Posts Tagged ‘New York Knicks’

Morning Shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Too much Westbrook not enough for Thunder | Budenholzer: Ferry deserves most credit for Hawks’ roster | Confident Warriors waiting on first round opponent | Monroe to Knicks not a done deal

No. 1: Too much Westbrook not enough for Thunder — They couldn’t get the win on a night when Russell Westbrook went off for a career-high 54 points. And now the Oklahoma City Thunder might have to continue their chase for a playoff spot without their superstar point guard, for at least one game. It’s the disaster scenario Thunder fans have been dreading for weeks with the losses and technical fouls from Westbrook piling up. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:

C.J. Miles lined up the corner three and knocked it in – the ensuing swish, ovation and OKC timeout putting a fitting bow on the most nightmare sequence of the Thunder’s nightmare season.

With only 5:20 left, Miles’ dagger gave the Pacers a 12-point lead in their eventual 116-104 win over the Thunder. At the same time, the Pelicans were holding steady to a surprising advantage down in Houston, a result that would have put OKC on the brink of playoff extinction.

A potential disaster scenario was unfolding. And it was only worsened by what had happened moments earlier.

With the Thunder still in the game – trailing by five with 5:56 left – Russell Westbrook was called for a foul at the top of the key. Luis Scola and Westbrook had collided, Westbrook drew the whistle and didn’t agree. He chirped a little at referee Ed Malloy. Malloy, peeved at the argument, nailed Westbrook with a technical.

In most cases, not a disaster. A small fine for Westbrook, one free throw for the Pacers and the game resumes. But this technical, potentially, came with far greater consequences.

It was Westbrook’s 16th technical of the season, which, per NBA rules, comes with an automatic one-game suspension, meaning he will miss OKC’s crucial home tilt against the Blazers on Monday night.

“He was aware (that he was at 15),” coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s been aware for a while now.”

The Rockets came back to beat the Pelicans, tossing the Thunder a temporary life raft during this tidal wave of bad decisions and bad luck. But Westbrook’s potential absence in a near must-win game against Portland could still be the death knell.

“I got no view on it,” Westbrook said of the technical. “He called it, and we’ll move on.”

The Thunder, though, remain hopeful Westbrook’s suspension will get overturned. Last month during a road game in Phoenix, Westbrook was called for a questionable technical. The next day, the league rescinded it.

Following Sunday night’s loss in Indiana, Brooks, who was standing directly in front of Malloy and Westbrook when the brief argument occurred, said he believed the league would take this one back, too.

“I’m pretty confident that one will be rescinded,” Brooks said. “That’s not my decision, but I’m pretty confident about it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook could care less what you think

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Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

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


BLOGTABLE: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Morning shootaround — April 7


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Front-runners emerge in Hawks’ sale | Knight likely to be shut down for season | Report: Knicks willing to re-sign Bargnani

No. 1: Report: Front-runners emerge in ownership of Hawks — The Atlanta Hawks were officially put up for sale on Jan. 8 and, for the first time since then, there appears to be some movement on what’s next for the team. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that two groups are considered finalists, while another group has pulled itself out of the running:

Two front-runners for ownership of the Hawks are emerging as the lengthy process to sell the franchise and Philips Arena continues into its seventh month.

 

There is a deadline of April 10 for final bids. However, that date could be moved, as one or more bids are still being considered.

Several people with knowledge of the situation told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that two groups are considered finalists. Current Hawks ownership and prospective buyers have signed non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from speaking publicly on the sales process.

One leading group is led by Grizzlies minority owner Steve Kaplan, who is joined by Indonesian billionaires Erick Thohir and Handy Poernomo and former Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien. Braves great Hank Aaron also has been associated with the group.

The other leading group is led by Lionsgate Entertainment’s Mark Rachesky, who is joined by New York investment banker Steve Starker. Jesse Itzler, who has done consulting work for the Hawks and attends many games, is also associated with the group. He is married to Spanx founder Sara Blakely.

At least one group considers itself out of the running after having no contact with the search firms for some time.

