Three things we learned on Monday: The New York Knicks know drama

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It was a light NBA schedule with just three games, so as not to distract from Clemson’s comeback, but the Knicks never give up the spotlight easily.

1) Derrick Rose goes AWOL, Phil Jackson doesn’t talk, and the Knicks are still the Knicks.
Drama — often unnecessary drama — just follows the Knicks around. They are their own reality series, throw in a “tribal council” and some tiki torches and you’ve got a hit.

Monday night the Knicks had a chance to snap their recent slide when they took on the Pelicans, but the news became about point guard Derrick Rose — he just didn’t show up for the game. He had been at shootaround Monday afternoon, but when he didn’t show up for the game the team was left scrambling. Team executives didn’t know where he was, they were calling him but to no avail. Nobody seemed to know where he went.

After the game, Rose’s long-time teammate Joakim Noah was able to get in touch with him and find out he was okay. Rose reportedly texted other friends he was fine as well, and the organization had some level of contact with him and told the media he had a “family situation.” The good news is that Rose is safe. However, “family situation” is vague (and something the media will be careful with, NBA players are people with real lives, and not all of that needs to be public). We don’t know what happened yet, the Knicks themselves don’t seem to know.

The reality is two possible things are going on here.

One, Rose did have some kind of family crises that required his attention (and reported return to Chicago). In his haste to deal with the situation, Rose didn’t bother to contact the team. While that is a fairly big oversight — it’s not just Rose who didn’t call the team, it was those close to him as well — it is possible. Even coach Jeff Hornacek said after the game the organization didn’t have enough information to say what had happened.

Second, Rose is frustrated and quit on his team. Rumors of Rose being frustrated with his role have been making the rounds in the league for weeks. Rose has put up decent numbers this season for the Knicks (17.3 points per game) and is moving better than he has in years, but don’t confuse that with him being so good he should be a key focal point of the Knicks offense — New York is 1-12 when Rose takes 17 shots or more. This needs to be Kristaps Porzingis’ team — he is their best player now. Rose was benched in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee Friday because the undrafted Ron Baker was playing better — and the Knicks came from behind to win that game. Rose and Hornacek’s relationship is reportedly getting tense because of how Rose is being used. Did Rose just decide to walk away in frustration?

If he did just walk, Rose needs to be done in New York. You can’t just walk away. His teammates and the organization should not tolerate that — lord knows Knicks fans won’t. Those people value effort and hard work.

Most likely it will be spun as the former, regardless of reality. Rose will be back playing point guard for the Knicks soon enough. However, between this, Rose missing training camp to deal with a civil rape trial (of which Rose was found not liable), plus his play this season, the entire situation has the feeling of a one-and-done with Rose and New York (he is on a one-year contract). The Knicks don’t need the added drama.

One other thought here: Where was Phil Jackson in all of this? On almost any other team the team GM/President — who was in the building — would at least make a statement to the media about what was going on, not just throw his coach out there to deal with it (Hornacek was busy coaching a game, he had little information about what was happening). Jackson went out and got Rose and Noah this summer — a win now move, rather than a slower build for the future around Porzingis — so this is his guy. Jackson should be the one addressing the situation.

2) Also in New York, Anthony Davis put up 40 and showcased his skills, while Carmelo Anthony got tossed. Rose’s disappearing act overshadowed Anthony Davis dropping 40 and looking every bit the top-five NBA player that he is. The Pelicans won 110-96, and it wasn’t that close, thanks to Davis.

Carmelo Anthony didn’t want to stick around for this disaster and got himself ejected.

3) Russell Westbrook outduels ailing Jimmy Butler to get Thunder win. This felt like it could have been a showdown, but it ended up being more of a showcase. Jimmy Butler wasn’t feeling well, and having Andre Roberson draped all over him certainly didn’t help matters — Butler shot just 0-of-6 from the floor. Without him, the Bulls didn’t stand a chance — not with Russell Westbrook doing Russell Westbrook things. He had 21 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds, plus shot 50 percent from the field.

However, the real difference was in the front court — the Thunder were far more athletic and talented, outworked the Bulls frontline, and that decided the game. Steven Adams’ 22 points led the Thunder in scoring, while Enes Kanter came off the bench for 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, plus he pulled down 11 rebounds. The Thunder were +24 points in the paint, they owned the inside, and that was the biggest difference Monday night.

President Donald Trump awarding Medal of Freedom to NBA star Bob Cousy

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
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WASHINGTON (AP) President Donald Trump is set to present basketball legend Bob Cousy (KOO’-zee) with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The award is being handed out Thursday. It celebrates individuals with a wide range of achievements and is the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The 91-year-old Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame member played for the Boston Celtics from 1950 to 1963. He won six league championships and the 1957 MVP title.

