Chauncey Billups

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Carmelo Anthony was better but the Knicks were not

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What you missed while thinking the Big East was overrated…

Bucks 100, Knicks 95: Just when you thought things really could not get uglier for the Knick, we bring you the start to Sunday’s game. New York was dismal in the first quarter putting up just 9 points and shooting just 16 percent — the Bucks defense is good but that was about the Knicks.

The Knicks poor play meant the Bucks were up 23 early. Then the Knicks put up 32 in the second quarter (Chauncey Billups put up 13 in the quarter) and only trailed 47-41 at the half. By the middle of the third we had a game. Down the stretch the Bucks executed and got some nice buckets — Carlos Delfino on a kick-out three from John Salmons (Delfino had 30 points), Brandon Jennings with a drive into the defender then step-back elbow jumper. The Bucks executed better than the Knicks in the clutch. For a team with all that firepower New York makes some odd decisions under pressure. Carmelo Anthony was not the problem (23 points on 14 shots), but the Knicks as a whole had issues.

With this loss, the Knicks drop to seventh in the East, the Sixers have passed them.

Wizards 98, Nets 92: The Nets jumped out early with 35 first quarter points on 61.5 percent shooting and looked like they would run away with this one up 17 at one point. But they are the Nets. Washington started the second half on a 19-4 run fueled by good defense (the Nets had 12 points in the quarter) plus offense from Jordan Crawford (9 in the quarter and 21 for the game) and JaVale McGee.

But in crunch time John Wall took over. He had two pretty little free throw line jumpers and it was his play (and 26 points) that won this game.

Hawks 104, Pistons 96: Not much of a defensive showing in this one as both teams shot over 50 percent (and both finished with very good offensive efficiency numbers). But the Hawks have just a little more offensive firepower and balance — six players finished in double digits. So the Hawks get the win, but it’s not one to write home about.

Suns 108, Clippers 99: We’ve already discussed Blake Griffin fouling out on a charge call as he threw down a ridiculous dunk over Marcin Gortat. Thing is, that didn’t really matter as far as the game went. This felt like last year’s Suns team — they bench went on a 17-6 run to start the fourth quarter, open things up and pull away. Good games from both Steve Nash (23 points, 13 assists) and Channing Frye (19 points, 5 threes).

Kings 127, Timberwolves 95: Kevin Love got hurt, DeMarcus Cousins got tossed for pushing. It wasn’t a good game for big men. It was a good game for the rest of the Kings as everybody got to contribute. Maybe the most interesting one was Donte Green coming in to start the fourth quarter and had 13 points to spark a 17-0 run that turned this into a route in the third (then the Kings out scored them 42-20 in the first.

With the win, Sacramento moves out of last place in the West. Minnesota moves in.

Rockets 110, Jazz 108: This is a big win for the Rockets, moving them into 9th in the Western Conference (ahead of Phoenix and Utah), ready to pounce if Memphis or Portland or any playoff team that stumbles. Some amazing individual performances: Houston’s Kyle Lowry had his first ever triple double (28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) while Utah’s Paul Millsap had 35 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks — not bad for a guy in his first game back from knee tendinitis.

Raptors 95, Thunder 93: It was a very sloppy game from the Thunder, yet they have so much more talent than Toronto they were still in it. Kevin Durant was 6-of-21 shooting, Russell Westbrook was slightly better at 7-of-19. OKC coach Scott Brooks tried everything, from going small to probably a war dance in the locker room. He got his comeback the Thunder were even up three late. But among the list of things Kendrick Perkins does not do well is hit free throws. So his miss of two late that could have sealed it left the door open and Amir Johnson hit a game-winning hook for the Raptors.

Mavericks 101, Warriors 73: Dallas got out fast to an 8 point lead after one, but the Warriors hung around throughout this one. Well, until the fourth quarter. That’s when a 21-2 Mavericks run made it a total blowout. Not much to see here, but Peja Stojakovic had 17.

Lakers 84, Trail Blazers 80: It’s good to have Kobe Bryant on your team. After a pretty sloppy game up to the final five minutes (5 of 15 shooting) Kobe just took over, with 8 points and an assist, which included a steal and a dunk off Andre Miller and a pretty baseline fadeaway over Brandon Roy. Not a real pretty game for the Lakers but the 14-3 run sealed it.

The Lakers will take any win without Andrew Bynum, this one just happens to give them the Pacific Division title. Again.

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.

Report: John Wall ‘rankled’ by James Harden’s high-paying Rockets contract

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards is defended by James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half at Verizon Center on March 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bradley Beal isn’t the only player bothering John Wall.

James Harden – who’s earning a lot of money from the Rockets and adidas – is drawing the ire of the Wizards point guard.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

One league source familiar with Wall’s state of mind simply put it this way: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

A front office executive tells The Ringer that Wall was “rankled” after Harden signed a four-year, $118 million extension with the Rockets.

O’Connor also pointed out this line from Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports on Wall rejected adidas’ offer:

“He wanted Harden money,” a source told The Vertical.

