R.C. Buford

Knicks Rumors: Russell, Morris, Trier, Caruso, Ujiri

The Knicks continue to pursue Warriors point guard D’Angelo Russell with the trade deadline 24 hours away, according to Newsday’s Steve Popper and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links).

Reports earlier in the week had revealed the Knicks’ interest in Russell. However, those stories were published prior to Steve Mills‘ ouster from the front office, so it wasn’t clear if the remaining group – led by interim head of basketball operations Scott Perry – would continue to go after the fifth-year guard.

While today’s reports confirm that the Knicks remain interested in Russell, Charania hears that New York’s proposed package haven’t been enough to close the gap and meet Golden State’s asking price.

As we noted last night when we checked in on the Timberwolves’ pursuit of Russell, the Warriors were said to be seeking at least one of Minnesota’s own unprotected first-round picks — preferably in 2021, which is expected to be a strong draft than 2020. The Wolves were reportedly dangling Brooklyn’s lottery-protected 2020 first-round selection and their own protected ’20 first-rounder as part of their offer.

Presumably, the Warriors will be seeking at least one unprotected Knicks first-rounder in talks with New York. However, there’s no consensus within the Knicks’ front office on the team’s willingness to give up first-rounders to land D-Lo, tweets Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Newsday’s Steve Popper (Twitter link) is hearing that Marcus Morris will be moved before the deadline. Marc Stein of The New York Times conveys a similar sentiment, tweeting that the Knicks know they can trade Morris and now it’s just a matter of where.
  • In addition to touching base about Kyle Kuzma, the Knicks and Lakers have also discussed Allonzo Trier and Alex Caruso, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv. Those talks took place before Mills’ ouster and didn’t advance, sources tell Begley.
  • According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, Knicks owner James Dolan would like to move fairly quickly on the team’s front office search, possibly so there’s a new president in place for a head coaching search in the spring.
  • An in-season search would reduce the likelihood of the Knicks landing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, Berman notes. However, a source suggests to Berman that might be okay with Dolan, who values loyalty and may not want to push Ujiri to break his contract in Toronto. Dolan may also been wary of Ujiri using the Knicks for leverage in extension talks with the Raptors, the source tells Berman.
  • Within a separate SNY.tv article examining possible front office targets for the Knicks, Begley writes that R.C. Buford (Spurs) and Kevin Pritchard (Pacers) aren’t realistic options. Both executives are on long-term deals and Buford has a CEO title in San Antonio.
  • Recently hired by the Knicks as a brand consultant, Steve Stoute is a “prominent voice” within the organization right now, according to Popper (Twitter link), who says Stoute is involved in the front office search.

Southwest Notes: Gentry, Executives, Covington

The Pelicans entered the season without championship expectations as the team embraces year one of the post-Anthony Davis era. However, not many expected the team to have a record of 6-21, and some of the blame for that poor performance falls on Alvin Gentry. Still, the head coach is confident that he can turn things around and isn’t worried about the possibility of being let go before he’s given the chance to do so.

“I’ve been in the league 31 years, I don’t ever worry about anything that I don’t have any control over,” Gentry said (via William Guillory of The Athletic). “I don’t have any control over that. You would have to ask that question to the people that have control. I just know I’m going to come in to work every day and do everything I can to get this turned around.”

Here’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Ian Begley of SNY.tv writes that it’s “highly unlikely” R.C. Buford would leave the Spurs to take a potential top role with the Knicks. Buford is under contract for multiple seasons after the 2019/20 campaign, per Begley.
  • In the same piece, Begley names Mavericks GM/president Donnie Nelson as a candidate for the Knicks‘ potential top executive role. The scribe hears that Nelson is an at-will employee, so New York wouldn’t have to offer Dallas any compensation to hire him as the team would with Masai Ujiri or other executives under contract.
  • The Rockets should do whatever it takes to land Robert Covington in a trade, Kelly Iko of The Athletic contends. Iko believes RoCo would mesh well with James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Latest On Knicks’ Potential Front Office Search

The Knicks are planning to make a run at top Raptors executive Masai Ujiri and Marc Stein of The New York Times reports (via his latest newsletter) that there are many around the league who believe Ujiri can be lured to New York.

Even though the Knicks have been laughable on the court, the prestige of the franchise and of winning it all in the arguably the greatest city in the world carries weight with top executives in the NBA. Entering Madison Square Garden’s latest rehabilitation project and coming out with a championship remains a unique and coveted prize.

Regardless of whom New York lands, the franchise’s next architect will face his share of challenges. It’s not certain if owner James Dolan is finally ready to give his top executive something that resembles “real autonomy,” Stein writes. Even Phil Jackson, who was relieved of his duties before his contract was up, didn’t get nearly enough freedom to make internal moves that could have impacted the culture. Stein adds that Dolan has given zero indication that he will sell the team.

