NBA Season Preview: New York Knicks

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This week begins PBT’s team-by-team season preview, going through all 30 squads. We are starting in the deep Atlantic Division that could well send four teams to the playoffs, and we will move West from there. Next up, your New York Knicks.

Last season: Good God, where to begin. Uh, they beat Boston in their first game and looked like they would be a legit Eastern power. Then the wheels fell off and fell off some more, and then Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire both got injured and the team was screwed and everything was darkness. But wait! There came a voice of redemption in the night, and his name was Linsanity. OK, not literally, literally it was Jeremy Lin, and all of a sudden the undrafted sophomore who was less than a few days away from being cut exploded onto the scene. He dropped 38 on Kobe and the Gang, toppled the defending champs, and basically set the sports world on fire.

(Gasp for air.)

Then Amar’e came back and things were still great and they had an offense and then Melo came back and well, not so much anymore. The Heat and Knicks figured out Lin and they were struggling a little bit and OH WAIT, MIKE D’ANTONI RESIGNED. So then Mike Woodson takes over and Jeremy Lin gets hurt and Amar’e Stoudemire gets hurt (again), and then Melo goes on a tear and the Knicks look good because Anthony’s destroying everything and then the playoffs came and it turns out that isolation-centric basketball versus a team that likes to isolate and swarm the ball-handler and plays the best position defense in the league isn’t a good idea and the Knicks got their tails kicked and lost in the first round, the end.

Key Departures: They could have matched the offer for Jeremy Lin and kept him, adding a huge amount of salary to a team that has never acted as if it cared a lick about the luxury tax or salary concerns… but then they got high? No. They elected to pass on Lin and the poison pill in his third year. It was an… unpopular move with Knicks fans, let’s just leave it at that.

Josh Harrellson is also gone, along with Baron Davis and Mike Bibby. Jared Jeffries, Renaldo Balkman, Bill Walker, every Williams they had on roster, and Landry Fields. Oh, and Toney Douglas.

Key Additions: J.R. Smith comes back at a discount price, as does Steve Novak. Raymond Felton is the new starting point guard, and Jason Kidd comes to the City as a reserve. Ronnie Brewer helps their wing depth, especially defensively with Iman Shumpert out until after the start of the year. Marcus Camby becomes the first legit reserve big man for the Knicks since God knows when, and Kurt Thomas is still plugging along behind him. Pablo Prigioni joins the club at a ripe age to provide an emergency reserve point guard.

Three keys to Knicks season:

1) ISOMelo works. You can’t misread the Knicks’ intention. They can talk about teamwork and chemistry, about using all their weapons, about getting everyone involved. That’s great. But the decision to jettison Lin, the decision to retain Mike Woodson at head coach, bringing in players who played with Carmelo Anthony before in Denver, everything speaks to a clear statement of purpose: Get Melo his. Amar’e Stoudemire can work on his post moves all he wants, and Tyson Chandler can remain the most efficient big man in the game. That ball is going through Melo first and last and a lot in-between.

This is who the Knicks are. There’s a high feeling of resentment from certain sections of Knicks fans about this, that it’s getting overblown. But consider how Woodson ran his teams in Atlanta, with so many isolation plays for different players, but especially Joe Johnson. Consider the removal of a point guard who might challenge for control of the offense. And consider everything we’ve seen for the year and a half since Anthony was traded to New York. He’s the ticket-seller, the marquee name, the big star. They’re going to make sure he feels comfortable. And whether it’s what’s best for him or not, he feels most comfortable in the high or wing post, typically facing up to jab-step his way into a jumper. That’s who he is, and when he’s on, he’s one of the most deadly offensive players in the league.

That has to work. Despite schemes in the NBA built to victimize isolation, despite the plethora of talent surrounding him, and despite the low probability that it will be successful, this is what the Knicks have decided on, and that’s what they have to make work. Maybe it can, and I’m just missing the brilliance of this approach. But either way, if they’re going to succeed, that has to go over big.

2) Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire have to learn to co-exist, basketball-wise. Anthony’s not going to have a 99% usage factor, so yeah, there will be other people involved, and one of those needs to be Stoudemire. He dealt with a huge number of injury issues and many are moving towards just dropping him in the pile of overpaid sub-stars (oh, hey Carlos Boozer, didn’t see you there). But Stoudemire has legitimate reasons to suggest that he can bounce back this season with time to heal from last year’s injuries, and could regain some of his offensive explosiveness, even if the ship on his defense has long ago sailed.

