Michael Jordan

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Knicks, Jordan, Burks, Birch

Nets superstar James Harden still isn’t close to returning from a hamstring injury that has forced him to miss 11 straight games, Brian Lewis writes for the New York Post. Harden has taken minor steps in his recovery, but hasn’t done any high-intensity work.

“He’s here with us traveling,” coach Steve Nash said of Harden. “He was shooting (Tuesday) morning and just starting to build up what his capacity is. He’s not doing any high-intensity stuff, but he’s shooting and doing all his strength and rehabilitation work.

“So positive signs there, but still, I think, a ways to go.”

Despite dealing with injuries throughout the season, Brooklyn currently holds the best record in the Eastern Conference at 42-20. The team will be seeking its fourth straight win in a road game against the Pacers on Thursday night.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division today:

  • Anthony Olivieri of ESPN.com details the Knicks‘ secret pursuit of Bulls legend Michael Jordan during his playing days. Jordan ultimately bypassed joining New York, spending 13 seasons with Chicago and two seasons with Washington.
  • Knicks guard Alec Burks has rejoined the team after a stint in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, the club announced on social media. Burks has averaged 12.6 points, 4.5 rebounds in 44 contests (25.8 MPG) this season, but has missed the team’s last six games.
  • Raptors center Khem Birch has fit in well with his new club in limited time, Eric Koreen of The Athletic writes. Birch most recently finished with 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks in a win over the Cavaliers, playing well on both ends of the floor. “He’s been a good factor here,” coach Nick Nurse said postgame. “I thought he was solid, too, defensively. I can remember maybe one double-team he went a little too quick on that they cut back door on us, but other than that, he was pretty mistake-free down there, too. So good game for him. He’s stringing ’em (together), playing well.”

And-Ones: Adebayo, Olympics, NBA Foundation, Tsai

Although he didn’t make the final 12-man squad that took part in the 2019 World Cup, Heat center Bam Adebayo participated in Team USA’s training camp leading up to that event and received consideration to represent the U.S. in the international competition.

With the Tokyo Olympics on tap for the summer of 2021, however, another national program is hoping to recruit Adebayo away from USA Basketball, according to Colin Udoh of ESPN, who says Nigeria wants to add the big man to its Olympic roster. Adebayo’s father is Nigerian, Udoh notes.

“Having Bam in our national team is a possibility that we are considering as a federation ahead of the 2020 Olympics and beyond,” Nigeria Basketball Federation president Musa Kida said in a statement to ESPN. “We are excited about how far he has gone and what he can achieve in his career with D’Tigers if he chooses to play for Nigeria.”

Nigeria has already earned an Olympic berth and – assuming next season’s schedule allows for it – is expected to feature NBA players such as Josh Okogie, Al-Farouq Aminu, Chimezie Metu, and potentially Spencer Dinwiddie. It remains to be seen if the team will be able to land Adebayo, but he has said in the past that he’d consider Nigeria if asked. He also may be more open to the idea after being cut from last year’s Team USA roster.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA and NBPA issued a joint press release today announcing the board of directors for the NBA Foundation, a new organization dedicated to driving “economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement.” In addition to Harrison Barnes and Tobias Harris, whose involvement was previously reported, the NBA Foundation’s board of directors will be made up of Adam Silver, Michele Roberts, and four team owners (Gayle Benson, Tony Ressler, Larry Tanenbaum, and Michael Jordan).
  • As we relayed earlier today, China’s CCTV has lifted its year-long ban on NBA broadcasts, citing the league’s role in fighting COVID-19 in China as a primary reason for that decision. NetsDaily suggests Nets owner Joe Tsai may have played a key part in that effort, having sent a $3.7MM donation to China in February to help fight the pandemic.
  • In an Insider-only article for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks lists the trade assets held by all 30 teams, including moveable players, surplus draft picks, and trade exceptions.

Michael Jordan Acting As Key Liaison Between Players, Owners

His team hasn’t played a game since March, but Hornets owner Michael Jordan has emerged as an important go-between for NBA team owners and the players at the Walt Disney World campus, writes Jackie MacMullan of ESPN.

As MacMullan explains, Jordan is the NBA’s only Black majority owner, and his experience as a player allows him to connect with current players in a way that other franchise owners may not be able to. According to MacMullan, Jordan spoke to NBPA president Chris Paul before this morning’s player and owner meetings to get a better understanding of what players hope to achieve going forward.

“Michael is the perfect person to be in this role,” one league official told ESPN. “He’s been a high-profile player who has won championships. He’s also the owner of a small-market team. He has great credibility both with the players and the owners.”

