Lakers, Knicks struggle on hectic first day of free agency

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There were clear winners on the first day of NBA free agency, where an estimated $1.3 billion in contracts were handed out. The Cleveland Cavaliers are getting the band back together, reaching deals with Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert. The Golden State Warriors kept Draymond Green in house. The Toronto Raptors impressed and signed DeMarre Carroll. The Pelicans re-signed Anthony Davis and Omer Asik. The Phoenix Suns landed Tyson Chandler and re-signed Brandon Knight, then impressed LaMarcus Aldridge. The Spurs also impressed LMA and they re-signed Danny Green at a great price. The Hawks retained Paul Millsap.

As Knicks rookie Jerian Grant said: “Is this free agency or Oprah? You get a max, you get a max, you get a max…”

Yet, the Lakers and Knicks were left standing there, empty handed.

Early in day two of free agency, the Knicks landed Arron Afflalo, a nice pickup but not the game changer their fans have been hoping to see.

These are two of the games biggest brands, in the nation’s two largest markets, both with plenty of cash to spend on free agents, yet both looked woefully behind the times and unable to adjust to the new realities of the NBA.

It is just one day and both will get chances at other big names — the Knicks have long been linked to Greg Monroe, and the Lakers had the opportunity to pitch him as well (update: Monroe chose the Milwaukee Bucks). DeAndre Jordan and others are still on the board.

But both franchises are learning hard lessons.

Free agents now want more than off-the-court opportunities, they want to see a path to winning. Fast. They can live and work out in Los Angeles in the summer if they want the perks of the city, they want to be shown the analytics of how this team can help them win on the court. Now. Social media has altered the world of off-the-court endorsements, being in a big market isn’t as big an advantage as it once was. Today’s free agents want to know how the team can help them grow their brand by landing them on the biggest NBA stages — the playoffs, The Finals, prime-time games on Christmas Day, All-Star Games.

And right now, the Lakers and Knicks are bad basketball teams.

David West was blunt about it talking about the Knicks.

Those struggles on the court permeate the teams’ big pitches to free agents.

The Lakers were one of the co-frontrunners to land LaMarcus Aldridge heading into free agency, and they got the first meeting with the All-Star forward. But their most dynamic speakers are the people on the business side of the equation, Aldridge was left wanting on the basketball side. From a source that spoke to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.

Aldridge considered the Lakers to be part of a “two-horse race” with the San Antonio Spurs and “wanted to be wowed” but was actually turned off by the lack of analytics on the basketball side of their presentation, according to the person….

The Lakers also contended that their analytics outline would have been stronger if they had a better roster last season. The team privately expressed envy that Houston’s presentation could be boasted by stats and on-court analysis of a team with James Harden and, indeed, Dwight Howard.

The Rockets are also far more invested in those analytics. Meanwhile, the Lakers are trying social media campaigns that both seem dated and that the NBA made them take down anyway.

To a degree, this is the impact the other 28 NBA owners wanted with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — they wanted to take away as much of the inherent advantages of big, profitable franchises as they could. They made the price for continually exceeding the luxury tax so onerous — not just financially, but taking away sign-and-trades and limiting cap exceptions to big-spending teams — that everyone is far more on the same financial playing field.

The Lakers and Knicks have seemed slow to adapt to that new reality. Around the league, they are seen as two teams less willing to embrace the analytics that have driven teams like Golden State, San Antonio and Miami in recent seasons. Both Lakers coach Byron Scott and Knicks head honcho Phil Jackson have at points dismissed the value of the three-point shot. You can try to defend the context of those statements, but the impression was left of two dinosaurs trying to win their same old-school way.

The reality is that rebuilding can be slow and hard. The Lakers can point to an excellent young core of players — D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson — and try to paint a picture of how there is hope for the future of the franchise in their hands. It’s a good picture — but players like Aldridge, at age 30, are not going to wait around for that moment. They want to see good basketball teams now. The Lakers and Knicks are just not that.

Free agency is far from over; all is not lost with either of these franchises this summer. As noted before, Monroe is certainly in play, and with the cash to spend the Lakers and Knicks are going to get the attention of other quality players still on the market.

But day one was rough in Los Angeles and New York.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
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Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.