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Breaking down Knicks coaching candidates such as Mark Jackson, David Blatt, Jerry Stackhouse

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Jeff Hornacek getting fired as Knicks coach was as predictable as the plot of the movie “Taken” (come on, like Liam Neeson was going to be killed and his daughter sold off as a sex slave). Two 50-loss seasons, terrible defense, and being hired by the despised former GM will do that (even if it wasn’t all Hornacek’s fault, and it certainly was not, Hornacek didn’t sign Joakim Noah or Derrick Rose or want to run the triangle). The Knicks were so eager to can Hornacek team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry went with the team to Cleveland so they could ax him as soon as the plane landed when they got back.

So who’s next?

A series of names have been rumored around the league and quickly came up in multiple reports about the opening. Here is a breakdown of those who have been rumored.

• Mark Jackson. The former Knicks player and Warriors coach would be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have interest in the matter. On the positive side, Jackson won 51 games his last season with the Warriors and built the defensive foundation on which that team has won multiple titles (and the Knicks could use a more defensive focus). Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons — he was hard to work with for management, and played an old-school style of offensive ball — all of which must be considered.

• David Blatt. While hiring him would not exactly help any recruitment of LeBron James, that’s a moot point anyway (despite the billboards he’s not coming). Blatt wants another shot in the NBA. He won 53 games his first season in Cleveland and the team went to the Finals, and they were on pace for 60 wins his second season when he was fired around the All-Star break. LeBron and the other players were not fans of Blatt’s arrogance and need to be the smartest man in the room, and in the NBA (unlike Europe, where Blatt has returned to coach) the players have the power. Has that lesson sunk in with Blatt, can he put his ego aside? Can he get the players to buy into his system now, something he could not do in Cleveland? On the positive side, the man knows the game and wants to run a modern, up-tempo, ball-and-player-movement style of offense.

• David Fizdale. The highly respected coach let go by the Memphis Grizzlies mid-season is going to land a high-profile job this summer and he could be an excellent fit for the Knicks. His problems in Memphis stemmed from wanting to run a faster, more modern NBA offense that didn’t sit well with Marc Gasol — and as happens in the NBA the player won that battle. Fizdale would need to win over the Knicks’ locker room, but to hear LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and other former Heat players tell it (Fizdale was an assistant under Erik Spoelstra) that will not be a problem. Fizdale is smart, engaging and knows how to coach. He’d be a great hire, but he’s not as big a household name and therefore not as easy a sell to ownership and fans as other names on this list.

• Jerry Stackhouse. The 18-year NBA player and former All-Star is one of the hot names among assistant coaches looking to move up to the big chair after his success with the Raptors’ G-League team, Toronto 905. Is the Knicks job — with all the media pressure and office politics inside Madison Square Garden — the right place for a first-time NBA head coach? Stackhouse was a former teammate of LeBron in Miami  (if you still think New York has a shot to recruit him) and Stackhouse and GM Scott Perry have a two-decade relationship going back to the Pistons. Stackhouse may well get a shot somewhere — Orlando is a rumor that comes up a lot — but if the Knicks want young, fresh blood this would be the call.

• Jason Kidd. He was let go mid-season in Milwaukee, but the Hall of Fame player would be a name the marketing team could sell. He’s considered an incredibly bright basketball mind, but as a coach with the Bucks he pushed an aggressive, gambling defensive system that didn’t work (and wore guys down), plus the team’s offense was a little old-school for today’s NBA. He had a habit of falling in and out of love with players, so they bounced around the rotation a lot. What lessons has he learned with the Bucks (and Nets) that would change how he deals with player relationships and coaching now? Kidd’s name often is tied to the Phoenix job, but he likely would jump at the chance to coach the Knicks. Is his strong-willed style a good fit with Porzingis?

• Jay Wright. His name is going to come up in every coaching search this summer, but they all may be long shots. The Knicks in particular. Wright is the man who has turned Villanova into an NCAA dynasty, and every NBA team is looking for the next Brad Stevens, so they have turned their eyes to him. The first thing is nobody is convinced he wants to leave a job he loves at Villanova to try the NBA (a number of sources I talked to used the Coach K comparison). Even if he does want the challenge (and the increased pay), he can be picky and choose a good landing spot with stable smart ownership and management, as Stevens did with Boston. Are the Knicks really that franchise?

