The Knickerbocker Empire got its prize in Melo, but the real battle begins now

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Congratulations, Mr. Dolan! You’ve landed your prize! You have two, count ’em two, stars to fill the seats in Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony joins Amar’e Stoudemire for the Knicks and the star power is through the roof now in New York. You have successfully acquired a second NBA All-Star, which is difficult to do and a testament to the power of the brand you acquired (and have largely run into the gutter for the past decade, but that’s beside the point).  This is a huge day for you and you should be proud and happy. Bask in the glow of the media attention and the jersey sales for today through Wednesday night’s probable Melo debut.

Then get ready for some massive headaches.

After this move settles down, Dolan and his crew are going to be facing one of the tightest cap situations in the league, regardless of how the CBA works out. They now have close to $40 million on the books for next season and seasons going forward between just two players. That’s a whole lot of money in two guys, when you need a solid seven at the very least to compete for a championship.  It’s been said that you can develop role players. That’s absolutely true, but it also takes draft picks to get those guys, and the Knicks are now missing their 2012 and 2014 picks. So how they’re going to get there is going to be a little bit tricky. And it’s going to take someone like Donnie Walsh, a shrewd evaluator of talent, to figure out how to get the support Melo and Amar’e will need.

But will Walsh even be around? Reports are rampant in the wake of this trade that this was Isiah’s work, pressing Dolan to intervene, and not Walsh. Walsh, consistently has played his cards tight to his chest, knowing he held leverage and could get Melo and keep the supporting pieces to put the Knicks on an advanced track. Instead, Dolan let Thomas get his ear, and now there indications that the shadow that held over the Garden for five years is creeping over the gates. Thomas is making a power play and Dolan is caving to it, even as it’s been Walsh who has guided the team back to relevance, being careful and considerate with his decisions.

The Knicks’ future won’t be decided on the floor with superstars with bright lights in their eyes balancing being cultural icons and All-Stars. It will be decided in boardrooms, both inside and outside the MSG Empire. Internally, if Dolan continues to seek out Isiah Thomas’ counsel, undercutting Walsh, that situation will become untenable. Walsh has been around too long to put up with that kind of circus act especially with his contract up at the end of the year. Getting Melo is an upgrade, but it came at a price and Walsh has to feel like if he’d been granted control, Anthony could have been had without giving up so much. If Isiah Thomas somehow works his way back into the driver’s seat of the Knicksmobile, expect the fans’ reaction to be nothing short of outrage.

Outside the Knicks, though, is another fight Dolan will be involved in. The CBA negotiations take place this summer, and while his fellow owners are pushing for a drastic reduction in the salary cap and possibly a hard cap, Dolan may have to try and politic his way into finding a base for compromise. In short, anything which restricts player movement and lowers the cap without rolling back the current contracts of Stoudemire and Anthony is going to keep the Knicks from being able to do what Dolan wants: buy their way into a championship. The next piece of this puzzle comes in 2012 for New York, as they attempt to chase Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. But if the Knicks are cap strapped thanks to this move and a revamped CBA, that goes out the window and the Knicks are looking at a roster-limited team  with no structure beneath the big jewels up top.

And guess what happens, then? Should the Knicks fail to contend for a championship because they can’t get the pieces around the two stars, it wont’ be Dolan admitting his mistake or allowing Walsh to work his magic. Instead it will be Mike D’Antoni’s job on the line as the idea will surface that it’s his fault the Knicks go further. We’ve seen this pattern before in the NBA.

The Knicks hit the big time. Now we have to see if the organization as a whole can survive under the lights.

Joel Embiid has 28 points, 14 rebounds leads Sixers to Seventh straight win

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid had 28 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers extended their season-high win streak to seven with a 116-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Six 76ers scored in double figures. Ben Simmons had 17 points and seven assists, and 3-point specialist J.J. Redick added 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting – and just one 3-pointer. Marco Belinelli had 15 points, Robert Covington had 12 and Dario Saric scored 11.

Aaron Gordon led Orlando with 20 points, including four 3s, to go with seven rebounds and seven assists. Evan Fournier scored 16 points, and former Sixer Nik Vucevic had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Magic, who have lost five straight.

Philadelphia led 58-40 at halftime and 71-49 in the third when Orlando used an 11-2 burst, capped by Aaron Gordon’s 3-pointer, to close within 13.

But the Sixers put on a show to finish the quarter.

Embiid overpowered a few Magic defenders for a slam, and then gestured to the crowd after being fouled while soaring to the hoop on a dunk attempt. After Embiid and Trevor Booker swatted consecutive shots in the final seconds, T.J. McConnell used a crossover move to finish a drive at the buzzer and give the Sixers an 87-71 lead entering the fourth.

