The Starting Five: Dr. Phil and the patients in need
MAR 13, 2014 2:35p ET
CAN PHIL FIX THE KNICKS?
If the Phil we're referencing turned out to be Dr. Phil McGraw, he might have a fighting chance.
But Phil Jackson -- no matter how many rings or how much Zen power he can muster -- will have a difficult time restoring the New York franchise to on-court prominence.
The legendary coach, who's supposed to be officially hired by the Knicks at any moment, has several issues working against him. And they have little to do with the bad contracts still on the books, Carmelo Anthony on the verge of free agency and the lack of a first-round pick in the bountiful 2014 NBA Draft. After all, in just another year, some cap flexibility will be possible and the Knicks will be first-round draft participants.
What makes running the Knicks really tricky is the proposed illusion that Jackson would have autonomy without interference from franchise kingpin James Dolan.
But even if Dolan sort of disappears, what should we expect from Phil if he's not coaching? Aside from the thrill of playing in Madison Square Garden and making money, would Jackson's presence (occurring mostly in Montana and L.A.) pull free agents to the Knicks? Would Jackson-appointed coaches and talent evaluators really be able to replicate his ability to make star players pull in the same direction?
Not through conference calls.
LAKERS OR KNICKS?
In terms of which franchise will take longer to rehabilitate, an untidy portion of this answer depends on whether Lakers overlord Jim Buss is more toxic than New York counterpart Jim Dolan.
It's doubtful that even Phil Jackson could spirit the Lakers back into contention any time soon . . . as an administrator. He'd have a much greater chance to impact either team from the bench.
Anyway, let's go for a tie on the toxicity question and give the Lakers a better shot at fixing things more quickly. And that simply is a product of the Lakers reaching some cap freedom one year earlier and having their first-round pick in the supposedly robust 2014 NBA Draft. (On a side note, we're wondering if big-market-related draft conspiracies will thrive now that David Stern has retired.)
At the moment, the Lakers -- despite recent contributions from Jodie Meeks -- sit sixth in the Ping-Pong-ball selection hierarchy. Unless there's an intrusion from injury (hello, Joel Embiid) and/or some surprising prospect decisions to stay in school, the Lakers should have the chance to select a young player with the potential for stardom.
Well, L.A. sharpies believe this could happen if general manager Mitch Kupchak has more evaluation ability than Buss.
The answer to this particular question also includes what happens in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes. With seemingly enough cap potential to put 'Melo on the floor with a hypothetically healthy Kobe Bryant and a hotshot rookie, the Lakers could be in business.
Anthony, who said Jackson's status won't impact where he decides to work, could also choose to stay in New York and make more money.
Then again, to some, that would give the Lakers an even bigger advantage.
WHAT'S UP WITH GRIFFIN?
Well, the "up" includes scoring average, free-throw percentage, overall efficiency and critical perception of Clippers forward Blake Griffin.
But, aside from elevated performance, Griffin has reached critical-exposure mass through yet another confrontation with an opponent. On Wednesday night, it was Warriors center Jermaine O'Neal, who was waiting for the Kia spokesmodel outside the L.A. locker room.
By the way, Griffin actually became something of a hero via a recent internet legelnd that had a well-intentioned hoaxer crediting Blake with roughing up Justin Bieber at a Starbucks showroom. Beyond that non-event, Griffin continues checking in as the common denominator for most skirmishes involving the Clips.
Hypotheses for this uncanny knack of provoking hostility include his seeming reluctance to haul off and pop somebody (as recommended by Charles Barkley) and his alleged tactics of instigation. We also should remind you that Griffin launched his career by staring down opponents who couldn't match his ability to levitate and referees who dared make a call against him.
Like a growing hue and cry for MVP consideration, it's something Griffin has earned.
Maybe Kia will offer evidence of another future, more mature Blake who doesn't solicit such drama.
SHOULD WE WORRY ABOUT LEBRON?
Before answering, let's provide the articles of concern.
On that night of 61, James made 22-of-33 shots from the field while going 8 of 10 (including all of the first eight, mind you) from 3-point range. Since then, he's made a measly 44 percent of his overall attempts, dragging his season number down (cough) to 57. He's gone just 5 of 17 from 3-point range during this big chill.
It also should be pointed out that Miami lost four of those five games.
With that on the table, the question of worrying about LeBron should be answered with the words "heck, yes."
But that's only if you're a fan, player, coach or employee of any of the league's other 29 teams. Having a quick slide in an 82-game season doesn't remove James from the rank of World's Greatest Basketball Player. If anything, all it does is serve to motivate him to reach or succeed the elite levels he's reached consistently over the last couple of seasons.
That's a great reason to worry.
WHAT'S OUR MARCH MADNESS FOCUS?
Let's reframe this question and change the "what" to "who." Remember, we're approaching this from an NBA perspective. Every year at this time, savvy rascals with varying levels of talent-evaluation interest provide us with a list of players capable of raising their profiles during the NCAA tournament.
But what most NBA observers should be eyeballing is the approach taken by Kansas freshman winger Andrew Wiggins. That's right: The same kid we've been targeting for scrutiny over the last three years should generate more interest than ever.
In case you've been busy ignoring college basketball, KU will enter the postseason without freshman center Joel Embiid, who until the last couple of weeks had seemingly jumped over the field to become the best bet for selection as the overall No. 1 pick in the June draft. With Embiid and his bad back on the sideline at least temporarily, the Jayhawks figure to need Wiggins to demonstrate the assertiveness his critics have been saying he doesn't have.
Although that evaluation seems reasonable (unlike expectations), Wiggins has demanded our refocus by busting West Virginia for 41 points last week. OK, so KU lost that game, but the process offered evidence that Wiggins is capable of reaching a level of offensive aggression (and upgrade in skill efficiency) needed to help fulfill his potential.
This killer-instinct question was also attached to LeBron James at one point.
And no, we're not suggesting Wiggins will be nearly that good.