NBA playoffs return to Manhattan, will New York like the show?

2 Comments

The NBA playoffs return to the heart of New York, to Madison Square Garden Friday night after seven long years away and will be welcomed back like the prodigal son.

Celebrities will ring the court — including Spike Lee in some all-orange disaster of an outfit — and profanity-laced chants will rain down on the Celtics. There will be real energy, real passion, real optimism, a real New York feeling that the NBA playoffs have sorely missed. Carmelo Anthony bullied his way out of Denver to be here for it and told ESPN New York this will be, um… well, he can’t use the word he wants to for a description.

“I’m pretty sure it will be crazy,” Carmelo Anthony said. “I think crazy is an understatement but that’s the word I’m going to use right now.”

The only thing this hyped and with this many injuries in New York in the last seven years was Spider-man the Musical. New Yorkers are just hoping they like Friday night’s show better.

The Knicks have landed two solid punches on the Celtics in the first two games, one from Amar’e Stoudemire in Game 1, another from Carmelo Anthony in Game 2.

In both cases the Celtics staggered, found their footing, then executed better at the end and got the wins. The Celtics played like a team with a ring — getting Ray Allen a key late-game shot — the Knicks closed out games like a team that has missed the playoffs for seven years. When Jared Jeffries is taking your clutch shots in the final minutes, you’re doing it wrong.

To do it right, the Knicks need to get healthy.

Stoudemire is expected to go, although don’t expect him to do any pregame dunks this time. That would help, although at some point he and Carmelo need to play together and not next to each other for the Knicks to truly evolve. Chauncey Billups seems unlikely but is officially a game-time decision. (Shaquille O’Neal is a no for Game 3 for Boston, there is a slight chance he plays on Easter.)

Expect the Celtics to be physical with Stoudemire early — they are physical with everyone in the paint but they will step that up a little to test Amar’e early. Also, Carmelo Anthony can expect hard double teams early as Boston does not what him to get going — make someone else beat them.

Where the Knicks need to beat them — where this game will be decided — is in the paint and on the glass. The Knicks were the better, stronger team inside in Game 2 and that as much as ‘Melo’s heroics was the reason the Knicks had a shot at the end. A shot Jeffries had to take, but a shot nonetheless.

If you’re looking for a Knicks killer, watch Ray Allen. He is 7-of-9 from three in this series, he has his stroke back. Expect Rajon Rondo to get him the ball more… well, you should expect that. But Rondo has been a little unpredictable lately. Which is another thing to watch.

Kevin Garnett has to be big, but he needs to get some help. Jermaine O’Neal was a huge factor in Game 1 and a ghost in Game 2. They need him to control the paint, they need to turn the Knicks into jump shooters.

Toney Douglas and ‘Melo can get hot and drain those jumpers, and when then do Madison Square Garden will explode. But it is not a sustainable way for the Knicks to win.

The Knicks have to win. It is must win, and desperate teams often find a way. Or, this could be Spider-man the Musical.

The only thing we know for sure is that in a series that has been crazy and loud, the volume is about to go up.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

3 Comments

Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

russell westbrook blake griffin
Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?

Report: Gordon Hayward will meet first with Heat in free agency, then Jazz, then Celtics

Leave a comment

Gordon Hayward is arguably the biggest available prize in free agency, and his dance card for the first couple of days in July is filling up.

Miami and Pat Riley will bat lead off in a series of meetings, reports ESPN.

Gordon Hayward will take his first free-agent meeting with the Miami Heat on Saturday, a source told ESPN’s Jorge Sedano. Hayward will then be traveling Sunday to meet Utah on Monday, with Boston coming after that…

Sources previously told ESPN the Jazz regard the Heat as no less a threat to lure Hayward away than the Celtics, whose interest in the former Butler star has been anticipated for some time, largely thanks to the presence of Hayward’s college coach, Brad Stevens, on Boston’s bench.

For the record, there are rumors it’s Miami Saturday, Boston Sunday, Utah Monday, then he will take some time to make a decision. I’m not sure the order matters that much.

Hayward is an All-Star level player at a position of need for a lot of teams out on the wing. He averaged 21.9 points per game last season, shot 39.8 percent from three, can put the ball on the floor and be a playmaker for himself and others, plus can defend everything from stretch fours to point guards (he’s not a lock-down defender, but he is good). Hayward is the kind of versatile player teams need to compete in a modern NBA. He’s an elite wing player who is about to get paid like one.

The question is by whom? Around the league teams are convinced it will be one of those three, but which one depends on who you talk to. The Jazz seem confident they can retain him, where others seem confident he’s got one foot out the door. Only Hayward truly knows, and he’s wise to not speak on it and take the meetings. (If he takes his time deciding that could impact the chase for Blake Griffin, Miami and Boston reportedly have interest if they don’t land Gordon, but that can’t be Gordon’s concern. He has to do what’s right for him in his own time.)