Eastern Conference scout on the Knicks' forthcoming hiring of Phil Jackson:
"Yes we've been talking about it. Of course we've been talking about it. Everybody's talking about it. But I hate to say it: I think it's going to be a terrible fit.
"Why would they pay him that amount money when he's never really done that job? I understand his name and resume carry a lot of weight, but being the GM is a completely different deal than coaching. For all [Jackson's] credibility, I just think [Knicks owner James] Dolan would have been better off paying [San Antonio's] R.C. Buford or [Oklahoma City's] Sam Presti something like $6 or $8 million a year to come in there and really rebuild this organization.
"To me, by hiring Phil, it's just 'win the media hit.' How long that lasts, I don't know. I'm sure you're saying, 'Who the hell is this [scout] questioning a guy who has 11 rings?' But since you asked, my opinion is that I think it's going to just end up being another classic Knicks manuever.
"I also want to know who's going to want to coach this team under Phil Jackson? Who's going to be strong enough to handle it if the team starts off badly and the fans are chanting, 'We want Phil, we want Phil' all the time? They need a roster overhaul and a change of style of play. And to do all that you need a helluva coach. But is a helluva coach going to want to work under Phil Jackson? It's just a weird dynamic to me all the way around.
"I know everyone says that money doesn't matter to the Knicks, but we're still talking about an extraordinary amount of money in the hope that Phil can figure all these things out.
"If you think Jason Kidd had a hard job [when he agreed to become coach of the veteran-laded Nets with no coaching experience], this job is going to be harder. Way harder."
Eastern Conference scout on the Houston Rockets' 23-8 surge since Jan. 1:
"All the top teams [in the West] have certain flaws and the Rockets are no exception. But I like that they stay true to themselves. They don't hesitate about who they are. So as a result the players' minds are free to just go play.
"They run, they shoot a lot of 3s, they want to get to the rim ... and anything else is post-ups for Dwight [Howard]. And they're not going to make a lot of adjustments.
"Maybe I'm in the minority, but I think Kevin McHale should be getting more credit than he does. People want to see a coach calling a lot of plays, because they make so much money, so [McHale] opens himself up to criticism with the approach he takes. But it takes a pretty strong person to sit through some of the low points without trying to change things because he wants to stay true to what they do.
"They're like that NCAA team, that seventh seed that can knock off a No. 1 seed but doesn't have enough juice to go all the way to the Final Four. The Rockets are going to be a pain in the ass for somebody in the playoffs and can definitely knock somebody out if the matchup is right. Especially if Dwight continues to bounce back; he's moving so much better than he was a year ago.
"The problem in the playoffs is that, eventually, execution matters. [The Rockets] play at one speed -- and they play great at that speed -- but at some point they're going to run into somebody who makes that a problem for them.
"The one team that nobody wants to mess with in the playoffs is Memphis. They're the one team that can make every series a street fight and really play a nasty, physical game. Who else in the West can really say that?
"But Memphis and Houston aren't all that different in this one sense: Can they run the table and go all the way? Like Houston, you have to say probably not."
Eastern Conference scout on the Clippers' credentials as a contender and the state of Blake Griffin's game:
"The team that's made the big jump in the West is the Clippers. They've taken a major step forward defensively. Really, really impressive last time I saw them.
"It's living proof that you shouldn't pre-judge things 30 or 40 games into the season, because he looked absolutely confused back then. You would sit there wondering: 'Are they ever gonna get there?' But now you watch them and they definitely seem to understand what they're doing as a group. They play with good energy [defensively].
"That doesn't mean they're gonna lock the other team down every time. Nobody does that in the regular season. But now you can tell that this is a team that can really amp it up. They seem to have each other's backs now [on defense] and I think they have another gear to show us when the playoffs come.
"A lot of it has to do with DeAndre Jordan's development. When you talk about players who've improved since last season, he's a big part of their success. But I just see a team that's more in sync. Everyone talking on D, everyone's anticipating rotations, moving on the flight of the ball. The makings are there for them to ramp it up another notch.
