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Knicks president Steve Mills trying to add ‘calmness to what had been a little bit of a crazy environment’

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NEW YORK (AP) Carmelo Anthony is gone. Phil Jackson is gone.

The losing appears here to stay.

The New York Knicks have entered a rebuilding mode, with new president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry touting the team’s youth even before they had traded Anthony on the eve of training camp.

The young players might be ready to win in a couple years, but for now, it looks like another long season inside Madison Square Garden.

“The whole talk for us is it’s a start for us to instill a culture of playing as hard as you can, trying to play together as a team,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We don’t necessarily have these superstars that have been in the league for many years carrying our team. We’ve got to do it collectively.”

That will fall on players such as Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Willy Hernangomez, rookie Frank Ntilikina and center Enes Kanter, who was acquired from Oklahoma City in the trade for Anthony.

The Jackson-Anthony drama hung over the Knicks last season and into the summer, with the team president making it clear he wanted to move on from the All-Star forward. But before he could, the Knicks moved on from Jackson, who couldn’t build a playoff roster in his three seasons. Mills was promoted and he has taken aim at cleaning up the mess within the organization.

“Part of my job is to try to add some sense of calmness to what had been a little bit of a crazy environment that we’ve been going through,” Mills said. “So I think that we have a good group of people here.”

But it’s a group that looks incapable of defending, and it will be hard to outscore its ineptitude on that end without the 40 points per game the Knicks lost when they traded Anthony and let Derrick Rose leave.

So they could be even worse than last season’s 31-51 finish, but at least some of the dysfunction could be gone. Fans seemed fed up with it under Jackson, so maybe they’ll accept a team that loses quietly if they see growth on the court without the circus off it.

“They want to see effort, they want to see tenacity, they want to see hard work and they just want to see us not backing down from anybody,” Hardaway said. “The icing on the cake is winning ballgames. That’s what we want to do and that’s our goal, to win ballgames, and win as many as possible to see ourselves looking towards the end of the season where we can find ourselves in the postseason.”

Some things to watch with the Knicks:

KRISTAPS’ KNICKS: Porzingis left frustrated, blowing off his exit interview before returning to Latvia for the summer. The third-year forward came back as the face of the franchise, returning to New York the day Anthony left for Oklahoma City.

FRANK FROM FRANCE: Jackson’s last big move was drafting the 19-year-old Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick. It’s hard to tell yet what the Knicks have in the French point guard, who missed summer league with an injury and then most of preseason when he was hurt again.

HARDAWAY’S HERE: Mills’ first big move was to give Hardaway a $71-million deal to return to New York after Jackson traded the former first-round pick to Atlanta two years earlier. His game grew with the Hawks, and the Knicks believe he’s ready for a bigger role now.

SPEED IT UP: Jackson’s triangle system is mostly gone, with Hornacek saying the Knicks want to open up the offense more in hopes of getting more easy shots.

JOAKIM’S JOB: Joakim Noah‘s forgettable first season of a $72-million deal ended with him serving a suspension for violating the anti-drug policy. It continues into this season and it’s unclear where he fits after that in a center rotation that also includes Kanter, Hernangomez, Kyle O'Quinn and sometimes Porzingis.

 

Jazz ending sponsorship deal with Papa John’s

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz are ending their sponsorship agreement with Papa John’s Pizza after the company’s founder and spokesman used a racial slur.

A person with knowledge of the team’s decision confirmed the move Friday and said it was because of the controversy. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the organization will not make a formal announcement.

A number of professional and college teams have cut ties to the company over Papa John’s founder John Schnatter’s comment during a company conference call in May. Among them are the Orlando Magic, Seattle Seahawks, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, University of Louisville,  and numerous others.

Schnatter apologized and stepped down as chairman but remains on the company’s board. He’s since said his decision to step down was a “mistake.”

The company says it’s also investigating allegations reported in Forbes that Schnatter oversaw a work culture where women were subject to sexist behavior.

 

Report: Nemanja Bjelica agrees to three-year contract with Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica wanted some stability. That got pulled out from under him when  Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves rescinded his qualifying offer. He quickly agreed to a one-year, $4.4 million offer, with Philadelphia, but then came to regret it because he wanted more security than that single season. Bjelica was considering Europe.

Then the Sacramento Kings stepped in. Friday night, the two sides reached a deal.

