One dozen NBA free agents to watch (not named Howard or Paul)

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Chris Paul is going to stay a Clipper. Dwight Howard is going to do whatever it is Dwight Howard is going to do.

But those two are not the only guys who became free agents at the stroke of midnight and we ventured into Monday.

Here are a dozen other newly minted free agents worth watching during this free agent period.

• Josh Smith: He’s one of the best players in what is generally considered a down free agent class — 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. Nobody doubts that he is a good player, one that annually just misses the  All-Star cut line. The issue for him as a free agent is simply his shot selection. This chart pretty much sums it up.

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Smith is very effective around the rim but loves his jump shot. Too much. Also, Smith wants a max contract. He likely doesn’t get it, the question is what will a team pay? He can be amazing if the fit is right, and that team will get some nights of good defense. The Detroit Pistons want him and another 4-5 teams are said to be interested. The question is, at what price? How much tax are you willing to pay for Smith and his penchant for jumpers?

• Andre Iguodala: Part of the glue that led Denver to 57 wins. It’s not so much the 13 points a game and the 5.7 rebounds, it’s the strong perimeter defense and the impressive finishing in transition. He has versatility. He’s the ultimate glue guy. He opted out of the $16 million to get the security of a long-term deal. But as our own Dan Feldman pointed out, the team that gives him four years (and one will) may regret that decision in a few years.

• J.R. Smith: He’s the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year and a gunner without a conscience. He is perfect off the bench — he comes in and brings energy and shooting. But he is anything but consistent. The Knicks have only his Early Bird rights and are limited with what they can offer; the most is just above the league average salary (so a little over $5 million a year for at least two years). It is possible another team swoops in, the Suns, Bucks and Pistons are reportedly interested.

• Andrew Bynum: He is the real test of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement: How much are teams willing to pay a guy that two seasons ago was one of the top three centers in the league (if not the best outright), but missed all of last season with a knee injury that is chronic? Under the old CBA somebody would have overpaid, but now… There are real questions about his passion for the game, but some team will take a gamble (two or three years at $9 million per?). You can bet that contract will have an out that they can cut him and not pay him if he can’t play due to a preexisting knee condition.

• Monta Ellis: He reportedly turned down two years, $24 million and he is going to regret that. Ellis is an old school volume scorer — he scores a lot of points and shoots a lot of shots. Don’t expect efficiency (41.6 percent shooting overall last year, 28 percent from three). The new breed of NBA GM doesn’t want a guy like Ellis and he is going to find a more shallow market than expected. That said, the Hawks and Mavericks are both reportedly interested.

• David West: The steady forward who was a key to the Indiana Pacers success (within one game of the NBA Finals) is not expected to sign anywhere but Indiana. The Pacers will make a fair offer of around $10 million per season, but this is going to be a short-term deal, likely just a couple years. West is 33, he’s not getting four years.

• J.J. Redick: His half a season in Milwaukee taught him he wanted out of Milwaukee. He’s one of the best pure shooters in the league and has worked to improve other parts of his game (for example, his defense is better than you think). He’s going to get a nice contract from someone who needs a two who can space the floor.

• Kyle Korver: Another pure shooter in this draft, he’s older than Redick and not quite as well rounded, but when it comes to shooting threes he is good. The early buzz is the Nets want and are in the lead to get him.

• Kevin Martin: The final sharpshooter on our list — he shot 42.6 percent from three last season for Oklahoma City, a team that could draw attention away from him. He has a very efficient offensive game, but he’s not going to give you much defense. He has a role in this league as the No. 3 guy on a good team, but we’ll see who steps up to pay him.

• Al Jefferson: He is a genuine NBA big man who scored 17.8 points and added 9.2 rebounds per game last season for the Jazz. He’s age 28 and in his prime, so he should be expecting a big contract. And he’s going to get a big contract. But he’s a defensive liability on the pick-and-roll and really does his work in the post and on the boards and not much else. Someone is going to pay him then be frustrated.

• Paul Millsap: He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Jazz can match any offer. It’s going to be interesting, he is a guy who comes in with almost but not quite All-Star numbers — 14.6 points on 49 percent shooting with 7.1 rebounds a game. He’s solid and efficient, a poor man’s David Lee kind of guy. He’s the kind of guy that a GM could decide he needs after missing out on his first choice and puts up a good offer that will leave the Jazz in a pickle.

• Brandon Jennings: Another restricted free agent (the Bucks can match) who is going to get the kind of offer that will leave the Bucks in a tough spot. He’s a score first point guard (he did have 6.5 assists per game, to be fair) but he doesn’t score efficiently. He shot under 40 percent last season and he struggles to finish in the paint, which makes that amazing first step and quickness less frightening. I got the feeling someone is going to offer him a lot of money in hopes his game grows.

• O.J. Mayo: Another guy who can score (15.3 points per game) but doesn’t do it efficiently and had Rick Carlisle so frustrated last year he called him out on a couple of occasions. He can score so he will land somewhere, but he’s not loved by GMs. The advanced stats teams are not going near Mayo but somebody will and they will get what they get with him.

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.

 

LeBron James finishes left-handed alley-oop with head behind backboard

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We have reached the point with LeBron James and his legendary career that the incredible almost seems ordinary — he has made our jaws drop so many times it’s hard for him to clear the bar of amazing anymore.

He did Saturday night against Utah.

In transition, LeBron gave up the ball to Jeff Green, who returned the favor with an alley-oop pass. Just not a particularly good one, it was behind James.

So he reaches back with his left hand and throws it down as he ducks his head under the backboard. Then LeBron stops and stares at his left hand, like he can’t believe what he just did.

We can’t either.

Carmelo Anthony standing ovation in return to Madison Square Garden

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Knicks fans may have had their frustrations with Carmelo Anthony, but they know how much he has meant to the franchise over the years. He pushed to be a Knick and chose to stay, he carried the franchise for years.

Saturday night he returned to Madison Square Garden in an Oklahoma City Thunder uniform after a trade this summer, and he was welcomed with a retrospective video followed by a standing ovation from the crowd (you can see all of it above).

Well done Knicks fans. Well done.