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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.

Former Cavaliers coach David Blatt reveals he has multiple sclerosis

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David Blatt is one of the NBA’s all-time memorable characters. Renowned for his overseas success, Blatt got hired as Cavaliers coach just before LeBron James returned. Blatt won a lot in both the regular season and playoffs, but he was cocky and had plenty of blind spots. He alienated his players, which ultimately got him fired during Cleveland’s 2015-16 championship season.

Blatt now coaches Olympiacos in Greece. Unfortunately, his story has taken a sobering turn, as he was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

Blatt:

Well, the problem is the PPMS which in my case and in my age manifests itself primarily in the weakness of the legs. fatigue/balance and strength are real issues for me. I have taken on a specific regimen of strengthening and balance exercises as well as swimming and aquatic workouts to improve overall body conditioning and help with muscle pliability and motion.

I am a coach and my job is to lead and teach and inspire a lot of people. Not being as agile or active doesn’t affect my ability to do those things. I am fortunate. I have great doctors trainers physical therapists and management that accept my disabilities and help me overcome. How could I possibly complain? I absolutely cannot and will not.

This is sad news about the 60-year-old Blatt. But I appreciate his determination to overcome the setback. He was always headstrong, and that might be the exact attitude he needs right now.

Marc Gasol says Team USA still incredibly talented, “great team”

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In past Olympics and FIBA World Cup years, international observers have said the guys USA Basketball cuts from the roster — or maybe even the Select Team of young players they practice against — could win gold in their own right. The USA’s talent pool is that deep.

This year that idea is being put to the test.

After a string of high-profile players withdrawing from the team — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, and on down the line — Team USA will have just one All-NBA/All-Star player on the roster in Kemba Walker.

That roster went out and comfortably beat Spain — the No. 2 ranked team in the world by FIBA — in an exhibition last Friday. While we should be careful reading too much into a friendly, Spanish center Marc Gasol told Marc Stein of the New York Times the Americans still had plenty of talent.

“I’m sure that it’s going to fuel them,” Gasol said of the loud skepticism increasingly endured by the American team.

“The amount of talent that the U.S. generates every year is unbelievable,’’ he added. “Even with all the guys that dropped out — or if you want to say these guys don’t have experience internationally — they’re still super talented physically and technically. And they’re pretty well-coached as well. So you put it all together and it’s a great team.”

(The “pretty well-coached” line is a joke, by the way, players and Gregg Popovich have that kind of relationship.)

The USA is still the team to beat in China when the World Cup tips off Aug. 31. Spain has a puncher’s chance to knock off the USA, France has some good talent on the roster, and Greece has Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, Team USA should be able to comfortably beat any of those sides.

Serbia, led by Nikola Jokic, is the one team with a legitimate shot to knock off the Americans.

But Serbia is the underdog for a reason. Even with all the players choosing to stay home, the USA is the most talented roster in the tournament. The gap is narrowing, but the rest of the world has not caught up to the American talent level. What Serbia, Spain, and other countries do have is a familiarity of players and system — these guys grow up playing together and have a natural chemistry, something the USA tries to cram together in a couple of weeks. Popovich has focused on building those bonds with this team, knowing that is the area of both weakness and potential growth.

This USA team may not have the intimidating talent of previous years, but it still has enough to win. And the rest of the world knows that, even if the American public does not.

Lakers reportedly doing “due diligence” in talking to Dwight Howard

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The Lakers were going to lean heavily on DeMarcus Cousins this season. Los Angeles has arguably the best center in the game today in Anthony Davis, but he is not built for nor does he want to play 30+ minutes a night banging away down in the post. Davis wants to face up, run the floor, and play most of his minutes at the four next to a more traditional center, then slide over in key matchups and situations. Cousins was going to be that center (he and Davis have some chemistry from their time together in New Orleans).

Now Cousins is almost certainly lost for the season with a torn ACL, and the Lakers are left looking through the guys other teams have yet to sign to try to find a Cousins replacement. There are not a lot of good options, which is why the Lakers wisely plan to take their time and look at everyone.

Dwight Howard is part of that process. While the Howard camp may be excited about the prospect of returning and gaining redemption in Los Angeles, for the Lakers this is more about part of the process, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Again, as with all of free agency, when you read about a sourced story (about Howard and the Lakers for example), think about who benefits from it being public and telling a reporter about it. Think about the reporter’s connections. Shelburne is very well connected to the Laker organization, for example.

The Lakers absolutely need to take a long look at Howard. After he left Los Angeles, Howard eventually found a groove as a quality NBA center. From the 2015-16 to 2017-18 seasons, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in all of those seasons at about 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use right now. However, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season following another back surgery and some hamstring issues. He was not healthy.

The Lakers have to decide how healthy Howard is and would he be able to bounce back to the level he was in those previous three seasons? Even if he can, is he a better option than Joakim Noah, who impressed a lot of people around the league with his solid 41 games for Memphis the second half of last season? What about Kenneth Faried?

Los Angeles has a lot to consider. Howard should be part of that mix, but don’t expect a quick decision here. The Lakers have almost a month until training camp opens and are not in a rush, they want to get this right.

Report: Lakers have interest in Joakim Noah

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The Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly interested in Dwight Howard. He has not yet been bought out by the Memphis Grizzlies, but a return to L.A. for Howard would be one of the most Lakers things of all time.

Howard infamously left Los Angeles under an auspicious circumstances in 2013 after things went south during the 2012-13 season between him, Kobe Bryant, and Steve Nash. He signed with the Houston Rockets that summer.

But Howard is not the only aging center under consideration by the Lakers. According to Shams Charania, Los Angeles is also considering adding Joakim Noah to their roster.

Via Twitter:

DeMarcus Cousins’ ACL injury has created a dearth of center depth for the Lakers, one that cannot be easily filled quickly. There aren’t a lot of available players left, and Los Angeles doesn’t have much to help facilitate a trade.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis need some help moving forward if they want to go deep into the Western Conference playoffs, and having only JaVale McGee playing at the center position won’t help them do that. They need to add somebody, but Howard or Noah being the answer to that is a scary proposition for a team with championship hopes.