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NBA AM: Are The Knicks In Their Own Way?

Is Knicks front office structure part of their problem?… Why so many injuries and more!

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As we pass the mid-way point of the season, there are a few things that have become pretty clear. As we make our rounds and talk with executives there are topics that come up more frequently than others and are here are some of the ones that tend to get discussed the most:

The Knicks Have a Problem

From the day Phil Jackson was hired as the Knicks team president, it was clear that his desire to rebuild and change the culture was going to be a long-term project not a short-term “quick fix”. However, no one expected it to be this bad.

Getting guys on board with the program has been a daily battle. Some guys have bought in, while others have not. This season is lost for sure at this point, so all that’s left is to get through it and begin to rebuild.

League sources point to a number of issues facing the Knicks this summer, the biggest being a lack of a proven “inside man” to steer the process. Steve Mills is the team’s general manager and while he’s been around the block a few times, he’s not exactly a power broker that’s known to work the system. Jackson isn’t exactly that kind of person either. While the Knicks do have guys like Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien, who re-signed this summer as Director of Player Personnel, neither are permitted to play much of a role in an outward-facing way.

One league executive said it’s been difficult to get a read on the Knicks from a trade and transaction point of view because of how the decision making process is playing out.

This could be Jackson getting acclimated to the dealing process, or simply broken communication.

The Knicks are armed with what looks to be a ton of salary cap room, and what’s looking like a high level draft pick, but if they don’t have a clearly-refined communication path in place it becomes tough to make real changes when teams don’t understand who to talk to in order to make a deal.

Teams are permitted to designate two personalities for the purpose of consummating trades, this is done to make sure that deals are flowing through the right people, so it’s unclear why this is a problem for the Knicks, but it sure seems like it.

It’s been said for some time that the Knicks are looking to offload guard Jose Calderon and his contract, however one team that was at least interested in talking about it said it was tough to get a read on exactly what it would take to consummate a deal.

If the Knicks want to make things happen quickly, they are going to need to sort out the communication process. There seems to be teams at the door for some of their assets, they just aren’t giving the normal and typical feedback expected from around the league.

Can they really afford to be cagey and selective at this point? Maybe. But they are quickly getting a reputation that’s going make deal making more challenging than necessary.

Why So Many Injuries

If the rash of injuries throughout the NBA over the last two years is alarming, there are a few things to consider and this has come up more than few times.

Players are playing too many games without enough recovery time.

That’s the general vibe from league executives when you ask them about injuries, especially injuries to players on their own teams. From pre-season, to regular season to postseason, the offseason work and international events, players are playing more games than ever before and the wear and tear is piling up.

The problem is there isn’t an immediate solution. We can talk all day about fewer games, but that’s never going to happen because of the revenue associated with a game. So that has to immediately come off the table.

The NBA has tried to respond by making All-Star Weekend more of a break for everyone, but while league executives like the office time the extended weekend will provide during the longer week off before the trade deadline, the truth is the longer week isn’t solving the bigger issue. The season needs to be longer.

The current NBA season is 170 days and that’s defined in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. One of the things that’s expected in the next labor deal is a push to add as many as ten additional days to the regular season, but trimming back a little bit of the preseason, which most agree is too long, while potentially adding a few days to the end of the season, which usually falls on or around April 15.

The hope is that adding ten or more days will help remove some of the back-to-backs and allow for more recovery time.

Recovery alone won’t eliminate the injuries, but the hope is that it can lessen them.

As executives point out it’s not just the change in power that losing a starter to a season injury presents, there is a financial cost too. These players get paid while injured. Team often have to go out and buy a replacement of some sort, so there is snowball effect of losing a key guy and likely games as a result, and having to absorb more cost to replace him, all for the sake of a few days on the calendar.

It’s not something the league can force through now, as it is part of the current labor deal, but you can expect that it’s something that comes up in the next labor deal, as it’s a problem everyone sees as needing to be fixed.

Greg Monroe’s $6 Million Mistake

The power to choose your own fate sometimes comes at a cost. In Detroit big man Greg Monroe’s case, his decision to pick up his Qualifying Offer of $5,479,935 this summer could cost him significantly.

League sources say Monroe had at least two teams willing to go up to $12 million per season on an offer sheet, all that needed to happen was for him to sign it and the Pistons to decide if they wanted to match. If so, he would be making $12 million this season. That’s a difference of $6.521 million for this season.

So let’s say for argument sake Monroe gets a max offer this summer. That’s $16.5 million next season versus $12.96 million in the second year of one of the offers available this past summer. That’s a $3.54 million swing his way and the right to choose his team; however, that’s still a net loss of $2.981 million.

Now if Monroe gets a max deal this summer he will eventually earn back the $6.52 million he left on the table to get his freedom, but if he doesn’t get max, then this may be money lost for longer than two years.

Sources say that Monroe could have gotten a Chandler Parsons-type structure, where he could have hit free agency again in two years, which makes the decision to leave cash on the table even stranger.

