New York Knicks Introduce Carmelo Anthony

What to Watch: Melo Debuts for the Knicks

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After many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many months, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to the New York Knicks. He’ll debut tonight beside Amar’e Stoudemire against the Bucks in front of a sold-out crowd which will be buzzing like arguably never before.  But what exactly should we be watching for, exactly? Here are five things to watch for in Melo’s Big Apple Debut.

1. The Stoudemelo Connection: Lame? Absolutely, but until a cooler nickname is invented, we’re going for it. The big key tonight is spacing with Stoudemire and Melo. One of the things that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade found out early on in the season was that spacing is not something that comes naturally to a superstar. As the key offensive player, you’re used to having the run of the floor to do what you wish.  But the two have to find a way to play off each other to punish a double team while also not clogging up the offense. That means precision and passing, and tonight’s going to give us an indication of just how far Mike D’Antoni is going to have to bring the two of them. Both Stoudemire and Melo like to work on the right elbow, so there’s going to be some different things for them to work out.  Communication is going to have to be key, and right off the bat, both are going to want to establish their leadership. Hope everyone stays happy.

2. They (Need To) Like To Move It, Move It: Mike D’Antoni’s system is fast paced. George Karl’s system is fast paced. So this should be no problem for Melo, right? Except that D’Antoni’s system is highly dependent on ball movement, not ISO possessions, the Melo favorite. So tonight will be an adjustment not only for Melo, but for the Knicks, trying to work Melo into their flow. There are going to be blown possessions, going to be turnovers. They need to make progress on discovering Melo’s tendencies and what needs to happen for the Knicks as well.

3. La La Vasquez: Because, I mean, have you ever seen a woman so happy her head literally combusts into diamonds, shoes, and reality show casting sheeets? Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if she has pom poms and keeps singing “Empire State of Mind” over and over again.

4. D’Antoni’s Demeanor: This isn’t really D’Antoni’s bag. Sure, he likes star players and is happy to get Anthony. But he’s got a huge ego that just walked into his locker room, and several of the players he selected have walked out the door. Throw in on top of that the fact that his frontcourt down low is thinner than La La, and Mike’s got a hill to climb, starting tonight. It’ll be interesting to see who he leans on at the two-guard spot, and who he turns to to provide perimeter scoring. The Bucks are a good defensive team, so this is a stiff test for a team thrown together just a few hours ago.

5. Madison Square Garden Party: New York is a big town. A big, loud, town that loves basketball, loves sports, loves the Knicks, and loves making a big spectacle of itself. In the world’s most famous arena, Carmelo Anthony takes the floor to join Amar’e Stoudemire in a signal that the Knicks are not just “back” but loaded to push for the future. This is Melo’s coming out party to the New York media, their celebration of their second All-Star, and a chance for Knicks fans to embrace their new era of relevance on a scale not seen this decade. It’s going to be raucous, it’s going to be intense, and it’s honestly going to be worth watching.

Unless you’re a Nuggets fan.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.