Posts Tagged ‘James Dolan’

Morning Shootaround — April 23



VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played April 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Stephenson, Turner had fight in practice | Asik wants to slow Aldridge | Report: Dolan, Jackson clashing over moves | Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss

No. 1: Report: Stephenson, Turner had fistfight at practice — In Game 2 of the Pacers-Hawks first-round series, Indiana (for one night, at least) looked like the team that dominated the Eastern Conference at times this season. The Pacers’ win evens the series 1-1, but shortly after that victory, a report from  Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski surfaced about just how tenuous the Indiana locker room chemistry may be. According to Wojnarowski, Pacers swingmen Lance Stephenson and Even Turner got into a pretty heated scuffle during the team’s practice before their Game 1 opener against Atlanta:

On the eve of this Eastern Conference series, the wobbling No. 1 seed punctuated its final playoff preparations in a most self-destructive way: Two Indiana Pacers dragged a cursing, cut Evan Turner out of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse court, untangling him from a practice-floor fistfight with teammate Lance Stephenson.

Turner hadn’t been the first Pacer to lose his temper with Stephenson these tumultuous several weeks, and Stephenson’s relentlessly irritable nature suggests Turner won’t be the last. These scrapes aren’t uncommon in the NBA, but this confrontation had been weeks in the making and that reflected in the ferocity of the encounter, sources told Yahoo Sports.

“This stuff happens, but the timing wasn’t ideal,” one witness told Yahoo Sports.

These two guards have struggled together since the deadline deal brought Turner from Philadelphia to Indiana. Suddenly, Turner is learning to play without the ball in his hands, and Stephenson is relearning the balance of passing and shooting. Truth be told, there were probably Pacers willing to let Stephenson and Turner beat the dribble out of each other. Still, Luis Scola and David West finally grabbed an enraged Turner and separated Stephenson.

“We know that Larry [Bird] and Donnie [Walsh] and [Kevin Pritchard] put a team together to try and win a championship this year,” Hibbert told Yahoo Sports. “We know that’s the goal, and we know that’s the kind of talent we have here. It’s up to us now to do it, to get it done.”

Bird made two significant deals to fortify this title run – Turner for Danny Granger, and the signing of Andrew Bynum – and those haven’t worked for him. Bynum could be done for the season with his knee problems, and perhaps everyone underestimated how much Granger had left in him, and how awkwardly Turner would fit into the Pacers.

Yes, Turner’s finding his way with these Pacers, and maybe that started on the eve of these NBA playoffs with a challenge of the Brooklyn kid who calls himself Born Ready. These things happen in the NBA, and eventually someone else will make a run at Lance Stephenson.


VIDEO: Go inside the Pacers’ huddle during the Game 2 victory

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No. 2: Asik wants chance to slow AldridgeThe Houston Rockets and their fans likely still have nightmares from their Game 1 loss at home in which Portland Trailblazers All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge burned them for a Portland playoff record 46 points. Coach Kevin McHale remains coy about what adjustments he’ll be making for Game 2 tonight, but one player who wants more of an opportunity to stop (or at least try to slow down) Aldridge is backup center Omer Asik, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

“We are going to do some stuff differently,” McHale said. “You watch the game and find out what it is.”

Asik, however, said defending Aldridge is the top priority and that if he is back on him the plan will be to battle him better before Aldridge catches the ball, rather than after he is going up for his shot.

“The first thing is to stop LaMarcus Aldridge,” Asik said. “He killed us almost last game and going into this game, we have to do our best to help him stop a little bit more.

“I wasn’t able to do much because I wasn’t able to play much. I always try to make it hard on him before he catches the ball, to make him maybe tired before he gets the ball. He is one of the best power forwards in the league. It’s hard to guard him but we will try our best.”


VIDEO: TNT’s crew looks ahead to Game 2 of the Blazers-Rockets series

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No. 3: Report: Jackson, Dolan clashing over moves?New Knicks GM Phil Jackson has already made one personnel move since taking over in New York a month ago — the firing of coach Mike Woodson and his staff on Monday. According to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News in a lengthy story, Jackson has other personnel moves in mind … and he’s finding himself clashing with team owner James Dolan on some of those moves already:

Just one month into his role as Knicks president, Jackson has already clashed with Dolan, the chairman of Madison Square Garden, over personnel decisions, the Daily News has learned. According to a team source, Jackson is looking to remove several staff members, which is commonplace when a new administration takes over, but Dolan opposes removing certain employees.

According to the source, Dolan’s reaction to Jackson’s request was to tell the 11-time NBA championship coach to simply focus his attention on building a winning team. To say that “minor friction,” as one Garden source called it, can be classified as Jackson’s honeymoon with Dolan being over may be stretching it a bit.

But at the very least it proves that Dolan — surprise, surprise wasn’t being entirely truthful last month when he claimed he was “willingly and gratefully” giving up control of the basketball decisions to Jackson, the Hall of Fame coach.

With Jackson, Dolan has not tried to meddle in player moves. At least not yet. Instead, Dolan’s interest is to retain several staff members in their current positions, which raises an obvious question: Why?

It is unclear which employees Jackson wants to remove, but with the entire coaching staff fired on Monday, it is most likely personnel with the medical staff, front office and/or the media relations staff. Bleacher Report reported that Steve Mills, Allan Houston and Mark Warkentien could all be reassigned or possibly dismissed.

Among the coaches fired on Monday was long-time assistant Herb Williams, who is well-liked in the organization. Within one hour, there was a report that the organization would “encourage” the next head coach to keep Williams. It was an odd story, which read like it was planted by someone other than Jackson, because why would Jackson fire Williams and then encourage the next coach to rehire him?

Dolan’s interest in keeping certain employees could be something as innocent as wanting to remain loyal to workers with whom he has grown close. The more plausible theory is that Dolan doesn’t want to fully cede control of the team and that certain employees who serve as pseudo organizational spies are too valuable to lose.

