Mike Bibby

Knicks will sign Mike Bibby for the minimum salary, but keep their point guard options open

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The New York Knicks have gone to great lengths to find a talented center counterpart for Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. They used the amnesty clause to waive veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, and blew $14 million in the process. They chipped in another $3 million just to ensure the passing of the three-team deal that brought Tyson Chandler to New York. They gave away Ronny Turiaf in order to clear out salary to make Chandler’s signing possible, and handed over Andy Rautins to the Mavs so that Dallas would be able to create a traded player exception as motivation for a sign-and-trade.

And that was all just so the Knicks could have the opportunity to invest gobs and gobs of money in a lucrative contract for Chandler.

Those millions of dollars may not mean much for a team like the Knicks, but losing Billups — the team’s best point guard option — does. So much so, in fact, that the team has agreed to bring Mike Bibby to New York on a one-year deal for the minimum salary, according to Sam Amick of SI.com. Bibby is a quality outside shooter, but he’s hardly the playmaker — nor defender — the Knicks would need in their point man. Any offense featuring Stoudemire and Anthony should score with relative ease, but a quality playmaker could make New York’s offense transcendent. Bibby certainly doesn’t qualify, even if his three-point stroke will help space the floor for the Knicks’ stars to operate.

Yet the more obvious concerns come on the defensive end, where Bibby may be the single worst perimeter defender in the NBA. The Miami Heat were able to account for that deficiency last season with the collective strength of their smothering defense, but a Knicks lineup featuring Anthony and Stoudemire will have enough problems on D as it is. Chandler’s a skilled catch-all defensive center, but even the most talented bigs in the league can only cover so much ground and hedge against so many individual defensive weaknesses at once. The Bibby turnstile could put this team past its breaking point defensively, and put a lot of additional pressure on Chandler to adapt to his new surroundings quickly.

That said, the Knicks aren’t quite done reworking their point guard rotation, even after adding Bibby. According to Chris Mannix of SI.com, New York is also exploring the possibility of adding unrestricted free agent J.J. Barea. That’s not exactly a perfect fit, either; Barea can’t quite match Bibby’s defensive ineptitude, but his height (Barea is rather generously listed as six feet tall) makes challenging any shot problematic. Barea works hard defensively, but everything is made more difficult by the size advantage he surrenders on a nightly basis.

Plus, Barea’s successful playoff run has conjured up a mirage of offensive sufficiency. It’s true that Barea can dart around the court and create angles of penetration out of nothing, but he’s terribly inconsistent in his role as a shot creator. Upon reaching the basket, opposing defenses sometimes swallow Barea whole, and cut off his clearest utility as a player. He’s certainly useful, but his strengths aren’t nearly as pronounced as his recurring role on national television in May and June would have you believe.

It’s encouraging that the Knicks are exploring some more creative options, as signing Bibby and calling it a day could have been an otherwise predictable course of action. That said, it’s curious that Toney Douglas, the Knicks’ incumbent backup point guard, isn’t getting more public consideration. Douglas is clearly limited as a playmaker, but that flaw is seemingly universal among the Knicks’ options. The pool here is relatively dry, and in Douglas, the Knicks at least have a competent outside shooter with proven defensive effectiveness. That’s more than we can say of Bibby, who politely cedes ground to any opponent he’s tasked with guarding, and it’s more than we can say of Barea, too, who draws charges at a respectable rate, but at best is merely passable on that end.

Considering all that the Knicks have surrendered in order to make their dreamy frontline a reality, the point guard position will have its problems. Initiating the offense will be an issue on occasion. A lack of ball movement could be problematic at times. But at this point, the rotation should be designed to mitigate weaknesses, not enhance strengths. Bibby and Barea each have something to offer New York, but significant minutes for either could nudge an already fragile defense toward its collapse.

Referees miss Dion Waiters push off, multiple other calls in final seconds of Thunder’s win over San Antonio

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Manu Ginobili said it perfectly after the game: This one play, this one sequence is not why the Spurs lost Game 2 of their series against the Thunder.

However, I can’t remember a time the referees swallowed their whistles on so many calls in the final seconds of a game.

Oklahoma City was up one with 13.5 seconds left (after Serge Ibaka made a silly foul on LaMarcus Aldridge shooting a three), the Thunder just needed to inbound the ball, get fouled and hit their free throws. But it wasn’t that easy.

First and most notably, Dion Waiters was trying to inbound the ball and pushed off on Manu Ginobili guarding the inbound play. That’s a foul, or a technical depending upon which rule you want to apply. But the Spurs should have had the ball out of bounds, the referees just missed that one and both Chris Webber on the call and the TNT Inside the NBA crew harped on that one. They were right.

The officials admitted as much, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Ken Mauer, lead referee from tonight’s game: “On the floor we did not see a foul on the play. However, upon review we realize and we agree we should have had an offensive foul on the play. It’s a play we’ve never seen before, ever. We should have had an offensive foul on the play.”

The question Thunder fans are asking: Why wasn’t Ginobili called for stepping on the out of bounds line? In the final two minutes that’s a technical (the rule book says it’s a foul if he “crosses or breaks the plane of the boundary line,” Ginobili has a toe on the line). Also Leonard had Russell Westbrook‘s jersey through that entire inbounds play.

Waiters did throw a leaping inbound pass as Ginobili stumbled backwards, and he threw it to Durant — who was held as he went for the ball by Danny Green. That should have been a foul call (although Waiters’ inbound foul would have nullified it if that call had been made).

