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Knicks’ biggest issue: Reconciling Carmelo Anthony-Kristaps Porzingis age gap

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Carmelo Anthony doesn’t avoid the question.

He snickers at it.

Is he concerned his prime and Kristaps Porzingis‘ prime won’t overlap?

“Well, obviously,” Melo said, breaking into laughter.

This – not whether Porzingis plays again this season, not whether Kurt Rambis will remain coach, not whether Phil Jackson has one foot out the door – is the Knicks’ fundamental issue. Their two most important players differ wildly in age, which creates major dilemmas in team-building.

Porzingis is just a 20-year-old rookie still learning the NBA. Melo, 31, sees the last of his best years passing him by.

That’s why it was believable when a report emerged last summer that Melo felt “betrayed” by Jackson drafting Porzingis No. 4 overall. Melo denied it, and Porzingis said the anonymously sourced report didn’t bother him.

“I didn’t take it seriously,” Porzingis said. “Somebody could’ve said that. Whenever I met Melo, that’s the impression I had of him, and I think that’s the impression he had of me.”

Whatever the initial impression, it must be much easier for Melo to appreciate Porzingis now.

Porzingis isn’t nearly the project many predicted. He has been the second- or third-best rookie (depending what you think of Nikola Jokic) behind only Karl-Anthony Towns, who’s having a historically good first year.

Not only is Porzingis productive, he fits well with Melo. Porzingis spaces the floor, giving Melo room to operate in the paint and mid-range. Porzingis’ offensive rebounding becomes more valuable with Melo, who gets up shots (sometimes bad ones) rather than committing turnovers. And Porzingis’ rim protection covers for Melo’s defensive deficiencies. Plus, Melo’s ability to carry the offensive load allows Porzingis to be patient with his shot selection and keep his confidence up.

New York, outscored by 2.7 points per 100 possessions overall, has topped opponents by 0.9 points per 100 possessions with Melo and Porzingis on the court. Great? No. But it’s a start for a team that badly needs one.

Porzingis has three years remaining on his rookie-scale contract, and then he’ll become a restricted free agent (if he hasn’t signed a contract extension first). Melo has three more seasons on his deal, a no-trade clause and a trade kicker that gives him financial incentive to get dealt. The Knicks have their two most important pieces locked up – at least if Melo doesn’t get antsy. And even then, New York retains control on a trade.

The Knicks can meander forward and ignore the age issue, keeping both Melo and Porzingis. But that’d be a disservice to both. They should confront the big questions:

Can they get good enough to win with Melo and Porzingis before Melo declines? And can they do it without sabotaging a post-Melo future with Porzingis? If forced to choose on direction, which will they pick?

First, they must recognize their unusual position.

Among teach team’s three win-share leaders this season, none faces a wider age* range than New York, which features a top three of Melo, Robin Lopez and Porzingis.

*Using a player’s age on Feb. 1

Here’s the spread for each team’s top three:

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Team Oldest Middle Youngest Age range (years)
NYK Carmelo Anthony (31) Robin Lopez (27) Kristaps Porzingis (20) 11
PHI Carl Landry (32) Jerami Grant (21) Nerlens Noel (21) 11
DAL Dirk Nowitzki (37) Zaza Pachulia (31) Chandler Parsons (27) 10
CHI Pau Gasol (35) Taj Gibson (30) Jimmy Butler (26) 9
SAS Tony Parker (33) LaMarcus Aldridge (30) Kawhi Leonard (24) 9
WAS Marcin Gortat (31) John Wall (25) Otto Porter (22) 9
CLE LeBron James (31) Kevin Love (27) Tristan Thompson (24) 7
DEN Danilo Gallinari (27) Kenneth Faried (26) Nikola Jokic (20) 7
LAL Brandon Bass (30) Lou Williams (29) Larry Nance Jr. (23) 7
CHA Marvin Williams (29) Kemba Walker (25) Cody Zeller (23) 6
MEM Zach Randolph (34) Marc Gasol (31) Mike Conley (28) 6
MIN Gorgui Dieng (26) Ricky Rubio (25) Karl-Anthony Towns (20) 6
TOR Kyle Lowry (29) DeMar DeRozan (26) Jonas Valanciunas (23) 6
MIA Chris Bosh (31) Luol Deng (30) Hassan Whiteside (26) 5
NOP Ryan Anderson (27) Jrue Holiday (25) Anthony Davis (22) 5
ORL Nikola Vucevic (25) Evan Fournier (23) Aaron Gordon (20) 5
DET Marcus Morris (26) Reggie Jackson (25) Andre Drummond (22) 4
HOU Trevor Ariza (30) Dwight Howard (30) James Harden (26) 4
IND George Hill (29) Ian Mahinmi (29) Paul George (25) 4
LAC J.J. Redick (31) Chris Paul (30) DeAndre Jordan (27) 4
MIL Greg Monroe (25) Khris Middleton (24) Giannis Antetokounmpo (21) 4
OKC Kevin Durant (27) Russell Westbrook (27) Enes Kanter (23) 4
SAC Rajon Rondo (29) Darren Collison (28) DeMarcus Cousins (25) 4
ATL Paul Millsap (30) Al Horford (29) Jeff Teague (27) 3
BOS Amir Johnson (28) Isaiah Thomas (26) Jae Crowder (25) 3
PHO Tyson Chandler (33) P.J. Tucker (30) Mirza Teletovic (30) 3
GSW Stephen Curry (27) Klay Thompson (25) Draymond Green (25) 2
UTA Gordon Hayward (25) Derrick Favors (24) Rudy Gobert (23) 2
BRK Donald Sloan (28) Brook Lopez (27) Thaddeus Young (27) 1
POR Ed Davis (26) Mason Plumlee (25) Damian Lillard (25) 1

