Carmelo Anthony, Jrue Holiday

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Five in a row for the Knicks

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What you missed while being thankful a rogue boulder didn’t destroy your home and car…

Knicks 82, Sixers 79: This was the ugliest win for the Knicks on their five-game winning streak, but it may also be the best. Not the best because it moves them within three games of the struggling Sixers in the Atlantic division (well, that does matter, too) but rather because they won it a grind it out game. This was one where both teams looked tired and neither could get a shot to fall (New York won shooting 36.7 percent overall and hit 2-of-13 from three) but good teams win ugly games. Mike Woodson made the adjustments — he went small and got a good game from Stoudemire (21 points) and good defense from Shumpert on Philly’s guards.

These teams are moving in opposite directions — Philly has lost 4 of 5 — and now the Sixers are just one game ahead of the Celtics and three ahead of the Knicks. The race to win the Atlantic and avoid the Bulls or Heat in the first round is now fully engaged for the next five weeks. Along those same lines, the Knicks are now four games and Boston two behind six-seed Atlanta.

Thunder 113, Clippers 91: This was close through the first quarter, when the Clippers shot 50 percent, hit 6-of-8 from three and trailed just 33-30 after one. But in the next three quarters the Clippers shot 32.2 percent and the Thunder pulled away for a relatively easy win. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder did a good job getting Kevin Durant isolated on Nick Young and Randy Foye and that led to him looking dominant getting 32 points on just 18 shots. Durant did a good job of recognizing his matchup advantages and taking Young down on the block when he could. The Clippers never really adjusted, which is another issue altogether. Russell Westbrook had 19.

Kendrick Perkins picked up an early technical when he gave a hard foul on Blake Griffin who was trying to go up and dunk over him. That’s a little payback for last time.

Lakers 109, Mavericks 93: What is it with this Lakers team winning the hard game s and losing to the bottom feeders? A night after dropping a game to a Rockets team without its starting backcourt, the Lakers go on a 20-4 run in the second quarter to take the lead and win relatively easily over Dallas.

One real key was the Lakers shot 58.4 percent on the night — Kobe Bryant was 11-of-18 (Dallas really missed Shawn Marion, who was out), Paul Gasol 13-of-16, and Ramon Sessions was 7-of-8 on his way to 17 points plus 9 assists. The Lakers offense looks so much better with the quickness that Sessions brings to the point — Mike Brown, stop the charade, start Sessions and say you are going to close with him, not Steve Blake. The Lakers ball movement all night was fantastic — the Mavericks doubled Andrew Bynum had and fast all night and while he had just 9 points he passed well out of the double team. Dirk Nowitzki had 26, Jason Terry ran the pick-and-roll well on his way to 23.

Nuggets 116, Pistons 115: On a night of entertaining games nothing beat this one. It didn’t look that way early when the Nuggets owned the first quarter and were up 22, but that’s when the Ben Gordon show started — he had 21 points in the second and 45 for the game. He was 9-of-9 from three. He was a force of nature and it looked like he was going to lead the Pistons to a rare road victory. But Denver closed the game out on an 8-0 run — and that doesn’t do it justice.

Denver was down three with 5.6 seconds left when Arron Afflalo drove and hit the spinning layup for with the foul. Hit the free throw and Denver ties the game. Afflalo misses — but the first game as a Nugget JaVale Mcgee makes the play getting around Greg Monroe for a putback slam that gave Denver the win. McGee had 15 points in the game. Gordon got a good look at his own game winner, but that seemed to be the only shot he missed all night.

Bulls 94, Raptors 82: You really cannot over-sell just how impressive all these Bulls wins this season are without Derrick Rose — they are now 12-4. Toronto led most of this game behind 23 points from DeMar DeRozan, but the Bulls went on a 20-0 fourth quarter run thanks to John Lucas III and Kyle Korver to get the win. Yes, Lucas and Korver were the heroes. Deal with it.

Magic 103, Suns 93: Dwight Howard got the better of a fun matchup with Marcin Gortat scoring 28 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and adding a couple blocks for fun. But the real story was the Suns defense kept losing Ryan Anderson on pick-and-pops or just out by the arc and he made them pay with 7 three pointers on his way to 29 points. The Magic started to take control late in the first quarter and by the fourth this was garbage time.