Orlando used a late 15-2 run to get within nine and nearly cut it to six with 1:21 left, but a 3-point attempt by Mario Hezonja spilled out.

Midway through the first quarter, Philadelphia had more turnovers (three) than field goals (two) and trailed 15-6. The Sixers then erupted for a 21-3 run and ended the quarter up 27-18.

E-A-G-L-E-S

Orlando head coach Frank Vogel wore an Eagles Super Bowl champions T-shirt during his pregame media availability. A native of Wildwood, New Jersey, Vogel makes sure to get a taste of home when he returns to the Philadelphia area.

“Cheesesteaks, Tastykakes, Yuengling beer if we beat the Sixers,” Vogel said. “Wawa coffee, but I get Wawa in Orlando now. I did get a cheesesteak today.”

Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game.

“I think it’s awesome,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “He can come over and ring as many bells as he chooses.”

 

Report: Jimmy Butler telling people he will be back for playoffs

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We don’t know a lot about Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury (other than that it’s not an ACL injury as feared). Because of that, it’s impossible to put a timeline on his return. We don’t know what kind of surgery he likely needs — a traditional meniscus partial removal takes six weeks or so to get a player back on the court (but is harder on the knee long-term as cushioning in it is removed, Dwyane Wade had this), but a repair could take three months or more before he is back on the court. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said this pregame Saturday:

However, Butler himself is telling people he will be back for the playoffs.

Is that the optimism of a fierce competitor? Players are often the worst judge of their ability to return from injury.

Or, does he know that a meniscus repair is out of the question with his injury, that a partial removal is the only option (as is true in some cases)? That has a speedier return that could have him back for the playoffs.

In the short-term, Minnesota is going to need a lot more out of Andrew Wiggins, and they need to play a lot better team defense, to hold on to a playoff slot in the West. The Timberwolves have been -8.3 per 100 possessions without Butler this season, but went 2-2 in the four games he missed. Minnesota is currently the four seed in the West at 36-26, but just three games from falling out of the postseason in a crowded conference.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.

Steve Ballmer: “Difficult” Blake Griffin trade moves Clippers toward modern NBA

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Last summer, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went all-in on Blake Griffin. They wooed him with a mini-museum tour of his life, did a mock jersey retirement, told him they wanted him to be a “Clipper for life,” then sealed the deal with a five-year, $173 million maximum contract offer. Griffin accepted and never even met with another team.

Within eight months, the Clippers traded Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovich, and a lightly protected 2018 first-round pick.

What changed? Was it another injury to Griffin that sidelined him and had the Clippers questioning their investment? Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN asked Ballmer about the decision.

“[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility….

“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.”

Ballmer thinks he can use this trade and the Chris Paul one last summer to begin to retool a roster in that fashion, saying that winning a ring is his goal. Maybe he can, but…

The Clippers are a long way from being that kind of a modern NBA team.

Talent still wins out in basketball. Those elite “modern NBA” have superstars — Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. — who rack up a lot of numbers, but also where the other players are versatile threats. With Brad Stevens in charge, Boston runs a modern, egalitarian offense, but at the heart of it is Kyrie Irving and, eventually, Gordon Hayward as stars who can just get buckets and use their gravity to draw defenders, opening things up for others. Then there are All-Star level players around them such as Al Horford.

Without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick this season, the Clippers had to run the offense through Griffin because, well, who else? Danilo Gallinari can create some when healthy, but he’s really a second or third option and works better of the ball. DeAndre Jordan is a threat as a roll man but it takes a special point guard and passer to bring out the best in him. Austin Rivers has developed into a solid rotation point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a No. 1 option. Lou Williams is really their only other guy who can create at that level. The Clippers may have leaned on Griffin too much, but it’s not like Doc Rivers had better choices sitting around.

What is going to be interesting is to see what the Clippers do this summer — do they back up the Brinks truck and re-sign DeAndre Jordan? Do they try to bring back Bradley and Patrick Beverley? Do they keep or trade Lou Williams, who just extended with the team but at a very reasonable price ($8 million per year)? Can they move Danilo Gallinari (which would require attaching a first-round pick)?

Ballmer says he doesn’t want to bottom out and rebuild, but if Jordan leaves how much does that change the scenario? The Clippers 2019 first-round pick belongs to Boston but is lottery protected. What the Clippers don’t want is for a year from now to be exactly where they are today in the standings — on the cusp of the playoffs trying to get in. While the lottery odds change in 2019, they need to either be a rebuilding team that’s going to keep that pick, or find a way to push up into the standings (which is not going to be easy in a deep West).

It’s good to be moving toward a more modern NBA, but it’s going to be a process for the Clippers.