Last month, Jackson admitted that he would not have taken the job without the guarantee that he had complete control of the basketball operations. But in less than six weeks, it appears that Dolan has shattered his own world record for meddling.

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No. 4: Pierce calls Nets ‘soft’ after Game 2 loss — Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce was the decided hero of Game 1 against the Toronto Raptors, nailing big shot after big shot to salt away the victory. In Game 2, as our John Schuhmann wisely pointed out, Pierce played a lot like Raptors star DeMar DeRozan did in Game 1 … and vice versa. Following Toronto’s 95-90 win, Pierce and Co. felt like they left a win North of the border and Pierce wasn’t shy about faulting Brooklyn’s play down the stretch. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPNNewYork.com has more:

A frustrated Paul Pierce felt the Brooklyn Nets were “a soft team” on defense and in the paint during a 100-95 Game 2 loss at Toronto.

But Kevin Garnett believes there will be nothing soft about the Brooklyn home crowd when the Nets return to Barclays for Games 3 and 4 of this best-of-seven series.

“We know it’s going to be a rowdy environment, like it should be,” Garnett said. “I don’t know if you can say ‘F Brooklyn’ and then come into Brooklyn. So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

Garnett’s comment is in reference to Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri shouting “F— Brooklyn!” at a Raptors pep rally before Game 1 outside Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Ujiri was fined $25,000 by the NBA for the expletive.

Jason Kidd’s team was up 69-64 with 11:20 remaining before allowing Toronto to score 36 points and make 12-of-16 shots (75 percent) in the fourth quarter. The Nets were also battered on the glass, outrebounded 52-30 by the younger and more athletic Raptors.

The Nets also couldn’t contain DeMar DeRozan, who exploded for 30 points, 17 coming in the fourth.

“I thought guys stuck to their man individually for the most part and didn’t help one another and that is the big part of our defense,” Pierce said. “Sink and shrinking the floor, locking down the paint, tonight too many touches for them in the paint, too many paint points, and we didn’t rebound.

“We gave them everything they wanted, 50 points in the paint, and [19] offensive rebounds,” Pierce added. “We were a soft team tonight.”


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan talks about the Raptors’ big Game 2 victory

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hey, Bulls center Joakim Noah — what’s your view on losing in the playoffs? … For the Kings fans out there, GM Pete D’Alessandro talked about what he hopes to do next in Sacramento … Could former Wolves coach and current team GM Flip Saunders end up being the team’s coach again? … Legendary Italian league coach Ettore Messina could be high on the Utah Jazz’s prospective coaches listHakeem Olajuwon was at Rockets practice Tuesday, working with Dwight Howard … Hawks guard Jeff Teague cooled off drastically in Game 2 against the Raptors …

ICYMI(s) OF THE NIGHT: DeMar DeRozan showed off his All-Star skills in Toronto’s Game 2 win over Brooklyn, and this monster dunk on the Nets was one that we (and a lot of Raptors fans) enjoyed …


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan skies in for the power jam on the Nets


VIDEO: Raptors fans at Maple Leaf Square react to DeRozan’s big jam

Phil, Knicks ready for the next chapter

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony’s top 10 plays … are they his last in a Knicks uniform?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Mike Woodson will be fine. The New York Knicks firing him and his entire staff Monday morning wasn’t even about those proud men who tried, in vain, to cajole the Knicks into the playoffs.

It’s about Phil Jackson, Woodson’s boss, for about a month and the man charged with playing the Knicks’ savior. It’s about clearing the way for something new, something bigger and better and more appropriate for a man swimming in championship rings.

It’s about the Knicks’ next chapter.

It’s about Carmelo Anthony and his future.

It’s about Steve Kerr, Kurt Rambis, Derek Fisher or whoever the poor soul is Phil taps to lead this team from the bench going forward. (The man who gets this job is not going to have 11 rings to show off when the haters crank up the rhetoric at the first sign of adversity.)

It’s about the fortification of the franchise for years to come and not just now, when the public appetite for a head roll was at a fever pitch and had to be satisfied.

Jackson had no choice but to part ways with the Woodson and his crew. He can’t change the culture without making significant changes. He cannot put his stamp on things with a coach that was not of his choosing. Jackson could have made this decision at any time since he took over, but he wanted to see if Woodson could guide the Knicks to the playoffs (something that never came to fruition).

Clearly, the Knicks need more than just a new coach. If this wasn’t a playoff team, it’s certainly not a championship-caliber team. And it doesn’t matter who coaches them (sorry Amar’e Stoudemire and owner James Dolan). They need a roster shakeup as well. That is a much tougher task than selecting a new coach, given all of the salary-cap and luxury-tax hurdles the Knicks must overcome.

The supporting cast needs to be upgraded and tweaked to fit the style that Jackson can live with, because wherever the Knicks go in the immediate future, it’s on him. This is, unequivocally, his and only his team. Sure, the coach and biggest star will share some of the spotlight but not necessarily the burden that Phil must.

That’s the beauty and curse of the job he has. If things go well, he can sit back and take credit for the good times. But if things go awry, he’s on the hook now. It’s his coach, his star and, ultimately, his team.

While some folks are clamoring for him to return to the sideline and do the job he’s always done best, I agree with those who know him well. That crowd that insists Jackson will never coach again and that he’s in full Zen/team-builder mode. It’s the wisest approach to this job for a man whose accomplished as much as he has during his Hall of Fame career.

Jackson needs a coach he can mold and mentor, someone who shares his philosophies about the game and isn’t afraid to have the game’s all-time greatest coach hovering over the entire operation. He’s already made it clear that he won’t be catering to his stars and their wishes (‘Melo voiced public support for Woodson, leaving the needed wiggle room to flip or flop if necessary).

