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David Fizdale focused on foundation, not wins this season for Knicks

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This is the first of NBC’s NBA preview stories, with at least one a day appearing on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, starting with the Knicks.

Phil Jackson was once in this exact same spot, saying almost the exact same things.

When he was hired, the Zen Master talked about changing the culture of the New York Knicks. He talked about defense, about building slowly and laying a foundation that would last long beyond his tenure in New York. He promised sustained success.

Then he decided to shortcut all of that and go get Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee and try to win now with what was left of Carmelo Anthony’s career. (He did a lot of other things wrong, too, in the name of the triangle.) When that inevitably failed, the Knicks were back to square one and stuck with contracts that are still an anchor on the franchise today. If there has been one consistent thing from the Knicks for more than a decade now, it has been taking the quick fix.

For the Knicks, the 2018-19 season is about getting back to foundation building. This time patiently. No shortcuts. No skipping steps.

“Culture and accountability. I’ll be putting those words on walls in a lot of places” new coach David Fizdale said at his introductory press conference. “They’re very cliché in a lot of ways, but I’ve really learned through my experience that I’ve gotten to live a lot of these words and fail through these words and achieve great things with these words and I hope I’d be able to communicate that and share that with these group of men. It takes so much to win in this league and if one person is off in one way it crumbles.”

Fizdale — with Steve Mills and Scott Perry running the front office — have talked about culture, accountability, building slowly, laying a foundation that will last through Kristaps Porzingis’ tenure and beyond.

Those need to be more than words this season — which starts with patience and buy-in from owner James Dolan. Not a man exactly known for those things. Dolan is the reason for the constantly shifting tides and sense of paranoia that seems to pervade the organization. Fizdale, Mills, and Perry all said they had a commitment from Dolan to do this the right way this time. No step skipping. Dolan needs to stick with that, and those three need to manage their owner when he starts to read tabloid headlines about his team and gets an itch.

With this being Fizdale’s first season, those three should have room to operate for a while, which makes the 2018-19 Knicks season about Fizdale building a foundation — not about wins or making the playoffs this season. (It’s not impossible that happens in an East that gets a little shaky around those final few playoff slots, but decisions can’t be made with that as the goal.) It’s about not “skipping steps,” a phrase that came up repeatedly (almost to the point of annoyance) when Fizdale was introduced as the Knicks’ coach.

The first step? When asked at that press conference what the first thing he needed to establish, Fizdale didn’t hesitate: “Player relationships.” Weeks later, he backed that up by getting on a plane and flying to Latvia and meeting with Porzingis in Europe. A meeting that reportedly went well. Fizdale challenged him.

“The best way to describe him is he’s the future of the NBA,” Fizdale said. “Look around who’s playing (deep in the postseason). They all got guys super long, super athletic, super skilled, super tough-minded. He fits all of the qualities of a megastar and a guy who can really propel a franchise forward to high places.”

All true, but it will not help the Knicks on the court in the short term, Porzingis remains out following a torn ACL and his return date uncertain (my guess is we see him later in the season, but he could miss it all). In the short term, Fizdale needs to develop other players, starting with building the game of rookie Kevin Knox, who showed a lot of potential at Summer League.

Then Fizdale needs to work with and decide how good Frank Ntilikina really is (he did not impress in Las Vegas this summer). Is a change of scenery and a new coach what Mario Hezonja needed to get closer to his potential? Where does the talented but raw rookie Mitchell Robinson fit in?

None of those players mentioned above have even turned 24 yet — player development is going to be crucial for the Knicks. Not just this season, either, but critical if the Knicks are going to draw a big free agent next summer (big names will want to know the Knicks core is ready to take the next steps).

Next on the agenda, Fizdale has to make the defense respectable — and make playing hard on defense part of that new team culture. The last time the Knicks had a defense in the top half of the league it was 2012, and you were still listening to “Gangnam Style” and “Call Me Maybe.”

“I want to get up and down the court. I want to share the basketball. I want to attack the paint. But none of that will start without us being a great defensive team,” Fizdale said. “You know, we’re going to be a team that really plays a pressure, physical style of basketball. Get a lot of deflections, try to get a lot of steals, get into the open court, earn the right to go play a more free-flowing, attacking style of offense.”