The entire process may take until June to complete. The sales process began in September when controlling owner Bruce Levenson announced his intention to sell his stake as part of a firestorm of controversy that engulfed the franchise.

 

“It’s amazing how long this has taken,” one person familiar with the situation said.

At least one of the prospective ownership groups has concerns with Philips Arena, according to a person familiar with the situation. The group feels the team’s practice facility is subpar and could be a hindrance in attracting free agents. The weight-room facilities also are considered below NBA standards, and the group has expressed a concern over the setup of the arena luxury boxes.

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Morning shootaround — April 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Miami’s playoff hopes hitting late snag | Knicks GM: Team won’t target only big-name free agents | Report: Rondo high on Lakers’ free-agent wish list

No. 1: Playoff hopes fading for aching Heat — The race for the No. 8 playoff spot in the Eastern Conference remains a tightly contested one, with the Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Charlotte Hornets and (to a lesser degree) Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers all within striking distance of it. The Heat’s loss last night in Cleveland moved it into a tie with Brooklyn for the spot, but that status may be short-lived. Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick reports on how Dwyane Wade‘s injury, coupled with Miami’s already banged-up roster, may spell doom for the Heat’s playoff hopes:

Facing a prospect of four rather bland first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference postseason, it’s been understandable to crave a late-April collision between Cleveland and Miami, not simply for the soap opera potential, but also for the chance of a competitive series, considering that Wade and the Heat handled the Cavaliers twice at home in the regular season.

Thursday’s shellacking made that series less likely, pushing the Heat a half-game behind seventh-seeded Brooklyn—the spot that would draw certain-to-be-second-seeded Cleveland—and into a tie with eighth-seeded Boston, with Charlotte and Indiana still lurking close behind. But it did more than that. It also showed why such a series, even if it occurred, would likely be a letdown, for however little time it lasted.

The Heat’s only real chance to reach the playoffs, and compete once there, is a dynamic, dashing Dwyane Wade, which is why it made little sense for Wade to play Thursday night. Not when his left knee was clearly bugging him throughout much of Tuesday’s loss to the Spurs; not with beating the rested Cavaliers an extreme longshot; and not with such a critical stretch of schedule—a back-to-back against the Pistons and Pacers, followed a day later by a home game against the Hornets—coming up. That was true even prior to Wade, along with Udonis Haslem, missing Thursday’s shootaround with the flu. The tactical play, even if not the popular one, would have been to sit out until Saturday, when Wade’s presence would have given the Heat a significant edge against the Pistons.

The unfortunate truth for Miami is that they are now at risk of heading down from here. Wade said he would spend Friday, after arriving in Detroit, getting treatment as he always does. But his Instagram post, in which he said he prayed he could join the team on the court on this road trip—which finishes Sunday in Indianapolis—wasn’t especially encouraging.

“The goal has just been get healthy, get it going,” Luol Deng said. “We had our struggles early in the year, we made the trade (for Dragic) and then C.B. went down. Just guys been in and out. It’s been a very, not making excuses or anything, but in terms of consistency, it’s really been difficult for everybody.”

That’s where the Heat are, with seven games left.

Dealing with a very bad hand.

Hardly looking like a threat to Cleveland, or anyone else. Hardly looking like a team that can salvage the Eastern Conference’s first round as half of a showcase series.

“Can’t keep everybody healthy,” Mario Chalmers said.

“That type of year,” Deng said.

“The story of the season,” Wade said. “It continues.”

If he can’t play this weekend, it probably won’t continue much longer.


VIDEO: LeBron James and the Cavs breeze past the Heat

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Blogtable: Kerr’s smartest move yet?

