Storyline: Jahlil Okafor Free Agency

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With the Brooklyn Nets signing Ed Davis and acquiring Kenneth Faried in a trade, and with Sean Marks giving the impression Tuesday that they’re closing in on their final 2018-19 roster, the short-lived Jahlil Okafor era in Brooklyn looks dead. “I won’t comment on Jahlil, because he’s not here right now,” Marks said bluntly. “But again, I will always bet on our coaching staff. Our coaching staff have done a heck of a job, our performance team, in terms of how they develop guys.” Marks then noted the need for a “floor spacer,” which Okafor is not. Hours later, of course, the Nets signed Treveon Graham, who is a floor space and despite his size, can play the 4.

According to sources, Okafor, the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, worked out for four teams last Wednesday in Las Vegas, and remains hopeful of signing with a team ahead of training camp next fall. Okafor averaged 17.5 points per game as a rookie in Philadelphia in 2015-16. He has spent the last few months working out in Miami with trainers David Alexander and Idan Ravin, fueling speculation that he could land with the Heat, especially if Miami finds a trading partner for Hassan Whiteside.

The career track so far for Jahlil Okafor, the third pick in the Draft overall just three flipping years ago, continues to astound. He is an unrestricted free agent after having been an afterthought in Brooklyn, which won exactly 28 games last season. Okafor is working this summer with player development yoda Idan Ravin, trying to show prospective teams he’s aware he must show improvement on the perimeter. Ravin has been reconstructing Okafor’s jump shot and improving his ability to score on face-ups and off the dribble. No one’s saying Okafor hasn’t been a disappointment so far as a pro. But in a league where there are so many bad teams, it’s astonishing no one has yet to give the still just 22-year-old Okafor a real look.