Cousy is also known for speaking out against racism. He was an ardent supporter of black teammates who faced discrimination during the civil rights movement.

Cousy will be the second person to receive the award this year from Trump. Golfer Tiger Woods received the honor in May.

Report: Shelly Sterling, members of Clippers organization heard Donald Sterling audio in advance and didn’t act

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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In 2014, published audio of a racist rant by then-Clippers owner Donald Sterling rocked the country.

It shouldn’t have. Sterling’s racism and sexism were well-established by then. But few cared. The audio poured gasoline on the fire and moved people to act. I wish it didn’t require that. But it did.

What if the audio didn’t become public through TMZ? Apparently, there might have been opportunity for another outcome.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The fact is Shelly and several people in the Clippers organization heard the recording and decided not to act on it or weren’t appalled enough to act on it. Maybe they didn’t understand how big a splash this tape could make.

It’s unclear when Shelly Sterling (Donald’s wife) and other members of the Clippers organization heard the audio. Maybe it was while TMZ was doing due diligence. If so, it was probably too late to change the course of history.

But perhaps it was when V. Stiviano – Donald’s girlfriend who made the original recording and was being sued by Shelly – was still the only one in possession of it. Stiviano was clearly upset with how things were going financially between her and the Sterlings. For the right price, maybe the audio would have gone away before becoming public.

I’m glad it didn’t happen that way. The world is better off knowing exactly who Donald Sterling is.

Yet, this leads to an incredible “what if?” What if the people who heard the audio in advance understood the magnitude, acted in Sterling’s best interest and paid to have the audio kept secret? Would Sterling still own the Clippers today?

Kyle Kuzma scores on own basket in Team USA-Australia game (video)

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The Lakers are desperate at center. They might even need Kyle Kuzma to play the position. He’ll have to work on, among other things, rebounding.

At least it usually won’t go as poorly as this play in Team USA’s exhibition win over Australia.

Rockets betting on talent of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, everything else be damned

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

There is a tried-and-true method for winning an NBA championship: Get two recent MVPs. It has worked every time.

The Celtics paired Bill Russell and Bob Cousy. Won a title.

The 76ers paired Moses Malone and Julius Erving. Won a title.

The Warriors paired Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. Won a title.

By acquiring 2017 MVP Russell Westbrook to join 2018 MVP James Harden, the Rockets are testing the limits of this plan.

Houston upgraded from Chris Paul to Westbrook in its trade with the Thunder. There’s certainly logic to that. Harden is in his prime, so this is the time to push in. It’s almost impossible to win a championship without stars. Stars are also hard to come by. Sometimes, you must just get whichever stars you can and hope for the best.

But Westbrook came at a significant cost.

Houston had to send Oklahoma City top-four-protected first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, a top-four-protected pick swap in 2021 and a top-10-protected pick swap in 2025. By the time most of those picks convey, the Rockets could be far worse.

The trade is salary neutral for the next three seasons, which partially explains why Houston gave up so much. Most teams would require a sweetener for taking Paul’s contract. But Westbrook’s contract runs a season longer, and the Rockets will owe him $47,063,478 at age 34.

There will be diminishing returns with Harden and Westbrook, two ball-dominant guards. They have the talent to figure it out offensively, though it will require major adjustments to how they’ve played lately. The defensive concerns are far bigger. Both players have frequent lapses on that end.

Westbrook, 30, has also declined the last few years. He remains quite good. But the way he relies on his athleticism, he could fall rapidly.

Based on name recognition on both sides, this is the most monumental trade in NBA history. In Houston, it will likely define the rest of Harden’s prime then – with those picks outgoing – the Rockets’ next phase.

Beyond that, Houston did well to build depth on a budget. The Rockets re-signed Danuel House (three years, $11,151,000 million), Austin Rivers (1+1, minimum) and Gerald Green (one year, minimum) and signed Tyson Chandler (one year, minimum). Most of the mid-level exception remains unused with the free-agent market largely dried up. But hey, luxury tax. Houston could still re-sign Iman Shumpert through Bird Rights.

The Rockets look pretty similar to last year – except Westbrook replacing Paul. That’s the enormous move.

I’m not even sure it will help next year, though. Houston could’ve kept Paul and fit squarely into a wide-open championship race. At least on paper.

The big unknown: How toxic was the relationship between Harden and Paul? Several Rockets denied a problem, but there was plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Westbrook is better than Paul. The two stars will likely get along better.

But will Westbrook add enough value to justify the high cost? All those draft considerations could have gone toward addressing other needs. Really, just needs. Houston didn’t need another ball-dominant guard one bit.

I support the Rockets prioritizing the present. Westbrook could propel them to a championship.

But given the fit concerns, the cost was too steep for my liking.

Offseason grade: C-