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NBA AM: Phil Jackson Has A Lot To Figure Out

Phil Jackson puts in his first day on the job in New York… The myth of the agency running the show.

Steve Kyler

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All Knicks, All The Time:  By now you are probably sick of all the New York Knicks coverage, but unfortunately they are the ones making the news. So we’ll try and keep today’s Knicks-fest as brief as possible.

Newly anointed Knicks president Phil Jackson – still sounds strange doesn’t it – took in his first game at Madison Square Garden. His Knicks got the 92-86 win over the top seeded Pacers and moved themselves another win closer to the postseason. They gave the home crowd a good show that ended in a standing ovation.

Jackson met with his team earlier in the day, spending time with the coaches and the basketball staff before meeting with the players before the game.

Jackson is taking stock of the situation and there are no plans to make any changes. Like most of the Knicks staff, he is hoping the team can close the four game gap between their current ninth place seeding and the eighth spot in the East. Unfortunately for the Knicks they are four games back from Atlanta, who is winning games too and the Knicks only have 14 games left on the schedule.

With Jackson in tow, there has been a lot of talk about what needs to happen this offseason for the Knicks to right their ship and get in championship form. The concept of making it all work was presented to Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich last night in LA and he shared his recipe for success in San Antonio – a model a lot of teams are trying to emulate.

»In Related: Is Anthony Davis Becoming The Next Superstar In The NBA?

“It’s difficult to be specific, but what’s true is a synergy has to form between the owner, whoever the president is, whoever the GM is, whoever the coach is. There’s got to be a synergy there where there’s a trust,” Popovich said to Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “There is no walls. There is no territory. Everything is discussed. Everything is fair game. Criticism is welcome, and when you have that, then you have a hell of an organization. That free flow through all those people is what really makes it work. And that includes everything from draft to O’s and X’s. Nothing should be left to one area — only to the president, only to the GM, only to the coach — or the culture just doesn’t form. At least that’s what’s worked for us.”

Popovich said he knows it will take some time for Jackson to work through everything in New York and that assembling a system and a staff as unified as San Antonio doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s certainly a process, but it has to start with people who are comfortable in their own skin and people who are confident in what they do, but understand it’s about a group,” Popovich said. “It’s not about any one person. We always talk about we like players who have gotten over themselves. Well, it’s the same with a GM or a president or an owner: You got to get over yourself and realize that it takes a group to get this thing done, and I’m sure Phil knows that.”

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony shared some of his conversation with Jackson before the game, saying he liked what he heard from his new team president.

“He was just excited about joining,” Anthony said. “He came in and … said how excited he was about this opportunity and told us to focus on the game.”

Anthony also said he heard what Jackson had to say about his game and his future with the Knicks during his introductory press conference.

“I love it. I don’t think that was anything bad that he said,” Anthony said. “As an individual over the years, I think I’ve gotten better as a player, playing at a very high level as an individual. Like right now. For him to come in and say that, we’re on the same page. There’s a whole other level that I haven’t taken this to. I feel each season I’ve gotten better so just as Phil can teach, I can rely on him, talk to him, use him as a mentor to try and get to that next level.”

Jackson has also been adamant that keeping and building around Anthony was part of his vision for the future, which Anthony said was something he wanted to hear.

“I’m blessed and honored to hear that,” Anthony said. “I’m glad, I was hoping that I would be part of the future plans. I never once said that I wanted to leave New York or anything like that. The only thing I said was that I wanted to dabble in free agency that I could opt out and become a free agent. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the opportunity to hopefully go forward with Phil.”

»In Related: Breaking Down The 2014 NCAA Tournament Field.

The Knicks are currently 28-40 on the season with 14 games left on the schedule. The Knicks have just five more home games and nine road games in front of them, which includes nine teams with a plus .500 record and nine teams that play in the East.

The Knicks have a favorable schedule down the stretch with games at Philadelphia, home versus the Cavaliers, in LA versus the Lakers, at Sacramento, at Phoenix, at Golden State and at Utah to round out March, giving them two winning teams in their next seven games. Clearly the Knicks have some control of their playoff dreams.

