Top Candidates to Replace Atkinson as Brooklyn Nets Next Head Coach

New York Knicks, Jason Kidd

With one of the more shocking decisions in recent memory, the Brooklyn Nets decided to “mutually” part ways with Head Coach Kenny Atkinson earlier today. Atkinson has been Brooklyn’s coach for the last four years and was a significant contributor to the change in culture during his tenure, resulting in a playoff appearance last year for the first time since the 2014-15 season.

The speculation among Nets Twitter surrounding general manager Sean Mark decided that superstar players Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were not on board with Atkinson as the Head Coach for next season. While zero reports would validate that assumption, many fans could point to the early on-court disconnect between Atkinson and Kyrie during the season and the underwhelming performance of the team as a whole. Ironically, this decision comes on the heels of one of the best performances from Coach Atkinson and the Nets all season, as they manhandled the Spurs last night, 139 – 120. Jacque Vaughn will finish out the season as the team’s interim head coach.

Here is a list of plausible candidates to replace Atkinson:

Royal Ivey, Current Position: New York Knicks Assistant Coach

How do you make your newly acquired superstar happy? By hiring his best friends. With the dismissal of Atkinson, the Nets have shown that they are willing to cater more towards their superstars than trust in the culture and decision making that got them here. That is why I can easily see Sean Marks going after one of Kevin Durant’s closest friends in Royal Ivey. Ivey briefly played with KD in OKC and was an assistant coach for the Thunder from 2016-18, before joining the Knicks coaching staff two years ago. This move would make the most sense if Mark’s primary goal is to please KD with the new hire.

Jacque Vaughn, Current Position: Interim Brooklyn Nets Head Coach

Vaughn has close ties to the Nets organization; he’s been with the team since 2016 as an assistant coach and played behind Jason Kidd as the backup point guard from 2004 – 2006. Vaughn has championship experience as a player, winning a title with the Spurs in 2007. He also has experience as a Head Coach, when he coached the Orlando Magic from 2012-2015. Since he’s the interim coach for the remainder of the season, KD, Kyrie, and Marks will have front row seats to observe how he operates and communicates with players.

Jason Kidd, Current Position: Los Angeles Lakers Assistant Coach

Does anyone think the Nets aren’t crazy enough to bring Kidd back into the fold? Everyone knows he’s itching to be a head coach again. He seems to get along with most superstar players. Just ask Giannis Antetekumpo, who almost went to war with the Bucks for letting Kidd go a few years ago. And if the Lakers win the championship this year, they will be forced to keep Frank Vogel as Head Coach, who many thought was meant to be a placeholder for Kidd to take over down the line. While Kidd’s first tenure as coach of the Nets had its ups and downs, I wouldn’t put it past Marks and upper Nets management to bring back the most important Net of all time.

Becky Hammon, Current Position: San Antonio Spurs Assistant Coach

How great of a story would this be? The Brooklyn Nets hire the first female Head Coach in NBA history and then go on to win the championship in her first year as coach. This might be a reality come next year. Hammon has been under the Greg Popovich coaching tree for four years, where guys like Brett Brown, Mike Budenholzer, Mike Brown, and Jacque Vaughn have all gotten Head Coaching opportunities from being Spurs assistants. As a 15 year WNBA veteran, she’s extremely knowledgeable of the game, young enough to relate to the players, and might be the perfect coach for a team with championship aspirations.

Jay Williams, Current Position: ESPN/ABC analyst for multiple shows

I know this candidate is out of left field, but please hear me out. Williams has been closely linked to Kevin Durant for over the past year. When Durant got hurt, it was Williams who spoke to the media on behalf of KD throughout the process. When KD made his decision to sign elsewhere, Jay Williams was right there, taking interviews on Sportscenter, explaining why there was no ill will between Kevin Durant and the Warriors. Williams also has strong ties to Duke, Kyrie Irving’s alma mater. At 38 years old, he would be one of the youngest coaches in the league, giving him ample time to win multiple championships and create a dynasty in Brooklyn.

Empire State Players React to the Death of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant’s sudden death has reverberated across the sports landscape, including here in New York. While his play for the Los Angeles Lakers befuddled and baffled our New York Knicks and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, every athlete everywhere is reeling in the news of Bryant’s passing via a helicopter crash in California. What makes the event even more tragic is that his teenage daughter, a travel basketball player, and that player’s parent, were also involved in the crash that took the NBA legend’s life.

