It’s the time of year when everything is coming into focus. The big powers in the West are jockeying for the inside track to get to face the Heat in the Finals, and everyone else is trying to align their stars to attract the big free agent prize. This year, it’s Carmelo Anthony, and the Knicks desperately want to keep him, but the Lakers also want to team him with Kobe Bryant, and don’t rule out the Bulls, with a possibly-healthy Derrick Rose, one of the NBA’s best coaches, and more than enough cap flexibility.
With that in mind, let’s get to the latest from the NBA:
PHIL JACKSON HAS IN-PRINCIPLE AGREEMENT WITH KNICKS
Well, it’s not going to be an easy job for the Zen Master. A bare cupboard of draft picks, a superstar who could bolt this summer, and a median roster age of 28. But Phil is one of the best minds in NBA history, so it should just be a couple years until the Knicks are back on top, right?
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com doesn’t think so:
Enter Phil Jackson, the latest incarnation of a burning phoenix rising over Madison Square Garden to save the franchise from years of neglect, largesse and an exaggerated sense of self-importance that would be amusing if it weren’t so sad.
Welcome to the next era of false hope, misspent resources and tragicomedy — likely without the customary feel-good ending.
A league source confirmed on Wednesday that the Knicks have an agreement in principle with Jackson to become their Zen Master (and, in some nebulous form, their team president). Once it is finalized, the franchise’s latest brush stroke of futility will be completed with it. This is a PR move from the jump, a repackaging and reinvention of a sports entity that has long suffered from the otherwise enviable condition of deep pockets and an inflated self-worth that has time and again been its undoing.
What will be different now? Just the main character. Add Jackson’s historic name to the list of leading men who’ve tried and failed to extinguish the Garden’s smoldering pathology. As much as Jackson might believe he’s penning a new chapter to his book, “Eleven Rings,” he’s simply becoming the next chapter in the Knicks’ futile anthology.
Larry Brown lasted one miserable year. Isiah Thomas had more staying power, owing to the mystical powers he used to lord over the Garden’s emperor, James Dolan, but ultimately suffered the same fate. Donnie Walsh was next in line, and quickly learned that the way he’d successfully run a professional basketball team for 30 years wouldn’t fly at the corner of 33rd and eighth.
So here comes Jackson, a two-time champion as a player for the Knicks and an 11-time champion as a coach. What little description is available at this point of Jackson’s role and duties sounds about right: He’ll oversee the Knicks’ basketball operations, inheriting two classic company men, GM Steve Mills and assistant GM Allan Houston — and with them, the very culture than needs to go if Jackson is to succeed.
MIKE D’ANTONI ON THE WAY OUT?
While it looks more likely that D’Antoni will finish the season, there is still a possibility he won’t be around next season. ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith spoke on his show, First Take, and said the Lakers could get rid of D’Antoni after the season:
I had a source tell me last night [that] Mike D’Antoni is gone at the end of the season. He won’t be there [...] I’m just telling you, that’s the word coming out of L.A.
With the way the season has gone, the Lakers will consider this option in the off-season. The Lakers roster doesn’t fit in D’Antoni’s system, and at times, the effort hasn’t been there for the team, which is a direct reflection of the coach.
This big prize of this off-season is Carmelo Anthony, and Smith believed that the possibility of bringing Anthony in, is a reason the team would get rid of D’Antoni.
GORDON HAYWARD TALKS DEFENSE
This Q&A with Grantland’s Zach Lowe is a really fun read. Definitely click through and read all of it. There’s some illustrations of the pick-and-roll play Hayward talks about that are really useful, also.
When you watch yourself on film, do you watch more offense or defense?
A little bit of both. We have clips after every game. It’s always a variety of both offense and defense. A lot of them are away-from-the-ball defense things that we’re all trying to get better at. That’s where the majority of my clips are defensively. Offensively, it’s just little things.
I was going to ask you what the hardest part of NBA defense is. Sounds like, for you, it’s off-the-ball things — which might surprise some people.
For me, being a wing defender, a lot of teams are really good at running side pick-and-rolls, and that puts the weakside wing defender in a bind.
Like, you have to run in, bump the big guy rolling to the rim, and then find your guy again?
Yeah. We’ve struggled with that as a team. We’ve tried to change up the way we’ve guarded things. But against the teams that run it correctly — the Spurs are really good at it — it’s just a tough thing to guard. A good point guard can come off a pick and make a straight-line pass to that corner 3-point shooter — it’s just really hard to run in and help on the roller, and run back out to close out onto a shooter. That’s what a lot of my film clips are on.
You guys made a change earlier in the season so the big men guarding the screener drop back instead of rushing out at the ball. Does that help you more?
We’ve done that more so that we don’t have to be stuck in rotations, so the wings won’t have to help as much on the roller. If you’re gonna have a big guy who’s dropping down, he can kind of play two guys at once, and you’re giving up a midrange runner or floater to the point guard. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.
ROCKETS SIDETRACKED BY “EMOTIONAL” PLAY
Well, it was kind of to be expected that Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook would get into it. And that they did. It was just a question of which team would handle it better, and it turned out, that wasn’t the Rockets.
The season’s first meeting of the Rockets’ Pat Beverley and Thunder’s Russell Westbrook brought every bit of the intensity and animosity that seemed certain from the moment Beverley banged into Westbrook in Game 2 last spring, ending Westbrook’s season and sending him to a series of three knee surgeries.
When the Rockets were not caught up in the chaos Tuesday night, they played the Thunder tough in the ways that really matter. They rallied from an 18-point deficit to within five with plenty of time left to make up the remaining difference. When they looked the other way, distracted by anger, they missed layups, free throws and assignments, falling into too deep a hole for Kevin Durant to allow an escape, finally losing 106-98.
Yet for all the chances they might have had down the stretch — most ending when Beverley plowed into Westbrook again, this time while the Thunder star was shooting a 3-pointer with 91 seconds remaining and the Rockets within five — the Rockets knew they had done too much damage in a 10-minute stretch in the first half when they missed all 12 of their shots amid all the histrionics and hysteria of the night.
“I think so,” James Harden said when asked if the Rockets were sidetracked by the chaos. “If we just stick to what we do, do it to the best of our ability no matter what else is going on, we’ll be good. Sometimes we get off and kind of get distracted a little bit. When everybody is on the same page, it’s just better.”
Beverley received the expected reception. He was booed in introductions and nearly every time he touched the ball. But with the Rockets holding an early lead, Beverley went for a steal while Westbrook called a timeout, the effort that resulted in their collision in last season’s playoffs. Beverley was called for a technical foul. The teams angrily came together, as they would several times throughout the game. The game quickly changed.
Dan Malone is in his fourth year as a journalism student at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and spent last summer as a features intern at the Cape Cod Times. He blogs, edits and learns things on the fly for Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on Twitter.