What to Watch: Melo Debuts for the Knicks

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After many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many months, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to the New York Knicks. He’ll debut tonight beside Amar’e Stoudemire against the Bucks in front of a sold-out crowd which will be buzzing like arguably never before.  But what exactly should we be watching for, exactly? Here are five things to watch for in Melo’s Big Apple Debut.

1. The Stoudemelo Connection: Lame? Absolutely, but until a cooler nickname is invented, we’re going for it. The big key tonight is spacing with Stoudemire and Melo. One of the things that LeBron James and Dwyane Wade found out early on in the season was that spacing is not something that comes naturally to a superstar. As the key offensive player, you’re used to having the run of the floor to do what you wish.  But the two have to find a way to play off each other to punish a double team while also not clogging up the offense. That means precision and passing, and tonight’s going to give us an indication of just how far Mike D’Antoni is going to have to bring the two of them. Both Stoudemire and Melo like to work on the right elbow, so there’s going to be some different things for them to work out.  Communication is going to have to be key, and right off the bat, both are going to want to establish their leadership. Hope everyone stays happy.

2. They (Need To) Like To Move It, Move It: Mike D’Antoni’s system is fast paced. George Karl’s system is fast paced. So this should be no problem for Melo, right? Except that D’Antoni’s system is highly dependent on ball movement, not ISO possessions, the Melo favorite. So tonight will be an adjustment not only for Melo, but for the Knicks, trying to work Melo into their flow. There are going to be blown possessions, going to be turnovers. They need to make progress on discovering Melo’s tendencies and what needs to happen for the Knicks as well.

3. La La Vasquez: Because, I mean, have you ever seen a woman so happy her head literally combusts into diamonds, shoes, and reality show casting sheeets? Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised if she has pom poms and keeps singing “Empire State of Mind” over and over again.

4. D’Antoni’s Demeanor: This isn’t really D’Antoni’s bag. Sure, he likes star players and is happy to get Anthony. But he’s got a huge ego that just walked into his locker room, and several of the players he selected have walked out the door. Throw in on top of that the fact that his frontcourt down low is thinner than La La, and Mike’s got a hill to climb, starting tonight. It’ll be interesting to see who he leans on at the two-guard spot, and who he turns to to provide perimeter scoring. The Bucks are a good defensive team, so this is a stiff test for a team thrown together just a few hours ago.

5. Madison Square Garden Party: New York is a big town. A big, loud, town that loves basketball, loves sports, loves the Knicks, and loves making a big spectacle of itself. In the world’s most famous arena, Carmelo Anthony takes the floor to join Amar’e Stoudemire in a signal that the Knicks are not just “back” but loaded to push for the future. This is Melo’s coming out party to the New York media, their celebration of their second All-Star, and a chance for Knicks fans to embrace their new era of relevance on a scale not seen this decade. It’s going to be raucous, it’s going to be intense, and it’s honestly going to be worth watching.

Unless you’re a Nuggets fan.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.