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Phil Jackson casts a shadow over Knicks, for better or worse

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Derrick Rose‘s eyes light up when he discusses Phil Jackson.

Rose is hungry for any advice from the Knicks president, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships. So far, Rose has gotten a taste when Jackson addresses the team about mindfulness before practice.

“It’s Phil Jackson. Like, c’mon, man,” Rose said. “I soak up everything. Everything that he says, I pay attention to. He has all my attention whenever he does talk.”

What Rose really wants: Individual interaction with Jackson about basketball strategy, as some of his teammates have had.

“I know I’m going to have that one-on-one with him,” Rose said. “But it just hasn’t happened yet.”

It seems all of New York is waiting on Jackson.

Will he fix the Knicks, and when?

On a team with big names – Carmelo Anthony, Rose, Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah – Jackson still carries incredible cachet. The Knicks got a phenomenal coach when they hired him. Two problems: He says he’s not healthy enough to coach, and they hired him as team president.

With no executive experience, Jackson has stumbled more often than not. The Knicks went 37-45 in a season in which he had partial control, 17-65 in a season he predicted would end in the playoffs and 32-50 in a season he hoped (hoped!) would end with 35 wins.

It hasn’t looked better so far this year. The Knicks are 1-3, stagnant offensively and inept defensively. Only the 76ers have been outscored by more.

Jackson dumping productive players like Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert for little return doomed his tenure to a slow start. Re-signing Anthony kept the Knicks relevant but hasn’t created much winning. The jury is still out on Jackson’s latest major moves, trading for Rose and signing Noah.

And then there’s the coaching. Jackson’s first hire, Derek Fisher, flopped. Jackson showed unmatched faith in interim coach Kurt Rambis. Then, Jackson started his latest coaching search by saying he wanted someone he knows and who would run the triangle. A clunky process ended with Hornacek – someone who never worked with Jackson nor coached the triangle.

But Jackson absolutely nailed the biggest decision of his tenure – drafting Porzingis No. 4 last year. That selection, controversial at the time, buys Jackson goodwill.

Of course, that isn’t enough – not with a veteran roster built to win on Anthony’s timeline. After saying he resisted the urge to interrupt Fisher’s practices, Jackson is speaking up when he sees fit under Jeff Hornacek

For his part, Hornacek sounds nothing like Fisher, who tried to distance himself from Jackson.

“When he sees things and wants to talk to the guys, we let him,” Hornacek said. “When he calls us and wants us to look at things, we’ll do that. And we throw things by him and ask him questions.

“Guys like listening to what he says.”

To a certain extent.

Rose is obviously reverential. Sasha Vujacic, who played for Jackson’s Lakers and now the Knicks, is unequivocal.

“Someone with the knowledge of basketball and life like Phil, he’s many steps ahead of all us and ahead of many, many people,” Vujacic said. “So, sometimes, we don’t see that, because it’s not the immediate picture. So, he’s always been that, even when he was coaching. He always saw the bigger picture, what’s ahead. That’s why he’s one of the most successful in our game, in our business.”

Other players find a middle ground. Anthony has pushed back. One day, Courtney Lee is raving about his personal lesson from “The Godfather of the Triangle.” A couple days later, he’s suggesting the Knicks run less triangle in practice so they can practice more against modern defenses.

A bold proclamation from Lee in an organization where the triangle might be an edict? Perhaps. But at least he has experience with front-office staff working so directly with players. He said Danny Ainge did with the Celtics and Kiki VanDeWeghe did with the Nets.

Most members of management stay away from this realm. Of course, most members of management don’t have Jackson’s coaching credentials.

This could put Hornacek in an awkward spot. So far, he’s saying all the right things – but what’s the alternative?

Few coaches can relate to Hornacek’s situation. One is the Pistons’ Stan Van Gundy, who coached under Heat president Pat Riley, a storied coach from his time with the Lakers, Knicks and Heat.

