NBA free agency: These bright lights may or may not inspire you

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Thumbnail image for Knicks_logo.gifThe team that plays in the World’s Most Famous Arena in the Greatest City on Earth is not exactly having a blockbuster start to free agency. They had their meeting with LeBron in Cleveland, a location they obviously would have preferred to avoid. Showing James the glitz and glitter of New York would have been much more advantageous for Donnie Walsh and company, but alas, they did not get homecourt advantage.

Worse yet, they were upstaged by the Nets. The New Jersey (Brooklyn) Nets. Jay-Z, a trusted mentor, stuck around to chat with LeBron after their meeting. Reports say James came away very impressed (I know, I know, reports have said everything including James is actually a cockatoo). Conversely, Brian Windhorst reports that he wasn’t blown away by the Knicks, and multiple reports indicate the Knicks are now pursuing Amar’e hard to try and lure LeBron. Their big pitch yesterday centered around how New York could make him a billionaire if things which are unlikely go just right, and that Mike D’Antoni’s system is the answer.

I’m a huge fan of Seven Seconds or Less and even I know pitching offense-all-the-time to a guy looking for championship rings who has been ousted by top defensive squads every season for the past five years is a bad idea.

The most damning thing about the way the first 36 hours of free agency have gone for the Knicks is that the big pitch, the ultimate trump card, the grand reveal has not worked. The key to LeBron James wasn’t supposed to be that complicated. That’s why with the Nets offering a clothing line from Jay-Z and Russian business connections from Mikhail Prokhorov, with Pat Riley slinging the words “it takes three to win” as his core component, and with Cleveland bombarding James with words and images of what he would emotionally do his home area, the Knicks’ whole concept was pretty simple.

“New York rules.”

That’s it.

That was the whole idea. To be fair, they had little other choice. The Knicks were so decimated by Isiah Thomas’ screwed-up reign at the helm that they just recently had the last draft pick he swapped out used by the Jazz. And in order to get rid of all the contracts he picked up they had to swap with Houston for the next eleventy billion years. And they cleared all their cap space specifically to sign multiple top free agents. But the problem is, what’s left?

D’Antoni is selling a system which didn’t win him a championship. That’s fine, the triangle at one point was unproven and sketchy. Eventually, D’Antoni may reach the promised land with the run-and-gun. And he can win games, that’s always been true. The issue is that you have to bring the whole house, the kitchen sink, and your gold tooth to James. That’s what the Nets did, laying out a comprehensive marketing plan built around people he knows and respects. You have to convince him you are 100% dedicated to building a dynasty with him and you know how. The Heat are doing that today with a pitch that says “You can be the icon of the greatest combination of talent in the modern era.”  The Knicks?

They had to say “Our city is really big, and really rich, and really awesome.” That was the pull. And it’s a relevant point! They weren’t wrong to go with that approach. But it says a lot about where the Knicks are and where they think they are for that to be their approach. They pushed on their best issues: D’Antoni and New York. But even that’s been compromised by the Nets’ Brooklyn relocation looming.

Again, the Knicks didn’t do anything wrong here. They relied on the things that best speak to them. And there’s still a great chance for them to come out winners here, if they can swoop in and get Amar’e now that the Suns have elected to let him walk (signing Hakim Warrick was a pretty big goodbye card) before the Rockets come dashing in with a sign-and-trade. They could still get LeBron.

But it does say something about this market, about the times we live in. Simply pitching the greatest city in the world isn’t enough. You have to have the best talent, be willing to spend the most, have a great city, great management, great coaching, and pitch all those things the right way.

Come to think of it, makes that yellow and purple tint to the championship rings make more sense, doesn’t it?

Magic Johnson: “The only player that we… would probably not move is Brandon Ingram”

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The Lakers’ Brandon Ingram had flashes, but he largely struggled through his rookie season. He averaged 9.4 points per game, shot 40 percent from the floor, he had a true shooting percentage of 47.4 and a PER of 8.5, and he finished with the fifth worst “value over replacement player” number in the NBA. Watch him play, and he looked better than those numbers — he did better with the “eye test” — showing some tenacity, and his offense improved toward the end of the season. Still, his rookie season tempered expectations somewhat.

