It has been all hugs and handshakes in and around Madison Square Garden this week. The New York Knicks have won seven straight games, breathing life into a nightmarish season once assumed to be dead as a doornail. And, more importantly for the long-term future of the franchise, the organization officially announced Phil Jackson has been hired as president of the basketball operations.
At the introductory press conference, owner Jim Dolan shockingly proclaimed that he would “willingly and gratefully” cede control to Jackson, and that Jackson will “be in charge of all basketball decisions.” It was sweet music to Knicks fans ears.
Nevertheless, once the applause dies down, Jackson will have to start the actual, arduous process of rebuilding the Knicks from league-wide laughingstock into legit contender. Listed below are the central issues Jackson will have to address during his first 100 days in office.
1. What to do with Carmelo Anthony?
Both Dolan and Jackson have voluntarily gone on record over the past couple of days as saying they want to keep Carmelo Anthony in a Knicks uniform. And part of the reason many Knicks fans celebrated the Jackson hiring was because they believe it increases the odds of Anthony re-signing with New York this summer.
However, as we have pointed out in this space previously, the argument could also be made that refusing to sign Carmelo to a max-contract would be in the Knicks’ best long-term interests. As a reminder, a max contract would pay Anthony a total of $129 million over five years, including an annual salary of $29.2 million during the 2018-19 season, when ‘Melo would be 34 years old. It’s clear to see that if New York did commit max money to Anthony, they would have a difficult time constructing a championship roster around him. And if the Knicks let him walk, or, better yet, move him in a sign-and-trade this summer, New York would have a ton of cap space to play with in the summer of 2015. With Jackson at the helm, the Knicks would likely have a better chance at landing one (or two) of the top-tier free agents available.
Yet, Anthony has repeatedly intimated that he would be willing to take less to stay in NYC. Just how much less is the key question. If Anthony is willing to settle for a deal starting at around $16 million, then it would be far easier for Jackson and company to pair Anthony with talented teammates.
Any way you slice, the impending decision on Anthony is the most pressing, important issue facing Jackson as he begins this journey.
2. Focus on clearing out cap space for the ‘Summer of 2015’
Regardless of how the Anthony negotiations go, July of 2015 should retain a prominent place in Jackson’s thought process.
If the Knicks do re-sign ‘Melo, then July of 2015 will be their first opportunity to shop for a star-studded supporting cast.
If Anthony walks, then July of 2015 is when Jackson will be able to truly re-create the franchise in his vision by completely rebuilding the entire roster from the ground up.
With this reality in mind, next season Jackson will have to avoid the temptation of trading expiring contracts of players such as Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire in exchange for players who would be an upgrade in immediate production, but whose contracts extend beyond the 2014-15 season. In addition, Jackson should be shopping J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton hard, as both have contracts that don’t expire until 2016.
The free agent class of 2015 will likely feature several elite-level all-stars. Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, Roy Hibbert and DeAndre Jordan among others may be up for grabs as unrestricted free agents. And depending on how the Miami HEAT situation plays out this summer, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh may be added to that list as well.
Entering the summer of 2015 with as much cap space as possible should remain a primary focus.
3. Zero in on a head coach
Mike Woodson has been around the NBA a long time. He understands the nature of business. Once it was announced that Jackson would be hired, he could see the writing on the wall. Unfortunately for him, there is likely very little he can do to save his job at this point. Even if the Knicks weren’t in the midst of an incredibly disappointing season (even with their current seven-game win streak, New York is still 12 games under .500), Woodson would be an extreme long shot to be the coach of the Knicks on opening day next season.
Jackson, maybe more than other human being on the planet, understands the impact a head coach can have on a team’s success. Now that he is calling the shots, we can safely assume he will bring in a coach he is comfortable with, as well as one that is familiar with and eager to embrace his overall coaching philosophy. This goes beyond simple X’s and O’s (such as incorporating the triangle offense); Jackson will be looking for a coach who espouses similar a philosophical ideology.
Steve Kerr, Brian Shaw (currently under contract in Denver) and Kurt Rambis are just few names that have been mentioned as potential candidates.
4. Determine the actual level of autonomy
As noted above, Dolan has said all the right things over the past few days. He has gone above and beyond to loudly declare that he in no way plans to interfere.
“Phil would not be coming if he thought I was going to second-guess him,” Dolan said in a radio interview Tuesday afternoon. “He (Jackson) didn’t have to convince me to give up the authority. That was easy… I’m not qualified to do this.”
Now, we have to take these comments with a grain of salt, as Dolan’s history invites skepticism. Dolan has hired other respected, qualified basketball minds in the past, and Knicks fans have witnessed stalwarts such as Donnie Walsh and Larry Brown see their power usurped before exiting uncomfortably.
Is it possible Dolan has finally learned his lesson? Surely he is fully aware that the ‘old way’ was not working.
“I hope I will take more of a backseat than I have before,” Dolan explained.
He seemed genuinely humbled and relieved to pass on the pressures of making important basketball decisions. Will this reality exist once Jackson starts making moves? How will Dolan react if Jackson runs afoul of the omnipresent CAA?
Jackson, as independent and free-thinking as they come, will likely test the limits of his newfound authority relatively quickly, and will obviously keep a close eye on Dolan’s response.
5. Flesh out the rest of the managerial team
Considering Jackson’s physical limitations (he will spend at least some of the year in California) and his inexperience with this particular role, he will need to round out his management team with executives he can rely on.
Dolan has insisted that Steve Mills will be kept on, and maintain an important role within the organization. The futures of Allan Houston (recently named GM of the Knicks’ D-League affiliate) and Mark Warkentien are much less clear. Does Phil have a hand-selected cadre he plans to import?
Assuming he lacks an intense familiarity with advanced statistics, it will be interesting to see how heavily Jackson leans on the Knicks’ current, in-house analytic experts. In addition, due to the physical maladies that will limit his ability to travel extensively and scout prospects both at home and abroad, Jackson will have to familiarize himself with the Knicks’ advance scouting department. Will he look to clean house or keep the status quo?
These issues have not yet been addresses by Jackson, Dolan or Mills.
6. Initiate culture change
It is something that obviously won’t happen overnight, but the Garden needs to be disinfected. The mere presence of Jackson will do wonders, but the new head honcho needs to stay diligent.
Knicks players have continually embarrassed themselves both on and off the court. A lack of maturity and personal responsibility has allowed the Knicks’ “brand” to be tarnished.
In addition, the team’s toxic relationship with the media hasn’t benefited anyone.
Jackson has long preached about the importance of culture within an organization.
Well, the ‘Zen Master’ has his work cut out for him in New York.
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
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
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.
“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.
Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics
Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.
Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.
Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.
In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.
Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.
“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.
“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”
The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.
“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.
“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”
Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.
“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”
The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.
“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”
Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.
“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.
“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”
Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.
“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.
“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”
While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.
“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.
“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”
Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.
Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.
Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.
“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.
“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”
You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.
Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.
“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?
“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”
Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.
“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”