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Report: Bucks’ willingness to pay luxury tax next season depends on this year’s playoffs

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The Bucks have been the NBA’s best team throughout the season.

They won 60 games in the regular season. They swept the Pistons in the first round. They just won four straight to beat the Celtics, 4-1.

But money threatens to prevent Milwaukee from rolling this momentum into next year.

Four key Bucks – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic – will be free agents this summer. Keeping all four could push Milwaukee into the luxury tax, a rare expenditure for the small-market franchise. The Bucks have paid the tax only once, the first year it was assessed, 2003.

Would Milwaukee really pay the tax to keep this team intact?

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

That is something ownership is willing to do, sources say, depending on how far the team goes this season.

This is a misguided outlook. The Bucks’ willingness to pay the tax next season should be based only on whether that extra spending would produce sufficient rewards next season.

Of course, the best indication of Milwaukee’s ceiling next season is probably this postseason. It’s just important to assess with a forward-looking, not backward-looking, approach.

And maybe the Bucks are. Their internal process could easily get twisted as it leaks to the public.

The important thing is their willingness to pay the tax. A conference finals appearance certainly bodes well in that regard.

Milwaukee projects to be about $54 million below the tax line before considering those four starter-level free agents. It’s unlikely the Bucks can keep all four for that little. Middleton, an All-Star this year, could get more than $30 million himself.

With full Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee can re-sign them for any amount up to the max. The only cost is real dollars, which would be multiplied as the team enters the tax.

But it gets tricky with Lopez. To give him a starting salary above $4,058,400, the Bucks would have to clear cap space (highly unlikely) or use a mid-level exception. The non-taxpayer mid-level exception projects to be about $9 million, and the taxpayer mid-level exception projects to be about $6 million. However, using the higher mid-level exception would hard cap Milwaukee at a projected team salary of about $138 million.

Based on their current roster, a $30 million salary for Middleton, a $12 million salary for Brogdon (whose market could be depressed by his restricted status), a $9 million salary for Mirotic and the non-taxpayer mid-level exception would put the Bucks right near the hard cap. And those salaries are conservative estimates.

At least salary-cap rules won’t stop Milwaukee from paying Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic more. Lopez comes with different constraints.

There’s no guarantee Lopez would settle for a starting salary of just $9 million. He has been so valuable as a stretch five and paint protector. He could get far bigger offers, though maybe not a better fit.

The Bucks could also unload Tony Snell ($11,592,857) and Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million) to create more flexibility. However, Milwaukee already has two outgoing future first-round picks and will be limited trading another.

It’s incumbent on the Bucks to solve these dilemmas, not just to maintain an excellent team but to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo happy as he approaches his super-max-extension decision. Paying the luxury tax could go a long way.

Knicks reportedly had players-only meeting before David Fizdale was fired

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New York had lost eight in a row, blowing big leads in a couple of those games. The last two games the Knicks were listless — a 44-point crushing by the Sixers, then a 37-point thrashing by the Nuggets — and looked like a team that had given up.

Friday morning, team veterans — led by Marcus Morris — called a players-only meeting before practice to talk about the need for the players to not roll over and play harder. Particularly with coach David Fizdale’s job on the line. That meeting was reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Fizdale then ran the team practice.

One meeting and one practice was not going to stop the inevitable, Fizdale was fired later on Friday. The Knicks have made that official and assistant coach Mike Miller will take over as the interim head coach.

Sometimes there is a boost of energy teams get from a coaching change, but in the case of the Knicks it may well be a dead cat bounce. That is unless the veterans really do take charge and start pushing this roster.

While Fizdale certainly deserves blame for the lack of identity on offense and defense from the Knicks, I’m not a believer that an NBA coach is fully responsible for his team’s motivation. These are professionals getting paid millions of dollars, it shouldn’t take a rah-rah speech from a guy in a tie to get them focused and ready to do their job. It’s on the players. Motivation is always part of a coach’s job, and with a young team keeping the players on task certainly is part of the coach’s responsibility, but at the NBA level a coach should have to worry less about firing his guys up on a nightly basis.

