Kristaps Porzingis shines defensively in Summer League debut for Knicks

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LAS VEGAS — When the Knicks selected Kristaps Porzingis with the fourth overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, the fans in attendance were extremely vocal in voicing their displeasure.

Their trepidation was somewhat understandable, if only because the casual fan isn’t usually well-versed in the talents of international prospects, and with the disastrous 2013 trade for Andrea Bargnani fresh in their minds, the fans in New York felt justified in letting the boos rain down.

But things were different on Saturday in Las Vegas, where Porzingis donned a Knicks jersey for the very first time. The fans at the Thomas and Mack Center were generous with their praise, cheering Porzingis at every turn during a performance that saw him finish with 12 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in a little over of 18 minutes of action.

“Finally they saw me play out there, so hopefully now some of those booing fans are now cheering for me out there,” Porzingis said.

The play of Porzingis in his debut confirmed any preconceived notions fans may have had, on either the positive or negative side of the spectrum. For those that believed his frame was too slight, they saw him get pushed around. For those that liked his ability to absorb contact and get to the free throw line, they saw him get there seven times.

But it was his effort on the defense end of the floor which impressed Knicks head coach Derek Fisher the most.

“I think defensively he has the potential to be really special,” Fisher said. “There were some things that he recognized and made adjustments on and supported his teammates in switching out on smaller players, using his length to protect the basket. I thought on the defensive end he impacted the game in a major way.”

Porzingis showed almost immediately that any potential label of him being soft would simply be a flat-out lie. He looked to create contact, both on perimeter screens and on post-up opportunities inside, often times against bigger and bulkier guys.

“He’s aggressive,” Fisher said. “He doesn’t look overpowering, but he plays a strong game. He’s not afraid to go in there and mix it up.”

“I tried to play aggressive,” Porzingis said. “I knew the guys were going to be physical. I tried to play the same way. I got to the free throw line, missed one free throw — gotta make them all, but I think I was pretty aggressive.

“As you can see out there, I’m fighting with the guys although they’re 15 pounds heavier than me, even more. I try to go out there and play as hard as I can, and I don’t have a problem with contact.”

The fans who may have wanted to see more than 18 minutes from Porzingis will get that eventually. He had been dealing with a hip issue, and even though he says it’s completely fine now, the team is obviously going to proceed with caution.

“Coach told me I wasn’t going to play a lot,” Porzingis said. “He told me 18 minutes. I knew I wasn’t going to play a whole lot, just because they wouldn’t want me to go 30 minutes or whatever. It’s step by step, and I just wanted to be me when I go out there, play hard, and play 100 percent.”

When he was out there, he played with a high level of activity, and showed a great awareness for his position on the floor that allowed him to consistently be in the right place to challenge his opponents’ shots.

“I still have trouble calling the defense on the screens and stuff,” Porzingis said. “I try to remember the calls. I’m still having trouble with that. But I try to be as aggressive as I can and help my teammates.”

Porzingis struggled to gain post position at times, due to a 7’1″ frame that appears to be extremely slight on the surface. It’s something he already plans on improving, but he’s taking a wait-and-see approach as far as exactly how much.

“I’ve got to get stronger,” Porzingis said. “I’ve just got to see. Ten pounds, 15 pounds, maybe 0, maybe 30. I’ve just got to see how I feel at 240, 250. Just little by little, putting on the weight, seeing if I have the same quickness, same athleticism, seeing if I can move the same. I’ve just got to see how I feel.”

The fans are already feeling a more positive vibe where Porzingis is concerned, as evidenced by the many cheers that echoed throughout the arena anytime his aggressive level of activity achieved a positive result.

“That’s the opposite of what I heard on draft night,” Porzingis said. “So it was nice to hear some cheers out there.”

Adam Silver likes NBA teams moving away from term ‘owner,’ prefers ‘governor’

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Warriors star Draymond Green has objected to using the term “owner.” The 76ers use “managing partner,” not “owner,” as Josh Harris’ title.

Does NBA commissioner Adam Silver like teams moving away from the term owner?

Silver, via TMZ:

I do. I don’t want to overreact to the term because, as I’ve said earlier, people end up twisting themselves into knots avoiding the use of the word owner. But, we moved away from that term years ago in the league. We call our team owners governor of the team and alternate governors. So, I think it makes sense. As I’ve said, I don’t want to overreact, and you’ll find the word throughout memos over the past decade in the NBA. But I’m sensitive to it, and I think to the extent teams are moving away from the term, we’ll stick with using governor.

Players have gone both ways. I think a few players have actually spoken out and said the greatest thing that ever happened was when Michael Jordan was able to call himself an owner. But, of course, Draymond Green has been very public about the fact that we should be moving away from the term, and I completely respect that.

The elephant in the room: Slavery. The history of white people owning black people is the subtext to this entire discussion. Slavery looms over a league where most owners are white and most player are black.

However, the term “owner” here doesn’t refer to owning the players, but owning the team. “Ownership” has far wider historically usage than slavery. In most fields, “owning” companies – which NBA teams are – doesn’t generate backlash.

Are we too loose with the term “owner” in sports? Perhaps. It’s common to say something like, “Players should strongly consider their potential owners in free agency” rather than “players should strongly consider their potential team’s owners in free agency.”

But there are power differences between players and owners/managing partners/governors/whatever you want to call them. Unless addressing the actual underlying issues, changing terms will accomplish nothing.

