Amar'e Stoudemire: Icon of the New York reclamation

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Thumbnail image for stoudemire.pngLost in the debates on if the Knicks should have traded for Tracy McGrady (and his cap space) at the cost of their draft picks in 2011 (swapped) and 2012 to the Rockets, and whether the Knicks will manage to acquire one of the true elites of the free agent class (two names, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade) is just how severe a hole the Knicks were in.

The damage reaped upon New York’s basketball flagship by the former GM who shall remain nameless was so severe, the Knicks are just now getting out from under the massive anvil he dropped on them. Every season for the past six years, Knicks fans have convinced themselves the team would be competitive. Not championship-level elite, just competitive. But somehow, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph with QRich never quite worked out. Then the new regime came in, and Knicks fans hoped they’d be competitive, but the talent just wasn’t there.

To rebuild, to truly rebuild, if you’re not blessed with a former player handing you a former MVP at a discount price, you have to torch the whole thing and start over. You can’t leave anything substantial behind. Then you have to find one central player to build around. Danilo Galinari? A nice touch, a good solid window pane feature, but it’s not something you construct as a pillar to build the structure on.

No more Al Harrington as the premier offensive threat. No more David Lee as the primary perimeter pick and roll man. The Knicks have an elite player at a key position and they can begin to formulate a competitive team around him. Get LeBron, don’t get LeBron, get Wade, don’t get Wade, things have changed in New York.

Donnie Walsh has said several times that their plan goes beyond this season. That they have to be committed to building long-term, even if they whif on the top free agents this summer. Rome was not built in a day, and it is dwarfed by New York. To build a team fitting of the greatest city on Earth, to compete in this era’s NBA, may take patience and ingenuity, something that Walsh has already demonstrated.

Let’s be clear, the Knicks took a risk here. They convinced Amar’e to be the first of the free agent dominoes to fall, and convinced him that they have a plan to win a championship and that he is a central component. They could have waited for James and Wade to make their decisions, but that may have resulted in them being left out in the cold. If the Big 2 do not make their way to the Five Boroughs, New York won’t be left holding an empty net. Someone in this free agency summer is going to lose, and lose big. The Knicks avoided that fate and have a player to build around.

There are a billion things to be done now. Convince one of the other key free agents to commit. Barring that, trade David Lee for the best sign-and-trade package they can acquire. Sign a point guard that can run the pick and roll, immediately, in a market short on such point guards (Raymond Felton may be about to have Christmas in July). Sign or acquire shooters to put on the perimeter. Find someone, anyone to play center who has a pulse. (No, Eddy Curry does not count.)

From there, it’s tweaking, and adjusting, to build a new powerhouse, a team that finally, truly has something to say in the NBA.

And as much as Knicks fans, and their organization, want to contend for championships, just having that say is a place to start. It’s an improvement, a move in the right direction after nearly 10 years of moves in the opposite direction. Huge contracts to players who obviously weren’t worth them. Say what you want about Stoudemire, he’s at least worthy of being in the conversation for the contract he’s been offered. No more draft picks of guys who are only auxiliary help on a sinking boat.

And most importantly, no more disgraces in the headlines that let the fans know that the people in charge of the team they love most is ran by the wrong people. This signals the right thing. The Knicks aren’t just an attractive free agent destination because of the city. They’re a pull because of the city, and the fans, and the organization, and the players.

Moreso than any other fanbase, the Knicks fans I’ve talked to have been the most pessimistic towards the team signing LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. They’re smart basketball fans that realize just how terrible they’ve been and how little they’ve had to offer in the way of championship contention. But this agreement to sign may just signal to them that that time period is over. That they can feel confident in their team’s ability to make the right moves, to attract the top guys, to be a team that is at the top, or if nothing else, just not at the bottom of the league.

Progress is a process, and it begins with a singular defining movement, the culmination of planning, though, and consideration. Stoudemire’s arrival in New York, declaring the Knicks as “back” may be presumptuous and overly bold, but that’s what’s needed. New York basketball no longer needs to humble itself to drive the poison out. It can square its shoulders and declare that the Knicks are once again in the arena, ready to compete. And that’s at least something for such a beaten fanbase.