In addition to Ujiri, Stein mentions R.C. Buford (Spurs), Bob Myers (Warriors) and Donnie Nelson (Mavericks) as names to keep an eye on when it comes to a potential top executive search in New York.

Coaching Rumors: D’Antoni, Gentry, Boylen, Spurs

The Rockets are off to a reasonably strong start this season, with their 15-7 record good for fourth in the Western Conference. However, Houston’s play hasn’t necessarily made Mike D’Antoni‘s position as head coach any more secure.

According to John Hollinger and Sam Amick of The Athletic, a source with direct knowledge of the Rockets’ situation expressed “serious skepticism” that D’Antoni will still be the head coach in Houston beyond this season. In the view of that source, any result short of a Rockets championship this season probably means the odds are “slim” that D’Antoni returns in 2020/21.

While it seems unlikely that the Rockets would make an in-season coaching change unless things really go south, a few teams around the NBA may look ahead to next spring and consider the possibility of pursuing D’Antoni should he become available, according to Hollinger and Amick.

Here are a few more head coaching notes and rumors from The Athletic’s duo:

  • A number of factors are working in Alvin Gentry‘s favor when it comes to his job security. The Pelicans haven’t been healthy, head of basketball operations David Griffin has a history with Gentry, and team owner Gayle Benson also thinks highly of New Orleans’ head coach. Plus, Gentry is under contract for the 2020/21 season, and his salary for next year is believed to be worth $5MM+, a source tells Hollinger and Amick.
  • League sources tell The Athletic that Bulls head of basketball operations John Paxson continues to be a fan of Jim Boylen and his “tough-love approach.” However, Boylen’s defensive scheme has drawn some criticism and Chicago has the league’s 29th-ranked offense. According to Hollinger and Amick, Boylen also remains unpopular in the Bulls’ locker room. The Athletic duo wonders if an organizational overhaul that affects both Boylen and the front office could be in the cards next year if the team’s struggles continue.
  • League sources continue to speculate that Kansas head coach Bill Self could be a potential successor for Gregg Popovich when the Spurs‘ longtime head coach opts to retire, per Hollinger and Amick. Self has been close friends with San Antonio executive R.C. Buford since they attended college together at Oklahoma State.

Brian Wright Becomes Spurs GM

JULY 23: The moves are now official, the Spurs confirmed in a press release.

JULY 20: The Spurs are promoting assistant general manager Brian Wright to the role of GM, Jabari Young of The Athletic reports. R.C. Buford will remain in the organization and Wright will report directly to him, Young adds.

Buford, 58, has been in San Antonio’s organization since 1994 and has served as the team’s GM since 2002. The Spurs have won four championships with Buford running the front office.

Buford will likely help oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment under his new title, Young adds. He and Gregg Popovich are expected to continue to oversee the team and have final say on personnel decisions.

Wright was hired by the Spurs in his current capacity during the summer of 2016. He was previously an assistant GM with the Pistons after an eight-year stint in the Magic organization.

Initially, Wright focused mainly on scouting with San Antonio. He’s been more active over the past year, fielding trade calls for Kawhi Leonard, leading the negotiations to re-sign Rudy Gay and engineering the sign-and-trade involving DeMarre Carroll, according to Young.

The restructuring of the front office could lead to an additional hire, Young adds.

Latest On Sixers’ GM Search

After working their way through the NBA draft and the first wave of 2018 free agency without a general manager, the Sixers figure to shift their focus to filling that open front office position in the coming weeks. However, principal owner Josh Harris cautions that the search may not be completed quickly, as Keith Pompey of Philly.com details.

“I think it’s going to take a while to find the right person,” Harris said on Monday. “I hate to keep talking about it, but we really need to find the right person who can develop the special culture. It’s very consensus-oriented.

As Pompey explains, the Sixers want to take a collaborative approach to key personnel and roster decisions, meaning any serious candidate for the GM opening will have to be willing to surrender total power on those decisions. The team’s goal is to find a candidate that will mesh with head coach Brett Brown, vice president of basketball operations Ned Cohen, and other front office executives like Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva.

“Certainly there are other ways to do it, where there’s a big, strong leader,” Harris said. “He or she makes every decision, and there’s many roads to run. That’s just not the road we are going to take.”

The Sixers’ reluctance to give total decision-making control to their next GM may turn off some top candidates, but Pompey still identifies a handful of noteworthy names receiving consideration. Multiple sources tell Pompey that former Nets and Nuggets GM Kiki VanDeWeghe has expressed interest in the job. Spurs GM R.C. Buford has also been cited as a possible target, according to Pompey, who notes that it would be difficult to lure Buford out of San Antonio. Of the Sixers’ internal candidates, Cohen probably has the best case, Pompey adds.

