The Inbounds: Saint Anthony and America’s war on isolation

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy. Today, a bonus segment.

So Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points in an Olympic basketball game Thursday, and based on probability, you reacted in one of four ways ways as a God-fearing NBA fan.

1. You were excited and thrilled that Anthony put on such an amazing performance for your country and in awe of his ability to put the ball in the basketball with that kind of frequency.

2. You noted how despite the amount of criticism Anthony withstands and his relative stature in the NBA superstar tapestry that he’s still truly one of the best players in the world and you cannot understand why people forget that so often.

3. You are left in polite admiration but simultaneous outrage that he doesn’t play that way all the time.

4. Some combination of the two depending on if you’re a Knicks, Celtics, Heat fan or none of the above.

It’s a terrific wormhole to go down. Melo was able to do what he did because he was facing Nigeria. Anthony only put himself in that position because he’s surrounded by that much talent. It takes that kind of talent to put his ego in a place where he can play catch-and-shoot. Melo just had a hot night (that’s an understatement). What he did wasn’t all that different from what he does with the Knicks. You can literally interpret Anthony’s performance in the 156-73 win in group play however you would like. You have to say he played well and that you were impressed. From there, you can go any route you want.

But it’s the structure of how Anthony scored that intrigues. Catch-and-shoot. It makes sense, right? You have one of the world’s best shooters, an elite scorer, with a significant size advantage over his defender. Why on Earth would you not use him as a catch-and-shoot player when you have LeBron James and Chris Paul throwing the ball to him after collapsing the defense each time? On the Knicks, he’ll never have the luxury of anyone else drawing that kind of attention. So comparing his exploits with Team USA to anything he does with the Knicks is futile.

Except, it’s not. Not really.

Part of what has made the Knicks’ approach so confusing is that they’ve essentially gone against the overriding principle in so many superstar teams’ design. Take Boston, for example. Paul Pierce no longer has to run point, dribbling at the timeline, directing traffic before trying to slice past four guys. Ray Allen isn’t jab-stepping defenders back so he can rise and fire over them. Kevin Garnett isn’t running point forward. In Miami, Chris Bosh is an outlet scorer and offensive rebound tip-in machine. That’s his job. In L.A., Pau Gasol’s not having the ball go through him every time (though that one can be argued is a bad thing). The point is that one of the luxuries of having multiple superstars it the ability to put an elite player in a role player’s position and watch him destroy because he’s so much better at that singular talent than the average replacement player.

And for Anthony, his VORP as a spot-up shooter is through the roof.

But of course, the Knicks not only can’t use him that way, but they eliminated any situation where he could be.

When Anthony returned after Linsanity (yep, we’re back to him again), there was a possibility for this all to work out. Anthony needed to adopt the role of a superior, obscenely-rich-man’s Shawn Marion in Mike D’Antoni’s Suns. By being the outlet shooter off the drive and kick on the baseline, by being the weakside off-ball cutter, but being the spot-up guy in transition, Anthony could not only keep but raise his scoring production while not having to run isolation sets every single time. With Amar’e Stoudemire running the pick and roll or Chandler doing the same, there would be lanes and opportunities. Instead, be it Melo’s preference or D’Antoni’s design, Anthony wound up drifting on the perimeter. He wasn’t just a spot-up shooter, he was scenery.

That dream of him working in an offensive set to move, catch, and score, is dead, replaced by the dystopian Woodson Isolation nightmare that awaits Knicks fans next year. But Team USA provides an alternative, not just for Anthony, but for Kobe Bryant, for LeBron James, for Kevin Durant, for Russell Westbrook. The shame is that the quality of the surrounding talent convinces them that the only reason this works is because they’re surrounded by that much talent. They can’t comprehend the same style working for them within the constructs of their teams. Whether that’s overconfidence in their abilities or a lack of confidence in the ability of others is inconsequential. The fact remains that these players will embrace roles where they do role player functions with superstar ability, and dominate the greatest players in the world. And instead of drawing on that experience and trying to replicate it, they will instead abandon it for some sort of 82-game “Quick and the Dead” impression where they duel one on one with everything like this is Teen Wolf.

For a day, for these few weeks, really, Anthony’s a saint. He’s a basketball icon teaching the world about how to play for it. Wait for your open shot, be ready, move without the ball, catch, rise, fire. And Team USA is showing one another and the world that there’s a better way than getting the ball at the perimeter, dribbling for fifteen seconds, and then hoisting up a jumper.

In twelve weeks, they’ll return to doing the same things, but for now, they play, maybe not the right way, but the best way, and they work hard to make things easy for one another. What’s amazing isn’t that someone as talented as Anthony did what he did on Thursday. It’s that Anthony and the rest of Team USA will forget the lesson learned by the star players who played as role players and made things easy for themselves.

You can be all things among your friends, but in the end, you cannot get away from who you are, for better or worse. It’s neither good nor bad. It simply is.