And Woodson doesn’t need anyone’s pity. He knows the game. He knew what was coming the moment Phil took over. He’s a good coach. He’s shown as much everywhere he’s been and he’ll be gainfully employed again, soon. But as mentioned before, this is not about him. This is about Phil and the decisions that come after his clipping of Woodson.

Whatever moves are made, Knicks fans should feel good about the fact that Phil knows exactly what needs to be done, how it gets done. The only lingering question is how long it takes for him to author this next chapter … because the one thing Phil doesn’t have is time.

Phil Jackson tension good for Knicks

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: Knicks fans give new team president Phil Jackson a standing ovation

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The standing ovation was a given.

The hero’s welcome from that wild Madison Square Garden crowd on hand for the first official game of the Phil Jackson era was right off the pages of the script of a Broadway production. And the Knicks nailed the ending, knocking off the Eastern Conference leading (and reeling) Indiana Pacers to punctuate the night.

The Knicks have won seven straight and are giving legitimate chase for that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a last-dtich effort to put a little lipstick on a season gone awry. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they heated up around the time the Jackson rumors cranked up.

That same energy that was in the building last night is the same type of energy that fuels seasons in the NBA. A healthy dose of tension, the good kind that puts everyone on alert and drives a lackluster or average effort into an elevated state, can work for all involved. Think of it as the Knicks’ very own version of March Madness. If they can keep it going long enough, maybe they can find their way into the playoffs (something the new boss has mentioned repeatedly) against all odds.

Carmelo Anthony has played this way all season. He’s been relentless, even while some others wearing Knicks uniforms have not been on that same page, so to speak. He was relentless last night, as Knicks coach Mike Woodson found out during one timeout. Phil’s presence gives the rest of the Knicks, coaches and players alike, something to play for the rest of this season. Intended or not, his arrival gives this team a rallying point that can be used in whatever way is needed.

Watching Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. and even J.R. Smith all crank it up to that next level with Anthony shows us that the Knicks have had it in them all along.

If you listen to the men who have had the ultimate success with Jackson, this is what they insist he will bring to the Knicks. A championship-level attitude and energy might well be worth the $12 million a year Knicks owner James Dolan is reportedly paying the Zen master for his presence.

Kobe Bryant certainly believes it to be true. He told the “Dan Patrick Show” yesterday that the entire Knicks roster is in store for a type of wisdom they haven’t been privy to before Jackson’s arrival. And yes, Bryant thinks Jackson can do it from the president’s perch instead of the coaching fox hole:

“I just think his mentorship shifts,” Bryant said. “I think it goes from having a direct influence on the players themselves to having a direct influence on the coaching staff, which he’s accustomed to doing because that’s how he coached as well.

“He really had a great rapport with his coaching staff and he was really a great mentor for them, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing and it will just kind of trickle down from there. It’s really no different from what Pat [Riley] has been able to do in Miami with [Erik] Spoelstra.”

There’s no need to go there right now with the Riley and Jackson comparisons. Riley has accomplished far more as an executive and it’s an unreasonable measurement at this stage of the game.

What should resonate, though, is the staunch support Jackson is receiving from all corners of the basketball establishment. You expect it from his former players. But I’ve spoken with several of his new competitors, executives who have every reason to root against him, that think his presence alone changes the game in New York.

“People talk all the time about changing the culture and reshaping a franchise,” a Western Conference assistant general manager told me, “but they don’t come through the door and command the respect of the people within the organization. And I mean the secretaries, the training staff, the folks in the ticket office as well as the coaches and players. Phil doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s got everyone’s attention. It’s his show now.”

Indeed it is. And if the first impression means anything, it’s going to be a wild ride for the Knicks and their fans.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the Knicks’ streak and Phil Jackson’s potential impact

Jackson takes over Knicks looking to instill a vision of culture and continuity


VIDEO: Phil Jackson explains what it would be like to bring the Knicks a title

NEW YORK – The New York Knicks need fixing, and Phil Jackson is as good a candidate to make them better as anybody. With 13 NBA championship rings, he obviously knows what it takes to win. And in his 20 years of coaching the Bulls and Lakers, he’s dealt with superstars and role players, and he’s brought out the best in them.

There are plenty of questions as Jackson takes over the Knicks as team president and most of them remain unanswered after his introductory press conference at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday. He did say that Carmelo Anthony is “in the future plans,” but obviously wouldn’t say much of anything regarding Mike Woodson‘s future.

It’s clear though that Jackson understands that fixing the Knicks won’t happen overnight. When asked about what it would mean to bring the Knicks another championship, he admitted that was a “long ways away.” He knows that the franchise’s biggest problem over the last several years has been a lack of patience and continuity.

Since Jeff Van Gundy left in 2001, the Knicks’ longest-tenured coach has been Mike D’Antoni, who first oversaw two years of tearing down the roster and was dismissed less than two seasons into his real tenure, which included an Amar’e Stoudemire-led squad, the Anthony trade, the addition of Tyson Chandler, the emergence of Jeremy Lin, and no continuity whatsoever.

In his playing days with the Knicks, Jackson’s coach was Red Holzman, who was on the bench for more than nine seasons (and then came back for 3 1/2 more after a hiatus). Jackson, who used the word “continuity” early in the press conference, clearly believes the Knicks played the right way back then.

“This is a franchise that developed a team back in the 60s that was consistently playing team basketball for seven, eight years,” Jackson said.

Jackson wants team players. He brought up the “there’s no I in team” cliche and the thought of “building a culture” less than 30 seconds after taking the podium. But he knows that he can’t exactly flush the roster of its J.R. Smiths right away. He sees 2015, when the Knicks will have cap space and a strong free agent class to shop, as his chance to truly make an impact on the roster.

“Next year does have a group of guys together,” Jackson said. “Steve [Mills] and I are going to work on how to manage the roster and our financials so that we can have an impact in that area. We need another solid contributor.

“We’re looking forward to it, but we’re not losing sight of the fact that we are in a game-to-game basis in this business, that we want to provide a team that’s talented, a team that people will want to come and watch, and a team that’s truly competitive.”