But the problem has been that Anthony and Stoudemire have been absolutely wretched on the floor together. Stoudemire and Anthony played 976 minutes together last year and the Knicks were -2.4 in plus-minus during those minutes. They were outscored by their opponent with their two best offensive players on the floor. Now, there are some things the Knicks can do to get the involved separately, such as Raymond Felton rekindling the pick and roll with Stoudemire he had developed before the Anthony trade sent him to Denver. And Stoudemire has worked on his post game, which is, in and of itself, a move to appease the ISOMelo offense (Stoudemire getting out of the way from his preferred work at the elbow.

But they’re going to have to figure out how to play on the floor at the same time. Mike Woodson hasn’t even been willing to discuss the idea of bringing Stoudemire off the bench or keeping them in different rotations. Again, this is just how it is, and it’s something they have to figure out.

3) The defense better maintain. Drove me nuts last year trying to get people to understand that the Knicks were a great defensive team. People were used to Mike D’Antoni’s reputation, and they wouldn’t listen to anything otherwise. Woodson’s involvement as an assistant certainly was the difference and their defense maintained after D’Antoni’s departure. They were an elite defense, and in reality, they were well-built for the postseason. They were a defensive team that slowed the game down and ground it out, with a great rim protector down low. That’s a good formula for playoff success.

The offense this season won’t be improved enough to allow for defensive slippage, though. The Knicks have to keep their defensive principles and activity up, with an older roster. They’ll still be in need of Stoudemire to at least not be a weakness, and in truth, they need Anthony to be the kind of defender he’s capable of being at his best as opposed to the one he so often is. They can’t afford to tumble down defensively at any significant level.

What one thing should scare Knicks fans? Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler both have injury histories which are a concern. Carmelo Anthony missed time last season. If Anthony goes out for any time, after they’ve built their entire solar system around the Melo Sun, what happens? If Stoudemire goes down again, that means it’s time to re-evaluate his long-term viability and that’s a big contract under the new CBA to deal with as a liability. And if Chandler were to miss time, that’s the core of their defense. He is to their defense what Anthony is to their offense, only, you know, he’s actually better at it.

Beyond on-the-court stuff, though, the biggest thing that should scare Knicks fans is how the organization is run. Willing to overpay for any player but Jeremy Lin? CAA having ties in not just the players but in executives and even the coaching staff? Isiah Thomas sniffing around again? This is not exactly the painting of a picture you want for your front office. What else is new?

How it likely works out: Here’s the thing. The Knicks are a really good team. They honestly are. They’re going to be a very good team this year. They have an elite player in Carmelo Anthony. They have an elite player defensively who can also contribute in huge ways offensively in Tyson Chandler. Amar’e Stoudemire is not so far removed from the MVP-candidate he was three years ago. They have depth, Mike Woodson is a really good coach overall and in his preparation. He has a history of success.

Their model, like I said above, is sound. This is a team that has the model you want for a championship contender. They rely on their defense to get stops and put the ball in the hands of their elite offensive player. This is a formula that has worked in the NBA in the past. The Knicks will be a competitive team that is great on defense, and at times will be great offensively. They will look like world-beaters at times and like dregs some of the time. They’ll make the playoffs and depending on the seeding, might be able to muscle out a first-round win. But that’s pretty much their ceiling. They’re a very good team, which is nothing to sneeze at. But they’re paying for and selling to the fans the idea of a great team, and they’re just not that. Unless Carmelo Anthony puts together one of the all-time seasons in NBA history, not this year, but all-time, then the Knicks won’t wind up in a dramatically different spot than where they finished last year. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, that’s quite an accomplishment for a team that has such trouble being respectable last decade. It’s just not where the Knicks act like they are.

Prediction: 47-35, which is just what Kurt put the Sixers at on Monday. The Knicks, the Nets, and the Sixers all should wind up in about the same spot, battling for a fourth-to-sixth seed in the East. The only question will be if it’s a season that feels like they maximized their potential and it wasn’t good enough, or one where they fell short, but that just leaves more reason to believe next year they’ll put it together.

I can see no reasonable scenario in which the Knicks win the 2013 NBA Championship.

How Jaylen Brown snuck into Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton show and sat next to Kanye West

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Celtics forward Jaylen Brown has a huge contract extension and bright future.

But he isn’t a star yet.

That’s why Brown, despite his emerging presence in the fashion scene, didn’t get invited to Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton show last year.