Harris suggested that the Sixers would like to hire a general manager who has previous GM experience, adding that a proven “track record” is a plus, though he acknowledged that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker.

Philadelphia has been on the lookout for a new general manager since a scandal involving multiple burner Twitter accounts ultimately led to Bryan Colangelo‘s ouster. Brown is serving as the team’s interim GM.

Latest On Kawhi Leonard, Spurs

While there has been tension between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard‘s camp this season, the relationship between the two sides used to be strong. According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright, Spurs sources point to the departure of agent Brian Elfus in 2016 as a turning point in the relationship between the two sides.

As Shelburne and Wright detail, Elfus co-represented Leonard along with Mitch Frankel up until 2016. Since then, Frankel and Leonard’s uncle Dennis Robertson have handled matters, and the relationship hasn’t been nearly as healthy, Spurs sources tell ESPN.

According to Shelburne and Wright, the Spurs have become worried that Leonard’s group has an ulterior motive to fray the relationship between the player and team, perhaps pushing the star forward to a larger market such as Los Angeles, New York, or Philadelphia. L.A. is Leonard’s hometown, while Robertson lives in New Jersey.

ESPN’s in-depth look into the Leonard situation in San Antonio includes several more interesting details, and should be read in full. However, here are a few highlights from the piece, via Shelburne and Wright:

  • As Shelburne and Wright note, one root issue of the tension between the Spurs and Leonard’s camp is their disagreement over the nature of his quadriceps injury. Leonard’s group believes the issue is “an ossification or hardening in the area” where he has endured multiple quad bruises, which in turn has affected the tendons connecting the muscle to the knee. The Spurs have referred to the injury as quadriceps tendinopathy, a disease of the tendon that has a degenerative effect on the muscle. The two diagnoses call for different treatments.
  • When Leonard returned for nine games in the middle of the season, he was only shut down again after seeing Dr. Jonathan Glashow, a New York-based orthopedic surgeon. Frankel and Robertson arranged that consultation, and Glashow’s team has guided Leonard’s rehab ever since, leaving the Spurs frustrated at having lost control of the forward’s medical care. “It’s out of our hands,” one Spurs staffer told ESPN.
  • Leonard’s advisors – who felt that the Spurs resisted considering outside opinions – have also been frustrated by their belief that Gregg Popovich has public questioned their handling of the situation. “They’re alienating him,” one Leonard confident told ESPN. “They’re making him look bad. You have this seamless transition from the [Tim] Duncan era to the new era, this homegrown superstar. Like why would you alienate him?”
  • A source close to R.C. Buford told ESPN that the Spurs’ GM is “losing sleep” over how and why the team’s relationship with Leonard has frayed.
  • Although the Spurs remain internally optimistic that Popovich and Leonard can work things out during the offseason, Shelburne and Wright suggest it remains unclear whether team ownership would approve a super-max contract offer, given how things played out in 2017/18. There’s also no clear answer yet on if Leonard would accept such an offer.
  • Following the death of Erin Popovich, Leonard was ready to leave New York and attend a Spurs game to support Gregg Popovich if the head coach had returned to the team’s bench. However, when Popovich didn’t return, Leonard ultimately stayed in New York to continue his rehab.

West Notes: Randle, Noel, Donovan

With all of the hype surrounding the Lakers these days, those who’ve overlooked Julius Randle can be forgiven. As Frank Urbina of Hoops Hype writes, however, the underrated big man could still be a viable component of Los Angeles’ intriguing young core.

While his effective field-goal percentage and value over replacement player figures have left much to be desired, the versatile forward is in position to take yet another leap forward in his third full season with the Lakers.

In 2016/17, Randle became just the ninth forward in NBA history to average 13.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game, a testament to his playmaking ability and tendency to find his Lakers teammates.

What’s more, the Lakers big man has shown an impressive commitment to conditioning and has the Instagram account to prove it.

