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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: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.