Three things we learned on Monday: The New York Knicks know drama

5 Comments

It was a light NBA schedule with just three games, so as not to distract from Clemson’s comeback, but the Knicks never give up the spotlight easily.

1) Derrick Rose goes AWOL, Phil Jackson doesn’t talk, and the Knicks are still the Knicks.
Drama — often unnecessary drama — just follows the Knicks around. They are their own reality series, throw in a “tribal council” and some tiki torches and you’ve got a hit.

Monday night the Knicks had a chance to snap their recent slide when they took on the Pelicans, but the news became about point guard Derrick Rose — he just didn’t show up for the game. He had been at shootaround Monday afternoon, but when he didn’t show up for the game the team was left scrambling. Team executives didn’t know where he was, they were calling him but to no avail. Nobody seemed to know where he went.

After the game, Rose’s long-time teammate Joakim Noah was able to get in touch with him and find out he was okay. Rose reportedly texted other friends he was fine as well, and the organization had some level of contact with him and told the media he had a “family situation.” The good news is that Rose is safe. However, “family situation” is vague (and something the media will be careful with, NBA players are people with real lives, and not all of that needs to be public). We don’t know what happened yet, the Knicks themselves don’t seem to know.

The reality is two possible things are going on here.

One, Rose did have some kind of family crises that required his attention (and reported return to Chicago). In his haste to deal with the situation, Rose didn’t bother to contact the team. While that is a fairly big oversight — it’s not just Rose who didn’t call the team, it was those close to him as well — it is possible. Even coach Jeff Hornacek said after the game the organization didn’t have enough information to say what had happened.

Second, Rose is frustrated and quit on his team. Rumors of Rose being frustrated with his role have been making the rounds in the league for weeks. Rose has put up decent numbers this season for the Knicks (17.3 points per game) and is moving better than he has in years, but don’t confuse that with him being so good he should be a key focal point of the Knicks offense — New York is 1-12 when Rose takes 17 shots or more. This needs to be Kristaps Porzingis’ team — he is their best player now. Rose was benched in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee Friday because the undrafted Ron Baker was playing better — and the Knicks came from behind to win that game. Rose and Hornacek’s relationship is reportedly getting tense because of how Rose is being used. Did Rose just decide to walk away in frustration?

If he did just walk, Rose needs to be done in New York. You can’t just walk away. His teammates and the organization should not tolerate that — lord knows Knicks fans won’t. Those people value effort and hard work.

Most likely it will be spun as the former, regardless of reality. Rose will be back playing point guard for the Knicks soon enough. However, between this, Rose missing training camp to deal with a civil rape trial (of which Rose was found not liable), plus his play this season, the entire situation has the feeling of a one-and-done with Rose and New York (he is on a one-year contract). The Knicks don’t need the added drama.

One other thought here: Where was Phil Jackson in all of this? On almost any other team the team GM/President — who was in the building — would at least make a statement to the media about what was going on, not just throw his coach out there to deal with it (Hornacek was busy coaching a game, he had little information about what was happening). Jackson went out and got Rose and Noah this summer — a win now move, rather than a slower build for the future around Porzingis — so this is his guy. Jackson should be the one addressing the situation.

2) Also in New York, Anthony Davis put up 40 and showcased his skills, while Carmelo Anthony got tossed. Rose’s disappearing act overshadowed Anthony Davis dropping 40 and looking every bit the top-five NBA player that he is. The Pelicans won 110-96, and it wasn’t that close, thanks to Davis.

Carmelo Anthony didn’t want to stick around for this disaster and got himself ejected.

3) Russell Westbrook outduels ailing Jimmy Butler to get Thunder win. This felt like it could have been a showdown, but it ended up being more of a showcase. Jimmy Butler wasn’t feeling well, and having Andre Roberson draped all over him certainly didn’t help matters — Butler shot just 0-of-6 from the floor. Without him, the Bulls didn’t stand a chance — not with Russell Westbrook doing Russell Westbrook things. He had 21 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds, plus shot 50 percent from the field.

However, the real difference was in the front court — the Thunder were far more athletic and talented, outworked the Bulls frontline, and that decided the game. Steven Adams’ 22 points led the Thunder in scoring, while Enes Kanter came off the bench for 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting, plus he pulled down 11 rebounds. The Thunder were +24 points in the paint, they owned the inside, and that was the biggest difference Monday night.

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

Getty
Leave a comment

New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
1 Comment

A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
3 Comments

Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.