself on his unpredictability. But Howard Beck of Bleacher Report has an interesting explanation in a brilliant piece on the likely hire.

What Jackson values most—in both players and coaches—is an intellectual heft, an ability to think the game, and in Hornacek he saw an analytical mind whose basketball values are in line with his.

“Intellectual capacity matters,” said one person with insight into Jackson’s decision—and now, more than ever, in an NBA shaped by advanced statistics, player tracking technology and sports science….

(Jackson) wants all five players involved—not one star isolating on the wing, and four standing idly by. He considers the pick-and-roll a healthy option, not the basis for an entire offense. He favors a system that provides structure, but allows freedom of expression within that structure—rather than relying on a coach dictating every set.

The triangle does all that, but so do other systems, most obviously the up-tempo motion offense the Warriors use (as the Spurs did when they won a title a few years back). If Jackson gives Hornacek the freedom to work his offense as he wants, this partnership can work.

Of course, it all comes back to talent. The Knicks need a lot of it — starting at the point guard spot in the offense that will run through that spot much more. The Knicks have Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis at the top of the food chain, and some solid role players like Robin Lopez under contract. But the Knicks need a lot more talent — young, athletic talent. Gathering it falls to Jackson.

Dwight Howard on his “disinterest” this season in Houston: “I felt like my role was being reduced”

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Dwight Howard wants to be liked. We all want to be liked, but for professional athletes (and others in the spotlight) there needs to be a confidence in what you are doing/want to do and a lack of concern for the people who tell you how bad you are at it.

Dwight Howard also still wants to be a key focal point of an NBA offense, although his play and numbers post back surgery suggest he’s not that guy anymore.

All of that seemed to come together in a rough season for Howard in Houston, where he averaged 13.7 points a game (but got just 8.5 shot attempts per game, the fewest since his rookie season) and added 11.8 rebounds a night. He played stretches of good defense, but this was James Hardens’ team and Howard felt like a high-quality role player. Like the second or third best player on a good team, not the Alpha. That led to nights where he clearly was disinterested.

He opened up to Jackie MacMullan in a Q&A on ESPN about why he was so disinterested — and talks about going to GM Daryl Morey about his concerns.

“I felt like my role was being reduced. I went to [Rockets general manager] Daryl [Morey] and said, ‘I want to be more involved.’ Daryl said, ‘No, we don’t want you to be.’ My response was, ‘Why not? Why am I here?’ It was shocking to me that it came from him instead of our coach. So I said to him, ‘No disrespect to what you do, but you’ve never played the game. I’ve been in this game a long time. I know what it takes to be effective….’

“My friends kept telling me, ‘Even if you aren’t getting shots, there are so many other things you can control while you are on the floor.’ And they were right. I allowed not getting the ball to affect me. That’s on me. As a big, someone who has been the focal point of the team, who is still young, who still has some great years in front of me, you run the floor, you sprint as hard as you can, you duck in, and still, you don’t get the ball. It brings you down. It sucks the energy out of you. I had long conversations with people close to me who said, ‘Dwight, this is going to make you look bad. Don’t keep doing this.’ So I listened to them.”

Howard’s role was being reduced. He may not like it, but a lot of teams see him more in that role now. For the record, Morey did not comment on this story when contacted by MacMullan.

Howard opens up in this brilliant Q&A about his time with the Lakers and Kobe Bryant, as well his exit from Orlando and his relationship with Stan Van Gundy (which is still strong, actually).

Howard refused to confirm whether or not he would opt out of the final year of his contract with the Rockets, although it would be a shock to most around the league if he didn’t choose to become a free agent. Then it will be interesting to see what the market will offer Howard, a guy who still has value on the court but not as much as he envisions. He reportedly will seek a max contract at around $30 million a season, although what concerns more some teams more than the money is the years — he has a history of back and other ailments, and is now on the wrong side of 30. Is any GM going to lock him in for four years? Can he get three with a team option? I imagine a lot of first offers to him will have just two guaranteed seasons. Dallas is known to be interested in Howard’s services, but there will be others.

Whatever new team he lands on, is Howard willing to work within the offensive system, or is he going to be disinterested if more of the offense doesn’t run through him? There are a lot of questions still to answer for Howard.

 

Toronto vs. Cleveland Game 2 preview: Is there any hope for Raptors?

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Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals lacked any drama, unless you think Sonny Corleone’s “talk” with his brother-in-law Carlo in “The Godfather” was a fair and exciting fight. Will Game 2 be any different? Here are three things to watch.

