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.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

Getty
1 Comment

The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

Associated Press
Leave a comment

The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
2 Comments

James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.