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Report: Knicks prepared to open cap space if LeBron James wants to play for David Fizdale

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The Knicks’ eternal pursuit of LeBron James has reached another chapter.

New York is hiring David Fizdale as coach. He might or might not succeed, but he definitely built a relationship with LeBron while a Heat assistant coach.

And that, of course, has started a buzz.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

after Thursday’s hiring of former Memphis head coach and Heat assistant David Fizdale, the Knicks are prepared to open salary-cap space this summer in the unlikely event they get an inkling LeBron James has some interest in coming to the Garden this summer, according to an NBA source.

The easiest route for the Knicks opening max cap space: Enes Kanter opting out without a promise of a long-term contract from New York (he shouldn’t, but who knows?), Kyle O'Quinn opting out, trading Courtney Lee and unloading any other player.

Of course, even if Kanter clears the way, luring LeBron won’t be nearly that easy.

Why would LeBron want to join such a crummy team? Why would LeBron want to play for James Dolan?

Because of Fizdale?

That was far-fetched when tied to the Lakers, and it’s even less believable here. At least the Lakers will have cap space to lure an additional star and multiple promising young players. The Knicks with Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and a bloated cap sheet don’t cut it.

LeBron has frequently praised Madison Square Garden and Fizdale. But it takes far more than an arena and a coach to lure a player of his caliber.

It never hurts to be prepared, and as easy as it is to mock the Knicks for leaking this story, we’d drag them mercilessly if LeBron somehow wanted to sign and they couldn’t make it happen.

But I just hope they hired Fizdale for other reasons than pursuing LeBron. They need a good coach, not a conduit to a pipedream.

Report: Knicks fire Jeff Hornacek

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Jeff Hornacek wanted an answer about his future as Knicks coach.

He got it.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Hornacek went 31-51 and 28-53 in two seasons with New York. The Knicks’ struggles were far bigger than him, but he didn’t do nearly enough to save his job amid a regime change.

The since-deposed Phil Jackson hired Hornacek. Jackson’s successor as president (and, in such Knicks fashion, predecessor), Steve Mills, held no allegiance to Hornacek.

Neither did multiple players by the end. Hornacek reportedly clashed with Kristaps Porzingis, Joakim Noah and Kyle O'Quinn. Hornacek tried to be a good company man, but that – especially his acceptance of Jackson’s triangle offense – hurt his credibility in the locker room.

Knicks owner James Dolan, for all his faults, is often willing to spend. That could help lure a big-time replacement. But expectations are always oversized in New York, and with Porzingis injured, the next coach could face an uphill climb. That could turn off candidates with other options.

The Knicks need far more than a coaching change. To some degree, Hornacek is a scapegoat.

But Mills also deserves a chance to put his imprint on the team, and he can’t fire the owner. So, this is a logical step.

Knicks’ Kyle O’Quinn on shouting match with coach Jeff Hornacek: ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right’

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Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek’s confrontation with Joakim Noah led to the center being sent away from the team.

During Friday’s loss to the Timberwolves, Hornacek got into it with another New York center – Kyle O'Quinn, who didn’t properly contest a Karl-Anthony Towns shot. After O’Quinn missed a couple shots and got roasted by Jamal Crawford, Hornacek and his player yelled at each other during a stoppage.

O’Quinn, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I’ll be the first one to say my reaction was the wrong one,’’ O’Quinn said Sunday. “Someone yelled at me, I yelled back. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

“I like that s–t,” he said. “It was heat of the moment, heat of the game. He’s a competitor, ex-player. I’m sure if he’s in that position, he would’ve done something different back in his day. I was fired up at the game. I felt it was a winnable game. They were going to let us dance a bit and we were going to be in it. It’s just a reaction. You know how I am on the floor — fiery.”

Hornacek, via Berman:

“We like guys who are fiery,’’ Hornacek said. “Kyle’s done a great job all year long with his activity and intensity.’’

Tempers sometimes flare like this, including on functional teams. People are just usually disciplined enough to avoid doing it in front of cameras. Wait until everyone is in a closed locker room or practice.

