Last month marked the three-year anniversary of Phil Jackson being hired as New York’s President of Basketball Operations. Knicks fans welcomed Phil back to NYC with open arms, hoping he would lead the team back to respectability. Jackson obviously wanted the same thing, but he was determined to do it his way.
Jackson began preaching the many benefits of The Triangle Offense as soon as he arrived. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, it has failed. While the majority of the NBA’s most successful teams have offenses that spread the floor in an effort to get as many three-pointers and layups/dunks as possible, Jackson and his emissaries stubbornly insist on staying stuck in the past.
When Jackson hired Jeff Hornacek last summer to be the Knicks’ head coach, there was hope that Hornacek would be allowed to revamp and update the offense. While the Knicks initially ran far less of the Triangle than in years past, Hornacek has seemed to bend to the will of Jackson late in the season. Last month, he told reporters that the remainder of the season would be used to evaluate which players embraced and thrived in the system.
“End of the year comes and we’re having our discussions and you say, ‘Can this guy play this offense?’ We’ll say either yay or nay or he’s getting it, he’s getting better. So, I’m sure that’s part of evaluations this summer,” said Hornacek.
Hornacek also later hinted that one of the problems derailing the 2016-17 Knicks was veering away from the Triangle too often, and that the plan was to go “full triangle” at the start of next season.
Amazingly, the takeaway from another lost season in New York is not that the Knicks are running too much Triangle, it’s that they haven’t run it nearly enough.
For three years now, the Knicks have operated under Jackson’s preferred approach. The problem is that the system has not produced the desired results. Again and again, the Knicks have found themselves essentiality eliminated from playoff contention shortly after the All-Star break.
The New York Knicks have posted a cumulative record of 79-164 in the three years under Jackson’s reign. Only two teams in the entire league have lost more games over that span than the Knicks.
During the early 1800s, amid the British industrial revolution, groups of skilled textile workers feared the future. They believed that automated looms and knitting frames being introduced at that time would leave them displaced and jobless. Luddites, as these individuals came to be known, began destroying machinery and other technological improvements in the misguided hope of preserving their livelihoods.
In the centuries since the Industrial Revolution, the term Luddite has been associated with individuals who are hostile to advances in technology.
In many industries even today, individuals that have been successful in the past often find themselves at odds with innovative technological advancements. In the sports world, for instance, analytics are viewed by many as a threat to the status quo.
In a rare interview, granted to the New York Times in February of 2015, Jackson, already feeling the heat and determined to defend the Triangle, stated he wasn’t ready to capitulate and implement changes into the Knicks’ offense.
“I think it’s still debatable about how basketball is going to be played, what’s going to win out,” Jackson said, leaving no doubt of his disdain for the point-guard-dominated concept of “screen-and-roll, break down, pass, and two of three players standing in spots, not participating in the offense.
NBA analysts give me some diagnostics on how 3pt oriented teams are faring this playoffs…seriously, how's it goink?
— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) May 10, 2015
In May of that year, Jackson took to Twitter to ask for “some diagnostics on how 3pt oriented teams are faring this playoffs.” Infamously, he signed off with “seriously, how’s it goink?”
Well, the returns are in Mr. Jackson. The “diagnostics” have taught us that most of the NBA’s best teams try to avoid mid-range jump shots in favor of three-pointers or attempts at the rim.
In recent years, a tectonic shift has changed the way the game is played. Many teams in today’s NBA are incredibly reliant on long-distance shooting, including the majority of the league’s elite contenders. The two teams that led the NBA in made three-pointers during the 2015-16 regular season were the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers – the two teams that ultimately ended up squaring off in the NBA Finals.
NBA players have made 22,470 three-pointers this season, breaking the single-season record of 20,953 set in 2015-16.
There are four teams currently averaging over 11 made three-pointer per game this season: The Rockets, Cavaliers, Warriors and Celtics. The Cavs and Celts sit atop the Eastern Conference standings. The Rockets are third in the West, while the Warriors boast the best record in the league. Those four squads have a combined record of 218-94 (.699 winning percentage).
There are only four teams currently averaging fewer than eight made three-pointers per game this season: The Pistons, Suns, Bulls and Timberwolves. All four are currently below .500. The combined record of those four teams is 126-186 (.403 winning percentage). Both the Orlando Magic and the New York Knicks are averaging just over eight three-pointers per game. If we included them in the math, the cumulative winning percentage of three-point averse teams would certainly dip.