» It’s March Madness time and Basketball Insiders has you covered with detailed game-by-game capsules featuring all the details on every game. Want to know more about each matchup check out each capsule and make sure you are ready all the way through to the championship game.

The Myth Of The Agency:  There has been a running narrative about the New York Knicks regarding the volume and number of clients from one particular agency the team has not only on the roster, but among its front office and coaching staff.

The story goes that Creative Artists Agency (CAA) who represents Carmelo Anthony, Andrea Bargnani and JR Smith along with head coach Mike Woodson “runs” things in New York.

It’s an interesting narrative and certainly makes for compelling headlines, but the truth of the matter is while a lot of agents and agencies pool together to create power in a very pulverized industry – the belief that the individual agents are working together to manipulate the Knicks is a little bit more theater than substance.

There is no doubt that certain agents create relationships with certain executives, and that those agents can develop an inside track for their clients that some on the outside might not be able to do, but to suggest huge collusion and control from an agency is a little over stated, even for the dysfunctional Knicks.

The way the reports from New York frame it, you’d think that every unclaimed roster spot would belong to a CAA client, or that all of the 10-day contracts issued are going to CAA clients or that an unusual amount of minutes or shots are going to CAA clients. The stats and the data just don’t support that.

So how do you explain Smith’s contract? The Knicks were a capped out team. The Knicks had to either use their Early Bird rights to re-sign Smith and meet his price or lose him for nothing and have to fill his void in free agency with the NBA minimum. Smith was coming off a Sixth Man of the Year award campaign and arguably one of his best years as a pro. The Knicks won 54 games and seemed like a power team in the East. Did his brother Chris get a roster spot as part of the deal, maybe, but that is what happens when a player has all the leverage. Smith is not the first nor the last player to be able to hold a capped out team hostage to a contract.

So how do you explain Andrea Bargnani? The Knicks wanted to be in a position to have as little money on the books are possible in 2015 and where willing to eat his money on the off chance he could help them get better. Did Bargnani being a CAA client help the process? Maybe. There is no doubt that when an agent has the ear of an executive he can share all the things that a team might not know about a player and make the idea more tolerable. The Knicks wanted Steve Novak and Marcus Camby’s money off the books in 2015; they felt like Bargnani could help them this year and be off the books next year – that was the logic explained when the trade was made, long before the stories of CAA running the show in New York started to surface.

»In Related: The 2014 NBA Free Agents .

Knicks Roster By Agent/Agency

 Amar’e Stoudemire   Relativity Sports
 Andrea Bargnani   CAA Sports
 Carmelo Anthony   CAA Sports
 Cole Aldrich   Excel Sports
 Earl Clark   BDA Sports
 Iman Shumpert   Relativity Sports
 J.R. Smith   CAA Sports
 Jeremy Tyler   Full Court Sports
 Kenyon Martin   ASM Sports
 Pablo Prigioni  Claudio Villanueva
 Raymond Felton   Dutt Sports
 Shannon Brown   Priority Sports
 Tim Hardaway Jr.   Priority Sports
 Toure Murry   Lee Basketball
 Tyson Chandler   Excel Sports

There is no doubting that the Knicks, prior to hiring Phil Jackson were listening to and trying to respond to the perceived needs of Carmelo Anthony. Not only because of his possible free agency, either. But, to look at the Knicks as being a franchise run and controlled by a single agency is a little silly given the agents that have clients on the Knicks roster. Excel Sports is Jeff Schwartz one of the top agents in the business with more $217 million in guaranteed contract dollars under management. Relativity Sports is Happy Walters and Dan Fegan – Fegan is one of the more aggressive agents in the business. ASM Sports is Andy Miller, again one of the more influential agents in the game. Priority Sports is Mark Bartelstein, he represents the bulk of the NBA’s middle class. Alienating any of those agents would be a massive blow to the Knicks ability to recruit future free agents.