Mills is the general manager who was brought back to MSG (he previously worked on the business side) at the beginning of the season, and who is tasked with helping Jackson deal with some of the grind (like dealing with agents) of his new job.

“I think that we have a teamwork situation here,” Jackson said, “that’s going to be really quite swift and capable of making some important changes as we move forward. And I hope my vision will stimulate that.”

And James Dolan? Well, the owner, who reportedly meddled in the Anthony trade negotiations in 2011, said that he’s “willingly and gratefully” ceding control of basketball decisions.

“I am by no means an expert at basketball,” Dolan said. “I think I’m a little out of my element when it comes to the team. I found myself in a position where I needed to be more a part of the decision-making for a while. It wasn’t necessarily something that I wanted to do, but as the chairman of the company, I felt obligated to do. And I’m happy now that we have the team of Phil and Steve to do that. And my whole job here now is about supporting them in winning a championship. And that’s a lot easier than what I’ve had to do in the past.”

Jackson said that he “wouldn’t be here” if he didn’t have control. And by “be here,” he says that he will be moving to New York, though family and medical ties will take him back to Los Angeles periodically.

“I have to jump in with both feet,” he said. “I got to move to New York, and I got to do this job the right way.”

That doesn’t mean that he’ll traveling all over the world to scout college and international games.

“I really want to focus on NBA teams,” Jackson said. “There are players that are on benches that are going to be available, maybe not in high-price contracts, that can come in and assist and help build a team. So there are a variety of ways in which we think we can build talent.”

If he has the right staff around him, whether Jackson is at an Iowa-Wisconsin game in January probably doesn’t matter. His job is to guide the franchise in the right direction and provide the continuity and patience that the franchise needs.

“It could be a wonderful opportunity to do something that I love,” Jackson said, “and that’s be with a basketball team and hopefully create a team that loves each other, plays with each other.

Phil Jackson’s first move in New York?

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: The Knicks have won a season-high six straight games

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The New York Knicks’ optimists would tell you that the mere prospect of Phil Jackson joining their beloved team as the president of basketball operations has inspired a season-high six-game win streak.

Who knows? There might be something to that … the power of Zen is strong in Jackson.

In reality, the Knicks are just riding the ebb and flow of completely predictable season of unpredictability. When we assume these Knicks are ready for a dirt bath, they rise up and surprise us. And just when we’re ready to assume that they’re poised to give serious chase for that eighth and final spot (currently occupied by the Atlanta Hawks and their 3.5 game lead over the Knicks) in the Eastern Conference playoff chase, they’ll crash and burn in the coming days.

That’s why the focus in New York has to be on Phil and his first move(s) as boss of the Knicks. I know Mike Woodson has his heart and mind set on grinding to the finish and stealing that playoff spot from the Hawks. But it’s of little consequence to just about everyone else involved.

Jackson, of course, has more important matters to consider. He has Carmelo Anthony‘s future with the franchise to consider. He has Woodson’s future to consider as well. My suggestion, cut bait with one and build with the other. And I think it’s safe to assume that it’s easier to build around Anthony, something that wasn’t done strategically with this current Knicks team, than it is to mold and shape the philosophy of a proud coach like Woodson, who is a branch of the Larry Brown coaching tree.

Gauging the general mood of the Knicks, there seems to be genuine excitement about Jackson taking over. Melo called it a “power move” and lauded the Knicks for going after and landing the greatest winner the game has seen, coach or player, since Bill Russell.

“I’m a chess player. That was a power move right there. You know what I mean?” a smiling Anthony told reporters after a win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “So, now we’re going to see what’s the next move, but that was a great power move.”

Getting a buy-in from Anthony is the first order of business for Jackson. And he shouldn’t have a hard time convincing Anthony to get on board with the plan (provided there is one already mapped out), what with the $30-$34 million more the Knicks can pay him than he could stand to make in free agency.

As for future plans, this will be the most challenging endeavor in Jackson’s career. He had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen as foundation pieces in Chicago, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles. Finding a competent and quality supporting cast for future Hall of Famers isn’t necessarily easy to do, but it is decidedly different challenge compared to crafting a championship roster around Anthony.

Is Anthony’s Horace Grant or Brian Shaw or Rick Fox or Ron Harper already on the roster? It’s hard to tell. I could see Tyson Chandler being a player Jackson would like to keep around, but Amar’e Stoudemire, Raymond Felton and some of the other current high-dollar Knicks don’t seem to be good fits. We know that second superstar is not on the Knicks’ roster right now, so that’s already a huge void that must be filled by Jackson.

Jackson’s presence, in theory, has already led to that mini-surge mentioned earlier. Anthony swears by it, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com pointed out:

“Phil knows what to do, how to build teams, and how to win,” Anthony said. “That’s the most important thing. When you know how to win — whether you’re a coach, whether you’re in the front office — that stands out.”

Anthony said all of the speculation surrounding Jackson helped the Knicks focus in recent days. New York has won a season-high six in a row, including a 115-94 rout of the Bucks earlier Saturday.

“It’s not a distraction at all,” he said. “If anything, it made us come together more as a team, as a unit, to really kind of keep that on the outside. We’re excited and happy that it got done, instead of all the speculation that’s been going on. So finally, it’s signed, sealed and delivered.”

Jackson, one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all-time, has every reason to be cautious in his approach to reshaping the Knicls. But I would suggest that he be as aggressive as possible in taking this current roster apart. This group clearly does not operate with the same chemistry and synergy that it did a year ago, albeit with seven new faces added to the mix this time around.

Woodson didn’t suddenly become a bad coach during training camp this season. And Anthony, who was lauded for his relentless work a season ago, didn’t wake up this season with selective amnesia about his role.