"The question with these guys is going to be: Can they can make enough outside shots to compete for the title? But they're a real threat. And you have to give Blake Griffin a lot of credit for that, too.
"He's improved a little bit every year. Some of the kinks in his shot have been ironed out, which is a really long process. That doesn't happen in a month.
"But specifically what jumps out at you is his footwork is really good. You can tell he's put a lot of work in there. He's an undersized post player, but he can have success against taller guys because he pivots with both feet so well. He's under control and his balance is so good that he can create angles and get shots up against longer players."
Because Odom only signed a two-month contract with Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, sources said, it is still being determined whether he will return to the club before the end of the Spanish season.
After a long layoff, Odom signed the two-month deal with Baskonia on Feb. 18. But he played in only two games for the Vitoria-based club that has sent the likes of Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Tiago Splitter and Jose Calderon to the NBA, logging just 23 minutes in those appearances.
Earlier this week, Baskonia issued a club statement saying Odom had permission to leave to see a back specialist in New York after initially undergoing tests in Spain.
The two-month contract does include an option for Baskonia to extend the contract through he rest of the Spanish season, which has another two months to run. Such deals typically contain out clauses that allow established veterans such as Odom to return to the NBA if the opportunity arises, but ESPN.com reported last month that Odom's plan was to play out the rest of the 2013-14 campaign in Europe before determining whether to make an NBA comeback.
Read the full story here »
Western Conference scout on Joakim Noah and Chicago's success without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng:
"My all-time favorite guy has been carrying them. I love me some Joakim Noah. His passion just keeps them going.
"I don't buy that [Rose was holding Noah back]. I don't think that at all. [Noah is] doing more now because he has to, not because he wants to. With the level of depth and talent they have right now, he has no choice but to showcase more of his stuff.
"I'm curious to see what they do with Jimmer [Fredette], because they do need his outside shooting. But I don't see him playing a whole lot. Maybe he'll come off the bench when they're playing a team that really packs it in, but he's not going to be Kyle Korver, because Korver is 6-6 and keeps people in front of him. If Jimmer gets on a roll you can play him a little bit, but putting him on Mario Chalmers or Norris Cole or [Dwyane] Wade ... that's going to be a problem.
"But they're as close to healthy as they've been for a while having [Kirk] Hinrich back. He's huge for them. [D.J.] Augustin has done a great job since he got there, but now you've got some depth. And if they're going to have any chance against Miami, they need Hinrich, because he can guard their point guards or D-Wade and make shots when he's healthy.
"I really think they're gonna be a pain in the butt for both [Miami and Indiana in the playoffs]. The Bulls will take the challenge of playing Miami or Indiana and convince themselves that they can beat the team that's getting all the hype. But I think they're more likely to beat Miami in a series than Indiana, because Indiana has enough depth inside to help neutralize Noah.
"Between [Roy] Hibbert and [Andrew] Bynum and [Ian] Mahinmi, they have enough depth to counter Noah. Then it comes down to the Bulls making shots. But Miami's big weakness is rebounding. And that's one area where Chicago obviously excels.
"I don't know that Chicago can beat either one of them. But I could see them making it a seven-game series against the Heat and a six-game series against the Pacers."
The Brooklyn Nets will sign center Jason Collins for the remainder of the season on Saturday, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.Read the full story
Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that the Nets, who feel they're getting everything they expected from Collins when they signed him for frontcourt depth Feb. 23, are already operating under the premise that the 34-year-old will finish the season with them even though his second 10-day deal doesn't expire until after Friday. Sources say that the internal expectation all along was that Collins would be a Net for the rest of the season, from the moment he signed his first 10-day deal, as long he proved that he could still be an effective defender, which he did immediately.
Collins is averaging 9.8 minutes per game off the bench in eight appearances since his historic debut against the Los Angeles Lakers last month, which made him the first openly gay athlete in North America's four recognized major team sports.
