Former head coach George Karl has made headlines over the past month due to his recently released book titled “Furious George,” which chronicles his 40-year journey in the NBA. Karl held nothing back when it came to thoughts regarding his former players and bosses. Being outspoken and raw in this manner typically would leave many to think he’s effectively retired. But at 65 years old, Karl believes he has more to give to the game of basketball.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Karl to talk Carmelo Anthony, his future plans, Russell Westbrook, the MVP race and his take on younger players.
Lang Greene: A lot of times, when someone releases a book like this and you’re bearing your soul and just telling it like it is throughout your long journey playing round ball, coaching round ball, would you say you’re effectively retired or would you still like to get out on the sideline or get back in even in a front office capacity?
George Karl: Coaches never retire. Coaches always want to be in the gym, and I’m one of those guys. I’m a lifer. I’ve put over 30 years into coaching, maybe 35 and now I may [try to get to] 40 years being a coach. I was a player for five or six and a coach ever since. I’ve always wanted to be a GM, I’ve always wanted to kind of run the game, and feel the game, and give to the game. But right now I’m 65 years old, so that’s got to be a decision by somebody else in an organization that thinks I can help them. I sure think I can help somebody along the way.
Greene: You talked about being around the game. What are some things you’re doing right now to be around the game? Are you hanging around some high school gyms, are you doing some coaching clinics? What are you doing to stay around the game?
Karl: I’ve visited about three or four college programs. I’ve never studied the college game. I’ve had the opportunity with Ben Howland, Mark Pope and Mike Dunlap, some of my friends in the game of basketball, to spend some time. I go up to the University of Colorado to see Tad Boyle’s team play in the Pac-12. So I’ve got that. I’ve got my son (Coby Karl) who coaches the LA. D-Fenders in the D-League and so his games are on TV, on Facebook, every day and I can watch his games, and we talk quite frequently about what happens in the game. My family’s a basketball family. My daughter is married to a high school basketball coach in Olympia, Washington. He’s a girls’ basketball coach so I get to see them play when I visit my grandchildren up there.
Greene: Let me ask you this because you mentioned the college game, so it’s a perfect segue into the next question. One of your former UNC guys, Larry Brown, went back to the collegiate ranks when he left the NBA. Would that be something you would be interested in? I know you haven’t studied it, but in your book you talk a lot about how the rules and the stringent nature of the NCAA wouldn’t interest you, but, being around the game, being in a situation where you can instill your wisdom on some younger players, would you give it a look?
Karl: I think I’m open to anything right now. I am open to doing front office work, helping out with the personnel on an NBA team. I’m interested in college. I’m interested in helping people. I’m interested in European basketball, would I be interested in going back to European basketball? That’s a possibility. I mean, I’m open to anything, I’m not rushing into anything, [but] I think I’m open to conversations. What if, what if? I’m ready to go.
Greene: You talked about in your book that the guys that really resonated with your heart and your spirit were the guys that really got after it, guys that were real tenacious. You mentioned Kendall Gill who just didn’t, necessarily, visually have that fire in him, that you saw. Now, transitioning to a current player in the game, when you look at a guy like Russell Westbrook and what he’s doing and the way he approaches the game, is that a guy, as a coach, that you look at and say ‘I wish I had a few seasons with him under me?’
Karl: I think Russell Westbrook is a freak. I mean, this man, the way he plays with his energy and his passion every game, is a pretty amazing thing. And I have a lot of admiration for his approach to the game, and there’s no question about that, plus he’s one of the most talented athletes playing the game of basketball today. So that’s a special package and I’ve always looked at Russell Westbrook in that way. He brings to the table what coaches like on the table. Sometimes he makes mental errors, sometimes his basketball isn’t the purest of all, but damn, I would love to coach that. And I think it’s easy to coach because he’s on your team, it would be easy to coach the team. And his leadership by example is pretty obvious every night. I think that’s why OKC, looking into that, they’re great. I think the Westbrook, Harden stories are really good this year. I mean, I never saw James Harden be this type of playmaker, I didn’t see that. [Houston Rockets head coach] Mike D’Antoni saw that more than I did. And I think it’s a marvelous story how giving him the ball has calmed [Houston] down into a very efficient offensive team and a much better defensive team.
