Don’t look for Knicks to make many offseason moves, just big one

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Before the first jump ball tipped off the season on Christmas, this was the season everyone thought the Knicks would take a step forward. Maybe only to the second round of the playoffs, but they were going to be good. At least the third best team in the East.

Instead, they had to fight their way into the seven seed, landed the Heat in the first round and got pushed aside pretty easily in five games.

It wasn’t always pretty. However, through the roller coaster of a season an identity and winning basketball emerged near the end. They played good defense, they ran the offense through Carmelo Anthony but there were shooters around him and it work. And for one playoff game ‘Melo and Amare Stoudemire worked together.

There are some Knicks fans looking for big changes — if ‘Melo and Amare don’t work then trade Stoudemire; bring in Phil Jackson to coach; go get Steve Nash.

I think you will only see the last thing on that list.

I believe the reports that the Knicks are in talks to make Mike Woodson the permanent coach. Woodson was 18-6 to close out the season, he is a college teammate of GM Glen Grunwald, he has the backing of Isiah Thomas who is whispering in owner James Dolan’s ear, and most importantly of all he has the support of Carmelo Anthony. Put simply, ‘Melo played hard for him where he would not for Mike D’Antoni. I still believe that Jackson does not want to return to the sidelines — not even for the Knicks job — and if Dolan can’t have him he’ll go with Woodson.

After that the core of the roster is basically set. Iman Shumpert is the starting two guard (once he returns from knee surgery), ‘Melo at the three, Stoudemire the four and Tyson Chandler the five. I don’t think they can move Stoudemire even if they wanted to (too big an uninsured contract) so Woodson needs to find a way to make him and ‘Melo work together. Jeremy Lin is a restricted free agent but he is a marketing cash cow for the team (plus a nice player) and they will not let him go. J.R. Smith may be gone and the bench needs to be filled out (expect Steve Novak and Landry Fields to be retained) but those are bench role players, the core starters are set.

Except they need a veteran starting point guard to go with them.

New York will go hard at Steve Nash. They can’t offer him a big contract (they are already over the salary cap) but they can say if he wants to contend he makes these Knicks a contender. Nash already lives in New York in the offseason.

The only question is one of fit — if you have the ball in Nash’s hands to set up the offense it is not in Anthony’s hands. And Anthony is only happy when the offense runs through him. Asking him to work off the ball while Stoudemire runs the pick-and-roll with Nash is how D’Antoni lost ‘Melo (just with a different point guard). You can still give Anthony the rock when Nash sits or call his number some trips down, but either way the fit can be strained.

However, this is Nash coming in, not Jeremy Lin or Mike Bibby. This is a two-time MVP. Woodson can push ‘Melo to share, and Nash’s three point shooting would provide spacing when Anthony does drive from isolation.

Nash can work in New York. It will take some sacrifices by everyone, but it can. If Nash decides to play elsewhere, look for the Knicks to go after Jason Kidd or try to trade for another veteran point guard. But Nash is the big fish, the one guy still playing at an elite level who might come for less money and be able to push this team forward.

It’s not a lot of changes — next season’s Knicks may look a lot like this season’s version. But there could be one change at the point and if so the Knicks become very interesting.

This summer in New York will be interesting either way.

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.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”