Now what, New York Knicks?

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If you asked any Knicks fan before the season if they would take a trip to the playoffs and a trade that brings them Carmelo Anthony this season, they would have taken it.

But it’s premature to hang the “Mission Accomplished” banner.

The Knicks accomplished goals and a good season. You can say they are back. But the Celtics sweep showed just how far the Knicks as currently constructed are from contenders. Only the first part of the job is done, there is hard work left before a real banner can be hung.

It appears that the Knicks are going to bring Donnie Walsh back, not just for next season but for two more years. As it should be. The man cut the payroll in half while getting Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in house (Anthony at a steep price, thanks to the Knicks owner). He found Landry Fields and got solid role players in place. He did the hard work of laying a foundation for a title team, he should be allowed to finish the job.

If Walsh is safe, it’s likely Mike D’Antoni is safe too. That is going to anger some Knicks fans who will say his teams don’t play defense. I would say you can’t say his teams don’t play defense until you give him some players willing to play defense.

Then we get to the on the court issues. There are two key areas to deal with this offseason — and no, the answers are not Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Well, those would be good answers, but I prefer to live in reality not in a magical chocolate factory with golden tickets needed for entry (even if Knicks ticket prices make it seem like the tickets should be printed on gold). Those two may be the long-term dreams, but you are not getting them before next season (whenever that starts). And maybe not ever. So, back to our questions.

Do the Knicks bring back Chauncey Billups?

He’s an aging point guard who is due $14.2 million next season, and the Knicks have five days now to pick up his extension for next season or let him walk as a free agent.

Billups at the point changed the Knicks from what Raymond Felton had done. Less pick and roll, for one. But he also brought better scoring — 17.5 points per game — and an ability to get to the line. He hit some big shots and he seemed to be figuring out. He can rack up more assists, he’s a smart player who can adjust and fit his game with D’Antoni’s up-tempo system. But he also will turn 35 next month. He broke down during the playoffs this season, a sin that seems unforgivable to some Knicks fans.

Keeping him pushes the Knicks up to $58 million in payroll. It also gives them a big expiring contract to trade, which may be the best option.

The other real question — who can you get that’s better? Paul is much more likely to come as a free agent in 2012 if he comes at all (and if they have the cap room under whatever the new CBA system is) than in a trade. Billups is still better than much of what is out there. Better than Toney Douglas (unless you hate assists and like your guards to be gunners). There may not be a better choice for one more season.

The more pressing need is to find defense in the form of a shot blocking, rebounding, big presence in the middle center. That is the Knicks biggest need. Which puts them in the same boat as about 20 other teams. There just are not a lot of those guys out there, and the ones that are out there are coveted. And expensive.

Marc Gasol becomes a restricted free agent this summer, but the Grizzlies likely would match anything the Knicks offer. And again, we don’t know what the financial system will be, so the Knick may or may not be able to make a serious offer for him, but you can bet the Grizzlies will have the upper hand. (Smart money says there will still be strong incentives for teams to be able to keep players, and Memphis very much wants to keep him.)

Still, by trade or free agency, the Knicks need a real big man who can own the paint on defense.

After that, it’s about finding role players that fit the system. Landry Fields has a spot. Ronny Turiaf is nice as an energy big man off the bench, Douglas as some scoring punch from the guard spot. But guys that fit the system and can play with Stoudemire and Anthony can be found.

The Knicks have their foundation, but the Celtics showed what a fully built house looks like. What a contender looks like. And the Knicks still have a ways to go to get there.

But at least it looks like Walsh will be doing the building. Which is a good start.

Report: Kevin Love called out in emotional Cavaliers team meeting

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Having lost 8-of-11, a Cavaliers team meeting where the players got to vent seemed inevitable. There isn’t one person in that Cavaliers locker room that doesn’t deserve some blame for how things have turned.

However, Kevin Love apparently became the whipping boy.

From Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Cleveland Cavaliers held a fiery team meeting in the practice facility locker room prior to Monday’s practice, during which several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love’s illness that led him to leave Saturday’s loss to Oklahoma City early and miss Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

Several players were pushing for the Cavaliers’ management and coaching staff to hold Love accountable for leaving the arena before the end of Saturday’s game, and then missing Sunday’s practice, league sources told ESPN.

The meeting was loud and intense, only calming down once Love spoke to those gathered in the room and explained himself, league sources said.

The more things change, the more things are always Kevin Love’s fault.

