Earl “The Pearl” Monroe sees something familiar in these Knicks

2 Comments

Earl Monroe is not just another New Yorker. He’s a Knick legend. The Pearl. Black Magic. His playground nickname of “Jesus” lives on in He Got Game. He’s a champion. He is still involved in promoting New York basketball (keep reading, we’ll get to The People’s Games).

But in other ways, he is just like a lot of New Yorkers — he likes what he sees with these New York Knicks. A lot.

“What’s been done this year, it’s really tremendous,” Monroe told ProBasketballTalk on Wednesday. “The Carmelo Anthony thing has been something to marvel at, but even the team as it was composed earlier in the season, with Amar’e (Stoudemire) coming in and giving this team the type of energy and leadership he has done, we were rooting for this team….

“Now that they’ve made this change we’ve got two superstars here and you can’t help but feel good about what is going to happen with this team in the future.”

The less heralded part of that deal was bringing in former NBA finals MVP Chauncey Billups, but on the court that may have had the biggest impact on the Knicks.

Monroe’s flashy game with a lot of playground in it may be different from Billups, but Monroe knows good play when he sees it. And he’s seeing it.

“If you were to say where his game is, it’s more like (Walt) Clyde’s (Frazier’s) game,” Monroe said of his backcourt teammate with the Knicks (and still team color commentator on television). “But he brings a certain amount of stability and defensive presence. He might have lost a step or half-a-step or so, but he brings that defensive intensity because he’s played in the East. And it’s a different type of basketball that’s played in the East as opposed to the West…. The offense they are running now is more of a West Coast offense so he fits right in.

The Knicks are not there — Monroe says the team needs a defensive presence inside and rebounding force to really contend in the East — but they are building. And building the right way.

And New Yorkers are latching on to and identifying with this team, like they did back in the day. The energy is there again. But they have a way to go to catch up with those legendary ‘70s teams. It’s not just the championship, it was the personalities. That time, that team is not something that can really be duplicated, Monroe said.

“It’s a different day and time,” he said. “We all lived in the city and interacted with people in the city. At the same time we were just getting out of the Vietnam War, everything was moving ahead, everybody was happy because we had a winning team in New York. When you have that kind of combination it led people to remember us for who we were.

“We had guys who represented the city itself in terms of, well, we had Dave DeBusschere who was kind of lunch pail guy, the guy who went to work with the hard hat. You had guys that represented different factions of the city. I think we’re kind of still endeared to the people who saw us because of all that.”

We’ll let you decide for yourself what part of the city Walt Frazier’s suits represent.

Monroe is still representing New York basketball. He has teamed up with The People’s Games, a sporting competition between teams from various cities in a variety of sports. It starts with basketball, where teams will be selected from tryouts in New York and Los Angeles so that the best (non-professional) players from the two cities can battle it out on the court for the honor of the city. (If you are 18 or older, current resident of city, never played professionally and want to take part click the link above to get the details.)

“That’s why I was drawn to The People’s Games, because it reminded me of being back in those older times,” Monroe said. “You were back on the playground, you were getting an education every time you went out.”

Monroe will lead the basketball tryouts, which start March 13 and will be worked down to 20 players to represent NYC. They will play the best 20 from the L.A. tryouts in May. Basketball is first but the People’s Games will branch out soon to soccer, baseball and football as well as more cities.

You can bet at those basketball tryouts in New York they will be talking about the Knicks. Because while basketball never went away on the streets of New York, it is back in the Garden. And Knicks fans like what they see. A lot.

LeBron James set to make debut for Lakers at Trail Blazers tonight

Getty Images
1 Comment

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — It’s not going to be just a game when the Los Angeles Lakers invade Moda Center Thursday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular-season opener for both teams.

It will be a happening.

It’s the first game in the splendid 16-year NBA career of LeBron James that the future Hall of Famer will be wearing the uniform of a Western Conference club — the Lakers, with whom he signed a free-agent contract during the offseason.

Members of the national media and a TNT audience will be watching along with a full house at the 20,000-seat Moda Center. And James has caught the fever.

“The season is here,” James told reporters after a recent practice. “First of 82 (regular-season games). It will be fun.”

The basketball world is intrigued to find out how well the 33-year-old James will mesh with his mostly younger teammates, and how much he can help them improve on their 35-47 record of a year ago. Thursday at Moda Center is the first step, but Lakers coach Luke Walton isn’t taking it as a giant leap for mankind all in one swoop.

“We’ve got four years,” said Walton, referring to James’ contract, which calls for three years guaranteed and a player option for a fourth. “We want to make sure we’re not only playing our best come the end of the season, but that he is fresh. It’s a goal for us, and it’s not a one-year journey.”

James, who led the NBA with 36.9 minutes played per game in 2017-18, likely won’t match that average this season. Even so, he figures to be on the court a lot Thursday night.

“If my body is feeling good, then I’m out there,” James said. “If my body is not able to perform at the level I would like to play for my teammates, then I won’t.”

The Lakers could have drawn an easier first opponent that the Trail Blazers, against whom the Lakers have had no success in recent years. Portland holds a 15-game win streak in the series dating to March 2014, and has won seven in a row at Moda Center.

The Blazers mostly stood pat after going 49-33 and earning the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoffs a year ago, then getting swept in four games by New Orleans in the first round. Portland added a pair of low-cost free agent guards, Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas, to bolster its perimeter shooting game. The Blazers may also have a more significant role available now for 7-1 stretch forward Meyers Leonard, who shot .783 from the field and .727 from 3-point range in the preseason.

