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Knicks hire William ‘Worldwide Wes’ Wesley as new VP, senior adviser

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William Wesley — better known to fans as “Worldwide Wes,” a man with incredible influence on players as a friend and father figure — has had a lot of influence within the Knicks organization over the years. Now, he is doing so officially.

The Knicks hired Wesley as their Executive Vice President – Senior Basketball Advisor. Wesley long has been new team president Leon Rose‘s right-hand man, but shortly after Rose was hired the Knicks shot down the idea Wesley would be following him into the front office. That proved to be a smokescreen.

“We are very excited to announce the hiring of William Wesley, someone that I have known for over 40 years and consider to be family,” Rose said in a statement (which is all he has officially ever done, he has yet to have a press conference since taking over the team, but he is sitting down with Mike Breen this week for television). “He is one of the most well-connected and respected people in the basketball community and he will be a tremendous asset and resource to both myself and the New York Knicks.”

“My long history with and respect for Jim Dolan and Leon Rose, as well as the chance to be part of the New York Knicks made this an opportunity I wanted to pursue,” Wesley said. “I look forward to joining the current staff and moving the organization toward a successful future.”

Wesley has long had influence in the Garden, but he preferred to work more in the shadows. Wesley was tight with Carmelo Anthony and, after Isiah Thomas was forced out of the Knicks hierarchy, Wesley was the guy who had owner James Dolan’s ear. Wesley’s gift is that he is seemingly everywhere — he is “worldwide” — having relationships at Nike, with college players, at the AAU level, with all kinds of pros. He builds relationships and had the trust of people at every level of basketball.

The Knicks have made some other smart hires: both Walt Perrin and Frank Zanin are assistant general managers, Brock Aller is a VP of basketball and strategic planning, and the Knicks picked up Alex Kline and TJ Zanin as scouts.

The Knicks still need to hire a head coach for next season, and while they are conducting a lot of interviews Tom Thibodeau is considered the clear frontrunner around the league.

Can Rose lead all these people to start to turn the Knicks around (which is going to be like turning an oil tanker around at sea, it’s going to take some time)? Can Rose save Dolan from his instincts around the team? Time will tell.

Report: Trail Blazers’ Trevor Ariza sitting out to spend time with son

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NBA players will arrive at Disney World between July 7-9. The second round of the playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 31. Only teams advancing that far will have family present in the bubble.

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza deemed that setup unacceptable for him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Based on Ariza’s $12.2 million salary, this will cost Ariza $1,053,996 plus $131,749 for each play-in and playoff game Portland plays (up to a total of $1,844,492 in lost wages). However, that doesn’t account for the salary withholding all players face with league-wide revenue way down.

With just $1.8 million of his $12.8 million salary guaranteed next season, Ariza could become an unrestricted free agent at age 35 this offseason. He has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

Fair or not, this will increase concerns about Ariza’s commitment to losing teams. But Ariza can set his own priorities. Basketball isn’t everything. His son clearly matters significantly to him, as he is proving with this drastic and commendable step. Let teams considering signing Ariza decide what that means to them. That’s their issue, not Ariza’s.

For Portland, this a key loss. Since being acquired in January, Ariza had been starting at small forward, a position where the Trail Blazers have little depth. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins provide frontcourt depth, and Carmelo Anthony can slide up from power forward. But Ariza was suited for his role. Portland’s road to the playoffs just got tougher.

Kyrie Irving on NBA restart: ‘I don’t support going into Orlando’

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A week ago, Kyrie Irving was on a call with the NBA players’ union president Chris Paul, Executive Director Michelle Roberts, and the rest of the executives of the National Basketball Players’ Association, discussing a 22-team plan to restart the NBA in Orlando. Irving asked mostly logistical, uneventful questions, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Friday night, Irving led a Zoom call with more than 80 NBA players, some vocally hesitant to restart the season. The call included Donovan Mitchell, Carmelo Anthony, Joel Embiid, Malcolm Brogdon, Avery Bradley, Mike Conley, Dwight Howard, and many more. The players were asking hard questions about whether the league should resume play amid social justice and coronavirus concerns, and discussing the consequences of those actions. It was a group discussion of what is ultimately a very personal decision for players, and they wanted their voices heard (something many players didn’t feel from the union’s backing of the plan).

The players — led by ‘Melo on this topic — also stressed unity in whatever actions they take.

Irving said he doesn’t like the optics of many Black players in the NBA going to a quarantined city to entertain the masses, taking the spotlight off the Black Lives Matter movement and much-needed police and social reforms. He is far from the only player thinking this way. Irving’s quote, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls***. Something smells a little fishy.”

Other players had concerns about health and safety in the bubble, while others reportedly had concerns about the restrictions placed on them in Orlando. Charania and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports had these details from the call.

The argument for playing, coming largely from a coalition of superstars, is primarily financial.

Cancel this season, sit out the 88 seeding/regular-season games, and players as a group stand to lose a reported $300 million more in salary. More importantly, canceling the season would, without question, lead to the owners to use the force majeure to tear apart the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement — the players don’t want to renegotiate the CBA in the middle of a pandemic. They would have no leverage and take a long-term financial hit.

That message resonates with players. One established NBA veteran told NBC Sports today he had concerns about health and safety heading into Orlando, he wants to see the league’s detailed plans (which were supposed to be released Friday but that was delayed). However, he said he also knows he will never get the chance to make this money back, and he doesn’t want to further jeopardize future earnings by canceling the season. He added he and other players could come up with ways to use their social media platforms — while they are playing and the spotlight is on them — to promote social justice causes important to him and many players.