New York Athlete’s Respond to Bryant’s Passing

Marcus Stroman, of the New York Met’s, tweeted this out:

“This is extremely tragic to society. One of the most influential individuals/athletes to ever live. His legacy in 41 years is insurmountable. I’m beyond sad. Cherish every single second of life man. Every second you’re breathing, be thankful!”

Le’Veon Bell and Jamal Adams of the New York Jets had this to say via Twitter.

Bell:

“I don’t believe it actually….it’s unbelievable, no way”

Adams:

“Life’s way too short.
My favorite athlete of all time is gone…”

Former Yankee and current Met reliever Dellin Betances via Twitter:

“I’m sick I can’t believe this my idol Kobe gone too soon”

Bryant was just passed by LeBron James on the all-time scoring list in the NBA on Saturday, January 25th.

While, admittedly, not the biggest basketball fan, the impact Kobe Bryant had on the sports landscape was inescapable, even for me. A former college professor of mine, and drummer for the New York-based avant-garde group, Bright Dog Red, summed it up brilliantly. The only apt comparison to the shock and disbelief at Maba’s passing was the sudden death of former Yankees captain, Thurman Munson.

On behalf of all the writers at EmpireSportsMedia.com, I express our deepest condolences to Bryant’s family, his fans, and the Los Angels Lakers organization. This was far too early for me to type this, but Rest In Peace, Kobe and Gianna Bryant.

New York Knicks: Should we be pleased with the development of RJ Barrett?

New York Knicks, RJ Barrett

As we inch closer and closer to the halfway point of the regular season, we’ve now seen the top three picks of the 2019 draft in action (after Zion Williamson‘s debut last night). For the New York KnicksRJ Barrett, the third overall pick, how do we assess his development to date?

The NBA season is a marathon as opposed to a sprint, and rookies are particularly made aware of this through their first season in the league. There’s still plenty of basketball left to be played, but the general consensus is that the 2019 draft class has left much to be desired through the month of January.

With the exception of Ja Morant (the consensus leader for Rookie of the Year), injuries and underwhelming performances have soured the view on this rookie class (see Zion Williamson and Darius Garland respectively). But does the same go for the New York Knicks’ lottery draft selection?

RJ Barrett was taken third overall in last June’s draft, and though currently battling a sprained right ankle, has largely been reliable in suiting up for New York.

How has Barrett stacked up against the competition? And in the eyes of Knicks fans, should they be pleased with his future outlook?

Sizing up the competition

Given that this season’s Rookie of the Year race is looking like a runaway win for Ja Morant, the second overall pick is the easy comparison in assessing Barrett’s development. In 41 games played, RJ Barrett is averaging 14.1 points per game, shooting 39 percent from the field, and 60 percent from the free-throw line. He’s also grabbing around five rebounds per game. (ProBasketballReference)

Morant, through 38 games, is averaging 17.5 points per game, shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 80 percent from the stripe. He’s also dishing seven assists per game, leading the Memphis Grizzlies (currently) to the eighth seed in the West. On stats and the eye test alone, Morant clearly has the leg up and looks further along the timeline of making an impact on the franchise.

The long-term outlook

Friendly reminder that Morant is on the Memphis Grizzlies (who have Jaren Jackson Jr. among others to thank for their surprise surge) and Barrett suits up for the Knicks (who have plenty of work ahead of them getting back to respectability). So while the comparisons between the two may be warranted, it’s also wise to keep the long-term view in mind.

RJ Barrett, with a roster filled with a multitude of veterans signed in the offseason, was not going to be the savior as soon as he stepped through the door. Barring Zion’s debut last night, Barrett is still third amongst rookies in scoring this season. He’s top five in rebounds and top ten in assists amongst rookies.

But the most concerning has to be his percentage from the stripe, that simply has to improve. For a player like RJ Barrett, whose athleticism and length should give him an advantage in getting to the basket, he needs to make defenses pay from the free-throw line. It’s a skill that all players (should) work on, and Barrett is no different.

