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Would Dolan Stepping Aside Allow the Knicks to Step Forward?

Can Jim Dolan follow in George Steinbrenner’s footsteps in order to help the Knicks return to prominence?

Tommy Beer

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Considering how consistently successful the New York Yankees were under the stewardship of owner George Steinbrenner during the final 15 years of his reign, it’s hard to imagine a time when the Yanks struggled as mightily as the latter-day New York Knicks. However, the decade of the 1980’s up through the mid-90’s represented a relatively dark time for baseball fans in the Bronx.

Although we now think of the Yankees as a flagship MLB franchise, it certainly wasn’t always that way. For the disappointing Yankee teams of yesteryear, spending exorbitant sums of money didn’t result in postseason success. Beginning in 1982, the Yankees failed to qualify for the postseason for 13 straight seasons.

The Yanks made headlines for all the wrong reasons during this drastically disappointing stretch. Steinbrenner devolved into a caricature, his misdeeds landing him on the back page of the New York tabloids almost daily. Ruling as an angry despot with an iron fist, “The Boss” (as Steinbrenner came to be known) had his employees scurrying in fear.

This all came to an abrupt halt in July of 1990 when Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent launched an investigation which uncovered that Steinbrenner had paid $40,000 to a gambler named Howie Spira to dig up dirt on Yankee OF Dave Winfield (with whom Steinbrenner was feuding). As a result, Vincent took drastic action, banning Steinbrenner from the day-to-day operations of the Yankees organization.

Ironically, this allowed the Yankees, for the first time in a long time, to focus on developing their farm system, as opposed to relying on quick fixes and throwing excessive money at expensive free agents.

The Yanks began to sacrifice short-term, short-lived improvements for sustainable, long-term success. With ‘The Boss’ out of the picture, GM Gene “Stick” Michael (along with manager Buck Showalter) was finally allowed to patiently work his plan. Michael would sow the seeds that eventually blossomed into the epic dynasty that captured four World Series tiles in five years. And of course they have been a near constant in the postseason ever since.

Upon his return to the team in 1992, Steinbrenner’s desire to win had not decreased in any way; however, ‘The Boss’ did exhibit far greater patience and much greater willingness to listen to his sage GM. Steinbrenner would now allow himself to be talked into more prudent decisions. (The stories of Stick Michael convincing Steinbrenner not to trade away future stars such as Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera have become legendary.)

On the day Steinbrenner was suspended, he was anything but the beloved owner that was eulogized glowingly upon his passing in 2010. In fact, Steinbrenner was despised by many Yankee fans back in the 80’s and early 90’s.

However, the incredible success the organization enjoyed during the latter portion of his tenure as owner obviously changed popular opinion and public sentiment.

So, why on earth are we discussing the Yankees on a basketball site?

It’s because the current owner of the New York Knicks can learn an extremely valuable lesson from the late, great George Steinbrenner. Specifically, how an intrusive, hands-on owner took a step back and gradually changed his approach, which was essential in the evolution of the Yankee from league-wide laughingstock into a wildly successful flagship franchise.

Steinbrenner and Dolan are polar opposites in many, many ways. The Boss loved the spotlight and coveted the back page. Dolan, on the other hand, is a relative recluse who dodges any form of media attention as if it was a right hand from Mike Tyson. Not only would Steinbrenner speak with reporters on a daily basis, he would go out of his way to contact them personally in order to vent publicly. There were no secrets in Yankee universe. Conversely, the Knicks regime under Dolan has a hard-earned reputation as arguably the most closed-off organization in any of the four major sports.

Nonetheless, these two men are, in some important respects, very similar. Both inherited a fortune from their uber-successful fathers. In addition, they are both blissfully willing to spend whatever it takes to see their team win. Despite the obvious lack of success the Knicks have experienced since the Dolan took control of the team (just one playoff series win in fifteen years), the Knicks are among the league’s top spenders every single season.

Still, Knick fans are planning a protest next week on the steps of MSG in the hopes of forcing Dolan to sell the Knicks. Typically, when fans are angry enough to beg an owner to sell his squad, it’s because said owner is too cheap and refuses to put a competitive product on the floor.

This is certainly not the case in NYC.

Dolan has always been willing to go above-and-beyond in order to buy the best players. The issue has been he has often trusted the wrong people (such as Scott Layden and Isiah Thomas) to pick which players to pay for. And even when Dolan has hired smart, respected basketball lifers to call the shots (such as Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald) these men have been unceremoniously pushed out the door.

In recent years, as Walsh and Grunwald were brushed aside, Dolan seems to have become more and more hands on. By most accounts, it was Dolan who negotiated the blockbuster deal that sent four starters and multiple draft picks to Denver in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. Many have suggested Andrea Bargnani being represented by CAA played a very important role in Dolan approving that trade.  It was also reported by numerous outlets that it was Dolan who ended up nixing a deal for Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, as Dolan became angered that news of the negotiations had been leaked.

As Dolan’s purported meddling in Knicks affairs has increased, the negative ramifications it has had on the roster have become more prominent. Similarly, the excessively restrictive media policy he enforces with an iron fist has been devastating to the franchise’s reputation around the league. Dolan needs to step aside and allow a trained professional clean up this mess, and eventually begin to rebuild the organization on a solid foundation.

Many Knicks fans have allowed a sense of hopelessness to sink in, and it’s hard to blame them. Clearly the NBA would have no reason to banish Dolan from the day-to-day operations of the team, as MLB had done with Steinbrenner nearly 25 years ago; but what if Dolan decided he’d adhere to a self-imposed exile? Is that what the Knicks need to snap out of this nightmarish rut they have been since 2001?

What if Dolan voluntarily agreed to do what was best for the franchise? This would mean stepping aside and ceding complete control to a respected, capable and competent general manager. Ideally, said GM would retain absolute authority regarding all basketball decisions, including the hiring of a new head coach?

There is an imposed limit (salary cap) on the amount of money an NBA owner can spend on players; yet there are no such limitations on what a team chooses to spend on its coaches and basketball executives. It’s hard to imagine the Knicks returning to respectability anytime soon, but with the team potentially looking at a boatload of cap space in 2015, there could be hope on the horizon.

Truth be told, last week, when this article was first conceived of, the rumors of Phil Jackson taking over in New York had not yet sprouted up. Of course the appeal of Jackson, and the 11 rings he brings to the table, is undeniably appealing. In many ways he is an absolute ideal fit, considering his strong will and impeccable pedigree, to lead a wholesale culture change within the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden.

However, there are also obvious causes for concern. Jackson will soon be 69 years of age and has battled serious health issues, which have impeded his ability to travel. Will Jackson be willing to commit 100% to what is undoubtedly a full-time job that requires exceedingly long hours?

Still, while Jackson would be a bit of a gamble considering that he’s never held a similar position before, it seems well worth a roll of the dice. As the upside of having a qualified basketball mind calling the shots for the Knicks is self-evident.

However, at the end of the day, this is all about Dolan. Jackson, or any other respected executive tasked with rebuilding the Knicks, will only be as successful as Dolan allows them to be. If there is a power struggle, the guy who writes the checks will always win. In order for the Knicks to take significant strides forward, Dolan has to move out of the way and fade into the background.

Back in the summer of 1990, it seemed extremely unlikely that Steinbrenner would one day be adored and venerated by Yankees fans as he approached his 80th birthday. Could Dolan’s reign ever result in such respect and adulation? The only way may be Dolan willingly taking a far less intrusive role in the day-to-day operation of the organization he owns.

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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