Knicks will sign Mike Bibby for the minimum salary, but keep their point guard options open

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The New York Knicks have gone to great lengths to find a talented center counterpart for Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. They used the amnesty clause to waive veteran point guard Chauncey Billups, and blew $14 million in the process. They chipped in another $3 million just to ensure the passing of the three-team deal that brought Tyson Chandler to New York. They gave away Ronny Turiaf in order to clear out salary to make Chandler’s signing possible, and handed over Andy Rautins to the Mavs so that Dallas would be able to create a traded player exception as motivation for a sign-and-trade.

And that was all just so the Knicks could have the opportunity to invest gobs and gobs of money in a lucrative contract for Chandler.

Those millions of dollars may not mean much for a team like the Knicks, but losing Billups — the team’s best point guard option — does. So much so, in fact, that the team has agreed to bring Mike Bibby to New York on a one-year deal for the minimum salary, according to Sam Amick of SI.com. Bibby is a quality outside shooter, but he’s hardly the playmaker — nor defender — the Knicks would need in their point man. Any offense featuring Stoudemire and Anthony should score with relative ease, but a quality playmaker could make New York’s offense transcendent. Bibby certainly doesn’t qualify, even if his three-point stroke will help space the floor for the Knicks’ stars to operate.

Yet the more obvious concerns come on the defensive end, where Bibby may be the single worst perimeter defender in the NBA. The Miami Heat were able to account for that deficiency last season with the collective strength of their smothering defense, but a Knicks lineup featuring Anthony and Stoudemire will have enough problems on D as it is. Chandler’s a skilled catch-all defensive center, but even the most talented bigs in the league can only cover so much ground and hedge against so many individual defensive weaknesses at once. The Bibby turnstile could put this team past its breaking point defensively, and put a lot of additional pressure on Chandler to adapt to his new surroundings quickly.

That said, the Knicks aren’t quite done reworking their point guard rotation, even after adding Bibby. According to Chris Mannix of SI.com, New York is also exploring the possibility of adding unrestricted free agent J.J. Barea. That’s not exactly a perfect fit, either; Barea can’t quite match Bibby’s defensive ineptitude, but his height (Barea is rather generously listed as six feet tall) makes challenging any shot problematic. Barea works hard defensively, but everything is made more difficult by the size advantage he surrenders on a nightly basis.

Plus, Barea’s successful playoff run has conjured up a mirage of offensive sufficiency. It’s true that Barea can dart around the court and create angles of penetration out of nothing, but he’s terribly inconsistent in his role as a shot creator. Upon reaching the basket, opposing defenses sometimes swallow Barea whole, and cut off his clearest utility as a player. He’s certainly useful, but his strengths aren’t nearly as pronounced as his recurring role on national television in May and June would have you believe.

It’s encouraging that the Knicks are exploring some more creative options, as signing Bibby and calling it a day could have been an otherwise predictable course of action. That said, it’s curious that Toney Douglas, the Knicks’ incumbent backup point guard, isn’t getting more public consideration. Douglas is clearly limited as a playmaker, but that flaw is seemingly universal among the Knicks’ options. The pool here is relatively dry, and in Douglas, the Knicks at least have a competent outside shooter with proven defensive effectiveness. That’s more than we can say of Bibby, who politely cedes ground to any opponent he’s tasked with guarding, and it’s more than we can say of Barea, too, who draws charges at a respectable rate, but at best is merely passable on that end.

Considering all that the Knicks have surrendered in order to make their dreamy frontline a reality, the point guard position will have its problems. Initiating the offense will be an issue on occasion. A lack of ball movement could be problematic at times. But at this point, the rotation should be designed to mitigate weaknesses, not enhance strengths. Bibby and Barea each have something to offer New York, but significant minutes for either could nudge an already fragile defense toward its collapse.

Timberwolves win first road game in 52 days, top Heat (video)

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MIAMI — Jordan McLaughlin’s layup with just under nine seconds left put Minnesota ahead for good, D’Angelo Russell led all scorers with 27 points and the Timberwolves added to Miami’s late-season stagger by beating the Heat 129-126 on Wednesday night.

Malik Beasley scored 21 points, Juancho Hernangomez tied a season-high with 17 and McLaughlin added 13 for Minnesota. The Timberwolves were down by 12 with 3:59 left, then closed on a 20-5 run to get just their second victory in 20 games.