One more name to watch: Doc Rivers. He is still currently the coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, but the buzz around the league is after he was stripped of his GM responsibilities last summer, this summer will come a parting of the ways. If and when that happens, New York will make a call to gauge his interest and start the process — a former Knicks player with a track record of success as a coach deserves a look.

This Knicks job is a glamour one — one of the biggest franchise names in the league in the nation’s biggest media market. There is a massive and smart fan base. Also, the Knicks have the hardest thing to get in building a contending team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis.

However, there are going to be challenges, big ones. At the top of the list, there is the ownership of James Dolan — this is not the rock-steady ship of San Antonio here. Dolan is notoriously impatient and there is no deep-seeded direction for the franchise from the top. Next, Porzingis is potentially elite but also out for about half of next season following an ACL injury, and history has shown us that a return from that injury once back on the court takes time. Meaning the Knicks very well may struggle and miss the playoffs again next year… did we mention the fan base and ownership are impatient? This turnaround requires some patience. New York needs to create a culture/foundation/system that can highlight Porzingis’ strengths, then get players into that system that fit it. Most importantly, once they pick a system, the Knicks need to completely stick with it for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe. Whoever gets the Knicks job has to know going in he may not get that kind of window.

Still, these are the Knicks, they should be able to get whoever they want as their next coach. Mills and Perry need to think through their options and make the right call here. This is a crucial hire, this next coach will be there through the start of Porzingis’ prime.

 

 

Raptors rookie Terence Davis arrives to game with hole in mask

Raptors rookie Terence Davis
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The NBA – with threat of fine and suspension – reminded everyone inside the bubble to wear their masks.

Why issue that warning now?

Maybe because of Raptors rookie Terence Davis.

Davis arrived to Toronto’s win over the Lakers on Saturday with a hole in his mask.

Perhaps, it was inadvertent. Accidental rips happen. But it’s hard to give Davis the benefit of the doubt after his social-media activity:

Undrafted, Davis has a lot of confidence in himself. He earned that in basketball. If the cut were deliberate, he ought to give more credence to actual coronavirus experts.

Masks are highly important for the general population. We often don’t know whether we have coronavirus. Testing is insufficient, especially of asymptomatic cases. So, everyone in the outside world should wear a mask to reduce the spread.

On the other hand, NBA players – like Davis – can reasonably know they don’t have coronavirus. The NBA’s program of daily testing and no close contact with anyone outside the bubble is designed to ensure a coronavirus-free bubble. That’s why five-on-five basketball games – an otherwise dangerous activity – can be played safely.

However, masks between games are an extra layer of protection. What if a player – intentionally or not – comes into too close of contact with someone outside the bubble who has coronavirus? Masks would limit the spread of coronavirus within the bubble.

All coronavirus precautions should be measured through a cost-benefit lens. Wearing an intact mask can be unpleasant, and it’s somewhat superfluous for NBA players inside the bubble. But the health of everyone inside the bubble plus all the money at stake makes it an easy call.

Wear the mask, and wear it correctly.

NBA’s bubble works so far, allows “great stage” for dramatic games

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — So far, so good.

The NBA’s bubble remains intact. The extraordinary health protocols put into place to try and save this season seem to be working. The mission shared by coaches and players to use their platform and continue the conversation about racial injustice is off to a strong start.

Through four days, here’s just some of what has happened at Walt Disney World: LeBron James had a game-winner for the Los Angeles Lakers, T.J. Warren put his name all over the Indiana record book with a 53-point outburst, Houston and Dallas combined for more than 300 points in a game, the defending champion Toronto Raptors came out flying and Joel Embiid had a 41-point, 21-rebound night — in a loss.

And don’t forget the symmetry: Rudy Gobert was the first player to test positive for coronavirus, so naturally, it made sense that the Utah center was the first player to score when the pandemic shutdown was officially over.

