Kelenna Azubuike may miss the start of training camp

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kelenna_azubuike.jpgThough July’s trade between the Knicks and Warriors can be easily portrayed as a Lee-for-Randolph swap, New York’s other two acquisitions in that deal deserve more than a footnote. Ronny Turiaf is more than serviceable as a shot-blocker and post defender, and could very well be the Knicks’ back-up 5 this season. Kelenna Azubuike is a fine off-guard, and is considered a candidate to take over Wilson Chandler’s starting job.

Overall, the Knicks acquired three rotation players — including two possible starters — in exchange for David Lee, an unrestricted free agent who already had his foot out the door. Not a bad haul, all things considered.

Still, they wouldn’t be the Knicks if something didn’t go wrong. According to Howard Beck of the New York Times, Azubuike, who missed 73 games last season with a nasty, torn patellar tendon, could miss the start of training camp while he continues to rehab:

[Azubuike] missed the rest of the season, and the Warriors expected he would need a full year to recover. The Knicks are taking a similarly conservative approach. “We’re not sure,” said the team president Donnie Walsh, who described a torn patellar tendon as “one of the worst injuries in the league.”

Azubuike spent most of the summer rehabilitating with a private trainer. He just began working with the Knicks’ staff this week, so team officials do not yet have a firm assessment. Azubuike is not yet running or jumping, which suggests that he is a long way from playing high-level basketball. “I think it’s 50-50 whether he’ll be ready for training camp right now,” D’Antoni said. “He thinks he will be.”

Missing training camp wouldn’t be a death knell for Azubuike’s chance to start, but it is a bit of an inconvenience. After all, succeeding in Mike D’Antoni’s offense not only requires great basketball instincts and familiarity with the sets/movements, but also stellar conditioning. Training camp offers valuable time for the Knicks to not only develop some on-court rapport, but also work themselves into game shape.

Beyond that, don’t discount the fact that while the seven-seconds-or-less offense may seem like a state of nature, it needs to be taught. It’s not an instinctive exercise to push the ball at every opportunity, and players learn to really force the fast break through repetition. Azubuike’s ahead of the class after an extended run with the Warriors, but there’s no question that a camp with the Knicks would help with his assimilation.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.