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

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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.

Hornets GM Kupchak: Kemba Walker focal point of franchise going forward

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — General manager Mitch Kupchak wants point guard Kemba Walker to end his NBA career right where it started — with the Charlotte Hornets.

Kupchak said Friday that Walker is “revered” in the Charlotte community, and that he and owner Michael Jordan look at the two-time All-Star as “the focal point of this franchise going forward.”

The 28-year-old Walker has been the subject of possible NBA trade talks as he prepares to enter the final year of his contract with the Hornets. That speculation has amped up recently because it is a practical impossibility for Charlotte to sign Walker to an extension before he becomes a free agent in July of 2019 since the Hornets are so tight under the salary cap.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation, if you follow basketball a little bit, it is unique that he is on an extension that may make it a challenge going forward to figure out before he becomes a free agent,” Kupchak said.

At $12 million per year, Walker well underpaid when compared to the other top point guards in the league.

But that doesn’t mean Kupchak is giving up hope the team can keep Walker in Charlotte.

“I don’t think it is anybody’s goal to lose him in free agency,” Kupchak said. “But going forward, in the community, in the franchise, this is a player that we hope is with us – not only for the next couple of years, but ends his career here.”

The Hornets don’t have much experience behind Walker at point guard.

They have last year’s first-round draft pick Malik Monk and drafted Devonte Graham from Kansas in the second round on Thursday night.

Graham said he is excited to pick Walker’s brain when it comes to basketball.

“I have never met him, but I remember watching him play when he was at UConn though,” Graham said. “I’m just excited man to learn from someone like that and just be around someone like that who is winner, and knows how to win and compete. I am looking forward to being able to learn from him.”

 

Another report Spurs will not trade Kawhi Leonard within West

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The people around Kawhi Leonard made it clear (through leaks to the media, not by talking to the Spurs at first): Leonard wants out of San Antonio, and he wants to go to Los Angeles. Specifically, the Lakers.

Almost as quickly, the Spurs leaked that they were not going to trade Leonard to the Lakers or any team in the West.

Sam Amick of the USA Today echoed that sentiment in his discussion of LeBron James‘ offseason options on Saturday.

But in the days that followed, the Spurs wasted no time in sending this message all around the NBA: The only Western Conference team he might be playing for is theirs.

Fellow West teams have been told, in essence, to get lost – none moreso than the Lakers, according to ESPN. As it stands, the Spurs are determined to either fix the situation or trade Leonard to an Eastern Conference team.

Leonard has leverage here: He can tell teams he will not re-sign with them and will leave as a free agent. That will scare off most teams who don’t want to put in

Would it scare off Boston or Philadelphia? The rumor is no. Those teams have real interest in Leonard, and both have the assets to get a deal done and make the bet that a year in their cultures, with their coaches and top players, a year contending, and with their fans and city would win Leonard over. Just like Oklahoma City made that bet with Paul George. Also, whoever trades for Leonard will be able to offer a five-year, $188 million contract, while as a free agent the max will be four years, $137 million. For a guy who just missed almost an entire season with an injury, that guarantee can matter.

Boston could go all in on an offer — Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, the Kings first-round pick next season (top one protected) and the Clippers first round pick next year (lottery protected). Philadelphia could put together an offer of Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington, and Miami’s unprotected 2021 pick (the first year high schoolers likely re-enter the NBA draft, making it a deep one).

The question is would those team put in all those assets on a bet they would win Leonard over?

The other big looming question, when the offers start to come in will a rational Spurs front office reconsider and look at a trade from the Lakes of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, a future first, and the contract of Luol Deng to balance out the numbers. Would they consider it superior because they like Ingram? (That trade may require a third team to take on Deng’s contract, and the Lakers might need to throw in Lonzo Ball or some other sweetener to get a team to take on Deng’s $36 million remaining.)

Expect the Spurs to take their time with this, try to win Leonard back over, then consider all their options. They are in no rush, in fact, they’d love to create a bidding war for Leonard. Any offer from Boston and Philadelphia on the table in July will be on the table in September when training camps open. The Lakers, however, may be in a very different space.

It’s going to be a very interesting next few weeks.

After full season in Europe, Luka Doncic not expected to play in Summer League

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Deandre Ayton played 35 games for Arizona last season. Marvin Bagley III played 33 games last season for Duke. Jarnen Jackson Jr. played 35 for Michigan State. None of them played past March.

Luka Doncic played 61 games for Real Madrid — at a higher level than NCAA basketball — and the season ended two days before the NBA Draft. Plus in Europe, the practices are often far more strenuous than the games (many teams keep doing two-a-days through the season).

Not surprisingly after that long a season Dallas is not going to ask Doncic to play in the Las Vegas Summer League, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

This was expected in most quarters no matter who drafted Doncic. Rest and recovery matter more than getting him into the glorified pickup games of Summer League.

Doncic will be ready to go when the season starts, and he will be one of the favorites to win Rookie of the Year.

Former Spur Bruce Bowen rips Kawhi Leonard for asking out after injury

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For years, players have bought into “the Spurs way” not just on the court but off — it was always about what’s best for the team first. That meant Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and others taking discounts from the max salary they could have earned at points to help the team keep the roster to do that. Sacrifice was part of the game.

So it shouldn’t be a shock that former Spurs are closing ranks around Gregg Popovich and the franchise in the wake of Kawhi Leonard pushing his way out the door following missing most of last season with a leg injury.  It was the treatment of that leg injury — Leonard did not trust the Spurs’ doctors and got a second opinion that saw things differently — which started the rift, although the advice from Leonard’s uncle/advisor and agent also play a role in widening the gap.

On SiriusXM NBA Radio this week (h/t ESPN) former Spur Bruce Bowen ripped into Leonard for complaining about his treatment.

“First, it was, ‘Well I was misdiagnosed.’ Look here: You got $18 million this year, and you think that they’re trying to rush you? You didn’t play for the most part a full season this year. And you’re the go-to guy, you’re the franchise and you want to say that they didn’t have your best interest at heart? Are you kidding me?…

“I think he’s getting bad advice,” Bowen said. “I think what you’re starting to see now is an individual given a certain amount of advice, and it’s not the right advice. Here it is: You were protected in San Antonio. You were able to come up during a time where you still could lean on Tim [Duncan] Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili]…

“As a player, if I’m a leader of a team, my team goes on the road in the playoffs, I’m with my guys,” he said. “Because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about fellowship. It’s a brotherhood. When that didn’t happen, it’s all kinds of sirens and alarm signals that says to me, ‘Is this person fully vested?’ … I don’t want to take on a player who’s not willing to support his guys during the course of their time needing him.”

Bowen added, “there’s nothing but excuses going on.”

The backlash to Leonard is to be expected, particularly from those in San Antonio (not so much from people in Los Angeles, where Leonard is trying to force himself to). The injury treatment started the rift, but Leonard is putting his desires in front of those of the team and franchise — and that’s his right, he’s far from the first player to do that. It’s just not something we have seen from San Antonio. The Spurs have long sought out not only guys who could play on the court but guys who fit a mold personality wise and would put the team first. On the court Leonard had done that, going back to when he won Finals MVP. Now, off it, he has had a change of heart, for whatever reason (or reasons).

Bowen is more outspoken than most, but this will be the sentiment out of San Antonio if Leonard leaves.

That is not going to change the reality on the ground, however.