The Extra Pass: Knicks fighting for something Nets have in odd role reversal

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NEW YORK — The Knicks desperately want something that Brooklyn already has, a playoff spot that was secured thanks to the Nets putting together a 30-12 record since Jan.1, the best in the Eastern Conference during that stretch.

It’s a strange reversal that’s occurred in a relatively short period of time by NBA standards, and an odd one for New York, to say the least.

Less than 24 hours after the Nets officially accomplished one of their preseason goals, the Knicks showed that they aren’t yet ready to give up on theirs. New York blasted Brooklyn 110-81 on Wednesday, and put the game away early by getting out to a lead of as many as 25 points over the game’s first 24 minutes.

“Our guys are hungry,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “Normally anybody comes off [a West Coast trip], that game getting back is a tough game. Our guys came out with energy and ready to play. It was a 48-minute performance tonight and we will need that the rest of the way.”

Nets head coach Jason Kidd didn’t see much fight out of his guys, perhaps slightly less motivated than New York after clinching a playoff spot, and maybe a little fatigued playing on the second night of a back-to-back set.

“It happens,” Kidd said. “It’s the schedule. We fought last night, tonight we came out a little sluggish. But give New York credit, they won the game and we move on.”

Brooklyn was ready to move on from its little brother status to the New York franchise last summer, when the team traded for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett not only to bolster its postseason chances, but to steal as much of the spotlight as possible.

The Nets want the attention and devotion of the New York basketball market, which is something that’s belonged to the Knicks exclusively for decades despite the lack of anything remotely resembling sustained success. Assembling a team by adding two veteran Hall of Fame caliber champions and spending record payroll dollars did that to a certain extent, but only winning, and doing so at a level above and beyond what the Knicks have been able to will incrementally begin to sway the city’s fan base.

One of Brooklyn’s newest players, however, tried to immediately accelerate the process.

Pierce stoked the flames of the budding rivalry early and often, which meant little to a Knicks team coming off of a campaign that saw them reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 13 years; it was easy to dismiss what was coming out of Brooklyn as nothing more than a bunch of noise.

But flash forward more than eight months later, and it’s New York that’s after the adulation that the Nets have recently received.

The Knicks played like it, which they should have considering every game the rest of the way will severely impact their playoff chances. They also got some help with the Hawks losing, which put New York percentage points ahead of them in the standings and back in the playoff picture, if only for one night.

Atlanta doesn’t even seem to care if it gets in, with GM Danny Ferry saying candidly, “Our goal is not to be the eighth seed.” This seemed almost incomprehensible to J.R. Smith, who started off hot against the Nets and led his team with 24 points.

“That’s unbelievable for somebody to say they’re not worried about being in the playoffs,” Smith said. “I thought that’s what you played for, but, obviously not. I guess.”

Carmelo Anthony’s remarks, predictably, stated essentially the opposite.

“It means a lot to know that we’re in a dogfight coming down toward the end of the season,” Anthony said. “And this stretch is important. I thought that West Coast trip was a real big trip for us to come out of it with a winning record, and then to come back tonight and take care of business on our own home court. It was definitely a big win for us, and we look forward to this battle coming down to the next seven or eight games that are left.”

There was doubt for much of the season that the Knicks were playing out a wasted year, but Anthony’s belief never wavered. The schedule is extremely tough the rest of the way, with New York facing Eastern Conference playoff teams in all six of the team’s remaining matchups.

But just as the Knicks did against a better Brooklyn team in this one, Anthony feels like the way the team is playing now is good enough for a strong finish — one that could guarantee them a spot in the postseason, and enable the team to shake this uncomfortable newly-found position of chasing Brooklyn’s success.

“I always believe,” Anthony said. “It’s funny how things work where we’re in this situation now, having a chance to make the playoffs. We control our own destiny — I’m going to keep saying that. We can’t worry about what Atlanta is doing or what anybody else is doing, we’ve got to win basketball games.

“I think if we continue playing the way we’ve been playing, we’ll be there at the end of the season.”

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.

Brandon Jennings signs to play in Russia next season

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Brandon Jennings has just never been the same since his 2015 torn Achilles. He hasn’t shot over 40 percent from the floor for a season since then, he hasn’t moved well defensivly, and he had a PER of 19.3 the season it was torn and it’s never been above 13.7 for a season since then. In the past couple of seasons he has played in the G-League and China, and he played 14 games at the end of the season for the Bucks last campaign.

This summer, there were no offers. He is now headed to Russia, according to multiple reports, including EuroHoops.net. He will play for Zenit St Petersburg.

He’s only 28 years old, there is time for him find a way to make his game fit into the NBA landscape again. He’s just not there yet, and maybe the opportunity in Russia will lead him there. If not, he’s still getting paid to play at a high level.

Some owners reportedly want access to mental health files of players

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If you read one thing NBA related today, it should be the first installment of Jackie MacMullan’s brilliant series at ESPN on the mental health of players and staffs in the NBA, and how the league is handling it. MacMullan not only got Kevin Love and Paul Pierce to open up about their challenges, but she also got into the challenges the league faces in confronting this issue head-on.

One such challenge: Owners wanting access to players mental health “files.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, players union executive director Michelle Roberts and their respective teams are reportedly working on a new mental health policy for the league. Privacy is going to be a big part of that. From MacMullan:

Yet there remain many obstacles to confront, chief among them the stigma attached to mental health that prompts many players to suffer in silence. The union also insists that mental health treatment be confidential, but some NBA owners, who in some cases are paying their players hundreds of millions of dollars, want access to the files of their “investments.” That is not, however, the league’s position. “The NBA fully supports protecting the confidentiality of players’ mental health information and, accordingly, committed to the players association that any mental health program we undertake would do so,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass says.

Confidentiality, says Love, has to be non-negotiable. Without it, he says, he never would have become comfortable enough to announce from that All-Star dais that he was seeking treatment.

Those files must be private. This is different from a torn knee ligament or sprained ankle (and on those we have HIPPA laws for good reason). For one, this is something more unpredictable in treating. Second, it comes back to the stigma of mental health issues and how the information about them might be used.

That stigma still exists, both in society and the NBA — McMullan gets into the players and their wives talking behind Love’s back All-Star weekend, and the players currently seeking treatment who do not want it public. The “real men don’t talk about this” mentality is everywhere, but it has fertile ground in professional sports locker rooms where players see themselves as invincible.

That mentality, that stigma will be the hardest thing to change in altering the culture of mental health issues in the NBA. There are no easy answers here. Does anyone think the owners who want access to those files wouldn’t use against the player in negotiations (never underestimate an owner’s effort to gain leverage)?

The players’ union will not allow that in whatever the framework is for the leagues’ new mental health policy. Nor should they.

Love, DeMar DeRozan, Royce White and others broke barriers stepping forward into the spotlight to discuss their challenges. But there are a lot of barriers still up, and a lot of work for both the NBA and society to do on this front. And privacy must be part of that.

Rebuilding Hawks add depth by signing Daniel Hamilton, Alex Poythress.

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ATLANTA (AP) — The rebuilding Atlanta Hawks have added depth by signing guard-forward Daniel Hamilton and forward Alex Poythress.

Poythress was signed to a two-way contract, so the former Kentucky player will split his time with the Hawks’ G League Erie team.

Hamilton is on a fully guaranteed one-year contract after impressing the Hawks playing for the Thunder Summer League team. He averaged 2 points in six games with Oklahoma City last season while on a two-way contract with the Thunder. He spent most of the season with the G League Oklahoma City Blue.

Poythress averaged 1 point in 25 games with Indiana last season. He began the season on a two-way contract.