Report: Knicks still pursuing Kyle Lowry trade

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The will they?won’t they?will they?-won’t they? saga of trade negotiations between the Knicks and Raptors involving Kyle Lowry is reportedly back to the “will they?” stage.

Ian Begley of ESPN:

With the NBA trade deadline three days away, the Knicks continue to try to engage the Raptors in an attempt to acquire point guard Kyle Lowry, according to league sources.

The Knicks are offering packages including Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Beno Udrih, sources say. They have been reluctant to include sharpshooting rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. or a future first-round draft pick in any deal. One of those two pieces is believed to be a prerequisite for Toronto to consider giving up Lowry.

Udrih is a passable backup who has no real value in a trade like this. Felton has had a miserable season, and with two years remaining on his contract, even with a below-average salary, he might have negative trade value. Shumpert remains intriguing, but he’s taken a step back after a promising first two years.

The Knicks won’t find an acceptable package with players from that group, especially because New York is trying to change Toronto’s mind about keeping Lowry for the rest of the season.

Offering a first-round pick – 2018 at the earliest – and/or Hardaway should at least pique the Raptors’ interest, though.

However, if a trade like that happened, Knicks critics would leap to slam New York. That’s not an insignificant factor, considering Knicks owner James Dolan initially rejected such a trade for fear of the appearance of getting fleeced again by Masai Ujiri.

But would that really be fair?

Lowry ranks 18th in the NBA in the PER-based Estimated Wins Added and sixth in win shares. Bar none, he was the biggest All-Star snub this year. If the Knicks want to add a star next to Carmelo Anthony, Lowry is their best chance.

The Knicks get criticized for undervaluing first-round picks, both future and recent (like Hardaway), and there is some truth to that. But the Knicks aren’t ever interested in building for the future. They want to win now and fill Madison Square Garden in the process. To anyone who hates the NBA’s tanking culture, that’s commendable.

If the Knicks trade a 2018 first rounder and finish in the lottery that year, the season was already a disaster by their standards. To some other teams, getting a lottery pick would be a success in itself, but not to New York. Sure, a high pick would ease the blow, even to the Knicks, but they don’t think that way. They’re all in with their plan.

And if their plan is adding a star, what’s more likely? Rajon Rondo forces a trade to the Knicks or Lowry is as good as he’s playing? I’ll take a chance on the latter.

Lowry has played like a star this season, but nobody, myself included, really considers him a star. His strong season has been attributed to a contract year, a prolonged hot streak and other fleeting factors. Maybe that’s accurate.

But what if Lowry has actually developed into a star point guard? A 2018 first-round pick or Hardaway would be a pittance for acquiring a true star. The risk-reward might justify the Knicks surrendering one of those two.

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A Lowry-to-the-Knicks trade remains unlikely. After all, this has popped up several times this season and gone nowhere.

But, perhaps, this version has a twist that gets it done. Begley:

League sources say a scenario in which Teague ends up in Toronto, Shumpert goes to Atlanta and Lowry winds up in New York has been discussed. Another scenario could have Teague ending up in New York. The conversations are believed to be preliminary.

That would also likely include the Hawks – who have all their first-round picks and the right to swap first-rounders with the Nets in 2014 and 2015 – sending a pick to Toronto.

Given the Raptors’ weariness about offering Lowry a big contract, a trade like that could prove a nice option. Teague would be at least a stop-gap who keeps Toronto in play for the Eastern Conference semifinals, and he’s young enough to offer the chance of developing into an impressive starting point guard, too. Plus, the first-round pick definitely would better-position the Raptors in the long run.

The Knicks would get their man in Lowry, who could push New York – 2.5 games back from the Bobcats for eighth in the East – into the playoffs. Like I said, they’re all-in with their win-now plan.

A key question is how much the Hawks value Shumpert, which would affect what protections they place on the pick. A third team only complicates matters.

Even if the Knicks somehow deal for Lowry before Thursday’s deadline, the complications wouldn’t end. They’d have to re-sign him (and Melo) this summer to justify the move. With an ability to offer more than other teams and exceed the cap, that should be manageable.

But it’s just one more difficulty in an already stretched scenario.

Russell Westbrook assists Andre Roberson transition dunk with sweet behind-the-back pass (video)

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Russell Westbrook produced a historic triple-double in the Thunder’s win over the 76ers last night, but merely counting his misses — zero — doesn’t do him justice.

Dunk-assisting behind-the-back passes are nice in any context. Considering how quickly Westbrook pushes the ball up the floor, the degree of difficulty here makes this one even more impressive.

Probably fake Cavaliers fan wears burnt LeBron James jersey (video)

AP Photo/Brett Davis
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Update: As pointed out by several, the Cavs didn’t introduce this jersey until after LeBron left. So, this was probably staged by the Nuggets. Still funny (and still searching for more evidence of Cleveland fans reconciling their about-face on LeBron).

 

Cavaliers fans went overboard when they burned LeBron James jerseys in the street when he left for the Heat in 2010.

Many of those same fans instantly forgot the terrible things they said about LeBron once he returned to Cleveland in 2014.

And then there’s this guy…

Ananth Pandian:

I’d like to believe this guy is publicly repenting for going too far in 2010.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: LeBron says Cavs lack toughness, or are they bored?

