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Three Things to Know: Is Leon Rose the guy who can turn the Knicks culture around?

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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) Will following the Warriors’, Lakers’ paths turn around the Knicks? The Knicks tried the superstar player route (Isiah Thomas). They tried the superstar coach route (Phil Jackson). They tried the company man route (Steve Mills). None of those have turned around the fortunes of James Dolan’s floundering Knicks. Instead, it has led to fans chanting “sell the team” at Dolan during a recent game (something that apparently got under his skin, WAY under his skin).

The Knicks also tried the smart, trusted, experienced NBA executive route (Donnie Walsh) and the team got out of its salary cap mess and made the playoffs. Then Dolan fired him.

With the Knicks’ top basketball job open, again, there was a lot of interest in another trusted executive, Masai Ujiri of Toronto. However, to pry him out of a comfortable spot north of the border would have required months of a delicate dance, with no promise of success on the other side. Dolan wasn’t going to be that patient, so he went with another power broker, this time following the path of the Warriors (Bob Myers) and Lakers (Rob Pelinka) in hiring a powerful agent. The Knick are going to hire CAA’s Leon Rose to run basketball operations (the official hiring will take some time because Rose has to divest from his lengthy list of clients first).

The real question Knicks fans want to be answered is simple: Can superagent Leon Rose — with William “World Wide Wes” Wesley by his side — be the guy that turns Knicks’ culture and organization around?

The answer is not that simple.

How we got here is interesting (and a matter of speculation). There was a split in the front office heading into the trade deadline, according to Ian Bagley of SNY.TV: The side that wanted to trade Marcus Morris for picks/young players to go with R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, the side that wanted to build patiently. Then there was the side that wanted to trade Morris for a player or players who could help the team win more now, hence the rumors about the Knicks being in talks with the Warriors about D'Angelo Russell.

The slow build side won out, which is the smart choice. The Knicks now have seven first-round picks in the next four years. If there’s good scouting in place, if the Knicks get a little luck with the lottery ping-pong balls, this is a path to success down the line. Picture the Lakers, who got lottery luck (three No. 2 picks), then developed those players (how well is up for debate), which built a base where LeBron James believed he could come and win. Next, some of those young players were traded to become Anthony Davis, and the Lakers were contenders. A different version of the same model happened over in Brooklyn, where a culture was built, young players were developed into a team that made the playoffs last season, and that became a place stars such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant wanted to play.

In both cases, a foundation was built that could be turned into superstars. The Knicks remain one of the handful of franchises that can recruit and win a race for a superstar free agent. Rose (and Wesley) are the kinds of power brokers players will listen to, guys who can get meetings with the franchise-changing free agents and convince them to come to play in the Garden.

But first, a culture change needed to happen, and then a foundation of talent needed to be built up. The Nets and Clippers did that work. For the Knicks it will require patience, smart hires on the basketball side, good drafts, hard work, and a little bit of luck.

Are Leon Rose and William “World Wide Wes” Wesley up for the task? Maybe. Sometimes hiring an agent works (Myers), sometimes it doesn’t (Lon Babby in Phoenix). If James Dolan doesn’t want to do the long dance to land an experienced star executive (Ujiri, OKC’s Sam Presti, Houston’s Daryl Morey, etc.), then this is a good hire. Rose is smart and driven and could succeed in this role

But my gut reaction is, “James Dolan still owns the team.”

2) Small-ball Rockets beat Lakers behind 41 points from Russell Westbrook. If you’re a Laker fan, on the day you watched your team stand pat while your rivals — and yes, the Clippers are now rivals, not little brothers — get better by adding Marcus Morris, this Tweet is all you care about from Thursday night.

As long as he comes out of retirement, the Lakers are going to land Collison and that’s a quality addition. The Lakers can get some small wins on the buyout market, too.

However, it was small ball that won on the court Thursday night. Houston beat the Lakers 121-111.

At the trade deadline, the Rockets sent out Clint Capela, got Robert Covington, and went all-in on small ball — if lame-duck coach Mike D’Antoni is going out, he’s going out on his own terms — and for a night in Los Angeles it paid off. Covington had 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting and was a team-best +16 — this is what he does. Covington puts up nice raw numbers, but he defends well and fits in the gaps on offense and at the end of the night the team is just better when he is on the court.

It also helps to have Russell Westbrook go off for 41 points.

By the way, it’s our loss that LeBron James never entered the Dunk Contest.

3) The rosters for Team LeBron and Team Giannis in the All-Star Game are set. No trades, no fireworks, no surprises this year. Of course, LeBron James selected Anthony Davis first (at least this year it’s not to recruit him). Of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo selected teammate Khris Middleton first among the reserves. There were jokes about James Harden‘s willingness to pass and more, but no real fireworks as the sides for All-Star Game were chosen.

Still, this playground-style team choosing by the captains is more fun than East vs. West or USA vs. the World formats. The league found something that worked.

Here are your All-Star teams:

Team LeBron (coached by Frank Vogel)
Starters
LeBron James
Anthony Davis
Kawhi Leonard
Luka Doncic
James Harden

Reserves
Damian Lillard
Ben Simmons
Nikola Jokic
Jayson Tatum
Chris Paul
Russell Westbrook
Domantas Sabonis

Team Giannis (coached by Nick Nurse)
Starters
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Joel Embiid
Pascal Siakam
Kemba Walker
Trae Young

Reserves
Khris Middleton
Bam Adebayo
Rudy Gobert
Jimmy Butler
Kyle Lowry
Brandon Ingram
Donovan Mitchell

The NBA All-Star Game will be played Feb. 16 at the United Center in Chicago. You can catch it on TNT starting at 8 p.m. ET.