The Kings have signed both players who backed out of verbal agreements with teams this summer, Bjelica with the Sixers and Yogi Ferrell with the Mavericks.

Bjelica is a floor-spacing big man who should fit in well with the Kings’ frontcourt rotation that includes Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Willie Caulie-Stein, and others. Bjelica provides shooting — he hit 41.5 percent from three last season (where he took nearly half his shots). Bjelica has a solid all-around game that a lot of teams could have used. Including Minnesota and Philly.

Suns acquire Richaun Holmes from 76ers, Darrrell Arthur from Nets

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PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns have acquired power forward Richaun Holmes from Philadelphia and forward Darrell Arthur from Brooklyn.

The Suns sent cash considerations to the 76ers on Friday for Holmes, and got Arthur from the Nets for forward Jared Dudley and a protected 2021 second-round pick.

Philadelphia made the Holmes deal to help clear salary cap space to sign 2017 second-round pick Jonah Bolden to a $7 million, four-year contract. Holmes averaged 7.4 points and 4.2 rebounds in four seasons with the 76ers.

The Suns are expected to buy out Arthur’s $7.4 million contract to clear enough salary cap space for Holmes.

Arthur has played nine NBA seasons, the last five with Denver before being dealt to the Nets on July 13. He has appeared in 503 games with Denver and the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Dudley, an 11-year NBA veteran, spent the last two seasons with the Suns in his second stint with the team.

 

Celtics’ Smart ‘ecstatic’ to have summer in limbo over

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BOSTON (AP) — There was a moment during the past month in which Marcus Smart wasn’t sure where he’d be playing basketball this upcoming season.

A day after signing a four-year deal to remain in the only NBA jersey he’s ever played in, Smart said he’s focused on doing what he can to help the Celtics win their 18th championship.

“I’m ecstatic. This is a blessing,” Smart said Friday.

After being in limbo since the start of free agency, Smart cemented his pact with the Celtics on Thursday. A person with knowledge of the agreement told The Associated Press that Smart will be paid $52 million over the next four years. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the team did not disclose the terms of the contract.

Boston brings back a 6-foot-4 defensive cornerstone who has developed a reputation for toughness and doing the little things that help the Celtics win. Smart is also the longest-tenured player on the roster.

The confidence that general manager Danny Ainge is showing in his abilities is not lost on Smart, who acknowledged he knew he was entering a tough free agent market this summer.

“To be honest, I didn’t know where I was gonna end up. I was just enjoying this whole process,” he said. “It is a business, so things aren’t perfect. That’s why it’s called negotiations. You guys come together and you finally agree on something. We both agreed. Boston loves me and I love Boston. Boston wants me here and I want to be here. I am here. So we made it work.”

Barring any late changes, Smart’s return also means Boston will be bringing back the core of the team that won 55 games and reached the Eastern Conference finals while battling numerous injuries and being without both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward the entire postseason.

Smart was a huge part of the run, stepping in to a starter’s role after returning from thumb surgery late in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 9.8 points, 5.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game as Boston pushed LeBron James‘ Cleveland Cavaliers to seven games in the conference finals.

Now, James is in the West with the Lakers, and given the emergence of youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, Smart said he doesn’t see any reason why the Celtics shouldn’t be a favorite to come out of the East.

“We demonstrated the talent and ability we had to do that last year with a few missing pieces. With those missing pieces back in action, I think it really makes it hard for teams,” Smart said. “I think we have a real shot.”

The signing also will allow Smart to shift his attention back to his mother, 63-year-old Camellia Smart, who continues to undergo treatment for the bone marrow cancer she was diagnosed with in April.

“When you kind of go through adversity and something like this hits you and your family, it kind of puts everything in perspective and everything else kind of becomes a blur to you and really not that important,” he said.

He has been with her in Texas since the season ended and said she’s stable and doing well.

“She’s hanging in there,” Smart said. “This is a hard time. But at the same time, it’s an exciting time for my family. So, with the signing, it kind of brings a little joy to a situation and lightens up the situation that was a little darkened for me. … As of right now, she’s doing great.”

As far as basketball is concerned, he’ll continue trying to improve.

“I’m just gonna be working on all aspects of my game. The uniqueness about me is I don’t do one thing perfectly or great. I do a little bit of everything. That’s what makes me so unique. I’m just trying to master a little bit of everything. … If I could just get better a little bit each year, then I did my job.”