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.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.