What the Knicks should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Miami Heat. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: Quite the wild ride for ye old Knickerbockers last season. They started out gangbusters, and truth be told, their team before the trade was a lot more fun. Felton figured out how to run with Stoudemire, Gallo was a firecracker, Wilson Chandler was this odd piece sticking out of the side like an extra Lego piece, and they were a team of emotion, style, and fallible fun. Just what a Knicks team should be.

Naturally, that got blown to Kingdom Come.

Dolan listened to Isiah, and Melo was bought for a King’s ransom. The core was detonated and Mike D’Antoni looked down at his team’s roster sheet one morning and found that he had an aging, non-distributor point guard, two players who both like to work in ISO sets and need the ball about 25 percent of the time if not more, and Shaun Williams is now a starter. May God have Mercy on his soul.

The Knicks had some big wins with Melo, most notably against the Heat. They played well enough to make it into the playoffs which was a big step forward and might not have happened if the previous core had continued to slide. But there was an innocence lost. Regardless of that, Melo made a huge appearance in the playoffs, but without Billups and Stoudemire due to injuries, they couldn’t get it done. Plus, you know, Jared Jeffries.

It was a good season. Not a great one, but a good one, and the start of something special in New York.

Since last we saw the Knicks: Since over $50 million of their salary is locked up in three players, it’s not like there’s a lot of wiggle room. But the Knicks have seen some changes. They have some supporting cast members and bench scrubs cleared off the books. But the biggest changes are up top. Donnie Walsh stepped down as the Big Guy but remains as a consultant. Mike Woodson has joined Mike D’Antoni’s staff as a defensive assistant.

And Isiah Thomas continues to hover. Waiting. Watching. Ready for the moment to strike and return to where he feels he belongs. But seriously, he’s just friends with James Dolan. Just friends.

When the lockout ends, the Knicks need to…

One of the biggest problems with the NBA and its management is that it rarely adheres to a plan 100 percent. It mixes ideologies. Say you’re a rebuilding team, and a veteran sub-star comes available. Teams will throw money and assets to acquire the player, despite it having no real place in the overall design of the team. Similarly, the question is not whether the Knicks will try to do too much at once, it’s how badly they will.

The Knicks have two distinct goals. Provide supporting role players for Melo and Stoudemire (and Billups, if that’s your cup of tea), and obtain a third superstar (Chris Paul, if your cup of tea is called “Isiah’s special blend”). Now, even under the most imaginative of circumstances, the odds of the Knicks having much room after the new cap is put in place are pretty slim. But there will be room somehow someway to add Chris Paul, should he make good on his little toast a year ago.

If that’s what they want to do, however, they have to pay for it, and not just in dollars. They have to not go hog wild in free agency. That means no J.R. Smith, no Wilson Chandler, no… I’ve run out of Nuggets in China, but you get my point. If you want to make room for Paul, you have to clear some more space. It’s just like 2009-2010, only you’ll still probably make the playoffs.

On the flip side, if you want the team to go forward in the playoffs immediately, you have to go forward. Ronnie Turiaf is not going to average a double double. Boris Diaw isn’t walking through that door (mostly because he can’t fit, but still). Toney Douglas has to improve, and if not, the Knicks need a distributor playmaker. Ramon Sessions works well in that capacity. There are options.

The Knicks have all the promise in the world and two superstars. If they get Chris Paul (or Deron Williams, or Dwight Howard) in 2012, they’ll have changed the landscape in the biggest way since the CBA and before that the Heat. They’ll also probably be in violation of about fifteen different degrees of collusion, but still. It’ll be exciting. The Knicks have enough to compete next year, but whether they compete for 2012 or 2013 is the question.

LeBron James will play in opener against Celtics

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Did we really expect anything else?

LeBron James was a game-time decision for the season opener in Cleveland against Boston and Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle. We expected he would go, but ankles can be tricky and are easy to re-injure once sprained, so the Cavs wanted to be careful.

He’s going to play. Coach Tyronn Lue made it official.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, but he can coast through the regular season at times. What teams try to avoid is giving him extra motivation… say bringing in a guy who left the team last summer on opening night. Expect full force LeBron tonight.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.