Porzingis spent much of the season second to Melo on the Knicks in win shares, but a late-season slump allowed Lopez to pass him. Over the rookie wall next season (and maybe over Rambis), Porzingis figures to be even better next year.

Plus, Porzingis projects as a center long-term, and Melo has thrived at power forward. If the Knicks are committed to those two, Lopez could be moved.

That all adds up to the likelihood of Melo and Porzingis ranking 1-2 on the team in win shares.

Here are the other teams in the previous 10 years with a top two in win shares who are at least 10 years apart in age:

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Team Older Younger Age range (years)
2016 NYK? Carmelo Anthony (32) Kristaps Porzingis (21) 11
2015 SAS Tim Duncan (38) Kawhi Leonard (23) 15
2014 SAS Tim Duncan (37) Kawhi Leonard (22) 15
2014 IND David West (33) Paul George (23) 10
2013 DAL Vince Carter (36) Darren Collison (25) 11
2012 PHO Steve Nash (37) Marcin Gortat (27) 10
2012 CLE Antawn Jamison (35) Kyrie Irving (19) 16
2011 PHO Steve Nash (36) Jared Dudley (25) 11
2011 CLE Antawn Jamison (34) Ramon Sessions (24) 10
2010 DET Ben Wallace (35) Jonas Jerebko (22) 13
2009 LAC Marcus Camby (34) Eric Gordon (20) 14
2007 ORL Grant Hill (34) Dwight Howard (21) 13
2007 DEN Marcus Camby (32) Carmelo Anthony (22) 10

History is not on the side of Porzingis and Melo lasting together.

Of the above pairings, just two lasted more than one additional season together: Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard (who are still going) and Ben Wallace and Jonas Jerebko (who played two more seasons with the Pistons).

The Knicks don’t want to emulate that directionless Detroit era, and they probably can’t copy the Spurs. Duncan is historic in his longevity, just as Leonard is in his development.

For now, Melo and Porzingis have mostly said the right things about their potentially awkward partnership.

“He’s been like a big brother to me,” Porzingis said. “…Learning from him and having him at my side – what better situation can you ask for as a rookie?”

But is this the situation Melo seeks as a veteran? Teaching a youngster who’s not ready to play a prominent role on a contender?

Porzingis won’t talk about how quickly he can reach that level, and Melo is loathe to discuss how much longer he can produce like a star.

“If my prime would overlap with him, I would love that,” Melo said. “But…”

Melo trails off, no clear answer to this difficult question.

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.

Mavericks reportedly reach out to Joakim Noah to help at center

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Dallas’ starting center Dwight Powell is lost for the season due to a torn Achilles suffered Tuesday night.

The Mavs have other centers on the roster, Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic, but they want more depth behind those guys. That has led to them touching base with Joakim Noah, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

The Lakers worked Noah out before the season but decided to go with Dwight Howard.

Noah had a solid second half of last season with Memphis, coming off the bench and providing good defense and 7.1 points per game. He was moving well and fit in as a role player at giving them 16.5 minutes a night.

That’s all Dallas would need, someone to grab rebounds and do the dirty work inside that lets Kristaps Prozingis play his pick-and-pop game. We’ll see if Dallas goes this direction, or another one.