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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.

Paul George’s 37 in home debut lead Clippers past Hawks 150-101 (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Paul George scored 37 points in his Clippers home debut, Lou Williams added 25, and Los Angeles led all the way in routing the Atlanta Hawks 150-101 on Saturday night.

The anticipated first game with George and Kawhi Leonard in the lineup together didn’t happen when Leonard sat out with a left knee contusion.

But the Clippers didn’t need both of their new superstars on a night when George tied his career high with six 3-pointers and made all 11 of his free throws in the team’s biggest blowout of the young season.

George was clearly having fun in the fourth when he stole the ball, dribbled down and tossed it off the glass, setting up Montrezl Harrell for a two-handed dunk that ignited the crowd and pushed the Clippers’ lead to 36 points.

George sat down for good with 9:58 remaining in the game, having done all his damage playing 20 minutes.

Two nights after scoring 33 in his debut at New Orleans, George had it going from the start. He scored 15 of the Clippers’ first 22 points in a six-minute span. They led by 17 and shot 59 percent in the opening quarter.

George is the first player in franchise history to score 30-plus points in his first two games with the team.

The Hawks scored 11 straight points to close within four early in the second quarter, the closest they would come the rest of the game. The Clippers answered with an 18-6 run, fueled by George’s nine points, to go back up by 17 again.

George had 25 points at halftime when the Clippers led 74-62, shooting 52% and making all 16 of their free throws.

Leonard also sat out on Thursday when George made his Clippers debut in a loss to the Pelicans.

George missed the season’s first 11 games while completing rehab from offseason shoulder surgery.

“I would love them to play every game and be out there,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game. “We knew early on this would be a tough go.”

Trae Young had 20 points for the Hawks, who dropped their second in a row. They trailed by 52 points in the fourth.

The Clippers dominated in nearly every category, with their bench outscoring the Hawks’ reserves 81-35. Los Angeles made 17 3-pointers and hit 33 of 35 free throws.

 

Gregg Popovich gets ejected, Tim Duncan takes over coaching, Spurs still fall to Trail Blazers

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan was back in charge in San Antonio and the Spurs were flourishing under his leadership again.

Duncan was directing players on defensive assignments, encouraging them and providing needed leadership. But in the end, he couldn’t provide the same late-game heroics from the bench that he long did on the court.

CJ McCollum scored 32 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Spurs 121-116 on Saturday night to spoil Duncan’s first shot at coaching following Gregg Popovich’s ejection.

Duncan took over just 13 games into his first season as an assistant coach. Popovich was ejected after walking onto the court to berate official Jason Goldenberg over a non-call. Popovich calmly walked off the court following his first ejection of the season (you can see it in the video above).

On Twitter, this led to a debate as people tried to figure out who took over as coach. Assistant Coach Becky Hammon ran one time out, but it was Duncan — the assistant coach assigned to scout Portland on the staff — who was the main man. Duncan, Hammon and Will Hardy coached by committee, but it was Duncan calling the plays and screaming out instruction.

“It was cool,” Spurs guard Bryn Forbes said. “It didn’t really feel like a huge difference. I think he did a good job. He took control. He helped lead us to a big lead.”

Popovich was asked if he considered having Becky Hammon take over to make history as the first woman to lead an NBA team.

“I’m not here to make history,” Popovich said.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 30 points and 13 rebounds but the Spurs lost their fifth straight and fell to 5-8.

Damian Lillard added 22 points and Hassan Whiteside had 21 points for Portland (5-8), which rallied from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter to snap a four-game skid in San Antonio.

“We’ve blown leads before, so we kind of know what to expect,” McCollum said. “Once you do it, you’ve got to stay grounded, focus on the little stuff.”

Before the game, Popovich said coaching could only go so far and it was up to each player to take responsibility for his own mistakes and performance during this losing streak. Popovich put that responsibility squarely on the Spurs when he was ejected early in the third quarter.

McCollum had 23 of his points in the first half.

Bryn Forbes added 17 points and DeRozan and Rudy Gay added 16 apiece.

 

Jamal Crawford finds it “baffling” no team has called to sign him yet

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Iman Shumpert got his call from the Brooklyn Nets.

Carmelo Anthony got his call from the Portland Trail Blazers.

Jamal Crawford is still waiting for his call, and he’s confused why it hasn’t yet come. From Shaun Powell of NBA.com.

“I know I can play,” Crawford told NBA.com, “and I would think my reputation is still solid. It’s baffling to me…

“Physically, I feel better than I did last season,” he said. “I’m able to get my body together. My skill set is sharp. I feel that I’m good. My mindset is be patient and hopefully something good comes about it. I’ll be ready for the opportunity.”

Like Anthony, Crawford needs the right role, but he can help teams.

He’s not young at age 39 but, in the right situation, he could help a team get buckets off the bench. The three-time Sixth Man of the Year has slowed in recent years, and his defense is a bigger concern to front offices, but the man still averaged 7.9 points per game last season off the bench and lit it up for the depleted Suns at the end of last season (including a 51-point game against Dallas). 

Some team is going to give Crawford a chance. Probably. Until then, he is staying ready, waiting for the phone to ring.

 

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks over not one but two Pacers (VIDEO)

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Once Giannis Antetokounmpo gets rolling downhill, good luck.

The Pacers found that out the hard way with not one but two players getting dunked on by the Greek Freak. On the same dunk.

Damn. That’s not fair.

It’s also not the only highlight play for Antetokounmpo on the night.

Milwaukee was up double digits on the Pacers early in the fourth quarter, and of course, Antetokounmpo was leading the way.