During Thursday morning’s Board of Governors meeting, Jordan was a “voice of reason,” according to MacMullan, who says the former Bulls superstar urged his fellow owners to listen to players’ frustrations and concerns before offering their own solutions. League sources tell ESPN that team owners unanimously supported the players and spent much of their meeting discussing how to amplify player voices.

The NBPA had been scheduled to meet this afternoon at 4:00pm eastern time – with two or three reps from each team participating in the discussion – to iron out the issues they want to address with team owners, tweets Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated. A meeting between players and owners will follow at 5:00pm, with Jordan – who is the chair of the labor relations committee – set to participate.

Reports have indicated that many players favored continuing the season due to the platform the restart has created to raise awareness of social injustices, and MacMullan writes that a number of owners – including Jordan – expressed a similar sentiment.

Of course, it’s worth noting that financial considerations will also incentivize the two sides to remain on the same page going forward. Sources tell The Athletic that players would have lost approximately 15% of this year’s salary if they’d chosen to end the season, and would have been risking about 35% of their salaries for next season. The lost revenues associated with a stoppage would have hit team owners hard as well.

Adam Silver Addresses NBA Return

NBA commissioner Adam Silver appeared on TNT’s Inside The NBA this evening to discuss the league’s officially confirmed 22-team return this summer. Silver touched on a potpourri of topics.

Though more radical season structuring options were discussed, Silver hailed Hornets owner and former five-time NBA MVP Michael Jordan as being an important voice in helping pass the current resumption plan. Silver mentioned that Jordan did not want the league’s return to feel “gimmicky” with excessive playoff format tweaks, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer (Twitter link).

Hall of Fame player-turned-broadcaster Charles Barkley asked Silver about the NBA’s protocol for dealing with a player testing positive for COVID-19, as cited by Tania Ganguli of the LA Times (Twitter link). Silver mentioned that this had been discussed with health officials. The league would not need to pause play, but instead would isolate the player and use contact tracing and daily testing to contain the spread.

Silver delicately handled questions about how the league would deal with older coaches on team benches, mentioning that “certain coaches” might not be able to be present on the sidelines, per an exchange captured by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich are the three head coaches who, at 65 and older, would be at elevated risk of serious COVID-19 complications were they to contract the virus. Assistants like Jeff Bzdelik (Pelicans) and Lionel Hollins (Clippers) also fall within that age bracket.

Gentry voiced his displeasure with the notion of being separated from his team, per Ramon Shelburne of ESPN (Twitter link). “That doesn’t make sense,” Gentry said. “How can I coach that way?”

D’Antoni also questioned the idea of singling out older coaches with more protective measures, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). “I am sure they want to keep everyone safe,” D’Antoni said. “But to start singling people out with more risk, well, I would hope they wouldn’t want to get into that.”

Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle tells Woj (Twitter links) that he talked to Silver and the commissioner “admitted that he jumped the gun” with his comments on older coaches.

“It’s entirely possible that an NBA coach in his 60s or 70s could be healthier than someone in their 30s or 40s,” Carlisle said. “The conversation should never be solely about a person’s age. Adam assured me that we would work through this together to help determine what is both safe and fair for all of our coaches.”

Southeast Notes: Hornets, Jordan, Heat, Wizards

After the final two episodes of The Last Dance aired on Sunday, Scott Fowler of The Charlotte Observer writes that the second act of Michael Jordan‘s life in basketball has been “the polar opposite” of the first. While ESPN’s 10-part documentary series accurately portrayed Jordan as a wildly successful player on the court, he has been largely unsuccessful as a team owner since gaining control of the Hornets.

As Fowler acknowledges, a team owner doesn’t have nearly the same impact on night-to-night results as a star player would, but Jordan has been heavily involved in the Hornets’ personnel decisions. Since Jordan took over as the organization’s majority owner, Charlotte has just three winning seasons and hasn’t advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Fowler wonders if Jordan has any more appreciation for former Bulls GM Jerry Krause than he did during his playing days, since the current Hornets owner could have used his own version of Krause since arriving in Charlotte.

Here’s more from around the Southeast:

  • There are teams in the NBA that wouldn’t be significantly affected if the NBA’s cap projection for 2020/21 (and potentially 2021/22) dips by a few million dollars. However, the Heat would feel the impact of such a change. Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald examines how the NBA’s new financial reality could alter the club’s approach to free agency in 2020 and 2021.
  • Two sources close to Heat players praised the way the franchise has been handling the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. Team president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra have both remained in constant contact with players and have advised them to put their health and families’ health first, Jackson writes. “Guys consistently have been getting attended to,” one source told The Herald.
  • Due to a positive trend in COVID-19 cases in D.C., Washington’s stay-at-home order may no longer extend through at least June 8, as previously anticipated. That could be good news for the Wizards, according to Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington, who notes that the team is still waiting for government clearance to reopen its practice facility.