As recently as eight-to-10 years ago, when Phil Jackson was still on top of the coaching world, three-pointers were not a necessity. Teams could dominate without relying on long-range shots and The Triangle Offense was certainly still viable.
In 2008-09, when Phil Jackson won a title with the Lakers, only two teams in the entire league made more than eight three-pointers per game.
But times have changed. The introduction of analytics, although it was initially resisted by many, has rapidly revamped the way most coaches approach game plans and the way general managers approach roster construction.
Make no mistake, the times they are a changin’. The teams that attempt and make more shots from behind the arc and at the rim tend to win more ballgames.
Yet, Phil Jackson remains convinced the Triangle can still reign supreme. Which, by proxy, means the Knicks’ offense will continue to stagnate and settle for mid-range jumpers far too often. Unless Phil can convince the rest of the NBA to stop shooting so many three-pointers, New York will continue to lag behind the rest of the league if they insist on sticking with the Triangle.
Per NBA.com, the Knicks are attempting 25.6 mid-range jumpers (28.9 percent of New York’s total field goal attempts) per game this season. That’s the highest average in the league. In contrast, the Rockets average just 7.1 attempts from that distance.
New York also led the league in field goal attempts from the mid-range zone last season as well. In 2014-15, they were tied with Byron Scott’s Lakers for the most such attempts.
According to NBAMiner.com, the Knicks “average shot distance” is 12.8 feet from the basket this season. That’s exactly 15th in the NBA (sandwiched between the Sixers and the Nets), meaning New York is often neither at the rim or behind the arc. That’s the NBA’s ‘no man’s land.’
Jackson was brought in to right the ship and steer the Knicks towards respectability. Under Jackson, the Knicks have gotten worse. New York was above .500 (169-143) in the four seasons prior to Phil’s arrival.
Since Jackson came aboard, the Knicks have been investing in a dying technology. The numbers bear this out in every way possible. The stats are undeniable, with the clearest indicator being the win/loss record. And it’s not as if the Knicks roster has been completely bereft of talent. They have had an All-Star each of the last four seasons. In addition, Willy Hernangomez will make either the first or second All-Rookie Team this year, which means it will also be the fourth straight season the Knicks have also had at least a player named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team. New York is actually the only franchise in the league able to claim this distinction.
Still, the Knicks still find themselves nearly 20 games below .500 once again. The system didn’t work when Carmelo was surrounded by young players. It didn’t work with Melo surrounded by veterans. Maybe the system is part of the problem, not the solution.
Instead of acknowledging it’s now necessary to adjust to a changing landscape, the Knicks decision makers not only seem committed to an ineffectual system, they appear dedicated to doubling down.
Of course, it would be foolish to pin all the blame on the Triangle. The biggest problem in New York this season has been on the defensive end of the floor.
Offensively, the Knicks are averaging 104.6 per 100 possessions this season. That’s well below average (19th in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency), but far better than their Defensive Rating. New York is allowing 108.4 points per 100 possessions (fifth-worst in the league).
However, in lieu of publicly demanding improved defensive effort, last month Phil Jackson came down from his office to run a clinic on the Triangle at practice. Dedicating time and resources to The Triangle hampers their ability to focus on more pressing issues.
To his credit, Jackson has done some positive things during his tenure in New York. The single most important decision he has made as an executive was deciding who to take with the fourth pick in the 2015 draft. By selecting Kristaps Porzingis, Jackson hit a home run. In addition, he has been adamant about not trading away any future draft picks. Thus, the Knicks future is not as dreary as some have portrayed it to be.
However, the recommitment to the Triangle over the second half of the season should frighten Knicks fans. Considering his age and how things have played out so far in New York, it’s clear Phil won’t be in charge of the Knicks forever. What type of team will he leave behind for the person that inherits his job? Will he flesh out the roster with players that fit one particular system, one which will almost certainly be abandoned once Jackson leaves town? For instance, the Knicks will have a high lottery pick in June. This draft class is loaded with top-tier point guard prospects, and the Knicks desperately need to add a PG this summer. Will Phil choose to pass on a playmaker such as De’Aaron Fox because Fox doesn’t fit in the Triangle?
The Luddites destroying looms and knitting machines wasn’t going to save their jobs. Technology would only continue to advance forward, regardless of what they did.
The NBA isn’t going backward either. Winning teams aren’t going to somehow forget that three-point attempts are more valuable than those from two-point territory. The rules that have been changed to benefit perimeter players and increase scoring are not going to be reversed anytime soon either.
Success starts from the top down. Whether it’s running a factory in Britain in the early 19th century or running an NBA franchise, certain constants exist.