Joakim Noah says focus of Achilles recovery was to make Clippers roster

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Joakim Noahlike Kobe Bryant and so many athletes before them — didn’t want an injury to define how his career would end.

Noah said he injured his Achilles back in September and the focus of his rehab is the chance he has now with the Clippers.

“You know, in September, I had a freak accident and cut my Achilles, and you know, I told myself that that’s just not how I wanted to end my career,” Noah said on a conference call with reporters Saturday.

“So you know, the day after the surgery, I was in the gym working out with the hope of making this team. I knew that if I didn’t keep training and if I got a call from the Clippers and I wasn’t ready, I knew I would have regrets for the rest of my life. So I kept training, and to be in this position right now, I feel very fortunate to be in this position, being with God, great players, being in a position to win a championship, it’s not something that I take for granted.”

Joakim Noah added he was supposed to have a workout with the Clippers before the season, but the injury ended that.

“I was supposed to work out with them in September right before the season started. I was ready. I was really excited for the opportunity, and then, you know, just from up with one minute to the next, I cut my Achilles.

“So to be back in this position and to have the confidence from the organization… It’s just a class organization. I just feel like very, very blessed to be in this position right now.”

Noah provides depth and versatility behind an established Los Angeles frontcourt, something needed with the compacted schedule in the Orlando NBA restart. The Clippers start Ivica Zubac, a more traditional center, then bring potential Sixth Man of the Year Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Harrell brings his energy, 18.7 points and 7.1 rebounds a night, great pick-and-roll chemistry with Lou Williams, plus improved defense to the mix.

The Clippers are counting on the Noah from the second half of last season, where he was solid coming off the bench in Memphis playing quality defense plus scoring 7.1 points per game. Noah could even play himself into a Clipper contract for next season (depending on what happens with Harrell in free agency this offseason).

For now, Noah is just happy to be back on the court.

Philadelphia’s Ryan Broekhoff not in Orlando after wife tests positive

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Ryan Broekhoff, who never quite found a spot in the Dallas rotation, got a real opportunity when Philadelphia signed him as a substitute player for the restart in Orlando.

Except Broekhoff hasn’t gotten a chance to take advantage of the opportunity because there are things more important than basketball.

Broekhoff explained in a Tweet that his wife tested positive for the coronavirus and family has been his priority. As it should be.

Philly signed Broekhoff because the team needs shooting, and what he does is take and make threes — 51 of his 59 shot attempts in Dallas this season were from three (for his career 77.8% of his shot attempts are from deed) and he hit 40.3% of them.

Broekhoff was always going to struggle to find minutes with the Sixers. Philly is expected to start Shake Milton and Josh Richardson on the wing in Orlando, and coming off the bench behind them is Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Glenn Robinson III, and Alec Burks.

Kawhi Leonard arrives in Orlando, Nikola Jokic expected soon

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The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard has arrived in the NBA’s restart bubble in Orlando. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is not far behind him.

They are two of the biggest name players who were delayed arriving in Orlando, but for them the delays were short.

“Kawhi, he is here, he is going through the protocol,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said Saturday, adding the two-time Finals MVP arrived Friday night and is in the midst of the two-day/two-test quarantine all players and staff went through. If things go smoothly, he should be practicing with the team by Monday. Leonard’s arrival was delayed for “personal reasons” (and Leonard doesn’t open up much about his personal life).

Jokic tested positive for the coronavirus back in his native Serbia, which delayed his arrival stateside (where there were more tests and quarantine time). Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Jokic should arrive soon.

That leaves the two Houston stars — James Harden and Russell Westbrook — as the biggest names not yet in Orlando. Both are expected to arrive in the coming days. The Rockets have resumed practice without him.

Doc Rivers challenges Sen. Josh Hawley to acknowledge Black Lives Matter

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Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley used the NBA’s list of social-justice messages players could put on their jerseys as an opportunity to grandstand. He wants more politics in the NBA — just his politics. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski got in trouble for his succinct response to Hawley (Woj reportedly has been suspended).

Clippers coach Doc Rivers had a longer response — and a challenge for Hawley.

“I mean, we have a senator that Tweets at Woj yesterday just because he was talking about what we were going to put on the back of our jersey,” Rivers said from the NBA Orlando restart on a conference call with reporters. “And they always try to turn it into the military or the police. There’s no league that does more for the military than the NBA.

“But how that about that Senator? I’ll make a challenge: We will do things for the troops as long as he acknowledges Black Lives Matter. I think that would be really cool for him to do.

“You know, it’s funny, whenever we talk about justice, people try to change the message. Colin Kaepernick kneels, it had nothing to do with the troops. It had to do with social injustice, and everyone tried to change the narrative. How about staying on what we are talking about and dealing with that, instead of trying to trick us or change or trick your constituents? How about being real?

“I guarantee you, we’ve done more for the military than probably that Senator. And I guarantee you this: We also are going to do things for Black Lives Matter. How about him? Maybe he should join into that.”

Well said, Doc. Well said.

NBA players and coaches will continue to speak out throughout the Orlando restart, and there will be steps toward action. In an election year, expect other politicians to try and use that as a cheap opportunity to grandstand.