So while it’s fun to talk about one agency pulling the strings or the perception that one agency is getting more favor around the team than another, the truth of the matter is the Knicks are catering to Anthony, and as long as he remains the Knicks best player his agent is going to have the ear of the organization, just as LeBron James’ agent has with the HEAT, just as Kobe Bryant has with the Lakers. That’s what franchise players get, especially when they are approaching free agency and there is doubt about them hanging around beyond their current deal.

The rest just comes off as sour grapes during a dreadful season.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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Mitchell Robinson May Prove Competence of Scott Perry

Scott Perry is still fairly new on the job, but it’s impossible to argue with the early returns.

Moke Hamilton

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With some eye-popping performances, the neophyte simultaneously caught the attention of the New York Knicks and front offices and scouts across the league.

Sure, merely a few weeks ago, he was largely considered an unknown quantity, but after an impressive stint at the Las Vegas Summer League, we all know his name.

It’s Mitchell Robinson.

Like his fellow rookie Kevin Knox, in short order, Robinson has caused quite a bit of a stir.

He’s just the latest example of things that Scott Perry has done right.

As players like Brook Lopez and Isaiah Thomas accept contracts barely worth enough to buy LeBron James lunch on a consistent basis, the predictions of a “nuclear winter” for NBA free agents seem to have mostly come to fruition.

For the past two summers, general managers and team executives have spent their money as if it were on fire, and as a result, we’ve seen many of the league’s teams watch their flexibility go up in smoke.

Since hiring Perry, the Knicks have done the opposite. Time and time again, the message tossed around internally at Penn Plaza has mirrored what we’ve been told publicly—the Knicks believe they will have a serious shot at signing a marquee free agent in 2019 and have put their emphasis on shedding salary to the best of their abilities.

It took all of one summer league game for us to learn that the club had signed Robinson to a team-friendly four-year contract. According to the New York Post, the deal is only guaranteed for three years and $4.8 million. If Robinson comes anywhere near the productivity he showed in summer league, the value and return on investment will be remarkably high.

So if you’re keeping count, let the record fairly reflect that Perry’s major moves for the Knicks have been trading Carmelo Anthony, hiring David Fizdale, drafting Kevin Knox and Robinson, and subsequently strategically managing his salary cap situation so that he could offer Robinson a contract that was so advantageous to the Knicks that some believe Robinson fired his agent as a result.

With the Knicks, Robinson will have to earn playing time and beat out Enes Kanter and Luke Kornet for minutes, but Kanter isn’t considered to be a core member for the club’s future, so the task doesn’t appear that difficult.

What this all means in the end is that Knox and Robinson will combine to earn just $5.4 million next season.

And what it also means for the Knicks is that the performance of Knox and Robinson at the Las Vegas Summer League isn’t the only thing the club should be celebrating.

It’s fair at this point to say that Perry has both improved the team’s future prospects and made a few moves that at least appear to have been the right decision.

Of course, time will tell, but on the continuum of unknown quantity to certain conclusion, the best you can hope for is a positive sign.

Perry has given Knicks fans quite a few. And when you realize that the selection that the club used to grab Robinson was a critical piece of the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City—a trade executed by Perry—that statement becomes all the more credible.

* * * * * *

It’s been quite some time since the Knicks had two rookies who opened eyes the way Knox and Robinson have. What’s been most pleasing about the two, however, have been the ways in which they complement one another on the basketball court.

Knox has impressed mostly with what he’s done on the ball, while Robinson has for what he’s accomplished off of it. The instincts and timing that Robinson has in conjunction with his athleticism are quite reminiscent of Marcus Camby.

In hindsight, we can fairly proclaim Camby to have been ahead of his time. Camby was the prototype to which players like Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan aspired.

As a big man, Camby was one of the few players in the NBA who could capably guard all five positions on the basketball court and wasn’t at the mercy of an opposing point guard when switched out on a pick-and-roll. His nimbleness and second jump ability were remarkable for a man his size, and it didn’t take long for him to find his niche playing alongside more offensively talented players such as Allan Houston, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson.

We don’t know if Robinson himself will succeed in the NBA, but we do know that his archetype is the kind that does. So much of what gets young players drafted and paid in the NBA is about physics. If a guy can do one or two things better than other players his size, the job of his coaches and front office is to find ways to maximize those advantages and fit them within a team concept to exploit inferior players at his position.