It’s been a long, hard road just to get to a point where they can start the upward climb. But after a decade of misery and angst, the Knicks have made their first big move that makes sense. For all Stoudemire’s faults, he’s also been a near-MVP candidate at times, has years in front of him, and knows D’Antoni’s system as well as anyone.

The future isn’t now. But the light on the horizon is no longer just the jubilation of other teams making moves the Knicks have missed.

New York returns to relevance, starting tonight.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Kevin Durant saves his best games for Thunder

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles past Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena on January 18, 2017 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Here are the big takeaways from a busy night around the NBA:

1) Kevin Durant saves his best games for going against Thunder. Kevin Durant’s highest-scoring game this season was 39 points, something he broke out the first time his new Warriors team faced his old Thunder squad. That changed Wednesday night when Durant scored an incredibly efficient 40 points on 16 shots — again against the Thunder. Just in case there wasn’t enough salt rubbed in that OKC wound.

Whatever you think of his choice, Kevin Durant’s team is way better than Russell Westbrook‘s. Which we expected and was part of the reason Durant made the move — he is closer to a ring now than he was before. Part of that is obviously what Durant brings to their offense — and how efficiently he’s been doing it this season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9, his career best (for some perspective, the league average is around 52). But he’s also been bringing it on the defensive end this season, particularly of late, having a strong game against LeBron James Monday then doing well when switched onto Westbrook a couple of times in this game.

Westbrook himself had a triple-double (that’s 21 this season) in the loss… actually, it was a quadruple-double when you throw in the 10 turnovers. Westbrook wasn’t efficient, hitting 8-of-23 from the field, and when he isn’t this team struggles to win, they rely on him that much. Of course, that’s not the play everyone is talking about — it’s Zaza Pachulia with the hard foul, and then taunting Westbrook by standing over him.

When Westbrook saw that, he promised to “get his ass back.” These teams meet again in March — when Durant returns to Oklahoma City for the first time in a Warriors’ uniform.

Bonus thing we saw: Russell Westbrook had the travel of the year (and Kemba Walker tried to top him).
Even in the NBA, this is a travel — and a funny one.

Earlier in the night, Kemba Walker got away with one almost as bad.

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2) The Sixers beat the Raptors and have now won 7-of-9.
When the run of wins from the Sixers started, it was easy to say “they are just beating other weak teams.” Then they beat the Bucks. Thursday night they beat the Raptors. Brett Brown has settled on a 10-man rotation, found lineups he likes with Joel Embiid starting (surrounded by shooters) and Nerlens Noel relieving him off the bench. Plus, the Sixers are finding their defensive identity.

Still, this all comes back to Embiid — the Sixers are outscoring teams by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. He had 26 points — including 12-of-14 from the free throw line — plus nine rebounds against Toronto.


3) Rudy Gay is out for the season, which changes West playoff chase and trade picture.
This is bad news for the Kings, it is worse news for Rudy Gay himself — trying to drive out of the right corner Wednesday night Rudy Gay tore his left Achilles tendon (something the team announced, although it needs to be confirmed by an MRI Thursday).

Gay is done for this season and likely the start of the next one.

In the short term, that is a blow to the Kings’ playoff chances. Technically they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers, but the Kings have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions this season when Gay is on the bench, and now he is on the bench for the season. He has scored 18.7 points per game, which was second-best on the team, and now that role falls to Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi (once Casspi returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks). Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, don’t be surprised if Sacramento tries to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

It also changes the trade deadline. Gay was clear he wanted out of Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone on the trade block teams were calling about (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted what the Kings might do). Now obviously that is off the table, and the question becomes will Gay even opt out?

Kings’ Rudy Gay suffers apparent torn left Achilles tendon, would be done for season

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This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.

Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.

Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.

Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings — this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court — and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.

That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.