Brown on All The Smoke:

I didn’t get invited to that one, but I wasn’t tripping. At the time, I’m second year in the league. My merit ain’t like that. I ain’t got the clout. But I’m like, I can’t miss that. They ain’t never had a person of color being a Louis V designer ever. It’s history. So, I’m like, I don’t got no ticket, but I’m going to pull up and just see what’s going to happen. The least I can do is say I tried. I’m from Atlanta, so you know.

So, I had photographers with me, and I had videographers and my manager is with me and stuff like that. So, I had a little group of people with me. So, I said, “This is what we’re going to do.” I said, “We’re going to get in the car. We’re going to pull up real fast, come to a stop real quick. Everybody jump out.”

“Everybody jump out quick. When we jump out, everybody open the door. Slam it open. The driver, you got to slam on the brakes. Rrrrrrrr. Everybody jump out, slam the door open, we’re going walk fast. ‘No pictures. No pictures. No pictures.’ We’re going to keep walking. We’re going to walk so everybody causing a commotion. All the people trying to take pictures. “Who is it?” Du, du, du, du, da. Then, we get to the front. I said, when we get to the front, there’s probably going to be a list.

“Look, there’s probably going to be al list.” I thought the whole thing out. So, I told my manager, I told her, I was like, “When they say they can’t find my name on the list, I need you to go crazy.” I didn’t even think she was going to be ready for it. I’m surprised, a little small. I didn’t even think she was going to be ready for it. I’m like, “When you see the list, just go crazy. Act like this is an outrage.”

She sold it.

She surprised me. So, we get to the list. She’s like, “You’re not.” “This is crazy! He should be on this list!” Du, du, du, du, da. And they’re like, “OK, OK, calm down, calm down, calm down. Calm down, calm down, calm down.” Just let them go in. And I ended up going in, and I ended up sitting right next to Kanye and Travis.

It’s crazy, right? I ended up meeting Diddy’s sons in there, just seeing them and saying, “What’s up?” Just walked in with them from the jump and just finessed my hole way in.

Look, I’m sitting right next to Kanye, Travis. I’m sitting dead across from Rihanna. When the show is over, Virgil came out and gave Kanye a hug. At the end, he was crying. I was on like, man, if I was in my right mind, I’d go out there and [hugging motion].

All The Smoke has the best stories.

Chris Paul calls out Jordan Bell for untucked jersey, wins technical that helps OKC force OT, win

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This may be the ultimate savvy veteran play, or it was a guy winning by snitching. Either way, it’s very Chris Paul.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were down two with 1.1 seconds left and had just fouled Karl-Anthony Towns, who went to the free throw line with the chance to ice the game. When KAT missed the first free throw, Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders sent Jordan Bell into the game for Jeff Teague — but Bell’s jersey was not tucked in and Chris Paul called it out (you can hear him on the audio) and referee Scott Foster takes notice.

Chris Paul knew exactly what he was doing.

The untucked jersey led to a delay of game penalty on the Timberwolves and, since Minnesota already had a delay of game warning from earlier, a technical foul and free throw for Oklahoma City. Which they sank, so now it was a one-point game, but the Thunder still had no timeouts. If KAT had missed the second free throw intentionally, the scramble for the rebound would have forced a full-court heave by a Thunder player to win it. Instead, KAT sank the free throw, putting the Timberwolves up by two (still with 1.1 on the clock).

Then this happened.

The game went to overtime, where Shai Gilgeous-Alexander got hot and scored 11, and the Thunder pulled away for the 139-127 win.

CP3 may have just lost a few votes if he runs for players’ union president again, but he got the win.

David Fizdale wasn’t the solution for the Knicks. No coach is.

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David Fizdale’s tenure as New York Knicks coach fits the pattern.

When Fizdale took the Knicks job, he said, “Culture and accountability. I’ll be putting those words on walls in a lot of places” and talked about building a foundation for the franchise. The Knicks were going to build through the draft, find and develop talent, get players who fit their culture, be patient and build the kind of roster that would attract superstar free agents someday.

Except Fizdale (and management) didn’t do any of that. The same way it didn’t work for Phil Jackson in building a culture and identity for the franchise, or Mike D’Antoni, or Isaiah Thomas or Mike Woodson or Lenny Wilkins, or anyone else the Knicks have had in the coach’s seat or front office for the past 20 years — not so coincidentally how long James Dolan’s has owned the team.

The Knicks’ identity has been not hiring the people capable of executing the plan and/or not sticking with the plan long enough to make it work. The Knicks’ identity has become trying to shortcut the process and take big swings, only to miss and fall short.

