Phil’s First Year on the Job Has Not Provided Any Reason For Optimism

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One year ago today, New York Knicks owner James Dolan served the team’s long-suffering fan base the latest version of his favorite dish, hope, with a side of nostalgia, when he hired Phil Jackson as team President.

Sure, Jackson did not have any front office experience, but as Dolan was quick to point out, he won two rings as a player with the Knicks and 11 more as a coach. Knicks fans were optimistic that Jackson’s gravitas could hold the meddlesome owner away from basketball decisions, while simultaneously attracting big-name free agents to the Garden.

One year into the job, that hope has faded.

Surprisingly, it is not the Knicks’ league-worst 14-53 record that has Knicks fans worried. Contrary to popular belief, New Yorkers are willing to endure a rebuilding process, and are excited about the prospect of a top-three draft pick for the first time since the team selected Patrick Ewing first overall in 1985.

The concern is Jackson, who has yet to demonstrate that he is capable of running a front office, evaluating talent or making shrewd personnel moves. In fact, all signs point to the contrary.

The Zen Master inherited a capped-out roster with Carmelo Anthony expected to opt out of his contract and just three additional assets to work with, Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Jackson initially appeared willing to play hardball with Anthony, publicly challenging the star forward to accept less than a maximum-salary contract in order to help the Knicks build a contender. But the President of the Knicks soon caved.

New York signed Anthony to a five-year, $124 million deal, just $5 million below the maximum, and still $28 million more than any other team could offer.

New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors

Anthony is a sensational scorer, though merely average is just about every other facet of the game. He is a major piece of a puzzle, not the pillar of a franchise. You only sign a player of his caliber with 11 NBA seasons under his belt to an essentially maximum-salary contract if you believe your team is close to contending.

That points to Jackson’s first major miscalculation. His initial impression of the Knicks, which he expressed during his introductory press conference and again in the preseason, was that the team could compete for the playoffs this season. Following a competitive 2014-15 campaign, Jackson would use the cap space at his disposal in the summer of 2015 to turn the roster into a contender.

The hall-of-fame coach should have known that it was unrealistic to expect a collection of players who were not in the team’s long term plans to buy into an offensive system (The Triangle) which was a poor fit for their individual styles of play and takes years to master.

The result has been the worst season in franchise history. To make matters worse, Anthony underwent season-ending knee surgery in February.

Jackson is now caught between maximizing the elite years of a star on a “win-now” contract and a team that desperately needs to rebuild. One also has to wonder if Anthony, a shot-happy forward on the wrong side of 30, will benefit or hinder Jackson’s recruiting efforts over the next two summers.

As for those three assets Jackson inherited, Chandler and Shumpert were traded and Hardaway’s value has all bus disappeared. All Jackson has to show for them is Cleanthony Early, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and a future second-round draft pick.

Jackson received virtually nothing in return for Chandler and Shumpert.

Jackson received virtually nothing in return for Chandler and Shumpert.

Jackson packaged Chandler in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks designed to dump Raymond Felton. The Knicks received two second-round picks (which they used on Early and Antetokounmpo), Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington.

Chandler is averaging 10.4 points and 11.5 rebounds for a playoff team. New York declined the third-year option on Larkin, traded Ellington immediately, and released Dalembert in January. Early is shooting 34 percent from the field in an injury-plagued rookie year, Antetokounmpo has yet to earn a call-up from the D-League.

Calderon has been so disappointing that Jackson reportedly tried to deal him before the trade deadline, via Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com. The Spaniard is scheduled to make $15 million over the next two seasons. New York would be better off with Felton, whose contract expires in 2016.

In January, Jackson used Shumpert to entice the Cleveland Cavaliers to take J.R. Smith off his hands, receiving a future second-round pick in return. Both Shumpert and Smith are key contributors on a Cavs team that has had the best record in the league over the past two months.

Hardaway looked like a future starting 2-guard after an impressive rookie season and would have been an attractive commodity last summer. His shooting percentage has plummeted to 39 percent this season, as seen in the chart below, via NBA.com. Considering that he does not pass, rebound or defend, he carries little value for the Knicks or any other team.

Hardaway

New York’s personnel decisions are indicative of a franchise that lacks experience and structure in the front office. Jackson is a novice executive, and general manager Steve Mills had not worked in basketball operations before last year. Neither has the type of connections around the league that facilitate deals.

