Amare Stoudemire is out, having lost his fight with a fire extinguisher in Miami.
Which has a number of Knicks faithful saying it is a blessing in disguise — Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony were not working well together. The Knicks played some of their best ball this season with a small-ball lineup where Anthony was the four, now they can go back to it. After two games in Miami where it didn’t look like there were a lot of ways for New York to get back in this series, this change brings some hope.
Stoudemire’s absence will give the Knicks a new look, but better is up for debate. And it still doesn’t seem like enough.
Anthony is clearly more comfortable at the four, where he is a mismatch. According to 82Games.com, Anthony scores nearly 10 more points per 100 possessions at the four and his effective field goal percentage (which includes a bump for made threes) jumps from 42.7 at the three to 51.8 at the four. Or look at it this way, at the three his PER is a slightly above average 16.5, at the four it is an all-world 28.9.
Also, with Anthony at the four it frees up room for more of Tyson Chandler’s rolls to the hoop off a high pick, which is an effective weapon. It allows them to space the floor with Steve Novak and J.R. Smith.
Mike Woodson may try to go small against the Heat, but that’s where the loss of Iman Shumpert really hurts. Shumpert made the Knicks small ball lineup work because he could be a perimeter defender that worked, something Novak and Smith cannot do nearly as well.
The other problem here is the opponent — the Heat are the best small ball lineup in the league. LeBron can still cover ‘Melo at the four spot. Smith and Novak cannot handle Wade. Also, the Knicks still run a lot of isolation sets and the Heat were the best isolation defensive team in the league this season, holding teams to 33.7 percent shooting on those plays.
The Knicks clearly need a change in this series to have a chance, and Stoudemire being out brings them back closer to a lineup where they had a lot of success. It gives some hope.
It just won’t be enough.
Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.
Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.
But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.
LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.
LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.
However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.
For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.
Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:
Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.