If that wasn’t enough, the quality of play is so good that it’s almost like the NBA hadn’t stopped playing for 4-1/2 months. Shooting percentages and scoring averages, through the first four days anyway, are basically right where they were when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. And there has been a ton of down-to-the-wire drama, with eight of the 19 games played through Sunday decided by five points or less.

“In all honestly, it’s better than I was expecting … talking about all the teams in general,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Everybody is much crisper. They look more in rhythm than I ever expected teams would be. Whether it’s the best team with the highest seed or other people like us who are just trying to get into the playoffs, everybody’s a lot sharper than I would have expected.”

If the season ended Sunday night, Popovich and the Spurs — whose playoff chances were in serious trouble when the season was stopped — would be in a play-in series for a chance at the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. And in the Eastern Conference, there would be a first-round rematch from a year ago with the Raptors taking on the Orlando Magic; they’re both on five-game winning streaks, and the Magic are on the best scoring roll in the history of their franchise.

For as much as has been made about the difficulties of being in a bubble and away from families, friends and freedom of movement, turns out, there might be some advantages to this thing.

“Seriously, it’s a great stage to play,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “There’s not a lot of distractions. It’s the same court every night, so you get your shooting depth perception and all of that. It’s pure basketball. So, you see some of the talents these guys have are coming out.”

The numbers inside the bubble are ridiculous.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP and probable winner of the award again this year, had 36 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists for Milwaukee in the Bucks’ first real game in the bubble. How did he follow that up? Try 36 points again, 18 rebounds and eight assists in the Bucks’ loss to Houston on Sunday night.

Portland’s Damian Lillard had 30 points and 16 assists in a loss to Boston on Sunday. Kyle Lowry had 33 points and 14 rebounds in Toronto’s win over the Lakers. Dallas’ Luka Doncic is averaging a triple-double in his two bubble games. The Rockets beat the Mavs 153-149 in overtime Friday and then tried 61 3-pointers to tie an NBA regulation-game record Sunday.

On top of all that, there’s the messaging — “Black Lives Matter” on the court, “Black Lives Matter” on the shirts that most players and coaches have worn as teams kneel together for the national anthems pregame, the way coaches like Popovich turn ordinary pregame questions into opportunities to educate about racism. He was asked Sunday if Marco Belinelli was playing; Popovich spent the next 3 minutes and 21 seconds to speak about how Black people in North Carolina were required to pass a literacy test to vote but white people were not.

And then he answered the question: “Marco Belinelli is out tonight,” Popovich said.

So far, so good.

On every level, pretty much, other than the news that arrived early Monday about Jonathan Isaac and how the Orlando forward tore the ACL in his left knee — an injury that would likely put all of next season, if it happens, into question for a big part of the Magic future.

The rust, whatever there was for most players, seems gone. Playoffs are just two weeks away, and momentum already seems to be building.

“I think it’s only going to get better,” D’Antoni said. “I think the playoffs are going to be terrific. And it’s a great setting.”

Three Things to Know: Haven’t we learned by now not to bet against the Spurs?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) As Pelicans and Trail Blazers stumble, shorthanded Spurs win again to become nine seed in West.

You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the San Antonio Spurs?

The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, a legendary run that was coming to an end this year (with Tim Duncan coaching from the bench rather than draining wing bank shots). The Spurs entered the bubble shorthanded and undersized. San Antonio was four games back of eighth-seed Memphis and having to leap both New Orleans and Portland, plus the Spurs were without LaMarcus Aldridge, their best big man.

Count them out at your own risk.

After beating Memphis Sunday behind 21 and 10 from Dejounte Murray, the Spurs are currently the ninth seed in the West — if the season ended today, San Antonio is in the playoffs and would face Memphis in a play-in series.

The Spurs have gone to a four-guard starting lineup — Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, DeMar DeRozan, with Jakob Poeltl as the big — and that lineup is messing with teams. On defense, they switch everything 1-4 and bank on Poeltl to protect the rim. On offense they run and play at pace — they have moved away from leading scorer DeRozan for a more balanced, egalitarian offense.