The Spurs get the ball in a scramble for the rock and end up kicking out to Patty Mills for a corner three (not sure that was the best shot), but he missed. In the rebound scramble there could have been a few calls, but the most obvious was Ibaka hacking Aldridge trying to get a putback. It was another clear foul.

All that obscured some great plays — Ginobili with the no-look, behind the head pass to Mills in the corner, or Steven Adams with an amazing closeout to get a piece of Mills’ shot, to name a couple.

I get it, the referees don’t want to decide the game with their whistle, but when it turns into a rugby scrum there should be calls, and the referees shouldn’t be afraid to make them.

Watch LeBron James make plays when it matters in fourth quarter

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On paper LeBron James didn’t have a great fourth quarter — 2-of-7 shooting, both his buckets right at the rim, and he’d been passive for long stretches of the game.

But when the Cavaliers made a 17-2 run late in the game that earned them the Game 1 win over Atlanta, LeBron was at the heart of it all. He had assists, a key steal, and a powerful and-1 dunk. You can check out LeBron’s impressive play in the last five minutes above.

Revived in crunch time, LeBron James pushes Cavaliers past Hawks in Game 1

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LeBron James  hadn’t scored in more than 10 minutes, and it was getting late in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had gone on 11-0 and 10-0 runs since his last points. And Paul Millsap forced LeBron to lose control of the ball as he went up for a left-handed layup.

A moment of truth for the Cavaliers?

LeBron pushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand while being fouled.

If you didn’t get the message, he flexed and slapped his right bicep once he landed.

It wasn’t always smooth, but Cleveland overpowered Atlanta 104-93 in Game 1 of their second-round series Monday. The Cavaliers have won seven straight overall against the Hawks, including a sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, and LeBron is now 9-0 against Atlanta in the playoffs.

“Obviously, you could tell that they went through a longer series than us,” said LeBron, whose Cavs swept the Pistons eight days ago. The Hawks beat the Celtics in six four days later.

Home Game 1 winners have won the series 85% of the time, and Atlanta will have its work cut out to become an exception.

LeBron’s offensive passiveness during Atlanta’s comeback was unwelcome, but when needed, he delivered. His 3-point play highlighted a 17-2 run that would’ve ended the game if not for a garbage-time 3-pointer by the Hawks. LeBron (25 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, five steals and a block) also stole the ball from red-hot Dennis Schröder on consecutive late possessions. This was two-way excellence when it counted, the type of production that has taken LeBron to five straight Finals.

The Cavaliers had such a big lead (18) to blow because they were hot from beyond the arc (15-for-31, 48%). When they missed, Tristan Thompson (seven offensive rebounds) got them extra opportunities.

Kevin Love (17 points and 11 rebounds) threw his body around enough to get a double-double despite shooting 4-for-17. Kyrie Irving (21 points on 8-of-18 shooting and eight assists) forced too many bad shots, but he made some tough ones and kept the ball moving.

At times, it seemed Irving was going one-on-one with Schröder (27 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and six assists). As impressive as Schröder was from beyond the arc and attacking the rim, Kent Bazemore (16 points, 12 rebounds and four assists) was his only reliable scoring sidekick.

After allowing 30 points in the first quarter, Atlanta cranked up it defense to the frenetic level showed against Boston. Millsap (17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, four blocks and two steals), Al Horford (10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals) and Bazemore (two steals) led the effort.

And Cleveland surrendered open 3s when the Hawks moved the ball, which they usually did. If they make more of those open looks, it’s easy to see them winning.

But can they win four of the next six games?

As long as LeBron plays for the Cavs, that’s a monumental challenge.

Larry Bird on Frank Vogel’s future with Pacers: “I don’t know what’s going to happen”

MIAMI, FL - MAY 24:  Team President Larry Bird of the Indiana Pacers looks on against the Miami Heat during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on May 24, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Larry Bird wanted the Pacers to play smaller and faster this season. The Pacers started the season doing that, but they weren’t defending consistently and not winning enough (dropping 7-of-11 through one stretch in December), so coach Frank Vogel started to play bigger and slower. It worked well enough for the Pacers to make the playoffs and go seven games deep in the first round against the Raptors.

Team president Larry Bird isn’t happy — he doesn’t like that Vogel changed the team’s style. For that reason, it’s unclear if Vogel — whose contract is up — will be back with the Pacers next season. Here is what Bird told Greg Doyle of the Indianapolis Star.

Indiana Pacers President Larry Bird said Monday he hasn’t decided whether to bring back coach Frank Vogel for a seventh season, telling IndyStar: “It’s no secret — I want us to score more points…

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Bird said….

“Frank’s a great guy. He’s going to be fine no matter what happens. If he’s back, he’ll be fine here. If he’s not, he’s not. We’ll see.”

If Vogel were allowed to walk away, a host of other teams would line up to pay him. Houston would be an interesting fit (although that franchise reportedly has its sights set on Jeff Van Gundy).

Here’s the question Bird and team owner Herb Simon need to answer: If not Vogel, who do you have that’s better? Think about the coaches still on the market, who is better than Vogel?

Vogel gets his teams to defend like few other coaches in the league (the Pacers were third in the league in defensive rating this season with a largely overhauled roster), and that is the foundation of any winning team. Force an “offensive coordinator” assistant on Vogel if you want, but to give up one of the better young coaches in the NBA would be a mistake by the Pacers.

And if you want to play smaller and faster, get — and in the case of Solomon Hill try to keep — players who fit that style. Right now the Pacers roster is not constructed to be great that way.