This morning’s headlines:
- Adding Paul adds ‘layers’ for Rockets
- Crawford, Twin Cities overdue to link up
- Knicks will follow Mills’, Perry’s leads
- Justin Robinson still dreams big
Adding Paul adds ‘layers’ for Rockets — In a macro sense, the Houston Rockets’ acquisition of All-Star guard Chris Paul from the Clippers teams two of the game’s premier — and most ball-dominant (based on Paul’s and James Harden’s usage rates) — point guards, raising questions about just who will lead whom through the 2017-18 season. Our Fran Blinebury pondered that dynamic here.
Another aspect of the pairing, though, and the one that a lot of basketball X&O devotees wonder about is how Paul’s arrival is going to fit in coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane and finely tuned offense. Jonathan Feigen, Rockets beat writer for The Houston Chronicle, took a deep dive into that one:
The Rockets’ offense had rolled, ranking among the best in NBA history. But it had been slowed in the playoff series loss to San Antonio, so coach Mike D’Antoni immediately began plotting tweaks, the next evolution in the offensive style that had changed the NBA.
There would be “layers” to add to the system, he said, as if weighing plans to soup up a muscle car.
Enter Chris Paul.
This would qualify as adding considerably more than a few “layers” to an offense and was probably well beyond what D’Antoni had in mind in early May. But to D’Antoni, long the cutting-edge architect of NBA offense built around point-guard play, there is no such thing as having too many point guards – or whatever other go-to scorer might also come aboard.
D’Antoni could not speak of the Rockets’ widely reported pursuit of Carmelo Anthony or how adding another star scorer might impact the offense. But to D’Antoni, the notion that there could be a problem in meshing the playmaking talents of Paul and James Harden, beyond an adjustment period, was laughable, like learning how to see too many perfect sunsets or hit too many holes-in-one.
“I just find it amusing a little bit that you hear people question that you only have one ball,” D’Antoni said. “Well, they’re so good at what they do, that’s why they’ve been so ball dominant. Now, they’ll share it. They’re willing. That’s not even going to be an issue.
“Each guy will be more efficient. Each guy will add to his game, like spot shooting that they probably haven’t done a lot over their careers because they were making the plays. There’s a lot of possibilities we’ll see. I’m excited.”
In some ways, the adjustment will be easy. When off the ball, Paul can get far more catch-and-shoot 3s than he did with the Los Angeles Clippers when he made 49.3 percent of his 3-pointers set up by teammates’ passes last season. (Harden made 38.3 percent.) Beyond changing the Rockets’ off-ball shooter, having a second facilitator goes back to D’Antoni’s goal to add layers to the offense.
The Spurs slowed the Rockets by defending Harden in pick-and-roll with one long defender (Kawhi Leonard or Jonathon Simmons) going over screens and chasing him into the lane where a big man back-pedaled to protect the rim. That left defenders in position to close out on the Rockets’ 3-point shooters.
The answer, D’Antoni said, would be adding attack off-the-dribble, not just in pick-and-roll to start the offense but when the ball begins to move.
“Layers, just meaning doing different things, for instance slinging the ball to the weak side, extra pick-and-roll,” D’Antoni said.
Having Harden or Paul attack from the wing could lead to more of the midrange shots considered the antithesis of typical Rockets’ offense. The Rockets had so much disdain for midrange shots that Paul took more after the All-Star break than the entire Rockets team.
“All I’m trying to do is get our effective field-goal percentage (which factors in the value of 3-pointers) close to or above 55 percent, definitely above 50,” D’Antoni said. “Why would I want to change him, him being the most effective of anybody?”
Crawford, Twin Cities overdue to link up — Veteran marksman Jamal Crawford has logged plenty of miles in his NBA career, crisscrossing the country from Portland to Atlanta, from New York to Los Angeles to shoot lights out as a first-option off teams’ benches. But in signing with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Crawford heads back to the heartland, where he also has history cited by Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. But Crawford makes the “why” of his latest move more interesting than the “where,” per Zgoda’s report:
“The ties with Minnesota always have kind of been there,” Crawford said. “It’s come full circle now, and the stars lined up at the right time.”
Superstar LeBron James recruited him to sign with Cleveland, and Crawford acknowledges he could have chased a ring with the Cavaliers or Golden State. But they didn’t have the $4.3 million “room” exception slot to offer that the Wolves did nor could either team promise such a featured scoring role on their team’s second unit, not like a Wolves team that still has just 11 players committed to its roster.
Other teams didn’t present the kind of personal connections that Crawford has with people in the Wolves’ organization, either: He played with new starting point guard Jeff Teague in Atlanta and with veteran center Cole Aldrich in Los Angeles. Assistant coach Rick Brunson “was my first vet” at the start of his career in Chicago and Assistant General Manager Noah Croom worked for Crawford’s longtime agent Aaron Goodwin for years.
Crawford also said he has come to know Tom Thibodeau, coach/president of basketball operations, through the years they’ve competed against each other both in the regular season and in the Eastern Conference playoffs. He even over time struck up an acquaintance with Wolves owner Glen Taylor since Crawford came into the league.