Those power dynamics are why the Warriors referred to Mark Stevens as “Mr. Stevens” and Kyle Lowry as Kyle Lowry after Stevens pushed Lowry during the NBA Finals. Those power dynamics are why Donald Sterling took guests into the Clippers’ locker room to ogle players. Those power dynamics are why LeBron James is remembered as the bad guy from The Decision despite Dan Gilbert’s wild letter.

There will always be differences between players and owners. Owners have more money and staying power. But the NBA can create a better, fairer environment for its players.

It’ll just require deeper consideration than a simple word change.

Report: Knicks will roll over cap space if they don’t sign Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard

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The Knicks are chasing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. New York will reportedly get a meeting with Kawhi Leonard.

But Irving appears headed to the Nets, and Durant might follow. Leonard appears to favor the Raptors in a two-team race with the Clippers.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

New York still believes it’s in the hunt for Kawhi Leonard, Irving and Durant. But, according to a source, the Knicks will punt their $70 million-plus in cap space if they can’t land one of those Tier A free agents.

This plan would require patience Knicks owner James Dolan has rarely shown. The Knicks have missed the playoffs six straight years. Twice during that span – including last season – they posted their worst record in franchise history (17-65). Dolan publicly proclaimed confidence New York would sign major free agents this summer.

He’d really allow the Knicks to delay winning even further?

New York is positioned to wait until 2020 free agency (though Joakim Noah‘s cap hit will remain on the books after an avoidable error). R.J. Barrett and Kevin Knox will still be on relatively cheap rookie-scale contracts. As a second-round pick, Mitchell Robinson is even lower-paid. If they sign players to only one-year contracts this offseason, the Knicks will once again have massive cap room.

But good players generally want multi-year deals. So, New York would be choosing among a far more limited pool of free agents. Another gloomy season would likely await.

And then the 2020 free-agent class looks weak. Especially with Anthony Davis already on the Lakers, there probably won’t be an attainable superstar for the Knicks. There might not even be an attainable star.

Then what? Sacrifice the 2020-21 season to gear up for 2021 free agency? Maybe Barrett, Knox and Robinson develop and send New York on a different track, but that’s far from assured.

The genius of this plan is it allows Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to keep their jobs while the team continues to stink. There would be no expectations of winning anytime soon – as long as Dolan abides.

Report: Kyrie Irving doesn’t like living in Boston

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Has Kyrie Irving been in contact with the Boston Celtics about his free agency? We have reports that say that Irving has “ghosted” the Celtics… and of course we have counter reports that say just the opposite.

It’s hard to believe anything that swirls around Irving, one of the more enigmatic and tiring personalities in the NBA. At the very least, Irving has appeared to send signals that he is looking to sign with the Brooklyn Nets. Chief among them being that Irving recently fired his longtime representation and signed with Roc Nation, which has a close partnership with the Brooklyn front office.

Boston has had a hard time getting free agents to come to play for the franchise, and that’s before they had a standing beef with Klutch Sports. According to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, one of our Irving’s problems with the Celtics was that he simply didn’t like living in Boston.

Via ESPN:

“Kyrie Irving didn’t like Boston. I’ve been told this by many people. He didn’t like living in Boston — he just didn’t. By the end he had issues with Brad, by the end he had issues with Danny… by the end he had issues with pretty much all of us.”

We have heard rumors that things started to go wrong in the Celtics locker room when coach Brad Stevens seemed to openly favor injured star Gordon Hayward a bit too heavily (Hayward played for Stevens at Butler in college).

Meanwhile, Danny Ainge has the propensity to rub folks the wrong way. He makes whatever decision he thinks is the best from a basketball perspective, relationships be damned. We learned that with the Isaiah Thomas trade.

At this juncture it seems unlikely that Irving will return to the Celtics. Meanwhile, we will probably continue to get stories like this out of Boston.

Chris Paul: “I never asked for a trade” and says he’s happy to be in Houston

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With Golden State laid low by injuries (and maybe a defection), Houston should be the team stepping to the front of the line saying “it’s our turn” in the West.

Instead, the Rockets two stars — James Harden and Chris Paul — are feuding, ownership is turning coach Mike D’Antoni into a lame duck, and everyone without a fantastic beard hears their name in trade rumors.

The Harden/Paul feud is real, but Paul tried to downplay it at a charity event in Los Angeles over the weekend, denying a trade request and saying he was happy to be in Houston, as reported by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

“I never asked for a trade,” Paul said. “I never demanded a trade.”

“I’ll be in Houston,” Paul said. “I’m happy about that. I’m very happy about that. I’m good.”

The report goes on to note Paul was asked if he had to work things out with Harden and he kind of danced around that question but said the issues were around a season-ending loss. Certainly, two straight years of being bounced by the Warriors has the Rockets frustrated. However, there is also a style issue: Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul can’t be as efficient that way anymore and prefers a more fluid offense (and more pick-and-roll for him). Coach D’Antoni gives a lot of leeway to Harden.

Harden and Paul need to work their issues out because Paul is nearly untradable (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener with a pick or young player). Paul still has value on the court — a master floor general he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. There simply are not teams interested in trading for Paul.

Houston could head into next season the favorites in the West. Part of that depends on how things shake out in free agency (does Kawhi Leonard come West, for example), but a lot of it is just the Rockets getting their act together. I expect Paul and Harden to figure things out, at least well enough to make it work. Mostly because they don’t have a choice. Paul isn’t going anywhere, whether he asked to leave or not.