Especially when you look at the Rockets' upcoming schedule.
On this Power Rankings Monday, though, give 2014's winningest team its due.
Dwight Howard, James Harden & Co. simply had to be elevated to No. 1 overall this week, crazy as that sounds given the skepticism that persists about the Rockets' playoff prospects, to fill the void created by the sudden struggles plaguing Miami, Indiana and Oklahoma City.
This is the first time since 1982, amazingly, that the top two teams in a given conference have simultaneously lost at least three consecutive games and managed to stay in the top two of that conference. You've done it again, East: Indiana and Miami, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, are the first two teams to pull off that trick since Seattle and the Los Angeles Lakers way back in February 1982.
Throw in Oklahoma City's collapse on the road against the lowly Lakers -- combined with Miami's three-game skid and Indiana's 106 points per game allowed in suffering four straight defeats -- and your result is the first batch of rankings all season where neither the Heat nor the Pacers can be found in our top two.
Houston made the big jump from No. 6 to No. 1 on the strength of its 23-6 record since Jan. 1 -- tops in the league in that span -- and last week's massive home wins over Miami and Indy. Those factors were just enough for the Rockets to nose past the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio, who are respectively riding their own seven- and six-game win streaks.
Other notable movers this week are Chicago (up to No. 7), Portland (down to No. 12 after what arguably ranks as the most agonizing week of the Blazers' season) and New York, which unexpectedly rose to No. 20 thanks to a playoff race that somehow keeps giving the Knicks life.
True or False: Carmelo Anthony will become a free agent in 2014.
True. The line is right there in Brian's excellent story that Melo, by all accounts, is not considering a revision to his original plan and still intends to become a free agent on July 1. So it's the same principle as the LeBron answer: Gotta go with what we know right now. Maybe Melo will have a rethink after the chatter this story inevitably sparks, but for now we're somewhat forced to base our forecasts on the hints Melo has dropped to this point.
True or False: The Lakers should be worried about their 2014 options.
True. This is the easiest question on the board to answer because the Lakers are privately concerned about their options this summer and the prospect of a third straight season in 2014-15 when they're not in the title mix. But they needn't expect much sympathy from the other 29 teams because the current Lakers are cratering all the way into a top-five pick in the most highly anticipated draft in years and will inevitably field some interesting trade possibilities because they figure to be picking so high up in the lottery. They also are well-positioned to make a big 2015 splash, when the free-agent class that summer is a lot stronger, so no one is shedding any tears for Kobe & Co.
Read the full 5-on-5 roundtable here.
It's the question that gets thrown at me nearly as often these days as the one about the MVP race.
Always first: KD or LeBron?
Almost always next: Why haven't the Knicks fired Mike Woodson yet?
One win over the tired Minnesota Timberwolves wasn't going to make it go away. Not after the Knicks had lost their previous seven games. Not after each loss since the All-Star break left the distinct impression that it was a bigger surrender than the loss that preceded it. Not with the Knicks' steady fade in the weakest Leastern Conference in memory, all the way to 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot as of Friday morning, prompting so many follow-up questions along the lines of: "How long ago do you think Woodson lost the team?"
Yet Woody survives, day after day, month after month, seemingly impervious to the zillions of darts winging toward his head since, oh, roughly Thanksgiving.
What is the secret force that has kept Woody safe no matter how increasingly noncompetitive and checked-out his Knicks look?
The latest rumble in coaching circles holds that Madison Square Garden chairman Jim Dolan is keeping Woodson around purely because he knows that making major changes to the roster before next season -- given New York's lack of draft picks and cap space and limited trade assets -- will be extremely difficult.
Which leaves Dolan, in terms of pitching Carmelo Anthony to stay this summer, with little else to say besides: Woody was the problem!
In other words: Keep the alleged problem around to the very last drop of this nightmare season ... and then hustle him out the door by painting a coaching change as a cure-all.