That said, there is a chance Jackson will want to go in a different direction in both instances. He might want one of his own in that crucial position he knows so well. Woodson, of course, is saying all the right things …

“Anytime you can get a great basketball mind that comes into your organization, I mean, it can’t do nothing but help,” Woodson said. “I mean, Phil’s been through the ringer. He’s won titles. He’s dealt with players individually. He’s dealt with players as a team. I mean, there’s probably not a lot he hasn’t seen from a basketball standpoint, so I think it’s got to be a plus.”

Woodson’s words of praise might not matter. He’s under contract next season, but there was rampant speculation before Jackson came on board that his job security was dwindling and that he might be replaced at season’s end.

Anthony is the sort of high-scoring anchor Jackson-coached teams have been built around in the past. But no one will confuse Anthony for MJ or Kobe. He’s a great scorer and an extremely hard worker but not the sort of dynamic alpha dog that Shaq or those other guys were and, in Kobe’s case, still are.

It requires an exquisitely manicured plan, but letting Anthony test the free agent waters might be just the sort of escape hatch Jackson needs to restart the Knicks in a different image.

No one knows for sure what his plans are. But it’s safe to say Phil Jackson’s first move or series of moves with the Knicks will be telling. We’ll know much more about Front Office Phil after he starts chipping away than we do now.



VIDEO: The Inside crew discusses Phil Jackson and the Knicks

Hang time podcast (episode 151) featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As soon as Phil Jackson accepts the most challenging mission of his professional career, running basketball operations for the New York Knicks, the rest of us can get back to normal.

Any day now PJax, we do have a regular season to finish here Zen master.

Good luck to anyone trying to figure out how having Jackson on board helps fix a Knicks team that is saddled with bad assets through the end of the 2014-15 season, a superstar, Carmelo Anthony, some believing is eyeing his escape route and a head coach in Mike Woodson who has repeatedly been undercut?

There are, of course, some $15 million reasons for Jackson to come out of quasi-retirement to take the job. But it’s still a seemingly impossible task, fixing the Knicks.

We do our best to sort it all out on Episode 151 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network.

We also have the latest installment of “Are You Kidding Me?” featuring special guest debater and Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas, filling in this week for fellow Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, squaring off with the Dean of Discipline Stu Jackson. They tackle LeBron‘s black mask and the “one and done” rule and whether or not it harms the NBA game.

And someone had a perfect run in this week’s edition of Braggin’ Rights.

Check out all of that and more on Episode 151 of the Hang Time Podcast Featuring Tina Cervasio of MSG Network …

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Blogtable: How can Phil fix the Knicks?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Contenders’ concerns | What can Phil do? | Which team is better?



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses the rumblings surrounding Phil Jackson and the Knicks

> What must happen for Phil Jackson to have a chance of fixing the Knicks?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comA fistful of compromising photos of Mr. Dolan? OK, failing that, patience on everyone’s part to get to the summer of 2015, not 2014, for a massive overhaul to really take shape. I’m not even sure how Jackson feels about Carmelo Anthony, but if we assume Anthony sticks in NY, it won’t be until 2015 that the Knicks’ payroll cooperates with a desire for real change. Here’s my Jackson concern: Will rival GMs be loathe to deal with him? He has had an air of condescension toward other organizations in the past, and many could shy away from transactions that might grow his legend further.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Pigs must fly. Hell must freeze over.  The always hungry, ridiculously partisan NY media must face reality. There is no quick fix, but living on the back pages of the tabloids has never afforded the Knicks to take a prudent, patient approach. Assuming there are no shenanigans such as frozen lottery envelopes — wink! wink! — in the early days of the Adam Silver regime, it is a long-term project. The Rockets never took a dive to the bottom for lottery salvation, and GM Daryl Morey needed seven years to finally reel in the combination of James Harden and Dwight Howard. Can the NY media wait that long with out its collective head exploding? Good luck, Phil.

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Carmelo Anthony (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comJames Dolan has to get out of the way. Write the checks to Phil and let Phil take the wheel. That’s the deal right? Arguably the most messed-up franchise in all of sports hires the Zen Master to make it all better. Well, get out of the way and be quiet. There’s no guarantees Phil the Rookie Executive can get this done, but if you hire him, back off. Also: Don’t re-sign Melo, get the books more in line with the CBA and start from scratch.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: First, he has to have the job. If that happens, he needs to be three times the general manager he was as a coach. He needs to be more than great, in other words. Not only are the Knicks overhyped and mediocre, they’re not in a very good place to do anything about it. Jackson would be looking at two summers of heavy lifting before New York has a chance, just a chance, of becoming real, unless he finds a genius general manager who will take Amar’e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani. Otherwise, it will be seeing what the Knicks can get for Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith, etc. They want to keep Carmelo Anthony, but doing that also means a commitment to trying to win now that will stand in the way of the necessary renovation job.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: A lot of time must pass. This is not a quick fix. Not only are Amar’e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani on the books for almost $50 million next season, but the Knicks have hardly any assets in the cupboard. So, while some 2015 cap space is nice, they must also find and develop young talent to fill out the rotation, have available if a star can be acquired via trade, and to give any potential success a longer shelf life.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: A Zen-fueled asteroid storm that reverses time and takes us back 40 years to the … no seriously, there is no chance. None. It’s not happening. Fixing the Knicks is like beating Floyd Mayweather … 45 men have tried and 45 have failed. No one has better championship credentials than Phil. But he’s never had to bring a patient back who has gone to the other side. He’s never done it. Never even had to think about doing it in his previous stops. So it’s hard to just assume he can or will with the Knicks. Watching him try, though, could be some of the best fun any of us have had observing the Knicks.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: I’ve heard the questions about how Phil Jackson will fit into the power structure of the Knicks organization, and I get it. But to me the only real way for the Knicks to build a championship contender is to rebuild. Ditch all the high-priced contracts and go young, even if that means a team of D-League players. If I’ve learned anything living in New York the last 14 years, it’s that New York City loves the underdog, the people who have to fight for everything. I mean, remember Linsanity? Rebuilding might mean they may lose a bunch of games for a few years, but if the Knicks leave it all on the floor, they’ll at least earn the respect of Gotham as they build toward something bigger down the road. Which is more than this current crew has done.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Well, what do the team’s owners want them to be? That’s the big question. He needs to make sure that he has a positive relationship with James Dolan. Then make sure Carmelo Anthony signs, try and somehow acquire some meaningful assets and just do well on draft day. Then he has a platform to build from.

