Elsa/Getty Images

Three Things to Know: After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch on

4 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) After back-to-back Knicks blowout losses, David Fizdale job watch is on. Eight losses in a row. The last two were by 44 points at Milwaukee then by 37 points Thursday night to Denver — games where the Knicks didn’t show much fight (except for Marcus Morris, who literally seems to be looking for a fight every game). Things are bad with the 4-18 Knicks. Historically bad.

That has ramped up the “David Fizdale Job Watch” around Madison Square Garden (and all over NBA Twitter). The Knicks have the worst offense in the NBA this season, a bottom-10 defense, and their energy level appears to be dropping with each game. Even Fizdale called the team’s effort “sickening” after Thursday’s loss.

The coach’s firing now feels inevitable, with the only question being when — and the rumor is soon. It was clear when team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry were forced to talk to the media a dozen games ago — after an ugly 21-point home loss to the Cavaliers — that Fizdale was going to be the scapegoat for a full organization that deserves blame. Mills said at the time he wanted to see “consistent effort” from the Knicks, that hasn’t happened of late.

These last two losses — where the Knicks were increasingly listless — seemed to turn up the flame and now everyone is waiting for that pot to boil over. (The reports on Twitter that the Mills, Perry, and owner James Dolan were not in their seats at the end of the game were not completely accurate, Mills was until the final minute. The three were talking after the game, but that is not unusual.)

Mid-season coaching changes rarely jumpstart teams — there is precious little practice time in the NBA, and it’s nearly impossible for a new coach to make systemic changes. The rotation can be tweaked, players can be put in better/different positions, but any spark tends to be short-lived.

There are really only a couple of reasons that a mid-season coaching change makes sense. One is that the coach management really wants is out there and the franchise needs to move before another team snaps him up (think Sacramento forcing out 11-13 Mike Malone so they could eventually get George Karl, who went 11-21 that season). When (it’s not really an “if” anymore) Fizdale is let go, one the coaches currently in the organization is expected to get the job — Mike Miller, Pat Sullivan, Jud Buechler, Keith Smart, Kaleb Canales — and they do not fit the “he’s our guy” criteria.

The other reason to fire mid-season is that the situation in the locker room and around the team is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. That is a case that can be made.

Still, we all know the real problem in New York goes higher up the ladder. This was never a playoff roster, but the organization seemed to sell itself — and sold ownership — that it was, which has led to disappointment. There is some young talent on the roster — rookie RJ Barrett shows flashes, Mitchell Robinson has potential — but sticking with one coach, one system, and being patient through a rebuild has never worked for Dolan and New York. It always seems to be the search for the next free agent, the next quick fix, and because of that instability free agents are leery of coming to Manhattan (a couple of them found that stability in Brooklyn last summer).

James Dolan has owned the team for two decades now, he took over near the end of the Jeff Van Gundy era. This season will mark the seventh straight the team has missed the playoffs, and they will have been out of the top eight in 13 of the last 16 seasons. Dolan has been the one constant through all the GMs and coaches in that era.

There are rumors Dolan wants to lure Masai Ujiri out of Toronto. We’ll see. What smart front office people will want in New York is total control — not just of the basketball decisions but of the personnel throughout the Knicks front office. Sources have told me others who spoke to the Knicks for the top executive job previously wanted to clean house throughout the basketball staff (to bring in their guys and force out the entrenched people) and that has met with resistance.

Just don’t expect Dolan to sell the team. That’s not happening. The best Knicks fans can hope for is that he brings in a smart head of basketball operations, gives that person total control, then gets out of the way. For years and years, allowing for the ups and downs of a rebuild. But if we haven’t seen that after two decades…

2) James Harden scores “just” 23, Russell Westbrook has triple-double, Rockets pick up a quality win over Raptors. Houston is not going to protest this one.

Toronto coach Nick Nurse had a game plan — trap James Harden, do it 40-feet from the basket sometimes, but do not let that man beat you. Force someone else to make shots, even if they are open threes. Part of that plan worked, Harden had just three shots in the first half and finished well below his season scoring average with just 23 points on the night.