That attacking offense will be more modern and positionless if Fizdale has his way.

“You hear him talk a lot about positionless basketball, not being afraid to try different combinations,” Mills said. “With where the game is going today, that’s a really appealing quality that he brings.”

Last season, the Knicks shot selection sucked — they were third worst in the league in percentage of shots either at the rim or from three. Expect that to change. Fizdale’s problems with Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies became trying to drag a veteran team into the modern age against its will (and not handling those relationships well enough), but with the Knicks he will not meet that resistance.

Does that mean what Knicks fans have begged for — more Porzingis at the five?

“Why limit it? Why put a ceiling on it?” Fizdale said. “I just see so many different ways to use him. Obviously, if you play him at some 5, it’s like that super-lineup you’re always seeing from different teams—I don’t even know how you match up with him. He can play some 4. If you have another speed guy at the 4, you might even be able to play positionless.”

It all sounds good, but getting that foundation in place this season will be a bumpy ride. Mistakes will come and players will have to learn from them. Wins will not be easy to come by, losses will pile up. This is New York, the pressure will come with those losses. Fizdale and the Knicks have to focus past all that on the long term — it’s not about this season. It’s about the foundation, it’s about the culture.

Install that right, get Porzingis back, land a free agent next summer, then the focus changes. But to get there, the Knicks have to learn the lessons of Phil Jackson — and so many before him — and can’t start skipping steps. That is the most significant culture change needed at Madison Square Garden.

Brooklyn Nets going gray with stylish newly redesigned court

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The Brooklyn Nets already had one of the sharpest court designs in the NBA.

However, they felt it was time for an upgrade — and they went gray.

It’s bold, not traditional, I’m curious how it looks on a broadcast, but the new look kind of works. It feels very Brooklyn.

Zach Lowe of ESPN had a story on how this all came together.

But [General Manager Sean] Marks wanted change, to put his artistic imprint on the franchise he has helped reinvent, and he had a radical idea: a gray floor meant to evoke blacktop courts, the streets of Brooklyn, and the borough’s “industrial vibe,” he says. Gray has been on the fringes of the team’s Brooklyn-era palette, including on the alternate Brooklyn Dodgers-themed uniforms they wore in past seasons.

Everything Marks and the Nets’ creative team toyed with from there centered around gray. It was a risk — an unknown. The NBA says it has never had an all-gray court, though a few teams — the New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, and others — have shaded enlarged logos and landscapes into sections of their floors…

There was no pushback. The league liked the idea right away, Marks says.

With Kyrie Irving trying to lead an intriguing young core — and Kevin Durant maybe coming back before the playoffs — the Nets are going to be a team to watch this season. We’re going to see a lot of that gray floor, we’ll see how it grows on us.

Nets reportedly not likely to sign Carmelo Anthony, who still waits for his shot

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NBA training camps open next week, and Carmelo Anthony will be… on a couch somewhere.

Actually, probably in a private gym in New York working out and staying ready for the day the phone rings. However, he will not be in an NBA gym with an NBA team.

One place he had been rumored to go was Brooklyn, where Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were reportedly pushing for him. That, however, is not happening, reports Shams Charania at The Athletic.

After losing Wilson Chandler to a 25-game suspension, Anthony and players such as Dante Cunningham, Lance Thomas and Luol Deng emerged as viable options to sign. There’s been a sense around the Nets that players are hopeful to bring in Anthony, but the trust belongs with the front office.

However, the Nets are very unlikely to sign Anthony as of now, league sources told The Athletic.

It appears more likely that the team will decide to sign players it has worked out over the past few weeks, such as Thomas and former Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Clippers forward CJ Williams, sources said. The Nets have two roster spots left.

Executives around the league think there is a place for Anthony in the NBA. As has been written here previously, people I’ve spoken to about him say something along the lines of “he absolutely could still play in the league, he’s just not a fit with us.” After how things ended in Oklahoma City, and then went last season in Houston, they question if he will accept and off-the-bench scoring role. Anthony has said he would, his people have pushed that he would, but people are not sold.

