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First Step to Fixing the Knicks: Find a Head Coach

Tommy Beer

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It’s sometimes unwise to read too much into Phil Jackson’s often cryptic comments (as he has been known to say one thing and do another), but his season-ending press conference this week was worrisome.

When asked about who he might bring in to interview for the Knicks head coaching gig, Jackson intimated he would only consider those candidates he’s familiar with and those that are as enthusiastic and dedicated to ‘The Triangle’ as he is.

“Only people I probably know will be in the interview process,’’ Jackson told reporters on Thursday.

When a reporter questioned whether Jackson was still ardently committed to the Triangle, despite the changing landscape throughout the league and the Knicks lack of success since Jackson arrived, Phil scoffed at a suggestion he would consider altering his approach simply because a few foolish naysayers have the audacity to question the Triangle. “Who are these people? Why would people even say that? Do they have 11 championships to talk about?” said Jackson. “That’s what I was brought here for — to install a system.’’

Despite Phil’s unwavering assuredness, question remains. Is The Triangle still capable of succeeding in 2016 and beyond? Phil last won a championship in 2009-10, and that was with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol in their primes. The NBA has changed a great deal since then. Furthermore, Jackson’s former disciples have found great difficulty in successfully incorporating Jackson’ system elsewhere. The combined NBA head coaching record of Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw, Bill Cartwright, Derek Fisher, Frank Hamblen and Jim Cleamons is a putrid 264-577. That’s a .313 winning percentage. Brian Shaw, who is 29 games below .500 for his career, has the best record of the bunch.

Many other teams and NBA executives throughout the league subscribe to various overriding philosophies that serve as guideposts to how they operate as an organization. Yet few coaches/GM’s seem as strident in defense and adherence to a particular system as Jackson.

This intransigence and inflexibility is concerning, especially when the early returns have not been promising. As a prideful competitor, Phil obviously badly wants to re-shape the Knicks into a championship contender; but he seems almost equally focused on proving that his beloved Triangle is still relevant, despite data which suggests otherwise.

On Thursday, Jackson revealed that only one candidate was currently scheduled for an interview:  Kurt Rambis.

Being friendly with the boss and logging years as a loyal lieutenant eager to acquiesce to Phil’s marching orders should not be the primary criteria for a job applicant.

The Knicks are lucky to have an owner that is willing to spend an exorbitant amount of money in order to finance a winning basketball team. Jackson himself is being paid a whopping $12 million per season, more than any other executive in the league. Consequently, it’s safe to assume Dolan would pay top dollar for preeminent coach as well. There are currently a handful of quality/intriguing free agents coaches available, including Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy and Ettore Messina.

Van Gundy has coached and won big in New York. Thibodeau, who has let it be known he would love to coach the Knicks, served as Knicks assistant coach for seven years and has a Coach of the Year award on his resume.

For Jackson to not deem it worth his time to even interview these respected coaching candidates is baffling. Maybe JVG and/or Thibs are not the right fit, but what would possibly be the harm in bringing qualified candidates for a quick pow-wow to see if philosophies might actually align? The hiring of a head coach is an incredibly important decision for an NBA team. If Jackson is, in fact, content to limit his search based on such constrictive criteria, that is something that should give owner Jim Dolan great pause.

On a related note, Jeff Van Gundy was a guest on ESPN’s Zach Lowe Podcast last week and offered an interesting perspective when asked about the Sam Hinkie fiasco in Philadelphia. “If I was an organization right now, I would try to get him on the phone and have him be the contrarian to whatever my plan was, whether it’s a paid position or just free advice,” said Van Gundy.

Many of the best executives from all different industries (not just those running professional sports teams) have spoken in depth about the importance of having contrasting and conflicting opinions within an organization. According to a recent study by consulting and professional services company Deloitte, cultivating “diversity of thought” can bring an organization the following benefits: It helps guard against groupthink and expert overconfidence, as well as helping organizations identify the right employees who can best tackle their most pressing problems.

The study also suggests two crucial ways organizations can increase diversity of thought among their workforce:

  1. Hire differently. The job description and interview process should contain competencies and questions designed to help identify and select a cognitively diverse organization. Organizations also need to recruit top talent—even if it means shaking up the status quo with opinionated employees.
  2. Manage differently. Instead of seeking consensus as an end goal, managers should encourage task-focused conflict that can push their teams to new levels of creativity and productivity

On Thursday, when asked about his narrow coaching search, Jackson said he would look for “someone who has compatibility with what I do as a leader would have to be in sync with what we do.’’ Jackson continued: “I’ve seen lot of situations where coaches end up coming in without simpatico with the general manager, and those things don’t work well.”

Well, I can think of one situation where a prominent head coach achieved great success despite frequent clashes with management. The Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles over an eight-year span in 1990’s. The coach of those Bulls teams, Phil Jackson, famously quarreled frequently with Chicago’s General Manager, Jerry Krause. Jackson and Krause certainly weren’t always on the same page when it came to basketball decisions, but they tolerated each other, and in the process they dominated the NBA for a better part of a decade. In fact, it could be argued that the tension and conflict between coach and GM was ultimately beneficial, considering the two of them presided over one of the more impressive dynasties in recent sports history.

Ironically, published reports in the New York Post have asserted Jackson won’t even consider Tom Thibodeau, because of Thibodeau’s inability to get along with his bosses in Chicago. Not because Thibs can’t coach, but rather because he wasn’t “simpatico” with Bulls front office (Gar Forman and John Paxson). Imagine that, a coach in Chicago not being “buddy buddy” with the GM. Adding to the absurdity, the folks over BBallBreakdown have produced in-depth videos highlighting just how frequently Thibodeau ran the Triangle offense while in Chicago. “During his tenure running the Bulls, Thibodeau had his teams run the pure Triangle Offense on an estimated 25% of their half court possessions.”

No one can question Phil Jackson as an NBA head coach. His success speaks for itself. He won consistently adhering to a specific system and a philosophy. However, running an organization as President of Basketball Operations is a different task that requires a different skill set.

When making the decision to hire the Knicks next head coach, Jackson should at least consider bringing in a voice and opinions that don’t parrot his own. It’s time Jackson considers thinking outside the box; or, perhaps more appropriately in this case, the triangle.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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