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Former Bucks GM, Wisconsin coach John Erickson dies at 92

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LENEXA, Kansas — John Erickson, a former Milwaukee Bucks general manager and Wisconsin men’s basketball coach, has died. He was 92.

Rick Wiseman, funeral director at Porter Funeral Home in Lenexa, Kansas, confirmed Friday that Erickson died Wednesday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Porter Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

Erickson served as the Bucks’ general manager from 1968-70. He was in that role when the Bucks won a coin flip with the Phoenix Suns and earned the right to select eventual NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, with the first pick in the 1969 NBA draft.

Erickson coached Wisconsin from 1960-68 and posted a 100-114 record.

Erickson ran for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats as a Republican in 1970 but lost to William Proxmire. He later served as a president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for 16 years and also worked as an assistant commissioner of the Big Eight Conference.

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NBA playoff debate – Big play-in tournament questions and bold predictions

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The NBA’s return-to-play plan, which includes a likely 22-team field competing in Orlando, Florida, in regular-season games and a play-in tournament to decide postseason berths, is expected to pass in a Thursday board of governors vote.

The Memphis Grizzlies and Orlando Magic were holding the No. 8 seeds in their respective conferences when the league was suspended on March 11, but it looks like they will have to compete for their spots in the postseason when the season resumes.

Our experts break down what they’re most excited for in a play-in tournament, debate who has the most at stake and share their bold predictions for the playoffs.

MORE: When will the NBA return? Latest updates and big questions


1. What intrigues you most about the proposed play-in tournament?

Kevin Arnovitz: We’ve been openly debating the merits and drawbacks of a play-in tournament for years, and now we’ll finally have a pilot program to measure its value. We’ll find out whether this product is something players and fans respond to and something broadcast partners are intrigued by. If it works, it could generate a significant amount of revenue for the NBA in the next broadcast deal, which consequently might afford the league the chance to shave a few regular-season games off the schedule.

Kevin Pelton: How wide open it might be in the West this year. Despite the 3 1/2-game lead the Grizzlies enjoyed in the race for eighth, all six teams that might be invited to Orlando are separated by barely a point per game in terms of differential, from the minus-0.8 mark for the New Orleans Pelicans to minus-1.9 for the Sacramento Kings.

Mike Schmitz: I’m interested in the viability of a play-in tournament every season moving forward. If all goes well, starting the playoffs with a quick-hitting tournament to determine back-end playoff slots could be a great way to hook viewers early, providing more of an NCAA tournament feel that would surely be welcomed by the sports betting community.

Andrew Lopez: I like the idea that the NBA is allowing itself to experiment at this point, but so many questions remain. How many times will Washington have to beat Orlando (or Brooklyn) to get the eighth spot in the East? What will happen in the race for No. 8 in the West? Is this something the NBA implements moving forward? The time for experimentation is now, so let’s get wild.

Royce Young: The novelty of it. Bringing the win-or-go-home mentality of the NCAA tournament to the NBA could produce games like we haven’t really seen before. There’s a fine line between feeling gimmicky and feeling energized, and a play-in tournament will walk it. But if it adds intensity and weight to early postseason games, it could bring the kind of moments typically reserved for a Game 7.

2. Which potential first-round playoff matchup would you most like to see?

Arnovitz: Philadelphia and Boston have a rich history and contrasting styles, schemes and personnel. If Ben Simmons returns healthy for the Sixers, the matchup would be an unusually strong one for a first-round series.

Schmitz: Mavericks-Clippers. I’m fascinated to see how Luka Doncicthe third-most efficient isolation player in the NBA (minimum 200 possessions) — will fare against elite wing defenders Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in his potential playoff debut. Mismatch nightmare Kristaps Porzingis was also starting to hit his stride before the hiatus. This one has far more star power than your traditional 2-7 matchup.

Pelton: Boston-Philadelphia. Coming into the season, I think the expectation was that Celtics-Sixers might be a conference semifinals matchup — maybe even one we’d see in the conference finals. For these two talented teams, connected by Al Horford and Jayson Tatum, to square off in the opening round would be a heavyweight battle.

Young: There’s something of a perfect serendipity to the Thunder and Jazz picking up the NBA season where it left off, but put me down for Luka and the Mavs against the superteam Clippers. What the NBA is going to need out of the gate in these unusual circumstances is a good product, and both teams can play high-level, pretty basketball. Playoff Luka is something we haven’t seen before, and it isn’t hard to imagine some epic individual battles between him and both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

Lopez: The potential Boston-Philadelphia matchup in the 3-6 spot takes on a new life in the bubble. The Sixers were one of the worst road teams in the league this season. Now that this matchup could take place in Orlando, does that eliminate Philly’s road woes? Does it amplify them? I think it elevates what was already a fun matchup.

3. Which player’s return will you be most interested to watch?

Schmitz: Zion Williamson. Not only is he already one of the league’s most entertaining young stars, but his post-quarantine conditioning will also be a point of interest. If Zion is somehow able to lead New Orleans into the playoffs, potentially knocking out the Grizzlies in the process, is that a large enough body of work to move him ahead of Ja Morant in the Rookie of the Year race?