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


BLOGTABLE: Kerr’s smartest move? | Future for Rondo and Ellis? | Your All-Rookie team



VIDEOSteve Kerr coaches up the Warriors at Staples Center

> The Warriors have set a franchise record with 61 victories this season. The Knicks have set a franchise record with 60 losses. How smart does Steve Kerr look now, choosing the Warriors over the Knicks? And would he have made much of a difference in New York?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI just so happened to mention that dichotomy to Mr. Kerr at the end of the evening Saturday in Milwaukee, noting the symmetry and the gulch between the two teams. The camera lights had been turned off and he shook his head and muttered, “Brutal.” Anyway, to answer the first question, as smart as Kerr is, he didn’t have to be a Mensa member to ascertain which of those positions packed more potential. The Warriors’ and Knicks’ contrasting trajectories were well-established. So, how much impact did he have on this season’s results? If you credit him outright for 10 of Golden State’s victories — or assume he could have staved off 10 New York defeats with his wiles — that’s still a 50 victories vs. 50 defeats difference. And that still would be “brutal.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I don’t think Steve Kerr deserves the Nobel Prize in chemistry for being able to tell the difference a vintage bottle of wine and a barrel of toxic waste. The only way he could have made a significant difference with the hand dealt by the Zen Master would have been to bring reach through a wormhole in time to bring some of his former teammates named Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Tim Duncan.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Does Steve Kerr look smart? Hmmmm. Let me take zero seconds to think it over. Of course he does. Einstein smart. It’s the genius decision of the season, and maybe several seasons. And not just because of how things turned out this season, complete with Kerr coaching the Western Conference All-Stars … in Madison Square Garden. It’s that the Warriors have a huge window of opportunity ahead. Unless Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes decide to retire around this time next year, Golden State will be better than the Knicks the next two full seasons as well. At least two seasons.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I can’t call Kerr a genius for choosing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson over Carmelo Anthony. Had he done otherwise, he would’ve needed his eyes checked. Anyway, Kerr wouldn’t have made a difference in New York — who could with that crew? — and I’m not yet convinced he’s made a difference in Golden State; only the playoffs will tell us if he’s indeed a better fit than Mark Jackson.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: That first question was rhetorical, right? He wouldn’t have made much of a difference in New York, unless Phil Jackson gave him more freedom with the offense than he gave Derek Fisher. The Knicks’ steep learning curve with the triangle offense was a big reason why they got off to a terrible start and eventually (and rightfully) decided to take another step backward. Things would have been better with a more standard (and easier to learn) NBA offense that still promoted the ball movement that Jackson was looking for. Defense is another story, though. While Kerr was handed a top-three defense at Golden State, the Knicks were a bottom-10 defense that got worse with the departure of Tyson Chandler. It’s doubtful that anything could have been done on that end of the floor.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: You didn’t have to be smarter than a 5th grader to figure out that the Warriors’ gig was a much better job opportunity than that … um, challenge in New York. So Kerr choosing the Warriors was a no-brainer really. And unless he has magical powers none of us know about, including the ability to transform role players and journeymen into All Stars, there is nothing else to see here folks. Nothing!

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Kerr would have made no difference. Even with a few more wins, the Knicks would’ve still looked hopeless based entirely on the dearth of their talent in combination with Carmelo Anthony’s injury. Looking ahead, the killer for New York is that so many franchises will have cap space when the new TV money floods the market in 2016 — it’s going to influence the market for the next two summers, making it harder than ever for the Knicks to compete for free agents.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI just emailed Steve and asked if he has any advice for playing the lotto. Because not only did he end up turning down the Knicks, he got a better contract from the Warriors. And sure, it wasn’t a complete surprise this happened — after all, the Warriors were a playoff team last season, while Phil Jackson started stripping down the Knicks and selling them off for parts even before the start of the season. And I don’t know exactly what kind of winter they had in the Bay, but I’m guessing it wasn’t as historically brutal as they one we just endured here in New York City. So if anyone ever has to feel like they made the right choice, Kerr is that man. Now can I get those Powerball digits, Steve?

 

Morning shootaround — March 31


VIDEO: Top plays from games played March 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson pleads with Knicks season-ticket holders | Korver gets on track a bit | Lakers lottery hopes take hit

No. 1: Jackson pleads with Knicks season-ticket holders — Much like their high-glamour brethren in the Western Conference (that would be the Los Angeles Lakers), the New York Knicks have endured a disastrous season. From the franchise-record 60 losses this season to losing superstar Carmelo Anthony to injury, 2014-15 has been awful for New York. Team president Phil Jackson, however, continues to ask Knicks fans — and specifically season-ticket holders — to take the long view with his plan for the team. Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com has more:

Phil Jackson has asked New York Knicks season-ticket holders to “remain optimistic” amid what has been one of the worst seasons in franchise history.

