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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.

Duke’s Cassius Stanley declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Two Duke players, point guard Tre Jones and big man Vernon Carey Jr., are expected to be in the 2020 NBA Draft and be taken in the late first-round or early second. We talked about them on the recent PBT Podcast breaking down some of this draft class.

Now a third Duke player, wing Cassius Stanley, has thrown his name in the mix.

“It was an absolute joy to coach Cassius this season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “I want to congratulate him and his great family on this decision. I’ve seen Cassius grow both as a player and person here at Duke, and I can’t wait to see how his career develops at the next level. Any NBA team will be very fortunate to get such a mature young man who is not only an incredibly-gifted athlete but a leader that wants nothing but the best for himself and his teammates.”

Stanley is projected as a second-round pick, but his incredible athleticism could get a team to use a late first-round pick on him.

Stanley is a 6’6″ wing and it’s his elite athleticism that will get him drafted as a potential 3&D wing. He averaged 12.6 points per game and shot 36 percent from three as a freshman (but on only three attempts a night). His athleticism gives him potential as a defender. The challenge is he relies on that athleticism, something that alone will not set him apart at the NBA level, he is not a shot creator for himself or others, and he struggles to shoot off the dribble. He can finish in transition, but at the next level nearly everyone can do that.

Stanley is a development project, but his athleticism makes him a good gamble for a team with a strong development program.

Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas reported early leader for Bulls’ top job

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What do the Bulls want in a new top executive? Near the top of the list: someone who can build an organization that drafts well and develops that talent. That’s why executives from Miami, Utah, and Toronto were high on the wish list.

Enter Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, who has done exactly those things in Denver. Karnisovas is the early frontrunner, reports Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.

Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas is the leader in the clubhouse…

Sources said [team president Michael Reinsdorf] wants someone who has a presence publicly, especially given the reticent nature of Paxson and Forman the last several years. The Bulls have embraced analytics the last few seasons but having someone who can discern how to apply the numbers against other basketball factors is important to Reinsdorf…

“He wants someone who’ll surround himself with smart people, a great talent evaluator. There’s a need to get better in the player development department, too,” a source told Yahoo Sports.

Karnisovas has worked mostly in the background in Denver, with Tim Connelly being the face of the basketball operations. That would be a big change for Karnisovas, but one he may be ready for.

John Paxson is helping Reinsdorf with the search, but Paxson reportedly will take on whatever role is asked — or step aside completely — to make things smooth for whoever takes over the organization.

While NBA taking big financial hit, rumor is salary cap will not see huge drop

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No NBA games are being played, no fans paying for tickets or buying arena beers, no revenue is coming in. The NBA playoffs will not start on time. If games are ramped up at any point in the next couple of months, it will not be in front of fans, just television only.

Which is to say, the NBA is taking a big financial hit right now. How much is impossible to say, but a billion is not out of the question.

The NBA is set up for the players and owners to split revenue, basically 50-50 (it’s more complicated than that, but it stays close to that range). If Basketball Related Income (BRI) drops around the league, then the salary cap drops and players get less money.

The league’s income is going to suffer, but the salary cap may not that much the NBA players union told agents in a call today, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

What this implies is salary cap smoothing — the league would keep the cap artificially high in the short term, but when revenue spikes back up in the following years that rise will be artificially slowed a little to even things out. The idea is to smooth out the cap number rather than have wild fluctuations.

This is likely part of the negotiations going on between the league and players union over the force majeure clause of the CBA, which allows owners to reduce salaries if games are canceled. If the players give up salary now they don’t want to see future income fall too because the cap cratered for a season or two.

Most likely, the owners and players can work out a cap-smoothing compromise that works for both sides (something they could not do when the new NBA TV deal kicked in and the cap spiked back in 2016). The league’s cap projections were already reduced some by the loss of revenue from China following the Daryl Morey Tweet controversy, the missed games obviously will reduce it further.

How much further appears to be under negotiation.

Bulls’ John Paxson reportedly willing to play small role, or even step aside, for new front office

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It all seems a little too coincidental.

Early reports about a shakeup in the Bulls’ front office had John Paxson, the current vice president of basketball operations, retaining at least some power. There also was a push to help current coach Jim Boylen keep his job.

Then the Raptors’ Bobby Webster, Pacers’ Chad Buchanan, and Heat’s Adam Simon all dropped out of the running for the Bulls job.

Suddenly, there has been a series of reports that Paxson was willing to give up his power and is ready to play whatever role the new GM wants. There was this from K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

But the perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence, going kicking and screaming into the night, is simply wrong. Early this season, Paxson communicated his vision to ownership for a new-look, more modern front office. He initiated some of this need for change.

Michael Reinsdorf likely would have arrived at the same conclusion anyway and has taken the reins on addressing the issue. Well before news broke over All-Star weekend, he began performing due diligence and background on a wide variety of candidates.

Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times took it a step further.

A source told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that not only is Paxson all for stepping aside from his position and acting more as an adviser to the Reinsdorf family when the front-office restructure is finalized, but would completely step down from the organization if the Reinsdorfs and the new-look executive group deemed it better for the rebuild to continue.

Was the “perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence” just among fans, or did it exist among potential candidates, too? Each of the three candidates that dropped out have positons of some power in quality organizations, each is only going to leave for just the right offer, one with total control of the organization.

It all seems a little too coincidental that they all dropped out and then came the rash of reports about Paxson not wanting to retain power. Whether it was true or not Paxson was always willing to step aside, perception matters.

Chicago did interview Utah’s Justin Zanik, another experienced executive from a stable organization who could be a good fit with the Bulls. The Jazz have set up the kind of strong draft-and-development program (Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, etc.) that the Bulls should try to emulate. The Bulls are also expected to interview Nuggets’ general manager Arturas Karnisovas and Magic assistant general manager Matt Lloyd.

With no games going on, there is no rush to make a hire by the Bulls, they have plenty of time for due diligence (as do the candidates). Chicago will want its new head man and his front office staff in place before what is likely a compacted draft and free-agency period, whenever that comes.