Rest assured that Woody's presence for Game No. 63 on Friday night against Utah no longer has much, if anything, to do with the oft-recited line about how the Knicks don't feel comfortable entrusting Woodson's duties to any of the interim options at their disposal. The Knicks' season, even when factoring in all the injuries, has deteriorated to the point that the mere prospect of putting Herb Williams or Darrell Walker or Jim Todd in charge -- or moving Allan Houston downstairs despite his total lack of coaching experience -- has to hold some appeal just for its wake-up-call potential.
But making an in-season change, from Dolan's perspective, creates the possibility that everyone sees even more clearly than they already do that Woody is most certainly not the Knicks' biggest problem.
Which would theoretically give Melo even more reason to look around if he goes through with his long-planned intent to become a free agent July 1.
More than one plugged-in observer has insisted to me that, however transparent, this is indeed Dolan's strategy. He's going to remind the 29-year-old that he can't get $130 million anywhere else, pledge to import a worthy co-superstar no later than the summer of 2015 ... and tell him that an A-list coach will be hired right away to replace the guy who's been holding the Knicks back and elevate this team immediately.
Luckily for the Knicks, that approach might even work ... albeit mostly because Melo is said to be looking for every reason to stay in New York as opposed to the quality of the see-through sales pitch.
Cynics will say it's the $130 million he really can't bear to leave, but those who know Melo best insist that slinking away from the ballyhooed MSG stage -- and thus admitting to the world that he had to go elsewhere and attach himself to better help to win -- would wound him.
Sources say that, for all the Knicks' well-chronicled ties to Creative Artists Agency, there has been some sentiment within the organization to dump the CAA-repped Woodson as far back as Christmas.
But Woody is still here, hanging on grimly, squirming in the NBA's hottest seat partly to spare Melo from uncomfortable questions about whether he wanted the coach to stay or go ... but mostly because Dolan needs an 82-game, start-to-finish scapegoat.
And then the search for the coach who can help convince Melo to stay can begin in earnest.
I presume you've heard the names of all the chief suspects by now. We wrote about the Knicks' not-so-secret lust for Chicago's Tom Thibodeau back in December. My ESPNNewYork.com colleague Ian O'Connor had an excellent breakdown earlier this week that runs through all the other heavy hitters Dolan will be chasing as soon as the season ends, leading off with Jeff Van Gundy and John Calipari. And ESPN's Stephen A. Smith reported Friday morning that the Knicks aren't even waiting until season's end to start feeling out Phil Jackson, even though Phil remains resistant to any Knicks overture.
What's clear amid all that, even with the wildly unpredictable Dolan at the controls, is that a full-scale search figures to fully launch at the end of April.
Now this is where any veteran Knicks-watcher is obliged to throw in the disclaimer that no one would dare declare Woody to be 100 percent safe for the rest of the season. Because Dolan is still Dolan.
Yet it can be said without hesitation that Woody's ongoing residence on the Knicks' bench, with Melo and Co. still stuck at No. 11 in the Least after losing the season series to Detroit to start the week, is no accident.
It's by design.
Sources with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com on Wednesday that the Nets are planning to call up Gutierrez out of the D-League and award him a 10-day deal after letting the Mexican national team stalwart go in October.
ESPN.com reported earlier Wednesday that the Nets had summoned Gutierrez and Darius Johnson-Odom from the Springfield Armor -- Brooklyn's D-League affiliate -- for a tryout this week.
Johnson-Odom has the gaudier D-League stats, but Gutierrez appeared to have the edge thanks to his camp stint with the Nets, putting him in line to get first crack at Brooklyn's vacant 15th roster spot. The Nets have a need for another point guard behind starter Deron Williams and comeback kid Shaun Livingston.
When the move is made official, Gutierrez would become the fourth player from Mexico to reach the NBA, following in the footsteps of Horacio Llamas, Eduardo Najera and Gustavo Ayon and continuing his country's basketball renaissance, which was highlighted by Mexico's Cinderella run to the FIBA Americas title last summer.
Fact or Fiction: LeBron's 61-point performance is his best game ever.
