The New York Knicks and a partisan divide

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The New York Knicks lost their fifth straight Sunday, falling 106-94 to the Philadelphia Sixers in a game where the Sixers largely toyed with the Knicks for the fourth quarter. It’s not a surprise, downing sub-.500 teams by double-digits is kind of what Philly does this season. That’s their bread and butter.

But of course, the big question surrounds the star-laden, always controversial Knicks. And there are a million questions about them right now. From Jeremy Lin to Carmelo Anthony to Mike D’Antoni and back again, the furor surrounding why this isn’t an elite team in the league has once again reached a fever pitch. And the answers from Knicks fans (and Knicks, shall we say, opponents) is so contentious it rivals that of the politics of our time. It’s not enough to have one view of what’s wrong with the Knicks. It must be the only view.  Nuance is largely lost in a sea void of context, filled only with noise and anger over simplistic facts.

The Knicks have a large payroll.

The Knicks are not winning.

The Knicks have stars.

The Knicks are not playing well.

From there, the debate becomes fascinatingly narrow in the scope of discussion. What follows is an attempt to dispel some myths and explore some realities of what is wrong with the New York Knickerbockers. Consider that the questions involved are hyper-cartoonish exaggerations of attitudes and that most fans have more common sense. Not all. But some. So forgive the straw-man action in the name of entertainment.

The Knicks can’t win with Mike D’Antoni, because he just doesn’t care about defense.

So, I can understand how there are some things which are interpretative. Numbers don’t say everything. You have to put things in context. However, let’s at least try these two numbers.

New York Knicks defensive efficiency: 8th in the NBA overall.

New York Knicks offensive efficiency: 22nd in the NBA overall.

Efficiency is basically how many points you score vs. an estimated number of possessions. If you want the flat numbers, via Synergy Sports, they’re 21st in offense and 12th in defense. The myth that the Knicks are bad is based not on what is happening, but what has happened before. Mike D’Antoni’s past teams were bad at defense, so they are bad at defense now. That becomes “Mike D’Antoni teams are all bad at defense.” But the reality is that whether it is the effect of defensive assistant Mike Woodson, D’Antoni, Tyson Chandler, or just the players playing better, this team has been fine on defense. Have their been issues during the losing streak? Absolutely, otherwise they wouldn’t be losing so consistently. They surrendered 110 plus-efficiencies to San Antonio and Milwaukee.  But the defense itself isn’t what needs work.  The problem is the offense.

Linsanity is over.

Was Jeremy Lin going to keep up the super-effective pace he had to start his emergence? No, I don’t think anyone expected that. Teams get scouting reports, and usually they’re pretty effective if you keep to the same strategies that have worked for thirty years against certain player tendencies. Throw in fatigue, tougher competition, the target on the back, and standard probability, and you have what we’ve seen. Against Philadelphia, Lin scored 14 points on 18 shots, had seven assists and six turnovers. And yet, he had 20 and 13 against Milwaukee and 20 and 4 against the Spurs. He’s going to have turnovers. That’s a product of D’Antoni’s style and his inexperience. But there’s nothing that we’ve seen to illustrate that Lin is what the problem is, or that him starting is what needs to be changed.

It’s hard to believe also that there’s something limiting his ability to function with Carmelo Anthony or Amar’e Stoudemire. Lin uses a world of pick and rolls on every possession. There’s no reason to think that if there’s a problem with the offense, it’s on Lin. There are adjustments that need to be made but you can’t identify Lin refusing to provide passes to either superstar, especially given his comfort with Tyson Chandler.

Carmelo Anthony is a selfish cancer who doesn’t fit and makes the Knicks worse.

Or,

Carmelo Anthony simply doesn’t fit in this system and so the system needs to change.

People will sometimes say “No NBA player is selfish. They all want to win.” That’s not true. At all. On any given night in the NBA I can give you some pretty compelling information and evidence regarding why a player is specifically angling towards a box score boost. But Carmelo Anthony isn’t that guy. He plays at too high a function, has had too much mentorship throughout his career from greats in the game, and has succeeded at too high a level to take that kind of attitude. Go watch the Wizards sometime and get back to me (apologies to John Wall, Trevor Booker, and Chris Singleton). Anthony isn’t “selfish.” He just has tendencies. The trick is to get him out of those tendencies and into ones that fit with this team.

