Baron Davis returns to practice, but can his ailing back bear New York’s wildest expectations?

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Abandon all expectations ye who enter here: alleged Knicks savior Baron Davis is officially playing basketball again.

Davis underwent a full practice for the first time since signing with New York in December, and according to the Associated Press, the team hopes he’ll be available for his regular season debut at some point during the team’s four-game road trip. Even if that’s the case, expectations of Davis’ performance should be tempered and suppressed, if not outright smothered. Davis has always been an impressive playmaker, but it will take him time to adjust to the speed of NBA basketball again and more time yet to adjust to the frenetic schedule of a lockout-shortened season.

Even then, Baron is only Baron; he may be a better set-up man than any one else on the Knicks roster, but that doesn’t mean his prolonged presence on the court will necessarily be a net positive. Will Davis fire up ill-advised three after ill-advised three? Will he give the Knicks some much-needed order? Will he compound the defensive problems caused by Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire? Will he really ride in on a unicorn to run simultaneous pick-and-rolls with Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler while still getting Anthony the shots he wants?

Davis is still capable of being a solid player, but it’s best for all involved if his potential play is treated as a long-shot hope. The Knicks are in trouble. That much has been made crystal clear with the team’s offensive idling, the apparent incompatibility of Stoudemire and Anthony, and the New York’s ongoing six-game losing streak. But as many have warned before me, putting too much pressure on Davis’ shoulders will only result in disappointment.

Hear, hear, Knicks fans: celebrate if Davis pans out as a nice addition. Shake your head and shrug if things go, sadly, as expected. He has a chance to improve this team, but nothing in Davis’ recent career points to him as being capable of bearing a burden as heavy as saving a middling franchise. Either way, we’re ticking closer and closer to Boom Day, and the weeks and months that will define this core’s immediate future.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

Associated Press
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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.

Report: Re-signing Nerlens Noel Mavericks’ top off-season priority

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This is a Mark Cuban owned team, you don’t think the Mavericks are going to make a serious run at a free agent come July 1? Pelicans’ point guard Jrue Holiday has long been known to be a target, but there will be others.

But keeping their new core together, including restricted free agent Nerlens Noel, is the top priority, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Rumors like this are out there in part from Dallas to hope to chill the market for Noel. While he could be a defensive force who provides some scoring around the rim, with Noel’s injury history they may be able to get him at less than max money — because if he’s at the max the Mavericks are flirting with the luxury tax (and Cuban isn’t going to want to pay the tax for a borderline playoff team at best).

What Dallas fears is what Brooklyn did last season to Allen Crabbe in Portland and Tyler Johnson in Miami — some team to come in with a max or near-max offer sheet that drives up the price. Dallas will match, they will keep the young core together, it just gets more expensive.

Next season in Dallas will be a deserved big farewell to Dirk Nowitzki. He will be the focus, but behind him Dallas will try to be building for the future. They made the trade deadline move to make sure Noel is a part of that, the only question now is how much it costs them.

Magic Johnson on drafting Lonzo Ball: “what I needed was a leader”

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Nobody, not even his critics with the Lakers, question that D'Angelo Russell had talent. What they questioned from the start was his work ethic and maturity. I was told by sources with the team he often was the last one to team meetings, often one of the first out of the gym, and the whole Nick Young thing spoke to the maturity question. Byron Scott took a lot of heat as Lakers’ coach for benching him, and Scott’s communication skills were lacking, but he had reasons. Russell also just 21 and maybe he finds his way, but the Lakers weren’t willing to wait anymore.

Which is why the Lakers were willing to move him to Brooklyn in the Brook Lopez trade, and why the Lakers went after Lonzo Ball in the draft, Magic Johnson said, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

Is Lonzo Ball a leader? Only time will tell, he has the potential.

Will players want to play with him? Yes, if the passing skills he showed in college transfer to the NBA. If guys know they will get the rock if they run/cut, then they will do just that. It’s some simple B. F. Skinner stuff here — if players are rewarded they will keep doing it. Get them the rock in transition and they will get out there every time.

Ball has flaws in his game, there are certainly questions about his defense, and how that awkward shot translates remains to be seen (it goes in but his time to get it off will decrease at the NBA level)? Will he be a scoring threat in the half-court? He’s got work to do. But answer those questions and the Lakers may have the key piece to help anchor a franchise he’s been looking for.

Sacramento Kings waive guard Arron Afflalo

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento Kings have waived guard Arron Afflalo one year after signing him as a free agent.

The Kings cut ties with Afflalo on Friday before his entire $12.5 million contract for 2017-18 would become guaranteed. Afflalo will get $1.5 million instead.

Afflalo averaged 8.4 points and 2 rebounds in 61 games this past season for Sacramento. He has averaged 11.3 points per game in his 10-year career.