Jarrett Jack

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Three Kemba Walker trades that could work for both sides

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Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.

As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.

Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed (to be clear, these are speculative and not based on what I’ve heard around the league). None of the three are likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.

Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks

Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas

New York gets: Kemba Walker

The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.

Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons

Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.

Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.

The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit but less so for Charlotte because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.

Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye

Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.

This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.

Knicks waive Ramon Sessions, to sign Trey Burke for season

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Ramon Sessions started the first three games of the Knicks season, and after that has barely been seen or heard. Jarrett Jack has been a stabilizing veteran presence at the point, and Frank Ntilikina is the present and future at that position, showing real promise as a rookie.

With that, the Knicks are releasing Sessions and taking a flyer on Trey Burke at the point.

Burke is a score-first point guard who washed out both in Utah (he was third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2014 because he could score, but his game never evolved), then as a backup with the Wizards.

However, playing for Westchester in the G-League this season Burke has been impressive — and more well rounded, according to sources. He is averaging 26.6 points, 5.3 assists and is shooting 41.6 percent from three. He told CBSSports (via the NY Post) that he had to re-invent himself.

“I had to look myself in the mirror and be real with myself,” Burke told CBS. “I had to kind of stop lying to myself about I should be here, I should be this, this team should put me in this position when I wasn’t doing everything necessary to put myself in that position.”

“I am a playmaker naturally,” Burke said. “Guys ask, ‘Are you a point guard? Are you a shooting guard?’ I believe I am a point guard and a shooting guard. I believe I’m both: a combo guard, you might say. I believe I can run a team as a point guard, though, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”

A lot of players who were college stars have a tough adjustment to being an NBA role player, but if Burke got his head around that he’s halfway there.

Frank Ntilikina finding his comfort zone in New York

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If there is one word to describe Frank Ntilikina’s first few months in the NBA, it’s adjusting.

Last season he was playing in the French league as a two guard, working a lot more off the ball. This season he’s the Knicks point guard coach Jeff Hornacek trusts with the ball in his hands at the end of games. Last season he was living in Strasbourg, a city of less than 300,000 in the Alsace region of France, just miles from the German border and a long way away from Paris. This season he’s living in the ultimate big city, New York.

Ntilikina is adjusting. Finding his comfort level.

“I’m obviously more comfortable on that court these last games, but I still feel I can do more now and keep working on my game to be even more comfortable,” Ntilikina told NBC Sports.

What has evolved for him as the season has worn on is he started to trust himself and his basketball instincts. Like every NBA rookie, Ntilikina — the No. 8 pick of the Knicks last June — had moments of doubt and was struggling to find his way. However, veteran Jarrett Jack saw the potential in practice and told Ntilikina to trust his gut on the court and just be himself.

“I was thinking, maybe, too much, a little too much before, so (Jack) helped me, gave me a lot of advice on how to play, just without thinking,” Ntilikina said. “He saw me playing as myself, so he understands it, and after a little taste of it I feel more comfortable.”

He’s adjusting off the court, too.

“It’s been different. Obviously the culture is different, but the transition was easy,” Ntilikina said. “I had a couple of people who helped me get adjusted to the lifestyle. Then on the court, good teammates, like I said before Jarrett Jack, but all my teammates helped me make that transition to the NBA.”

One of those transitions was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before games. It’s an NBA trend, one that doesn’t exactly show up on the training tables in France.

Ntilikina also wanted to be more involved in the community, so he is helping The Boys & Girls Clubs of America raise money, promoting the fact every time anyone uses #PBJLikeAPro on social media, Jif and Smuckers will donate $1 to the Club (up to $10,000).

“JIF and Smuckers and the Boys & Girls Club helped me learn how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I knew coming to America it was a big tradition to eat, but I didn’t know how to do it because coming from France we don’t do it a lot.”

The Boys & Girls Club can always use more help, where the Knicks needed help was on defense. That’s what Ntilikina could bring from Day 1 — New York’s defense is -4.2 points per 100 possessions worse when Ntilikina is off the court. He brings length and defensive instincts to the floor, which is why he gets 1.4 steals per game, but more importantly, he says he brings a work ethic to it.

“I think defensively I bring a lot to my team,” Ntilikina said. “I think defense is 80 percent will and 20 percent ability, and I have some of the ability. I know I can do it and help my team on the court.”