Fizdale fell into that pattern. Despite his talk of slowly building a culture and foundation, it wasn’t long after Fizdale signed there were reports Knicks would clear out cap space for LeBron James if he wanted to play for Fizdale (LeBron is a fan of Fizdale from their time together in Miami). This past summer, management hoped Fizdale’s popularity with players could help land Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant. Instead, that duo chose to go to another borough — one where the team had been patient, built a culture, and drafted and developed young players into the kind of roster superstars wanted to join.

The Knicks were the Knicks. Fizdale became the scapegoat, and on Friday he was fired as head coach of the New York Knicks.

The pattern was predictable, as was the fact as soon as he was let go, the chorus popped up blaming him for the Knicks woes. “Fizdale was the problem and now the Knicks can search for the right guy.” Except, there is no right guy. At least there will not be until James Dolan hires a top-flight, experienced executive to really build that culture and foundation, then gets out of the way and lets his hire do it (and by out of the way, I mean lets him clean house in basketball operations and change everything, much the way David Griffin did last summer in New Orleans).

Not that Fizdale was blameless in this or shouldn’t have been fired.

Fizdale was essentially the first contestant sent home on an episode of “Chopped” — he was asked to make a meal out of the mismatched basket of ingredients/players that absolutely did not fit together. A basket assembled by team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry, a basket with far too many power forward a crop of rookies and second-year players that were going to have prominent roles. Nobody was going turn that group into a competitive playoff team, and the fact that was the expectation of management — and what was sold to Dolan — speaks to the bigger issues.

Fizdale, however, did nothing to turn that basket of players into a respectable team. There are very legitimate reasons for him to be chopped by management — Fizdale did not develop a team identity on either end of the floor, his rotations were head-scratching, and his team seemed listless and disinterested. The Knicks are 4-18, are losers of eight straight, have not been competitive, were blown out by 37+ their last two games, and the Knicks are a team on its way to a seventh consecutive season without a trip to the playoffs, making it 13 out of 16 seasons the Knicks have been home for the postseason.

The Knicks have had 12 coaches in the past 20 years — not exactly a sign of stability and organizational direction. There were good men in that mix. Mike D’Antoni has success in Phoenix before he was in New York, and after he left he has had it in Houston, but the Knicks brought him in and then didn’t build a roster to fit his run-and-gun style. He lasted three-and-a-half seasons, which is the longest tenure of any coach in the Dolan era. Mike Woodson had success in Atlanta (and got the Knicks to the playoffs a couple of times, including the second round once). Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkins are both in the Hall of Fame as coaches.

Yet the organization struggled through all of them. Dolan remains the one constant. We all know what the problem is, but we also know he’s not going to sell the team (maybe spin it off with the Rangers and the rest of Madison Square Garden into its own company, but that’s different from giving it up). There is a status that comes with owning the Knicks in New York City, and Dolan is not going to give up that spotlight.

Knicks fans can hope that a new executive is brought in and is given the real power to clean house — but past candidates for team president who asked for that power did not get the job. Plus, Perry and Mills (like Fizdale) have more than a year left on their contract, Dolan trusts Mills, so expecting a change may be unrealistic.

Until there is a change in how the Knicks are run, whoever is hired to be the head coach will ultimately fall into the pattern of all the coaches before him (or her). The pattern is set. Only Dolan can break it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo celebrated his birthday by scoring 27, leading Bucks in rout Clippers

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to their 14th straight victory, a 119-91 rout of the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.

Antetokounmpo, on his 25th birthday, made 11 of 20 shots and recorded his 21st double-double of the season.

“I was 25 once, but I wasn’t that good,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after joking that he wanted to see Antetokounmpo’s birth certificate.

Antetokounmpo left the game with Milwaukee ahead by 36 with 8:56 to play. While he sat, the Milwaukee crowd started “happy birthday” chants for their star — and he loved it.

The Bucks led by as many as 41 and extended their longest winning streak since winning 16 consecutive games over two seasons in 1973.

Khris Middleton added 17 points and Pat Connaughton and Ersan Ilyasova each scored 13 off the bench for Milwaukee.

Rivers pulled all of his starters out of the game with the Bucks leading 101-67 with 9:25 remaining in the fourth quarter. The group exited to the chant of “Overrated! Overrated!” from the Milwaukee crowd.

Kawhi Leonard had 17 points and Paul George added 13 for the Clippers.

JaMychal Green missed his second straight game for Los Angeles after suffering a bruised tailbone last Friday night against the San Antonio Spurs.