NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Jackson adds legitimacy to Knicks — The New York Knicks have not given up hope that they can land LeBron James, as well as Kevin Love or Kevin Durant, over the next three years. It’s a lofty goal, but one they feel they are better positioned to achieve now with Phil Jackson in the front office. Frank Isola of The New York Daily News has more on the situation:
James Dolan never got over losing LeBron James to Pat Riley and the Miami Heat in 2010. And he swore that it would never happen again.
Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, believes that to get the superstars you need a star as your closer. The Heat has Riley, and now Dolan has Jackson, the winner of 11 titles as a head coach and two as a player.
The fact that Jackson has never run a front office didn’t matter to Dolan. Nor did the outrageous price tag. It cost Dolan a king’s ransom to convince Jackson to leave his beach house for the shark-infested corporate waters at MSG. But it will be money well-spent if Jackson can land the King as well as Kevin Love or Kevin Durant over the next three years.
Jackson is not in this for the long haul. His plan is to get the Knicks back to an elite status quickly, and the only way to do that is via free agency.
The Knicks can have salary flexibility next summer, when Love and Rajon Rondo are available. Durant is free in 2016.
James can opt out this summer and unless he signs a one-year deal or waits until 2015 to opt out, the Knicks have little chance of landing him.
But Dolan and Jackson can dream big. Heat executives, according to a source, are not convinced that James will stay, though in their heart of hearts they believe he will re-sign. But Jackson’s arrival changes things.
“There’s no way LeBron would have gone to New York under the current climate,” said a James confidant. “He had a falling-out with CAA (agency) and that was a problem as well. But with Phil there I think he will look at it.”
No. 2: Thunder plan to rest Westbrook — The Oklahoma City Thunder need Russell Westbrook healthy to have a chance to win their first NBA Championship. The Thunder have already enacted a minutes limitation on Westbrook, and now they will rest him on the second end of back-to-back games for the rest of the season. Anthony Slater of NewsOK.com reports:
Of late, the Thunder has had a relatively cushy schedule, not playing a back-to-back since the start of February. But in the season’s final month, OKC will play six.
And according to Scott Brooks, Westbrook will rest in some, if not all, of those.
“There’s going to be some back-to-backs he’s not going to play,” Brooks said. “We definitely have a plan in place.”
However, Brooks refused to reveal specifics on which games Westbrook would rest.
When asked if he’d play against the Mavericks on Sunday and rest against the Bulls on Monday, Brooks said “we’ll let you know tomorrow”.
“His conditioning is great,” Brooks added. “We just want to get some time, while we still can, where he can rest in between games.”
No. 3: Sixers’ coach talks rebuild — It’s no secret the Philadelphia 76ers are rebuilding. The team is currently in the midst of a 20-game losing streak which doesn’t seem to be ending soon and the only glimmer of hope has been rookie Michael Carter-Williams. But this does not worry coach Brett Brown, as he expects the rebuild to take three to five years. Dei Lynam of CSN-Philly has the story:
“Any win that we have going forward would be considered an upset,” Brett Brown said before Saturday’s game. “That is just the way it has played out at this stage and that is true.
“We have no margin for error. A missed box out, playing in a crowd and not seeing a teammate, not managing the clock well — all those tiny things are going to influence whether we win or we lose.”
Brown has never experienced futility of this magnitude anywhere in his career. He doesn’t like losing, nor does he accept it, but he also does not let it define who he is or how he goes about his job.
“I work as hard as I can with my staff,” Brown said. “I love coaching my guys. This is basketball. Let’s put this in perspective: We do our job as hard and as best we can. Life moves on. We have bigger things that we are all here for.
“This is not slit-your-wrist time. This is not even close to that. This is about building a program and understanding the short-term pain for a lot of long-term gain.”
Brown is repeatedly asked if a losing atmosphere will adversely affect the likes of Michael Carter-Williams, Thaddeus Young or any of the other players the Sixers deem as keepers.
“That is the en vogue angle,” Brown said. “I think if you ask Kevin Durant about the 20-win season he had, he seems to be doing just fine. I think when you look at those teams that have had a chance to rebuild, losing is a long-gone memory.
“To truly rebuild and grow something is going to take three to five years. That is just the way it goes. It is too talented a league and too well-coached. The experiences we are going through now will be distant memories when these guys start getting older. They will find positives in this season and Michael Carter-Williams will be better for it.”
No. 4: Vogel inspires Pacers — The Indiana Pacers looked out-of-sync for most of last night’s game against the Detroit Pistons. They were down by as much as 25 points in the second quarter, but they fought back to beat the Pistons 112-104 in overtime. Pacers’ players credit their coach Frank Vogel for providing them with inspiration to complete the comeback. Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star reports:
Though this was only a Saturday night in March and no team wins championships this soon, as the Pacers fell desperately deeper into a hole against the Detroit Pistons, in their minds, they felt that something special was loosening from their grip. Then, Frank Vogel did something out of character. The smiles and positivity faded into something the Pacers needed and after one of the most honest and scathing halftime speeches in a long time, Indiana responded defeating the Pistons 112-104 in overtime.
The Pacers overcame a deficit that once ballooned to 25 points in the second quarter — on the road — in the second night of a back-to-back.
The ending was just as astonishing, with the Pacers’ defense strangling the Pistons with seven stops in nine overtime possessions, as was the impetus which triggered the best comeback of the season.
There were no flipped tables or needless curse words echoing through the small locker room inside the Palace of Auburn Hills during halftime, but when the Pacers trailed 60-41, Vogel roused his sleepwalkers with the stern reminder of what’s at stake this season.
“Knowing Frank, it was all to light a fuel under us and for me, it worked,” said Paul George, who responded after halftime with 20 of his game-high 30 points, including a third quarter when he swished in jump shot after star-defining jump shot.
“He got into us more so than he has in the past,” recalled Roy Hibbert, who looked like the incredibly shrinking big man before stepping up to hit a tie-breaking free-throw line jumper in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter and play stand-up defense in overtime.
For his part, Vogel refused to go into details of his halftime speech. But the players inside that locker room recalled the talk centering on how the Pacers were throwing away an opportunity. For so long they boldly proclaimed the goal in achieving the No. 1 seed, then backed away from talking about it so publicly, only to be reminded by Vogel on Saturday that that’s why this random night mattered.
“He came in fired up and I felt his energy and this whole locker room felt that energy and came out and made a change,” George said.
“(Vogel) motivated us and long story short, he just talked about what’s at stake and us controlling our destiny,” George continued. “Every game counts and this game, at that point, was getting away from us. So we had to just look within ourselves and figure this out.”
And they did.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Joakim Noah will receive a $500,000 bonus if he makes first-team All-NBA. … Andre Drummond left last night’s game against the Pacers with a head injury. … Paul Pierce mocks Trevor Booker. … Jimmy Butler is still recovering from being run in to by LeBron.
ICYMI of the Night: Paul George is rarely on the receiving end of a put-back dunk. But last night Jonas Jerebko of the Detroit Pistons showed George what it’s like with this monster jam.