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.

New lottery rules change tanking incentives, starting this season

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To paraphrase Jerry Tarkanian, the NBA is so mad at the 76ers, it’ll keep the Hawks losing another couple years.

The NBA finally enacted lottery reform that will take effect this season. The measures appeared designed to curb Sam Hinkie’s ambitious multi-year tank, but Philadelphia has already reaped the rewards of The Process. The 76ers, led by former high draft picks Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are one of the league’s top teams and extremely unlikely to land in the lottery. It’s the next generation of losing teams, like Atlanta, that will feel the brunt of these changes.

Generally, the new rules reduce incentives to chase the league’s worst record. The very-bottom teams face greater variance and worse expected outcomes than previously. The top six seeds in the lottery became less valuable than before, the 7-14 seeds more valuable than before.

In the previous system, the three worst teams had 250, 199 and 156 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-three picks were drawn then the next 11 picks were slotted in reverse order of record.

Now, the three worst teams each have 140 of 1,000 lottery combinations. The top-four picks are drawn then the next 10 picks are slotted in reverse order of record.

There’s several ways to measure the changes, but here a a few based on lottery seed in the old system (orange) and new system (blue):

Odds of No. 1 pick:

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Odds of top-four pick:

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Expected pick:

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The “big” change is the bottom three teams all have the same odds of getting drawn, creating an illusion there’s no difference between finishing last or third-to-last. But the last-place team still gets slotted ahead of the second-worst and third-worst (and second-worst ahead of third-worst) if none get drawn in the lottery.

Simply, teams are still incentivized to chase the league’s very worst record. The incentives aren’t as strong as they once were, but they still exist.

And the upside remains just as high. Top draft picks are so valuable – a chance to add elite young talent on a relatively cheap contract that comes with five years of team control that, practically, extends much longer.

So, how will teams handle this changing structure?

Decisions will be fascinating among more than just the lowest of cellar-dwellers. Several teams have traded first-round picks this season that contain protections within the lottery. The Mavericks owe the Hawks a top-five protected first-rounder. The Cavaliers owe the Hawks a top-10-protected first-rounder. The Grizzlies owe the Celtics a top-eight-protected first-rounder. The Nuggets owe the Nets a top-12-protected first-rounder. Those owing teams all face a new batch of decisions of when to give up on trying to make the playoffs and aim to keep that pick.

I mostly share the view that lottery reform won’t change much, particularly on a year-to-year basis. But the cumulative effect could be larger on some teams.

Hinkie’s 76ers were an anomaly. Few teams set out to tank for that long. Many more tanked for a season, knowing that would result in a high draft pick. With a new touted prospect in hand, those teams usually attempted to ascend.

But now, far less is guaranteed. Before, the second-worst team was likely to land a top-three pick and was guaranteed a top-five pick. Now, the second-worst team is likely to pick between No. 4 and No. 6. In that lower range, the team might get stuck with a lesser prospect who leaves it stuck losing again the following year.

At minimum, lottery reform adds uncertainty to a league that had grown familiar with the previous system and how teams proceeded within it. We can all guess how teams will act in the new system, but this season will provide much more tangible clarity.

Kyrie Irving says he hasn’t talked with Jimmy Butler about joining Knicks

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If you listen to some people, they believe that NBA stars are constantly scheming to end up together on certain teams, years in advance of their pending free agency. That was partially the case for the Miami Heat when Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Chris Bosh teamed up together. But we can’t always verify what players are talking about together, and of course they are free to have those conversations. NBA players have more agency than ever in 2018.

One rumor that has been floating around the NBA sphere as of late is the idea of disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler pairing up with current Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving on the New York Knicks next season. Butler has an option to get out of his current contract at the end of 2019, as does Irving.

Things are getting messy with Butler out in Minnesota, with the latest news being that owner Glen Taylor has decided to circumvent his front office team and offer Butler up for trade himself. Meanwhile, Irving still has not signed an extension with the Celtics, which has some fans in Boston nervous.

Of course, someone was going to have to give Irving the chance to respond to the rumors that he wants to team up with Butler, and Jackie MacMullan over at ESPN did just that in a recent feature with the Celtics star. For his part, Irving says that he has not spoken with Butler about teaming up or anything related to career decisions since 2016.

Via ESPN:

Irving said he’s aware that he’s been linked to Jimmy Butler in persistent free-agent rumors regarding a mutual desire to play together in New York, but he said he’s had no such discussions with Butler. In fact, he said, the last time he talked to Butler at length was when they were both playing with USA Basketball, and the two engaged in a spitballing session along with Durant and Cousins about what the future held for each of them.

“And that,” Irving laughed, “was in 2016.”