The famous scientist Charles Darwin was born in England in 1809, just two years before the Luddite revolution began. Darwin, best known for his contributions to the science of evolution, once wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.”
It’s time for Phil Jackson and the Knicks to adapt, or continue down their current path, which ends in irrelevance and annual, early-season extinction.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Chicago Bulls
David Yapkowitz continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by taking a look at the Chicago Bulls.
With summer league over and the big name free agents all signed, we’re now approaching the doldrums of the NBA offseason. Most big moves have all been made, and we shouldn’t expect to too much movement between now and the start of training camp.
Most teams probably have an idea already of what the bulk of their roster will look like come training camp, and as such, we’re starting a new series here at Basketball Insiders taking a look at each team’s offseason to this point.
Next up in our series is the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls are a team clearly in rebuilding mode. After this offseason, they’ve done a pretty solid job at filling out the roster with young talent at every position. It’s obvious now that they were clear winners of their trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves two years ago that netted them Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.
LaVine continued his ascent to stardom this past season. There may have been initial concerns when he was traded to Chicago as to how he would respond after his torn ACL, but since then, he’s showed no lingering limitations. He’s well on his way to becoming one of the elite shooting guards in the league. Few can match his scoring prowess whether he’s slashing to the rim or shooting 37.4 percent from the three-point line.
Markkanen has emerged as one of the top young big men in the NBA. He made some strong steps forward in his second year in the league. He’s moving closer to becoming a double-double threat every night. He’s exceeded projections from when he was drafted that pegged him as little more than a three-point shooting big. He has shown a lot more versatility to his game.
One major addition the Bulls made last season was the trade deadline acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. When he arrived in Chicago, he quickly played some of the best basketball of his career, fitting in seamlessly with the team and solidifying himself as part of their future core.
They’ve also got Wendell Carter Jr. in the fold. Their top draft pick last offseason, Carter quickly established himself a great defensive complement to Markkanen. An injury cut his rookie season shorter than expected, but he still showed flashes of being a capable around the rim scorer.
They do have some other decent rotation guys in Antonio Blakeney, Chandler Hutchinson and Ryan Arcidiacono. Blakeney is an instant offense scoring guard for the second unit, and Hutchinson was showing flashes of his talent before he too went down with an injury during his rookie season. Arcidiacono was re-signed by the Bulls after being one of their most consistent outside shooters last season.
The Bulls came into draft night with the seventh overall pick. It might have seemed like a disappointment seeing as how the Bulls probably had a shot at a top three pick considering their record. But ultimately, Chicago might have gotten what it wanted in the end. Point guard has been an area of need for the Bulls for quite some time, and they used their pick on North Carolina’s Coby White.
White is a little more in the mold of a scoring guard, but if you could take away one thing from his performance in summer league, it’s that he can thrive as a playmaker as well. It’s unlikely that White will get to start right away, but he’s got the makings of developing into the Bulls eventual starter at the point.
Chicago also picked up Daniel Gafford in the second round. The Bulls needed frontcourt depth after losing Robin Lopez in free agency, and they may very well have found their answer with Gafford. Summer League isn’t always a great indicator of how a player will translate to the NBA, but Gafford was solid as a finisher around the rim and a shot blocker in the paint. He may end up becoming one of the steals of the draft.
In free agency, the Bulls made some rather solid moves. On a team full of young players, it’s necessary to have a couple of key veterans for the young guys to lean on and to provide leadership and stability in the locker room. Thaddeus Young certainly fits that bill. Entering his 13th year in the league, Young played in 81 games last season and was a key guy on a Pacers team that made the playoffs. He’ll provide the Bulls with consistency on and off the court.
They also made a big step to addressing their point guard woes. They acquired Tomas Satoransky in a sign and trade with the Washington Wizards. He’ll provide a perfect stop-gap as the starting point guard while White develops. He proved himself as a facilitator with the Wizards, and he’s one of the better three-point shooters in the league, He’s a versatile guy who can play and defend multiple positions.
The Bulls also picked up Luke Kornet who spent last season with the New York Knicks. Kornet is relatively young and gives the Bulls a solid stretch big man on a decent contract. He’s also a solid shot blocker and should compete with Gafford for minutes off the bench.
Chicago also picked up an intriguing prospect in Adam Mokoka. The French combo guard initially declared for the draft a year ago but ultimately withdrew. He re-entered the draft this summer but went undrafted. In summer league, he showed flashes of playing both wing positions and being a capable defender who can shoot from three. He’ll be on a two-way contract so he’ll see significant time with the Windy City Bulls, Chicago’s G League affiliate.
