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.

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.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.