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck reported in January that one Western Conference executive said, “No one has Steve Mills’ phone number.” Another executive indicated that unlike most teams, the Knicks have no one who regularly calls around to gauge the value of players, or to get a sense of who is available.

To Jackson’s credit, he has accepted blame for the team’s horrid season. The Zen Master issued a mea culpa following the Shumpert/Smith trade. “I take responsibility for it,” he said, via Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com.

Jackson continued, “Now I have to do the job that I was brought here to do.”

There is still an opportunity for him to build a contender in New York. He has Carmelo Anthony, a top draft pick this year and a ton of cap space over the next two summers at his disposal.

But, tearing down a roster was supposed to be the easy part. Jackson has not provided any reason to believe he can build one.

Anthony Mason Has Always Been a Fighter

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Former 13-year NBA veteran Anthony Mason is fighting for his life after suffering congestive heart failure and undergoing five heart procedures in recent days, according to Peter Vecsey. His oldest son, Mason Jr., told MSG Network’s Tina Cervasio on Saturday that his 48-year-old father is in stable condition.

Mason, best known as the barrel-chested bruiser from the rugged New York Knicks teams of the early 1990s, is a colorful character whose game was as unique as his myriad hairstyles. He is also a fighter.

Mason was not heavily recruited out of high school before attending Tennessee State University. He was cut by the Portland Trail Blazers months after they selected him in the third round of the 1988 draft. Then he spent three years as a basketball nomad, playing in Turkey, Venezuela, the CBA, and the USBL, along with brief stints with the New Jersey Nets and Denver Nuggets.

The Queens native finally found his niche in the N.B.A. with his hometown Knicks in the fall of 1991. New York’s new coach, Pat Riley, wanted to assemble a physical, defensive-minded roster, reminiscent of the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons team that swept his Los Angeles Lakers in the 1989 Finals.

Mason’s tenacity and intimidating presence was exactly what Riley was looking for. At six-foot-seven, 260 pounds, Mason had the bulk of a bodybuilder and a scowl to match. He and fellow castaway, John Starks, competed with a sense of desperation that invigorated their teammates and the fan base, and they quickly became integral members of Riley’s rotation.

Over the next four seasons, “Mase and Oak” (Charles Oakley) bullied opponents on the boards and in the paint, freeing up New York’s star center, Patrick Ewing, to score. The formidable frontcourt led the Knicks to the N.B.A. Finals in 1994. Mase was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year the following season.

Mason’s role extended far beyond that of enforcer. He was remarkably agile for his size, and his ability to corral opposing guards combined with the strength to push big men off the block made him a valuable defender. During the 1994 playoffs, Mase checked athletic Chicago Bulls forward Scottie Pippen in one series, before frustrating Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon in the Finals.

The burly forward possessed a surprisingly deft handle and excellent court vision. Knicks fans grew accustomed to the sight of Mase grabbing a defensive rebound and dribbling between his legs, while pushing the ball up the floor, before delivering a crisp chest pass into the shooting pocket of an open guard on the wing.

Riley’s successor, Don Nelson, was so impressed with Mason’s passing that the Hall of Fame coach ran the Knicks’ offense through him during the 1995-96 season. The versatile forward also played a league-high 42.2 minutes per game that season.

Mason used his solid frame to back down defenders on the block, where he was adept at finishing with either hand, though his range was limited to a few feet from the basket, beyond which the lefty resorted to an ugly push shot. His one-handed free throws were comical, and at times difficult to watch, though he somehow managed to complete 71 percent of them.

The pugnacious forward also had a playful side, and his funky hairstyles, which consisted of various messages shaved into his head, from “Mase” to the Knicks logo, to motivational phrases, drew media attention. Local newspapers and national magazines did feature stories on his barber, Freddie.

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Mason was a bit of a rabble-rouser off the court. He was arrested for scuffling with a police officer during his tenure with the Knicks, and the defiant attitude that made him such a menace on the court grated on his coaches. In July, 1996, New York traded Mason and Brad Lohaus to the Charlotte Hornets for Larry Johnson.

Mason produced his finest statistical season in 1996-1997 for a Hornets team that won 54 games, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Garnett, Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Bill Walton as the only players in the past 40 years to average over 15 points, 11 rebounds and five assists per game (16.2, 11.4 and 5.7), via basketball-reference.com.

