Knicks not contenders with ‘Melo, but they have hope

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Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.
Shawshank Redemption

Today the New York Knicks are not title contenders.

They got their man — Carmelo Anthony has been acquired to go with Amar’e Stoudemire. But they are still a long way away from the goal. The Knicks are probably still the sixth best team in the East, certainly no better than fourth. They are not putting fear in the hearts of the Celtics, Heat or Bulls.

But they have hope.

Generally, the team that wins the trade is the team that got the best player. There is no doubt the Knicks got the best player. Anthony, for all his flaws — defense, his love of shooting the contested long two pointer and more — is one of the game’s elite scorers. At the end of the day, the game is about putting the ball in the basket and only a handful of guys in the league can do that like Carmelo Anthony. He can drive, he can post, he can drop shots from beyond the arc. Few can create their own shot or one with a hand in their face like Anthony. He is an offensive force.

The hardest part of assembling a championship team is getting one of the few elite players in the league. The Knicks now have two of them. That is a core they can put the right pieces around to contend. And that is a reason for hope.

They are not contenders now because they gave up a lot to get ‘Melo. Not necessarily too much, they got more talent back certainly, but they gave up  players that are not just a dime a dozen. Yes, they got a quality point guard in Chauncey Billups, a veteran savvy one who knows how to win. But Billups is a poor fit for Mike D’Antoni’s running system. Billups is 34 and not so fleet of foot anymore. He has one year left on his deal after this and can be bought out after next season for $3.7 million (according to Sham Sport’s figures).

The Knicks are going to miss Danilo Gallinari. They will miss Wilson Chandler but they were going to have to renounce him this summer anyway to make room to sign Anthony as a free agent. Timofey Mozgov is a project that may develop into a rotation player but you don’t let him get in the way of a deal for a superstar.

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.
Shawshank Redemption

The Knicks are not contenders and they are farther away from it still than many Knicks fans want to admit. Your starting five is Billups, Landry Fields, Melo, Stoudemire and probably Ronny Turiaf. With a very thin bench behind them. That’s good but not great, and there will be serious questions about how well they defend.

Those fans fully expect the Knicks to go get Dwight Howard or Chris Paul, either as a free agent in the summer of 2012 or in a trade or next season.  The kind of trade that looks a lot like the one ‘Melo just got where the team has to move him or risk him leaving as a free agent.

But the Knicks very well may not be able to get those guys. We don’t know what the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will look like, however you can bet that it will be much more restrictive than what we see now. The current salary cap is $57 million and you can bet that will go down. With Anthony and Stoudemire the Knicks will already have about than $40 million wrapped up in two players. If the salary cap drops to $50-$52 million, the Knicks would not be able to sign Paul or Howard to a max deal.

Then there could be a franchise tag — something some owners became more interested in as they watched Anthony force his way out of Denver — and that could keep Paul and Howard with their current teams.

Even aside the difficulty of getting one of those two, there is the challenge of filling out a roster on a tight budget — have you noticed the lack of depth in Miami? Where they spent their money on stars and had little for everyone else? It will be even tougher to spend with the new CBA and the Knicks will have to do a lot of it. The Knicks had some nice role players but they turned out to be the price for Anthony.

Knicks fans don’t care. They got their guy. The hope, the expectations of Knicks fans are about to go through the roof.

Those fans are going to learn some hard lessons about how far away this roster is right now. That hope they celebrate today could tear them apart in a few years.

For a few days though, the Knicks got their man. They should celebrate. Today is a day that hope should be celebrated in New York.

76ers second-rounder Jonah Bolden signs in Israel

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Jonah Bolden – No. 16 on my draft board – slipped all the way to the 76ers at No. 36 in the NBA draft. An impressive summer league has raised his stock significantly.

But Philadelphia won’t reap the rewards this season.

Bolden signed a three-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team announced. The club also said the deal contained NBA outs and the 76ers helped facilitate his move from his previous team, Red Star in Serbia.

This is a helpful arrangement for Philadelphia, which is running out of roster spots. Bolden will develop elsewhere while allowing the 76ers’ to maintain his exclusive negotiating rights.

Bolden must get stronger and more adept at handling physicality. The athletic stretch four can also continue developing his burgeoning perimeter skills.

