Josh Hart

New York got its guy in Tom Thibodeau, but is he the right guy?

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As had seemed destined from the start, the New York Knicks landed their guy.

Tom Thibodeau will be the next coach in New York. It’s a big-name hire by a big-name franchise in search of a big-time turnaround — in the past 16 years, New York has made the playoffs just three times and won just one playoff series (and that was seven years ago).

But is Thibodeau the right hire?

Gregg Popovich thinks it is, telling the Associated Press:

“Tommy’s a seasoned veteran who it goes without saying understands what wins and what loses. He knows how to put a program together, create a culture and be demanding — and at the same time, make people accountable.”

Thibodeau is demanding, and he knows how to get wins, but the man has no chill — how hard pushes to get those wins has led to backlash and injuries in previous stops. Where Popovich has understood when to ease up on the throttle to preserve his teams — yet still get playoff wins — Thibodeau has not shown that deft touch.

Thibodeau’s marriage to the Knicks can succeed, but it’s going to take changes from both the Knicks organization and from Thibodeau himself.

EASE OFF THE THROTTLE

Thibodeau’s win-all-the-games coaching mentality has led to short rotations and heavy minutes for his stars. In his last full season in Minnesota, Thibs had both Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns in the top 10 in total minutes played, and both played a full 82-games schedule, there were no nights off. There are some around the league who look at the arc of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah‘s careers and wondered if load management would have changed things.

Wearing guys down is going to fly with the Knicks, a team looking to develop young players. Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett should get plenty of minutes — and plenty of rope to make mistakes and learn from them — but New York does not want to wear down its young stars. More than that, the Knicks should have a couple of good locker room veterans on the team as mentors, but Thibodeau can’t lean on those veterans to try and stockpile wins with a tight eight-man rotation.

The Knicks need to find and develop other young players (like the Nets did one borough over, giving Spencer Dinwiddie room to grow) and that comes with patience and using a deep bench.

Thibodeau spent his season away from coaching traveling the league, talking to other coaches and watching them work. He told  ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on The Woj Pod he learned a lot from Doc Rivers — the Clippers’ coach known for having the fewest practices in the league.

“But [Rivers] is the best at managing the day before, in between, they had that day off, but everybody came in. And their young guys really work, and the older guys were getting treatment and recovery. So understanding who your team is and what everyone needs.”

If Thibodeau has really learned that lesson, the Knicks will be in better shape.

KNICKS NEED TO DRAFT, FIND MORE TALENT

Talent wins in the NBA. Yes, coaching matters. Chemistry matters. Guys buying into the system matters. But at the end of the day, talent wins out.

The Knicks don’t have enough of it.

Robinson shows real promise. Barrett has potential but the raw counting stats he put up as a rookie hid some ugly basketball. Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina look like fringe rotation players, not key contributors. Julius Randle raises the floor of this team but is not considered part of the long-term plans at Madison Square Garden.

The Knicks need a scouting department and front office that not only makes good calls when in the lottery, but also finds guys at the end of the first round or early in the second who can be developed in a couple of years into contributors. That is always a bit hit and miss, even with the best teams, but the best teams find guys. Right now Toronto is the gold standard of finding and developing players — Pascal Siakam was taken 27th, OG Anunoby was 23rd — and the Knicks need to move closer to that model.

THEN THIBODEAU NEEDS TO DEVELOP THEM

Tom Thibodeau has some development success in his past. Derrick Rose was the youngest MVP in league history under Thibs. He also helped turn Jimmy Butler (a No. 30 pick) into the player he is today. However, for the most part Thibodeau couldn’t be bothered with young players because they could not contribute in the short term to winning.

That has to change. It’s both a matter of mindset and of Thibodeau bringing in development-minded assistant coaches and giving them room to operate (sources around the league have told NBC Sports Thibodeau likes to control everything, designing every practice and game plan, down to the writing on the whiteboard before games and more).

Thibodeau needs to build a culture of player development in New York, something that has not existed there before.

It doesn’t mean the Knicks can’t take a swing at a big trade, something the franchise feels it is poised to do. However, it needs to follow more of the model the Lakers did: Draft and develop young players (Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart), trying to win with them while also building up their trade value, then using those players when the time comes to make a bold move (for the Lakers it was Anthony Davis). Right now, the Knicks future picks have more value than anyone outside maybe Robinson on the roster.

Thibodeau has a reputation as a defensive innovator, but his defenses were unimpressive in Minnesota. Part of that was certainly personnel — Karl-Anthony Towns is not going to be confused for Dikembe Mutombo — but Thibs didn’t lift players up or find a system that fits their skills. In New York, he has to build from the defense out (and has a potentially strong anchor in the paint with Robinson) and make it all work.

The Knicks are not a turnkey situation where Thibodeau is walking into a playoff team. A culture needs to be built (one James Dolan doesn’t meddle with). Talent needs to be added to the roster, then developed. Do all that, build a place that superstars want to come, and the power of playing in New York will give the Knicks an advantage. Right now the big stars are choosing Brooklyn first. It shows how much work needs to be done.

Thibodeau could be the guy to lead New York back to the spotlight. Maybe. He’s going to get the chance.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division, Northwest Division and Southeast Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southwest:

Dallas Mavericks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.

Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.

Houston Rockets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: No decision points for the Rockets. Houston is protecting the entirety of their eight-man rotation.

Chris Clemons could make for an interesting expansion pick because his scoring ability at guard. Isaiah Hartenstein has shown some flashes in the G-League as well.