“We need to play with pace. We don’t have one-on-one players,” coach Gregg Popovich said after a recent win. “We don’t give the ball to a player and say, ‘beat your guy and go score.’ That’s not the kind of players we have on the team. We’ve got to do it as a group. We’ve got to have movement and pace goes along with that.”

The bench behind that starting five — Patty Mills, Rudy Gay, and Drew Eubanks — follows the same premise.

It works — and it’s fun to watch.

The teams that were the favorites to earn the ninth seed are stumbling. New Orleans is 0-2 and has been a mess — Zion Williamson is playing 15 minutes a night, they struggle to defend the paint, and in the bubble their offense has been atrocious. Portland’s offense has been impressive with Jusuf Nurkic — even if Damian Lillard is passing up game-tying threes — but their defense has been as bad as the offense is good, and the result is a 1-1 record with a tough schedule ahead. (The Kings are 0-2 and shorthanded, and while the Suns are 2-0 they were so far back to start they were never in this race.)

Like every year, here come the Spurs, putting a makeshift lineup out there and looking like a team that has a shot at making the postseason. Again.

You’d think we’d all have learned by now not to bet against the Spurs…

2) Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac tears ACL

This sucks.

Jonathan Isaac had been having a breakout season — and looking like an All-Defensive Team player — until a left knee bone bruise sidelined him in January. The break in play caused by the coronavirus let him return for the restart, and now this?

Driving to the basket Sunday — late in a blowout game where he was still in to help build up his conditioning — Isaac tried to plant on that left knee and it buckled under him. It was a non-contact injury that looked bad when it happened. He was taken off the court in a wheelchair.

Later the word came from the Magic, Isaac had a torn left ACL. He’s obviously done for this restart and likely will miss all of next season as well.

Isaac had made more news in Orlando for his decision to stand for the national anthem, explaining his decision was based on religious grounds. On the court, he was seen as a cornerstone of what Orlando wants to build.

This is a punch to the gut for Orlando.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo looks like MVP with 36 points, but Rockets’ former MVPs take the win

This game was the ultimate clash of styles: The big and long Milwaukee Bucks who dare teams to take above-the-break threes, against the small-ball Houston Rockets.

This game was a reminder why Houston is going to be so much trouble in a playoff series — teams have yet figured out how to play against them. For the first couple of games of a playoff series the Rockets could surprise teams, and that may be enough.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points, had 18 rebounds and eight assists on the night, but it wasn’t enough. The Rockets took 61 threes (hitting 21, 34.4%), Russell Westbrook scored 31, and Houston got the win 120-116.

Milwaukee led by six in the final minutes and by one with 16.5 seconds left, but in the clutch all night Westbrook was able to drive and draw fouls. James Harden had 24 points, but it was Westbrook’s play at the end that was the difference. Well, that and some defense by Harden and P.J. Tucker that led to Danuel House stealing an Antetokounmpo and sealing the win with free throws.

The Rockets are rested and fresh, and the small-ball game is still finding teams not exactly sure how to deal with them. Will that work in a seven-game series remains to be seen, but this is such a fun experiment to watch.

Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac suffers torn ACL in left knee

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Jonathan Isaac, who returned from a left knee injury to play for Orlando in the bubble, has torn his left ACL and is out for the remainder of this season. And likely the next one.

It was a non-contact injury that occurred when Isaac drove into the paint Sunday, tried to plant on his left leg, and felt his knee buckle under him.

Isaac had been in the news in Orlando for his decision to stand for the national anthem, explaining his decision was based on religious grounds.

It’s a blow to the Magic, who believe Isaac is one of the cornerstones of their future. He was having a breakout season until he suffered a posterior lateral corner injury and a bone bruise back in January. Now comes this. Teammate Aaron Gordon said he was in tears when the injury happened.

All those injuries came in a season Isaac was making a leap on the court. On offense, he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests. However, his bigger impact is on the defensive end, where he is a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He might have made the All-Defensive team if healthy.

Now, it will be a couple of years before we get to see Isaac on the court again.