Greene: I’m going to put you on the spot since you mentioned them both. Right now, as we approach the All-Star break, who would you give the MVP to out of those two?
Karl: I think like all coaches, I’m going to go with the team that’s winning more games. And I think Harden’s evolution into a point guard, along with D’Antoni’s philosophy of coaching, has turned Houston into a team that might be a contender. I think right now we have Cleveland and Golden State ahead of everybody, and I think Harden and the Houston Rockets have a chance to get there by the end of the year.
Greene: Last thing on Westbrook. Just looking at the situation, I’ve joked around with people and said, from an individual career standpoint and legacy, Kevin Durant going to Golden State might be the best thing for Russell Westbrook, individually, not necessarily as a team, with Oklahoma City because now a lot of the questions around him being ‘maybe you should defer to Kevin Durant?’ or ‘are you the 1B to his 1A?’ Did you see this type of talent? Obviously, we knew he was already an All-Star, already on a great trajectory, but did you see him being able to explode like this before the season started?
Karl: I thought he always had a chance. I think without Kevin Durant there’s around 10 percent or more possessions in his control, maybe even 20 percent more possessions in his control. And I think the NBA is a game of efficient basketball. The coach wants to get the ball to the most efficient player on his team that will create a team game and a successful flow and aggressiveness in their offense. I think when Durant and Westbrook shared it, it was fine, of course, they did a good job of figuring that out. Now I think it’s simple. It’s simple, I think, for OKC to understand their personality right now, and sometimes I think Durant and Westbrook was kind of confusing. At times when one guy maybe wasn’t playing that well, they didn’t know how much the other guy was supposed to take over. So it was always kind of a, ‘Well if you control one, you have a chance to control both of them.’
Greene: I’m going to transition now. Obviously, a lot of the talking points from your book have really resonated from the Carmelo Anthony situation. Kenyon Martin responded, J.R. Smith responded. But I want to ask you, from a different perspective, looking at some of the guys that are leaders of their teams in this day and age, do you get the sense that guys just aren’t ready to handle the expectations that are given to them?
Karl: I think what I’ve seen in the league is that it’s taking longer, for whatever reason, for a college player to come into pro basketball and learn how hard the game is, how difficult the challenge is and how to be a pro every day at a high, high character level. I think that’s what you’re seeing, and before maybe, I look here, a young player would come into the game and it might take two or three years. It seems like it’s taking longer now, it seems like it’s taking three, four, or five years before the maturation of the pro attitude that is necessary to be a great player.
Greene: Do you plan on, ultimately one day, when it’s all said and done, maybe getting together with Carmelo, Kenyon, J.R. and maybe cracking back a brew? You guys did win a lot of games together, will there be phone calls made, at some point, just to talk as men?
Karl: I would hope so. I’d hope so, when the storm calms down and the waves start hitting the shoreline, there might be opportunities in the world of basketball that we can cross, have a coffee or two, or a beer, I’d love those conversations. I think tough conversations make you even smarter. Tough conversations, when you express what’s inside your gut, makes you aware of things and makes you grow.
Greene: Now let me ask you this. Out of all the places that you’ve been, is there one particular stop that you look back and say ‘We left it on the table?’ Whether it’s Seattle with, basically, a prime [Shawn] Kemp and [Gary] Payton, whether it’s the world championships in ‘02, the Denver Nuggets team, Milwaukee really got close to the Finals. Is there a spot that you say ‘This is the squad where I look back and I’m kicking myself because we really left something on the table?’