Once again, Mase led the league in minutes per game (43.1). He was named to the All-N.B.A. Third Team and finally received recognition for his stellar defense with an N.B.A. All-Defensive Second Team selection.

Mason was traded to the Miami Heat in 2000, where he was reunited with Riley. He scored 16.1 points and grabbed 9.6 rebounds per game in 2000-01, while often defending opposing centers with Alonzo Mourning out of the lineup. At age 34, he was named to his first and only All-Star Game. Mase concluded his career with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2003.

Despite the various uniforms, he will always be remembered as a Knick.

The Frazier, Reed and Bradley squads of the 1970s set the standard of excellence for New York basketball, though the Knicks teams of the 90s forged their own special bond with the city. After 15 years of incompetence, underachieving and a general malaise, which hangs like a fog over Madison Square Garden, Knicks fans long for the passion of Mason, Starks, Oakley and Ewing.

Anthony Mason is a product of New York City and competed with a tenacity and swagger that resonated with New Yorkers and gave credence to basketball’s moniker, “the city game.” Knicks fans hold Mase in their hearts, knowing that he will not stop fighting for his.

Brain Damage, Not Domestic Violence Will Hasten the NFL’s Downfall

Junior Seau and Dave Duerson were both found to have CTE after they killed themselves.

Junior Seau and Dave Duerson were both found to have CTE after they killed themselves.

The past week has been a public relations nightmare for the National Football League (NFL) and its commissioner, Roger Goodell. First, Goodell came under fire from social and mainstream media for his gross mishandling of a domestic violence incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after a video surfaced showing Rice knocking his wife unconscious with a punch to the face in an Atlantic City hotel elevator.

Days later, one of the league’s marquee stars, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, was indicted on charges of child abuse for beating his four-year-old son. Shortly after being reinstated by the Vikings after sitting out a game, pictures of his allegedly abused son hit the internet, amid reports that Peterson is supposedly under investigation for abusing another one of his young children, via yahoo.com.

The public was outraged by the league’s perceived indifference towards domestic violence, which became the subject of endless talk show commentary. Yet, it is a story from last week which received very little national attention that poses the greatest threat to the league’s long-term profits and viability.

The NFL submitted documents in federal court which concluded that “it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population,” via the New York Times. This position represents a 180 degree turn from the league’s long-standing claim that there is no evidentiary link between concussions and cognitive impairment in former players. In fact, the league went to great lengths to withhold such evidence from players and the public, via ESPN.com.

The avalanche of anecdotal evidence linking professional football to cognitive impairment has picked up speed in recent years, with the suicides of former players Andre Waters, Ray Easterling, Junior Seau and Dave Duerson, the murder/suicide case of Kansas City Chiefs lineback Javon Belcher, and the advent of new technology, which provides greater insight into the condition of the human brain.

Researchers are now able to test deceased athletes for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a neurodegenerative brain disease that can follow multiple hits to the head. A study published in the journal Brain in December 2012, examined the brains of 35 deceased former football players. Of the 35 players, 34 of them at the professional level, who had brain tissue sampled posthumously for the study, all but one showed evidence of disease.

The report submitted by the league in court was not accompanied by a startling video like the one TMZ.com acquired of Rice punching his girlfriend, though the numbers in the report are startling and there is plenty of jarring footage demonstrating the tragic results of too many hits to the head. The excerpts below from the PBS feature “League of Denial” of late Pittsburgh Steeler great Mike Webster and former New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins safety Gene Atkins are two disturbing examples.

Many other former players have provided chilling accounts of their declining quality of life in recent years, including these heartbreaking comments by Hall-of-Famer Tony Dorsett.

The Rice and Peterson situations will blow over as soon as the ultra-reactionary Twittersphere finds a new target for its collective outrage. Goodell could take the fall if team owners bow to pressure from sponsors who are beginning to grumble about the league’s handling of the Rice and Peterson cases (Radisson suspended its sponsorship of the Vikings and Anheuser-Busch, sponsor of the official beer of the NFL, delivered scathing criticism of the league’s handling of the Peterson and Rice situations), but the NFL will walk away from the scandals relatively unscathed.

The league will commit to supporting charitable organizations that raise awareness about domestic violence, implement a stricter player conduct policy, and continue with business as usual.

