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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: Bulls likely to keep Jim Boylen as coach for financial reasons

Bulls coach Jim Boylen
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The Bulls appeared ready to fire Jim Boylen. After all, Chicago just hired a new team president in Arturas Karnisovas who’d want to pick his own coach. That was unlikely to be Boylen, whose tenure had been defined by players disliking him, ill-timed timeouts and losing.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

But as the Sun-Times learned this week, even if Karnisovas didn’t like what he would have seen from Boylen he would likely be handcuffed from making a change.

According to several sources, there is strong growing momentum that financial concerns the Reinsdorfs have about the 2020-21 NBA season will keep Boylen in his current seat, as well as most of the coaching staff.

Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf has earned a reputation for his frugality. However, the economic downturn surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has caused many teams to tighten their belts. The financial consequences will likely continue into next season.

But this puts Chicago at a disadvantage.

Boylen has looked like one of the NBA’s worst coaches. Though Bulls ownership is more optimistic than most on Boylen and he could exceed expectations, it’s telling that Chicago probably wouldn’t have kept him based on merit. This is about saving money and hoping for the best.

That’s obviously great news for Boylen. He has improved significantly since taking over last season. More time on the job could allow him to grow into it. That said, improving from a near-mutiny in his early days doesn’t exactly mean he’s in an acceptable place now. Boylen still has a long way to go, and it could be more difficult if players are tired of him.

Nets fined $25K for injury-reporting violation

Brooklyn Nets
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Earlier this season, Kyrie Irving missed several weeks with a shoulder injury. Throughout the absence, the Nets provided few details and no clear timeline. Eventually, a report said Irving could miss 2-3 additional weeks with bursitis. The Nets denied it. Later, Irving confirmed he had bursitis then returned nearly three weeks after the report.

Finally, Brooklyn caught the league’s ire.

NBA release:

The NBA today announced that the Brooklyn Nets have been fined $25,000 for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.

It’s unclear what specifically caused this violation. Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen, Jamal Crawford and Rodions Kurucs have all appeared on the Nets’ injury report during the resumption. As 19-point underdog, Brooklyn pulled a historic upset of the Bucks. Remember, public injury disclosures are primarily about preserving gambling integrity.

For the NBA not to reveal even basic details while fining the Nets for their lack of transparency is ironic. It’s also ironic this fine comes amid a restart that featured the NBA being highly secretive about player heath.

The Clippers got fined $50,000 earlier this season for saying Kawhi Leonard was healthy. What did Brooklyn do that was less egregious but still worth of a fine?

LeBron James says Lakers have off-court issues, out vs. Rockets (groin)

Lakers star LeBron James
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The Lakers’ offense has stumbled so far in the bubble.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

LeBron gave a weird answer about this. He agreed that he and the Lakers were looking for a rhythm on offense. And then he said: “It’s just some things that you can’t control that’s here, that I really don’t want to talk about, that’s off the floor.”

Mike Trudell of the Lakers:

Was LeBron referring to his groin injury? I wouldn’t call that an off-court issue, but maybe he would.

LeBron knows how to work the media. This subtle comment will draw attention and sets up LeBron to look better if he leads the Lakers through this mysterious issue.

Without more context, it’s easy for imaginations to wander – especially about a team with Dwight Howard, Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith. The Lakers could be facing a major hurdle. Or a minor nuisance. Who knows? But the unknown is scary.

It’ll be difficult to detect the Lakers’ progress during remaining seeding games. The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, and without a home-court advantage in the NBA Finals, there’s no reason to chase the NBA’s best overall record. That’s why LeBron missing tonight’s game against the Rockets could be mostly precautionary.

76ers: Ben Simmons suffered subluxation of knee cap, considering treatment options

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Ben Simmons injured his knee during the 76ers’ win over the Wizards yesterday.

The diagnosis is in, and the prognosis sounds worrisome.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

How quickly will Simmons recover? Once he recovers, will he face elevated risk of re-injury?

These questions now haunt Simmons and Philadelphia.

Simmons is a young star who’ll begin a max contract extension next season. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons opened Philadelphia’s championship window, and now rain is drizzling through. Philadelphia can’t reach it ceiling without Simmons healthy and providing value.

Even more modest goals in a disjointed season will be more difficult to reach.

The 76ers were just adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward. Now, they must again re-configure their plan – maybe for a significant chunk of the remainder of the season.

Even more burden falls onto Embiid, who has been shouldering so much with this mismatched roster. Simmons plays across the positional spectrum, so any number of 76ers could fill in while he’s out. Many of those lesser players will complement Embiid more smoothly than Simmons did. But the talent deficit without Simmons can’t be offset.

That’s the scary issue for now – and maybe a while.