Pelton: I’m going to cheat and say Jusuf Nurkic or Zach Collins, the Blazers’ ideal starting frontcourt that has played a combined 86 minutes this season. How well Collins and Nurkic play together as starters will go a long way toward determining whether Portland can replicate last season’s playoff success.

Young: LeBron is the easy answer because it’s probably the best one. Did the time away freshen him to a level we’ve never seen before in a postseason setting? Or will he be rusty? How will he handle the circumstances? Other players are interesting — I’m curious about Russell Westbrook not having any courtside fans to play off of for motivation — but LeBron’s approach is without question the most fascinating individual situation.

Lopez: What will Zion look like? According to Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, Williamson was cleared by the NBA to use the Pelicans’ facility to keep rehabbing his surgically repaired knee. When Williamson spoke to Ernie Johnson in early May, he said he was ready to return to basketball right away. Williamson was coming into his own in March, when the season was suspended, so what he looks like after three months of rest will be something to behold.

Arnovitz: LeBron James. This season, we saw what happens when James is afforded eight months off in lieu of a 100-game grind through late-June. Can we expect the same kind of production after he got a four-month hiatus on the eve of the postseason? If so, the Lakers — already prime title contenders — will be even more dangerous in a bubble postseason than they’d have been with LeBron logging a full season headed into the playoffs in April.

4. Which player or team has the most at stake in a return?

Arnovitz: The Blazers in that they’ll be playing for their postseason chances in any play-in scenario. Portland owns the fourth-longest current playoff streak. Although the Blazers are currently on the outside looking in, they’ll likely be equipped with their starting frontcourt of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins for the first time this season, essentially fielding the core of last year’s Western Conference finalists.

Young: Again, LeBron. In basically every situation, LeBron has the most at stake. But there will be a certain pressure on Giannis. The Bucks were on track to be historically dominant, and Giannis is probably headed for another MVP. The bizarreness of the situation reshapes the outcome some, but Giannis is reaching the level of being judged by what he does — and doesn’t — have on his fingers. This Bucks team is good enough to win it all, but their chances rest largely on Giannis rediscovering his dominance.

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Knicks explain lack of public comment in email to MSG employees

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NEW YORK — An internal email was sent out to Madison Square Garden employees on Monday addressing the lack of a public statement regarding the outrage following the death of George Floyd.

“We know that some of you have asked about whether our company is going to make a public statement about the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer,” the email, which was obtained by ESPN, began. “I want you to know, I realize the importance of this issue. Therefore, I want you to understand our internal position.

“This is a turbulent time in our country. The coronavirus and civil unrest have taken their toll on our way of life. We at Madison Square Garden stand by our values of respect and peaceful workplace. We always will.

“As companies in the business of sports and entertainment, however, we are not any more qualified than anyone else to offer our opinion on social matters.”

The Knicks and the San Antonio Spurs were the only NBA teams to have not made public statements following Floyd’s death, as of 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday. Several NBA players — including Knicks guard Dennis Smith Jr. — have participated in protests that have erupted around the country. And Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been a steady voice in recent years for social change.

Floyd, who was black, died on May 25 after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes.

“What we say to each other matters,” the email said. “How we treat each other matters. And that’s what will get us through this difficult time.”

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Atlanta Hawks’ Trae Young speaks at peaceful protest in Oklahoma

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NORMAN, Okla. — NBA All-Star Trae Young spoke at a peaceful protest of racial injustice and police brutality in his hometown on Monday.

Young, the former University of Oklahoma star who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, briefly addressed several hundred people at Andrews Park about the deaths of George Floyd and others.

“I know this country’s in a messed up place right now,” he said. “And for me, I just think it’s important that we all stick together and we stand up for what’s right. It’s not just going to take just me. It’s not just going to take just you. It’s all of us coming together and doing this as a collective unit.”

Floyd, a black man, died May 25 after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and saying that he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the country, some of which became violent.

Norman mayor Breea Clark and police chief Kevin Foster were among the other speakers at the Norman rally.

Young acknowledged that he doesn’t often speak out on social issues and credited his sister, Caitlyn, for helping him come out of his shell. At one point, Young held up a “Black Lives Matter” sign.

“I’m not used to doing this,” he said. “I’m not very open about what I see or the things that go on in this world very often, but for me, even though I’m just 21 years old, I feel that it was necessary. This is bigger than me, and I feel like this is a big step in the right direction.”

Young’s NBA city of Atlanta has been rocked by protests, fires and looting. He said after he left the stage that he has mixed feelings about those protests.

“I play in Atlanta, a black cultured city where people are looting there and it’s messing up the city,” he said. “So I see both sides. You can protest the right way and peacefully, which I believe it should be, but I also see where it hasn’t worked.”

He believes better days are ahead.

“I feel like justice will be served and changes will be made if we all come together,” he said. “This is us doing it. This is the first step.”

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