5 Things to Watch, Celtics-Knicks: A good ol’ fashioned Christmas brawl at the bowery

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GAMES. There will be actual NBA games played today starting at noon. To get you pumped, ready, and primed for the start of the 2011-2012 NBA season, we give you five things to keep an eye on today in Celtics-Knicks.

To get you pumped:

 

Not just an old-fashioned love song.

The Knicks didn’t put up much of a fight against the Celtics in last year’s playoffs. They were thin, injured, and burned out from pushing just to get into the Sweet 16. So it doesn’t seem like there’s much bad blood. But expect this to get chippy early and often. The Celtics have to bully the Knicks in order to maintain a mental edge because, in reality, the Celtics are long in the tooth and short on the bench.  They need help and their attitude is the best thing they have going for them. But the bigger issue is the Knicks are trying to change their culture. Tyson Chandler was brought in to make them a bigger, meaner, tougher team, and that’s going to filter through. It doesn’t take much for Melo to start swinging. This thing could turn ugly early in the kind of thing the NBA wants to avoid. If it doesn’t, whoever winds up the bully wins the game.

Good luck with that, rook. 

Presumably, Iman Shumpert will get significant playing time behind Landry Fields at shooting guard. Which means Shumpert will be tasked with defending Ray Allen. That’s nerve-wracking enough on its own, but that also means Shumpert has to bust through the 700 screens the Celtics set for Allen, often moving, and often as brutal as they come. Shumpert’s got the usual rookie frame on him, so this will likely be a learning experience in how much he’s going to need to spend time in the weight room. As for Fields, his length and athleticism isn’t great, despite being a decent enough defender. The key with him will be sticking with Allen until the possession ends. Often times Allen sneaks out to the corner after offensive rebounds or loose balls wind up in the Celtics’ hands. That leaves him open. You have to have constant mindfulness. Like Buddha.

Landry Fields needs to be like Buddha.

Go big or go home.

Remember when the Celtics won Game 2 almost entirely because of Jared Jeffries getting blocked by Kevin Garnett? That will be Tyson Chandler this time. Good luck, KG. Garnett is expected to play minutes at the five spot with Jermaine O’Neal limited by age. That seems like a pretty dangerous setup considering Garnett’s no spring chicken himself. He’s got to save himself for a long season. Then again, it’s not like Tyson Chandler just hopped off the factory truck or is without injury issues either. If the Celtics can get Chandler in foul trouble, they can run small ball, and surprisingly, here, that helps them. Anything that involves moving Stoudemire to the four helps both in terms of offense, getting fouls on STAT, and taking away his energy on offense.

The Amazing Rondo. 

Here’s what Rajon Rondo averaged last year versus the Knicks. 11 points, 6 rebounds, 16.7 assists. Good night, nurse. Rondo has been unstoppable against the Knicks. He’s back, health, and in a bad mood from trade rumors. Rondo flourishes playing against Mike D’Antoni’s up and down style. If the Knicks can’t find anyone to get a handle on him, Rondo himself will destroy the Knicks and leave their stockings empty.

Paul’s not dead, but he is injured. 

Paul Pierce is not expected to play Sunday due to a bruised foot. He made the trip with the team, so it’s possible he could give it a go, but he’s not full strength. Great start for the C’s. The bigger issue with Pierce’s absence is it means Marquis Daniels will be guarding Carmelo Anthony, if not Brandon Bass sliding up from power forward. Anthony torched the Celtics in Boston during the playoffs, with the C’s narrowly surviving his onslaught. Melo is reportedly thinner and stronger, so it will be a tough matchup with or without Pierce. The Celtics need their captain badly.

PBT Extra: What does Boston do with No. 1 pick?

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Option A: Keep the pick, draft Markelle Fultz No. 1, go hard at Gordon Hayward this summer in free agency and if you strike out with him go hard at other guys, maybe in the 2018 class.

Option B: Trade the No. 1 pick for a package that includes Jimmy Butler (or, less likely, Paul George) and put together a roster to make a hard run at the Cavaliers next year.

Those aren’t the only two options on the table, but they represent the two paths the Boston Celtics can go down this off-season after landing the No. 1 pick in the draft. I delve into it more in this PBT Extra.

Expect them to go with option A — the chance to draft a potentially elite player, and have him under contract for years on an affordable rookie deal, is too smart a long-term move to pass up.

Report: Bucks to make Justin Zanik interim GM, do broad search to find

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The Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond is on his way to Orlando, joining a new front office trying to turn the Magic — and their culture — around.

That means the Bucks need a new GM, and it was assumed long-time assistant GM Justin Zanik would step into the role. However, he may not be the long-term answer, according to a couple of reports.

Zanik will have the job in the short term, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein of ESPN broke the news on the broader search.