RJ Barrett might not be breaking onto the scene a la Ja Morant, but he’s by no means a disappointment or “bust.”

The Knicks have plenty of work ahead of them, and Barrett ending the season on a strong note heading into year two will be a key goal to watch in the latter half of the season.

New York Knicks: Mills, Not Fizdale Should Be The First Gone

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Losses have been one of two constants throughout the decade for the New York Knicks. Aside from one good year In the 2010’s, the Knicks have been stuck in the bottom of the NBA. Think of all the high draft picks they have had in just the last five years, Kristaps Porzinigs, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, and now RJ Barrett.

Coach’s have come and gone. Mike D’Antoni, Mike Woodson, Derek Fisher, Kurt Rambis, Jeff Hornacek, and now David Fizdale. Switching through coaches has not helped the Knicks at all this decade.
The players have come and gone too. It feels as though every year the Knicks have a brand new roster, and are just turning over player after player. The majority of the guys on the team this year, will not be on the team next year. All the veterans from last year’s team, are gone and dispersed through the NBA and the unemployment line.
Changing the coach’s have not worked, changing the players have not worked, maybe James Dolan should try changing something else. The Front Office. The one constant through all the change and losses has been Steve Mills. I like Scott Perry, and I like what he has done, but this season has been brutal, even though this was somewhat expected. This is not Fizdale’s fault. While his rotations have not been the best, Fizdale is a good coach who is respected around the NBA. People around the NBA believe in Fizdale, and if he were to be fired today, he would land another job, unlike Fisher and Rambis. Fizdale can be good with the Knicks, he is a quality basketball coach, and is not the problem.
While I may have been in the minority and didn’t mind the Knicks moves, somebody has to fall if this season continues. It is time for that to be Steve Mills. Mills has been the only constant(besides Dolan) in this decade of losing. If somebody is getting fired for this season it should be Mills, not Fizdale.

Brooklyn Nets: Taurean Prince stays put, signs big deal with Nets

Brooklyn Nets, Taurean Prince

What better way to lead up to the Brooklyn Nets opener and the NBA opener in general, than with news breaking. Recently acquired, Taurean Prince doesn’t have to worry about leaving the borough of Brooklyn in the immediate future.

The ever-reliable Woj adds more information to the deal, describing it as a two-year deal that would dish out a little more than 14m/yr.

This is a swift move by the Nets organization. Sean Marks and Nets brass seem to sign their guys instead before their contracts are up so as not to be at the mercy at the overpaying market. We’ve seen it with Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris Levert, and now Prince. A trend is being established, a pattern that looks to be a good one. We have seen plenty of players get new contracts over the last few days, and the consensus for a lot of them is that they have gotten overpaid. With this in mind, Marks recent deals look more and more like bargains and steals.

But just as important as the financial aspect of things, if not more so, is the on the court ability Prince brings. The casual NBA fan may not realize it due to his time on the Atlanta Hawks, but Prince is a lethal shooter. I mean, he has an absolute burner. For his career, Prince is shooting 38% from beyond. A lot of that stems from his last two years, where he shot 38.5 and 39% from 3. Another important note is that every year, his shooting percentage from the field overall and the three has increased. In his fourth year, he has a chance to improve on those numbers yet again. He’ll have more attention taking from him than he probably did in Atlanta, and he’s under Kenny Atkinson, one of the best developmental coaches in the NBA. Most players under his tutelage usually improve, especially from beyond the arch.

To add to this, the Fresh Prince has had a great Preseason. Yes, I know it’s Preseason, and yes, I know it is only four games, but hopefully, these are signs of things to come. In those four showings, not only did Prince average a team-high 16.8ppg, but he also shot 69.6% from deep (while shooting above 60% overall). Now while we expect these numbers to go down, it is an exciting thing to see. Last season there was buzz around Joe Harris and his shooting. Some wondered if Harris could find his way into a very exclusive 50-40-90 club. Well, now we have to wonder the same thing about Prince.

The last thing to note, the Nets seem more or less invested in this core. They are trying to keep their pieces intact for the next couple of years. When Kevin Durant returns, he and Kyrie Irving will have no shortage of help surrounding them. Now, if they can retain Joe Harris, they’ll have two of the league’s best role-playing shooters to go along with two of the NBA’s best shooters in general. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, this is how Prince feels about the organization and this move. We’ve come a long way, Nets Nation.