Karl: I think what comes to mind is the year I came down with cancer in 2010 [with the Denver Nuggets]. I was the All-Star coach that year so we obviously had the best record in the league. And I thought in January, we were playing great basketball. And then I announced my cancer right after the All-Star break, and I tried to coach the rest of the year but I made it only two-to-four weeks. I’m not saying I was the reason we fell apart, but I thought that team, because we were in the Conference Finals the year before, I thought that team was ready to take the challenge past the Western Conference and get to the NBA Finals.
Greene: The squad, personally speaking, I think one of the anomalies that I saw, just witnessing up close was after the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York, you guys, the Denver Nuggets, went on a huge run. I remember asking you a question at the time like ‘Is this one of the most fun environments that you’ve had?’ Those two, three weeks right after [the trade]. You guys were on a winning streak and it just seemed like everyone was getting along great. What was it about that and, as a coach, when you lose, arguably, your best player?
Karl: Well, people forget that we played about 35 games with Melo on our team that year, and every day we had to answer, ‘Is he gonna be traded?’ ‘When is he gonna be traded? ‘Is he gonna be traded?’ I think everybody got tired of that situation, and finally, when the trade was made, I think there was an expectation and opportunity to go out and play. Two or three guys went from being maybe a 20 minute player to now playing 30 minutes a game and having a lot more responsibilities. And because of the way the season went, when the trade happened it was like a celebration for us. There was a challenge for us to show the world that we’re okay. I think that was a compliment to the players, Ty Lawson became our starting point guard at that moment. [Danilo Gallinari], and Wilson Chandler, we got them in and joined the crew. It was pretty interesting how good they were, how young they were, how excited they were. We got Raymond Felton in the trade, and he would go on to play really well. We still had a pretty good basketball team, and I think the combination of us having the excitement showing the world that we’re okay, I think we played at a really high level and it was a lot of fun. I think the last two or three years in Denver after the Melo trade was probably as connected as a team as I ever had.
Greene: I’ve got one last question for you coach and I appreciate the time. This is a different one, right now. You’ve been around the game a long time. Who is the best basketball player, in your eyes, that the masses haven’t heard of? Whether it’s been because of an injury that you’ve seen, whether it’s been from them not taking their craft seriously, is there somebody that you just look back and say ‘This guy had all of the goods but just couldn’t connect all of the dots?’
Karl: Well the guy that comes to mind when you talk that way is Arvydas Sabonis. I mean, Sabonis was an incredible 6’11 athlete, could run the court. Early in his career, he had some injuries, and his injuries turned him into a low post center. But he was an amazing young player, his first six, seven years as a wing player, as a runner. I think 1988 was the year that the Russians beat the USA team for what we felt was the first time fairly. In ’92 we got the Dream Team because the NBA wanted to be involved. I think Sabonis is the one guy not because of attitude, but probably because of injury, never became a great player. But at one time, I think people thought he could be one of the greatest players in the NBA.
NBA Daily: Larry Nance Jr. Is Ready To Move On
At All-Star Weekend, Larry Nance Jr. talked about moving on from being traded, Dr. J and the love that Los Angeles still has for him.
At the end of the day, the NBA is a business and Larry Nance Jr. found that out the hard way when the Los Angeles Lakers traded him and Jordan Clarkson for Isaiah Thomas, Channing Frye and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2018 first-rounder just a few weeks ago.
Naturally, Nance was due back at the Staples Center nine days later to compete in the league’s annual slam dunk contest. Although he would finish second to the Utah Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Nance was frequently reminded just how many fans he still has out on the West Coast.
“It’s either one of two responses,” Nance said over the weekend. “Either people don’t understand how a trade works and they ask me why I left, or, you know: ‘Larry, we miss you, come back in free agency’ and stuff like that. So, either way, they’re kinda on my side — I mean, I’m still a little bit of purple and gold.”
Over his first three seasons, Nance had become a familiar contributor for the Lakers, using his rim-rocking athleticism to carve out a steady role under two different head coaches. Before he was moved to the Cavaliers, Nance was on pace to set career-highs in points (8.6), rebounds (6.8) and steals (1.4). This statistical rise also comes in the midst of his field goal percentage jumping all the way up to 59.3 percent — a mark that would rank him fifth-highest in the NBA if he qualified.* Given the noteworthy change of scenery, his current average of 3.6 field goals per game could grow as well.