Knicks make it official: David Fizdale fired, assistant Mike Miller promoted to head coach

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UPDATE: The Knicks have made all the reporting official.

As had been expected, David Fizdale is out as the Knicks head coach after an ugly 4-18 start to the season. This was a case where Fizdale was given an “Island of Misfit Toys” roster to work with that was never going to be good, but he also didn’t do much with it. New York had no identity on either side of the ball. The Knicks have lost eight straight, the last two by at least 37 points, and the team was simply lackadaisical in its effort recently.

Who will coach the Knicks next season depends on the answer to another question: Are team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry safe, or are they on their way out, too?

In the short term, New York promoted Mike Miller into the big chair, and bring up Keith Bogans from the G-League coaching staff to round out the roster, something first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Miller spent four years as the head coach of the Westchester Knicks, the franchise’s G-League affiliate, and was the G-League Coach of the Year for the 2017-18 season. He was eventually promoted to the Knicks bench.

Don’t expect a major shake-up in the Knicks’ offensive and defensive systems, or with the rotations, at least in the short term. There just are not a lot of practice days built into the NBA schedule to allow a mid-season replacement to overhaul everything. Plus, with this roster, there’s only so much a human being can do.

Fizdale signed a four-year, $22 million guaranteed contract with the Knicks, meaning for the rest of this season and all of next one he can sit on a Miami beach and collect James Dolan’s money. Not a bad life.

 

As was expected, Stephen Curry reportedly has second wrist surgery to remove pins

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This was both expected and right on schedule.

Stephen Curry said almost a month ago that he was going to need a second surgery to remove pins that were inserted during the first procedure back on Nov. 1. Curry suffered a fractured hand back on Oct. 30 when Suns’ center Aron Baynes fell on him, and in the first surgery pins were inserted to stabilize the bone through the healing process.

That second surgery has taken place, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This has been confirmed by Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Curry has said he fully expects to play this season, although it wouldn’t be until the end of what is a lost cause campaign for Golden State. For now, Curry is focused on recovery.

“[Managing the]swelling is something that’s going to be of the utmost priority early in the rehab process to get me a chance to come back and get my range of motion back pretty quickly,” Curry said last time he spoke to the media.

Without Curry or Klay Thompson yet this season (plus, of course, Kevin Durant on crutches in Brooklyn), and D'Angelo Russell missing a chunk of time as well due to injury, the Warriors have struggled to a 4-19 record with a bottom-five offense and defense.

The hope for the Warriors is to get Curry and Thompson back by next summer and working out, they get a high draft pick, make a couple other moves around the edges, get Draymond Green healthy, and this team is a threat again. This season it’s more like the Warriors are taking a season off to find themselves and travel the world.

Report: Knicks fire David Fizdale

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The Knicks started 2-8.

Then, it got worse.

Knicks owner James Dolan ordered president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to address the media after a loss. Mills and Perry spoke before coach David Fizdale, a break in decorum that ignited speculation about Fizdale getting fired.

Then, it got worse.

New York lost six straight.

Then, it got worse.

After a 44-point loss to the Bucks, Fizdale said the Knicks entered the game not believing they even could win. They followed that with a 37-point home loss to the Nuggets yesterday that Fizdale called “sickening.”

Finally, with New York 4-18 and on an eight-game losing streak, the Knicks are making a major change.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This was inevitable. Mills wanted Fizdale gone and knows how to navigate Madison Square Garden politics.

The season was already a lost cause, and it’s likely to remain a mess. Keith Smart, who previously coached the Warriors and Kings, was the only other member of the staff with NBA non-interim head-coaching experience.

The big question: Will Mills and Perry survive?

They gave Fizdale a lacking roster and outsized expectations. Nearly any coach would have been doomed to fail in this situation.

To be fair, Fizdale provided no evidence he deserved to be an exception. The Knicks lacked identity under his guidance, and development of younger players was uneven.

But the problems go way above Fizdale, starting with Dolan.

At least we’ll always have this Fizdale quote comparing the Knicks to slipping in ice, dog poop and pee.