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.

O.J. Mayo says abusing prescription painkillers triggered NBA ban

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Last year, O.J. Mayo was banned from the NBA for at least two years due to a drug violation. Aside from stating a plan to come back, Mayo didn’t say much publicly.

Until now.

Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated:

He acknowledged smoking marijuana and abusing a prescription pain medication that triggered his two-year ban because it is on the NBA’s “drugs of abuse” list. (He emphatically denied testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.)

Mayo also concluded that he had been “overwhelmed” by a string of difficult life events: his father, high school basketball star Kenny Ziegler, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for distributing crack cocaine, his brother was placed in juvenile lock-up, a close friend went to jail, and another was killed. “I was bred to play basketball and I thought I could balance everything,” he said. “I couldn’t.”

That’s part of an interesting feature on Mayo, who’s training for his come back. Golliver’s story makes it easy to pull for Mayo.

But the guard will be 30 when he’s eligible to apply for reinstatement, and he played lousily in his last three seasons with the Bucks.

Hopefully, Mayo has and keeps his personal life in order. But returning to the NBA will be an uphill battle.

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.