But as the Lakers prepare for a potentially crucial offseason, the front office remained committed to shedding salary ahead of free agency, where they may or may not chase the likes of LeBron James, Paul George or DeMarcus Cousins. In just three short years, Nance had quickly become a fan favorite as a jaw-dropping in-game dunker and an improving prospect on a cheap rookie contract, so his involvement at the deadline may have come as a surprise to many as it was for him.
“It’s been a week, so, no, it’s still kinda like: ‘Jeez, I gotta pick up and move right now,’” Nance said. “So, no, I’m not fully adjusted, I’m not, for a lack of a better term, over it. But it’s still fresh in my mind, it’s something that is still kind of shocking.”
Nance, for his worries, is now a key member of the James-led Cavaliers, a franchise that has won 11 more games than the Lakers and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference. While the Cavaliers will likely have to go through the Boston Celtics or Toronto Raptors to reach their fourth consecutive NBA Finals, James himself has reached the championship series every year since the 2009-10 postseason. With the Cavaliers’ maniacal mid-season reboot — which also brought in Rodney Hood, George Hill and the aforementioned Clarkson — they could be poised for an encore performance.
Since he was acquired by Cleveland, Nance and the Cavaliers are 3-0 and, just like that, much of the lingering narrative has been reversed. As the Cavaliers look to further stabilize their season, Nance figures to play a large part down the stretch, particularly so as All-Star Kevin Love continues to rehab from a broken hand.
Still, Nance knows that the Cavaliers will certainly face some speed bumps along the way.
“It’s a learning process, obviously we started out super fast, but there will be a learning process,” Nance stated. “Just like there is with every team and every new group, so we’ll figure it out and we’ll get past it [for the] playoffs.”
But before he makes his first-ever postseason appearance, Nance returned to Los Angeles in an attempt to capture a slam dunk title, something his father — Larry Nance Sr. — did in the inaugural competition way back in 1984. In that contest, the older Nance famously upset Julius Erving and Dominique Wilkins to take home the crown in a nine-person field. On Saturday, Nance paid homage by changing into a retro Phoenix Suns uniform to execute his father’s signature dunk — the rock-the-cradle throwdown that won it all 34 years ago.
“For me, [his highlights were] like normal kid Sesame Street or Barney or something. I was watching his clips when I was growing up, so, yeah, I see it all the time,” Nance recalled.
But when asked what he remembers the most about those distant memories, the second generation son decidedly kept it in the family.
“The fact that he beat Dr. J,” Nance said. “Dr. J is normally thought of as almost like the dunk inventor, kinda brought the dunk contest back — but, really, [I remember] my dad.”
Although Nance couldn’t replicate his father’s success in the contest, his emphatic, springy dunks indicated that the 6-foot-9 skywalker could be an event staple for years to come. In one of the best dunks all night, Nance pulled off the rare double tap — a jam so technically difficult, that he immediately told the judges to look at the jumbotron to make sure they understood what exactly he had just pulled off.
Nance, for his original acrobatics, earned a perfect score of 50.
Earlier that day, Nance discussed the difficulty in standing out amongst a field of explosive guards.
“I think the guys that are taller and longer have a different skill-set than smaller guys,” Nance said. “Obviously, if the smaller guys do something, it looks super impressive because they got to jump a little bit higher, or it looks like they got to jump higher.
“There are ways for bigger guys to look good and I think I’ve got that hammered out.”
For now, Nance doesn’t know if he’ll return to the dunk contest next season after his narrow two-point loss to Mitchell. Instead, Nance wants to focus on helping the Cavaliers in their hunt for the conference’s top seed and, of course, with James, anything is possible. But it’s fair to say that Nance, who nearly pulled down a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds) in his second game with Cleveland, has gone from a rebuild to a legitimate contender in a flash.