In a letter and video message sent out on Monday, Jackson tried to reassure the team’s fan base, saying he has a “clear plan” in place for this 2015 offseason.

“While I know this has been a challenging season for our team on the court, I can also tell you that everyone in the organization is working tirelessly to get our Knicks back to a place where we are once again competing at the highest level,” Jackson said in a video message obtained by ESPN New York that doubled as a pitch to season ticket holders to renew for the 2015-16 season.

In the letter, Jackson talked about the roster moves he’s made to clear up cap space for free agency. The Knicks are expected to have at least $25 million in cap space this summer.

“We have made key roster moves to free up significant cap space that will provide us greater flexibility to acquire talent in this summer’s free agency,” Jackson said. “And for the first time in many years, we expect to have a top pick in the NBA Draft this June. These are key steps to building a roster of players that have both the talent and character to win in New York and who, alongside Carmelo Anthony, will become a team that can become a consistent winner.”

Jackson briefly acknowledged the failures of this season in the video and letter.

“Despite the disappointing 2014-15 season, we are steadfast in our resolve to do what is necessary to deliver on our ultimate goal of bringing a championship back to New York,” Jackson said.

Jackson signed a five-year contract reportedly worth $60 million dollars to take over as Knicks president a little more than 12 months ago.

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Morning shootaround — March 26


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls secure winning road record | Howard’s return a boon for Houston | Could Love-LeBron rift force Love to sign with Knicks?

No. 1: Bulls lock up winning record on road — The Chicago Bulls, as is their wont during the coach Tom Thibodeau era, have held things together nicely and stayed in the tick of the upper crust in the East despite a multitude of injuries. Things are getting better in Chicago as Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup earlier this week, Joakim Noah is playing more and healing up and superstar Derrick Rose said he hopes to rejoin the team before the season’s end. And, oh yeah, the Bulls won in Toronto last night to secure a winning record on the road — a rarity in franchise lore. K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune details that feat and other positives for Chicago:

Michael Jordan never experienced it. Neither did Scottie Pippen. Not even Phil Jackson accomplished the feat.

With their 116-103 victory over the Raptors Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre, the Bulls guaranteed their fifth straight winning road record for the first time in franchise history. Overall, the Bulls improved to 113-79 away from the United Center under Tom Thibodeau.

That’s a .589 road winning percentage. And that, plus the eventual addition of Derrick Rose, who said earlier in the day he would be cleared for contact “sometime this week or next,” is the kind of stuff that gives the Bulls confidence moving forward. That confidence is there regardless of their playoff seed, whether or not they have home-court advantage.

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Blogtable: Knicks or Lakers in future?

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


BLOGTABLE: Kyrie’s 57 or Klay’s 37? | The rest issue … | Brighter future: Knicks or Lakers?



