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.

James Harden throws alley-oop to Chris Paul, pair puts on show at Houston charity event

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What chemistry problem?

There are legitimate questions about how Chris Paul and James Harden will share the backcourt and ball with the Rockets, but none of those were on display on Sunday. That’s when CP3 joined his new teammate in Harden’s charity game (raising money for Harden’s charity, which helps children from single-family homes get a higher education), a kind of pro-am with some names thrown in to draw a crowd.

Harden and CP3 put on a show for the fans.

This is a charity event, not every team is going to defend like this or the Phoenix Suns. It’s going to be harder when the games matter.

But the Rockets are going to be entertaining to watch this season. No doubt.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.

Add Milos Teodosic to long list of stars missing EuroBasket

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The last Olympics in Rio saw a long list of NBA players sitting it out, either due to injuries, concerns about Zika virus, a serious dislike of açaí berries or just choosing to do something else with their time.

Now it looks like EuroBasket is suffering the same fate.

The latest name to come up is Milos Teodosic, who signed this summer with the Clippers, could never get healthy, and is out for Serbia. He joins a long list — Sportando put together a list of NBA players and stars who are out.

More than just one someone is missing, guys such as Ivica Zubac, Mario Hezonja, Paul Zipster, and others are out as well.

Spain, led by Pau Gasol, remain the heavy favorites to win EuroBasket 2017, with Serbia, France, and Lithuania potential contenders. There may be a lot of players missing, but there is still a lot of talent, and when guys are playing for national pride there is plenty of emotion and fire as well.