I wonder how Wall feels about Beal’s max contract, which pays much more than Wall’s deal. Wall didn’t like Reggie Jackson, another lesser player, earning the same amount as him.

The union rejecting cap smoothing in light of the new national TV contracts has certainly adversely affected Wall, who locked in long-term just before the salary cap explosion became known. As other players sign huge contracts, he’s stuck on his old-money deal.

Washington could’ve renegotiated and extended Wall’s contract, but it would have been more complicated than Harden’s arrangement. Wall has three years remaining to what was previously two for Harden. How much extra money would the Wizards have paid Wall over the next three years just to get him committed for one more year? Instead, they signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith.

I’m also unsure Wall would’ve accepted an extension. He doesn’t seem overly happy in Washington, and a raise via renegotiation was coming only if Wall provided something in return – an additional year of team control added to his contract.

And don’t lose track of this: Harden is better than Wall.

I don’t mind Wall monitoring other players’ contracts. That jealousy or whatever you want to call it has driven Wall to become a star NBA player. Whatever motivation works.

But demanding Harden’s deal is unrealistic. The Wizards also ought to be mindful of how Beal’s new contract affects chemistry, but that’s their problem.

Wall’s issue – as a player, not endorser – is primarily theoretical. He’s tied to his current contract, and lesser players will earn more than him due simply to timing. He must find a way to make peace with that.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Today is day two of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

The Utah Jazz barely missed the playoffs last season, but virtually no team in the middle tier of the league is as universally adored for their direction. They’re well-coached by Quin Snyder, have a roster that makes sense together and made sensible moves this summer to get better. Barring injuries, they should be a lock to make the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

The Jazz are also the beneficiaries of the shifting balance of power in the Western Conference. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant and while they’re probably still a playoff team, they’re far from a lock. The Blazers spent a lot of money but didn’t necessarily get better, and may have overachieved last season. The Timberwolves, despite having arguably the brightest future in the league, are still probably a couple years away. The Rockets and Grizzlies are still total question marks, and the Pelicans haven’t been able to construct a solid group around Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Jazz are sitting there with the least downside of any of these bubble teams, not a lot of rotation question marks and play in a division without a clear-cut favorite.

Nobody thinks the Jazz are going to be title contenders, but looking up and down the west hierarchy, there isn’t a team that the Warriors or the Spurs should want to face less in the playoffs. And this year, they have the depth to get there.

Ryan McDonough: Suns plan to be ‘major players’ in 2017 free agency

Ryan McDonough
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The Suns have swung big in free agency the previous couple years, chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.

But 2016 appeared to be the year Phoenix really eyed.

The Suns structured the contracts of multiple players – including Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris – to have salaries that dipped this summer. Time that flexibility correctly, and it can really pay off.

Phoenix big prize? Jared Dudley.

Dudley is a nice player, but he’s hardly the star the Suns seek. So, they’ll try again next year.

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

That’s been one of our frustrations this summer. We were kind of on the sideline for some of the marquee free agents. But as you know, Woj, it wasn’t the deepest free agent class.

Potentially, it’s a very strong free agent class next year. And one of the things we’ve done with our contracts is we’ve lined them up to have max cap space next year without really touching the core of our roster.

I think and I hope at this time next year, we’re major players in free agency. Because as you mentioned, the Phoenix Suns are a destination franchise.

The 2017 free agent class won’t be as strong as hoped.

LeBron James locked in for multiple years with the Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder. Kevin Durant indicated he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. So has Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin is reportedly “adamant” about re-signing with the Clippers.

Teams will almost certainly match any offer for the top restricted free agents – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel – if they don’t extend their contracts first.

That still leaves several quality unrestricted free agents – including Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap – but Paul and Lowry are point guards. Phoenix already has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker looks like the shooting guard of the future. So, forget simply sliding Bledsoe or Knight to off guard. It’d take a major shakeup for Paul or Lowry to make sense with the Suns.

Still, McDonough’s approach is logical. If he can keep kicking the can down the road, perpetually selling that his plan is a year from taking it hold, it’ll make it easier for him to retain his prestigious job.

But if he has to make his 2017 free agency plan work rather than deferring to 2018, it could be difficult.

The Suns project to have about $17 million in cap space (under a system that could change significantly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). Renouncing restricted free agent Alex Len could clear about $12 million more, and just $500,000 of Leandro Barbosa‘s $4 million salary is guaranteed. Trading Tyson Chandler, Bledsoe and/or Knight could open even more space. Losing Len isn’t ideal, but for the right free agent, the upgrade would be worthwhile.

The bigger issue is winning. Phoenix has struggled to lure top free agents, because the team has missed the playoffs six straight years. That’s unlikely, though not impossible, to change this year. If the probabilities hold, what does McDonough sell then?

He always has the option of using cap space to facilitate uneven trades, a route he previously broached. Depending on the deal, that could encroach on 2017 cap space.

But if his plan holds, the Suns will keep their books relatively clear until next summer.