Then, next year, maybe the 76ers will have room to sign him themselves.

Anthony Davis does #DriveByDunkChallenge (video)

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If you’re not up with what the kids are doing, the cool thing this summer is the #DriveByDunkChallenge – driving to random houses, running out of a still-running car, dunking on their basketball hoop, running back into the car then driving off.

It sounds like a lot of fun for those who can dunk (and don’t get accosted by startled homeowners). An example:

Pelicans star Anthony Davis took his turn:

Report: Thunder signing Dakari Johnson two years after drafting him

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Two seasons ago, Dakari Johnson was the youngest player by more than two years on the D-League’s All-Rookie team. Last season, Johnson was the youngest player by more than a year on an All-D-League team – and he made the first of three teams.

Now, Johnson – who the Thunder drafted No. 48 in 2015 and whose rights they continued to hold – is finally moving up to the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Thunder have already used the full taxpayer mid-level exception, so presumably Johnson will get the minimum – $2,128,226 over two years. That, plus two years of meager D-League salary, will be Johnson’s return for granting Oklahoma City four years of his services.

He could have forced the Thunder’s hand either of the previous two years by signing the required tender – a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum – a team must extend to retain a draft pick’s rights. Accepting the tender would have meant Johnson earning an NBA salary (and gaining a year of service) if Oklahoma City kept him past the preseason. Or, if they waived him, he would’ve been an unrestricted NBA free agent. He still could have developed with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate while available to any NBA team.

Instead, Johnson repeatedly rejected the tender, allowing Oklahoma City to maintain exclusive negotiating rights.

At least the Thunder helped develop him. A strong 7-footer, Johnson has improved his mobility and skill level. He’s still an old-school center in a league moving away from that style, but he’s now more equipped to keep up.

Whether he’s ready enough is another question. Johnson will fall behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter on the depth chart. At just 21, Johnson is still a decent developmental prospect.

Johnson gives the Thunder 16 players on standard contracts, one more than the regular-season maximum. They could waive Semaj Christon, whose salary is unguaranteed, but I’d be leery of having only Raymond Felton behind Russell Westbrook at point guard. Nick Collison at least provides insurance at center.

So, there’s no guarantee Johnson sticks into the regular season. One thing working in his favor: His salary will be luxury-taxed at the rookie minimum, because the Thunder drafted him. Christon or any other player acquired through free agency would be taxed at the second-year minimum.

No matter how it shakes out, Johnson is at least finally getting significant money in his pocket.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey: DeMar DeRozan to play some point guard

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The Raptors gave away backup point guard Cory Joseph to save money. So, who will play behind Kyle Lowry?

Presumably, Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet will each slide up a spot on the depth chart. The third-year Wright looks ready to join the rotation, and he deserves at least the opportunity.

But Toronto also has another – unexpected – option at point guard: DeMar DeRozan.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Bryan Meler of Sportsnet:

“DeMar DeRozan, have him handle the ball a bit more as a point guard, a facilitator, a passer. Kyle Lowry moving the ball a bit more, spacing up. We don’t want to give our whole ‘what we’re going to try to do next year’ away, but again it comes down to passing the basketball and better spacing more so, than we know, one-on-one play.”

“Everyone and their brother knows we want better ball movement,” said Casey.

DeRozan didn’t play point guard at all last season.* So, this is a pretty big shift.

*Defined as playing without Lowry, Joseph, Wright or VanVleet.

Known as an isolation player, DeRozan has quietly improved as a distributor. I don’t think his ability to run an offense is at a point-guard level, but I’m also not sure that’s the point.

The Raptors are trying to change their style and promote more ball movement. This could help in the long run.

I supported the Timberwolves playing Zach LaVine at point guard as a rookie even though it was clear he should be a shooting guard. Playing point guard was a crash course that helped him develop skills useful at shooting guard, skills he couldn’t have as easily developed while playing off the ball.

The same could be true with DeRozan. Some rocky minutes at point guard could better equip him to play with Lowry in better-passing units come playoff time.

It was more conventional to play a 19-year-old on a bad team out of position to focus on skill development than it is for a 28-year-old on a good team. But he we are.

The Raptors have achieved enough success in the regular season and not enough in the playoffs. Experimenting during the long regular season is a good plan.