Brooklyn Nets: New Year, New Nets

Brooklyn Nets, Kenny Atkinson

It’s not the regular season, but Brooklyn Nets basketball has made a return. So when Nets fans saw that their team would be playing on October 4th, they didn’t care that it wasn’t against another NBA team. They were just happy to see that their team play on their home court again (the new court looks great by the way). So here are some thoughts from the Nets home win against Sesi Franca (137-89).

The Starting Lineup

The Nets opened up the preseason with a starting lineup of the following:

Center: Jarrett Allen

PF: Rodions Kurucs

SF: Taurean Prince

SG: Caris Levert

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie

When asked if people should read into the Jarrett Allen start, Kenny Atkinson responded with not at all and that the team was trying out various rotations. So with that being understood, we still aren’t 100% sure whether or not Jarrett Allen will be the for sure starter. Seeing Kurucs out there on the floor, especially in a starters capacity, put me at ease. With the off the court issues, he has come into his second year, it’s good to see him just playing basketball. He got the start at the 4, the position he found himself in his rookie campaign. Prince closed out the frontcourt starters.

Levert and Dinwiddie were our starting backcourt. This is a line up that is pretty familiar with each other with the exception of Prince. Allen, Spence, and Caris have played with each other for a few years now while Kurucs started next to Allen for much of last season. In this lineup, Prince would basically be taking the Joe Harris.

Speaking of Joe Harris, he was not in the starting line up. In fact, he did not log a single minute. This is probably to rest the NBA’s best shooter from 3 last year. He played almost all of last season, the intense playoffs, and was on Team USA this summer. Rest is probably for the best, got to keep a shooter’s legs fresh.

Obviously, the team isn’t completely healthy or available. Kyrie Irving didn’t play this game, but will most likely play next week Thursday. Kevin Durant isn’t stepping on that court anytime soon. There’s no question that Spencer Dinwiddie will probably be headed to the bench with the return of Kyrie Irving. The real question is will Joe Harris start? If he does who sits, Kurucs or Prince. If I had to guess, I’d predict that Prince will join the second unit. Just for the sake of familiarity and continuity. It also gives the bench that lethal floor spacer (as you saw against Sesi if you happened to watch the game).

Quick Notes

-Quick notes. David Nwaba shot well from three which wasn’t exactly the strength of his game. That along with his constant movement on offense and defense are welcomed sights. Honestly, he probably had the highest motor on the floor. Cuts were hard and fast. Constant movement on the floor to get himself and shot or be a bailout option. He made the extra pass willingly and consistently. It also showed a determination on defense, even on players that dwarfed him. Maybe him seeing some time at the 4 isn’t a complete joke.

-Prince shooting is as his stats from the last two seasons have advertised. He is a true snipe, shooting 67% from out beyond.

-The team has looked to feed the paint, although not through the post. Lots of lobs, drives, and drop-offs. The bigs ate often with them shooting a combined  14/15 shooting from the floor.

-Levert’s vision and playmaking were on full display. With that being one of the positives of his game, I predict he’ll spend some time at the point with Kyrie and Spencer being the only two point guards on the team.

-The new rook Nic Claxton looked great. Full of energy on both ends of the court. It’ll be fun to see how he develops.

-Theo, who has spoken on possibly spending some of his court time as a floor general, had 7 assists.

Early Concerns

If you watched, you saw the greatest shooter to ever light the Nets up early and often. Hettheimeir shot a blazing 8/10 from the arch. I’m counting that more so to a hot hand vs panicking from stretch big defense. Perimeter defense concerning Jarrett Allen, especially if he has to pick up guards in the pick n roll. Deandre Jordan defends it more comfortably.

FREE THROW ACE PURPLE IS A NEED! Ok ok, you’re right. It’s just one game. It is preseason after all. Oh and we’re missing some of our best offensive players. Players that shoot well from the line. Well, I’d concede all those points, but then also warn with this. The Nets did get 35 chances from the line last night. That is great. But only 20 of those 35 were made. That’s a putrid 57%. That’s terrible. Last year, the Nets were also in the bottom third of free throws in the NBA. Only six teams shot worse than the Nets, who shot 74.5% from the stripe.