Karan Madhok, NBA IndiaTo allow Phil Jackson to do more with the Knicks, team owner James Dolan has to do less. This means more autonomy to Jackson in the decision-making process in hiring the coaching staff, negotiating trades, player contracts, drafts, etc. Jackson may not be a proven executive yet, but he’s a proven great basketball mind. And for him to achieve more, the owners have to take a step back and allow him his free space, like Pat Riley in Miami.

PJax to the Knicks looks inevitable …




VIDEO: The Game Time crew talks Phil Jackson to the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – All that’s left now is for Phil Jackson to send out the public smoke signal that he’s back, after all of these years, in the fold in New York.

Jackson and the Knicks, according to multiple sources, are working through the sticky points of a deal that would bring him back to the league in a front-office capacity, and not as coach of the Knicks (a job, mind you, that is currently occupied by Mike Woodson).

The latest report says that Jackson and the Knicks are expected to come to an agreement by week’s end, as ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard reports Tuesday morning.

Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks are expected to finalize a deal that will give the legendary coach control of the club’s front office by the end of this week, according to a league source.

“Everything is pretty much done,” the source said. “There are just some little things here and there that need to be worked out, but the Knicks are very confident that this is essentially done.”

An official announcement may not come until next week, the source said.

Make no mistake, though: it’ll take all of the legendary coach’s Zen powers to help fix what ails the Knicks. In short, they are a mess right now. A lame-duck coach. A superstar (Carmelo Anthony) basically being forced to consider his free-agent options elsewhere this summer. And a roster bogged down with so many bad assets that legendary front office maven Donnie Walsh (the man who once tried fixing this mess) couldn’t fix it all.

Most of us have no idea how Jackson will fare in a job he’s never actually done before. But when you’ve accumulated the sort of championship hardware he has over the years — he played on the Knicks’ 1970 and ’73 title teams and won 11 more titles as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers) — the benefit of the doubt is included in the compensation package.


VIDEO: NBA TV looks back on Phil Jackson’s legendary career

If anyone alive who has had a hand in the NBA game can clean up the mess that is the Knicks, it has to be Jackson. Be it good fortune or shrewd calculation, or a healthy dose of both and plenty of blind luck, Jackson always seems to find himself in the middle of championship-level success. Why wouldn’t the Knicks want to find themselves affiliated with the same things?

Jackson was supposed to be the savior in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant and the Lakers could use some divine intervention these days. But Jim Buss had other plans, ones that didn’t include retaining the services of his sister Jeanie‘s boyfriend in any capacity. (Ask the Lakers how that worked out.)

Now he’ll get the chance to see if his magic works from a different angle, as the man pulling the strings from on high as opposed to doing it with direct contact with the players. I defy anyone to challenge Jackson’s coaching credentials.

For all the grief he gets for having won with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in L.A., among others, it should be noted that the only member of those Hall of Famers he coached that has won a title without him is Shaq. And remember, Shaq did so alongside Dwyane Wade and perhaps the only other coach (not named Gregg Popovich) of his generation to approach Jackson’s level, Heat boss and former coach of the Showtime Lakers, Pat Riley.

Jackson doesn’t have to sully his reputation by trying to salvage a Knicks team that is clearly beyond repair. But he could send his mythical aura into a new stratosphere if he were somehow able to clear the debris from the wreckage that is these Knicks and bring a championship flair back to Madison Square Garden.

That’s why Knicks owner James Dolan had no choice but to seek out the services of the one man whose name is synonymous with success, the one man whose mere mention sends fans into flights of fancy about championship parades … even when their haven’t been any such plans in the works for decades.

Anyone worried about this not working out for the Knicks in the long run clearly hasn’t paid attention to the tire fire that goes on in Manhattan on the regular. Everyone can worry about the minutiae later. Right now, it’s simply about convincing Jackson to share some of that good vibrations that have followed him throughout his career. If it ends horribly, as predicted here (and almost everything and everyone Dolan and the Knicks come in contact does), so what?

Jackson will still walk away unscathed. He’ll keep his spot on the Mount Rushmore of coaches in the history of organized sports and will still be a living legend in every corner of the basketball world.

Change isn’t always a good thing. But in this instance, it’s the only thing that can save the Knicks.

And the agent of that change, barring any last-minute surprises, appears to be none other than Phil Jackson, whose basketball life and career could come full circle with his reviving the franchise he helped win two titles a lifetime ago.

Morning Shootaround — March 6


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

George wants to learn from James | Report: Nash unlikely to be waived | Durant adopts Nowitzki’s training methods | Knicks fans to protest game? | Brown sides with NCAA, not D-League

No. 1: George wants to learn from LeBron — Throughout the season, Pacers star Paul George has been in and out of an MVP debate that has recently shifted to LeBron James vs. Kevin Durant. Still, there’s no denying the superstar turn George has experienced over the last two seasons and a big part of that rise came from Indiana’s last two playoff series against the Miami Heat and James. George and the Pacers are hoping for a third straight playoff series matchup with Miami this season and as George tells BasketballInsiders.com’s Jessica Camerato, he hopes he can someday learn from James, too:

They are two of the league’s most talented on the court: the king of the NBA versus the rising star, reigning MVP against future contender. There is no doubt George views LeBron James as fierce competition as they battle for the Eastern Conference. One day, though, he’d also like to call him his mentor.

