Phil Jackson wins his opening Knicks press conference preaching culture change

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It doesn’t get him a 14th ring, but Phil Jackson won his first press conference in New York.

Jackson was formally introduced as the Knicks team president at a press conference on Tuesday. He won it by talking culture change — and for a day at least getting the organization to walk that talk. Jackson talked about a fundamental shift in how the Knicks operate that will build a potential championship foundation. And he also played to the fans.

“There is no better place to win than New York City,” said Jackson, who won two rings as a Knicks player in the 1970s before his Hall of Fame coaching career. “It really is something that is special. It had a definite impact on my decision to come here.”

Jackson said the word “culture” gets overused in the NBA but that is what got him the job, the promise of change. Evidence of that culture change: Owner James Dolan had barely said two words publicly (save for some scripted comments) in the past seven years, but after this press conference where Jackson talks about the Knicks needing to be open and honest — with the fans, with the media and most importantly with the players — Dolan agreed to an interview on a New York radio station.

More than that, Dolan said all the right things about pulling out of his role of making basketball decisions and leaving that to Jackson — who Dolan signed to a five-year contract at a reported $12 million a season. Dolan said he would cede power to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.”

“The two gentlemen to my left here are the two experts in basketball, I am by no means an expert in basketball,” Dolan said while Knicks fans nodded at home. “I’m a fan but my expertise lies in managing companies and business. I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team, I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision making for a while. It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do but as the chairman of the company I felt obligated to do. And I am happy now that we have a team in Phil and Steve to do that. My whole job now is about supporting them in winning a championship. That’s a lot easier than what I had to do in the past.”

We’ll see if he can stick to those words. Jackson certainly knows about winning teams and focused on the system and team aspects of the game in his comments.

“We want to build a team,” Jackson said. “A team doesn’t have an ‘I’ in it. We’ve used that expression a few times as coaches, but this is a franchise that developed a team back in the 1960s that was consistently playing team basketball for seven, eight years (and won titles)…

“I believe in system basketball. (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.”

Jackson said he wants free agent to be Carmelo Anthony to be part of that future.

“There is no doubt about Carmelo being one of the top scorers in the league, maybe the best individual, isolation players in the game,” Jackson said. “I have no problem committing to saying Carmelo is in the future plans. There are a number of things I see Carmelo doing as he moves forward, and I think I’m on record from a year ago saying that Carmelo, as great a player as he is, still has another level he can go to. I hope together with the team we create we can get there.”

Dolan said talks with Jackson started before Christmas at the home of Irving Azoff (the manager of bands such as Dolan’s favorite The Eagles, as well as acts ranging from Christina Aguilera to Van Halen). Dolan started pitching the idea of Jackson coaching the Knicks and was quickly shot down, but the conversations steered toward Jackson in a front office role.

With that Jackson laid out his vision of the organization and how to turn it around to Dolan — that includes a more open relationship with the media and doing more public speaking. For now Dolan has bought in.

“This is someone who knows about winning, about the importance of a clear vision and how to install a culture that ensures a team wins, like his team did when his team played for the Knicks,” Dolan said. “Now that vision comes back to New York.”

Jackson said he wants to be “established” in New York but will split time between there and California, where his fiancee Jeanie Buss (co-owner of the Lakers) and much of the rest of his family lives.

That can work fine (although will become an issue if the Knicks don’t win) — Jackson is not going to be the details guy, that’s Mills. Jackson said he didn’t know that he would be spending a lot of time at the Portsmouth Invitational or other scouting spots, that physically (with two replaced hips, one replaced knee and likely another knee replacement in his future) he is not up for that kind of grind.

What Jackson is there to provide is the big picture things. He is a name and personality that can recruit free agents, he can help put in place an on court system that will move the Knicks away from the isolation heavy ball of the past years.

More than that, he can take what had been a secretive and dysfunctional organization and disinfect it with sunshine — open up the windows and let the light in. Not completely, but there is no reason for a basketball organization to have a terse (sometimes hostile) relationship with the media, to have players looking over their shoulders at the politics of the organization.

The real question is will Dolan let him do that, and if so for how long?

For a day, it looks like Jackson is winning.

If he can keep on winning and really change the culture, the Knicks will be winning, too.

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.