“At the same time, I can’t wait for all this to be done with so I can just get back to learning how to gel and mesh with my new team,” Nance said.
From the West Coast to the Midwest, Nance is clearly ready to make some waves once again.
* * * * * *
*To qualify, a player must be on pace for 300 made field goals. As of today, Nance is on pace for 252.6.
NBA Daily: Buyout Market Watch
The trade deadline is behind us, which means it’s time to turn our attention to this season’s buyout market.
Just a few days ago, it seemed that this year’s trade deadline would likely be a snoozer. There was reportedly little traction league-wide on any significant deals and many teams were supposedly content to pass on making any big time trades.
Then Thursday came and reports of significant trades started pouring in, with the Cleveland Cavaliers at the center of much of the chaos. In the span of a few hours, the Cavaliers reshaped their roster, while other teams made significant moves that have short and long-term implications.
Now that the trade deadline has passed and the dust has settled, we now turn our attention toward the buyout market. After taking note of the deals that happened (and some anticipated trades that never materialized), here is a list of players that could be bought out of their current contracts and have the potential to help a playoff contender this season.
Joe Johnson, Sacramento Kings
Johnson landed with the Kings in a three-team deal involving the Utah Jazz, Cleveland Cavaliers and Sacramento. Prior to the trade deadline, it had been reported that Johnson would potentially seek a buyout to join a playoff contender. It is now virtually certain that Johnson will receive a buyout from the Kings, who are effectively out of the Western Conference playoff race and have little reason to hold onto Johnson.
Johnson, age 36, averaged 7.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 27.4 percent from three-point range in 32 games with the Jazz this season. Johnson isn’t the scorer he once was, his efficiency numbers are down and no one would mistake him for a lockdown defender. But, against the Los Angeles Clippers in last year’s playoffs, Johnson proved that he can still score effectively in crunch time situations and can be a matchup problem for smaller wing players. While it’s not clear that Johnson could recapture the level he was playing at against the Clippers, he is a worthwhile gamble for a playoff team in need of a capable isolation scorer and experienced postseason performer.
Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies held Evans out of games recently in the expectation that he would be traded prior to Thursday’s trade deadline. However, teams across the league put an iron grip on their first-round picks. Only the Cavaliers ended up trading a first-rounder in any deal at the deadline in addition to the Detroit Pistons who gave one up in the Blake Griffin trade a week prior. Evans has played well this year, is healthy, on an expiring contract and could significantly help a playoff contender, so Memphis was set on getting a first-rounder in any deal.
Now that the deadline has passed and Evans is still in Memphis, it’s possible (though not necessarily probable) that Evans will reach a buyout with the Grizzlies. However, it has been reported that the Grizzlies are interested in re-signing Evans this offseason to a new contract, so it’s possible they have little interest in parting ways with him this season.
If Evans secures a buyout, there should be a strong market for his services. Evans is healthier now than he has been in recent seasons and has been a consistent contributor for Memphis this season. Evans is averaging 19.5 points, five rebounds, five assists and one steal per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39.2 percent from three-point range.
Any team looking to add another ball-handler, playmaker and scorer would take a serious look at adding Evans. However, teams that emphasize ball movement or already have a ball-dominant point guard or wing may be less inclined to sign Evans.
Brandan Wright, Memphis Grizzlies
Brian Windhorst of ESPN reports that Wright is a potential buyout candidate and insinuated that the Cleveland Cavaliers could be interested in signing him. Wright’s statistics this season don’t jump off the page and he is only playing 13.6 minutes per game, but he brings exactly what the Cavaliers need – shot blocking and rim protection at the center position.
Wright has struggled with injuries for several seasons, so that is always a concern for him. But if he reaches a buyout with the Grizzlies, he’ll likely find plenty of interest from playoff contenders. It’s not certain Wright will secure a buyout but the Grizzlies are 18-36 and well outside of the playoff picture, so it’s a possibility.
