The Knickerbocker Empire got its prize in Melo, but the real battle begins now

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Congratulations, Mr. Dolan! You’ve landed your prize! You have two, count ’em two, stars to fill the seats in Madison Square Garden. Carmelo Anthony joins Amar’e Stoudemire for the Knicks and the star power is through the roof now in New York. You have successfully acquired a second NBA All-Star, which is difficult to do and a testament to the power of the brand you acquired (and have largely run into the gutter for the past decade, but that’s beside the point).  This is a huge day for you and you should be proud and happy. Bask in the glow of the media attention and the jersey sales for today through Wednesday night’s probable Melo debut.

Then get ready for some massive headaches.

After this move settles down, Dolan and his crew are going to be facing one of the tightest cap situations in the league, regardless of how the CBA works out. They now have close to $40 million on the books for next season and seasons going forward between just two players. That’s a whole lot of money in two guys, when you need a solid seven at the very least to compete for a championship.  It’s been said that you can develop role players. That’s absolutely true, but it also takes draft picks to get those guys, and the Knicks are now missing their 2012 and 2014 picks. So how they’re going to get there is going to be a little bit tricky. And it’s going to take someone like Donnie Walsh, a shrewd evaluator of talent, to figure out how to get the support Melo and Amar’e will need.

But will Walsh even be around? Reports are rampant in the wake of this trade that this was Isiah’s work, pressing Dolan to intervene, and not Walsh. Walsh, consistently has played his cards tight to his chest, knowing he held leverage and could get Melo and keep the supporting pieces to put the Knicks on an advanced track. Instead, Dolan let Thomas get his ear, and now there indications that the shadow that held over the Garden for five years is creeping over the gates. Thomas is making a power play and Dolan is caving to it, even as it’s been Walsh who has guided the team back to relevance, being careful and considerate with his decisions.

The Knicks’ future won’t be decided on the floor with superstars with bright lights in their eyes balancing being cultural icons and All-Stars. It will be decided in boardrooms, both inside and outside the MSG Empire. Internally, if Dolan continues to seek out Isiah Thomas’ counsel, undercutting Walsh, that situation will become untenable. Walsh has been around too long to put up with that kind of circus act especially with his contract up at the end of the year. Getting Melo is an upgrade, but it came at a price and Walsh has to feel like if he’d been granted control, Anthony could have been had without giving up so much. If Isiah Thomas somehow works his way back into the driver’s seat of the Knicksmobile, expect the fans’ reaction to be nothing short of outrage.

Outside the Knicks, though, is another fight Dolan will be involved in. The CBA negotiations take place this summer, and while his fellow owners are pushing for a drastic reduction in the salary cap and possibly a hard cap, Dolan may have to try and politic his way into finding a base for compromise. In short, anything which restricts player movement and lowers the cap without rolling back the current contracts of Stoudemire and Anthony is going to keep the Knicks from being able to do what Dolan wants: buy their way into a championship. The next piece of this puzzle comes in 2012 for New York, as they attempt to chase Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams. But if the Knicks are cap strapped thanks to this move and a revamped CBA, that goes out the window and the Knicks are looking at a roster-limited team  with no structure beneath the big jewels up top.

And guess what happens, then? Should the Knicks fail to contend for a championship because they can’t get the pieces around the two stars, it wont’ be Dolan admitting his mistake or allowing Walsh to work his magic. Instead it will be Mike D’Antoni’s job on the line as the idea will surface that it’s his fault the Knicks go further. We’ve seen this pattern before in the NBA.

The Knicks hit the big time. Now we have to see if the organization as a whole can survive under the lights.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.