I’ve outlined a lot of this work here.  Most of it involves getting Anthony in a position to score without the ball. When he’s moving through the flow of the offense, he’s finding high-percentage opportunities and converting. When he’s running in isolation the defense is triangulating to stop him with multiple defenders. When he’s floating off-ball he’s essentially hanging out on the perimeter waiting for passes that never come. There has to be ways to clear the defense off of him with the attention driven to Lin and Stoudemire/Chandler.

Saying the system should change? Well the reality is it probably will. The Knicks are 120 percent more dedicated to Carmelo Anthony than they are to Mike D’Antoni. Despite all the good work D’Antoni has done when given a roster that in any way resembles the kind of team he’d build, he’s going to be scapegoated. Phil Jackson looms in the distance and honestly? The Triangle, as many problems as I have with it, is perfect for this roster, at least its stars. Tyson down low, Amar’e at the elbow, Melo on the perimeter. What happens to Jeremy Lin? Exactly. But the point remains that will make Melo happier. But as far as whether D’Antoni should adjust to Melo or if Melo should adjust, were the Knicks successful early on trying to run the ball through Melo, and were they successful when Melo was out and their offense became more about ball movement with Lin as primary creator?

Amar’e Stoudemire is done

This one is tricky. There are so many complicating factors here.

1. Everyone gets to have a slump year. It just happens, and to overreact to it is not smart, long-term.

2. Conditioning is a huge part of this game and Amar’e clearly wasn’t prepared for the end of the lockout like a lot of stars who are struggling this season weren’t.

3. There’s nothing to suggest that Amar’e’s issues are related to his knees, the big injury question mark that has followed with him since microfracture surgery years ago. The lack of explosiveness is cited as related, but there are any host of reasons, specifically the above-mentioned conditioning that would suggest there are other reasons for the struggle.

But there’s also nothing to make you 100 percent confident he’ll get back to MVP-candidate Stoudemire. He played a lot of minutes last season and has taken a lot of wear and tear over the past few seasons. The concern has to be that eventually he won’t recover. Stoudemire’s game needs his explosion to the rim, and without it, he doesn’t have enough versatility to be efficient enough to sustain that kind of a role in the offense. With so many years left on his contract and with how much the Knicks have invested in him towards their future, this is one fear that’s legitimate, but not at all a certainty.

He just doesn’t look like the same player.

It’s the schedule, stupid

Since the All-Star Break, Cleveland, Boston, Dallas, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Philadelphia. Those are not pushover. Those are not the Nets (who New York is 1-1 against in the Lin era anyway). You want to try and break in a bunch of new pieces? That’s not the run to do it against. After a murderous game Monday against the Bulls, on the road on a back-to-back, things get a little easier. There are still tough games like a back-to-back set against Indiana and another Sixers contest, but there are some lower teams. There will be better chances to adjust, if they can.

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There will continue to be partisan talks about what is wrong with the Knicks as if it is one thing. It isn’t. They were good without Melo and have not been good with, but that doesn’t mean the two are necessarily related. Lin has been good but not amazing but that doesn’t mean he’s back to a fringe player. And Amar’e has struggled but that doesn’t mean he’s done. What is clear, though, is that this performance won’t stand, and there will be repercussions if they can’t work through their problems, together. That’s the big component. It’s the world’s biggest stage and filled with a lot of egos. But there will have to be sacrifice from everyone from ownership to coaching on down to Steve Novak to make this thing work.

They’re not dead yet, but the blood loss is a problem that seems to get worse.

 

Report: Jimmy Butler planned to hold out from Timberwolves unless traded, informing team during Friday’s game

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According to one narrative, the Timberwolves decided after Friday’s loss to the Kings to trade Jimmy Butler.

But he might have forced their hand, resulting in his trade to the 76ers.

Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Butler decided he would play on Friday night, but he viewed it as the fork in the road. If the Timberwolves didn’t find a deal to fulfill his long-simmering trade request after that, he would begin to sit indefinitely, league sources told The Athletic.

The Kings defeated Minnesota 121-110 to push the Timberwolves to 4-9 and a winless road trip; Butler had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in 41 minutes. He had played almost 124 minutes in the last three games, all losses, and at halftime of the final one, the Wolves were informed that this was it for Butler, sources said.