Marco Belinelli, Atlanta Hawks (Bought Out)
Multiple teams showed interest in acquiring Belinelli before Thursday’s trade deadline but nothing concrete ever materialized. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported earlier today that Belinelli is in the process of finalizing a buyout with the Hawks and that multiples contenders are interested in his services.
Belinelli is a solid perimeter shooting and a capable ball-handler. He can’t be relied on as a primary playmaker but he can fill in as a secondary playmaker in certain situations. While Belinelli can contribute offensively, his defensive impact leaves a bit to be desired. However, for any team that is looking for additional shooting on the wing and some more secondary playmaking, Belinelli figures to be on their respective radars.
Tony Allen, Chicago Bulls (Waived)
Earlier today, the Chicago Bulls waived Allen, whom they acquired in the deal that sent Nikola Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans. David Aldridge of TNT is reporting that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets are showing interest in Allen.
The Thunder recently lost Andre Roberson to a season-ending injury, so it makes sense that they are interested in Allen. Allen isn’t quite the lockdown defender he once was, but he’s a cerebral player that can still make an impact on that end of the court.
The Rockets spent the last year or so building their roster to counter the Golden State Warriors. They’ve added versatile defenders like Chris Paul, Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker, each of whom can switch and guard multiple positions. Allen would give the Rockets another versatile defender, though his lack of shooting could be problematic.
Derrick Rose, Utah Jazz
Rose ended up in Utah as part of the same three-team deal that landed Joe Johnson in Sacramento. Shortly after the trade became public knowledge, it was quickly reported that Utah intended to waive Rose (since Rose is currently on a minimum contract, he would be waived, not bought out), which would clear a path for him to sign on with a contender.
It is being reported that Tom Thibodeau, head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves, is interested in signing Rose. Thibodeau clearly still has high regard for his former point guard, who has suffered through several significant injuries and a steep decline since their time together in Chicago. It seems very likely that Rose will end up with the Timberwolves, but it seems unlikely that he can become a significant contributor in Minnesota. Minnesota already has Jeff Teague and Tyus Jones at point guard, both of whom are more productive than Rose at this point in time. Rose would need to turn back the clock in order to warrant any significant playing time, which is something that can’t be counted on at this point in his career.
NBA Daily: Trey Burke On G-League, Embracing Second Chances
Trey Burke talked to Basketball Insiders about falling out of the NBA last summer, reigniting his passions and embracing his second opportunity.
At the age of 24, Trey Burke crashed out of the NBA after another disappointing season with the Washington Wizards. Burke, a former top ten draft pick in 2013, had gone from starting and earning 30-plus minutes per game as a rookie to out of the rotation entirely in four years. With his career suddenly in jeopardy, Burke evaluated his options before joining up with the G-League’s Westchester Knicks, all in hopes of making it back to the NBA sooner rather than later.
Competing within the New York Knicks’ organization would ideally offer him the most long-term upside — but, more than anything, Burke just relished the freedom to redefine himself, his game and his ultimate goals as a professional basketball player.
“It was a path I chose, I had offers coming into this season, but I think I wanted to recreate myself,” Burke told Basketball Insiders. “[And] show what I can do on a consistent basis, night in, night out, with consistent minutes, so that’s why I chose that route.”
In retrospect, that decision may be the one that saved his NBA career. The G-League allowed Burke to exhibit his explosive scoring abilities while leading an offense on a nightly basis. Over 26 games, Burke averaged 26.6 points, 3.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists, even shooting 41.8 percent from three-point range as an added bonus. With Westchester perched at the top of the G-League, Burke was named Player of the Month in December, firmly positioning himself as a strong candidate for an NBA contract.
Needless to say, Burke’s stint in the G-League can be considered nothing less than a massive success. But while many look to the developmental arena as a second chance, the majority of players like Burke end up spending the rest of their career waiting for a call that never comes. Burke, on the other hand, says he knew the NBA would not be far away if he stayed focused and drove his team forward throughout the season.
“I always knew it would be quick as long as I did what I needed to do. As long as I prepared and approached the game every day like I did, I knew it would happen, it was just a matter of time and being patient.