“It would be great to be able to pick his brain, pick his mind and just talk about the game because I think he’s a player that can help me get to the next level and continue to keep going to the next level,” George told Basketball Insiders. “I wish some day we have that relationship where he is someone I can talk to—not during the season because I’m too competitive during the season—but maybe in the summertime.”

James has not been shy about his appreciation for George’s game since he was drafted by the Pacers with the 10th overall pick in 2010. He has expressed encouragement along the way, telling the 23-year-old to continue playing at a high level. During the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals James made a PDA (public display of appreciation, in this case) when he offered George a low five following a sequence in which George drove past him and dunked on Chris Andersen, and then responded by pulling up for a buzzer-beating trey against George.

They engage in small, casual conversations when they’re on the court together. Once the games are over, James will congratulate George and urge him to keep pushing. Other than those in-game exchanges, though, George explained “we don’t talk really.”

That’s something he would like to see change over time. While George already considers James to play a mentor role in the sense of being someone who has been positive toward him, he would also like to have the type of relationship where he can reach out to talk basketball. George said he could message James “if need be,” but hasn’t done so yet.

“He’s someone that motivates me,” said George, who is averaging 22.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.8 steals per game. “This league is all about guys being competitive and competing. And don’t get me wrong, every time I’m matched up with him I’m going to try to get the best out of him and come out as the best player of that game. But at the same time, he’s been someone that I looked up to. He’s someone I’m going to continue to look up to because at the end of the day, the position I want to be in is where he’s at.”

George has his sights set high when it comes to his desired list of mentors. Along with James, he would like to add Kobe Bryant also.

“All-Star Weekend, he gave me a couple words and every time I do run into him he gives me a couple words,” George said. “He’s a player as well that I look up to and wish would mentor me.”

While there are basketball hopefuls of all ages who strive to reach George’s level of talent, he feels he has a ways to go before he is ready to assume the mentor position he is still seeking out for himself.

“I’m still young so there’s a lot of stuff I have to learn before I feel like I can help a young guy,” George said. “I’ve got to grow into my mentoring role and then I’ll be one of those guys that mentors young guys.”


VIDEO: Paul George and LeBron James talk about the Pacers-Heat rivalry

***

No. 2: Report: Lakers expected to keep Nash on board next season — In the most recent of Grantland.com’s solid video series with Steve Nash, the former two-time MVP guard spends a lengthy part of the video discussing how he expects to be waived from the team via the stretch provision this summer. The stretch provision allows a team to basically stretch out the amount owed on a player’s contract over multiple seasons instead of having to fork over a lump-sum payment upon being waived. Kevin Ding of BleacherReport.com reports that scenario is looking less and less likely for Nash, though:

And the fact is, as of this time, Nash will get one last chance to play next season with the Lakers, who are not planning a free-agent spending spree this summer and are therefore thinking it does not make sense to use the stretch provision to waive Nash.

The Lakers would rather be done with the entirety of Nash’s $9.7 million salary next year if they’re not planning on spending much next season, as opposed to stretching that money across the next three seasons if they waive him and suffer future burdens.

That decision by the Lakers would give Nash one last season to get his body as right as possible, control the nerve-root irritation sapping his back and legs, and try to go out on something close to his terms.

“Yeah,” Nash said Tuesday night about the Lakers letting him play it out next season. “It sounds like it.”

If the Lakers change their mind and waive Nash, he intends to retire: “That would be it,” he said. “I’ll either be back here or I’ll be done.”

If he is granted this reprieve, though…

“It means that anything is still possible,” Nash said.

Nash is well beyond assuming anything with how his body heals now, and he was still cautious when discussing what he acknowledged looks to be one good tiding coming his way if the Lakers don’t cut him.

He did allow himself to smile about it.

“If I can get healthy and come back,” he said, “it’d be great.”

For the Lakers’ purposes, Nash being able to contribute next season would lessen the bust of his acquisition only slightly. The losing hedges with Dwight Howard and Nash are severely limiting the Lakers’ rebuilding options now, and as Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said last month, the one thing the franchise cannot afford is to gamble again and lose.

To Kupchak, paying maximum dollars to star players who the Lakers are not certain can deliver championship performances would be bad business—and is, in fact, exactly what has happened in New York with the Knicks struggling despite having Carmelo Anthony.

So don’t expect to see Anthony or Chris Bosh—if he opts out of his Miami Heat contract—getting epic offers from the Lakers.

Everything goes out the window if LeBron James opts out of his Heat contract and is interested in the Lakers this summer, but otherwise the Lakers plan to piece a roster together again next season around Kobe Bryant and save their cap space for 2015 free agents such as Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and maybe James.

***

No. 3: Durant has adopted some of Nowitzki’s training methods — Practically since he became an NBA player, Dallas Mavericks All-Star Dirk Nowitzki has leaned on help from his trainer from Germany, Holger Geschwindner, throughout his career. Nowitzki has become an all-time great in the game and an NBA champion thanks, in part, to Geschwindner’s tutelage and it appears that another star in the league — Kevin Durant — is adopting Geschwindner’s methods. Jared Zwerling of BleacherReport.com has more:

Even though they’ve been in Dallas the same amount of time, Mavericks scout Reggie Johnson still has a difficult time describing Dirk Nowitzki’s quirky workouts with his longtime German trainer Holger Geschwindner.

“Besides all the shooting, it’s hard to explain the types of things he does—because they are so unorthodox,” Johnson said. “It’s one of those things you have to see, but it’s like he’s working on balance, leg strength and shooting all in one motion. His personal coach from Germany thinks outside the box with the drills. Some drills with the ball, some without. He has a routine.”

Interestingly, because of Nowitzki’s connection to Kevin Durant’s trainer, Adam Harrington, who had a limited stint with the Mavericks in 2002-03, the Oklahoma City star has been utilizing some of Geschwindner’s drills since last summer.