There will be some players who chose not to go to the NBA’s Walt Disney World campus and restart the season. They don’t see the risks — injuries, the coronavirus — as worth the reward, and they see it potentially slowing crucial social change. The NBA and players union agreed players will not be punished for not playing in Orlando, however, they also will not be paid.

If enough players are willing to forgo that money then it could halt the NBA’s restart plans.

How many players will sit out? That remains to be seen, and the social justice cause is an important and motivating one. But so is money, and most likely the players will try to find a balance.

‘Significant’ number of players want new NBA vote, voice in restart

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Last week, team representatives to the NBA players’ union voted to “approve further negotiations” on a 22-team restart of the NBA season in Orlando. While the details have yet to be worked out — this entire plan is still written in pencil, not pen — it was an endorsement of the restart idea.

They didn’t speak for everyone.

A “significant” number of players are pushing back and wanting a new NBA vote from all the players on a restart, and they reportedly will be taking part in a zoom call Friday night to unify in their opposition.

Those players have a number of concerns.

For one, they want more freedom of movement in the bubble.

Under a leaked report, players could leave the NBA’s “campus” but faced a 10-day quarantine upon their return and had to have two negative coronavirus tests.

Carmelo Anthony voiced the concern of a lot of players when he told Ernie Johnson of TNT, “I’m still up in the air a little bit because I really don’t, we don’t have all the details. We don’t know a lot of information, so until we have that, it’s hard to just commit to that 100%.”

The concerns of some players are bigger than just a lack of information, there are worries about how this impacts the Black Lives Matter movement and momentum it has gained in recent weeks, reports Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports.

The complaint, privately expressed by multiple players, is that every player’s voice wasn’t heard for this critical and potentially life-changing vote, sources said.

The unease about relocating to a quarantined campus during the COVID-19 pandemic was already viewed as hazardous and unnecessary to many players. But because of the George Floyd tragedy and the powerful movement for racial justice that’s sweeping the nation, some players believe it’s bad optics for a league comprised predominantly of black men to be sequestered in one location for up to three months merely to entertain the masses and ease the league’s economic burden, sources said.

Damian Lillard explained the concerns well in a story at GQ speaking to Michael Pina.

There also are anxieties its hard for rank and file players to speak out when Chris Paul and LeBron James are leading star players pushing for a restart.

There are big names asking the hard questions, too — Kyrie Irving is helping organize a zoom call on Friday night among players concerned about the plan and wanting a new NBA vote on the process, reports Tayler Rooks of Bleacher Report.

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association have said players do not have to report to Orlando and will not be punished for their choice.

However, players who don’t play will not be paid. It’s the financial aspect that probably will bring the majority of players to the ESPN Wild World of Sports complex in Orlando to restart the season. NBA players as a whole had about $645 million in unpaid salary when the season was suspended (players are only paid during the regular season, not the playoffs), and this return with its 88 seeding/regular-season games would return about $300 million of that, according to reports.

Players have a lot of legitimate questions right now about the return, the health and safety protocols for this plan, it’s fairness, and whether the optics of Black players taking the court right now is the right look. Players are being asked to take a risk with their health — one owners are not assuming, they are not going to be in the bubble — and legitimately want answers. Some are understandably opposed, or at least want more of a voice in the process.

The NBA is big business for owners and players, and this restart plan was chosen in large part because it makes the most money for everyone. The almighty dollar tends to win arguments around the NBA.

But the debate around this restart is far from over.

Carmelo Anthony on playing in Orlando: ‘I’m still up in the air a little’

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There have been a lot of questions and some pushback from a faction of NBA players about the league’s restart plan in Orlando. Some players question if starting now slows the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement (a league with many Black players gathering to entertain the masses at a place the team owners will not be). Numerous players just want more details about the league’s health and safety protocols.

‘Melo is in that second group. Carmelo Anthony questioned playing in Orlando while speaking to Ernie Johnson on #NBATogether.

“As far as actually playing and going back down into Orlando, I’m still up in the air a little bit because I really don’t, we don’t have all the details. We don’t know a lot of information, so until we have that, it’s hard to just commit to that 100%.”

Sources have told NBC Sports that is the sentiment most widely heard among players hesitant to go into the NBA’s bubble — they want to know details before they say they’re in.

Players want to know how long they would be in the bubble — anywhere from 35 days to three months — and they want details on the protocols once inside the bubble. That has not been released by the league yet. Players understandably want to know what they can and can’t do once on the Walt Disney World property, they want to know what life will be like on the campus/in the bubble. The league is preparing a reportedly 100-page outline to the restart that answers those questions, but it has yet to be sent to teams or players.

The league and players’ union have said players who do not want to go to Orlando can sit this one out without punishment — but they don’t get paid, either. That paycheck, ultimately, will likely bring all but a handful of players to Orlando.

Carmelo Anthony isn’t sure about playing in Orlando, but if he goes he may also find his role is smaller. Anthony started 50 games for the Trail Blazers this season, averaging 15.3 points a night and playing solid ball, but with Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins both healthy, there is depth along the Portland front line now — and guys who will play better defense. Anthony will still be part of the rotation, but his role likely shifts. If he’s willing to accept it.

First, however, he wants his questions answered before Anthony commits to playing in Orlando.