There’s more from the Western Conference:

  • We wrote yesterday that Nerlens Noel unexpectedly signed his qualifying offer with the Mavs after supposedly turning down a four-year, $70MM offer. At the time of the signing, ESPN’s Chris Haynes tweeted that the four-year deal was “non-existent.” Shortly after news broke, Noel’s former agent Happy Walters responded to the Haynes tweet, insisting that the deal was in fact extended and rejected, however that doesn’t necessarily mean that the offer was still on the table when Noel’s new representation, Rich Paul and Klutch Sports Group, took over in the negotiation process. For a breakdown of the process, check out Isaac Harris of The Smoking Cuban‘s recap.
  • Former Spurs guard Blake Ahearn has returned to the organization he spent his three-game career with as a head coach of the Spurs’ G League affiliate. Ahearn recently spoke with Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News and shed light on how much of an impact R.C. Buford and the team’s front office made on him.
  • Big man Steven Adams and his Thunder head coach, Billy Donovan, have spent time bonding in Adams’ native New Zealand, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes. “For me, there’s an incredible power with a group of people that are connected in what they’re doing,” Donovan said. “I feel like my job, my role, my responsibility – whether it be during the season or in the offseason – is to try and create those connections. Because if we’re all unified, connected and moving in the right direction, it has a chance to be something really powerful.

Southwest Notes: Green, Gentry, Harden

The Grizzlies may have to choose between Zach Randolph and JaMychal Green, Michael Wallace of Grind City Media writes. The scribe details Green’s first season as a starter in Memphis and what could come next as the offseason nears.

Given that Green is a restricted free agent this summer, the Grizzlies will have the option to match any offers he can scrounge up on the market. This, of course, means that teams like the Nets, Magic and Sixers with plenty of cap space can sign the forward to a lofty deal in hopes that Memphis doesn’t match.

Green’s defensive versatility, coupled with his three-ball make him a particularly appealing asset for a Grizzlies team with an aging core but foul trouble and a quick temper limited his impact.

If, as Wallace suggests, the team truly has an either/or situation on their hands, general manager Chris Wallace will need to choose between the intriguing 26-year-old hybrid forward and a Grizzlies legend.

There’s more from the Southwest:

  • Although the Pelicans never quite turned their season around with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis like many expected, head coach Alvin Gentry believes he’ll be back with the club to give it another shot in 2017/18. Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate relays the comments from a podcast at The Vertical.
  • The Spurs may have achieved sporting immortality, J.A. Adande of ESPN writes. The feature highlights what Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford have built in San Antonio and how it transcends any individual player or players.
  • After their season ended Thursday, Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon that one way he could look to improve upon Houston’s 55-win season is to better understand James Harden‘s limitations. “All great players think they can do everything,” D’Antoni said. “Maybe he does need to take a game off here and there. ‘Hey, you’re nicked up a little bit, don’t play, maybe.’ Something to talk about, but that’s also his greatness, too. So it’s hard. It’s very delicate.

And-Ones: Durant, Front Offices, Combine

Kevin Durant believes it’s unfair to criticize the top players for sitting out games, Chris Haynes of ESPN.com relays. “The truth about it is, it’s only for a couple of players in the league,” Durant told Haynes. “They don’t care if the 13th man on the bench rests. It’s only for like [LeBron James], [Stephen Curry], [James Harden], [Russell Westbrook]. It’s only for like five players. So you want a rule just for those five players?”

“It’s hard for you to just craft a rule out for the top players. I’ve seen guys that’s not even in the playoffs resting, sitting out for the rest of the season. And it’s nothing against those guys. I’m not trying to bash them or anything. [Suns center] Tyson Chandler is out. They got him sitting out for the rest of the year. I’m sure he wants to play, but they’re not saying anything about Tyson Chandler, so it’s hard for me to really talk about this. It’s not a league-wide rule. It’s not a league-wide concern.”

Durant added that he empathizes with fans who miss out on seeing their favorite player when they come to the arena. “I see it from the fans’ perspective and the players’ perspective,” Durant said. “I’m caught right in the middle.”

While the 2013/14 league MVP feels bad for those fans who show up the arena, he gives the situation some perspective.

“On the other hand, there’s a lot of people that can’t even afford tickets to the game. So, I kind of feel sorry for you, but then I don’t when I look at it that way,” he added. “Your parents spend hard-earned money, I understand you want to see your favorite players, but there’s some people who don’t even get a chance to watch a game live.”

Durant hasn’t played since February because of a knee injury, but the team recently announced that he has made “very good progress.” The small forward could see court-time again before the end of the season.

While we wait for Durant to get healthy so his fans can see him play, check out some notes from around the league:

  • ESPN.com examined every front office in the league and ranked them from top to bottom based on the guidance and leadership each organization provides and how it affects success on the court. Unsurprisingly, team president Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford received the highest mark. Which team received the worst mark? The Kings came in slightly below the Knicks for worst front office in the league.
  • Thunder assistant GM Mike Winger, Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon are among the executives who are viewed as potential nominees for GM roles should they become available, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com writes. Arnovitz adds that Wright may be a few seasons away from landing a gig, but those within the league believe he has what it takes to do the job well.
  • JK Management announced that it will hold the first annual Professional Basketball Combine at IMG Academy. The PBC will take place in the days following the league’s official combine in Chicago.