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

2 Comments

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.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss: “I have 100 percent confidence in Rob Pelinka”

Getty Images
2 Comments

Internally, the Lakers believe they are on the right track: They signed LeBron James as a free agent, they spent years acquiring assets then turned those assets into Anthony Davis, and they believe the roster that will take the court next season will bring vindication for the front office and ownership group. The Lakers believe they will be back on top, where they belong.

From the outside, um, let’s just say there are doubts around the league. Doubts about all the picks — particularly the pick swaps and deferments — that the Lakers gave up to get Davis and now that could hurt them in the future. There are doubts about the ability of Rob Pelinka to build out a roster around LeBron and Davis that is truly a threat.

Jeanie Buss has no such doubts. Speaking to Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times (and other reporters) at the NBA Awards show Monday, Buss expressed nothing but confidence in Pelinka and the Lakers’ staff.

“I’ve always had confidence in Rob, whatever the speculation is out there,” Buss said. “We don’t need outside media to validate the things that we do. I’m very happy and I think we’re on the right path.”

“I have 100% confidence in him in running his basketball operations,” Buss said. “He’s brought us a great new head coach in Frank Vogel, whose teams have had a lot of success in the playoffs and who have played consistently ranking high in defense, which means not only does he emphasize defense but the players buy into his defensive schemes.”

The question isn’t Vogel’s credentials, although how a staff with Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, and other veteran coaches with big egos will mesh together is going to be interesting.

The question is talent.

The Lakers have the high end of that with LeBron and Davis, but when you think about the Laker title teams of the past it wasn’t just Shaq and Kobe, it was also Derek Fisher and Robert Horry and Rick Fox and a host of others. The same thing was true in this past Finals — the deeper team won because the Raptors could adapt and handle their star not being 100 percent.

Are the Lakers going to chase another star and then complete the roster with minimum salary players? Or, get two or three quality role players with their cap space to have a deeper team? Has this all been planned out and thought through? Maybe Rob Pelinka builds this roster out beautifully, but we only have one year of experience to judge him on, and that did not go well.

Buss may have confidence, she should, the rest of us are in wait and see mode.

The Greek Freak has arrived, Giannis Antetokounmpo wins NBA MVP

Daniel/Getty Images
5 Comments

Mike Budenholzer came in with a plan — an offense built around the fact no one man on the planet can guard Giannis Antetokounmpo.

It worked. The Bucks won 60 games and had the best record in the NBA. Budenholzer picked up Coach of the Year hardware for his efforts.

Now Antetokounmpo has won the NBA MVP award, edging out James Harden (who chose not to attend the NBA’s awards show in Los Angeles Monday). He was emotional in thanking teammates for helping him reach this point, then talking about his father.

Antetokounmpo averaged 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, but it was his ability to destroy any defender one-on-one that made the Bucks offense work. Either the Greek Freak got to the basket and finished, he drew a foul, or he drew so much attention the shooters that surrounded him on the floor had clean looks of their own. He also was the Bucks best defender, a guy tasked with tough assignments nightly.

Antetokounmpo was the best player on the best team.

Antetokounmpo won the award handily with 941 points to Harden’s 776. The Greek Freak had 78 of the 100 first place votes.

James Harden — who averaged 36.1 points, 7.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game — finished second in the voting, Paul George of Oklahoma City was third. Harden has finished first or second in the voting for four of the past five seasons. Harden believed he deserved to win and was frustrated with another second.

Antetokounmpo is the first player from Europe to win the MVP award since Dirk Nowitzki in 2007.

Nikola Jokic came in fourth in the voting, Stephen Curry was fifth. Here are the full results:

 

 

Rudy Gobert wins NBA Defensive Player of the Year for second straight season

Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images
2 Comments

Rudy Gobert owns the paint for the Utah Jazz.

And he owns the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.

Gobert won his second straight DPOY award Monday night, beating out the other 2019 finalists Giannis Antetokounmpo and Paul George.

The Jazz had the second best defense in the regular season and it is completely built around Gobert and his abilities in the paint, which is what separated him for this award. Utah’s defense was 20.1 points per 100 possessions better when Gobert was on the court and gave up less than a point per possession with him as the anchor.

This was a deep field with players such as Myles Turner of the Pacers, Joel Embiid of the 76ers and others getting votes as well.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer named NBA Coach of the Year

Getty Images
1 Comment

Mike Budenholzer unleashed Giannis Antetokounmpo and from the start that made him the Coach of the Year favorite (and maybe Antetokounmpo MVP).

It was a wire-to-wire win for Budenholzer, who was the frontrunner for this award from early on and was named the NBA Coach of the Year Monday night, the second time he has won this award (Atlanta in 2015).

Budenholzer was the favorite with good reason. The Bucks won 16 more games than the season before and had the best record in the NBA, they improved their net rating by +10.1, and became a top-five team on both ends of the floor. To be fair, part of Budenholzer’s success was a contrast to how poorly the previous coach handled this roster, but give Budenholzer credit for utilizing players well.

He beat out Doc Rivers of the Clippers and Mike Malone of the Nuggets in what was a very deep field for this award.