A big part of everything that allows the Nets offense to function is the threat of and the ability to hit the three-ball. Although for a team to shoot 35.7% from three is decent (would be top 10 in the NBA last season), there were only three Nets that night to shoot it decent or exceptionally. That would be Nwaba, Kurucs, and Prince. Together they shot 10/18 from beyond, roughly 56%. The rest of the team was 5/24, below 21%. Again, it’s preseason and only one game where we are devoid of some of our best shooters, but just something I noticed.

But it is early. I cannot stress that enough. Let’s see what these early thoughts mature into as the season progresses.

New York Knicks: Bobby Portis May Become a Crowd Favorite at MSG

New York Knicks, Bobby Portis

The New York Knicks Might Have a new crowd favorite this upcoming season. The Knicks signed a 6’10” tall, high motor backup center Bobby Portis this offseason. This man is known to make winning intangible plays, and he refuses to back down from his opponents. Bulls fans loved Bobby Portis for the same reasons Knick fans will love and cheer him. Bobby Portis fits the new identity of the New York Knicks because he has heart and lays it all out every night. Bulls fans recognized his hard work and so did the Wizard fans during his very short stint in Washington DC.

The passionate Knick fans of MSG love hard-working hustlers who bring their lunch pales every single night. Similar to the Knicks of the 90’s era, a couple of guys that can score and a bunch of goons who just bring pain and intensity rounding out the rest of the roster sounds like an identity the Knicks are going for. Opposing players often say they love playing at MSG. However, when the Knicks go back to that gritty, physical, and stingy defense, the peaches and cream feeling of playing at MSG will disappear. Instead, opponents will dread the Knicks, which is what us Knicks fans want. Portis is part of the goon committee alongside Marcus Morris. Knick fans will love them both.

https://youtu.be/ylxA5B78OKI

Bobby is slightly inconsistent yet skilled. He isn’t scared of big moments and he can knock down three-pointers. The wide-eyed center also possesses a decent mid-range game and pick-and-pop game. Portis is pretty good at finishing around the rim even though he lacks elite elevation.

New York Knicks and Their Ultra-Athletic Front-Court May Cause Matchup Problems for Opposing Teams.

The New York Knicks athletic frontcourt is young and special. Not many teams have the type of personnel which allows them to run a pick-and-roll involving their power-forward and center. The Knicks possess that kind of talent in their front-court.

As the 2019-20 NBA season approaches, many speculate that Mitchell Robinson and Julius Randle will be the Knicks front-court. Defensively Mitchell Robinson will terrorize his opponents at the rim and the three-point line. Randle defensively will benefit with Mitch Rob next to him. Offensively Mitch Rob will benefit with Randle next to him. A Randle to Mitchell Robinson lob will be tough for opposing defenses to stop but crowd-pleasing amongst Knick fans. Julius Randle also has a knack for making good reads and connecting with teammates with his excellent passing skills. Julius Randle is also very comfortable with bringing the ball up the court just like a point guard would. The Knicks newly acquired power forward will be a walking triple-double once he puts everything together. Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson complement each other on both ends of the court. If Julius Randle continues his improvement on his three-point shot, the sky is the limit.

The New York Knicks possess a high octane frontcourt with plenty of depth behind them in case they get into foul trouble or if injuries occur. Fizdale, of course, will take advantage of the depth by approaching each game with a goal of being aggressive on both ends of the court. Knicks have an ultra-athletic front-court and the Eastern Conference will get a taste of a young talented group sporting the orange and blue this upcoming season.

New York Knicks: How Real is The Elfrid Payton Effect?

New York Knicks sign Elfrid Payton,

New York Knicks point-guard Elfrid Payton Jr. could be just what the Knicks need. Last season, Payton’s former team, the New Orleans Pelicans started the season on fire winning four of their first five games. During the four game streak, Payton averaged 14.5-points and 7-assists per game. After the Pelicans began last season with the four game winning streak, their starting point-guard Elfrid Payton suffered a knee injury during a home game against the Brooklyn Nets. Payton then played only fifteen minutes during the following game against the Utah Jazz. The red hot Pelicans first loss of the season came against the Utah Jazz. Elfrid Payton would then miss thirty one of his next thirty two games. During the span of 31-games without Payton, the Pelicans had twelve wins and twenty nine losses (12-29).

