Storyline: Masai Ujiri to Knicks?

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Either way, decisions will have to be made on the front office after the season. Both Mills and GM Scott Perry have separate mutual contract options for next season, according to a source, meaning they’d have to be picked up by both themselves and the Knicks to return. Dolan would love to pry Masai Ujiri out of Toronto, but there’s skepticism it can done with the team president under contract. Such a deal would be very complicated if the Raptors play hardball. Another name being mentioned around the league is Thunder president Sam Presti. Rockets president Daryl Morey is expected to be a free agent but is saddled with the China controversy. According to ESPN, Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong cost the NBA between $150 million and $200 million in Chinese-driven revenue. The league can say whatever for PR purposes but the preference is Morey’s departure.

Masai Ujiri crossing the border to save the Knicks is an event the NBA would see value in, according to a team executive. “They look at him as the chosen one,’’ the executive said. He would never admit it, but it makes sense that NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who grew up a Knicks’ fan and has the league office in New York, would prefer arguably the league’s most astute executive running a centerpiece franchise that has fallen on hard times. The Knicks (6-21) have posted the NBA’s worst winning percentage since 2000 and are on pace to miss the playoffs a seventh straight season.

The Raptors’ ownership, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, could have avoided some of this noise by simply giving Ujiri an extension and a blank cheque this past summer but – contrary to a report that Ujiri turned down an extension – there has never been one been offered, according to sources. Which is understandable in some ways. It’s not like Ujiri’s current deal didn’t have lucrative bonuses tied to winning a title. And in most businesses – even with NBA stars – discussion doesn’t typically begin for extensions until a year before a current deal expires.

There is probably no city in the world that would provide a greater opportunity for Ujiri to further the ambitions of his foundation than New York, where he could walk to the United Nations for lunch and meet potential billionaire donors for breakfast. It’s a global nerve centre for business and politics and it would be impossible for Ujiri to fail to expand his already considerable network there. If his ultimate goal is to further his causes in Africa, New York is a better base to work from. The question, really, is if there is anything MLSE can do to make Ujiri a semi-permanent piece of the Toronto landscape, to make the Knicks or other threats distant or far-fetched?

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.

Knicks targeting Masai Ujiri?

According to several people familiar with the Knicks thinking, Dolan is plotting to take another run at Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri. It would take Phil Jackson-type money to lure Ujiri to New York but spending the big bucks is never an issue for Dolan. The issue is always hiring the right person, but in Ujiri, unlike Jackson, Mills and Perry, the Knicks would be bringing in an executive who has built a championship team.

Ujiri is under contract through the 2021 season and the Raptors ownership group will do anything and everything to keep him. However, Ujiri is an ambitious guy with powerful friends in high places, and we’re not just talking about Barack Obama. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is a close friend who remains forever frustrated with the train wreck in his own backyard that is the Knicks. Ujiri’s possible arrival in New York could potentially put the Knicks in play for Giannis Antetokounmpo as well. Ujiri is well connected to some of today’s top stars. Mills claimed to be but couldn’t even get a sit down with Irving and/or Durant. That’s another plan he sold to Dolan that fell flat.

Do you worry about Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri departing for the New York Knicks? DeRozan: I don’t worry about that. I think [he stays]. I look at it like, if I’m New York who is the next best guy you could go after? It’s Masai. Why wouldn’t they want to target him? I don’t look at it like it’s a bad thing. Masai has that reputation because he is great at what he does. That organization wants to be great so they can feel like they can compete. So, what is the first thing you do? You go look for the next great person.

