51 Questions: Who is the second best team in the East?

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51 Questions in 51 Days. PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers set the bar — and set it clearly above every other team. The defending conference champs are going to be healthy and deeper. That brings us to today’s question:

WHO IS THE SECOND BEST TEAM IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE?

Kurt Helin: Washington Wizards

The second tier of the Eastern Conference is one of the fascinating storylines to watch this season, as the Wizards, Hawks, Bulls, Raptors and Heat could finish in about any order and I wouldn’t be shocked. Nor would I be shocked if the Bucks or Celtics jumped into the top six (especially if one of those other teams stumble). But enough caveats:

I’ll take Washington.

I’m not completely comfortable that pick, but I’m higher on the Wizards than most — this is the season they take a step forward and reach the conference Finals. For that to happen, I’m betting on Bradley Beal staying healthy all season and playing like the guy from the playoffs who looked like he deserved a max contract. I’m expecting Beal and John Wall to take a step forward together as clearly the best backcourt in the East. I’m betting on Otto Porter playing like the guy from the playoffs (actually better than that, it’s been overstated how well he played). I’m betting on Porter, Jared Dudley, and Alan Anderson being able to fill Paul Pierce’s shoes. I’m betting on (and expecting) coach Randy Wittman to play a lot more small ball with Porter/Dudley at the four, spacing the floor and allowing Wall to penetrate and break down defenses. I’m betting on Nene being healthy for the playoffs (I’m not crazy enough to expect an injury-free season from him).

That’s a lot that has to go right, but I think the odds of those things happening are better than rookie coach Fred Hoiberg being the missing ingredient in Chicago, or everything going right in Miami, or Atlanta playing as well as they did the first half of last season.

Dan Feldman: Chicago Bulls

This is a wide-open race with about five legitimate contenders and another few teams capable of surprising in a weak conference beyond the Cavaliers.

I’ll take Chicago, because the team is flush with talent, and I don’t think Tom Thibodeau’s defensive culture will erode overnight. I very well could be overrating Fred Hoiberg after watching Steve Kerr’s masterful job with the Warriors, but a new coach could do wonders in raising the Bulls’ ceiling. Simply splitting up the Joakim NoahPau Gasol combo and pairing each with one of Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson would go a long way.

An interesting side question: How many teams would you need to answer this question and feel you had at least a 50% chance of being right. It’s definitely at least two — probably three, but maybe even four.

Sean Highkin: Miami Heat

There’s no sure thing in the Eastern Conference once you get past Cleveland. All the likely candidates either lost a key player (DeMarre Carroll for the Hawks, Paul Pierce for the Wizards) or have major injury concerns (Chicago and Miami). But none of them are more intriguing — or have a higher ceiling — than the Heat. The starting lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and Hassan Whiteside was one of the on-paper best last season, but they never actually got to play together after Bosh was diagnosed with blood clots in his lungs immediately following the deadline trade for Dragic. This year, they will. There’s a lot of versatility in that lineup: everyone can defend, and the presence of Dragic and a healthy Bosh will limit the offensive burden on Wade. Even factoring in the 20-plus games he will inevitably sit out (that’s just his reality at this point), there’s enough scoring firepower there to get by.

Pat Riley has also done a good job retooling the bench. Justise Winslow fits the profile of a long-term replacement for Deng; even if he doesn’t start in his rookie season, he can still contribute, especially on the defensive end. Amar’e Stoudemire and Gerald Green were smart minimum signings who can still help a team in limited minutes. All of this could fall apart if one of the starters misses an extended period of time, or if Whiteside can’t sustain his out-of-nowhere success for a full season. But all the pieces are here for a team that could be dangerous.

Knicks reportedly had players-only meeting before David Fizdale was fired

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New York had lost eight in a row, blowing big leads in a couple of those games. The last two games the Knicks were listless — a 44-point crushing by the Sixers, then a 37-point thrashing by the Nuggets — and looked like a team that had given up.

Friday morning, team veterans — led by Marcus Morris — called a players-only meeting before practice to talk about the need for the players to not roll over and play harder. Particularly with coach David Fizdale’s job on the line. That meeting was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Fizdale then ran the team practice.

One meeting and one practice was not going to stop the inevitable, Fizdale was fired later on Friday. The Knicks have made that official and assistant coach Mike Miller will take over as the interim head coach.

Sometimes there is a boost of energy teams get from a coaching change, but in the case of the Knicks it may well be a dead cat bounce. That is unless the veterans really do take charge and start pushing this roster.

While Fizdale certainly deserves blame for the lack of identity on offense and defense from the Knicks, I’m not a believer that an NBA coach is fully responsible for his team’s motivation. These are professionals getting paid millions of dollars, it shouldn’t take a rah-rah speech from a guy in a tie to get them focused and ready to do their job. It’s on the players. Motivation is always part of a coach’s job, and with a young team keeping the players on task certainly is part of the coach’s responsibility, but at the NBA level a coach should have to worry less about firing his guys up on a nightly basis.

Knicks make it official: David Fizdale fired, assistant Mike Miller promoted to head coach

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UPDATE: The Knicks have made all the reporting official.

As had been expected, David Fizdale is out as the Knicks head coach after an ugly 4-18 start to the season. This was a case where Fizdale was given an “Island of Misfit Toys” roster to work with that was never going to be good, but he also didn’t do much with it. New York had no identity on either side of the ball. The Knicks have lost eight straight, the last two by at least 37 points, and the team was simply lackadaisical in its effort recently.

Who will coach the Knicks next season depends on the answer to another question: Are team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry safe, or are they on their way out, too?

In the short term, New York promoted Mike Miller into the big chair, and bring up Keith Bogans from the G-League coaching staff to round out the roster, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Miller spent four years as the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, the franchise’s G-League affiliate, and was the G-League Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He was eventually promoted to the Knicks bench.

Don’t expect a major shake-up in the Knicks’ offensive and defensive systems, or with the rotations, at least in the short term. There just are not a lot of practice days built into the NBA schedule to allow a mid-season replacement to overhaul everything. Plus, with this roster, there’s only so much a human being can do.

Fizdale signed a four-year, $22 million guaranteed contract with the Knicks, meaning for the rest of this season and all of next one he can sit on a Miami beach and collect James Dolan’s money. Not a bad life.

 

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This has been confirmed by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.