That Hornacek and O’Quinn didn’t speaks to how upset they were.

This could affect Hornacek’s reputation in particular. When the Suns fired him, they said players stopped responding to him. This is more circumstantial evidence his message wears thin on players over time.

Not that the Knicks will need that excuse. Hornacek’s dismal record – even though more a product of an underwhelming roster – will probably give president Steve Mills cover to fire the coach he inherited.

Five things to watch in NBA on Christmas Day

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For many fans, Christmas Day is the unofficial start of the NBA season. Forget the fact that things are kind of already decided — last year 13 of the 16 NBA teams that made the playoffs were already in that position, the season before it was 14 out of 16 — this is the day many fans start really paying attention to the NBA because football is winding down. So what should you be watching for on Christmas Day? We’re going to help you out with five things to keep an eye on.

1) Joel Embiid vs. Kristaps Porzingis: Battle of the modern big men. First, a plea to the basketball gods: Please let them play. Both played in their team’s most recent games, but in both cases the teams are understandably thinking about the long term and being cautious rather than just throwing them out there injured to win a December game. Whether or not Embiid plays for the Sixers may determine just how entertaining this game is: When Embiid is on the court the Sixers play at the level of a 56 win team, but when he is off the court they play at the level of a 24 win team (by net rating). He matters that much to them.

Embiid and Kristaps Porzingis are must watch because they epitomize how the modern NBA big man is evolving — when teams talk about “going small” it doesn’t have to be literally smaller. It’s about the style of play. If you’ve got a 7-footer who can step out and stretch the floor on offense, who is athletic enough to switch on defense and cover a guard on the pick-and-roll, plus get back and defend the rim, then you are playing “small.” Embiid and Porzingis can both do those things. Both have become the face of the franchise and cornerstone building blocks in the “small ball era” because of the versatility of their skills. And both are incredibly hard to defend.

Embiid is ahead on the growth curve right now because he is a bigger force defensively, plus he is more able to punish smaller defenders in the post. Porzingis is better as a threat from three, he and Frank Ntilikina have developed a good pick-and-pop chemistry that will be hard for the Sixers to defend.

Rarely will they be matched up on each other (keep an eye on Kyle O'Quinn, who should get a lot of run for New York) but watch them play and see the future of the big man in the NBA.

2) The Cavaliers vs. Warriors rivalry continues. LeBron James is among those who have said Cavs/Warriors isn’t a rivalry. Um, yes it is — you meet three straight seasons in the NBA Finals and it’s a rivalry. End of discussion.

Both of these teams are once again near the top of their respective conferences while not playing terribly focused basketball so far this season — both understand their season really starts mid-April. Also, both teams will be without a star guard: Stephen Curry is still out for the Warriors (right ankle sprain), and Isaiah Thomas (hip) will make his debut in the Cavaliers uniform later in the week but not on Christmas day.

Not that this game is lacking star power. LeBron James, playing at an MVP level this season while carrying a ridiculous workload, will be looking to measure where his team stacks up against the bar every team in the NBA is trying to clear. Kevin Durant has been the focal point since Curry went down, averaging 32.3 points per game, 9.6 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game (all while playing the best defense of his career). Then there is Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Love, and Dwyane Wade all suiting up in this one.

What makes this matchup an especially tantalizing mid-season game is these teams know each other and the scouting reports so well. Most NBA games teams might tweak their defense — “go under the pick vs. this point guard” — or try to massage their rotation a little for matchups, but basically, in the regular season they play their game. Teams are who they are. Come the playoffs there can be significant adjustments to take advantage of weaknesses or matchups — because the Warriors and Cavaliers know each other so well we will see far more of the chess match. They know the scouting reports and can fall back on them in a way they cannot against most teams during the season.

Plus, both these teams know this could well be a Finals preview again. It’s not a statement game, but winning can be a confidence boost (especially for the Cavaliers).