Admittedly, at the time the Pistons were as much of a trash can fire as anyone in the league. The narrative was Monroe did not want to waste his career in Detroit and that choosing his next team was appealing enough to leave money on the table.

However, if he doesn’t get more than $13.5 million a year this summer, he’ll have given up money he won’t get back just to be free and that’s a hefty price to pay for unrestricted free agency.

Clippers Have Personality Issues

So what’s going on with the Clippers? A couple of things; some of them are significant, some a little less significant.

The Clippers have a chemistry problem, and as much as they have tried to deny that publicly they have some issues internally and they revolve around the team’s two best players.

We have covered this before in this space, but it’s worth revisiting.

Clipper guard Chris Paul is not always the easiest guy in the world to play with. He is very demanding of his teammates and he has very clear expectations of what should happen on the floor. It’s one of the things that made him so special in the NBA.

The problem is he often barks and yells at teammates. Some can handle it, some can’t. Some can handle it on some days and handle it a little worse on other days. That’s life with Paul and its not a new thing, it’s been that way for a while.

Enter Blake Griffin.

Paul wants Griffin to be a star. He wants Griffin to play with passion and aggression every play and when he doesn’t meet Paul’s expectations he hears about it.

However, when Paul doesn’t meet expectations, there isn’t the same level of accountability and its created on-court friction.

The funny thing about the dynamic is that Paul and Griffin are actually really good friends, they simply struggle with each other on the court at times and it’s led to a lot of inconstancy, especially defensively.

Enter Doc Rivers.

The say power corrupts. No one in the Clippers organization has more power right now than Rivers and he can do basically whatever he wants.

It’s hard not to like Rivers. He is as personable and approachable as anyone in basketball, but he can be inconsistent in his demands of his team and some of the personnel decisions as of late have back fired and created an uncertain atmosphere in the locker room.

Add in personal insecurities from his players into the dynamic with Paul and Griffin and you get significant dysfunction.

That’s why the Clippers are so up and down. Some nights it all comes together, other nights it’s “me first city” and no one really knows when that’s going to happen from night to night.

The Clippers have a ton of talent and should be significantly better than they are, but until they figure out how to resolve the internal issues, the external product is going to be up and down.

If the Hawks Fetch $1 billion, Will Brooklyn Get $2 billion?

Forbes Magazine recently released their most updated NBA franchise valuations, and while those number have never lined up to what a team will truly sell for, there is a sense with the Atlanta Hawks getting a valuation of $825 million that the team is going to sell for north of $1 billion.

There are a number of suitors involved in the process now and are being vetted by the consultants hired to broker the sale. There is an expectation that a possible buyer could be named sometime after the All-Star break and a sale could close somewhere around the end of the regular season.

So if the Hawks sell for north of a billion, does that mean the Brooklyn Nets sells for north of $2 billion?

The Nets received a $1.5 billion valuation and sources close to the thought process in Brooklyn peg the magic number to own the Nets at least $2 billion.

Sources close to the process say that a number of the suitors at the table for the Hawks are also vetting the Nets and that there may be a sense that the deeper pocketed groups at the table in Atlanta may opt to put their money behind the bigger market with a brand new arena in Brooklyn.

So while the Clippers selling for $2 billion to Steve Ballmer this summer was a milestone no one in basketball ever thought would be crossed, it looks like Brooklyn might be in line for a similar number if not more, which will surely drive up valuations in basketball even more.

So who is next after Atlanta and Brooklyn you ask? Insiders point to the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets as likely next in line, especially if the Hawks clear the billion dollar mark.

Are The Kings Headed In The Wrong Direction?

Remember when the Sacramento Kings were in the playoff picture? You know back in November when it seemed like everything had finally turned the corner for the franchise. Then management decided to fire head coach Mike Malone.

It has not been a fun ride since for Kings fans.

The Kings were 11-13 (.458) when they fired Malone on December 14, since then they have gone 5-15 (.250) and have lost seven-straight games and eight of their last ten.

The story from the Kings at the time Malone was fired was that the team wasn’t playing how they should be, that Malone was too stuck in his own way that he was unwilling to play more up-tempo and that player development wasn’t a high enough priority.

The team named assistant coach Ty Corbin as interim head coach and sniffed around trying to hire a bigger name or a more fitting coach of the future, but found that to be harder than they expected, settling on Corbin for the balance of the season.

While Malone was far from perfect in how he handled things in Sacramento, there is a sense among executives that the Kings may be too smart for their own good. That could become problematic when the Kings hit the coaching market this summer, especially if would-be coaches feel like the process will be tinkered with by the front office and more importantly majority owner Vivek Ranadive.

There is a sense that Ranadive wants senior advisor Chris Mullins to take over the team as head coach this summer, however Mullins was said to be lukewarm on the idea when Malone was fired. The subject is far from closed, though.

If things stay as they are and the Kings do not make the postseason, this will mark their ninth consecutive losing season. The Kings won 34.1 percent of their games last season if the current trend for the Kings (.250) holds true this could be a 25 win season (.304) for the Kings and a huge step backwards.

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Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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