“They’ve been paying off for KD,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely incorporated the one-legged fadeaway, and it’s working very well for him. Just ask his defenders. Also, his three-point shot looks a lot more natural and fluid.”

As for those exercises, they’re still coming in handy for Nowitzki, who at the end of the season could join Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple campaigns of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.

“It’s great to watch Dirk play, but watching him work is incredible,” Johnson said. “Everyone has heard about his work ethic, but until you’ve witnessed it, you have no idea. He loves the game, and he loves getting better daily. The three things I’ve been most impressed with are his basketball IQ, passing and vision on the court, and his leadership.

“He’s also changed a few things over time. Dirk has an improved post game, he’s mentally and physically tougher and he has a more efficient all-around game. He was known as just a killer jump shooter, but now he’s a threat inside and out, as well as a better passer. He recognizes where double teams are coming from and when they’re coming, which allows him to react quicker and become a playmaker.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant does his version of Dirk Nowitzki’s trademark shot during a game from 2011

***

No. 4: Knicks fans planning protest before March 19 game? — The New York Knicks beat the Minnesota Timberwolves last night to end their seven-game losing streak, but ICYMI, it’s been a pretty difficult season in New York. Fans are no doubt unhappy with the team’s surprising downfall this season after a banner performance last season and as such, may soon let team ownership know of their displeasure. Marc Berman of the New York Post reports that Knicks fans may be staging a protest of owner James Dolan before a March 19 date with the Pacers:

A rally to protest Knicks owner James Dolan’s handling of the sinking franchise is on tap for March 19 in front of the Garden before the team hosts the Pacers.

The organizers of the “KF4L Rally,” which has its own Facebook page, are promoting the rally via social media. The KF4L stands for “Knicks Fan for Life.’’

Knicks fans Michael Brown, who has staged demonstrations in the past, Anthony Samaroo, a Chicago-based Knicks fan, and Mark Griffin are the rally’s promoters.

In a statement, the organizers wrote the rally is being staged because of “Dolan’s failure to allow knowledgeable basketball people the autonomy/power to make basketball related decisions…His insistence on overriding the opinions of his basketball people by bidding against himself in negotiations and overpaying in trades.’’

The statement also took issue with “the rehiring of Steve Mills who has never been in the GM role before and presided over one of the most embarrassing eras in Knick history.’’

***

No. 5: Coaching legend sides with NCAA, not NBA D-League– As an NBA coach, Larry Brown amassed 1,198 victories and won a championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004. Today, Brown is the coach of the SMU Mustangs and as a collegiate coach, has amassed 300 wins and led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA championship. Suffice it to say that Brown is well-rounded enough to speak on whether the NCAA or NBA D-League is a better path for a talented player out of high school. As ESPNDallas.com’s Tim McMahon notes, Brown is siding with the college game, unlike Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban:

SMU’s Larry Brown, a Hall of Famer with 1,198 NBA coaching wins, strongly disagreed with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban’s suggestion that elite prospects would be better prepared for the NBA by playing in the D-League instead of spending one season in college.

“I admire him and I think he’s one of the bright guys we have in our profession, but that was the worst thing I heard,” Brown, who has won titles in college and the NBA, said during an appearance on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

“They don’t teach guys how to play, in my mind,” Brown said of the D-League. “The head coaches in the NBA and a lot of the assistants do, but [college basketball] is the greatest minor league system in the world. If you didn’t go to one class and just live in a college environment, then you’re way ahead. And I think most coaches are responsible enough to make them go to class, make them go to study hall, give them life lessons.

“How about being around [SMU assistants] Eric Snow and George Lynch? Those two guys played 13, 14 years in the league, have families, are successful. In all honesty, I love Mark, but [college basketball] is pretty good.

“Now, it’s our job to make [players] realize getting an education is something that’s important, because here’s the deal: Life after basketball is a real long time.”

Cuban emphasized the importance of life skills courses for prospects who might choose to play in the D-League straight out of high school, but Brown believes that sort of education is better delivered on college campuses.

“I always was amazed the NBA had this program before this season where they’d bring everybody in, similar to what you do in college before school starts, orientation,” Brown said. “I used to always ask my players what they got out of it, and it was comical. You’re not going to get anything out of four days of orientation, but play for Rick Pitino for a year or two or Tom Izzo or John Calipari or Bill Self, I think Cuban would be happy with what they’re getting.”

Brown did agree with Cuban’s suggestion that prospects be required to play three years in college before being eligible for the NBA draft. However, Brown would prefer to make exceptions for players who would like to jump to the pros out of high school.

“I want this to be like baseball,” Brown said. “If a kid is good enough, like LeBron or like Durant, to come right out of high school, let him go. Put it in his contract, though, that you’re going to make X amount of dollars if you go back to school. Then if you decide to go to school, stay three years. Then all these NBA people wouldn’t have to keep these workout coaches, because the kids would be prepared.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Wizards coach Randy Wittman has Washington poised for a return to the playoffs, but will he get a new contract? … Like mama always said, all good things must come to an end. Such was the case for Kyle Korver and his streak of games with at least one 3-pointer, which ended at 127 last night in Portland … The Kings are reportedly going to sign troubled forward Royce White to a 10-day deal today … The Nets may soon call up guard Jorge Gutierrez from the NBA D-League … Cavs big man Anderson Varejao went through Wednesday’s practice and could return soon … Rockets center Dwight Howard hopes Magic fans can one day forgive him … Lakers forward Wesley Johnsonis hoping he’ll be back with the team next season … Blazers backup point guard Earl Watson, who has played in just 17 games this season, may soon explore coaching opportunities in the league …

ICYMI of the Night: You gotta feel bad for poor Jerryd Bayless on this play. He thinks he’s got a wide-open look at a 3-pointer and then … whammo! Andrew Bogut comes out of nowhere for the fantastic swat …


VIDEO:Andrew Bogut comes flying in to deny Jerry Bayless’ 3-point attempt

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

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