3) Houston’s offense vs. Oklahoma City’s defense. The Houston Rockets don’t just have the best offense in the NBA this season — 113.7 points per 100 possessions, via NBA.com — but they are on pace to have the best offense in NBA history. They have been insanely good.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have the third-best defense in the NBA this season, it is the reason that while their “you take a turn, then I take a turn” offense has stumbled to start the season, the Thunder are now three games over .500 and the five seed in the West.

In a matchup of strengths, who comes out on top? The Thunder can throw Paul George and Andre Roberson at James Harden as defenders, with Steven Adams patrolling the paint behind them. The ball will be in Harden’s hands a lot, without Chris Paul the Rockets have become the Harden show again (he had two 51-point games in a row). The Rockets are jacking up a historic-pace of 43.1 threes per game (hitting 37.1 percent as a team) and the Thunder are not particularly good at chasing opposing teams off the arc — if Houston gets clean looks they will win this game.

In reality, this game may be won by which is better between the Rockets defense (which has been top 10 in the NBA this season but terrible in two recent losses) or the Thunder offense (which has been better lately, with more Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony accepting an off-the-ball role). The improving Thunder — winners of four in a row — may also come in with a chip on their shoulder, seeing this as a chance to make a “we are who you thought we were before the season” statement.

But the fun part watching is how the Thunder defense lines up when Harden has the ball.

4) The symphony of Boston’s team play (not just Kyrie Irving). This is just another game for Kyrie Irving, because Christmas is not really a holiday to him, it’s just another day for a televised game. Whatevs.

Irving is getting all the hype — and early MVP talk in some quarters — but Boston is the ultimate team this season. The Celtics are no one-man show, they are a unit with Brad Stevens pulling all the right strings. Their defensive switching is sublimely smooth and beautiful, and Al Horford is having his best defensive season, serving as a backstop in the paint and a guy who can contest a little on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown has been fantastic defensively, as has Marcus Smart, and the Celtics switch just about everything. Washington will force them to do just that with lots of picks, but Boston’s defense is deep with smart players.

On offense, Irving is playing within the system (most of the time), and Horford’s jack-of-all-trades game plays brilliantly in this offense. Jayson Tatum is getting open looks, and to his credit, the rookie is not hesitating to pull the trigger — he has a ridiculously good 49.5 percent three-point shooting percentage, and his true shooting percentage is 64.6. That’s incredible for a perimeter player (or even a guy who gets his shots at the bucket). Boston moves the ball, moves off the ball, and gets clean looks.  Watch Boston and enjoy the NBA’s best team this season.

5) Will Lakers show Timberwolves what grit looks like? Minnesota is 19-13 on the season, they are loaded with young talent led by Karl-Anthony Towns, they have the fifth best offense in the NBA, and they are on pace to break a playoff draught that dates back to when “Hollaback Girl” was just released (the longest in the NBA).

Still, Minnesota feels like a mirage, a team not as good as their talent or record (they have played the second easiest schedule in the league so far). They have the 25th ranked defense in the NBA and Towns — despite his world of talent and potential — is disinterested on that end of the court. The Timberwolves are getting wins because coach Tom Thibodeau is running his stars into the ground — Andrew Wiggins is third in the NBA in minutes played, Towns seventh, and Jimmy Butler is 14th. There are rumors all over the league of friction between Thibodeau and his young stars.

Christmas Day the Timberwolves take on a Lakers team that is also is young, not quite as talented, but plays hard every night for coach Luke Walton, defends, and shows grit. The Lakers have shown the heart Minnesota lacks. The Lakers have been playing better lately as Lonzo Ball’s decision making and shooting are showing more confidence, as Brandon Ingram is developing into a dangerous scoring threat, and as Kyle Kuzma keeps scoring like a guy who belongs in the Rookie of the Year conversation. Los Angels gets a lot out of guys like Josh Hart and Julius Randle, and Larry Nance Jr. is a keeper and a draft steal by the Lakers. Walton trusts his young players, goes deep into his bench every game, and has the Lakers with the seventh best defense in the NBA this season (although it has had a couple stumbles of late).

Who wins out, the more talented team with the franchise player, or the team playing more as a unit and with more grit? It makes an interesting desert to a strong NBA lineup on Christmas Day.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.