LeBron James Talks Michael Jordan, Cowboys’ Interest

The LeBron JamesMichael Jordan debate will continue raging among basketball fans, media, and those close to the game for years, but the Lakers star would rather think about other things — like playing alongside Air Jordan.

“Me personally, the way I play the game — team first — I feel like my best assets work perfectly with Mike,” James said (as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com relays). “Mike is an assassin. When it comes to playing the game of basketball, scoring the way he scored the ball, [then] my ability to pass, my ability to read the game plays and plays and plays in advance.”

James has been watching The Last Dance and admitted that it inspires him. James said he could envision the two superstars finding success together on the court.

“I saw the things (Scottie Pippen) was able to do with Mike. I just think it would’ve been a whole nother level,” James said. “Pip was one of my favorite players … It would’ve been a whole other level with me being a point forward, with me being that point forward alongside of him during those Chicago runs.”

The three-time NBA champ also touched on his time playing pickup with Jordan years ago. James first got a chance to play with the Space Jam star as an 18-year-old after signing his deal with Nike.

“We used to play around 9 p.m. The camp would end … and we would stay along with the college kids that he would invite,” James said. “We would get a good-ass run in for about an hour, an hour (and) 15. I was on the same team with MJ, and we didn’t lose a game.”

James grew up a Bulls fan, watching Jordan. He also grew up a Cowboys fan, watching the NFL squad, and he considered switching sports, akin to Mike’s baseball stint, back in 2011, as we passed along earlier today on Pro Football Rumors. Dallas even had a contract ready for James during the NBA’s lockout, but the Akron native opted to stay on the court.

Community Shootaround: The Last Dance

On Sunday night, ESPN aired the final two hours of The Last Dance, its 10-part documentary series that told the story of the Bulls‘ 1997/98 season, with a number of entertaining digressions along the way.

With nearly every North American professional sport on a hiatus for the time being, the Michael Jordan-centric series was well-timed. It dominated the discussion among basketball fans for five weeks while appealing to more casual viewers as well.

For older viewers, it was an opportunity to relive the Bulls’ dynasty of the 1990s while perhaps learning some new details along the way. For younger viewers who didn’t get a chance to follow Jordan in his prime, it was perhaps more illuminating, offering the opportunity to explore iconic NBA moments such as MJ’s series-winning shot over Cleveland in 1989, his rivalry with the Bad-Boy Pistons, and his return from an 18-month stint as a baseball player.

Even now that the documentary has finished airing, there are no shortage of topics to discuss. For instance, did 1998 really have to be the “last dance” for that Bulls dynasty? ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne explored this morning whether the team could have been kept intact beyond that season.

ESPN’s Royce Young, meanwhile, notes that Jordan said in the last installment of the doc that he would’ve been willing to sign up for one more year if the rest of the team’s key players were brought back too; on the other hand, ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link) expresses some skepticism that Scottie Pippen would have been on board to return when he had a massive offer from Houston waiting for him in free agency.

Of course, the ongoing Jordan vs. LeBron James debate hasn’t lost any momentum in recent weeks, though an ESPN survey suggests that The Last Dance may have helped tip the scales in further in Jordan’s favor when it comes to public opinion. According to ESPN’s poll, 73% of respondents now believe Jordan is the superior overall player.

We want to know what you think. Could the Bulls have won a seventh title if they’d brought back the 1998 team, or was it the right call for that version of the club to go out on top? Did The Last Dance change – or solidify – your stance in the Jordan/LeBron debate?

Outside of those topics, we want to know what you thought about the documentary in general. What were you favorite moments or episodes? Were you surprised by anything you learned over the course of those 10 episodes? Were you disappointed by details that may have been left out? Did you think the story of Jordan and the Bulls was well told?

And, of course, do you buy Jordan’s claim that he didn’t really push off Bryon Russell in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts on The Last Dance!

Walt Frazier Defends Old Jordan Clip

One of the trending takeaways from The Last Dance was Knicks great Walt Frazier saying Michael Jordan wasn’t going to win in the league. After Jordan was drafted by the Bulls in 1984, Frazier said that the former UNC standout was “not seven foot, so he’s not going to carry a team in the NBA.”

Frazier heard that his words were in the documentary and defended his view this week.

“Early on, I wasn’t that familiar with him in college,’’ Frazier told Marc Berman of The New York Post. “Anyone who plays for Dean Smith, he holds them back. Vince Carter, (James) Worthy. You never know the versatility of these guys when they play for North Carolina. He keeps them in a team system. No one knew he was going to do what he did.”