“He would talk to players, obviously, as anybody in that roll will regardless of who it is,” Van Gundy said. “But he never went out on the court and did anything with players.”

Did Van Gundy appreciate Riley giving him space?

“I was just appreciative that I had the job,” Van Gundy said.

Hornacek might feel the same way after the Suns fired him, and as Van Gundy noted, any employee works under the construct created by his or her boss. It wouldn’t be unreasonable for Jackson to implement a system where he handles some responsibilities that traditionally belong to coaches. That might be his best way of helping – especially once the Knicks are committed to his triangle.

But could that eventually lead to a power struggle? Riley infamously supplanted Van Gundy as Miami’s coach.

Hornacek said he’s not worried about a disconnect with Jackson, and it seems his players understand the chain of command.

“Jeff Hornacek is the coach that has the word at the end,” Porzingis said. “I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but Phil is obviously helping.”

Vujacic said, unlike last year, Jackson and his coach are “on the same page and one voice and one breath, one mind – and that’s the beauty of it.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Credit Hornacek for his openness to collaboration, but not every coach would accept so much advice/direction/interference from the front office. Did anyone from management ever become so hands-on with the Jackson-coach Lakers while Vujacic was there?

“I don’t think Phil ever needed someone to be involved,” Vujacic said, “because he’s one of the greatest minds in our sport.”

At some point, Jackson will need to prove he still is – that his methods aren’t outdated, that his wisdom translates from the bench to the front office, that he created a workable partnership between himself and Hornacek.

Drafting Porzingis gives Jackson a benefit of the doubt in the face of numerous other questionable calls. So, we’ll wait a bit longer for Jackson to prove his chops.

But at a certain point, the man with his hands on so many facets of the Knicks must translate his influence into success.

Report: Clippers interested in Tobias Harris

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The Clippers spent all season pursuing Kawhi Leonard – even trading Tobias Harris to the 76ers in February. Leonard will reportedly meet with the Clippers in free agency.

But Leonard just won a title with the Raptors, and stars almost never leave the defending champion. The Clippers must consider fallback plans.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

One team that should express interest in Harris should they miss out on Kawhi Leonard, according to league sources: The Clippers.

Harris will have plenty of suitors – including Philadelphia, which can offer him a five-year contract for a projected max of $190 million. (His projected max with another team is $141 million over four years.)

But the Clippers would be the spiciest option.

L.A. got a haul for Harris – Landry Shamet and two first-round picks, including the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder (which has huge upside). Imagine the Clippers keeping all that and still getting back Harris.

They could even chase Leonard again next summer if he signs a 1+1 contract with Toronto. If they don’t sign any another free agents to multi-year deals, the Clippers could give Harris the max and still projected to have enough cap space to max out Leonard in 2020. And keep Lou Williams at his partially guaranteed $8 million salary. And keep Montrezl Harrell‘s Bird Rights. And have about $7 million left over.

Even if Leonard re-signs on a 2+1 to reach 10 years of service and a higher max-salary tier in 2021, the Clippers have nobody on the books for that year other than rookie-scale players. Harris’ salary would not encumber L.A.

There’s no indication the Clippers and Harris soured on each other. The Clippers just preferred Leonard, got a strong offer from the 76ers and knew Harris might not wait out Leonard’s decision just to be a fallback in L.A.

But with those Philadelphia assets already banked, if Leonard stays in Toronto, the Clippers could turn back to Harris.

For Harris, it might matter whether Philadelphia offers the larger max. But among all his outside options, he at least already knows he fits well in L.A.

Marc Gasol opting in with Raptors for $25,595,700

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He joined the Raptors this season, helped them win a championship and will stay.

No, not him.

Marc Gasol, who had a $25,595,700 player option for next season.

Raptors PR:

Marc Gasol has exercised his player option with the Raptors for the 2019-20 season.

If Kawhi Leonard re-signs, Toronto will be happy to have a solid starting center like Gasol for a title defense. This leaves Leonard and Danny Greenwho’ll also be an unrestricted free agent – as the only core Raptors not locked up for next season.