PLAYERS IN: Adam Mokoka (two-way), Coby White, Daniel Gafford, Luke Kornet, Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky
PLAYERS OUT: Brandon Sampson, Rawle Alkins, Robin Lopez, Shaquille Harrison, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Walt Lemon Jr., Wayne Selden
The Bulls roster currently stands at 15 guaranteed contracts and one two-way contract. They’re likely done with any roster additions unless they find someone to take that second two-way contract slot. They’d most likely move Cristiano Felicio if they could find a taker for his contract, but it’s probably unlikely.
With the additions of Satoransky and White, that likely spells the end of the Kris Dunn experiment in Chicago. If Dunn remains on the roster through the season, and the Bulls aren’t able to move him, it’s highly unlikely Chicago tenders him a qualifying offer. In all likelihood, this is his final season in the Windy City.
The Bulls have done a decent job at filling the roster out with good, young talent. Making the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference, is still likely a few seasons away. But there is reason for optimism for the Bulls future.
OFFSEASON GRADE: B
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Cleveland Cavaliers
Spencer Davies opens Basketball Insiders team-by-team “Grading The Offseason” series with an overview of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Monday night in Las Vegas, the 2019 NBA Summer League champions will be crowned. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Memphis Grizzlies are set to square off at the Thomas & Mack Center as the last teams standing over the course of the 10-day period.
Once that winner is determined, the world will be without NBA basketball for quite some time. Though the FIBA World Cup will be fun to watch, it’s not until late September that the association returns for training camp.
In order to hold you over until that date, Basketball Insiders has begun a “Grading The Offseason” series, featuring in-depth analysis on how each franchise has done during this wild summer.
To start things off, we’re going to break down arguably the quietest team of them all regarding roster turnover—the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It’s no secret that, on the floor, the season didn’t go quite as expected. Following the second departure of LeBron James, the organization felt it had enough remnants of the conference championship team to move forward and compete while developing young talent under head coach Tyronn Lue. A detrimental injury to Kevin Love changed that quickly.
Lue was fired six games into the 2018-19 campaign and then the wheels fell off pretty quickly. Top assistant Larry Drew pushed for a raise to take the interim role, due to the mixed bag inside of the locker room, and he was granted one. But as the losses piled up, the internal battle between the veterans and the younger players grew. Most of the criticism shaded toward upstart rookie Collin Sexton, yet he later proved what he was capable of to some of those teammates later down the road.
There were bright spots when Love re-entered the picture around February and played until late March, as he helped steer the inexperienced youngsters like Sexton, Cedi Osman and Ante Zizic in the direction of winning basketball. When all was said and done, the final record was ugly. However, the energy surrounding the group was clearly in a much more positive light than it had been beforehand.
What shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle is the job Cavaliers’ general manager Koby Altman and his staff did to revamp the team’s salary cap situation. Entering the year with inflated contracts, via veterans that didn’t want to sit through a rebuild, moves had to be made to tighten up the locker room and lower the cap a significant amount. Ultimately, they were successful in doing so.
Cleveland was able to move Kyle Korver, George Hill, Sam Dekker, Rodney Hood and Alec Burks (acquired in the Korver trade) and turned that into Brandon Knight, Matthew Dellavedova, John Henson, Nik Stauskas and a boatload of future draft picks. Altman’s been in asset accumulation mode since he took over during LeBron’s last season, and he’s done wonders with the opportunity to chop down those loud figures on the cap sheet, even adding future capital in the process.
Not only has Altman done a great job in obtaining that, but he’s also turned “good” into “great” often—i.e. turning Korver into Burks which he then flipped for a 2019 first-round pick, using the second-rounders to acquire another first-round pick. Even landing Larry Nance Jr. and Jordan Clarkson at the 2018 trade deadline to kickstart a new direction was impressive.
After parting ways with Drew at season’s end, the Cavaliers set a new course with the hiring of John Beilein in mid-May. Over the span of these past few months, he’s constructed a fresh coaching staff with former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff as his associate, University of California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb and five-year Utah Jazz assistant Antonio Lang in complementary roles.
Beilein’s graduate assistant at Michigan, Jay Shunnar, is also a part of the staff. Team favorites Mike Gerrity and Dan Geriot are staying on as well to continue developing the players they’ve worked with.