1) How can Toronto defend the Cavaliers better? The problem for Dwane Casey and the Raptors coaching staff is they can make changes around the margins, but there are no good answers with their personnel on how to defend these Cavaliers. After watching Cleveland shoot 42 percent from three through the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Raptors extended their defense to take that away — the result was a lay-up line at the rim for Cleveland. The Cavaliers had 56 points in the paint, all but one of LeBron James‘ shots came in the restricted area. Cleveland shot just 7-of-20 from three though, so the defense did work on one level. I guess.

What can Toronto do? Well, Bismack Biyombo must play a whole lot better, and the Raptors need to find a way to keep him closer to the rim. DeMarre Carroll must play a lot better, too. However, that’s not going to be enough. The Raptors can start switching, but that’s going to lead to open three point shooters (and the Cavs are hitting those). Or they could start to trap/double key ball handlers, but again the Cavaliers are moving the ball so well it will end with a Tristan Thompson alley-oop dunk or a J.R. Smith corner three. Toronto doesn’t have any good options, but they certainly can play the options they have with better energy and execution.

2) Will All-Star Kyle Lowry show up for Game 2? In Game 1 Lowry didn’t get one shot in the restricted area, and outside the paint he shot 1-of-10 total. That’s not good enough. After a rough start to the playoffs the All-Star level Lowry showed up in the Miami series (although Hassan Whiteside being out injured likely had a lot to do with that). That Lowry was nowhere to be found in Game 1 — he had Kevin Love switched on to him a few times and couldn’t convert. Lowry needs to attack, go right at the Cavaliers length and shot blocking, he needs to be a force and create shots. He can’t settle — and if he’s shooting threes he has to hit them.

3) Will Cleveland get complacent? We’re reaching here. While it’s possible after nine straight wins in the playoffs the Cavaliers will take their foot off the gas thinking “we got this” and let Toronto back in the series, I don’t think LeBron lets that happen. He’s on a mission. ESPN Zach Lowe summed this series up best on Twitter:

Sixers’ coach Brown praises Ben Simmons: “He’s got a hint of Magic”

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The process worked. Sam Hinkie is gone, but the process landed the Philadelphia 76ers the top spot in the NBA Draft. It leaves the new brain trust with one question:

Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram?

Reports are the Sixers are leaning Simmons. He’s the player with the higher ceiling. And if you’re looking for more proof of how much the Sixers like him, look at what Sixers coach Brett Brown said about Simmons on Fox Sports (via ESPN).

“He’s got a hint of Magic, and at times you can see a younger LeBron where you are not sure what position he is,” Brown told Fox Sports. “One moment you think he is a 4, maybe he is a 3, he looks comfortable handling the ball.

“When you say, ‘What is his identifiable elite NBA skill?’ most people will go immediately to passing.

“When you take that collection of comments, and you add it into a 6-foot-10 frame, the comparison to those two players could be a little reckless and ambitious, but there is no denying he really does come to the draft with a very unique skill package.”

I wish coaches/scouts/media would stop comparing players to Magic and LeBron James and other all-time greats. That’s an unfair burden for a player multiple scouts told me likely is more peak Lamar Odom than either of those two.

The question with Simmons is not the potential, rather it is things like his broken jump shot and, more importantly, his willingness to put in the years of work to fix it. He’s not seen as an internally driven guy, but that can be hard to judge in a 19-year-old.

Officially, the Sixers are still looking into which player to take.

“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,” Sixers GM Bryan Colangelo told NBC right after the Draft Lottery. “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.”

That’s the official line, but when you see comment’s such as Brown’s, it’s clear where the Sixers hearts lie.

Report: Brian Shaw offered assistant coaching job under Luke Walton with Lakers

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Could former Laker Brian Shaw be on his way back to Los Angeles?

Or not. But the former Laker player and assistant coach under Phil Jackson — and more recently deposed Nuggets head coach — has been offered an assistant coaching spot under Luke Walton in L.A., reports Bill Oram of the Orange County Register.

“I have some decisions to make fairly shortly,” Shaw told the Southern California News Group on Wednesday night after the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals.

“I have an offer and I have some options,” Shaw said.

Shaw has been working as an analyst for ESPN on the Western Conference Finals.

Walton reportedly wanted Shaw as a top assistant, but there is an “inside Lakers’ politics” angle to this as well. There is still a sense that after next season (or maybe a year later, depending on the internal struggles) Jim Buss would step aside as the head of Lakers’ basketball operations if this team isn’t “a contender.” (How clean this transfer of power would be is certainly up for debate.) Lead owner Jeanie Buss could then bring in a new head of the basketball side, and who may well be her fiance Phil Jackson. If true, Luke Walton has strong Jackson ties and likely survives any shakeup (he wisely got five guaranteed years on his contract just in case) and Shaw, another guy from the Jackson coaching tree, likely would as well. But will Jim Buss sign off on two Jackson guys on the staff?

Expect Shaw to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.