ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: New York Knicks

16 Comments

Last season: The Knicks finished just a game out of the playoffs, but their final place in the standings is more than a little bit deceiving. New York had a largely dismal campaign that saw the team underachieve, especially when expectations were so high following a 54-win season and a trip to the second round of the playoffs. Injuries to multiple big men, a regression from J.R. Smith and consistently poor play from the point guard position left Carmelo Anthony trying to do it all by himself most nights, and the overall performance of the team was poor enough to see significant changes made this summer.

Signature highlight from last season: Carmelo Anthony is one of the game’s elite scorers, and he put on a stellar shooting display on Jan. 25 against the Bobcats which resulted in him scoring 62 points on 23-of-35 shooting. The Knicks were just 15-27 at the time and entered the game having lost five straight, and with this being a Friday night in Manhattan, it’s worth wondering how many season ticket holders made other plans, and missed seeing this incredible performance in person.

Key player changes: Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton were traded to Dallas in exchange for Jose Calderon and Samuel Dalembert, and New York also added Travis Outlaw and Quincy Acy via trade with the Kings.

Keys to the Knicks season:

The Triangle Offense: Phil Jackson was hired as president of basketball operations this summer, and while his health will prevent him from returning to a head coaching role on a full-time basis, he’ll be doing so by proxy as much as possible. Derek Fisher was hired as head coach, and Kurt Rambis was installed as his lead assistant — both of whom have extensive experience with the Triangle Offense that helped Jackson’s teams win all those titles. It can take time to teach, however, especially to a group of players that are completely uninitiated. New York’s offense wasn’t terrible last season (it ranked 11th in efficiency), but the Triangle is more of an equal opportunity system than whatever it was the Knicks were running under Mike Woodson. If run properly, it will not only help Anthony get the ball in a variety of positions to score, but it will do the same for his teammates, theoretically lightening his load in the process.

Fit of the new pieces: Trading away Tyson Chandler means there is a large hole in the Knicks frontcourt defense that needs to be filled, which is pretty important considering that the team ranked just 26th on that end of the floor last season. Samuel Dalembert can be a capable defender when engaged, but beyond that you’re looking at Andrea Bargnani and Amar’e Stoudemire, neither of whom have a reputation of being impactful defenders. While that area remains a question mark, New York massively upgraded at the point guard position with the acquisition of Jose Calderon — not only a solid floor general, but also someone who consistently ranks among the league leaders in three-point shooting percentage.

More moves on the way? The Knicks were stuck this summer without the ability to go after additional talent via free agency, mainly because of two problematic contracts that have the team over the salary cap. Amar’e Stoudemire and Andrea Bargnani are both in the final year of their respective deals, and combined they count for almost $35 million in salary for next season. New York is certainly eying next summer, when they’ll both come off the books in time for the team to try to be active in what’s expected to be a deep free agent market. But since the two aren’t in the long-term plans, Phil Jackson may try to move one or both to add some youth, or some talent more readily available to help the team win in the immediate future. It would likely require the Knicks giving up an asset of their own to entice someone to take on these unsavory contracts, but it isn’t out of the question, depending on who Jackson believes could be had in a trade that would fit his vision of the future.

Why you should watch: Carmelo Anthony is one of the game’s best scorers, and is one of the rare players in the league who occasionally goes through extended stretches where he seemingly can’t be stopped.

Prediction: With all of the changes, from the front office to the coaching staff to some key rotation players on the roster, it’s difficult to see this Knicks team getting off to a fast start. The Triangle Offense is complicated, and installing new offensive and defensive schemes at the same time can be a lot for players to grasp. A return to the playoffs isn’t necessarily likely, but there are only five or six teams in the East that you can pencil in as an almost certainty. New York has a chance to compete for one of the remaining spots, and in a season where championship aspirations are admittedly out of the picture, that’s really all you can ask for.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there

Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?

While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.

The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.

Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.

But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.

One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).

That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.

The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?

I just don’t know.

As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.

The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.

At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.

Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.

Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.

In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.

Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.

But they were already in place.

Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.

Offseason grade: C

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

Getty
Leave a comment

New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
1 Comment

A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.