All in all, the people assembled to take on this task of changing a culture are entrenched in teaching and doing hands-on work. It’s the on-court product with an extremely inexperienced group of coaches—three of which are coming from the collegiate level—that could be a challenge. Luckily, the process seems to be about a collective group with an open-mindedness that won’t allow for egos to get in the way.
Despite the lottery results going south (Cleveland had the second-best odds in the top three and dropped to five), draft night was a smashing success for the organization. The wine and gold came out with a trio of highly touted rookies—Darius Garland, Dylan Windler and, after trades were officially cleared, Kevin Porter Jr. Adding talents to the roster was the top priority for the front office — today, that stands as the most noise from what’s been a mostly silent offseason.
With a lack of roster spots and an understanding that there would be little money to spend in a chaotic, competitive free-agent market, the Cavaliers have had to stand pat with what they have. JR Smith’s contract had reportedly fielded some offers between NBA Draft Combine time and around the draft, but the team didn’t like the idea of taking back a bad contract. Instead, they found an easier way to get a third pick in the 2019 first round by using the plethora of second-rounders acquired in the past to flip for Porter.
Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com reported Monday that Cleveland plans on waiving and stretching Smith’s contract for $1.4 million each over the next three years. The move will allow the team to stay under the luxury tax, avoid the repeater tax penalty and also provides a full mid-level exception amount at its disposal. Fedor does mention the front office won’t likely use it heading into the season to remain flexible financially and to keep a roster spot open.
Smith not being traded came as a surprise to many, especially knowing the salary relief his previously-grandfathered CBA deal offered to a team searching to clear space for a big free agency offer. The summer moved fast, though, and other franchises with similar predicaments acted quickly. The Cavaliers could’ve facilitated a few trades to get more future draft assets in return, but they didn’t feel like taking on an albatross contract that would’ve been worth paying the extra tax this upcoming season.
The only other real decision to make was whether or not to retain David Nwaba, who, when healthy, displayed flashes of defensive excellence and aggressiveness on the offensive end, Cleveland did not extend the qualifying offer to Nwaba before the deadline, making him an unrestricted free agent. He recently signed with the Brooklyn Nets on a two-year deal.
This move was not so surprising as Basketball Insiders reported at the beginning of June that Nwaba’s representation would be looking for a multi-year deal. A league source said that last summer’s one-year agreement between the Cavaliers and Nwaba was with the understanding that he’d be strictly looking for a newly re-structured multi-year contract with no qualifying offer in his 2019 plans.
The latest addition the franchise made was inking Dean Wade, an undrafted rookie from Kansas State, to a two-way contract. He played in five NBA Summer League games for the organization between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.
PLAYERS IN: Darius Garland, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr., Dean Wade (two-way)
PLAYERS OUT: JR Smith, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Channing Frye
Following the waiving of Smith, the Cavaliers roster will be at 13 players. You’d imagine they wouldn’t keep two roster spots open, so seeing a free agent signing or even nabbing a player from a summer league team could be in the cards.
Per Fedor, the franchise will be above the $109 million salary cap by $22 million once the Smith news is made official by the team. It’s a much healthier number than they’ve been at in years past — so, going into next summer, that cap sheet is going to be as clean as it’s been in quite some time.
Cleveland is going to have numerous attractive contracts on its hands as five players on the roster are on deals set to expire following this year. Tristan Thompson ($18.5 million), Brandon Knight ($15.6 million), Jordan Clarkson ($13.4 million), John Henson ($9.7 million) and Matthew Dellavedova ($9.6 million) are all trade chips that Altman can move to stockpile the future even more. Depending on what offers come their way, it could be yet another busy season regarding roster turnover.
There’s plenty of speculation that the team should trade Love to a contender to both satisfy the player and allow the team to get out of his sizable deal. What people are forgetting is that the Cavaliers want to have a championship-caliber player in the locker room as a guiding voice. Remember, this team has one person that is at least the age of 30, and it is the All-Star big man. The next guys up are 28 years old—Henson, Dellavedova and Thompson—and who knows how long they’ll be around.
Cleveland will have to be blown away to take back what it thinks it should receive in return for Love. No deal will be made just to make a deal. The organization values him too much as a person and a player.
On the court, the focus is going to be on player development, mainly in watching how Sexton and Garland play off one another. Different looks and combinations with the frontcourt of Love, Nance Jr., Zizic, Windler and Osman will be available for Beilein to tinker with. A new coaching staff with a freshly enthused group of players should be intriguing to watch.
OFFSEASON GRADE: C-
Stay tuned to the rest of Basketball Insiders “Grading The Offseason” series over the next few weeks.
