Around the Atlantic: Woodson's option picked up

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Around the Atlantic: Woodson's option picked up

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Knicks have picked up the option on coach Mike Woodson's contract for the 2014-15 season.

Woodson led the Knicks to a 54-28 record last season and their first Atlantic Division title since 1994. He is 72-34 since taking over for Mike D'Antoni late in the 2011-12 season, a .679 winning percentage that is second-best in franchise history.

New general manager Steve Mills said in a statement Monday that after spending time with Woodson recently that it was "clear that picking up his option is an easy decision."

Knicks: Anthony not talking free agency
GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Carmelo Anthony feels there is no reason to think about his potential free agency now.

The New York Knicks don't seem so sure.

The Knicks followed their first Atlantic Division championship team in 19 years with a strangely timed change in the front office, just days before opening training camp. Steve Mills returned to Madison Square Garden as president and general manager with a mandate from owner James Dolan to overhaul the organization and make the Knicks "the best that there can be in the NBA."

That might help keep Anthony in New York after this season, when he can become a free agent, and Mills made it clear that's a priority. But Anthony said Monday at Knicks media day that his future is "not something I've been thinking about" (see full story)

Nets: New-look roster eyes title
NEW YORK -- Paul Pierce won plenty of Atlantic Division titles during his days with the Boston Celtics, but at the end of the seasons when he exited the playoffs without lifting the Larry O'Brien trophy, none of those six divisional titles didn't carried any weight.

The only one that mattered was the one he captured during the 2008 season, en route to his first and only NBA title.

Pierce, along with his teammate Kevin Garnett, made it known that they're in Brooklyn for one thing only: to win it all in June. Beating out their new rivals, the defending division champs New York Knicks, isn't what's on Pierce's mind.

"Truthfully, that's not that important to me. I came here to win a championship. I don't even want to see an Atlantic banner put up if we win it," Pierce said during Monday's Nets media day session at Barclays Center (see full story).

Celtics: No timetable for Rondo return
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo won't be back in time for the start of the regular season.

Rondo says he doesn't know how long it will take for him to recover from tearing a ligament in his right knee in January. He has been working on his shooting and his ball-handling, but he doesn't take part in practice where there is any contact.

Rondo is the only remaining member from the team that won the 2008 NBA championship. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were traded to the Brooklyn Nets on draft night, and coach Doc Rivers defected to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Rondo says he is excited to work with new coach Brad Stevens.

The Celtics open training camp on Tuesday in Newport, R.I (see full story).

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”