“At the end of the day, it’s about winning — I knew winning was going to help that a lot. I think we were the best team in the G-League when I got called up, so I just made sure I was doing my part and I knew it would come after that.”
On Jan. 14, the New York Knicks signed Burke to a deal for the remainder of the season. Although his on-court minutes have frequently seesawed, Burke has made good on his new opportunity by posting double-digit scoring totals on three separate occasions already. During a 12-point loss to the Denver Nuggets last month, Burke had all of his potential-laden tools on full display and tallied 18 points and 11 assists with zero turnovers.
Of course, Burke is no stranger to dominating in single-game spurts — but his issue was always a matter of consistency. As a rookie, Burke averaged 12.8 points and 5.7 assists for the Utah Jazz, but every subsequent season saw those numbers fall. Today, Burke is a changed player and he’s no longer focused on filling up the box score. When discussing what it would take to get back to his previous level of individual success, Burke downplayed the importance of statistics.
“Obviously, it’s about opportunity. Then again, [the numbers] aren’t my goal. I know what type of player I can be in this league, so I just need to be ready when my number is called,” Burke said. “The biggest thing for me now is winning, I think everybody knows my strengths as far as scoring the ball, creating and making plays. But in your fifth year in the NBA, you want to go far in the playoffs, you want to experience that part of the season.
“I only got to experience that last year with Washington, but I wasn’t part of the rotation. It’ll be fun to get to the playoffs and I believe that we can do it with the talent on this team.”
Naturally, Burke spoke about those postseason goals before the unfortunate injury to franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis this week. The All-Star’s torn ACL will almost certainly end their playoff hopes in 2017-18, but the Knicks may now consider playing both Burke and rookie Frank Ntilikina in larger doses to end the year, as reported by ESPN’s Ian Begley.
Considering that this once-promising prospect lost his spot in the rotation to Brandon Jennings and then only featured in three postseason blowouts with the Wizards last season, the early returns on Burke in New York have been encouraging. But as Burke compares the new and old versions of himself, he sees nothing but positive change.
“[The biggest difference is] maturity — I think maturity on and off the court, confidence as well. Trey Burke now knows what he can do, regardless of what other people say or think,” Burke told Basketball Insiders. “Confidence is 80, 90 percent of the game, that’s the mental part, so just knowing what you can do, staying to your strengths and doing what you can do to help the team win.”
The Knicks currently sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference at 23-32 and, without Porzingis, the franchise will likely turn their gaze toward the future. If Burke is a good fit with Ntilikina and Knicks’ youth moment moving forward, then New York must decide if the talented scorer is a piece worth locking down long-term. But those answers will only come with consistent minutes, something that Burke hasn’t been given quite yet. Still, Burke isn’t hung up on the fluctuating playing time or what his destiny might hold next — he just wants to win.
“Winning is going to take care of everything else. I believe that if I continue to do my part, my role for this team will continue to grow,” Burke said. “So I’m not really focused on [minutes], my focus is on helping this team win. As a point guard, it’s like the quarterback position, you’re orchestrating everything when you’re out there. So, as long as we’re winning, then I feel like my role will continue to grow.”
For a player that had plummeted from the league without the promise of a return, it’s not difficult to understand why Burke has adopted a new perspective on the NBA and his place in it. In fact, Burke is just happy to be here at all. For a moment, it even looked as if the light within Burke had been extinguished for good. Following that second frustrating season with the Wizards, Burke had to choose between potentially losing NBA basketball forever or taking the road less traveled — thankfully, he picked the latter.
“I think it’s about belief, faith — faith in my lord and savior, Jesus Christ, and playing for something higher than myself. Because like you said, [coming through the G-League] is not easy to do, that’s very rare. But I never gave up, I never stopped — I continued to approach each day like I really wanted it.
“I had lost the passion for basketball in these last couple years. But this summer, I looked myself in the mirror and rededicated my life, my approach changed and I’m playing for something higher and something bigger now — and it’s showing.”
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