NBA Daily: Veterans Influencing Spurs Youngsters
Having NBA veterans that can ease young players into the league can be very helpful, which is why Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris have been nice additions to the Spurs’ summer league roster.
The Summer League is a time for many things.
It’s a time for young players to get a taste of what professional basketball is like. It’s a time for teams to evaluate what young talent they have their roster. Most importantly of all, it’s a time for growth.
The Summer League, whether it be in Salt Lake, Sacramento or Las Vegas, serves as a transition for the new blood. Most are either fresh out of college or just arrived into the country, who are also either just beginning or have recently begun their NBA career. Making that transition isn’t always seamless. As talented as some of these kids are, they are prone to make mistakes. That’s where having a veteran who has been around the block can help.
For this year’s summer league. San Antonio brought in two who fit the profile: Thomas Robinson and Darius Morris.
Morris has bounced around between the NBA and the G League since being drafted 41st overall by the Lakers back in 2011. He’s been around the league long enough that playing in the Summer League wasn’t originally in the plans. That all changed when the Spurs called him.
“They actually reached out to me and told me they were interested,” Morris said. “When an organization like the Spurs calls you, you can come in and show that you can blend in and the high character is going to follow you the rest of the way.”
Robinson has also been a journeyman since being selected sixth overall by the Kings back in 2012. Now that he has found himself on the Spurs, he praised the organization for its player development.
“To even get any type of time under anybody on this staff is helpful for any player,” Robinson said. “Whether it’s summer league, mini-camp, or the real roster, it’s always helpful to learn from these guys. They’re like the Mecca of NBA basketball.”
Not many can say that they are the veteran of a summer league team, but Morris not only has that role but also appears to have embraced it since coming on for the Spurs. So much so that even though he takes that responsibility seriously, he and his teammates can have a laugh about it.
“I joke with the guys that I’m transitioning to that vet stage like a little baby vet,” Morris said. “To be able to extend whatever knowledge to the young guys, and kind of getting me in that mode as opposed to being that guy that was drafted, just transitioning to being a mentor and just helping where I can.”
There are various ways in which those are designated as mentors decide to use their role. Some give very little advice while others give nothing but advice. For Morris, he has implemented a “trial by fire” strategy for his younger teammates.
“First, you want them to go out there and play freely,” Morris said. “You don’t want to give them too much advice at first. You just kind of sit back and just watch… You don’t want to put too many things in their ear. Everything is already going 100 miles per hour for you out there and as they go along, just give my advice as we go along.”
As the other veteran/mentor on the squad, Robinson’s approach is simple on the court – just being himself for the Spurs.
“I’m not trying to show that I can do anything different,” Robinson said. “I just want to show that I’m doing everything that they ask me to do the first time.”
Since coming to San Antonio, Robinson has gotten to know some of the Spurs’ young talent. He even took the time to praise some of the Spurs’ young talent – in particular, one of the Spurs’ most recent first-rounders, Keldon Johnson.
“‘Baby Russ’. That’s what I called him” Robinson said. “He doesn’t get tired. He’s super aggressive… He’s big, athletic. I definitely see the makings of a superstar.”
Both Morris and Robinson are leaving impressions with the younger players on their squad. The Spurs other first-rounder this season, Luka Samanic, spoke highly of what they’ve been able to do for him primarily with how he handles his mistakes.
“If I do one quick mistake in the beginning, then it affects my game later,” Samanic said. “So they’re all about ‘Don’t worry about mistakes. You’ll miss shots. It’s all normal here.’ So they helped me a lot with that.”
Blake Ahearn, who coached the Spurs at the Utah Summer League, praised both Robinson and Morris for the calming influence they have on the team.
“It’s huge,” Ahearn said. “Having some of those calming-presence guys on the floor helps those younger guys… That’s a good luxury for coaches to have.”
Spurs assistant Becky Hammon also heaped praise for the two veterans primarily for what they have been able to do for the Spurs’ young players off the court while also reiterating the value guys like that have on these teams.
“They’ve been talking to them in their ear the whole time about what it takes to be a professional and get opportunities,” Hammon said. “Their leadership on the court, off the court has been very helpful. Obviously, having guys like that in a situation like that is very helpful and invaluable.”
Now, undoubtedly, the goal for Robinson and Morris is to be in the NBA again. They’ve been there before and their willingness to play in the summer league shows that they’re not giving up on their dreams.
Regardless of whether they make it, they can take comfort that, in the end, they positively impacted the Spurs of tomorrow.
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