But if the Rice and Peterson sagas are a mere blip on the NFL’s radar, the court documents submitted by the league represent a seismic shift, analogous to the admission by tobacco companies that evidence suggests a causal link between cigarettes and lung cancer.

The NFL has passed numerous new rules in recent years in an attempt to reduce the number of concussions, from prohibiting defenders from leading with their heads, to protecting “defenseless receivers,” to moving kickoffs up to the 40-yard-line. The league also implemented a more stringent protocol for players to return to the field after a concussion and continues to experiment with safer helmets.

However, football built its immense popularity on the type of collisions the NFL is now attempting to legislate out of the game. Modifying the game will alienate fans without solving the problem. The human body is not built to absorb hits from men the size and strength of professional football players, moving at remarkable speed.

Time is working against the NFL, as science discovers new ways to measure the impact of head trauma faster than the sport can address the issue. And the studies being conducted are no longer confined to the professional level. Earlier this year, the Journal of American Medical Association published a study, which concluded that “the brains of college football players are subtly different from the brains of other students, especially if the players have experienced a concussion in the past,” via the New York Times.

How much longer will parents allow their children to play such a barbaric game? At what point will elite athletes pursue sports that do not pose a significant risk of brain damage? When will the average fan stop tuning in to witness the carnage?

Football is entrenched in American society, and the NFL is an extremely powerful industry. The game will not disappear over night. But a steady decline in popularity, similar to the one experienced by boxing, is inevitable. The tipping point is likely to be a leaked video of a former star quarterback speaking gibberish or putting a shotgun to his chest, not an image associated with Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson.

New York Knicks’ Biggest Winners and Losers of the 2014 Offseason

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http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2161974-ny-knicks-biggest-winners-and-losers-of-the-2014-offseason

Early Predictions for New York Knicks’ Starting Lineup

melo, shump, j.r.

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2140023-early-predictions-for-ny-knicks-starting-lineup

Realistic Expectations for Cleanthony Early’s Rookie Season With the Knicks

Cleanthony Early

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2127138-realistic-expectations-for-cleanthony-earlys-rookie-season-with-ny-knicks

How Carmelo Anthony’s Past May Influence His Decision This Summer

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Carmelo Anthony will have the opportunity to sign a maximum-salary contract for the third time in his career if he opts out of his current deal with the New York Knicks to become a free agent this summer, as expected. He cashed in on each of the previous two occasions, agreeing to deals with the Denver Nuggets and Knicks totaling $145 million, yet those decisions precipitated a void that dollars cannot fill.

One of the greatest scorers of this generation has made just one trip past the second round of the playoffs and has yet to compete in the NBA Finals during his 11 seasons in the league.

The cynical point of view is that Anthony simply valued money above all else. However, several factors impacted his contractual decisions, including a short-sighted agent, a desire to play in a big market and an untimely lockout. It is also easy judge those decisions harshly in hindsight by downplaying the role that unforeseen circumstances played in his experiences in Denver and New York.

Anthony signed his first veteran contract in the summer of 2006, with one year remaining on his rookie deal with the Nuggets. Denver offered the 22-year-old the maximum amount allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, $80 million over five years, and Anthony jumped at it. The deal included a clause which enabled Carmelo to opt out after the fourth year.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Anthony said. “When all the rumors were out there saying I was signing this type of deal or that type of deal, my family called me and said, ‘Look, are you crazy?’ Growing up we don’t have [much],” via ESPN.com.

Anthony’s friends and fellow members of the 2003 draft class, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, did not believe that signing the maximum deals offered by their respective teams (the same five years and $80 million) was a “no-brainer.” All three sacrificed a substantial amount of guaranteed money in favor of greater wealth down the road and signed three-year contracts worth about $43 million, with a player option for a fourth year.

Bosh, Wade and James understood that as seven-year veterans they would be eligible to negotiate a maximum contract worth 30 percent of the salary cap if they opted out of their contracts in 2010. Players with less than seven years of experience can only earn up to 25 percent of the cap.

Carmelo and LeBron have been friends since high school.

Carmelo and LeBron have been friends since high school.

In 2010, James, Wade and Bosh joined forces on the Miami Heat and are currently pursuing a third consecutive championship. Anthony, who has been close friends with James since high school, and played with all three on the U.S. Olympic team, could have teamed up with one or more of the future Hall of Famers in a number of locations, including Miami and New York, if he had signed a shorter deal. He also would have avoided the complications presented by the lockout the following year. Instead, Carmelo could not become a free agent until the summer of 2011.