Butler reportedly held out for a game a couple weeks ago, though he and Minnesota both denied it. It’s quite believable he would’ve held out again if not traded. Still, informing the team during a game he’s playing would have been quite bold.

I’m not sure who actually blinked first. This could be an I-quit, no-you’re-fired (or vice versa) scenario. Both Butler and Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau are stubborn.

But the most important thing is Butler is gone and both sides can move on – whatever ugliness preceded the trade.

Jimmy Butler on being a Sixer: ‘I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go’

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Jimmy Butler is officially a member of the 76ers.

His plane landed in Philly Monday and a camera crew from NBC Sports Philadelphia was there to get his first words on being a member of the Sixers. (You can see the video above.)

“I’m ready to get started, we got a little ways to go, we got some things to figure out. But all-in-all, I look forward to it,” Butler said out the window of the car that picked him up.

What should Sixers fans expect?

“Hard playing. A guy that wants to win. We got some things we want to get done here, we want to win a championship. I think the core group of guys we have, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.”

After that he rolled up the window and drove off… and we assume cranked up the country music.

Karl-Anthony Towns takes high road, praises Jimmy Butler after trade

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Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler did not mesh. Off the court in particular, although this season on it the Timberwolves were -7.1 points per 100 possessions when they were paired (a sharp change from a year ago when the pair were +10.2). Butler wanted out and started trying to burn down the franchise and lob grenades at practice. It took Tom Thibodeau longer than anyone else to see this was never going to work, but once he did the move was made and Butler was traded to Philadelphia.

Towns, who some around the league felt was too timid through this drama and should have stood up to Butler, took the high road after the trade and had nothing but kind words about Butler. Andrew Wiggins took the same path. From Malika Andrews of ESPN.

“He’s one hell of a player,” Towns said Sunday. “I don’t know how many Jimmy Butlers there are in the world, so I think he’ll be missed.”

“I learned a lot of things from him,” Wiggins said of Butler. “We made the playoffs, something we haven’t done in a long, long time. So I think it was a positive either way you put it.”

Classy.

We’ll see how that plays out Jan. 15 when Butler and the Sixers host Towns and the Timberwolves.

Jimmy Butler officially joins Philadelphia 76ers

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We’ve known about it since Saturday but it didn’t become official until Monday (because the call to the NBA league office could not be completed until the office was open):

Minnesota has traded Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia, along with injured rookie Justin Patton, for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.

Butler and his agent had told Tom Thibodeau he wanted a trade at least three times over the summer, but there was no action, something reported in a must-read story at the Athletic by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania. They get into how the owner, Glen Taylor, was involved but Tom Thibodeau held out hope for a long time that just getting the guys on the court together and winning would change Butler’s mind. It wasn’t going to, and the Timberwolves were losing. Eventually, Thibodeau came around, but by the time he did a very good Miami Heat offer — Josh Richardson and a 2019 first round pick — was off the table. From The Athletic.

After Butler plays 39 minutes in a loss to the Clippers that dropped the Wolves to 0-3 on the trip, the Wolves have conversations with the Heat about a possible trade. But the Heat inform the Wolves that Richardson is no longer on the table after his stellar start to the season, and the Wolves move on.

Minnesota begins to engage seriously with Philadelphia, New Orleans and Houston. New Orleans’ package is headlined by Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round draft pick and the Rockets’ proposal has Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks, sources said. The 76ers come with their proposal around Robert Covington and Dario Saric, leaving the Timberwolves to deliberate.

Eventually, the pick and other players were added, and the deal with Philly got done. Butler is expected to make his debut Wednesday against Orlando.

Butler is a free agent this summer and is expected to re-sign in Philadelphia. His max contract would be five-years, $190 million, and that’s what he is seeking.

Trading for Butler is the death of The Process in Philadelphia — this is a win-now team with Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons. The Sixers have their big three but right now don’t have enough shooting and depth around them. Can Markelle Fultz be part of that? Already his name is coming up in trade rumors around the league as Philly looks for the pieces they need right now to go after Boston, Toronto, and maybe Milwaukee at the top of the East.

With Butler, the Sixers have a window of a few years — while Butler is just 29 he has heavy miles on his body thanks to Thibodeau and Butler’s all-out style of play. Plenty of GMs around the league have been hesitant (at best) to give Butler a five-year contract, expecting his body to break down. The Sixers went all-in, now they need to add the players that help them contend for a ring. It’s a new era in Philly.