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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



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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Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close

Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.

Spencer Davies



Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.

You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?

Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.

With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?

Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.

For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?

I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.

Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.

I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.

Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?

Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.

Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?

I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.

Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?

Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.

Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.

Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?

Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.

Would you welcome that rematch?

I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.

What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?

Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.

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NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense

The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.

Buddy Grizzard



The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.

“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].

“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”

Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.

“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”

Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.

“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”

Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.

According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.

The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.

“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”

Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.

“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”

Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.

“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”

While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.

“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics

The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.

Moke Hamilton



Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.

Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.

Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.

As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.

Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.

Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.

“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by

“I’m tired of not playing.”

Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.

As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.

What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.

Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.

Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.

Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.

In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.

Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.

With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.

As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.

Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.

But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.

And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.

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