That concept has been where the Golden State Warriors have run circles around the rest of the league. So no, while you can’t conclude that Robinson is going to end up being anything near the player that Marcus Camby was, what you can conclude is that he has the physical gifts to be effective. Whether he ends up being effective will ultimately boil down to what Robinson has inside of him and what David Fizdale is able to do to bring it out.

Rest assured, though, to this point, Scott Perry has certainly done his job.

That much is a fact.

* * * * * *

Of all words in the English language, “irony” and its adjective (“ironic”) are among those that are most often misused. Irony is often confused with coincidence.

In its simplest term, irony is meant to describe a situation where there’s an occurrence that’s the opposite of what should have been expected.

In other words, just a few weeks after Carmelo Anthony dropped a career-high 62 points on the Charlotte Hornets at Madison Square Garden, a reporter asked him whether it was “ironic” that the Hornets also yielded 61 points to his buddy LeBron James in Miami.

That wasn’t ironic. That was just Charlotte.

On the other hand, irony was more along the lines of the Denver Nuggets seemingly becoming a better and more cohesive team after Anthony’s talents had been traded to New York.

To do you one better, a more recent example of irony can be found in the fact that Isaiah Thomas was traded by the Boston Celtics after recording the highest single-season scoring average of all time among player shorter than six-foot tall.

Irony is fans of the Los Angeles Lakers having no choice but to embrace LeBron James after spending the entirety of his existence downplaying his career accomplishments in order to properly exalt Kobe Bryant.

Most appropriately, though, for a fan of the New York Knicks, irony is knowing that, despite Kristaps Porzingis being on the shelf and the Knicks not signing or trading for any big named player, there’s probably more reason to be optimistic about the club’s future than there has been in recent memory.

Yea. That’s irony. The Knicks have always been looking for their savior—before Carmelo Anthony, it was Stephon Marbury.

In it all, who would have thought that the franchise’s savior could end up being Scott Perry?

Like Knox and Robinson, it’s still a bit early to certainly declare that Perry is who will lead the Knicks from the abyss.

But just like Knox and Robinson, to this point, it’d be quite difficult to argue with the early returns

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding up to four new voices in 2018, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team other than in New York & LA; we are full in those markets.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful. E-mail that to openings2018@basketballinsiders.com

 

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NBA Daily: Yuta Watanabe Using Versatility, Defense To Push Forward

Undrafted forward Yuta Watanabe impressed all week at Summer League for the Brooklyn Nets — now he’s ready to do whatever it takes to get an NBA opportunity.

Ben Nadeau

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Heading into Las Vegas Summer League, it finally became difficult to look past the Brooklyn Nets. After three-straight seasons merely existing in the equivalency of basketball purgatory, the Nets brought an exciting, young roster out west — one that included Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and their two recent first-round selections, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs. But when three of the four marquee names ended up watching from the sidelines, Brooklyn needed somebody to save the day — and as it turned out, his name was Yuta Watanabe.

Watanabe, 23, was an undrafted four-year senior out of George Washington this summer, but very quickly, the 6-foot-9 prospect has made a name for himself. Through his five games in Vegas, Watanabe averaged 9.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 41 percent from the floor, while nearly leading the banged-up Nets in minutes along the way. And although they were the only winless team in Vegas, Watanabe was a major bright spot for Brooklyn and said that he felt himself improving early in the process.

“Yeah, I’m starting to get comfortable,” Watanabe said following a recent Summer League defeat. “Our teammates didn’t know each other and we didn’t play well today — but fourth quarter, I thought we played together. I could attack the rim more, so I think I’m getting comfortable right now.”

Of course, Watanabe’s eye-opening stretch is not an indictment on every other franchise for not taking a late flier on the Japanese-born shooter either. With front offices looking to lengthen and shape the careers of their draftees at every turn, seniors are often passed up in favor of younger potential. In 2018 alone, only 11 seniors were selected at all — Grayson Allen and Chandler Hutchison were the lone first-rounders — a number down two from the year prior.