Dolan’s interest in Toronto executive Masai Ujiri is real, not to mention the preferred choice of the folks inside the NBA’s league offices who want nothing more than this Knicks machine to run smoothly one day. There’s already a built-in connection as well: Tim Leiweke, the former CEO of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment group who hired Ujiri as Toronto’s general manager in 2013, is serving as a Knicks consultant. He’s the CEO of the sports and entertainment consulting firm, the Oak View Group, as well as a partner of Irving Azoff, the longtime friend of Dolan’s who played a significant role in bringing Jackson to the Knicks.
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“Zion is not on their injury report,” said Brian Windhorst on his podcast. “They are treating him as though he’s coming back from an injury, but he’s not on their injury report. I cannot make an assumption as to what’s going on there. When you watch him play, he clearly is not in condition to compete at the highest level. As I’ve watched him play two games, I don’t actually think they should have played him at all with the way he’s playing. I talked to a scout who said to me he shouldn’t be out there right now with the condition he is in. He said to me, ‘He’s moving worse than he did in Summer League last summer when he got hurt in his first or second game.’ “I don’t know if that’s because he’s out of condition, or that’s because he’s got something that they’re not discussing. This is one of the things that the Pelicans have to deal with… this is a guy who has a history of knee injuries and is not right either because of conditioning or because of something else.”
Williamson was gone from the Pelicans for over a week and then was under quarantine for a few days when he returned to Orlando. “He does not look right,” said Kirk Goldsberry. “It does not look good. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say he shouldn’t be out there because I don’t know… Something smells fishy here. I don’t know what’s going on. He does not look like the kid that was dominating the league in March.”
Now that the Wizards have lost their first two games at Disney World, that rule is coming back into the forefront. The Wizards are currently tied in the loss column with the Hornets, who aren’t in Orlando but are locked in with the eighth-best lottery odds. What that means is if the Wizards continue to lose, they can’t gain more ping-pong balls for lottery night, which is set for Aug. 25. And now there is a distinct possibility they could have worse odds than a team with a better win percentage than them.
Storyline: Draft Lottery
It would be a cruel twist for the Wizards, who need as much help as they can get in this year’s draft as they hope to find another blue chip prospect to add to their burgeoning young core. Making that pick count is especially important given their salary cap situation with John Wall and Bradley Beal on the books, which has left them with fewer resources to work with. They could get another key rotation player on a rookie contract. The good news is that the lottery rules were changed more permanently before last year’s drawing in order to create more parity in the annual event. It smoothed out the odds to discourage tanking and the results in its first year were as-intended.
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Zalgiris big man Jock Landale will be playing in a different team next season. With the request of the player, Jock Landale and Zalgiris have mutually agreed to part ways, as the Aussie continues to seek out his dream of playing in the NBA. A member of the Australian men’s national team signed a deal with Zalgiris last summer and had a running contract for next season. After the two sides reached an agreement, the 24-year-old addressed the fans and the Zalgiris organization. “I just wanted to reach out and say thank you for everything you’ve done for the past year. It was such an incredible experience coming to Lithuania and playing for such a historic club and a legendary coach. To the organization, I appreciate what you guys have done. Everyone’s got goals and ambitions, and you really helped me reach mine. You’ve got a fan in me for life.”
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While watching Sunday night’s box-office affair between the Houston Rockets and Milwaukee Bucks, perhaps the saying speaks more to the mental exercise of what it takes to play defense and get stops. “Heart and will,” James Harden said. “Everybody says we’re undersized — and they got a couple of offensive rebounds on us just cause they have 7-footers and whatnot — but you gotta just keep fighting, keep fighting. Once we get that ball, we’re out, so it just takes good spirit, fighting and making sure we’re communicating defensively and in our right positions.”
Westbrook finished with 31 points, eight assists and six rebounds, but it’s more important to note how he kept Houston afloat while Harden sat with foul trouble. He constantly put pressure on the Bucks’ defense, forcing them to concede open shots to Green, Tucker, Ben McLemore, and others. In addition, it seemed like him and Harden struck a good balance of when to attack versus when to move the ball and look for others. When Harden struggles offensively, Westbrook is more than capable of picking up the slack. “Yeah, I think we’re comfortable now,” Harden said of the pair’s chemistry. “I think with that training camp, we’re in a good place. We found ourselves.”
Storyline: Harden-Westbrook Dynamic
“We loaded up,” House explained. “We talked. The most important thing was to stop him before he got downhill, of course. We did a good job about locating him before he could get the ball or even after he got the ball to make sure that we were on the help side and that guys were already communicating with one another. That’s been a big help and a big factor for us — communication on defense. So we don’t have those “my bad” moments.” “Very important,” Harden added on their late-game defense. “I think throughout the course of the game we played some really good defense. Obviously, they’re a really good offensive team, but throughout the course of the game we got stops when we needed to.”