Knicks snap nine-game losing streak by crushing depleted Nets

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NEW YORK — In a game that was supposed to be a lively and competitive rivalry contest between two teams who share a city and began the year sharing aspirations of contending for a title, the end result was to fans what the entire season has been for both the Knicks and the Nets — a disappointment.

There was very little competing going on thanks to the injuries that have ravaged this Nets team, and along with Brooklyn’s propensity to not show up for the third quarter of games which has plagued them all season long, New York took advantage of the league’s worst defense by running up a lead that reached as many as 34 points before settling on the final 113-83 margin.

Things look horrendous in Brooklyn right now, but the Knicks, remember, came into this one riding a nine-game losing streak. They’ll take the positives wherever they come no matter the shape of their opponent, and try to build upon them with a game at home against the Magic the very next night.

“Our pace was a lot quicker tonight and it looked like the Knicks of old,” Knicks head coach Mike Woodson said afterward. “The three ball was falling, the ball was moving and the defense was clicking. That’s how we have to play.”

New York did show flashes of last season’s team, one that lived by the three-point shot and was successful in doing so when the ball movement created open looks. The Knicks hit 16 of their 27 attempts from distance, good for a mark of 59.3 percent. Iman Shumpert got hot and hit five of his seven looks from beyond the arc, and finished with 17 points and six rebounds in just 23 minutes.

“We put a complete game together for 48 minutes, offensively and defensively,” Carmelo Anthony said afterward. “It also helps when you make shots. We shot the ball well today. Most importantly it was a great road win for us, a great division win.”

Ah, yes. The division. The Knicks and Nets happen to play in the league’s worst, which is led at the moment by the Celtics with a record of 8-12. Both New York and Brooklyn are only 2.5 games back of first, which matters because the division winner gets into the playoffs with a lowest possible seed of fourth in their first round matchup.

That little fact is one reason that neither of these teams has imploded over its dismal start. The other, at least in Brooklyn’s case, is the reality that multiple star-level players who have gone down with injuries in the early part of the season are expected back in the not-too-distant future. The Nets have refused to use injuries as an excuse specifically, but both Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd made multiple postgame references to needing to get “whole” before any verdict on their team can be passed.

“We have a lot of guys coming in and we’re asking a lot of them,” Garnett said, trying to explain what the issues are. “We have a new system. We’re changing things on the fly. Jason has been putting in a lot of new stuff since [assistant coach Lawrence Frank] has left. On top of that, guys who usually are not playing a lot of minutes have a lot of responsibility and are playing big minutes, and are asked a lot of them in those minutes. We don’t have Kirilenko, we don’t have Paul, we don’t have Deron. Chemistry just doesn’t snap [together]. Those things play a big part into this.”

It comes down to overall talent, as well. Beyond Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, there just aren’t any reliable offensive options. And with the constant shuffling of different players in and out of lineups due to all of the injuries, there’s been no ability to get defensive rotations down or get Kidd’s philosophies put into practice.

The Knicks and the Nets are in similar situations, although with tonight’s win New York has a chance to begin to crawl out of its misery. In Brooklyn, after the Nets trailed by close to 30 points for the second straight game at home, they appear to be right in the thick of theirs until they get some of their best players back.

DeMar DeRozan: Talk of Raptors’ changes overblown

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri called for a “culture reset,” alluding to an offense less reliant on Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan isolations.

DeMarre Carroll, traded from Toronto to the Nets, doubts the Raptors will change much.

Know who agrees with him? DeRozan.

DeRozan, via Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun:

“I think the media kind of blow it out of proportion like it’s going to be something dramatic, like a complete dramatic 180-degree change,” DeRozan said, who was back in Toronto helping out with the Raptors’ Basketball Academy at Humber College on Monday. “It’s not that at all. It’s just moreso locking in and understanding what it takes to win from every single position. Everyone just know from our failures, guys stepping up and being better leaders, not just me and Kyle but everybody. I think once we lock in and everyone holds themselves accountable, everything else will come around perfect. That’s all it is.”

DeRozan didn’t disagree when it was suggested more ball movement might be demanded this season, but he did say the anticipated level of change by many outside the team is completely out of whack with the reality. The offence is still going to run through himself and Kyle Lowry.

This is shaping up to be a problem. Ujiri made this grand proclamation then brought back the same core – Lowry, DeRozan and coach Dwane Casey. This was the danger, that they were too comfortable with the status quo.

We’ll see how it actually plays out. DeRozan has a strong track record of improvement, and the Raptors might be forcing him to see the game differently by playing him at point guard.

But there at least appears to be a disconnect somewhere between the front office and players.

