Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor say post-playing big men can still be effective in today’s NBA

7 Comments

NEW YORK — The players expected to be taken with the first two picks in Thursday’s NBA Draft have the potential to be franchise-changing big men, even in a league that seems to be moving away from their style of play and into a new era of basketball.

The Golden State Warriors just completed an historically great season, and did so by having versatile players in the lineup who used their high level of athleticism to play stifling team defense. On the offensive end of the floor, the three-point shot was the weapon of choice, and a shift to a smaller lineup was what gave the Cavaliers fits in the later stages of the NBA Finals, and allowed the Warriors to take control and secure a title for the first time in 40 years.

But despite the shift in how plenty of teams will look to operate because of the success we’ve seen in Golden State, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor both believe that the back-to-the-basket bigs will continue to have a place in the league for years to come.

“I think [post play] can be effective because it’s still an art,” Towns said. “It’s still something that needs to be done. You still need the big man to do the dirty work, and also change up the philosophy of the defense. Everything’s a chess match. Everything has a counter. Having a player play with his back to the basket changes up the game, because it changes up the way you look at the offense and the way you have to play defense. The spacing it creates, also, is awesome.”

In the Finals, the winning move on the chess board was to bench Andrew Bogut, who had started in all but two of his 166 appearances for the Warriors over the last three regular seasons. Okafor, however, sees that as the exception, and not the rule.

“Because it’s always been effective,” Okafor said, when asked why he believes post play can still be featured offensively. “It was one series of Golden State playing small ball. Big men have always been effective in the NBA.”

“I have no doubts about my scoring ability in the NBA,” he added.

If league-wide changes are in store, Towns believes they’ll be based on genetics rather than teams simply choosing to move toward a style that was proven to be successful most recently.

“For me, I don’t see the league changing, I see us as humans changing,” Towns said. “I’m watching the other day, seventh-graders are putting their heads at the rim dunking. I didn’t see that when I was back in my day, which is not too long ago.

“When I was back in seventh grade I had never seen a kid put his head at the rim dunking with ease, windmills, through the legs. Humans are changing. We’re getting quicker, faster, stronger — more precise. The league isn’t changing, but this new crop of talent, this new generation of talent is changing the way the league is played because of how explosive, how fast, how quick we are all becoming.”

Both Towns and Okafor have done the majority of their damage inside to this point of their budding careers, and both are expected to make an immediate impact at the professional level. Okafor is seen as already having an elite offensive skill set, but will need to improve defensively. Towns is viewed by most as having better all-around tools, and his passing and shot-blocking ability make him a two-way threat with more upside, which gives Minnesota plenty of reasons to have him slotted in as a potential number one overall selection.

But Towns wouldn’t get caught hyping his own chances.

“It’s not about why do I believe I should be [the No. 1 pick],” he said. “I just know that I’ve put a lot of work into the game, a lot of hours of quality, great work, working on my body and on my craft. No matter where I go, I know that I have the confidence in me that I feel that I’d be (the one) helping my teammates the most.”

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images for Cantor Fitzgerald
Leave a comment

There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

Leave a comment

“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.