Jimmy Butler’s two free throws with 13.8 seconds left put Miami up 126-125, but McLaughlin’s layup on the next Minnesota possession put the Timberwolves on top to stay. Butler’s layup with 3.2 seconds left got blocked by Russell, and the Wolves held on.

Minnesota snapped a nine-game road losing streak, getting its first road victory since beat the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 5.

Kendrick Nunn led Miami with 24 points. Bam Adebayo had 22 points and 10 rebounds and Butler — back after a two-game absence for personal reasons — had 18 for Miami. The Heat fell to 23-4 at home and have dropped seven of their last nine overall.

The Heat stayed a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia lost in Cleveland earlier Wednesday, a game where 76ers star Joel Embiid departed early because of a shoulder injury.

The Heat have had major trouble closing games of late — a 22-point lead late in the third quarter against Cleveland on Monday was frittered away in what probably was the worst loss of the season, until now anyway — and a long film session and meeting on Tuesday clearly didn’t solve the issue.

They were up 121-109 with 3:59 left, and 123-112 after a layup by Butler 24 seconds later.

And Minnesota — a team that came into the night with one win in a span of 48 days — still wasn’t finished off. The Timberwolves scored the next 11 points to tie the game, getting five of those points from Beasley and a tying free throw from McLaughlin with 46 seconds left.

TIP-INS

Timberwolves: Minnesota’s 27 attempts from 3-point range in the first two quarters was a first-half franchise record. … The Wolves are 4-0 in road games against Southeast Division teams this season, and 6-19 in all other road contests.

Heat: Adebayo played through a sprained right ankle, pushing his consecutive-game streak to 144 — extending the fourth-longest such streak in team history. … Goran Dragic’s first basket was a 3-pointer, and that pushed him one point past Grant Long (5,473) for 10th on the Heat career scoring list. … Nunn got his third consecutive rookie of the month trophy in a brief halftime ceremony.

JOHNSON RETURNS

Wednesday marked James Johnson’s first game back in Miami since the trade that sent him to Minnesota earlier this month, a move that sent Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill to Miami from Memphis. “I think Minnesota is seeing what kind of versatility he can bring to the game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

LOOKING AHEAD

A large contingent of fans from Slovenia were in attendance Wednesday — and more are coming Friday, when the Heat play host to the Dallas Mavericks. At last season’s Dallas-at-Miami game, more than 2,000 Slovenians were in attendance to watch their nation’s two best NBA players, Dragic and Dallas star Luka Doncic, go head-to-head.

UP NEXT

Timberwolves: At Orlando on Friday night.

Heat: Host Dallas on Friday night.

Trae Young blocks 7-foot Mo Bamba at rim (video)

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Trae Young might be the NBA’s worst defender.

He’s small (6-foot-1 with a 6-foot-3 wingspan). His athleticism is far from imposing. He also carries a massive load for the Hawks offensively, leaving little energy for defense.

But he still blocked 7-foot Magic center Mo Bamba at the rim.

Not a great moment for Bamba.

Joel Embiid leaves 76ers game with shoulder injury (video)

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Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons?

The debate has gained attention this season after the 76ers spent years retooling around their stars. The answer clearly isn’t neither. But that’s what Philadelphia now faces.

With Simmons already injured, Embiid got hurt in the 76ers’ game against the Cavaliers tonight.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Losing Embiid for an extended period would be a huge blow to Philadelphia, especially with Simmons already out. The 76ers (fifth place, half a game out of fourth) are right on the edge of getting home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Embiid had been playing so well lately. This is an especially tough time for a setback.

At least Philadelphia has depth to cope. Al Horford can easily slide from power forward to center. Tobias Harris might be better off at power forward than small forward, anyway. This is where Glenn Robinson III and Alec Burks, acquired just before the trade deadline, come in handy as additional wing options. Kyle O'Quinn can also play behind Horford.

But the loss of talent is the biggest development, and there’s no overcoming that until Embiid and Simmons get healthy.

Zach LaVine: Trash talk directed at Dennis Schroder, not Bulls coach Jim Boylen

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During the Bulls’ loss to the Thunder yesterday, Zach LaVine appeared to say, “I have f—ing 40 points!”

Many assumed LaVine was snapping at Chicago coach Jim Boylen. But LaVine clarified his target was Oklahoma City guard Dennis Schroder.

Eric Woodyard of ESPN:

I take LaVine at his word.

Want to make a case LaVine dislikes Boylen? You’ll just have to point to all the other evidence.