VIDEOLooking back on better days for the Knicks and Lakers

> Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss had an in-arena date last week, with Jackson’s Knicks getting a victory over Buss’s Lakers. Which of these high-profile NBA executives will be more satisfied with their team’s rebuild 12 months from now?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Buss. The Lakers, as soon as they have money to spend, will be able to flex their legacy and locale advantages in free agency in ways the Knicks’ miserable recent history will preclude. Also, I get the sense that upbeat Jeanie is more easily satisfied than cantankerous Phil, so personality plays a role in this too.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com Hoo boy, that’s a bar so low that Gumby couldn’t limbo under it. Satisfaction is hardly the word to use. I’ll take a flyer on the Lakers with a healthy Julius Randle and their top five draft pick roughly co-existing with Kobe Bryant’s latest comeback over a top-flight rookie and Carmelo Anthony learning the secrets of the triangle. But neither sniffs the playoffs again, so misery can continue holding hands and making goo-goo eyes with company.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comMore satisfied being the key, since neither will be satisfied in 12 months. The Lakers will have made the most progress by this time next year, with one important disclaimer: as long as they keep their lottery pick that is top-five protected. Neither will be a good situation, barring a shocking veteran pickup in the summer. But the Lakers will be the better of the not good.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comWell, Jeannie isn’t on contract, so I guess Phil will want and need to see some rather significant improvement a year from now. I’ll give the edge to Phil. Kobe is already on record saying the Lakers shouldn’t do anything rash and destructive just to surround him with ready-to-win talent next season, so the Lakers should continue with a gradual rebuild. Meanwhile, Phil convinced the Knicks to invest so much into Carmelo Anthony that some justification is in order for the Zen Master.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: New York. The Lakers already have a Lottery pick — Julius Randle — in hand and, with the league’s fourth worst record, only a 17 percent chance of losing their top-five protected pick to the Philadelphia 76ers. But the Knicks have the better and younger star player, as well as a better chance at one of the top two picks, where the true difference makers will likely be. Furthermore, Derek Fisher probably has a better ability to coach a young team up than Byron Scott, who floundered in a similar opportunity in Cleveland.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Jeanie Buss has the Lakers’ history of always finding their way back to relevance on her side. The lure of playing for a franchise smothered in championship lore and in one of the most desirable locations on the planet will somehow win out. The Knicks have so much ground to make up that they’d need some blind luck to beat the Lakers to the finish line of respectability. I just don’t see them getting there before the Lakers a year from now. Free agency this summer will be the key, of course. Whoever gets the most done in July and August will have the best shot at winning this one.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Lakers are going to be able to sign someone good this summer, add another high pick to Julius Randle (the luck of the lottery willing), hope for a meaningful comeback year from Kobe Bryant, and then go back into free agency in 2016 with the heavy tailwind of the new TV contract and the extra cap space it will create. Jeanie is a better salesperson than Phil, and she has more to sell.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogPhil. The reason I have to give the Zen Master the nod is that both organizations will presumably, at some point, have to tear things down before they build them up. And the Knicks are well on their way to doing that. This time next year, the Lakers will be nearing the end of Kobe Bryant’s contract and trying to figure out where to go next. And if history is any teacher, Lakers management hasn’t exactly inspired confidence.

Morning shootaround — March 18


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 17

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls get good news on injuries | Silver: Talk of work stoppage ‘premature’ | Randolph, Grizzlies miffed after loss | Popovich: Spurs’ effort vs. Knicks ‘pathetic’

No. 1: Injury cloud may soon be leaving Bulls — As The Starters discussed on their show yesterday, several teams in the NBA this season have been unlucky when it comes to losing players due to injury. One such team on that list is the Chicago Bulls, who, of late, have been without the services of Taj Gibson and All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose. Things are starting to look up for Chicago, though, as Gibson and Butler are nearing a return and Rose may be ahead of schedule for a comeback, too. The Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson has more:

Ater an injury-riddled, 4-7 stretch and talk of minutes restrictions and internal discord, the Bulls needed some positive news.

They got it.

Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson practiced fully Tuesday at the Advocate Center and Derrick Rose participated in the non-contact portions. All three players remain on schedule to return, with Butler and Gibson possible later this week and coach Tom Thibodeau saying Rose is “maybe even slightly ahead” of his four to six week timeline that began Feb. 27.

“This was very good,” an upbeat Thibodeau said of the day’s developments.

Butler sprained a ligament and suffered a small bone impaction in his left elbow when he ran into DeAndre Jordan’s screen on March 1. He wore a brace but even got up left-handed shots — his non-shooting hand — after practice.

“My body feels great in the morning. My first practice back, I had a few bumps. But I think it’s possible,” Butler said of returning late this week. “But I can’t rush it. I don’t want it to get any worse. It’s never going to have full range while I’m playing, but I think it will feel better in a few days.

“My teammates, coaches and management are all in my corner, telling me to be careful. Obviously, I know that. But it’s hard when I want to play so bad. You want to get back, but you know you shouldn’t come back too early.”

