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Morning shootaround — May 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Payton miffed at MVP voters | Lowry’s game goes AWOL in East finals | Why Knicks are set to hire Hornacek

No. 1: Payton upset with voters over Curry’s unanimous MVP  Throughout the Golden State Warriors’ rise to prominence (and a title last season), countless figures from the game’s present and past have had varied opinions on the team’s dominance. After the Warriors’ star, Stephen Curry, won his second straight Kia MVP (and won it unanimously), former All-Star Tracy McGrady said Curry’s award was both a reflection of his greatness and the weakness of the NBA. Another legend of the game, Gary Payton, shares similar feelings about Curry’s MVP and said as much during an interview with both Sports Illustrated Now and Sirius XM radio.

First, here’s what Payton had to say to Sports Illustrated Now about Curry’s MVP:

Hall of Famer Gary Payton doesn’t believe Stephen Curry should have been the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

The former Seattle Supersonics point guard told SI’s Maggie Gray that “it’s about era,” and that he felt Michael Jordan should have been a unanimous decision during his own playing days. “I think all of those guys were unanimous decisions too. It just happened in an era that went his way…I commend him and what he’s accomplished, but you gotta think about who was voting for MJ, Kareem, in their time, why they wouldn’t have given all their votes to those guys.”

Curry received every first-place vote after leading the league in scoring, three-pointers made and steals and driving the Warriors to the most successful regular-season win-loss record in NBA history at 73–9. He has drawn scrutiny from NBA greats including Oscar Robertson.

And, via the Bay Area News Group, Payton says his biggest complaint is with the MVP voters and not Curry:

Gary Payton, the Hall of Fame point guard and Oakland native, said Thursday he has an issue with voters who gave the Warriors’ Stephen Curry the honor of becoming the NBA’s first unanimous MVP.

“People have to understand we don’t have an issue with Stephen Curry,” Payton told SiriusXM. “Stephen Curry doesn’t vote for himself. You had 131 people that voted for him. I’ve got an issue with them.”

A vote of NBA players decided the MVP up until the 1980-81 season when balloting was done by a panel of sports writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada.

“We forgot Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 30 rebounds,” Payton told SiriusXM. “You didn’t think he was a unanimous decision? Who else ever did that and scored 100 points in one game? And he didn’t even win it (in 1962). That’s what I’m trying to say.

“You look at Michael Jordan. When they set the record at 72-10 in 1996, he didn’t get all the votes. So you’re trying to tell me these reporters or whoever’s voting that you and them guys back then, they didn’t know that he was a unanimous decision? Don’t blame that on Stephen Curry. Blame that on them reporters.”

Payton told the radio station that the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James, who finished second and third in the voting, deserved first-place votes.

“If you look at LeBron, what he does for his team, he does everything,” Payton said. “I still think he’s the best all-around basketball player. As we say, Stephen Curry was the best player this year but I’m saying all-around – who gives you assists, who gives you rebounding, who gives you points, who does a lot of things for his team to have it? If you take LeBron off that team, I don’t think Cleveland is a good team like that. If you Curry off of it, uh, right now I don’t know. They probably would win games. They wouldn’t have won 73, but they would win a lot of basketball games.”

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No. 2: Lowry’s game in tailspin in East finals — No two players have perhaps more represented struggling in the 2016 playoffs than the Toronto Raptors’ backcourt of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. Lowry, in particular, has had it rough in the Eastern Conference finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Game 2 last night was no difference. He scored 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting (and 1-for-8 on 3-pointers), had three assists and five turnovers as the Cavs again romped past the Raptors. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun has more on Lowry’s struggles:

The Raptors’ best player has become that unexplainable, minute-to-minute, day-to-day, quarter-to-quarter, impossible-to-know- now, which Kyle will show up on which night against which playoff opponent?

This is a game forever about all-star players and all-star performances and it has become apparent this playoff season that, for the Raptors to have any chance on any night, they need Lowry to play big, to make a difference, to change a game.

It hasn’t happened yet in the Eastern Conference finals.

It hasn’t happened at all.

Kyle Lowry can’t carry the Raptors to victory, but the way he’s playing, the way he is shooting, the way he is turning the ball over, as their leader, their fighter, he may be carrying them to defeat.