Anthony refused a contract extension offered by the Nuggets in 2010 and the Brooklyn native made it known that he wanted to sign a maximum-salary contract to play with his friend Amar’e Stoudemire for the Knicks. A long-anticipated lockout of the players by the owners following the 2010-11 season put a wrench in his plan.

Amid widespread speculation that maximum salaries would be significantly reduced under the new CBA, Anthony felt compelled to sign a new deal before the lockout. The only way he could do that with the Knicks would be if the Nuggets traded him to New York before the 2011 trade deadline, so he requested a trade.

The star forward had leverage over Denver. He could have left them empty-handed by departing via free agency over the summer and was able to determine his destination by refusing to sign an extension with any team other than the Knicks.

Denver obliged and on Feb. 21, 2011, traded Anthony, along with Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Renaldo Balkman and Shelden Williams to the Knicks in exchange for Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, second round picks in 2012 and 2013, a first round pick in 2014 and the right to swap picks with the Knicks in 2016, as part of a three-way deal that also involved the Minnesota Timberwolves. Anthony promptly signed the largest extension allowed under the CBA, a three-year, $65 million deal, beginning in 2012-13.

The move backfired on Anthony. Stoudemire’s body began to give out soon after Carmelo’s arrival. The six-time All-Star played sporadically over the past three seasons and has been reduced to a shadow of the explosive superstar he was with the Phoenix Suns.

Carmelo never had the opportunity to play with a healthy Stoudemire.

Carmelo never had the opportunity to play with a healthy Stoudemire.

The NBA gifted the Knicks a way out from under Stoudemire’s colossal contract with an amnesty clause in the new CBA. Instead, the Knicks used the provision to erase the final year of Chauncey Billups’s contract from the cap in December, 2011, just six months after picking up the option on his deal, in order to sign Tyson Chandler.

To make matters worse, the rollback on maximum salaries under the new CBA was not nearly as severe as the players had feared. In the first year of a new contract, a player may still receive up to 105 percent of his prior salary. Annual increases for non-Bird contracts (which Anthony’s would have been had he signed with the Knicks as a free agent) dropped from 8 percent to 4.5 percent.

The Knicks were expected to have about $17 million in cap space in the summer of 2011, assuming they renounced the rights to free agent Wilson Chandler, though they would not have had much trouble unloading a player, such as Anthony Randolph (who was traded to Minnesota in the Anthony deal and was scheduled to make $2.9 million in 2011-12, or Ronny Turiaf, who earned $4.3 million that season) in order to offer Melo a max deal.

The maximum amount Anthony could have earned over the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons by signing with the Knicks as a free agent would have been about $58, $7 million less than the extension he agreed to. However, since Anthony will be opting out of the final year of the deal, it is worth noting that the difference in money during the first two years of the contract extension would have been about $3 million.

For $3 million, Anthony ensured that three-and-half years of his prime would be spent on a mediocre team with virtually no financial flexibility, young talent or draft picks.

He could not have anticipated the exact results of the lockout, how much New York would give up for him or that Stoudemire’s career would nose-dive, but he did know that he was depleting the team’s talent and limiting its maneuverability. The Knicks could have used the assets they surrendered for him to acquire another star, such as Chris Paul, to add talent through the draft or create cap space. Anthony also should have been aware that he was committing to a team with an incompetent owner and a history of head-scratching personnel moves.

Now Carmelo finds himself at a crossroads once again. He turns 30 on May 29th. Basketball mortality is on the horizon. This is his last shot at a maximum-salary contract. It is also his final opportunity to put himself in position to be a top dog on a championship contender.

New York can offer him $33 million more than any other team, but that cash comes with no guarantees. The Knicks will not have the cap space to add another star player until 2015, and their track record, combined with a dearth of valuable assets does not instill confidence in their ability to build a contender. Teams like the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets have the pieces in place to win a championship with Anthony in the fold.

LeBron took control of his own destiny by sacrificing a little money to join Wade and Bosh in Miami, rather than relying on faith that the Cleveland Cavaliers would build a championship team around him. Carmelo should take a cue from his friend. History suggests otherwise.


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