Except amongst the Lakers’ front office.

They have been high on him all the way through, higher than D'Angelo Russell, and that’s what Lakers president Magic Johnson said on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles.

“I would say probably the only player that we would say, hey, we would probably not move is Brandon Ingram,” Johnson, the Lakers president of basketball operations said Thursday in a radio interview with ESPN Los Angeles. “I think that we’re excited about Brandon, his length, his size, his agility, his athleticism. And then when you think about, you know, he was a baby coming in, in his first year last season and we see that he really has a high ceiling and we’re excited about what he can possibly turn into.”

First off, no this doesn’t mean if the Lakers draft Lonzo Ball No. 2 (as expected) they will look to trade Russell. Expect them to see if those two can play together. It means the Lakers think just one of the guys on the roster is a potential key piece of a contender. Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and on down the line may fit into the rotation, but they are not seen as cornerstone pieces that can’t be moved.

Is Ingram really a cornerstone? The jury is still out, but does anyone feel as confident he will be a star as they did a season ago when he was drafted?

Ingram certainly needs to get stronger, something the team and he have worked on (and will focus on this summer). He also was young coming into the league, and with his style of game it was going to take him a little time to find how he fit in the NBA. He wasn’t going to come in and just overwhelm opponents with athleticism, it was going to be a process for him. Like nearly every rookie, his shooting needs to be more consistent.

The questions are how high is his ceiling, and can the Lakers develop him?

This summer and into next season those will come into focus more, but the early returns don’t have some of us as optimistic as Magic.

Josh McRoberts opting into final year of Heat contract

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Heat power forward Josh McRoberts has missed 165 games over the last three years due to injury.

So, the 30-year-old sure isn’t turning down a guaranteed $6,021,175 salary.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Any long shot chance of Josh McRoberts voiding his Heat contract was eliminated Tuesday when agent Mike Conley told The Miami Herald that McRoberts will exercise his opt-in and return to the Heat for $6.021 million next season.

Miami will have major cap space this summer with Chris Bosh coming off the books. At this point, McRoberts’ salary is just an impediment to even more room to add an impact player.

The Heat could again try trading McRoberts, but they’ll likely have to attach a positive asset just to dump him. They could also waive and stretch him.

But if his salary doesn’t come between Miami and a big-time free agent this summer, perhaps McRoberts returns for one last chance at helping the Heat on the floor with his passing and outside shooting.

Mike Brown thinks it’s “cute” Tyronn Lue thinks Celtics’ sets harder to defend than Warriors

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Celtics’ coach Brad Steven is already one of the best in the NBA. His out of time out plays are brilliant, and his Boston team’s flow of ball and player movement is among the best in the league.

It’s those things that were giving the Cavaliers trouble in the first half of Game 4 Tuesday, and ultimately prompted this comment from Tyronn Lue.

“We’re just focused on Boston. The stuff they’re running, it’s harder to defend than Golden State’s [offense] for me.”

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle asked Mike Brown about that.

You can certainly make the case that the Celtics have a wider variety in their offense, and that with Isaiah Thomas out the rather balanced, anyone can score nature of the Celtics is challenging to defend for a team with inconsistent help defense like the Cavaliers.

But Boston is running these sets with Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown and Kelly Olynyk. Golden State will use ball and player movement to create space for Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Which is to say, Golden State is tougher to defend because the space they need to make you pay is much smaller. And even if you do everything right the Warriors may just score anyway.

I get what Lue was trying to say, but don’t give the Warriors more motivation.

Magic sending Raptors draft pick as compensation for hiring Jeff Weltman

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The Raptors promoted Jeff Weltman, still working under Masai Ujiri, to general manager last year.

That paid off for Toronto when the Magic hired Weltman as their new president.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The Magic have their own and the Lakers’ second-round picks next year. Even the lower of those two selections could be somewhat valuable.

In other words, Weltman’s already-difficult job is getting even harder simply by Orlando hiring him.