“Seth and Nik give us a totally different element with Meyers, the way he shot in the preseason,” Portland general manager Neil Olshey said. “We brought in guys who could have more of an impact at the offensive end.”

The Blazers may be without their starting small forward, Moe Harkless, who missed the entire preseason while rehabbing from knee surgery. His place will likely be taken Thursday night by third-year pro Jake Layman, who averaged 12.0 points and shot .512 from the field and .500 on 3-point attempts through the preseason.

“We’re pleased with the way Jake has seamlessly stepped into that role,” Olshey said.

Report: Clippers “have a better than not chance of getting” Kawhi Leonard next summer

Getty Images
1 Comment

This line of thinking has gone from a quiet buzz around league circles to a rumor to the point where the game’s top news breaker — Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN — is reporting it as 50/50 or better:

Kawhi Leonard could be coming to the Clippers next summer as a free agent.

Here is what Wojnarowski said on a podcast with Zach Lowe:

“What the Clippers are doing right now is very below the radar. What they’ve done to put themselves in position. They didn’t gut themselves and they’re not tanking. They’re putting a competitive team on the floor. I think, right now, with Kawhi Leonard, they have a better than not chance of getting him. We know things will change. He could love Toronto…

“The Clippers are in great position with him. They have two max slots. They will be heard from again, I think, in these Jimmy Butler trade talks.”

The Clippers name came up in the Butler trade talks early, but Minnesota (read: Tom Thibodeau) reportedly asked for Tobias Harris and the Clippers shot that down cold. The talks have gained no traction after that, according to sources. The Clippers like Harris (who is a free agent this July and wants to get paid) and ideally want to keep him, but there will be serious roster overhaul in Los Angeles this summer and what happens to Harris will depend on a lot of other variables. Leonard included.

What Wojnarowski is reporting here is along the lines of what a lot of people around the league are talking about. This isn’t out of left field.

I can hear Lakers fans now: He is coming to us. (Knicks fans may be thinking that too, unless they are busy dreaming about Kevin Durant.) But there are a couple of reasons the Clippers make sense over those other markets.

First is the shadow of LeBron James. Not everybody wants to play in it. If Leonard — or, more accurately, the people around Leonard — want to build his brand and have him become the center of a marketing machine, being in that shadow could be seen as stunting his growth.

Them there is just fit with an organization. By his nature, Leonard does not seek out the brightest lights, he is not on social media, he does not dream of being part of the celebrity culture, and Leonard does not like a lot of drama in and around the locker room. All of those things come with signing a Lakers’ contract, and the same thing with the Knicks. While the Clippers are in Los Angeles and players there can seek out all those distractions if they want, the Clipper brand isn’t doesn’t bring the same intensity of spotlight that the Lakers with LeBron would.

All of those reasons — plus one extra guaranteed year at north of $40 million — could keep Leonard in Toronto if the team does well this season. However, if next July he’s looking to move on, the Clippers really could be his new home.

Paul George: I would have signed with Lakers if Pacers didn’t trade me to Thunder

Harry How/Getty Images
2 Comments

Paul George didn’t request a trade from the Pacers. He merely informed them he’d leave in free agency and told people he’d sign with the Lakers, leaving it up to Indiana what to do about it.

The Pacers traded him to Oklahoma City, where George found a long-term home. He re-signed with the Thunder this summer.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

Paul George revealed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that he “would have been in a Lakers uniform” if he had never been traded from the Indiana Pacers. But after the Pacers dealt the five-time All-Star to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead last year, he fell in love with his new team and playing with Russell Westbrook before eventually agreeing to a four-year, $137 million contract extension this past offseason.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Even while with the Thunder, George spoke openly about the appeal of Los Angeles. Despite not meeting with the Lakers in free agency, he still called them tempting. He’s mostly just confirming what we already believed.

Remember, the Lakers could have traded for George last year. Instead, they banked on getting him without surrendering assets, and that gambit failed. Importantly, they still lured LeBron James, but they’re still searching for a second star.

This ought to reopen questions about whether the Lakers erred by not trading for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard reportedly has interest in Los Angeles (though maybe more in the Clippers), but the Lakers watched the Spurs trade him to the Raptors. Will Leonard similarly fall for Toronto and spurn his hometown team?

It’d be a mistake to assume Leonard will follow the path of George, who’s a completely different person. But it’d also be a mistake not to evaluate the precedent set by George and learn from it.

Pistons play recording of Aretha Franklin’s national anthem while spotlighting open microphone at center court (video)

1 Comment

Pistons legend Isiah Thomas eulogized Aretha Franklin – a proud Detroit native – last summer and concluded with a message to the deceased singer:

I want you to know, I love you. The world loves you. And most importantly, Aretha, Detroit loves you.

Detroit showed its love for Aretha before the Pistons’ opener yesterday. Thomas again spoke kindly of her then asked for a moment of silence. The arena went dark and quiet.

Then, a spotlight shined on an unattended microphone at center court as a recording of Aretha’s national anthem played. While this video shows the powerful rendition of the song, by focusing on the images of Aretha shown on the scoreboard, it doesn’t even capture the full feeling of the moment.

Seeing that open spotlighted microphone throughout the entire anthem was hauntingly beautiful and a great tribute to the Queen of Soul.