Lakers, Knicks struggle on hectic first day of free agency

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There were clear winners on the first day of NBA free agency, where an estimated $1.3 billion in contracts were handed out. The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting the band back together, reaching deals with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. The Golden State Warriors kept Draymond Green in house. The Toronto Raptors impressed and signed DeMarre Carroll. The Pelicans re-signed Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. The Phoenix Suns landed Tyson Chandler and re-signed Brandon Knight, then impressed LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs also impressed LMA and they re-signed Danny Green at a great price. The Hawks retained Paul Millsap.

As Knicks rookie Jerian Grant said: “Is this free agency or Oprah? You get a max, you get a max, you get a max…”

Yet, the Lakers and Knicks were left standing there, empty handed.

Early in day two of free agency, the Knicks landed Arron Afflalo, a nice pickup but not the game changer their fans have been hoping to see.

These are two of the games biggest brands, in the nation’s two largest markets, both with plenty of cash to spend on free agents, yet both looked woefully behind the times and unable to adjust to the new realities of the NBA.

It is just one day and both will get chances at other big names — the Knicks have long been linked to Greg Monroe, and the Lakers had the opportunity to pitch him as well (update: Monroe chose the Milwaukee Bucks). DeAndre Jordan and others are still on the board.

But both franchises are learning hard lessons.

Free agents now want more than off-the-court opportunities, they want to see a path to winning. Fast. They can live and work out in Los Angeles in the summer if they want the perks of the city, they want to be shown the analytics of how this team can help them win on the court. Now. Social media has altered the world of off-the-court endorsements, being in a big market isn’t as big an advantage as it once was. Today’s free agents want to know how the team can help them grow their brand by landing them on the biggest NBA stages — the playoffs, The Finals, prime-time games on Christmas Day, All-Star Games.

And right now, the Lakers and Knicks are bad basketball teams.

David West was blunt about it talking about the Knicks.

Those struggles on the court permeate the teams’ big pitches to free agents.

The Lakers were one of the co-frontrunners to land LaMarcus Aldridge heading into free agency, and they got the first meeting with the All-Star forward. But their most dynamic speakers are the people on the business side of the equation, Aldridge was left wanting on the basketball side. From a source that spoke to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

Aldridge considered the Lakers to be part of a “two-horse race” with the San Antonio Spurs and “wanted to be wowed” but was actually turned off by the lack of analytics on the basketball side of their presentation, according to the person….

The Lakers also contended that their analytics outline would have been stronger if they had a better roster last season. The team privately expressed envy that Houston’s presentation could be boasted by stats and on-court analysis of a team with James Harden and, indeed, Dwight Howard.

The Rockets are also far more invested in those analytics. Meanwhile, the Lakers are trying social media campaigns that both seem dated and that the NBA made them take down anyway.

To a degree, this is the impact the other 28 NBA owners wanted with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — they wanted to take away as much of the inherent advantages of big, profitable franchises as they could. They made the price for continually exceeding the luxury tax so onerous — not just financially, but taking away sign-and-trades and limiting cap exceptions to big-spending teams — that everyone is far more on the same financial playing field.

The Lakers and Knicks have seemed slow to adapt to that new reality. Around the league, they are seen as two teams less willing to embrace the analytics that have driven teams like Golden State, San Antonio and Miami in recent seasons. Both Lakers coach Byron Scott and Knicks head honcho Phil Jackson have at points dismissed the value of the three-point shot. You can try to defend the context of those statements, but the impression was left of two dinosaurs trying to win their same old-school way.

The reality is that rebuilding can be slow and hard. The Lakers can point to an excellent young core of players — D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson — and try to paint a picture of how there is hope for the future of the franchise in their hands. It’s a good picture — but players like Aldridge, at age 30, are not going to wait around for that moment. They want to see good basketball teams now. The Lakers and Knicks are just not that.

Free agency is far from over; all is not lost with either of these franchises this summer. As noted before, Monroe is certainly in play, and with the cash to spend the Lakers and Knicks are going to get the attention of other quality players still on the market.

But day one was rough in Los Angeles and New York.

Lonzo Ball finishes one-handed alley-oop on Willie Cauley-Stein (video)

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So much attention is paid to Lonzo Ball‘s father, jumper and passes. Those are the major storylines for the Lakers rookie.

But he has such a diverse skill set, and this is absolutely part of it. Ball is a savvy off-ball cutter in the halfcourt with the athleticism to get above the rim and finish alley-oops.

But finish them over 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein, who was tracking the play (though slightly late)? That’s an eye-opener, even in the Kings’ 113-102 win.

Marc Gasol makes 3/4-court shot just after buzzer (video)

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When Marc Gasol‘s 3/4-court attempt went through the net, it seemed to barely matter the ball left his hands just after the first-quarter buzzer. After all, the Grizzlies led the Mavericks by 15, anyway.

Turns out, Memphis really needed that basket.

Watch Knicks string together 28-0 run against Raptors

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Toronto has been the second best team in the East this young season. Not that anyone is really convinced they will be called that by the time we get to the playoffs (or even the All-Star break, or even Christmas), but for the first 16-18 games of the season their new move-the-ball offense had them at 11-5 and looking solid.

Wednesday night the Knicks dismantled the Raptors.

Especially in the third quarter when the Knicks went on a 28-0 run to blow the doors off the Raptors (video above). The Knicks dominated the third 41-10, when Toronto shot just 1-of-16 from the floor.

New York is gaining confidence with each win this season, they are a fun team to watch that is starting to find an identity (now that a certain three-sided shaped one is not being forced upon them). Kristaps Porzingis is a monster, and while the Knicks overpaid the market for Tim Hardaway Jr. he has lived up to his contract this season. With rookie point guard Frank Ntilikina showing some nice defense and playmaking skills as a rookie (although he is undoubtedly still a work in progress), you can see a path to a strong future unfolding. There are real reasons for hope in New York. Someone just keep James Dolan distracted and away from the basketball operations side of the building.

Devin Booker forces OT with deep turnaround buzzer-beating 3-pointer, but Bucks beat Suns (video)

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I’m not sure who benefited from Devin Booker‘s buzzer-beating, overtime-forcing 3-pointer. The Suns still lost to the Bucks, 113-107. The extra five minutes featured more of the same relatively bad basketball we’d seen between Phoenix (bad) and Milwaukee (shorthanded) through 48 minutes.

But darn if this shot wasn’t really cool and clutch.