Report: Knicks not signing second rounder Thanasis Antetokounmpo

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At one point, the Knicks sought a trade to open a roster spot.

Instead, they made a deal that essentially closed a roster spot.

In its trade with the Kings, New York essentially swapped Wayne Ellington for Travis Outlaw, both of whom have guaranteed contracts, and Jeremy Tyler for Quincy Acy, both of whom have unguaranteed contracts. Prior to the deal, I was already counting on the Knicks waiving Tyler to clear space, but waiving Acy would ruin the whole point of the trade (not that the Knicks always act logically).

Acy’s contract becomes guaranteed Aug. 15, and it seems New York has already decided to keep him and lock in 15 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts.

That leaves unsigned No. 51 pick Thanasis Antetokounmpo on the outside looking in.

Shams Charania of RealGM:

To keep Antetokounmpo’s rights, the Knicks must extend him a required tender – essentially a valid NBA contract – by Sept. 6. That can be a fully unguaranteed one-year deal.

I don’t know what promises Antetokounmpo made (many second rounders agree to play in the D-League or overseas before the draft, which increases the likelihood of being selected) or what New York can do for him (many teams in this position help their draft pick find work in exchange for him declining the required tender). But if nothing is on the table for him, Antetokounmpo should consider accepting the tender.

That would likely lead to him joining the team for training camp and, unless the Knicks make another move that trims the roster, getting waived before the regular season begins so they can reach the roster limit of 15 players.

Antetokounmpo would then become an unrestricted free agent. Considering he sipped to No. 51 in the draft, no NBA team would likely be beating down his door immediately. But if he excels in the D-League or overseas, he could negotiate with any NBA team rather than just the Knicks, an advantageous position.

After playing in the D-League last season, Antetokounmpo probably doesn’t need New York’s help to get another job there again this season. If the Knicks can secure him a more lucrative offer – in the D-League or Europe – than he could get on his own, that obviously changes the equation. But the onus should be on them to deliver before Antetokounmpo gives away his right to bargain with other teams around the NBA.

On the other hand, teams don’t always act rationally. Phil Jackson surely doesn’t want to waste a draft pick or be viewed as someone who wasted a draft pick. He very well could give Antetokounmpo the benefit of the doubt when it comes to making the roster in future seasons – even though he technically wouldn’t be any more beholden to an unsigned Antetokounmpo than a free agent.

Antetokounmpo will probably play ball with the Knicks, who chose to fill their roster without him. But before he does, he should consider how it will affect his future.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor).

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more focus than they brought against the Timberwolves, because unlike Minnesota those teams will make Houston pay a steep price.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top. Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.