51 Questions: Will Knicks win enough to ease pressure on Phil Jackson?

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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. Today’s question:

Will the New York Knicks win enough to take some heat off Phil Jackson?

Phil Jackson brought with him to New York 11 championship rings and moving trucks full of heightened expectations — the former Knick player returned home and was going to lift the Knicks to their first title since American Graffiti was still in theaters. And since Jackson was a player. Add to those hopes the fact New Yorkers are not exactly world renown for their patience and this was the reality:

Jackson was on the clock the moment he took the job in Manhattan.

Part of his challenge has been that managing those expectations — rebuilding the Knicks was always going to be a long-play project, not a quick fix. The last guy to look at New York in a big picture way was Donnie Walsh, and once he got the roster out of Isiah Thomas’ hole owner James Dolan lost patience and the Knicks went back to their short-sighted ways.

Could history repeat itself with Phil Jackson? Or is he going to get the time to fully implement his vision?

Which may come down to this:

Are the Knicks improved enough, and do they show enough promise this season, to ease pressure on Jackson?

There are plenty of fans (and other executives around the league) who don’t trust the Phil Jackson rebuild process. They didn’t see positives in a 17-win season, then they watched him draft a skinny, European project in Kristaps Porzingis. They look at the roster for this season and seriously question if they can make the playoffs, even in a diluted Eastern Conference.

As the losses mount up on the Knicks this season — and they will mount up, this is not a playoff team even if Carmelo Anthony stays healthy — the number of fans that have lost patience with Jackson will grow. Their voices will ring out on sports talk radio and in the Post and Daily News, reminding everyone the Knicks should not tank this season because they don’t own their own draft pick next June.

The only question that matters is if James Dolan is among those voices?

So far, Jackson has been worth his $12 million a year just to keep Dolan at arm’s length from basketball decision making.

There is a plan now in New York. Jackson has worked to change the locker room culture of the Knicks — gone is Amar’e Stoudemire and his wine baths (and massive contract), gone is J.R. Smith with his late nights and contested shots, gone is Andrea Bargnani and whatever it was they saw in him in the first place. In their place are solid, professional, consistent rotation players such as Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo.

Certainly Jackson rolled the dice on Porzingis — a player that his higher risk, higher reward than guys still on the board at No. 4 such as Emmanuel Mudiay and Justise Winslow. The challenge again is patience because it will be a couple of seasons before we find out how good the raw Porzingis really can be. Comparing him to Pau Gasol or Dirk Nowitzki is too high a bar to set for any player, but he’s not going to be Bargnani either. The question will be where he ultimately falls on the scale, and it’s going to take a while to find out.

What Jackson is creating is a solid foundation of players — guys like Jerian Grant, the rookie point guard already playing like a veteran — who could attract big time free agents. I can tell you there are people around Kevin Durant who would love to see him in New York (how much influence those people have remains to be seen, the smart money is on him staying in OKC). The advantage to being the Knicks is they can always get the meeting with elite free agents.

Jackson has a lot of work to do before hey can get serious about the 2016 free agent market. The Knicks as currently constructed will not have enough money to offer a max contract next summer to Durant or anyone else, even with a cap that will jump up to around $90 million (the Knicks will have about $19 million in cap space, according to former Nets executive Bobby Marks on twitter). The Knicks have to hope Afflalo opts out of his $8 million player option for next season, or New York is going to have to make some moves.

Let me be honest: I’m not at all convinced that Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher can revive the triangle in New York and win that way. They may be living in the Jurassic period.

That said, the steps Jackson has taken with this roster — and even the risks like Porzingis — are steps in the right direction and light years ahead of the quick-fix free agent grabs that have left this franchise struggling for more than a decade.

Jackson should be allowed to see his plan out for a while longer, Knicks fans just need to be patient.

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.