Defensively, Ntilikina impressed Kyrie Irving from the Celtics Thursday night, with the All-Star saying he was particularly impressed how the rookie did not back down, especially in the fourth quarter. It’s high praise from a clutch player like Irving.

Offensively,Ntilikina is more a work in progress. The largest percentage of his shots taken are long twos (16 feet out to the arc) mostly off the pick-and-roll, he’s shooting just 32 percent on threes, but more concerning is the 37.7 percent he is shooting at the rim. He has struggled to finish on drives against NBA length. He is turning the ball over on 23.3 percent of his possessions used, which is far too high.

However, he’s improving. He’s become a more aggressive and better pick-and-roll player, and he’s developed a good early chemistry with Kristaps Porzingis — a pairing Knicks management thinks could be a big part of the franchise’s future.

“Kristaps is a great player and he’s going to be even more great in the future,” Ntilikina said. “He’s young, he’s going to improve a lot. Playing with him makes my job easier, how tall he is and how he can move on the court. You just have to work to find him in the right spot. I mean, we worked a lot together, we talked a lot together on and off the court. If we work we can do a lot of things together.”

The other thing Ntilikina is becoming more comfortable with is taking what the defense gives him, including little mid-range pull-ups he can hit.

“I’m trying to be comfortable and see what other teams give me on the court, and that’s one that teams give a lot, so I got a lot more practice,” Ntilikina said of the mid-rangers. “It was something I knew I needed to keep working on, and I’m getting more comfortable and confident with it.”

You can see that confidence growing. You can see that the game is slowing down for Ntilikina, that he has excellent vision and accuracy with his passes. However, you can also see he is rough around the edges — he is learning how to run a team, but his handles and finishing need to take steps forward.

“It’s slowed down a little bit, I’m less in a rush than I used to be at the beginning of the season, I just feel a lot more comfortable,” Ntilikina said returning to his theme. “My focus is on the offense and how I run the team. I’m more comfortable and I won’t stop working on my game.”

That’s all Knicks fans can ask. For now.

PBT Podcast: Frank Ntilikina talks adjusting to NBA; Xmas day game previews

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To open the podcast, we spend about 10 minutes with Knicks’ point guard Frank Ntilikina to talk about his adjustment to the NBA, how Jarrett Jack and Jeff Hornacek help him out, and about running the pick-and-roll with Kristaps Porzingis.

We also discuss how Ntilikina is getting used to the NBA trend of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the locker room — that’s not something served in France (where he was born and played until this season). Ntilikina is helping The Boys & Girls Clubs of America raise money, promoting the fact every time anyone uses #PBJLikeAPro on social media, Jif and Smuckers will donate $1 to the Club (up to $10,000).

After that, Dan Feldman from NBC Sports joins me to break down the Christmas Day games — Joel Embiid vs. Kristaps Porzingis to open the slate of five games (well, if both are healthy), then Cavaliers at Warriors have a rematch of the last three NBA Finals (and it could be a preview of the 2018 Finals, too). From there it’s Houston vs. Oklahoma City, Washington vs. Boston, and on through the day until the Timberwolves face the Lakers at the end of the night.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Knicks waive Mindaugas Kuzminskas to clear spot for Joakim Noah

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The Knicks didn’t find their desired Mindaugas Kuzminskas trade, so with Joakim Noah returning from his performance-enhancing-drug suspension tonight, something had to give.

New York opened a roster spot by waiving Kuzminskas.

Knicks:

The Knicks might have originally expected to waive Jarrett Jack, who’s on an unguaranteed contract. But they’re 7-2 since making him starting point guard.

With Jack thriving, rookie Frank Ntilikina showing promise and Ron Baker, um, signed, Ramon Sessions appeared to be another candidate to be waived. The 31-year-old hasn’t played well in at least a couple years, and he’s on just a one-year minimum contract.

Alas, Kuzminskas departs.

Though he was just a rookie last year, the Lithuanian is already 28. His $3,025,035 salary lowered his trade value and might cause him to clear waivers.

Still, he plays an energetic all-around game that would really shine if he shoots better. It’s quite common for players from Europe to need a season to adjust to NBA 3-point distance.

I wouldn’t be surprised if an NBA team takes a flier on Kuzminskas, with a waiver claim or signing him once he clears. I wouldn’t be surprised if he returns to Europe, either.