Memphis Grizzlies

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.

Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.

New Orleans Pelicans

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.

The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.

San Antonio Spurs

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.

San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.

Pelicans guard JJ Redick out at least two weeks with hamstring strain

(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The New Orleans Pelicans announced that guard JJ Redick is out at least two weeks with a strained left hamstring. Redick was injured during Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when he played just four minutes before exiting. New Orleans says Redick will be re-evaluated in two weeks.

In his first season with the Pelicans, Redick is averaging 14.9 points per game on 45.2% three-point shooting. He’s started 35 of the 54 games he’s played, but has transitioned to a bench role as New Orleans has gotten healthy and gotten Zion Williamson back in the lineup.

With Redick out, the Pelicans will lean on E’Twaun Moore for shooting off the bench. Moore has shot 38.2% from behind the arc this season. Jrue Holiday and Josh Hart will likely see their minutes increase as well.

Redick’s absence comes at a key point in the season for New Orleans. They’ve closed the gap to just 2.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. The Pelicans have a far easier strength-of-schedule the rest of the way compared to the Grizzlies, but can’t afford to be without their best shooter long-term.

LeBron James scores season-high 40, leads Lakers past Zion Williamson, Pelicans

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James had 40 points and eight rebounds in his first career meeting with Zion Williamson while leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their sixth straight victory, 118-109 over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night.

Anthony Davis had 21 points and 14 rebounds to remain unbeaten in his three meetings with his former team this season.

In the Lakers’ first game after an emotional memorial service for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center on Monday, James opened up a close contest with back-to-back buckets at the rim with about three minutes left. Danny Green sealed it for Los Angeles with his fifth 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

Williamson had 29 points and six rebounds in his first career showdown with James and Davis, his predecessor as the Pelicans’ centerpiece. In his 13th NBA game, Williamson scored at least 20 points for the ninth consecutive time, but managed only one field goal in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Ingram had 34 points against his former team, but just six in the final period as New Orleans lost for only the second time in seven games.

Williamson was still injured for the Pelicans’ first two meetings of the season with the Lakers, but the No. 1 overall pick’s delayed debut in Hollywood was as entertaining as everyone hoped. Williamson had several impressive dunks in his usual fearsome floor game, and only six missed free throws kept him from surpassing his career high of 32 points.

Davis is the leading scorer and rebounder in New Orleans franchise history, making six All-Star teams during his tenure. He went just 6 for 21 from the field in this meeting, failing to score 40 points against the Pelicans for the first time.

Lonzo Ball had 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds, and Josh Hart scored three points in their second return to face the Lakers, who traded them to New Orleans along with Ingram last July for Davis.

The Pelicans also got three first-round draft picks in their princely haul for Davis, who had requested a trade. Davis has been just as good as the Lakers hoped in propelling them back to NBA championship contention, while the Pelicans are getting an All-Star season from Ingram alongside Williamson in an increasingly potent core.

James scored 11 points in less than two minutes early in the third quarter to stretch the Lakers’ lead to 14 points, but Ingram scored 10 in the period to keep it close.

Alex Caruso provided the Lakers with his usual injection of energy in the fourth quarter, particularly with a stunning block of Ball’s shot at the rim that left Ball flat on his back. Caruso finished with eight points and eight assists.

Watch Zion Williamson score season high 31, lead Pelicans past Trail Blazers

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NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson scored a season-high 31 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans used a dominant second half to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 138-117 on Tuesday night.

Playing 28 minutes in just his ninth NBA game, Williamson used his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame, quick feet and explosive vertical to have his way with every defender Portland tried against him. Williamson was either too strong, too fast, or both. He mixed spinning dribbles and sudden baseline drives into his usual arsenal of soaring transition dunks and tenacious putbacks.

JJ Redick scored 20 and Josh Hart had 17 points for New Orleans, which trailed by as many as 16 in the first quarter before taking command en route to a third straight victory. Jrue Holiday contributed 16 points and 10 assists, while Lonzo Ball added 10 points and 10 assists.

Portland star Damian Lillard scored 20 points – less than half of his 42-point average over his previous 10 games. But his playing time was limited in the fourth quarter when the Pelicans, who led by as many as 26, had put the game out of reach.

CJ McCollum had 18 points for the Trail Blazers, and Carmelo Anthony also finished with 18, but just four after halftime. Hassan Whiteside had 17 points and 14 rebounds.

After Williamson’s early dunk and free throws helped New Orleans surge to a 12-7 lead, Portland suddenly turned the tide with a 24-3 run that began with a pair of turnaround jumpers by Anthony, who later added a cutting dunk. McCollum hit a pair of 3s, Whiteside scored on a floater and a hook shot, and Lillard added a driving layup while being fouled.

That stretch put the Pelicans in a 31-15 hole, out of which they gradually climbed for the duration of the half.

Williamson, who scored 17 in the first half, helped fuel the comeback, throwing down Holiday’s alley-oop lob with two hands to cut Portland’s lead to 60-54. Hart and Jackson each hit 3s late in the period, Holiday added a slashing transition layup through a crowd of converging defenders and Williamson’s free throw cut Portland’s lead to 65-63 at halftime.

New Orleans then pushed in front in the third, when Hart scored 12 points on shots ranging from a pull-up in the lane, to a breakaway dunk after his steal, to a left-wing 3.

New Orleans scored 41 points in the period alone, leading by as many as 21 when Redick hit his second 3 of the quarter to make it 104-83.