Jason Kidd making defensive changes, trying to shake up Nets

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It’s all on Jason Kidd now.

Lawrence Frank is gone as a scapegoat, Kidd is in charge of the ship — a 5-14 ship with the worst defense in the NBA. You can see how bad the defense is by looking at the stats, where you see the Nets give up a league-worst 108.6 points per 100 possessions. You could see how bad the defense was when they gave up 113 points to a struggling Knicks team in an ugly loss at home Thursday night.

But in that Knicks game you could also start to see changes — Kidd trying to put his stamp on the defense that had been Frank’s purview. Kidd is trying mid-season to move the Nets to a more aggressive style of the Thibodeau-style defense that tries to take away drives with an extra defender on the strong side. They also changed up their pick-and-roll defense.

Kevin Garnett talked about it after the Thursday loss, speaking to The Brooklyn Game.

“We have a new system, we’re changing things on the fly,” Garnett explained at the podium following the blowout loss. “Jason’s putting in a lot of new stuff since Lawrence has left.”

Though Garnett didn’t go into detail, one change the Nets implemented in their film-only practice and pre-game shootaround was in the pick-and-roll, bringing the big man “up” slightly higher to contest the ballhandler at his point of attack. Both Kidd and forward Mirza Teletovic confirmed this after the game.

“(It’s) so the (guard doesn’t) snake around and get easy shots,” Teletovic explained about the schematic difference.

The Nets did pack the paint against the Knicks, a team that had shot 32 percent from three on the season coming into that game. But Knicks coach Mike Woodson had spent a lot of the last couple of his practices on getting and hitting better looks from three and the result Thursday was the Knicks hitting 16-of-27 from beyond the arc and running away with the game.

It’s an issue as the Nets have packed in their defense all season but have done a very poor job rotating out to contest spot up shooters, particularly from three. Opposing teams are getting 20.3 percent of their offensive opportunities on spot up shooters and those opponents are shooting 43.4 percent from three on catch-and-shoot opportunities (stats via Synergy Sports). Thursday night the Knicks got a lot of clean looks on jumpers as shots were not contested or the close out was late and half-hearted.

Give him this: Kidd is trying to do something with the pathetic Nets defense. But Devin Kharpertian wisely questions if this defensive switch has been made with the Nets personnel in mind.

The system Teletovic is referring to is “packing the paint,” a scheme popularized by Tom Thibodeau, head coach and defensive guru for the Chicago Bulls. But Thibodeau’s system relies on two personnel fits the Nets don’t have: an athletic big man who can roam from side to side in the paint to cut off drives (Bulls center Joakim Noah fits that description), and athletic guards who are quick enough to keep one foot in the paint and slide out to their man on the perimeter if a pass is thrown that way (Bulls wings Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng are two examples).

Kevin Garnett used to be that guy anchoring the middle for the Celtics, but he is not the same player anymore. He, like the entire Nets defense, looks slow and plodding. They have been better with the big body of Brook Lopez in the paint to protect the rim, but he’s not exactly quick or a defensive force.

If the defense continues to play this poorly Brooklyn will not turn it around.

And that’s all on Kidd now. Whether that’s fair or not, as one scout told Marc Stein at ESPN.

“But I blame Mikhail Prokhorov. You’re not going to hear a lot of sympathy [for Kidd] because there’s a lot of [veteran assistant] coaches in this league who want the chance he’s getting, but I feel for him because he’s been put in a really tough position. You’ve got all these injuries, you’ve got an unsettled staff [in the wake of Lawrence Frank’s reassignment], you’ve got a lot going on. Would Prokhorov buy a $200 million company in Russia and put a first-year guy in charge?”

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

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

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.