Toronto’s problem was the other guys did step up. Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. shot 10-of-19 from three in the first half and had 41 points combined before halftime. For the game, Russell Westbrook had a 19-point triple-double, while McLemore led the team with 28 points on 18 shots.

Toronto’s other problem is that Houston played better defense and Pascal Siakam went scoreless in the fourth quarter (he did have a team-high 24 for the night). When their star struggled, the rest of the Raptors went cold, shooting 6-of-17 in the fourth with six turnovers. That’s not going to get it done against anyone.

3) Rookie Rui Hachimura is playing fairly well in Washington, scores 27 to lead Wizards past Sixers. In what has been a surprisingly down rookie class, Washington is starting to get something out of Rui Hachimura.

In his last four games, the Japanese national — and there is a media contingent from Japan following him around — is averaging 22 points a game. Against Philadelphia on Thursday he may have had his best game as a pro, scoring 27 points on 18 shots, with seven rebounds, and two steals. He led the Wizards to an upset win against the 76ers, 119-113 (Philly continues to struggle on the road)

The long-term concern with Hachimura is that he’s a mid-range shooter — he took six of his 18 shots from there on Thursday (making four), and for the season more than 30 percent of his shots have come between 10 feet out and the arc. Hachimura can get those shots at will and is hitting them at a good clip, but it’s not what teams are looking for on a consistent basis (unless DeMar DeRozan is your idealized player). Midrange shots are a good weapon for a scorer to have, but teams want that as more of a fallback. His 22 percent three-point shooting needs to improve to become a real scoring threat in the future.

However, in a rookie class where the biggest star has yet to step on the court, and other guys are struggling, Hachimura is starting to stand out as a good pick by Washington.

Increasing buzz teams well out of playoffs will not come to Orlando for games

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors have been public about it, they expect their season to be over. Golden State is far from alone, multiple teams well out of the playoff picture have questioned the expense and risk-to-reward ratio of coming back to play a handful of regular season games without fans in Orlando.

More and more, the buzz has been the NBA league office sees things the same way. I am not the only reporter hearing this: Steve Popper of Newsday wrote a column saying there was no reason to invite all 30 teams to the bubble city and the USA Today’s well-connected Jeff Zillgett added this:

This is where we throw in the caveat: There are no hard-and-fast plans from the NBA yet and every option is still being considered. One lesson Adam Silver took from David Stern was not to make a decision until you have to, and Silver is going to absorb more information in the coming weeks — such as from the recent GM survey — before making his call.

That said, the league seems to be coalescing around a general plan, which includes camps starting in mid-June and games in mid-July in Orlando.

For the bottom three to five teams in each conference, there is little motivation to head to Orlando for the bubble. It’s an expense to the owner with no gate revenue coming in, teams want to protect their NBA Draft Lottery status, and the Warriors don’t want to risk injury to Stephen Curry — or the Timberwolves to Karl-Anthony Towns, or the Hawks to Trae Young — for a handful of meaningless games.

The league is considering a play-in tournament for the final seed or seeds in each conference (there are a few format options on the table, it was part of the GM survey). That would bring the top 10 or 12 seeds from each conference to the bubble, depending upon the format, and they would play a handful of games to determine which teams are in the playoffs (and face the top seeds).

Either way, that would leave the three or five teams with the worst records in each conference home. Which is the smart thing to do, there’s no reason to add risk to the bubble for a handful of meaningless games.

Eight-year NBA veteran Jon Leuer announces retirement

Leon Halip/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jon Leuer is only age 31, but the big man has battled ankle and other injuries in recent seasons, playing in only 49 games over the past three seasons. Last July, the Pistons traded him to the Bucks in a salary dump, and Milwaukee quickly waived him. Leuer struggled to get healthy and did not catch on with another team.

Sunday he took to Instagram to announce his retirement.