In spite of his pre-draft workouts and favorable numbers at George Washington (16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 blocks per game), Watanabe was always a long-shot to get drafted. But given the inroads to the NBA via the G-League or a two-way contract, Watanabe is far from finished in chasing his professional dreams.

“I was so excited — right after the draft, my agent called me and he told me: ‘You’re playing with the Nets.’” Watanabe told Basketball Insiders. “I was so excited, also he told me that there was going to be a lot of international players. As an international player, I was like so hyped.”

And it’s true, the Nets — led by general manager Sean Marks, a native New Zealander — have made a concerted effort to search out and acquire talent however possible. Watanabe was joined on the roster by the aforementioned Musa and Kurucs, of Bosnia and Latvia, respectively, Shawn Dawson of Israel, Ding Yanyuhang of China and Juan Pablo Vaulet, an Argentinian stash that’s one of the final holdovers from the last front office regime.

But while Watanabe may not hold a guaranteed contract, his noteworthy run with the Nets in Vegas could put him in pole position to earn one of those elusive two-way deals. Last season, the Nets ended the year with James Webb III and Milton Doyle, the latter of which the franchise tendered a qualifying offer to late last month, as their two-way assets. Still, things can change awfully fast in the NBA and Watanabe definitively fills two needs that Brooklyn has long sought-after since Marks took over in February of 2016: Multi-positional defense and reliable three-point shooting.

During his final season at George Washington, Watanabe hit on 36.4 percent of his long-range attempts and averaged 1.6 blocks per game as well — fully transforming into the flexible prospect he is today. In fact, the Nets have struggled to find consistent three-point shooting in the frontcourt since Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, so Watanabe could be useful at that tricky stretch four position.

Although it’d be a new adventure for the defensive-minded grinder, Watanabe is up for it all the same.

“I mean, that’s one of my strengths, versatility is one of my strengths. If they want me to play four, I’m fine with that,” Watanabe said. “If I can hit shots — I’m 6-foot-9, long, athletic, so I have no problem playing the four.”

Of the nine Nets players to make one or more three-pointers per game last season, just two of them — Quincy Acy and Dante Cunningham — regularly slotted in at power forward. And beyond that, only Joe Harris, Nik Stauskas, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll and Cunningham finished their 2017-18 campaigns with a higher three-point percentage than Watanabe. As a team, the Nets tossed up 35.7 three-pointers per game — second-most in the NBA — and converted on just 35.6 percent of them, a rate that left them in the league basement.

Meanwhile, out in the Atlantic 10 conference, George Washington made just 5.5 shots from downtown per game, with Watanabe accounting for 1.7 of them on his own. Certainly, nobody expects Watanabe to immediately continue that success at the NBA level — but there’s a precedence and fit here within a franchise that’s been laser-focused on player development as of late.

On top of all that, Watanabe is the reigning winner of the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year Award and he proved it out in Vegas. Following his final game against the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the former Colonial finished with a total of blocked eight shots and defended both guards and forwards throughout the tournament — a facet of his game that Watanabe takes pride in.

“Defense is also [one of] my strengths in college too,” Watanabe said. “I can’t remember how many blocks I got today, but I was able to show that I can play defense — even at the four.”

The recent acquisitions of Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur will make Watanabe’s path to a big-league opportunity that much harder — but the Nets have also benefitted from a strong G-League affiliate in recent seasons as well. So even if Watanabe doesn’t receive a two-way contract, he may have landed with a franchise well-suited to bring the very best out of him.

Should Watanabe ever reach the NBA, he’d be just the second-ever from Japan to do so — following in the footsteps of Yuta Tabuse, a 5-foot-9 point guard that played in four games for the Phoenix Suns back in 2004-05. But for now, Watanabe is all about helping out his new franchise in whatever way he can — whether that’s from behind the arc or below the rim.

“Make some open shots, play defense and just play as hard as possible — so I think that’s my job right now.”

Nobody knows what the future holds for Watanabe quite yet — but as of now, he’s doing exactly that.

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