Another report Tyronn Lue in position to be next Lakers’ coach

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The Lakers are trying to play out the string and ignore the ramped up talk around the league about how Luke Walton is a dead coach walking and the franchise is already thinking about who is next.

But that talk is deafening.

Earlier in the day, our own Dan Feldman passed along a report from Stephen A. Smith of ESPN that former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue would get “strong consideration.”

Now add to that this note from Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Who, then, will the Lakers hire? The name most frequently cited in league coaching circles is the very available Tyronn Lue.

Lue, of course, is a former Laker who is better known for having coached LeBron James for 2 1/2 seasons in Cleveland. The presumed acceptance he would have from James, who is about to begin his first postseason as a spectator since 2005, would appear to give Lue with a significant advantage over the rest of the field.

Other big names have been mentioned, but they are not going to pan out. Doc Rivers has an extension lined up (an agreed to deal) to stay with the Clippers. Stein mentions Dallas’ Rick Carlisle as a target, but at the start of this season he too had his contract extended to stay in Dallas. Jason Kidd’s name came up, but that may be more about an agent looking for leverage in negotiations with the University of California than it is something the Lakers are serious about.

While there will be a lot of eye rolling from fans if the Lakers hire Lue, it’s not a bad move — by the end of his tenure in Cleveland he was running some pretty creative stuff on offense (the Lakers would be wise to make Lue hire a “defensive coordinator” assistant). The man has coached in the Finals and has a ring. Yes, LeBron was a big part of that, but not all of it.

Most of all, Lue would have buy-in from LeBron James. That matters.

The Lakers are trying to play out the string and ignore the ramped up talk around the league about how Luke Walton is a dead coach walking and the franchise is already thinking about who is next.

But that talk is deafening.

Earlier in the day, our own Dan Feldman passed along a report from Stephen A. Smith of ESPN that former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue would get “strong consideration.”

Now add to that this note from Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Who, then, will the Lakers hire? The name most frequently cited in league coaching circles is the very available Tyronn Lue.

Lue, of course, is a former Laker who is better known for having coached LeBron James for 2 1/2 seasons in Cleveland. The presumed acceptance he would have from James, who is about to begin his first postseason as a spectator since 2005, would appear to give Lue with a significant advantage over the rest of the field.

Other big names have been mentioned, but they are not going to pan out. Doc Rivers has an extension lined up (an agreed to deal) to stay with the Clippers. Stein mentions Dallas’ Rick Carlisle as a target, but at the start of this season he too had his contract extended to stay in Dallas. Jason Kidd’s name came up, but that may be more about an agent looking for leverage in negotiations with the University of California than it is something the Lakers are serious about.

While there will be a lot of eye rolling from fans if the Lakers hire Lue, it’s not a bad move — by the end of his tenure in Cleveland he was running some pretty creative stuff on offense (the Lakers would be wise to make Lue hire a “defensive coordinator” assistant). The man has coached in the Finals and has a ring. Yes, LeBron was a big part of that, but not all of it.

Most of all, Lue would have buy-in from LeBron James. That matters.

Ryan Saunders reportedly likely to stay on as Minnesota head coach

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When Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said this a few weeks back, it was pretty clear interim coach Ryan Saunders was probably staying on after the season and getting the job full time.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]. It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start. I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”<

Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler sabotaged the team’s season early on in a push to get out of town, a move that came with a high price coach/GM Tom Thibodeau. Remember Thibodeau wanted to speed up the winning and to get Butler traded Zach LaVine and just drafted Lauri Markkanen, but when Butler didn’t work out in Minny Thibs was doomed.

If you want more evidence that Saunders is staying on, there is this reporting from the well-connected Marc Stein of The New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Saunders, who turns 33 in April, is known to have a strong relationship with the All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played some of the best basketball of his career since the departures of Butler and Thibodeau.

The growing expectation around the league is that the credit Saunders will get for his impact on and the buy-in from Towns will more than offset ownership’s disappointment about returning to the draft lottery.

Towns is the franchise cornerstone, one of the top centers and top 10-12 players in the league, if Saunders can get the most out of him — and so far he has — then that is a good reason to keep him around.

When Sauders got the coaching job, Scott Layden took over as GM. His job is not as secure. There have been rumors about Taylor wanting to go big game hunting — specifically Chauncey Billups — but it seems the Timberwolves are likely to go another direction.

Calvin Booth, a Denver executive who the Nuggets hired away from the Timberwolves before the 2017-18 season, is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate to replace Layden if Taylor does make a change.

Whoever gets the GM job, retooling the Timberwolves roster around Towns will now be difficult — Thibodeau showed no patience and now they are paying the price. Towns’ well-deserved max extension kicks in next season and that gives Minnesota two of max deals for young players — Andrew Wiggins is maxed out as well and an anchor on any rebuild (he has four years at the max after this season, good luck trading that). Don’t forget Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million next season. If Jeff Teague opts into his $19 million for next season, the Timberwolves will have very little room to maneuver and shore up the roster.

All of that will make Saunder’s job a real challenge.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

Associated Press
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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.