Gibson severely sprained his left ankle Feb. 27, the same day Rose underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove a small tear in his right meniscus. The Tribune reported Feb. 25 that Rose expected to return this season.

“It’s the next phase of his rehab,” Thibodeau said of Rose participating in parts of practice. “He still has to obviously strengthen the knee. But it’s a good step for him.”

So, obviously, would returning to full strength. The Bulls are 15-4 when Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol start.

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Morning shootaround — March 13


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Irving proves his worth to Cavs | Wall felt disrespected by Grizzlies | Jackson: Knicks’ season ‘a project gone awry’

No. 1: Irving dominates — and proves he’s a worth sidekick to LeBron — The NBA world is abuzz this morning about Kyrie Irving‘s 57-point masterpiece of a game in the Cavs’ OT win over the Spurs last night. (If you missed it, you can watch every single one of his buckets right here). Not only did the win help keep the Cavs in the chase for the No. 2 spot in the East, it also proved, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com, that Irving is turning out to be a more-than worthy sidekick to LeBron James:

Before Kyrie Irving could become the hero and score the last nine points of regulation, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to force overtime, and before Irving could top even that by scoring 11 of the Cavs’ 18 points in OT to earn the 128-125 win in what had to be the league’s best regular-season game this season, James needed to remind all of his guys that even when down double digits in the lion’s den, they had the power to make something happen.

“LeBron told us in the timeout, ‘Win, lose or draw, still fight to the end,'” Tristan Thompson said. “And guys believed.”

Spend enough time in the Cavs’ locker room and you’ll hear a version of James’ message uttered on a daily basis. Guys will chirp, “Stay with it,” as a sort of catch phrase that’s become an inside joke (they usually pronounce it more like, “Stayyyy wittttt it”), quoting a recurring piece of advice imparted by assistant coach James Posey.

“Coach Pos started it,” James said. “You know, stay with it, and that’s what we’ve got to do. No matter what’s going on throughout the game, no matter what’s going on throughout the season, we’ve got to stay with it, stay with our process, stay with what we need to do, both offensively and defensively, on the bus, on the plane, whatever the case may be. We’ve always got to stay with what we’re trying to build around here, and that’s championship DNA.”

To build that DNA, first the Cavs had to draw blood from a champion.

There was room for only one truly transcendent star on this night, anyway, and it was Irving.

Once James got his teammates to believe, he showed how strong his belief was in them right back. Rather than being the one to get the last shot and try to, with one flip of the wrist, exorcise the AT&T Center demons that have haunted him the past nine months when his hopes for ring No. 3 died, James took the ball out of bounds and passed to Irving for the final shot of regulation.

The historical significance of the performance was baked in, as Irving topped his own NBA season-high mark of 55 points while simultaneously edging James’ Cavs franchise record of 56 points and also managing to tie Purvis Short’s record of 57 points for the most points ever scored by a San Antonio opponent. And, to give context to just how well the Spurs played and still lost, it was just the second time in the PopovichDuncan era that San Antonio shot 56 percent or better at a team (it shot 56.3 percent Thursday) and didn’t win.

But he didn’t want any part of it. “I don’t want the game ball,” he told a team attendant afterward. Nor did he seem to be too keen on setting aside any keepsake from the night — Mike Miller was the recipient of his autographed, game-worn sneakers, which Miller toted out of the locker room with a smile on his face. Irving did say he planned to go to Disney World on Friday, but those were plans he already made before going bonkers on the Spurs, what with the team heading to Florida for an Orlando/Miami back-to-back.

What Irving got out of this night was an ascendance to James’ level and an acceptance from the four-time MVP that he doesn’t just have a young, talented guy out there by his side, he has a partner. When Irving scored 55 points against Portland earlier in the season, James was out with a sore wrist. When he scored 57 against San Antonio, it came on a night when James scored 31 and the two of them combined to score Cleveland’s final 27 points (20 for Irving, seven for James).


VIDEO: Relive some great moments from Kyrie Irving’s big game vs. the Spurs

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