Through eight quarters of basketball in this series, in a game that is so much about back and forth and momentum runs, there hasn’t been a second-half moment of drama, belief, anything that would indicate the Raptors have any kind of chance.

This isn’t the shooting slump Lowry was in early in the playoffs. This isn’t that crisis of confidence. This just seems to be a player out of sorts, trying too hard to score, playing frustrating defence when he isn’t scoring, turning the ball over too often and early, ending up with just three assists.

Running out of time and answers, coach Dwane Casey has no choice but to fight for his leader Lowry, even though he isn’t getting what he needs from his starting point guard.

“He’s our guy,” said Casey, and he’s said the same in other rounds of the playoffs. He knows Lowry might bounce back. But here’s what doesn’t seem to make sense: There’s no knowing when Lowry will heat up, if he still has that left in him this season.

You can’t compare anyone else to LeBron, but Lowry, the Raps all-star, has had a post- season that has been a flow chart of inconsistency, a stock graph of wild fluctuations.

Lowry has been 12 points or less seven times. He’s been over 30 three times and over 20 in two other games. In his other games, he scored 14, 18, 14, 18. Impossible to predict from night to night which Lowry will be there.

“He’s one of the examples (of what we’re doing wrong),” Casey said. “He’s missed some great looks. He’s taking some of those down to the defensive end. We’re losing some of our zing by missing some shots, missing some looks.”

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No. 3: Why Hornacek is headed to the Big Apple — Given all the reports flying about over the last few days, it’s almost a formality now when the New York Knicks announce they’ve hired Jeff Hornacek as their next coach. The move has left many NBA observers in shock, mostly because Knicks president Phil Jackson doesn’t tend to stray far from his list of former players or assistants when assembling a coaching staff. Interim coach Kurt Rambis was thought to have the inside track on the job, but Jackson picked Hornacek because of his lineage, how he thinks the game and more. Howard Beck of Bleacher Report has more:

Sometime in the last few days, Jackson locked in on Jeff Hornacek as his top choice to coach the New York Knicks, zooming past David Blatt, Frank Vogel and Kurt Rambis, and stunning the entire basketball world in the process.

As B/R first reported Wednesday night, the Knicks and Hornacek are moving toward a deal, though formal contract negotiations had not yet begun. One source monitoring the talks called Hornacek’s hiring “a foregone conclusion,” saying that all parties “want to make this happen.” Another source confirmed, “It’s as close as humanly possible.”

Rambis was widely viewed as Jackson’s top choice, because of their longtime friendship and Rambis’ embrace of Jackson’s offensive system, the triangle offense. Blatt had Madison Square Garden ties and a sturdy resume, Vogel a bright mind and a winning record.

But Hornacek? He has no ties to Jackson, no triangle training and his record is modest.

The Bulls and Jazz dueled in consecutive NBA Finals in 1997 and 1998, giving Jackson an up-close appreciation for Hornacek’s cerebral game. It matters, too, that Hornacek played for (and later coached under) Jerry Sloan, whose tenacity and offensive system Jackson openly admired.

Put simply, Hornacek has the right pedigree.

“System basketball” is the phrase Jackson used when he was hired as Knicks president in 2014, and again, repeatedly, when he sat down with B/R for a story last spring. Jackson’s basketball values are rooted in ball and player movement, reading and reacting, thinking.

He wants all five players involved—not one star isolating on the wing, and four standing idly by. He considers the pick-and-roll a healthy option, not the basis for an entire offense. He favors a system that provides structure, but allows freedom of expression within that structure—rather than relying on a coach dictating every set.

The triangle provided the template for 11 championship runs, in Chicago and Los Angeles, but it is not the only system Jackson could embrace. He has praised the motion offense used by Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, and by his former protégé Steve Kerr in Golden State.

League sources indicate that the Knicks under Hornacek will indeed move away from a pure triangle approach, but will retain triangle elements (as many NBA offenses do).

“He wants a system of play,” one source said of Jackson, “so that when he walks away, when you look at the New York Knicks, you say, ‘OK, I understand how the Knicks play basketball.'”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Toronto Raptors assistant coach Rex Kalamian is a late addition to the mix for the Houston Rockets’ coaching vacancy … The Memphis Grizzlies are reportedly talking with current assistant Jeff Bzdelik about their coaching vacancy … Did Kobe Bryant just reject the notion of being on “Inside The NBA”? … 

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