According to the report, the majority of the team seemed to accept Love’s explanation. Love left the Cavaliers ugly, nationally televised blowout at the hands of the Thunder in the first half and did not return due to what was described only as an illness. He did not stay around for the end of the game. I’m not about to speculate on how ill he was or was not, what matters is that his teammates were not buying it. When a team is losing finger-pointing is almost inevitable, and Love has gotten more than his fair share of it in Cleveland. At least he stood up for himself.

Team meetings may allow a pressure release in a locker room, but they almost never result in any kind of meaningful change. We’ll see what if anything changes in Cleveland.

Bucks GM on Jason Kidd firing: “This is a performance-based thing”

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Last season the Bucks went 42-40 in the regular season and were up 2-1 in their first-round playoff series against Toronto before ultimately losing in six.

This season, expectations were high. Before the season there was talk from the team of a 50-win team (Las Vegas oddsmakers set the under/over at 47.5) that would finish in the top four in the Eastern Conference, hosting a playoff round. There was hope that the defense would improve, and with that the Bucks would look like a young team figuring it out.

They haven’t looked like that at all — they are 23-22 (with the point differential of a 20-25 team), and their defense is 25th in the NBA. Currently, they have just a one-game cushion for the final playoff slot in the East.

That cost coach Jason Kidd his job, first-year Bucks GM Jon Horst said Monday night at a press conference, as reported by Matt Velazquez at the Journal-Sentinel.

“At the end, this is a performance-based thing,” Horst said. “We believe in this team, we believe in our players and in the talents that they have. We’re looking forward at making playoff appearances in consecutive years for the first time in over a decade and hopefully winning a first-round series for the first time in over a decade. So we felt like at this time, this is the right decision to help this team get there.”

Around the league the move was not a total surprise, but the timing caught people off guard. Horst said it happened “relatively quickly” and explained:

“A general manager in the NHL had a statement once: ‘If something is inevitable, why wait?’ I think we came to the conclusion that this was the best thing for the future of the franchise and this was the time.”

Come this summer this will be the hottest coaching job available because of Giannis Antetokounmpo and the potential of this roster. Names such as Jeff Van Gundy and former Pelicans coach Monty Williams have been mentioned, but the ultimate list will be longer. Honestly, a few coaches with jobs might rather have the Bucks job (although the challenges between the two owners there can make things uncomfortable at times).

“We have another game on Friday and between that time we have a plan that we’ll put in place that we’ll kind of layout for the rest of the season,” Horst said. “We’ll go into the summer and have an extensive coaching search with an opportunity to hopefully find a great coach for this organization of which (interim coach) Joe Prunty has every opportunity to be a part of based on what happens going forward.”

This is going to a rough adjustment for Antetokounmpo and some of the players, who respected and trusted Kidd. There’s a lot of pressure on Horst with this hire.

That doesn’t make it the wrong move — Horst did the right thing here. The Bucks were going to be moving on, they just did it sooner rather than later.

 

Kevin Durant fires back, says Clint Capela’s job is “easy”

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“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them… We are better than them.”

That was young Rockets center Clint Capela after the Rockets beat the Warriors last Saturday night, feeling confident.

Asked about it, Kevin Durant shot Capela down, saying he’s not the guy that should be commenting.

There are no easy jobs in the NBA. It takes a lot of work physically, a good mental feel for the game, and the right opportunity just to get a chance. That said, some NBA jobs are simpler and more straightforward than others. On offense, Capela is not the ball handler and creator making a lot of decisions, things are simple for him — and he executes them. He’s shooting 66.6 percent this season — he does what he does well.

Houston took two of three from Golden State this season, and while that is far from doing it in a playoff series it should be a confidence boost for Houston if/when they go up against Golden State.

Jason Kidd says Giannis Antetokounmpo offered to save his job minutes before firing

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The stagnant Milwaukee Bucks shook things up by firing head coach Jason Kidd  Monday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was not happy with the news. So much he called up Kidd and offered to help save his job, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Antetokounmpo is understandably close to Kidd — he’s been the coach who helped transform the Greek Freak into an NBA superstar. Kidd is on his way to the Hall of Fame as a player, and as a coach had the vision to put the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands as a point guard. Antetokounmpo trusted Kidd.

However, the Bucks’ growth has been stagnant — this is a team where the players talked about being a 50-win, top-four team in the East with a strong defense, instead they are a team on the way to around .500, barely hanging onto a playoff spot, with the point differential of a team that wins 36 games. They are not taking a step forward, and the Bucks — with the approval of ownership, which was very close to Kidd at one time — approving the move.

There was nothing Antetokounmpo could have done. It’s life in the NBA. That doesn’t mean he has to like it.