Stein: Fiction. The 25 straight points against Detroit, Game 7 in Boston, his Game 7 last June against the Spurs ... all of LeBron's playoff hits trump a Monday night in March against Charlotte. But let's appreciate it for what it was: The best game ever played by an NBA player wearing a mask. It is the smallest of sample sizes, obviously, but LeBron is shooting 67.2 percent from the field in his three games as Masked LeBron. How is that possible?
Fact or Fiction: LeBron is now the frontrunner in the MVP race.
Stein: Fiction. Since 5-on-5 rules forbid hedging, I'll say that I've still got Durant in the lead because of the load he's shouldered in carrying OKC to a 22-8 record in the games Russ Westbrook has missed through injury. But I'm using lead in the narrowest sense. What we've seen from LeBron over the last few weeks -- don't forget the crazy 3 he drained in Golden State before All-Star Weekend -- has essentially prompted me to delete the word "frontrunner" from my MVP lexicon for the rest of the season. As covered here today on Stein Line Live, these guys keep pitching frontrunner status back and forth in such a spectacular manner that we're probably all just better off letting them play this out to the finish line before we try to call the race. In keeping with one of the mantras of the season, let's run through the tape. The right answer might very well be: Neither of them has the MVP lead on March 4.
Click here for the full 5-on-5 roundtable »
It’s agonizingly seesaw and deliciously ideal all at once.
It’s the consensus top two players in the game, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, punching in with the season’s top two individual performances and trading uppercuts in the center of the ring.
Which is the perfect storm.
Among the reasons that the MVP race inspires such passionate debate, especially in the NBA, is the annual struggle between those among us who think the award should go to the guy who has the best overall season and those who believe LeBron -- like Michael Jordan before him -- should win it every season until he’s no longer universally regarded as the game’s greatest singular force.
But the beauty of this race is that LeBron's push is coming from the player closest to his zip code in terms of talent and impact. Which isn't always the case.
The previous top two MVP races witnessed this century -- Steve Nash narrowly over Shaquille O'Neal in 2005 and Tim Duncan edging Jason Kidd in 2002 -- featured point guards in Nash and Kidd who emerged as MVP contenders because they ranked, at the time, at the top of the Best Teammate In The Game pile. Nash and Kidd changed cultures and transformed franchises with their peerless leadership, but neither quite lorded over the league like LeBron and His Airness have.
This is different. This is LeBron making you think he might shoot 60 percent from the floor for an entire season after a near-flawless November ... followed by Durant uncorking an otherworldly stretch of basketball from Christmas Day through Valentine's after Russell Westbrook went down ... followed by LeBron emerging from an All-Star Weekend that oozed with Durant drool by somehow finding another gear to chase down this better-than-ever KD.
It's LeBron and his nearest rival, both of whom sport the league's only PER readings in the 30s, playing so damn well that we can scarcely get a word in about Kevin Love or Blake Griffin or Steph Curry. We touched on some of this in last week's Trimester Reports, but Masked LeBron's 61-point eruption Monday night against Charlotte makes you want to say it again:
Buckle up, y'all. If this MVP stuff matters to you, this is as good as it gets.
Because those who read on are about to take in some staggering figures that illustrate how the league-wide reliance on the 3-point shot is only growing.
The Elias Sports Bureau did the math and informs us that February was the 200th month since the inception of the 3-point line during the 1979-80 season in which at least 100 games were played league-wide.
And of those 200 months, Elias reports, each of the top four on the list in terms of 3-pointers attempted per game is one the four months of the current season.
In 177 games, NBA teams combined to attempt 42.42 3s per game in February 2014. That fell shy of the 43.47 3s hoisted per game in December 2013 ... and just ahead of January 2014 (42.29) and November 2013 (41.76).
Elias informs us further that each of the top 10 months in league history for 3-pointers attempted by both teams happened either this season or last season.
So your mind is certainly not playing tricks on you if it seems as though everyone digs the long ball lately.