Crawford watched Thibodeau and the Wolves trade for three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler on draft night and agreed to terms with free agents Teague and Taj Gibson to go with young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
“They showed they were serious, trying to get things done right away,” Crawford said. “I felt like the time is right. I felt like I could fit. At this point of my career, I could easily chase a championship. I’m not saying we won’t compete, but it’s not about that. I want to take the journey and go through the wars with these guys. The Cavs, they’ve been there. Those guys know what it’s like to be in the Finals and win a championship. The Warriors, same deal. If I went there and let’s say we happen to win, what’s next? Sometimes it’s more gratifying to help teams go from one point to another point.
“That’s the challenge. That’s what so fun about it. What if you went to the movies and knew how it ended when the movie started? It’s exciting because nobody really knows what we can be.”
Knicks will follow Mills’, Perry’s leads — Whatever went wrong for the New York Knicks over the past three seasons can be attributed — blamed? — on more than Phil Jackson’s ineffectiveness as the franchise’s chief basketball executive. According to Marc Berman of the New York Post, the team already had lost its rudder before Jackson arrived, dating back to owner James Dolan’s firing of GM Glen Grunwald. That led to a situation in which front-office exec Steve Mills had, then didn’t have, serious sway over the team’s direction. With the addition now of Scott Perry as the latest Knicks GM, Berman expects more stability and a sharper focus:
The Knicks have been a wreckage since the Grunwald firing — writing the how-to book on ruining a franchise with mismanagement.
As it happened, the injury-riddled Knicks stumbled along into March  with a losing record and Dolan panicked. His music-entrepreneur buddy Irving Azoff convinced him Phil Jackson and his magic triangle would be the panacea. Jackson was hired March 19, 2014 — Mills demoted to general manager after five months on the job.
Three years and three months later, after the worst waste of $60 million in professional sports, Dolan has hit the rewind button.
Jackson has been shipped back to Montana to size up lovely views from his lake house.
Mills is back in the presidency role, and this time he has an experienced basketball personnel man by his side who wouldn’t know the triangle if it hit him upside the head. Dolan stated in a press release a “culture change” will begin to re-establish “a work ethic” and “pride” — perhaps a shot at Jackson.
You probably had never heard of Scott Perry, who received a five-year deal to become the Knicks’ general manager. Perry has been in the front office of four franchises, including the Pistons for many years, winning a title there in 2004. The worst thing one executive said about Perry is he “micromanages” too much. But Mills will be on better footing in his second chance to run the Knicks with the well-respected Perry as his right-hand man.
The Knicks are in complete rebuild mode, and Mills will use Perry’s savvy in figuring out the Carmelo Conundrum and whether to force a trade for future assets/cap space.
At least the Mills-Perry tandem will not have to worry about being sabotaged by an old Zen Master.
Robinson still dreams big — What Boston’s Isaiah Thomas did last season to get basketball fans re-thinking their biases against smallish players — scoring in bunches, leading the Celtics to the East’s No. 1 seed and finishing fifth in MVP balloting — Justin Robinson did for some folks paying attention to the Las Vegas Summer League. Robinson, a 5-foot-8 guard from Monmouth, seized an opportunity with Miami’s summer entry in Vegas that might lead to more, writes Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel:
“Going to parks, people don’t want to pick you because you’re smaller,” Robinson said of his formative years. “But then when you get your opportunity, you have to dig in against them and you get the respect.”
So in his No. 51 Heat summer jersey, Robinson has done just that. On Wednesday night, there was the game-winning layup with 11 seconds to play against a similar team of young players from the Washington Wizards. On Thursday, 22 points and eight assists off the bench to lift the Heat over the Los Angeles Clippers and into a Saturday 6 p.m. quarterfinal game against the Memphis Grizzlies in the tournament bracket of the Las Vegas summer league
As ESPN attempted to corral him for his walk-off interview Thursday, Robinson was intercepted by Clippers summer-league coach Sam Cassell, The Clippers, Wizards and Portland Trail Blazers were the only teams to interview him before the draft.
For the winner of the 2017 Lou Henson Award, as the national’s best player from a mid-major university, Robinson said he appreciated the challenges of this next step. But the two-time Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year also knows plenty about creating moments, with his 22 points against Notre Dame in 2015 giving Monmouth the school’s first victory over a ranked opponent.
“I go into situations thinking like, ‘What do I really have to lose?’ ” he said. “Where I’ve made it so far is already leaps and bounds farther than anybody thought that I would ever make it.
“To be here is a blessing, but I’m trying to be here and compete and not just be here. I want to be here and prove that I belong. Because I feel like that I belong.”
The end game would be a spot in the Heat’s training camp, or any NBA training camp. With the success of the Celtics’ Thomas, the skepticism isn’t what it might otherwise be
“Just because Isaiah was doing his thing doesn’t mean people are going to come out and respect me,” Robinson said. “People are going to say, ‘Isaiah is different.’ Well, I’m here to show people that I’m different, too.”
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Business, politics and basketball all got balled up for former Spurs wing Jonathon Simmons, who wound up taking a $20 million free-agent deal to play for Orlando. … Any debate over Ray Allen and whether his jersey number should hang in the Boston Celtics’ rafters — an emotional topic for a lot of NBA fans, it seems — has been put on hold, at the very least, with Gordon Hayward set to wear No. 20 for that team. … The Derrick Rose-to-Milwaukee speculation requires two questions to be answered: How would the Bucks fit Rose into their salary structure, and how would he actually help the team? … Brandon Paul kept his NBA dream alive and now has been rewarded, signed by one of the league’s classiest organizations. … A two-time NBA MVP showing off his skills in a second sport while actually competing in a third? Why not, it’s the offseason.