Storyline: NBA Schedule

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One proposal from a couple of team employees: Guarantee the winning team a playoff spot. That’s interesting. It doesn’t really impact the elite teams. Some ultra-tankers might not even want a playoff spot if it removes them from the lottery. (They probably wouldn’t want to turn off their fans by tanking the midseason tournament, either.) How would clinching a playoff spot in December change behavior over the rest of the season for a middling playoff team?

Teams have been formally proposing schedule tweaks for years. At least one has advocated for a 58-game schedule, with each team playing every other team twice. (Even the proposing team knows that is too radical right now.) One Eastern Conference executive submitted a proposal that in its own way includes midseason and play-in tournaments: a 62-game regular season, after which teams are placed into three tiers based on their record in those 62 games. Teams then play 18 games within their tier — facing each team home and away — bringing the season to 80 games.

But it’s unclear what incentives will be in the final proposal; virtually any idea you can imagine has been discussed and debated during meetings. Clarity will come soon—there are only five months to go before the Board of Governors meeting in April, when votes will take place. Sources confirmed a high-ranking source who told ESPN that there’s been “no real pushback” from teams and players for the tournament. But there’s certainly concern about whether it could be a flop financially or struggle to draw ratings. Still, multiple front-office executives have gone as far as to say change is inevitable—it’s just a matter of the form it takes.

The NBA could also change locations of the tournament each year, like the NCAA does for March Madness or the NFL does with the Super Bowl. “The in-season tournament can be the way to bring competitive basketball to cities without a team like Seattle or Mexico City or even London,” one front-office executive said. The NBA already plays annual regular-season games in Mexico and Europe; additionally, in January 2020, the Bucks will face the Hornets in Paris. Without a neutral site, scheduling would become a nightmarish task. Arenas are already frustrated with having to hold so many open dates for potential postseason games; adding two tournaments would require them to have even more open dates, league sources said.


NBA mulling reseeding, in-season tournament and play-in tourney

The NBA is engaged in serious discussions with the National Basketball Players Association and broadcast partners on sweeping and dramatic changes to the league calendar that would include a reseeding of the four conference finalists, a 30-team in-season tournament and a postseason play-in, league sources told ESPN. These scenarios would include the shortening of the regular season to a minimum of 78 games, league sources said.

Discussions are progressing with hopes of bringing a vote to the April meeting of the league’s Board of Governors that would introduce some — if not all — of these proposals into the NBA’s 75th anniversary season of 2021-22, league sources said. The NBA still has work to do coordinating with constituents on the myriad implications involving the proposed changes. The reseeding of teams in the semifinal round based on regular-season record could give the NBA a championship series that includes its best two teams. The WNBA has been seeding teams in the playoffs without regard to conference for several seasons.

In proposals that include adoption of in-season tournaments and post-season play-in, the traditional regular season schedule would be reduced from 82 games — with most teams scheduled to play 78 or 79 games. There’s an extremely limited possibility of a team playing a maximum of 83 games based on on possible tournament and play-in scenarios, league sources said. For the in-season tournament, the NBA is focused on 30-team participation that begins with a divisional group stage of scheduled regular-season games. Those pre-knockout round games will be part of the regular-season schedule. Six divisional winners — based on home and away records in the group stage — and teams with the next two best records would advance to a single-elimination knockout round, league sources said. Those teams could each potentially compete in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.

The NBA and NBPA are finding common ground on a post-Thanksgiving tournament window that would extend into mid-December, league sources said. Months ago, the NBA had proposed a late January-February tournament that would culminate with a Final Four during All-Star weekend, sources said. That idea faded fast. Both the union and team executives expressed concern over that idea. The NBPA was resistant to shortening players’ All-Star breaks and requiring some to potentially participate in the in-season tournament and All-Star weekend.
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December 8, 2019 | 10:59 am UTC Update
The Knicks did some due diligence on Jackson’s Warriors tenure prior to hiring Fizdale. It’s unclear how far along Jackson got in the process with New York. But the idea that they chose Fizdale over Jackson, an ex-Knick who would have been mostly embraced by the fan base, is telling. According to sources, there are members of the organization who remain wary of hiring Jackson.
Storyline: Mark Jackson to Knicks?
As Love went through his customary stretching routine prior to the game, cleveland.com spoke with him about a lack of touches recently, pointing out that they’ve declined significantly since a terrific few early weeks. It was about trying to get a better explanation and deciphering whether opponents have sent more defenders in his direction. Leading into Saturday’s matchup, everyone in the organization admitted he needed to become the focal point again. Beilein said when Love touches the ball, “good things happen.”
Three winters ago, Doc Rivers was ready to be done. He was throwing up constantly. His energy evaporated. Pounds dropped off his body. Rivers needed to get IVs before he coached the Clippers. He no longer looked like the tough-as-hell guard who made a name for himself on defense. He looked frail. And tired. And miserable. “It was awful,” he said. “That was a tough stretch. I almost thought about quitting because I had no energy. … And I thought it definitely affected my day-to-day ability to coach — and to live. You’re always tired. This job is tiring. And then you’re sick on top of it. I didn’t do any favors for myself.”
Prisoners of a lifestyle that tempts coaches with a constant barrage of food and adrenaline, little sleep and an overflow of stress, the NBA’s coaches battle wellness problems that they all easily could succumb to. “By the end of the season, if you were 6 feet tall when it started, now you’re 5-foot-2,” Washington coach Scott Brooks said. “It just wears you down and you just have to somehow focus on yourself and your health.”
Rivers no longer drinks after games. Portland coach Terry Stotts will go home and watch a show like “Madam Secretary” with his wife. Brooks’ training staff told him to quit eating a giant bowl of cereal before his late-night film sessions. “The biggest challenge is to take care of yourself physically,” Brooks said. “Like everything else, you have so many things on your plate and you forget about yourself.”
According to NBA insiders, there is a belief that coaches who are in shape are much easier to hire and more credible in a room full of athletically gifted players in peak physical condition. To be considered for jobs, coaches often are advised to lose weight and buy nicer clothes because appearances matter. And some believe any hint of an issue with mental wellness would torpedo a prospective coach’s candidacy.
Paschall recently joined radio play-by-play announcer Tim Roye on his “Beyond the Arc” podcast and discussed what it was like moving to the Bay Area after growing up in New York. “One thing I definitely like about it is the weather, it’s not too cold,” he said. “I’ve realized everybody is a lot nicer out here. Everybody says hello, I remember in my apartment building, people were just like, ‘How was your day?’ I’m like, ‘Whoa.’ This is weird for me, especially from the East Coast because everybody is so uptight, but it’s something that’s really cool.”
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