Anthony’s going to get his shot, and maybe still in Brooklyn. It will be somewhere. But like Dwight Howard with the Lakers this season, this is his last shot — play a role, play hard, get it right or nobody is taking a chance on him again.

 

Report: Andre Iguodala, Grizzlies reach agreement, he will not report to training camp

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Andre Iguodala was traded to Memphis in a cost-saving move during the Warriors’ wild offseason. The franchise was upfront about the possibility, Iguodala is a smart man who understands the business of the league, there are no hard feelings.

However, he doesn’t want to play for Memphis. The Grizzlies don’t just want to buy him out — unless he’s leaving a lot of money on the table, which he will not do — they want to trade him for picks or a young player coming back to help their rebuild.

That left the sides at an impasse, but they have reached an agreement that allows Iguodala to not report to training camp and instead keep working out on his own, reports Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.

Andre Iguodala will not attend Grizzlies’ Media Day on Monday nor report to the team’s training camp under an arrangement reached between the two sides, according to team and league sources.

Iguodala will remain on the Grizzlies roster, likely well into the season. However, the team agreed the veteran can continue private workouts at a location of his choosing while Memphis pursues trades involving the former Golden State Warrior and NBA Finals MVP.

This almost certainly drags out into December, and likely much closer to the Feb. 6 trade deadline. On Dec. 15 the players who signed contracts this summer can be traded, opening up the trade pool. By then, contending teams — or, teams that fancy themselves contenders — will have a better sense if they could use Iguodala off the bench to boost a playoff run. And if they have the players and picks to get a trade done.

Iguodala talked about his situation in Memphis with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole over the weekend.

“We’re trying to figure out things on both sides. They’re trying to figure out some things, and I’m trying to figure out some things. As of today, we’re on the same page. Camp opens the next week. We’ll see. We’re on the same page, though.”

“At this point, the only buyout that makes sense — if I’m speaking on someone else’s behalf, thinking as an agent — is you don’t leave money on the table,” he says. “Especially in this league. Because you’ll never get it back, no matter what people say. Negotiations are a tactic, so you’ve got to be careful how you approach it, or how you verbalize what you would do going forward. But you can’t leave anything on the table.”

Iguodala is in the final year of his contract, worth $17.2 million this season, and he wants to get paid. The Grizzlies want to jumpstart their rebuild. The best option for both sides is just to wait it all out, which is what they have decided to do.

For now. Expect Iguodala rumors to start ramping up around Christmas.

Andre Iguodala tells the story of how he knew he would get traded this summer

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Andre Iguodala is a smart man, a veteran who gets the business side of basketball.

Which is why he knew he was likely getting traded this summer, especially if Kevin Durant left.

Iguodala told Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area how he knew it would go down, and the inside joke he had with his wife that came true.

“But I have a sense that something is going down; Bob Myers and I are pretty cool. We have our conversations, so we’re on the same page. It was, ‘It might happen, but it might not. Most likely, it will. So, we’ll see.’

“So, I’m texting my wife, telling her I’ll probably get traded because I think it’s 100 percent sure, even though everyone else is saying, it’s only a chance. Then, once KD (Kevin Durant) left, I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’ll probably get traded. They’re probably going to do a sign-and-trade, so they can get something back, to at least get assets for him.’ No one was thinking that. But I was thinking they’ll want to get assets back because they can’t just let him go. And they’ll probably move me as well. So, she asked me where I thought I would go. I said, ‘I don’t know, I’ll probably end up in Memphis or some s–t.’

“She says, ‘For real?’ I was like, ‘Maybe. But probably not. I don’t know.’

“The next day, I got the message. It was Memphis. I fell out laughing.”

Iguodala remains a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, for now. Iguodala would like a buyout and to get to another contender, but he doesn’t want to leave a lot of money on the table because, as he told Poole, he would never get that money back. Memphis, on the other hand, would rather trade Iguodala in an effort to get a pick or player back that can help their rebuild. The Grizzlies are not going to be down with a buyout unless there are significant savings. Iguodala says that both sides are “on the same page.” We’ll see if the good vibes continue once training camps open next week.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be weird not seeing Iguodala in a Warriors uniform next season. He was the glue that helped hold the Warriors together and win three titles, seeing him in Grizzlies’ blue will just look strange and out of place.