Will the Knicks pick up Donnie Walsh’s contract? And how is this even a question?

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Pat Riley will probably win it. I can see that. But Donnie Walsh of the Knicks deserves to be NBA Executive of the Year.

In three seasons Walsh has taken a team drowning in big contracts for bad players and has turned them into something respectable. The Knicks are not contenders, but they are pretty good and very entertaining. No team has come farther in the last few years to get where they are than New York.

And yet, there are worries within Madison Square Garden that Walsh’s job may not be safe. His contract is up at the end of this season and owner James Dolan has until April 1 to pick up his contract for next season.

Nobody knows if Dolan will do that, writes Howard Beck at the New York Times. Which has plenty of people nervous because if not Walsh… he wouldn’t really bring back Isiah Thomas, would he? Is Dolan wearing Bad Idea Jeans? Bringing back Thomas the New Coke of basketball decisions. That can’t really happen, can it?

The problem is Dolan is so unpredictable and so secretive nobody can rule it out.

In that light, the move by Walsh this week to hire Mark Warkentien — the former Nuggets GM — makes even more sense (it’s not just the Carmelo Anthony connections). With Warkentien and current second-in-command Allan Houston in house, if Walsh is pushed out the door there would be two reasonable replacement options already in the Knicks front office. Meaning one would not have to look for Florida college coaches to be your GM.

Know that Walsh wants to stick around.

“I never have; I don’t think about that,” Walsh said, but he confirmed that he wanted to continue. “If I’m the right guy, probably. But I’m not in charge of that, so I don’t worry about it. I feel good at this point, about how this has gone for the Knicks.”

To realize how good a job Walsh has done, you have to look back at the 23-win Knicks of 2008, the last season of Thomas’ reign. That team had Stephon Marbury playing in 30 games and shooting 41 percent for his $19 million. They had Zach Randolph at $13.3 million, Eddie Curry at $8.9 million (at the start of a contract the Knicks still can’t unload) and Quentin Richardson was making $8.1 million. The Knicks had a payroll of more than $95 million, and with the luxury tax they paid out much more to miss the playoffs entirely. And that’s just the on-the-court issues, the team found ways to embarrass the franchise off the court, too.

Walsh came in and changed everything. Already have 25 wins and seem destined for a playoff spot. He brought in a new face for the franchise in Amar’e Stoudemire. There is an energy and excitement in the Garden and around the Knicks that has been missing for a decade.

If the Knicks don’t pick up Walsh’s contract, it’s a sign that ultimately nothing has changed in New York. And that the city’s hoops fans are destined for another decade of disappointment.

Celtics lock-up Al Horford with two-year, $20 million extension

Washington Wizards v Boston Celtics
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Brad Stevens has locked up the core of this Celtics team — the one that reached the Finals last season and has the best record in the NBA to start this one — through the summer of 2025.

They did that with a two-year, $20 million extension (that kicks in next season). The story was broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and later confirmed by the Celtics.

Horford, 36, is making $26.5 million this season, the final year of a four-year, $109 million deal he signed in Philadelphia. While he never fit well as a stretch four next to Joel Embiid, he has worked well as a role player in Boston’s front line. The Celtics have locked him up at a deal closer to the league average and about his value now, at an average of $10 million a season (both years are fully guaranteed). It’s a fair deal for both sides, and a low enough number that if Father Time starts to win the race it doesn’t hurt Boston much.

With Robert Williams still out following knee surgery, Horford has seen his minutes increase to start this season but he has handled it well, averaging  10.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, shooting 55.5% overall and 48.8% from 3-point range. Joe Mazzulla will likely try to get Horford some rest down the line when he can, but for now he’s leaning on the veteran.

And the team has rewarded him.

Donovan says Lonzo Ball’s recovery has ‘been really slow’

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Watching the finger-pointing and heated moments between Bulls’ defenders on Wednesday night as Devin Booker carved them up to the tune of 51 points, one thought was how much they miss Lonzo Ball‘s defense at the point of attack.

Ball had a second surgery on his knee back in September and the team said he would be out at “least a few months.” It’s coming up on a few months, so Donovan gave an update on Ball and his recovery, and the news was not good for Bulls’ fans. Via Rob Schaefer at NBC Sports Chicago:

“It’s been really slow,” Donovan said when asked about Ball’s rehab. “I’m just being honest.”

Donovan added Ball has not necessarily suffered a setback. The Bulls knew this would be an arduous process. But he also noted that Ball is “not even close” to being cleared for contact or on-court work.

Ball had his first knee surgery in January and the expectation was he would be back and 100% by the playoffs. However, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. Things didn’t improve over the summer, which led to the second surgery. How much do they miss him? The Bulls were 22-13 with him last season, and he averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, a game. However, it was his defense that was most crucial.

There is no timeline for his return. Which is not good news for Chicago.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.