Amar'e Stoudemire: Icon of the New York reclamation

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Thumbnail image for stoudemire.pngLost in the debates on if the Knicks should have traded for Tracy McGrady (and his cap space) at the cost of their draft picks in 2011 (swapped) and 2012 to the Rockets, and whether the Knicks will manage to acquire one of the true elites of the free agent class (two names, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade) is just how severe a hole the Knicks were in.

The damage reaped upon New York’s basketball flagship by the former GM who shall remain nameless was so severe, the Knicks are just now getting out from under the massive anvil he dropped on them. Every season for the past six years, Knicks fans have convinced themselves the team would be competitive. Not championship-level elite, just competitive. But somehow, Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph with QRich never quite worked out. Then the new regime came in, and Knicks fans hoped they’d be competitive, but the talent just wasn’t there.

To rebuild, to truly rebuild, if you’re not blessed with a former player handing you a former MVP at a discount price, you have to torch the whole thing and start over. You can’t leave anything substantial behind. Then you have to find one central player to build around. Danilo Galinari? A nice touch, a good solid window pane feature, but it’s not something you construct as a pillar to build the structure on.

No more Al Harrington as the premier offensive threat. No more David Lee as the primary perimeter pick and roll man. The Knicks have an elite player at a key position and they can begin to formulate a competitive team around him. Get LeBron, don’t get LeBron, get Wade, don’t get Wade, things have changed in New York.

Donnie Walsh has said several times that their plan goes beyond this season. That they have to be committed to building long-term, even if they whif on the top free agents this summer. Rome was not built in a day, and it is dwarfed by New York. To build a team fitting of the greatest city on Earth, to compete in this era’s NBA, may take patience and ingenuity, something that Walsh has already demonstrated.

Let’s be clear, the Knicks took a risk here. They convinced Amar’e to be the first of the free agent dominoes to fall, and convinced him that they have a plan to win a championship and that he is a central component. They could have waited for James and Wade to make their decisions, but that may have resulted in them being left out in the cold. If the Big 2 do not make their way to the Five Boroughs, New York won’t be left holding an empty net. Someone in this free agency summer is going to lose, and lose big. The Knicks avoided that fate and have a player to build around.

There are a billion things to be done now. Convince one of the other key free agents to commit. Barring that, trade David Lee for the best sign-and-trade package they can acquire. Sign a point guard that can run the pick and roll, immediately, in a market short on such point guards (Raymond Felton may be about to have Christmas in July). Sign or acquire shooters to put on the perimeter. Find someone, anyone to play center who has a pulse. (No, Eddy Curry does not count.)

From there, it’s tweaking, and adjusting, to build a new powerhouse, a team that finally, truly has something to say in the NBA.

And as much as Knicks fans, and their organization, want to contend for championships, just having that say is a place to start. It’s an improvement, a move in the right direction after nearly 10 years of moves in the opposite direction. Huge contracts to players who obviously weren’t worth them. Say what you want about Stoudemire, he’s at least worthy of being in the conversation for the contract he’s been offered. No more draft picks of guys who are only auxiliary help on a sinking boat.

And most importantly, no more disgraces in the headlines that let the fans know that the people in charge of the team they love most is ran by the wrong people. This signals the right thing. The Knicks aren’t just an attractive free agent destination because of the city. They’re a pull because of the city, and the fans, and the organization, and the players.

Moreso than any other fanbase, the Knicks fans I’ve talked to have been the most pessimistic towards the team signing LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. They’re smart basketball fans that realize just how terrible they’ve been and how little they’ve had to offer in the way of championship contention. But this agreement to sign may just signal to them that that time period is over. That they can feel confident in their team’s ability to make the right moves, to attract the top guys, to be a team that is at the top, or if nothing else, just not at the bottom of the league.

Progress is a process, and it begins with a singular defining movement, the culmination of planning, though, and consideration. Stoudemire’s arrival in New York, declaring the Knicks as “back” may be presumptuous and overly bold, but that’s what’s needed. New York basketball no longer needs to humble itself to drive the poison out. It can square its shoulders and declare that the Knicks are once again in the arena, ready to compete. And that’s at least something for such a beaten fanbase.

It’s been a long, hard road just to get to a point where they can start the upward climb. But after a decade of misery and angst, the Knicks have made their first big move that makes sense. For all Stoudemire’s faults, he’s also been a near-MVP candidate at times, has years in front of him, and knows D’Antoni’s system as well as anyone.

The future isn’t now. But the light on the horizon is no longer just the jubilation of other teams making moves the Knicks have missed.

New York returns to relevance, starting tonight.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.

Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Doncic: Mavericks tap brakes on inevitable comparisons

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DALLAS (AP) — Luka Doncic didn’t get compared to Larry Bird when he was introduced a day after the Dallas Mavericks traded up to get the third overall pick in the NBA draft.

For president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, that’s progress based on his last experience of getting a tender-aged European in hopes of lifting the Mavericks out of the doldrums.

Twenty years later, Dirk Nowitzki is the highest-scoring foreign-born player in league history. Back then, the big German wasn’t remotely comparable to Larry Legend – and his rough first two years proved it.