Rumor: Cavaliers trying to dump salary in Kyrie Irving trade

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The Cavaliers are reportedly prioritizing youth in a Kyrie Irving trade.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Another stated goal is to dump off some salary and reduce the luxury tax bill.

The Cavs – who reportedly lost more than $40 million last season – are on track to become the first team in NBA history to pay the luxury-tax repeater rate. They’ve led the league in payroll, racking up big luxury-tax bills, the last two seasons. They even pulled the rare feat of carving out max cap space (used on LeBron James) then getting about the luxury-tax line in the same season three years ago, finishing second to the Nets in spending that season.

Cleveland now faces a luxury-tax bill north of $78 million – which would eclipse its 2015-16 mark ($54 million) as the second highest tax payment ever, trailing just 2013-14 Brooklyn (nearly $91 million).

Most teams would never spend as much as the Cavaliers have the previous three seasons. Most teams would never approach Cleveland’s costs this year, which include $142 million in player salaries.

But most teams don’t have LeBron.

Remember, the Heat cutting corners on spending contributed to LeBron leaving Miami. And Cavs owner Dan Gilbert reportedly promised to spend unconditionally when LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2014.

Is cutting costs the message the Cavaliers want to send as LeBron enters a contract year?

If so, they have a few candidates for shedding:

  • Tristan Thompson – three years, $52,408,695 remaining
  • J.R. Smith – three years, $44,160,000 remaining (just $3.87 million of $15.68 million guaranteed final year)
  • Iman Shumpert – two years, $21,348,313 remaining
  • Channing Frye – one year, $7,420,912 remaining

All those players, roughly in order of salary, contribute to winning.

The Cavs should have little trouble unloading those contracts in an Irving trade. He’s so valuable, teams will incur a lopsided financial deal to get him. They’ll just send Cleveland less talent to compensate.

It’s the classic dilemma – money vs. on-court success. Teams evaluate this tradeoff every day.

For the Cavaliers, there’s just the additional pressure of LeBron’s looming free agency.

Just a reminder, Russell Westbrook has a max extension sitting out there

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Russell Westbrook is entering the final year of his contract, he can be a free agent in the summer of 2018.

On July 1 the Oklahoma City Thunder offered Westbrook a designated player “super max” contract extension of an expected $200 million, which would kick in after this coming season. It’s a massive offer that would lock Westbrook into the Thunder through his prime.

He has yet to sign it.

He may not sign it, he doesn’t lose much waiting it out. However, the Thunder remain optimistic he will sign, according to Fred Katz at the Norman Transcript.

The deadline for him to sign is the day before the regular season begins, Oct. 16.

 No other team could offer the same deal if Westbrook were to hit free agency. He could still receive a contract that starts at 35 percent of the cap if he chooses to become a free agent next summer but would receive only five percent raises per season and could sign for up to only four years.

Yet, the reigning MVP has made the Thunder wait almost a month, already. And it could end up being longer — maybe forever, though the organization remains cautiously optimistic about the prospects of Westbrook signing for the long term before the start of the season.

Why Westbrook should wait is that this contract doesn’t make him that much more money than simply waiting the season out, then studying his options next summer and signing a max deal next summer.

The Thunder can offer Westbrook 35 percent of the cap right now thanks to the new designated player provision (that deal would start at just under $35 million a year),  however, after this season Westbrook will have been in the NBA 10 years, which means every team can offer him that  same annual salary starting next summer. What OKC can offer are slightly larger raises and one more guaranteed year. That year is nice if Westbrook doesn’t think he can get maxed out in five years, but he likely can. So the real advantage is the larger raises, and that has not been enough to sway guys in the past because it’s not that much money.

Westbrook and Paul George should make the Thunder very interesting next season — this will be an elite defensive team trying to figure out the offense. If they do, this team becomes dangerous, but that is still a big “if.”

If Westbrook and George lift OKC deeper in the playoffs than expected, both could choose to stay in OKC. If, however, this doesn’t work out as planned, Westbrook has more options if he doesn’t sign the deal yet — he and George, also a free agent next summer, could leave together or go their separate ways. Also, not signing the keeps pressure on the Thunder ownership to keep spending and moving to make the team better now, rather than cut corners and save money.

Westbrook can make the Thunder feel good and sign this deal, but if he wants you can’t blame him.

Important news: Nick Young has gotten over his fear of dolphins

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Where NBA players really make improvements is over the summer. They can get in better shape, work on their jumper, improve their handles…

Or get over their fear of dolphins.

Which is what the new Wizards guard did this summer. Remember these tweets from Young’s then fiancée a couple of years ago?

He’s gotten past that fear.

I gave these dolphins another chance we cool now

A post shared by Nick Young (@swaggyp1) on

Next, just needs to pick up a right with Golden State and show that to the Dolphins — they respect titles.