Wizards 108, Nets 89: Nene had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Washington. Mix that in with Jordan Crawford having and efficient 21 points on 13 shots and you get a pretty comfortable Wizards win. Washington looked much more fundamentally sound and smart with Nene out there. We’ll see how long that carries over.

Hawks 103, Cavaliers 102 (OT): Josh Smith seemed to be everywhere and had 32 points and 17 rebounds. Early on it was Kyrie Irving (28 points) and Antawn Jamison (23) who had the Cavs up on the road, but the Hawks battled back and the fourth quarter was pretty tight. That’s when Joe Johnson, shooting 3-14 to start the night, hit a big three to send it to overtime. Then in overtime he hit the game winner. So I guess he really is worth all that money… nah. But he had a good night.

Warriors 101, Hornets 92: Klay Thompson (career high 27 points) and David Lee (25) fail to understand the concept of tanking and lead the Warriors to the win. The Hornets get tanking, they have been doing it all season

Spurs 116, Timberwolves 100: San Antonio was in control of this one from the start and used and 11-1 run late in the first quarter to really grab hold of a double-digit lead it would never relinquish. Tim Duncan had 21 and didn’t play the fourth quarter, Stephen Jackson had 16 for the Spurs off the bench. Kevin Love had 17 points and 12 boards because that is what he does. But the Spurs owned this one.

Tony Parker did leave in the second quarter with what was described as a tight hamstring. Something to watch.

Ryan McDonough: Suns plan to be ‘major players’ in 2017 free agency

Ryan McDonough
AP Photo/Matt York
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The Suns have swung big in free agency the previous couple years, chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.

But 2016 appeared to be the year Phoenix really eyed.

The Suns structured the contracts of multiple players – including Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris – to have salaries that dipped this summer. Time that flexibility correctly, and it can really pay off.

Phoenix big prize? Jared Dudley.

Dudley is a nice player, but he’s hardly the star the Suns seek. So, they’ll try again next year.

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

That’s been one of our frustrations this summer. We were kind of on the sideline for some of the marquee free agents. But as you know, Woj, it wasn’t the deepest free agent class.

Potentially, it’s a very strong free agent class next year. And one of the things we’ve done with our contracts is we’ve lined them up to have max cap space next year without really touching the core of our roster.

I think and I hope at this time next year, we’re major players in free agency. Because as you mentioned, the Phoenix Suns are a destination franchise.

The 2017 free agent class won’t be as strong as hoped.

LeBron James locked in for multiple years with the Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder. Kevin Durant indicated he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. So has Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin is reportedly “adamant” about re-signing with the Clippers.

Teams will almost certainly match any offer for the top restricted free agents – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel – if they don’t extend their contracts first.

That still leaves several quality unrestricted free agents – including Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap – but Paul and Lowry are point guards. Phoenix already has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker looks like the shooting guard of the future. So, forget simply sliding Bledsoe or Knight to off guard. It’d take a major shakeup for Paul or Lowry to make sense with the Suns.

Still, McDonough’s approach is logical. If he can keep kicking the can down the road, perpetually selling that his plan is a year from taking it hold, it’ll make it easier for him to retain his prestigious job.

But if he has to make his 2017 free agency plan work rather than deferring to 2018, it could be difficult.

The Suns project to have about $17 million in cap space (under a system that could change significantly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). Renouncing restricted free agent Alex Len could clear about $12 million more, and just $500,000 of Leandro Barbosa‘s $4 million salary is guaranteed. Trading Tyson Chandler, Bledsoe and/or Knight could open even more space. Losing Len isn’t ideal, but for the right free agent, the upgrade would be worthwhile.

The bigger issue is winning. Phoenix has struggled to lure top free agents, because the team has missed the playoffs six straight years. That’s unlikely, though not impossible, to change this year. If the probabilities hold, what does McDonough sell then?

He always has the option of using cap space to facilitate uneven trades, a route he previously broached. Depending on the deal, that could encroach on 2017 cap space.

But if his plan holds, the Suns will keep their books relatively clear until next summer.

Wesley Matthews: ‘I’m a whole different person’ further removed from injury

DENVER, CO - MARCH 06:  Wesley Matthews #23 of the Dallas Mavericks controls the ball against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 6, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Mavericks 116-114 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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After Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles in March 2015, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle preached caution and suggested Matthews could be out until Christmas.

Matthews said he’d play opening night.

Matthews was right.