But if Leonard leaves, Gasol will be an overpaid cog on a middling playoff team. There just isn’t that much of a market for merely solid centers, especially a 34-year-old.

Of course, Toronto knew Gasol’s salary situation when acquiring him just before the trade deadline. The Raptors got the best immediate outcome with a championship. Paying him $25,595,700 next season is a perfectly acceptable cost.

Report: Sixers ‘expressing confidence’ they will re-sign Jimmy Butler; Rockets still seek sign-and-trade

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If the Philadelphia 76ers put a five-year max contract of $189.7 million in front of Jimmy Butler, the smart bet is he signs it. Fast. Butler will be 30 next season and has a growing history of injuries, plus the Sixers are going to be contenders with him. That’s a lot of money and a good situation to walk away from.

The Rockets are still hoping to lure him away to Houston, forcing a sign-and-trade on Philadelphia, but the Sixers are confident they will keep him, reports Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN.

As noted in the ESPN story, there is no indication that the Sixers or Butler are down with this trade idea.

The only way this sign-and-trade happens is if Butler goes to the Sixers and says he’s leaving anyway and wants a sign-and-trade to Houston. Then Philadelphia would play along only because they could get something back for Butler, rather than losing him outright.

However, I have heard from league sources that if Butler leaves Philly the Lakers are the team at the top of his list, paring with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Whether that is true or not, he has options including the Knicks. Maybe for Butler the chance to chase a ring with James Harden and Chris Paul is a bigger draw, however, to make that happen the Rockets will be stripped of a lot of depth. If the Lakers add Butler at the max, they will have three stars, Kyle Kuzma, and the rest of the roster will be minimum contract guys (plus somebody for the $4.8 million room exception).

If Butler leaves Philadelphia, the most he can sign for with any team is a four-year, $140 million contract. That includes in a sign-and-trade with the Rockets, under the new CBA a player cannot sign the larger five-year max as part of a sign-and-trade, it can only be for the $140 million the Rockets could sign him with outright.

While this is a fun rumor and report that gets a lot of ink, it seems highly unlikely to come together. Never say never in the NBA, but this seems a longshot.

That said, a Rockets locker room with Jimmy Butler, James Harden, Chris Paul, and a lame duck coach would be good for those of us who love NBA drama.

Rumor: Several teams want to pair Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler

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Kawhi Leonard is choosing between staying in Toronto with the Raptors or coming to Southern California and being a Clipper, according to sources and multiple reports.

Jimmy Butler probably signs a five-year max contract to stay in Philadelphia if the Sixers put it in front of him (as their management has said it would do), but if not the Lakers are considered to be the frontrunners according to the buzz around the league.

However, there are teams dreaming of pairing Butler and Leonard this summer, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Multiple teams have expressed interest in pairing Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler together in free agency this summer, per league sources familiar with the matter.

Those teams, obviously, would need to create the cap space required to sign both players. The teams interested in Butler and Leonard believe they would have interest in playing on the same team, per league sources.

This doesn’t suggest that Leonard is seeking to team up with any other player; that doesn’t fit his persona. But teams interested in pairing Leonard and Butler believe they would have interest in playing together.

There is a whole lot of supposition in that report (and from teams).

First, and Begley touches on it, this assumes that Leonard wants to team up with Butler, or anyone for that matter. Superteams are not his style. Butler can bring drama with him, and that is also not Leonard’s style. On the flip side, does Butler want to partner up with Leonard?

Second, there are not a lot of teams that can clear two max salary slots. Brooklyn, the Clippers (if they trade Danilo Gallinari, something certainly possible), the Knicks and maybe a couple others with some cap gymnastics. Just a note here: the writer Begley is based in New York and covered the Knicks for ESPN for many years. Draw whatever conclusions you want from that.

Third, this is most likely not the path for either of them. Never say never, because NBA free agency can flip on a dime, but pairing those two is not the most likely outcome.

But it’s the silly season, so rumors are everywhere.