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.

Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis lead way, Bulls blow out Kyrie-less Celtics 108-85

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CHICAGO (AP) — Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis are starting to draw attention for their play together instead of their fight with each other.

Mirotic scored 24 points, Portis added a career-high 23 and the Chicago Bulls blew out Boston 108-85 on Monday night with Celtics star Kyrie Irving sidelined because of a bruised left quadriceps.

Owners of the NBA’s worst record, the Bulls (6-20) built an 18-point lead in the second quarter against the Eastern Conference leaders. And when Boston cut it to 12 in the fourth, the Bulls simply pulled away for their third straight win.

Leading the way were two players who made headlines for all the wrong reasons before the season started.

Their fight at practice left Mirotic with facial fractures, causing him to miss the first 23 games. Portis served an eight-game suspension.

But the two have played well together the past two games.

“We need to give the credit to (coach Fred Hoiberg),” Mirotic said. “Fred is the one who is making us play. He’s the guy who is calling the plays for us and putting us in the right spots to play.”

As for the fight?

“Man, that situation’s over,” Portis said. “Everybody’s talking about that. But that doesn’t matter anymore. We’re just trying to win games.”

Mirotic made his first start of the season with leading scorer Lauri Markkanen sidelined because of back spasms and shot 9 of 14 with eight rebounds. Through three games, the 6-foot-10 forward is averaging 16.3 points.

Portis shot 10 of 15 and nailed all three 3-pointers.

Al Horford scored 15 for Boston (23-6). Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier added 13 points apiece in the Celtics’ most lopsided loss of the season.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked. It was simple as that,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Chicago dictated the whole game. They played harder than we did. They played with more presence than we did. They played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”

 

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.