Phil Jackson says Knicks wanted Goran Dragic at trade deadline. Because he’s such a triangle fit?

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Rule No. 1 about winning in the NBA: It’s all about the talent.

Gregg Popovich is brilliant, but he’s not wearing rings without Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Tony Parker and the others. Phil Jackson was the master at getting great players to buy into a team concept, but he had great players, from Michael Jordan through Kobe Bryant.

And Jackson knows if he wants to turn the Knicks around, he needs exceptional talent. Like maybe Goran Dragic — when healthy one of the better point guards in the NBA. In his conversations during the season with his old friend Charlie Rosen (now published at ESPN), Jackson talked about eyeing Dragic at the trade deadline last February.

“Goran Dragic, for one. I heard through the grapevine that he was open to coming here. We worked hard on that possibility, but the asking price was too dear. Maybe we worked on that possibility so much so that it distracted us. I mean, Dragic is every team’s current choice for a nuclear option — a guard who can penetrate and either score or kick. Guys like Chris Paul and James Harden. But, anyway, that’s not really the way I want us to play.”

As a reminder, the Jackson and the Knicks moved first, on Jan. 5, took part in a three-team trade that sent Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith to Cleveland. On Feb. 19 the Suns moved Dragic to the Heat in another three-team trade, which netted the Suns Danny Granger, John Salmons, and the real prize of two future first round picks (2017 and 2021). Dragic then re-signed with the Heat this summer.

But it’s the last line that is the most interesting from Jackson: “But, anyway, that’s not really the way I want us to play.” Dragic, like any traditional point guard who needs the ball in his hands, is not a fit in the triangle.

Jackson wants to validate his vision of the triangle in a new era. He wants an unselfish team where players cut and move off the ball, where the system is as big a star as the players. Like the Hawks, I guess.

But the system is only going to be as good as the players in it. What both the Bulls and Lakers for Jackson did well was put in role players who fit and bought into the system around their elite stars. Jordan, Kobe, Shaq, Pippen, etc. would have been successful regardless of the system. We can debate whether Carmelo Anthony can be one of those elite stars, but there is no debate the Knicks need more of them. Maybe Kristaps Porzingis can be, but we’re a few years from finding that out for sure. In the short term, the Knicks did a good job getting solid role players like Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez that will work in the triangle. That’s a start.

As much as changing the culture and putting in a system, Jackson knows he needs more elite players if he is going to bring a title back to NYC. Even if that means bending the triangle a little to make them work.

Jackson knows, he can talk all he wants about system and style, it comes down to talent first. Restock that cupboard and the triangle will look great again.

Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, possible first-rounder, staying in 2020 NBA Draft

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman
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Michigan State power forward Xavier Tillman went No. 23 in the last mock draft by Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster.

That’s the type of confidence in Tillman that has him staying in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Michigan State release:

Michigan State men’s basketball rising senior Xavier Tillman Sr. (Grand Rapids, Mich./GR Christian) announced today that he would remain eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft and plans to hire an agent.

Tillman doesn’t look like a typical first-round pick. He’s an upperclassman, 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and not an elite athlete.

But he just knows how to play.

Tillman is a physical interior defender who’s mobile enough on the perimeter. His basketball intelligence typically outshines his physical limitations.

That also goes for offense, where Tillman is also hamstrung by lackluster outside shooting. But Tillman can screen and finish or pass – a useful combination for a roller in the NBA.

I’m not sure whether Tillman will go in the first round. Teams tend to value higher-upside players, as the draft is often the best opportunity to acquire a star.

But Tillman was darned effective in college and has a reasonable chance of being effective in the NBA. In this draft, that should make him a first-round pick.

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
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Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.