What the Knicks should do when the lockout ends…

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This is the latest installment of PBT’s series of “What your team should do when the lockout ends.” Up next is the Miami Heat. You can also check out our thoughts on other NBA teams here as we work our way through all 30 squads.

Last season: Quite the wild ride for ye old Knickerbockers last season. They started out gangbusters, and truth be told, their team before the trade was a lot more fun. Felton figured out how to run with Stoudemire, Gallo was a firecracker, Wilson Chandler was this odd piece sticking out of the side like an extra Lego piece, and they were a team of emotion, style, and fallible fun. Just what a Knicks team should be.

Naturally, that got blown to Kingdom Come.

Dolan listened to Isiah, and Melo was bought for a King’s ransom. The core was detonated and Mike D’Antoni looked down at his team’s roster sheet one morning and found that he had an aging, non-distributor point guard, two players who both like to work in ISO sets and need the ball about 25 percent of the time if not more, and Shaun Williams is now a starter. May God have Mercy on his soul.

The Knicks had some big wins with Melo, most notably against the Heat. They played well enough to make it into the playoffs which was a big step forward and might not have happened if the previous core had continued to slide. But there was an innocence lost. Regardless of that, Melo made a huge appearance in the playoffs, but without Billups and Stoudemire due to injuries, they couldn’t get it done. Plus, you know, Jared Jeffries.

It was a good season. Not a great one, but a good one, and the start of something special in New York.

Since last we saw the Knicks: Since over $50 million of their salary is locked up in three players, it’s not like there’s a lot of wiggle room. But the Knicks have seen some changes. They have some supporting cast members and bench scrubs cleared off the books. But the biggest changes are up top. Donnie Walsh stepped down as the Big Guy but remains as a consultant. Mike Woodson has joined Mike D’Antoni’s staff as a defensive assistant.

And Isiah Thomas continues to hover. Waiting. Watching. Ready for the moment to strike and return to where he feels he belongs. But seriously, he’s just friends with James Dolan. Just friends.

When the lockout ends, the Knicks need to…

One of the biggest problems with the NBA and its management is that it rarely adheres to a plan 100 percent. It mixes ideologies. Say you’re a rebuilding team, and a veteran sub-star comes available. Teams will throw money and assets to acquire the player, despite it having no real place in the overall design of the team. Similarly, the question is not whether the Knicks will try to do too much at once, it’s how badly they will.

The Knicks have two distinct goals. Provide supporting role players for Melo and Stoudemire (and Billups, if that’s your cup of tea), and obtain a third superstar (Chris Paul, if your cup of tea is called “Isiah’s special blend”). Now, even under the most imaginative of circumstances, the odds of the Knicks having much room after the new cap is put in place are pretty slim. But there will be room somehow someway to add Chris Paul, should he make good on his little toast a year ago.

If that’s what they want to do, however, they have to pay for it, and not just in dollars. They have to not go hog wild in free agency. That means no J.R. Smith, no Wilson Chandler, no… I’ve run out of Nuggets in China, but you get my point. If you want to make room for Paul, you have to clear some more space. It’s just like 2009-2010, only you’ll still probably make the playoffs.

On the flip side, if you want the team to go forward in the playoffs immediately, you have to go forward. Ronnie Turiaf is not going to average a double double. Boris Diaw isn’t walking through that door (mostly because he can’t fit, but still). Toney Douglas has to improve, and if not, the Knicks need a distributor playmaker. Ramon Sessions works well in that capacity. There are options.

The Knicks have all the promise in the world and two superstars. If they get Chris Paul (or Deron Williams, or Dwight Howard) in 2012, they’ll have changed the landscape in the biggest way since the CBA and before that the Heat. They’ll also probably be in violation of about fifteen different degrees of collusion, but still. It’ll be exciting. The Knicks have enough to compete next year, but whether they compete for 2012 or 2013 is the question.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

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Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.