Knicks hire Steve Stoute
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Steve Stoute: Raptors ‘brought in Drake to bring that thing. The New York Knicks brought in me’

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UPDATE: Maybe Steve Stoute doesn’t have as much voice as he thinks.

After the marketing consultant’s words on ESPN spread across the NBA world on Tuesday, the Knicks pumped the breaks, told him to stay in his lane, and issued this statement.

“While Steve Stoute is a valued contributor to the Knicks’ marketing and branding efforts, he does not speak on behalf of New York Knicks personnel and basketball operations. Any decisions regarding the operations of the team will be made by the new President of the New York Knicks.”

Stoute also had a statement.

“In my excitement to defend the Knicks on live TV today, I inadvertently insinuated about Knicks personnel. I look forward to working with Knicks management to elevate the great Knicks brand moving forward.”

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Knicks owner James Dolan went on radio last spring and predicted success in free agency. Everyone assumed he meant Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Not only did the Knicks strike out, those stars signed with the crosstown Nets. Durant even declared the Knicks to be uncool.

So, the Knicks hired Steve Stoute, who’s described as a branding guru.

The Knicks will reportedly hire agent Leon Rose to run their front office. But Stoute is already out front trying to change the Knicks’ image.

That included appearing on ESPN today:

Stoute:

The biggest thing is getting free agents and players to know that this is a place they show up at. This is where they should be. I think that narrative has been lost. So, players haven’t come. A free agent hasn’t come. And if we can sort of solve that problem, which I know we will, we have a great chance. We’re the most iconic team in the league by far.

New York City is the hub of sports and entertainment. That’s how I feel. And it started moving around. My job is to bring it back. Toronto Raptors, they brought in Drake. Right? They brought in Drake to bring that thing. The New York Knicks brought in me.

There had to be a change, right? So, there is a change. That change will bring a new coach and new coaches that are going to help develop these younger players, right? And they’ve got some young superstars. You see R.J. Barrett, Mitch Robinson.

I’m part of a team, and I’m going to be part of a team. But I’ve got a lot of voice.

There’s a lot happening in that interview.

R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are young superstars? The Knicks are apparently back on the on-again, off-again star hunt. Stoute sure didn’t quiet questions about his involvement in basketball operations by saying, “I’ve got a lot of voice.”

But I’m most intrigued by Stoute comparing himself to Drake. I really hope Stoute didn’t mean “win a championship” when he said “bring that thing.”

Drake had practically nothing to do with Toronto winning last year’s title.

The Raptors won because they made a daring trade for Kawhi Leonard… because they bet on Kyle Lowry, who willed himself to greatness… because they identified and developed players like Pascal Siakam. Toronto’s basketball operations – from executives to coaches to players – made that happen.

Even if Stoute meant only in terms of recognition as entertainment venture, it’s still a wild comparison. Drake is a highly popular singer. Stoute is barely known outside the industry.

I can see a couple similarities, though. Stoute – who casually mentioned Stephen Curry and LeBron James during this interview – could get the Knicks fined for tampering just like Drake got the Raptors fined for tampering. Toronto also didn’t get the free agent, Durant, Drake was recruiting.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Phoenix Suns, a perfect 4-0 in the bubble, are growing and thinking playoffs

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The last time Devin Booker walked off the court as a winner in four consecutive games, these were the opponents: Hampton, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame.

That is, until now.

Booker and the Phoenix Suns – the team that came to the NBA restart at Walt Disney World with the worst record in the Western Conference and the second-worst record of the 22 teams in the field – are perhaps the best story of the bubble.

They’re 4-0 at Disney, breathing real life into playoff hopes that basically were nonexistent when the season was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic on March 11. It’s the team’s first four-game winning streak since December 2018; Booker missed one of those games, so it’s his first run of four wins in a row since helping Kentucky make its Final Four run in 2015.

“It definitely feels like a tournament, a big AAU tournament, the March Madness tournament,” Phoenix’s Cameron Payne said Friday. “That’s something I never even got a chance to be in, but hey, I’ll take this.”

The Suns started their bubble run with a win over Washington and followed that with victories against three playoff-bound teams – first Dallas, then the Los Angeles Clippers (both of those games being 117-115 finals, the win over the Clippers sealed by a Booker buzzer-beater) and next a 114-99 victory Thursday over Indiana.

A team that had a stretch of four wins in 20 games during November and December, then a run of four wins in 15 games during January and February, got to the bubble and are now 4-for-4.

The Suns are riding a 10-year playoff drought, the second-longest current one in the NBA, but now they’re thinking big and for good reason.

“Well, you know, this is in the fledgling stages, for sure,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do. And there’s a process that we’ve kind of gotten ourselves involved in and we’re going to stick to that. So, fun? I don’t have time to have fun right now. It’s always good to win, but I’m working right now. And I want guys to understand, it’s fun when you win – but then you’ve got to turn the page and get right back to work.”

Williams understands the reality for the Suns right now. They entered Friday 1-1/2 games out of ninth place and the play-in series that will decide the last postseason berth in the West. And while the 4-0 start has been noteworthy, even an 8-0 mark in the seeding games wouldn’t guarantee the Suns a trip to that play-in round.

The Suns play Miami on Saturday, then finish the regular season against Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas.

“I’ve been in five years now and haven’t had that much success,” Booker said. “But, you know, I’m working hard every day to turn that narrative and change that narrative. We have a good bunch in here to do it. A lot of young players mixed with some veteran presence and it’s a good look for us. So, we’re going to keep our head down, keep working.

“I don’t think anybody here is worried about 4-0. We still have plans and goals for this team to reach and 4-0 wasn’t it.”

Booker is averaging 28 points in the four games. Deandre Ayton, another big piece of the young Suns’ core, is averaging 18.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. There are six players averaging double figures in all, including Payne, who is shooting 53% from 3-point range in his first four games with the Suns.

“We definitely feel good,” Payne said. “We’re not here for no reason.”

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.