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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.

Report: Nets signing Taurean Prince to two-year, $29M extension

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The Nets traded two first-round picks to the Hawks to clear double-max(-ish) cap space for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

And get Taurean Prince.

Prince was an afterthought in his trade to Brooklyn, which signaled the Nets’ big summer. But Brooklyn acquired him for a reason and will pay to secure him longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Considering this information came from his agent, this is almost certainly the most favorable framing of terms. Maybe Prince got all $29 million guaranteed. But if there are any incentives, I bet that $29 million counts them as achieved.

The Nets are trying to build a championship contender. This deal gives them multiple avenues for uisng Prince.

His contract could help for salary-matching in a bigger trade. I can’t recall the rookie-scale extension so short, if there ever was one. Two years are not an especially long commitment. That hints at using this deal as a trade chip. So does Brooklyn extending Prince before he played a regular-season game there.

Of course, Prince has a track record from Atlanta. He’s a good outside shooter with the frame to defend well when engaged. Maybe the Nets really believe in his long-term potential. He fell out of favor with the Hawks only after they changed general managers.

The Nets needn’t decide on Prince’s long-term future now. They have paid for team control for the next three seasons (including this season, the final year of his rookie-scale contract). They can monitor how he plays – and what trades become available.

Pacers, Domantas Sabonis reportedly agree to four-year, $77 million extension

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Indiana is going all-in on the idea of Domantas Sabonis playing the four next to Myles Turner at the five this season. The Pacers have put up the money, now we’re going to see if it can actually work.

After initial struggles to find common ground on a contract extension — leading to reports of the Pacers testing the trade waters for Sabonis — the two sides have come to terms on a four-year contract extension, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The exact figures here are still in flux.

How likely those bonuses are remains to be seen.

This is a pretty fair contract number, a little more than $19 million a year average for the man who came in second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting last season seems about right. Plus, if it doesn’t work out with Sabonis starting next to Turner, this is a very tradable contract and there would be interest in his services (he was harder to trade at his $3.5 million current salary and get anything of value to match that smaller number).

The Pacers hope it doesn’t come to that and Sabonis becomes part of one of the better, younger frontcourts in the league.

Sabonis is skilled and versatile on offense, a fantastic pick-and-roll or dribble hand-off guy who sets good screens then he rolls into open space. He’s strong around the basket and plays a crafty, high IQ game.

The concerns with Sabonis, and why some teams are not convinced he’s a starter, are twofold. First, he is not good defensively and is not a rim protector.

The second concern is that he does not space the floor (76.4 percent of his shots came within 10 feet of the basket last season, and he doesn’t make many beyond that range).

Indiana is betting on this core. They have inked big contracts with Turner (four-years, $72 million) and Malcolm Brogdon (four years, $85 million). Victor Oladipo will be coming up for an extension in a couple of years and, if he returns to pre-injury form, is a lock max player. Throw in this Sabonis contract and that is a lot of guaranteed money. Are these guys worth it?

We’ll find out soon enough, the Pacers have gone all-in with them

Report: Spurs signing Dejounte Murray to four-year, $64M extension

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In 2018, a 21-year-old Dejounte Murray became the youngest player ever to make an All-Defensive team. The following fall, he showed progress on his outside shooting and distributing. Everything was coming together for the young Spurs point guard.

Then, disaster struck.

Just before last season, Murray tore his ACL. He missed the entire year.

Yet, he’ll still get a contract extension in San Antonio.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Given his injury, it’d be difficult for Murray to reject this deal. It’s life-changing money. What if he lost significant athleticism or fails to hit his stride next season? That’d be a grim way to enter restricted free agency next summer.

But what if Murray picks up where he left off? This could be a major steal for the Spurs.

Given the wide range of potential outcomes, this extension seems fair. However, there’s also a reasonable chance Murray significantly underperforms or overperforms this deal. (That’s why it’s fair.)

Murray is a stout defender and elite rebounder for a guard. He can push the pace and slash to the rim. But it’s tough for lead guards who don’t shoot well from the perimeter. Murray’s playmaking for others must also improve, especially if San Antonio eventually transitions from an isolation-heavy offense around DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Murray is just 23. It’s OK he’s not a finished product. The Spurs should know better than anyone how to feel about his progress since the injury. They probably deserve benefit of the doubt in evaluating his value.

Still, long-term fit questions linger with Derrick White. White stepped up in Murray’s absence last season, especially in the playoffs. But White is another subpar 3-point-shooting guard. Can they play together? White will be eligible for his own rookie-scale extension next offseason.

San Antonio is mainly focused on the present, and Murray and White will factor prominently this season. They’re still just supporting players for now, though.

Long term, Murray’s extension is a key step toward whatever comes next for the Spurs.

Zion Williamson out 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair torn right lateral meniscus

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Much like his absence did at Summer League, this news sucks some of the air out the excitement around the start of the NBA season.

Zion Williamson, who tore it up for New Orleans in the preseason, also tore up his right lateral meniscus and had surgery on Monday to repair it, the team announced.

The smart money is on it being closer to the eight weeks because the Pelicans are going to abundantly cautious the future of the franchise. The Pelicans had originally said Williamson had a sore knee, then said he would be out weeks but avoided serious knee issues. This could be worse but is serious enough to require surgery.

This preseason, Williamson instantly took advantage of the greater spacing in the NBA game (Duke was not loaded with great shooters last season) and found lanes to attack and dominate. Williamson scored 55 points on 71 percent shooting across two preseason games, and defenses just were not sure how to stop him.

His loss is a setback to a Pelicans team that has playoff aspirations, despite its youth.

There are still young players with a lot to prove in New Orleans — Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram — and some solid veterans in Jrue Holiday and J.J. Redick. But the Pelicans will just not be the same — or as much fun.

This opens up the Rookie of the Year race, at least a little bit. NBC’s own Dan Feldman and I discussed this very topic on our predictions podcast: How many games does Zion need to play, and be dominant in, to win ROY? Probably around 50 (remember Joel Embiid could not pull it off with a dominant 31 games and Malcolm Brogdon won that year). If Zion is out the full two months, meaning a return just before Christmas, then he would miss about 30 games. Putting him on the bubble for the award. Other players such as Ja Morant in Memphis, RJ Barrett in New York, or maybe even Tyler Herro in Miami or Rui Hachimura in Washington can jump into the conversation.

That conversation is just a little less entertaining without Williamson.