Many Pelican fans felt as if Payton’s presence on the basketball court was crucial for the success of the team. He was able to get teammates involved and always ended up on the positive side in terms of plus-minus stats. Therefore, the question about the Elfrid Payton effect is definitely a legit question.

The New York Knicks have individuals that can score. Elfrid Payton’s presence and ability to run an offense will definitely be needed. Many are calling for Payton to start at point guard because of his influence on the offensive end of the floor. Once chemistry is built, it’s possible for the Knicks to score 130-plus points on any given night due to Payton’s savvy style, unselfish play and basketball IQ.

Overall, Elfrid Payton will be loved by Knick fans because of his selflessness and his decent defense. It doesn’t hurt that Scott Perry and Payton have history from another team. Its very possible that the Elfrid Payton effect if healthy can be crucial in making the Knicks offense unrecognizable for the better.

https://youtu.be/cqYqTDt9n64

Will the Brooklyn Nets rotate at the point guard position?

Spencer Dinwiddie, Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets have had various players at point guard over the years. It’s a position that generally has good depth in Brooklyn. I mean it makes sense. It’s arguably the most critical position on the court.

The point guard is the first line of defense. He directs the offense and sets the tempo of the game. He’s supposed to be an extension of the coach since the coach can’t be on the court directing things at all times.

This year is a little different for the Brooklyn Nets. There are only two players on the roster that naturally play the position — newly acquired member of the Nets Kyrie Irving and the man who recruited him, Spencer Dinwiddie. You could push the number to three with the addition of Jaylen Hands, but the rookie out of UCLA will probably spend his rookie year developing in Long Island.

So that leaves the question, what happens when one of the two main guys are in foul trouble? Or if both get into foul trouble? What happens during a load management day? Kyrie hasn’t exactly been the most healthy pg in the league, what happens if he has to miss games for an extended period?

These questions gave room for people to speculate specific point guards as viable options earlier on in the offseason. But with the Nets having 15 guaranteed contracts and the roster is more or less set in stone at this point, it’s clear Sean Marks believes the answer to these questions and the depth at point guard are on the roster.

The first person that comes to mind is Caris Levert. The young player has a diverse skill set. He can handle the rock and create for himself. His ability to break down a defender and penetrate, allow him to find the open man when the defense collapses. Levert has played some point guard during his tenure with the Nets, and the organization has liked what they’ve seen. Don’t be shocked to see Levert play someone for short stints this season.

The veteran Garrett Temple is another option at the point guard. Although seldom, he too has experienced at the point throughout his NBA career. Temple, like Caris, would give the Nets a more significant body to throw at opposing PGs, causing lots of matchup problems. And as a veteran, you don’t have to worry about him being overwhelmed with the responsibility of running a team or having someone take him out of his game. He’s seen a lot over the years so he can be a steady hand if need be.

Dzanan Musa is another option that Kenny Atkinson will probably look at to be a primary ball-handler and run the offense. Musa is a player the Brooklyn brass is very high on. They believe the young European player is oozing with potential and that he can be a very versatile piece to the roster. Through his young career in the NBA and before it, he hasn’t shown a knack for creating for others, but he does have a decent handle. He’d be an extremely tall PG for us, listed at 6’9″. During the Summer League, we saw him run the offense a little bit, and as he continues to learn the game, he should get better on that end. He’s probably the least likely option, but I expect to see him tested here during practices or possibly during garbage time.

Finally, the heart and soul of our bench mob, Theo Pinson might have his hand tried at being the floor general. Management might’ve spoken to him about him playing some point because Pinson seems to have his mind wrapped around the idea already. He opened up to Brian Lewis about it saying that he wants to, of course, do his job, but do it while taking care of the ball. He even mentioned playing the point guard position reporting:

I have the ball in my hands [as] the third point guard, knock down open shots — I think that’s the biggest thing for me. We’ve got a lot of guys who can create on our team, so being able to knock down shots and be respectable will just open up the floor for them.

So the Nets may not have that traditional third point guard to go to this season, but they have multiple viable options to hold down the fort if the need arises.