“He broke his foot (his second season), I was like, ‘I don’t know,'” Frazier recalled. “And he was having trouble and complaining because he couldn’t beat the Pistons (in the late ’80s). He was crying he thought the general manager didn’t know what he was doing. That was when I still wasn’t sure if he’d be able to carry a team and make the next step. Then all of a sudden it happened.”

Frazier helped the Knicks win their first title in 1970. Years later, during the Bulls’ championship runs, Jordan knocked out New York on several occasions while Frazier was broadcasting for his former squad. He admits that he hasn’t watched the first two episodes of The Last Dance.

“I’m in enough pain with the coronavirus — I didn’t want to watch Jordan,’’ Frazier said. The Hall of Fame point guard then detailed his thoughts on who he thinks is the best player ever.

“There were only two players they ever changed the rules for in pro basketball – George Mikan, and Wilt Chamberlain — widening the lane for them,” Frazier said. “The two guys they had to neutralize by changing some aspect of the game. If not for Chamberlain, nobody would’ve heard of any of us. I don’t know if there would’ve been an NBA. If not for Wilt and Bill Russell. I don’t know if the NBA would’ve made it.

“I would find it hard to say Mike. Mike is right there with those guys, but if I had to pick, it would be Chamberlain.”

Bulls Notes: Jordan, Management, Butler

Happy Last Dance Day! Tonight is the first of 10 episodes of the Michael Jordan documentary. In honor of the occasion, allow me to pass along one of my favorite quotes from Jordan:

“It’s heavy duty to try to do everything and please everybody. My job was to go out there and play the game of basketball as best I can. People may not agree with that. I can’t live with what everyone’s impression of what I should or what I shouldn’t do.”

It’s a quote that I vividly remember reading before making a leap into sports full-time, leaving the comfy confines of a corporate position. It’s something I recall every time I make a move that hopefully brings me closer to my goal of being an NBA GM (dreamers can still dream), and it’s a reminder that everything you do is not going to please everyone, so excuse the bad analogy, but shoot your shot.

While we await an inside look into Jordan’s final season with the Bulls, let’s take a look at some notes from Chicago:

  • Sam Smith of NBA.com explains how the conflict between management, players, and coaches helped motivate Jordan’s final championship season with the Bulls. Jackson and Jordan knew they had to go out as winners and the internal feuds fueled the team.
  • Chicago feared paying Jimmy Butler the supermax and made one of the bolder franchise pivots over the past decade when they traded away the All-Star for a package of young prospects, ESPN’s Zach Lowe contends. The Bulls felt that a new core would bring them closer to championship contention, though they have yet to make the playoffs since trading Butler.
  • In the same piece, Lowe argues that better play-makers – whether acquired via outside acquisition or internal improvements – would help the Bulls’ young frontcourt improve. Neither Lauri Markkanen nor Wendell Carter Jr. has played at a high level for consistent stretches during their respective young NBA careers.

Atlantic Notes: Randle, Durant, Prince, Walker

New Knicks president Leon Rose is open to dealing Julius Randle despite Randle being a former client when Rose was a player agent, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Rose would also be willing to shed Randle’s contract after next season, even though Randle has a partial guarantee of $4MM on his $19.8MM salary for the 2021/22 season. Prior to Rose taking over, the Knicks had discussions with Charlotte before February’s trade deadline involving Randle, who reportedly upset some teammates this season with his ball-dominant style.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Members of the Knicks organization last summer expressed confidence that Kevin Durant would have signed with them if he hadn’t suffered a ruptured right Achilles tendon in the NBA Finals, Ian Begley of SNY.TV reports. If that were true, Durant would have convinced Kyrie Irving to sign with New York instead of the Nets or recruited a different star to join him, Begley continues. The Knicks were not prepared last summer to offer Durant a max deal due to concerns from owner James Dolan regarding the injury. However, Durant has said publicly that he didn’t give the Knicks much consideration anyway, Begley notes.
  • Forward Taurean Prince took a step back this season and that could lead to a dilemma for the Nets, Zach Lowe of ESPN opines. Brooklyn gave Prince a two-year, $25.25MM rookie scale extension prior to the season that kicks in next season. He could have been a trade chip this summer in a package to bring in another star but it’s unclear what kind of value he has now, Lowe adds.
  • Kemba Walker would have remained with Charlotte for less than a super-max deal last summer but he knew that wouldn’t happen after meeting with Hornets owner Michael Jordan, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe writes. Walker may have stayed put if the Hornets had offered him five years and approximately $180MM. The Celtics emerged as the most likely destination because they were already a playoff team and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had been enamored with Walker ever since the point guard’s days at the University of Connecticut, Himmelsbach adds.