View this post on Instagram

I love the game of basketball. I still want to play, but I know deep down it’s not the right decision for my health anymore. The past 3 years I’ve dealt with a number of injuries, including 2 that kept me out this whole season. It’s taken me a while to come to grips with this, but I’m truly at peace with my decision to officially retire. As disappointing as these injuries have been, I’m still thankful for every moment I spent playing the game. Basketball has been the most amazing journey of my life. It’s taken me places I only could’ve dreamed about as a kid. The relationships it brought me mean more than anything. I’ve been able to connect with people from all walks of life and forged lifelong bonds with many of them. What this game has brought me stretches way beyond basketball. I’m grateful for this incredible ride and everyone who helped me along the way. 🙏🏼🙌🏼✌🏼

A post shared by Jon Leuer (@jonleuer30) on

Leuer — a second-round pick out of Wisconsin for the Bucks in 2011 — averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds a game for the Pistons in the 2016-17 season, and for the years at the peak of his career he was a quality rotational big man teams could trust, either off the bench or as a spot starter.

Over the course of his career he played for the Bucks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Pistons. He earned more than $37 million in salary, most of it from a three-year contract the Pistons gave him in 2016. It was not long after his body started to betray him.

Leuer has been riding out the quarantine in Minnesota is wife Keegan (NFL coach Brian Billick’s daughter) and the couple is donating thousands of meals a week to the needy in that community.

 

New York Governor clears path for Knicks, Nets to open facilities for workouts

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

As of today, 19 NBA teams have their practice facilities open for players to come in for individual workouts, but 11 have yet to open the doors. Some it’s the decision of the team, some it’s that the municipality or state had not allowed it.

The Knicks and Nets — in the heart of New York, the part of the nation hardest hit by COVID-19 — are two of those teams whose facilities are closed. However, on Sunday New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said they could open the door for practice.

“I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena — do it! Do it!” Cuomo said at his press conference. “Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

While the teams have not formally announced anything yet, it is likely at least the Nets will open soon for the players still in market to workout (the majority of players from the New York teams went home to other parts of the country). The Knicks, well out of the playoff picture, may be much slower to open their facilities back up.

When they happen, the workouts come with considerable restrictions: one player and one coach at each basket, the coach is wearing gloves and masks, the balls and gym equipment are sanitized, and much more.

One part of a potential plan for the NBA to return to play called for a couple of weeks of a training camp at the team facilities, followed by 14 days of a quarantined training camp in Orlando at the bubble site. Multiple teams reached out to the league about doing their entire training camp in Orlando to avoid having players quarantine twice (once when the player reports back to market, once when the team goes to the bubble city).

Warriors’ Bob Myers says he would ‘consider’ trading draft pick

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Even if the NBA decides to play a handful more regular season games upon return, the Golden State Warriors are going to finish the season with the worst record in the NBA (they have a 4.5 game “lead” for the worst record). That means they have a 14% chance at the No. 1 pick, a 40.1% chance of a top-three pick, and a 47.9% chance of having the No. 5 pick.

Those same Warriors are returning next season with a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, a team with title aspirations.

That’s led to a lot of speculation the Warriors would try to trade down, something Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob confirmed. Warriors president Bob Myers, speaking to NBC Sports’ Bay Area’s Monte Poole, said as much as any executive in his shoes would: He’d consider trading the pick.

“Yeah, we’re going to consider all that,” the Warriors president of basketball operations told NBC Sports Bay Area over the phone, before pausing for a moment. “Now, I don’t know if the headline is going to be that we’re trading our pick. So, be clear that I said ‘consider.’”

On the ProBasketballTalk podcast, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster said if he were in Myers’ shoes he would try to trade down, get a veteran, and land in picks four through six. There he can likely land a player such as Obi Toppin, Isaac Okoro, or Deni Avdija — players who should not go No. 1 but are better poised to help immediately. The problem for the Warriors, or whoever lands the top pick, is this is a weak draft at the top, depressing the value. Dauster described it this way: the top three picks in this draft would go 6-10 most years.

The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery and Draft Combine have been postponed, and the draft itself will get the same treatment soon (it has yet to be officially changed, but everyone expects it).

Until there is a lottery and the Warriors know where they land, it’s tough for Myers to do much more than plan. Just like the rest of us.