The Milwaukee Bucks have decided to commission a broad search for a new general manager, according to league sources. Sources told ESPN on Wednesday that Bucks consultant and longtime NBA executive Rod Thorn will lead the search on behalf of Milwaukee ownership, which is hopeful of attracting strong candidates given the Bucks’ on-the-rise status….

Current Bucks assistant general manager Justin Zanik will interview for the GM post and be given strong consideration to succeed Hammond, sources said.

Doing a broad search makes sense, the Bucks should explore their options even if they think the best one is the guy already doing the job. More information is a good thing.

The real question in Milwaukee is how much say Jason Kidd has over the roster — is he a de facto GM? There have been rumors of that for a while, and that it led to friction in the organization. How will whoever comes in handle that dynamic with the head coach?

The Bucks are a team on the rise in the East, they have Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker and Kris Middleton, it’s a team that needs to add the right pieces around them and develop into an elite team in the conference over the next couple of seasons. It will take a deft hand at GM to do that. Zanik strikes me as a guy who can do that, but the Bucks want to cover their options.

Report: Atlanta in negotiations to hire Golden State assistant GM Travis Schlenk as Hawks GM

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The Atlanta Hawks brought in some big names — Chauncey Billups most recently, they thought about Brent Barry, they took a swing at Portland GM Neil Olshey — but in the end, they went with the guy who has paid his dues, comes from a great team culture, and someone who deserves a shot. In short, they made the right play.

The Hawks are in talks to hire Golden State assistant GM Travis Schlenk to take over the big chair in Atlanta, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Atlanta Hawks are working on a contract agreement to hire Golden State Warriors executive Travis Schlenk as general manager, league sources told The Vertical. Barring any unforeseen snags, a deal could be completed as soon as Wednesday, league sources told The Vertical….

Schlenk has spent 12 years in the Warriors’ front office, including the past five as assistant GM under Bob Myers.

The position was available because Mike Budenholzer has stepped away from the coach and GM role with the team over a disagreement about direction. Now that direction question falls on Schlenk’s shoulders: Paul Millsap is a free agent this summer, should the Hawks re-sign him to a max deal and likely be a 4-6 seed for the foreseeable future, a good but not great team, or start the rebuild now? What to do about Dwight Howard and the two-years, $47.3 million he is owed? How much do they want to pay Tim Hardaway Jr., he is a restricted free agent?

Schlenk is a quality hire, a guy respected around the league who should make well thought out decisions. But he walks right into a room of tough decisions.

Report: Timberwolves, maybe Spurs have interest in Derrick Rose as a free agent

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The one thing we know about Derrick Rose‘s free agency this summer is that he will not return to the Knicks. After that, things are wide open. He and his agent say winning is what matters, and Rose can play off the ball (despite his iffy jumper), but will he accept less money and a lesser (maybe sixth man) role to be on a winning team?

The teams looking at him this summer seem to have a backup point guard role in mind, at least based on a report from Ian Begley of ESPN.

The Minnesota Timberwolves view Derrick Rose as a potential free-agent target this summer, league sources told ESPN…

Rose, the 2011 MVP, has a strong relationship with Timberwolves president and head coach Tom Thibodeau; he played for five seasons under Thibodeau with the Chicago Bulls…

It is unclear at this point which other outside teams besides the Timberwolves view Rose as a potential free-agent target. Some rival executives believe the San Antonio Spurs may have interest in Rose, depending on how the free-agent market for point guards develops.

In both cases, Rose would be the backup asked to bring scoring off the bench. In Minnesota, Ricky Rubio played the best ball of his career after the All-Star break and Tom Thibodeau will ride that (and Rubio’s quality defense) into next season. However, Kris Dunn has not panned out as a backup and Rose could be a good fit there.

In San Antonio, the point guard spot is more fluid. Tony Parker has a career-threatening injury suffered in the playoffs, and Patty Mills is a free agent. While there are rumors about them chasing Chris Paul, to do that would require a gutting of the roster (moving Pau Gasol and Parker for no money back, plus letting guys such as Mills and Dewayne Dedmon go for nothing) and there would be no money left for a guy like Rose. However, that scenario is unlikely, and if the Spurs bring Mills back Rose could make a good backup.

The question is money. Rose can still get buckets, he averaged 18 a game last season plus 4.4 assists, and he may be due a salary into the eight-figure range. But will a team pay that? And for how many years? San Antonio, if it keeps Gasol and Mills, would basically have the mid-level exception at a little more than $8 million a season. Minnesota may not offer much more. The teams willing to offer more money and a larger role to Rose are likely not ones on a deep playoff track (or maybe making the playoffs at all).

The market for Rose will be interesting, and maybe not as robust as he imagines. It will come down to what his priorities truly are.