And while Okafor has professed to be happy with the Nets, how will he weigh court time, money, playing style, an opportunity to win and other factors in where he signs? “All that goes into it,” said Okafor, who did not play in Sunday’s 108-96 loss to the Pistons. “But honestly I have no experience with this whatsoever, so I’m just trying to finish the season strong. [I’ll have] guidance from people who’ve dealt with what I’m going to deal with, and lean on them. I really don’t know what to expect. But, at the end of the day, I want to play basketball.”
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December 8, 2019 | 2:55 am UTC Update
Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That’s unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been ‘obsessed’ with – and ‘enamored’ by – the Raptors executive, per SNY sources. In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy. Whether Knicks owner James Dolan will grant that kind of autonomy remains to be seen.
Storyline: Knicks Front Office
At the time, the belief was that Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka negotiated Howard’s contract to be non-guaranteed so that the team could ties with him if he didn’t buy into his role, but apparently that wasn’t the case. During an appearance on ESPN’s “The Jump,” senior writer Ramona Shelburne said that it was Howard and his agent that suggested that his contract be non-guaranteed (emphasis mine): “I think with Dwight, it also goes back to why the Lakers signed that contract with him that way in the first place. Dwight asked for that. That was his idea. That wasn’t the Lakers saying ‘oh this is the only way we’ll do it.’ This was Dwight and his agent saying ‘yes, we’ll do non-guaranteed just to show you how committed we are to being this kind of player.’”
December 8, 2019 | 12:26 am UTC Update
Allan Houston, the Knicks former assistant general manager and now the GM of the Westchester Knicks, pushed hard to have Mike Miller considered to be the interim coach following David Fizdale’s firing. Houston has been with Miller since he was hired five seasons ago to coach the G-League team when Phil Jackson was president. Miller successfully ran the triangle for Jackson, then adapted when Jackson was let go.
December 7, 2019 | 10:52 pm UTC Update
There has certainly been a key dose of the latter, including Jimmy Butler’s desire to join the Heat even with Miami lacking any cap space (the Heat set the groundwork for that with its exemplary culture), and Dallas — in late June — bypassing a trade for Goran Dragic after the Dragic camp had been told he would probably need to be traded to accommodate the Butler transaction from a cap standpoint. “We’re all glad that deal didn’t happen,” one Heat official conceded privately, even more so because the inability to deal Dragic led to the jettisoning of Hassan Whiteside (a player the coaching staff didn’t want) to Portland.
The Heat studied him when he played at Oakland University, but he became a strong consideration in July 2018, when team officials were impressed by the diversity of his offensive game — and all-around skill set — while watching Nunn play for Golden State against Sacramento during NBA summer league. Nunn had already committed to the Warriors’ summer program by that point, and the Heat didn’t have a roster spot anyway, but from that point on, the Heat’s scouting staff decided to monitor him in the G-League, where he would average 19.3 points for Santa Cruz. What particularly stuck was the ease to his offensive game, the ability to score in multiple ways, and his willingness to defend.
The California Air Resources Board has granted fast-track approval to a proposed $1.2 billion Los Angeles Clippers arena in Inglewood that should allow the project to be finished in time for a 2024 basketball season. After nearly a year of back-and-forth negotiations, CARB determined last week that the project will not result in a net increase in greenhouse gases and, thus, qualifies for special protections from environmental lawsuits that could otherwise stall construction for years.
Storyline: New Clippers Arena
“CARB staff conducted an evaluation of the GHG emission estimates and reduction measures submitted by the applicant, and confirmed that the applicant’s methodology, calculations and documentation are adequate,” wrote Richard Corey, CARB’s executive director, in a letter to the governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Assembly Bill 987, a law passed specifically to move the Clippers project forward, required the Inglewood Basketball and Entertainment Center to be net neutral and reduce 50 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions through local measures.
Salvador Amezcua, 32, is better known as “Kickstradomis,” among the top shoe artists in the game. Give him a pair of kicks, and in due time, you’ll get back an original piece of work, not unlike the kid who started making up his own comic books when he was four, growing up in L.A. A savvy disrupter, Kickstradomis’ creations are a staple throughout the NBA and NFL, and are now reaching into the music and film worlds as well. Among his more well-known clients are Dallas Mavericks sensation Luka Doncic, the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, WNBA 2018 league and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart and L.A. Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He does all the work by hand, and the backlog is weeks long. Using movie characters, cartoons, any and everything that comes to mind, he can put them on a pair of shoes.
“Now, for 2020, everything’s going to shift a little differently,” he says. “I have to be more exclusive with the people I want to work with. I really choose to work with the guys who’ve been loyal to me, and we have mutual (desires), kind of both want the same things. There’s a few of these guys that really want to see me grow and they’ve helped me in different ways. Those are definitely the ones that I stick to. Luka’s one of them. Donovan Mitchell. KAT. Those are some of my closer guys. But then there’s the new young guys, the new generation.”
December 7, 2019 | 9:04 pm UTC Update
Influential voices in the NBA have strongly advised Ujiri not to take the job, if it’s ever offered, sources say. But those same sources say Ujiri might do it anyway, if the money is right, if he’s granted the necessary autonomy and if Dolan funds Giants of Africa as generously as the Raptors ownership group has. Ujiri’s contract is believed to run through 2021 but with an out clause under certain circumstances. He turned down a lucrative extension last summer, sources said, leaving the impression that he wants to keep his options open.
Storyline: Knicks Front Office
The Knicks have hired and fired five lead basketball executives since 2004, including legendary NBA figures from Isiah Thomas to Donnie Walsh to Phil Jackson. All departed under clouds of various shapes, sizes and despairing shades of gray. Maybe it will be different for the next guy. Maybe the Knicks get lucky and lure a gifted executive like Toronto’s Masai Ujiri to fix this mess. Some NBA sources believe it’s possible.
Pelicans vice president of basketball operations David Griffin went on the Pelicans in-game broadcast recently to talk about the return of Williamson and the team. There he said Williamson is progressing and added the obvious — that there will be some load management of Williamson upon his return. As there should be. “Yes, he very likely will not be asked to take the pounding of back-to-backs initially,” Griffin said on the team’s television broadcast. “There will be a sort of ramp-up for him to getting back to where you would call him full strength, but he’s certainly going to be playing, and we’re trying to win basketball games. And quite frankly, we’ve done a horrible job of that.”
Storyline: Zion Williamson Injury
They were not ha-ha-funny laughs. And they were not playful guffaws. Their laughs were more incredulous, those types of chuckles that come with a shake of the head and take the place of the words “can you believe this?” “We’ve been getting hit from every angle possible,” Kent Bazemore said. “Preseason on the road, 13 of the first 18 on the road, injuries. … I mean, it’s been a whirlwind.”
Even though he stands to gain from Hood’s injury — Hezonja will likely be one of the small forwards coach Terry Stotts turns to — Hezonja was consumed with the circumstances of Friday’s events. “I don’t even want to make a comment, that’s how bad I feel,” Hezonja said. “I mean, that’s Hoodie. From Day 1, he and I really bonded. You just don’t have teammates like that. He’s like a really outstanding person, so this really hurts me.”
Isaiah Thomas has missed the Wizards’ last two games with a left calf strain and it sounds like he will be out at least a little while longer. The Wizards guard caught up with NBC Sports Washington at his holiday toy giveaway at the Boys and Girls Club in Northwest D.C. on Saturday and gave an update on how he’s feeling. “I’m good,” he said. “I think I will be out a few more games and then be able to come back.”
Storyline: Isaiah Thomas Injury
December 7, 2019 | 7:25 pm UTC Update
With Knicks president Steve Mills on shaky ground until the club shows progress, owner James Dolan could make another run at Raptors president Masai Ujiri. According to a source, if Mills is fired after the season, Dolan likely would renew his quest for Ujiri, who built the Raptors 2019 title team. “Why wouldn’t he — he’s the best GM in the league,’’ one NBA source said.
Storyline: Knicks Front Office
December 7, 2019 | 5:30 pm UTC Update
The Knicks held a players-only meeting to rally support for their coach. But there was one problem: Fizdale was fired just hours later. Sources confirmed that Marcus Morris, who has been Fizdale’s top supporter in the locker room, led the session prior to Friday’s practice. It came on the heels of the Knicks getting blown out by the Nuggets on Thursday at the Garden.
Storyline: David Fizdale Firing
December 7, 2019 | 4:54 pm UTC Update

Steve Mills on the hot seat?

These last two seasons fall directly on Mills, who, according to sources, will either be reassigned or simply removed from the building. His expiration date is long overdue. The Athletic reported last month that Dolan will try again to pry Raptors President Masai Ujiri from Toronto. If that doesn’t work, maybe NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will point Dolan toward R.C. Buford, Sam Presti, Neil Olshey and Daryl Morey. The Knicks are in the early stages of another massive overhaul that will only work if Dolan gives his next executive savior full autonomy.
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“That’s where my strength is because I don’t try to be something I’m not,” Lillard says. “I don’t say stuff that I don’t think. Whenever I think something or I feel a way about something, that’s what I say. If there’s something that I experienced that made me a certain way, that’s just what it is. That’s who I am. I’ve come this far being this way, so I don’t have any reason to be anything else.”
That put the Knicks in a Catch-22. Fizdale couldn’t maximize the roster provided him but wasn’t given the personnel to run the system he desired. “Doesn’t seem like any of this is his fault,” one NBA executive said as Fizdale lingered in purgatory this month. One opposing coach noted that Fizdale’s team never developed an identity but put the emphasis for the struggles on the roster the Knicks put together for him.
Storyline: David Fizdale Firing