He played in Dallas’ first game and 77 others last season. The problem: He didn’t play that well. Matthews meandered through arguably his worst pro season.

Matthews, via Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

“I’m a whole different person,” the 29-year-old Matthews said. “I’m a whole different player, and I’m really just excited to get out there and show it, and just to be who I know I can be and just to continue to grow. Obviously, it was different coming off of an Achilles (injury) and not having four or five months to prepare and all that stuff, and jumping right into the season being physically able to play every single game and play heavy minutes. It took until about after the All-Star break for me to get my legs back, because I play both ends of the court. And I feel better than when I got hurt.

I’ll need to see it to believe it.

Considering Matthews age, time might not be enough to return his production to pre-injury levels. He did improve after the All-Star break, but not enough to put concern behind him.

The stakes are high for the Mavericks, who still owe Matthews $53,652,528 over the next three years. Not only could Matthews’ decline hinder their ability to win a reasonable amount in Dirk Nowitzki‘s final years, it could limit their inevitable post-Nowitzki rebuild.

Hopefully, Matthews feels as good as he says, but players tend to be overly optimistic in these situations. On the other hand, Matthews backed up his similarly daunting declaration last year.

Report: Nets paid record $3 million to move up 13 spots in draft for Isaiah Whitehead

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Isaiah Whitehead #15 of the Brooklyn Nets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images
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In 2010, the Thunder paid the Hawks $3 million for the draft rights to No. 31 pick Tibor Pleiss. That, according to Bryan Fonseca of Nets Daily, is the most ever paid for a player’s draft rights.

The Nets matched it this year – and they didn’t even get a fresh pick. They just paid to move up 13 spots in the second round.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Nets sent $3 million and the 55th pick (Marcus Paige) to the Utah Jazz for the 42nd pick (Isiah Whitehead)

That’s a sizable commitment to get Whitehead, who has the size and raw skills to thrive at guard in the NBA. He was just so inefficient at Seton Hall, I have major doubts about his approach to the game. It will be up to Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson to refine Whitehead’s style.

If owner Mikhail Prokhorov is willing to pay for that opportunity, good for the Nets. Brooklyn has bought several extra draft picks over the last few years. The Nets don’t have an exceptionally high hit rate on those selections, but every extra swing increases their odds of finding quality contributors – especially important because they dealt away control of so many of their own first-rounders in doomed trades with the Celtics and Hawks.

Report: Incentive bonuses in Yi Jianlian’s Lakers contract would septuple his salary if he plays 59 games

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14:  Jianlian Yi #11 of China controls the ball as Nikola Kalinic #10 of Serbia defends during the preliminary round game at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
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Yi Jianlian’s unconventional contract terms with the Lakers had slowly emerged. He’ll earn somewhere between $250,000 and $8 million next season, $1,139,123 just for remaining on the roster through Jan. 10.

But that left a huge sum to unknown incentive bonuses.

Now, they’re known.

Yi can trigger $2,286,959 bonuses for hitting three benchmarks based on games played, according to Basketball Insiders. Here’s the running total for those incentives:

  • 20-39 games played: $2,286,959
  • 40-58 games played: $4,573,918
  • 59+ games played:$6,860,877

Whether or not he plays or is even active, Yi will earn $6,701 each day he’s on the roster from Oct. 25 until Jan. 10 (with a guaranteed minimum of $250,000 in total income). Then, if he’s still on the roster Jan. 10, Yi will lock in another $623,167. That’s his base compensation.

But the bonuses – for actually playing in games – are far more lucrative.

Here’s how Yi’s salary would increase throughout the season, which begins Oct. 25 and ends April 12, if he plays every Lakers game:

image

Of course, Yi might not play every game.* So, those three big jumps can be slid back accordingly. The Lakers did well to build Yi’s contract around incentives they have complete control over.

*If Yi doesn’t trigger his first games-played bonus so quickly, his base salary ($6,701 per day) would pass his guaranteed minimum ($250,000) Dec. 1.

The NBA Constitution calls for the trade deadline to be the 17th Thursday of the regular season, which would be Feb. 16 this year – before Yi can earn his third bonus and maybe before he earns one or two. This makes him an intriguing trade chip. Because his cap number will be $8 million throughout the season, he could help fetch a higher-priced player in a trade. Then, the team that acquires him could waive him and pay only what he had earned to date.

But before it gets to that point, Yi will try to fight his way into the rotation.

There’s a lot on the line.