Players publicly denying things that could actually be true is nothing new. Readers can take Irving at his word, or continue to be suspicious. It’s your prerogative to decide, although admittedly there are few external factors that will help you confirm whether two players will actually end up on a team in this manner together.

Set aside whether actual planning has gone on: As we have seen with players like Paul George, the expanse of the NBA season can change sentiments for where players would like to play in the future. Nothing is set in stone, even if it feels that way.

At least one report has said that Butler’s interest in the Knicks has been overstated, and that he would like to win now rather than later. Certainly, adding him and Irving to the New York roster would help them move up a few rungs, but it’s unclear whether it would put the Knicks on top of major competition in the Eastern Conference.

For now, we have to sit tight and wait and see where Butler will end up. We likely won’t have to wait more than a few days.

Add Cavs, Blazers, Wizards, Bucks to list of teams calling about Jimmy Butler

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The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota has been difficult to track the past couple of days. No doubt that’s due to the irregular nature of the potential transaction, with Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor circumventing his front office to seek a trade for Butler.

It was reported Saturday that several teams were interested in Butler, including some of the teams the star shooting guard reportedly prefers to land. That list included Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, the LA Clippers, Miami and Philadelphia.

Now, you can add several more teams to the list who have at least placed phone calls to Minnesota now that they know Butler is available to be dealt.

According to multiple reports, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Washington Wizards are interested in seeing what they can do to add Butler to their roster.

Trading for Butler at this juncture is a tenuous balance for all parties. Butler can opt out of his current deal at the end of the season, and is expected to do as much. That means teams must be certain that Butler is going to re-sign with them, or be happy with his rental for whatever assets they decide to give up. It puts the Timberwolves in a tough situation as well, where they won’t to get fair exchange for Butler’s overall worth.

We don’t have many details on actual offers just yet. Things seem to be a bit hectic in Minneapolis and new information is still streaming in. Training camp for the Timberwolves starts on Tuesday, and reports say that they would like to have Butler out of town by then.

What teams are willing to give up is another factor, and that self-imposed timeframe could widen what Taylor sees as a good return for Butler.

For example, any deal for Butler with the Blazers would not include Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, or Jusuf Nurkic, according to NBC Sports Northwest’s Dwight Jaynes. That leaves some value for the Timberwolves, including Al-Farouq Aminu or perhaps Maurice Harkless. But if Portland is reportedly not willing to give up any of their most important core, you can expect other teams are heading to Taylor’s door with similar offers.

More teams being added to the potential list of Butler landing spots is not surprising. When a superstar becomes available, just about every general manager will at least place a courtesy call to the trading office. It doesn’t help that Taylor appears publicly to be in a position of little leverage, so no doubt rival general managers are licking their chops to try to snag Butler away for cheap.

Keep your eyes peeled. This one is going to happen quick.

Knicks reportedly near deal to waive, stretch Joakim Noah, making him free agent

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The Joakim Noah era with the Knicks is finally, mercifully coming to an end.

Back in the summer of 2016 — the summer when NBA GMs spent like a drunk sailor on shore leave — the Knicks’ Phil Jackson looked at Joakim Noah, who had played 29 games the season before due to injury and was showing the wear and tear of Tom Thibodeau miles on him, and thought “I should give him four years, $72.6 million because he will totally bounce back to Defensive Player of the Year form.” In the two year’s since Noah has played in 53 games total, and while he can still grab some boards when he gets on the court, he is not near the defensive force he once was, and he was never a great offensive player.

The Knicks are finally moving on and doing so in the next 48 hours, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at The Athletic.

Much like the Luol Deng move by the Lakers, this is about freeing up cap space for next summer for the Knicks. New York will pay his full $18.5 million salary for this season, then stretch his final season of $19.3 million over three seasons, which works out to about $6.43 million a season on the books. That is without any discount in the buyout Noah may give New York.

For the Knicks, that frees up about $12.9 million in extra cap space next summer, when they want to go big game hunting for free agents. (The Knicks reportedly have Kyrie Irving at the top of their list, although most sources I talk to around the league don’t expect Irving to leave Boston next summer.) It does mean the Knicks will have some of that Noah money on the books through the summer of 2023. The risk for New York is if they strike out in free agency then they still have that Noah money on the books, rather than just taking their medicine and paying the full price, although having him in the locker room and wanting minutes would be a distraction, one the Knicks would like to move past.

As for other teams having interest in Noah, maybe if he can prove he’s healthy some team might consider him for a backup center, or third center on the roster spot. Maybe. But most teams would rather have a young player they can get cheaply and develop in that spot rather than a 33-year-old veteran with an injury history. It’s something to watch, but I doubt the market is very deep. That said, it just takes one.