Associated Press
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The NCAA Tournament gets back underway Thursday, but the NBA ball just keeps rolling along. Here are the big takeaways from Wednesday.

1) LeBron James says Cavaliers lack toughness. Is there trouble or are they just bored with the regular season?
Here is the unquestioned fact: The Denver Nuggets trounced the Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night, 126-113. There are a number of factors in this, starting with Denver is playing better than people think — the Nuggets are the fifth best team in the NBA since the All-Star break, outscoring teams by 5.6 points per 100 possessions. Jamal Murray is emerging as the ball handling guard of the future for this team, Gary Harris is a sniper, and they have solid veterans such as Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler. But at the heart of it all is Nikola Jokic, who is for real. Watch what he does to LeBron James here.

Yes, Cleveland had to go play at altitude in the middle of a long road trip. Still…

What is going on with the Cavaliers?

Opponents have outscored them by 0.9 points per 100 since the All-Star break, and the Cavs are playing terrible defense (second worst in the NBA since the break). Asked in Denver after the loss what is wrong with the Cavs, LeBron said the team lacked toughness, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It ain’t about a group. It’s about individuals,” James said… “We’ve got to be more, just do more. It ain’t about no group. You can’t preach toughness. You’ve got to have it.”

“Personally? I had opportunities where I could have been better,” James said before firing back with a rebuttal. “Um, one thing about it: I always bring toughness to the game. I know that. That’s for sure.”

LeBron is clearly challenging his team to get serious on both ends and to start getting in playoff mode.

To me, the Cavaliers look bored. As in the real season starts in a couple of weeks with the playoffs, and they feel they can flip the switch then, but right now the regular season feels like a tedious slog. That’s what it looked like in Denver. Before that, I watched the Cavaliers in person against the Lakers Sunday, and LeBron James played well enough all game, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were getting theirs, but the team lacked any urgency, and it showed on defense. The tanking Lakers hung around. Then, LeBron seemed to say “screw this” and for a five-minute span took charge of the game, looking every bit the best player on the planet, the rest of the Cavaliers quickly fell in line, Cleveland took control of the game, and they coasted from there to the win.

That was against the Lakers, the worst team in the NBA since the All-Star break and a team playing youth everywhere. Denver is legit right now, they are playing well, and the Cavs couldn’t just flip the switch on Wednesday. Jokic and Mason Plumlee led the way as the Nuggets scored 70 points in the paint.

It’s still hard to picture any team in the East beating Cleveland. However, they have not spent the regular season building good habits to fall back on when the eventual challenge comes in the playoffs. There’s been a lot of comparisons to the 2000-01 Lakers, a defending championship team that battled injuries and didn’t impress in the regular season, looked bored on defense, then flipped the switch in the playoffs and went 16-1 on the way to the title. Maybe. But teams that flip the switch are the exception, not the rule.

The bored Cavaliers are playing a dangerous game, but will it haunt them before June? Can any team in the East make them pay?

2) The Knicks have no answer for Rudy Gobert, Jazz thump Knicks. Rudy Gobert is a defensive powerhouse of a big man, the best rim protector in the game and a man on his way to winning Defensive Player of the Year. That was a problem for the Knicks on Wednesday night. A bigger problem — they couldn’t stop him on offense around the rim. Gobert at 35 points on 13-of-14 shooting, with 11 offensive rebounds. The Knicks went small for stretches (with Kristaps Porzingis, but he isn’t strong enough to handle Gobert), other times Willy Hernangomez tried but could not slow Gobert, and the French big man feasted. Check out Gobert’s shot chart.

Or, just watch what he did to the Knicks.

The Knicks started hot in this game behind vintage Derrick Rose for a quarter, but they can’t sustain that kind of play against a quality team. Utah is a quality team (I think they can beat the Clippers in the first round), and the foundation of that is in the middle.

3) Russell Westbrook notches 35th triple-double with perfect shooting, Thunder attack the rim and get the win. Let us formally acknowledge that Russell Westbrook is very, very good at basketball. He had 18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds, and was a perfect 6-of-6 from the field. That would be the first perfect shooting triple-double in NBA history. How’s that for adding to the MVP resume.

As for the game, the Thunder attacked the paint and the Sixers had no answers. OKC won 122–97, scoring 76 points while knocking down just four 3-pointers.

Report: Hawks’ Paul Millsap to opt out, explore free agency

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
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Before the season, Paul Millsap said he was undecided on opting out.

We’re one step closer to completely dismissing that shaky pretense.

Adam Schefter of ESPN:

There’s no question Millsap can earn more than his $21,472,407 option-year salary. He might even earn the max, which projects to be north of $36 million. The 32-year-old will also have a chance to lock into a long-term contract.

Opting out is an easy call.

The only question is whether anyone will offer a max starting salary and max years.

That’s a risky proposition for a player his age, but for a team ready to win now, the short-term gains might outweigh the long-term risk. (And it’s not really a “risk.” Millsap is extremely likely to be overpaid by the end of a full max deal.) Millsap is an elite defender with an efficient offensive game.

How much would the Hawks pay? They called re-signing Millsap their priority, but they’ve also sent mixed messages about their desire to win now (signing Dwight Howard, keeping Millsap past the trade deadline) vs. rebuilding (trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver).

And it’s not unilaterally up to Atlanta. Millsap will be an unrestricted free agent, and if he plans to explore the market, you never know what he’ll find.