So ask Nelson about a player the Mavericks clearly coveted heading into the draft in Doncic, and he’ll choose his words carefully regarding the 19-year-old from Slovenia. Doncic won’t turn 20 until after the All-Star break of his rookie season, which is expected to be Nowitzki’s record 21st with one franchise.

“Dirk and I had a long talk coming in,” Nelson said about the player Dallas drafted days after his 20th birthday in 1998.

“We’re obviously very excited to have (Doncic) but he’s got a very tough road ahead of him. Dirk wasn’t done any favors in his first two years. We are going to steer away from any of those comparisons. Luka is his own guy. He’s got his own challenges.”

Coach Rick Carlisle dropped a few international names in trying to describe the versatility Dallas thinks is offered by the 6-foot-7 Doncic, who won Euroleague MVP and Final Four MVP honors while helping Real Madrid win the title just days before the draft.

After offering comparisons to the late Drazen Petrovic, three-time champion Toni Kukoc and longtime San Antonio star Manu Ginobili, Carlisle stopped.

“I really feel it’s important that we shouldn’t try to compare this guy to anybody,” Carlisle said Friday during an introductory news conference that included Doncic and second-round pick Jalen Brunson, who won two NCAA titles in three years at Villanova. “Let him be himself. Let his game takes its own form.”

Doncic figures to shape the future of the Mavericks in some form with Dallas coming off consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the second of Nowitzki’s two difficult years at the start of his career.

Those 1990s-era Mavericks had 10 straight losing seasons. Combine the drafting of Doncic with last year’s ninth overall pick in point guard Dennis Smith Jr. and a still-young leading scorer in Harrison Barnes, and Carlisle expects the losing to stop soon, if not this coming season.

“Last night was symbolic to me that it was kind of a defining moment in this rebuild,” said Carlisle, who had just one losing season as a coach before the current Dallas slide. “We’re going propel forward with the idea that we’ve got to start winning games.”

Just as he did last year with Smith, Carlisle is declaring Doncic a starter, which means the opening night lineup will have a teenager for the second straight year. Youth partly explains a two-year record of 57-107, including the 24-58 mark last season that landed Dallas the fifth pick before the draft-night trade with Atlanta on Thursday.

Another explanation was an unusually large number of undrafted players, including a young German in Maxi Kleber who grew up watching his countryman become the 2007 MVP and 2011 NBA Finals MVP.

The Mavericks haven’t won a playoff series since taking their only title in 2011, and have missed the postseason three of the past six seasons coming off a 12-year playoff streak. Doncic might only get one chance to get Dallas back on track with Nowitzki, the 13-time All-Star who has hinted that 40 is a nice round number as a retirement age.

If this is it for Nowitzki, Nelson sees a trio in Barnes, Smith and Doncic that reminds him of Michael Finley mentoring Nowitzki and point guard Steve Nash and helping the Mavericks end a 10-year playoff drought in 2001.

“Michael Finley was our Harrison Barnes back in the day,” Nelson said. “We feel like we’ve got that here in a different form. There’s just some really cool elements to this that take me back and remind me about what it was like 20 years ago when we were watching these young guys.”

Just don’t remind Nelson about the Nowitzki-Bird comparisons.

 

Clippers’ Milos Teodosic opts into $6.3 million for next season

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It was a lot of fun to watch Milos Teodosic play last season…

When he was healthy. He only played in 45 games for the Clippers last season.

Teodosic will be back in the NBA next season, as he has told the Clippers he will opt into a $6.3 million next season, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Clippers can buy him out by July 15 for $2.1 million, and that likely will happen. The Clippers are deep at the point guard spot (Patrick Beverley, Austin Rivers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Jawun Evans) and with a lottery rookie in the fold they will want to get him run.

Expect the Clippers to try to trade him in the next three weeks. He would have value to a team looking for a backup point guard — when he did play he averaged 9.5 points per game, shot 37.9 percent from three. The fans will love his passing and play. The coach will like him too… when healthy.

Report: Suns to renounce rights to Alex Len, Elfrid Payton

Associated Press
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The Suns want to free up some cap space heading into July. They are not going big game hunting, but with $10 million to $15 million they could bring in some solid veterans to provide leadership to their young core — and win a few games along the way.

How they get there starts with not bringing back Alex Len or Elfrid Payton, reports Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic.

Expect them to renounce their rights to center Alex Len and point guard Elfrid Payton, making them both free agents. Ayton’s addition has made Len expendable, and while Phoenix still needs point-guard help, Payton’s inconsistent play last season and, more importantly, his $10 million cap hold figure, likely means he’s played his last game in a Suns uniform.

This was expected. In Len’s case, he was playing on a qualifying offer and didn’t anticipate being back with the team (especially after they drafted Deandre Ayton).

The Suns acquired Payton at the trade deadline for a second-round pick (which was just by Orlando to land Jarred Vanderbilt) and it was a good flier. The Suns need a point guard to go next to Devin Booker, Payton is a former lottery pick that had shown flashes in the past, so Phoenix rolled the dice on him. It didn’t work out, and the Suns can just move on.

Both Len and Payton probably find new homes in the NBA next season. Len is 7’1″ and can use that size to protect the paint, plus he can score around the rim. Teams can use that off the bench. Payton has shown enough in flashes, and he can get buckets, that some team will grab him, just probably as a reserve.