Phil Jackson promises return of system basketball to New York, wants ‘Melo to be part of it

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You can’t win titles in the NBA without elite talent. Superstars matter. It is the nature of the sport.

However there is more to it than that, nobody ever just rolled the ball out and won a ring. Franchises have to put those stars in a system that benefits them but more importantly benefits the role players around them — true stars will thrive in any style, it is getting a system in place and the right role players for that system that elevates the stars and team to title contention.

Phil Jackson understands that better than anyone.

When Jackson talked basketball at the Tuesday press conference that introduced him as New York Knicks team president, he talked system. New York will always be able to attract stars, what they need is everything else. Jackson talked about balance — three guys going to the offensive glass, two guys back on defense to slow the break — and structure.

“I believe in system basketball,” Jackson said. “(Knicks GM) Steve Mills came out of Princeton. I came out of a system that we ran here in New York in which team basketball was an important aspect of playing. We believe that is what we want to accomplish here.”

They have a lot of work to do.

The Knicks are 27-40 this season and while they have made a little run of late (six straight wins) they remain five games back in the loss column to the Atlanta Hawks with 15 games to play. Even if they pull off the miracle and make the playoffs, it will not disguise the fact this is a bad basketball team right now. One largely locked into a similar roster next season with nine players under contract for $67 million — and that is without Carmelo Anthony, who has said he will opt out as a free agent. If the Knicks resign him that’s 10 players and they will be well into the luxury tax already.

Jackson said he wants to re-sign Anthony, saying that he is the best isolation scorer in the game but that Anthony can reach another level if he buys into the right system.

“Carmelo has had a load to carry this year, a scoring load, and he’s been remarkable in that,” Jackson said. “I think he showed in the last Olympics, coming off the bench and playing a role as a bench player on a magnificent team that won a gold medal, that he can play a role if he has to play a role. I think he’s a basketball player and I think that’s what players want to do — they want to cut, to pass, to be in a different spots on the floor, to attack and to play. And I think Carmelo will be just fine.”

To create that team where Anthony will be fine will require a lot of creativity. What Jackson talked about mostly was getting the right players for his system (which he said would at the least be triangle influenced).

“We’re going to have to go out and work the bushes for players the next year and we’re going to have to work them the coming years as we do go forward and we have draft picks, and we have the chance to build this team,” Jackson said.

The most probable rebuild scenarios come around in 2015 — the Knicks’ bad contracts come off the books (Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Andrea Bargnani) freeing up money to spend plus they have their draft pick. That’s the year potential free agents include Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo and others. It’s not exactly a tabula rasa for Jackson to work with in 2015, but it’s far closer than this summer when the roster is clogged with contracts that, even if they can be moved, will not bring much value in return.

“Steve and I are going to work on how to manage the roster, and our financials, to have an impact in (2015 class),” Jackson said. “I think we need another contributor, someone that can score who can help Carmelo go along and contribute to this team and the winning experience.”

Jackson suggested most of the rebuilding will be done through free agency, which makes sense as the Knicks have traded away a lot of first round draft picks in the coming years.

How hands on Jackson will be with scouting remains to be seen, but don’t expect to see him in the bleachers of a lot of college games.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” Jackson said of his level of scouting involvement. “I think the first thing we have going on right now is the NCAA tournament and we will turn our focus on and watch. But I really want to turn our focus on NBA teams. The advent of the game, a lot of it is, that there are players that are on benches, that are on teams, that will be available, maybe not on high-priced contracts, that can come in and help assist and build a team. So there are a variety of ways in which we can build teams.”

Jackson is not the detail guy here — Mills will be the one dealing with agents, working directly with team scouts, figuring out the details of the salary cap. Jackson is going to be more of the CEO role, setting the tone and picking his people to execute it. On the court that will be a new coach (although Jackson said good things about Mike Woodson at the press conference, still everyone knows he is a dead coach walking) and it will mean new people in the Knicks front office over time.

Jackson suggested whatever system is in place will be triangle influenced, if not outright full triangle. That can certainly work. There is not one magical system that wins (or everyone would run it). Whether it is the Bulls and Lakers in the triangle, the evolving system of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, or the space and pace of Miami, what matters is having elite talent, having a system in place to support that talent, and having the right players in the system around those stars to make it work.

Jackson understands system better than anyone.

Now we’ll see if he can build and execute it from the front office.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.