Toronto Raptors v Houston Rockets

Report: Knicks ownership may reconsider trade for Lowry if team continues to struggle


The Raptors are rebuilding, and so not surprisingly, just about every player on the roster not tied to the team’s long-term plans is available in trade. Kyle Lowry is a skilled point guard that could help many teams, and with an expiring deal for just $6.1 million, he would come at a palatable price.

But the Raptors won’t just give him away, because they don’t have to — his salary comes off the books at the end of this season, so if nothing else, Toronto will get the cap space it desires for Lowry when the season is finished.

The recent deal the team made that sent Rudy Gay out of town and netted Greivis Vasquez does make Lowry expendable, however, and if assets are to be had in exchange for Lowry, the Raptors will make that deal — which is why both the Knicks and the Nets have been heavily rumored to be in the mix for his services.

The latest report on the Knicks front was that ownership shot down the deal that was close to being completed, partially because they didn’t want to give up a first round draft pick or a young player like Tim Hardaway Jr. or Iman Shumpert, but also in part because New York didn’t want to be seen as being taken advantage of by Raptors GM Masai Ujiri once again.

After Friday night’s loss in Boston, however, the Knicks may be forced to reconsider.

From Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

The next 48 hours could determine whether James Dolan will trade a piece of the Knicks’ future — in the form of either a young player or a first-round pick — to acquire Toronto Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry.

With starting point guard Raymond Felton expected to be sidelined two to three weeks with a strained hamstring, Dolan could be forced into reconsidering a deal for Lowry if the Knicks continue to struggle against the Hawks on Saturday. …

Ujiri would prefer to receive another first-round pick, but there are reports that the Raptors would be amenable toward acquiring either Iman Shumpert or Hardaway in place of the pick. According to a source, the Knicks would prefer to keep Shumpert out of the deal for the purpose of including him in a future trade and perhaps package him with Amar’e Stoudemire.

The Knicks cannot possibly give up another first round pick (and they don’t even have any left to give until 2018), but they do like Hardaway and as the report noted, the team would like to retain Shumpert for inclusion in a larger deal for a more impactful piece — all of which makes New York’s choices here less than desirable.

It would seem to be inevitable that Lowry is dealt and that the Knicks will try to make a deal to shore up the roster. Whether or not the team caves to Ujiri once more remains to be seen, but it’s clear they need to get something done to see if they can turn things around.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.