Five Things to Know: Porzingis is out, changing Knicks plans for summer, next season

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA — except last night was so insane here are the five things you need to know.

1) Kirstaps Porzingis tears his ACL, surgery upcoming and he is done for the season. “It sucks, man, it sucks.”

Tim Hardaway Jr. speaks for all of us as the news came down that The Franchise, The Unicorn, the Knicks best player and All-Star Kristaps Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee on a dunk over Giannis Antetokounmpo — and it looked bad the second he landed.

It was later determined to be an ACL tear, and Porzingis will have surgery. While no timetable was given, the recovery on those is generally 8-12 months, which means this likely stretches into the start of next season. As an example, Chicago’s Zach LaVine injured tore his ACL on Feb. 3 last season and only returned to action a couple of weeks ago in mid-January. Even when Porzingis gets back on the court, it will take him a little time to fully trust the knee again and be his old self.

The injury doesn’t change the calculus for this season, the Knicks had only a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs before Porzingis went down (according to fivethirtyeight.com). It will change plans for next season if KP misses the first couple of months of games, at the very least putting the Knicks in a hole to dig out of to make the postseason, and possibly keeping them out of the playoffs all together again. The injury could have the Knicks thinking more about the 2019-20 season than the next one. It also raises the question of if the Knicks still will give Porzingis the expected max contract extension they can this summer, something that was a given 24 hours ago. Because of Porsingis’ track record and the fact he’s a franchise cornerstone player they a most certainly do, but this gives them a little pause to think about it.

Now the Knicks move their focus to the summer, when they will try to add to the Porzingis/Hardaway core through the draft and trades (they are already capped out so free agency is not going to be a big market). Enes Kanter can opt out of his contract and the Knicks will want to bring him back (at what price will be interesting), and they have to figure out what to do with Joakim Noah, who is away from the team and will still be owed two years and $37.8 million (a trade is not on the table unless the Knicks want to throw a couple of first-round picks and other sweeteners in that deal).

2) Here’s a list of the All-Stars injured before the game this year — it’s depressing. On the night of the All-Star draft, we all praised LeBron James for putting together the better team, but it turns out maybe it was a curse. With the addition of Porzingis now, four players selected by fans or coaches for the All-Star game are going to miss it due to injury, and every one of them is on Team LeBron:

DeMarcus Cousins: Torn Achilles
Kevin Love: Broken hand
John Wall: Knee surgery
Kristaps Porzingis: Torn ACL

That sucks some of the fun out of the Feb. 18 game.

The NBA league office will announce Wednesday the replacement for Porzingis. It will be the highest rated player remaining from the Eastern Conference in the coaches voting. My guess is it’s Kemba Walker, but Ben Simmons is a possibility.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo had the dunk of the year. We can stop the voting now. It’s over. We know who won the dunk of the year — Antetokounmpo leaped over Tim Hardaway Jr. to finish an alley-oop. He Frederic Weised him. Remember Hardaway is 6’6″.

4) Cavaliers collapse vs. Magic, Isaiah Thomas calls team out, LeBron sticking around. Another game, another ugly Cavaliers loss. Early on in this one, LeBron James was engaged and active — something we haven’t seen a lot of the past month. He can still put this team on his back and carry it, as he has done for a couple of months this season already, and in the first quarter Tuesday the Cavaliers dropped 43 on one of the worst teams in the NBA in Orlando. Cleveland led by as many as 21.

But the third quarter was flat-out ugly, and the fourth was worse. Orlando scored 41 in the third the Cavaliers scored nine points in the fourth (and just 31 for the half). Orlando got the win, 116-98.

After the game, LeBron reiterated he is not waiving his no-trade clause, he is not going anywhere. This season.

“I’m here for this season right now to try and figure out a way we can still compete. I owe it to my teammates to finish this season out no matter how it ends up. I would never waive my no-trade clause.”

Also, Isaiah Thomas (after another rough game) called out the team saying they come apart when faced with adversity.

The Cavaliers keep finding new lows. But Dan Gilbert is back in charge of basketball operations, so no need to worry now *cough*.

5) Toronto beats Boston in what well could be an Eastern Conference Finals preview. Cleveland is vulnerable. Not just “they may not get out of the East” vulnerable, but “they may not make the Eastern Conference Finals” vulnerable the way they are playing right now. (There are a couple of months until the playoffs start, and the trade deadline is coming up, but the Cavaliers problems are systemic. And again, Dan Gilbert is back in charge of basketball operations. That is not a sign of hope.)

Is Boston vs. Toronto our Eastern Conference Finals? Maybe. Tuesday night was a little taste of that.

The Raptors handled Boston easily, 111-91, on a night Kyrie Irving returned to action but was off, and with him the Celtics offense was not right. Especially in the face of an underrated Raptors defense. On the other end DeMar DeRozan was playmaking, Kyle Lowry was engaged and attacking (23 points), Serge Ibaka was sharp, and the Toronto bench was superior. It led to an easy Toronto win.

No game in February is a true playoff preview, you can’t take much from that game into a potential Eastern Conference Finals, save for this — Toronto is legit. The Raptors have been good for years, but their isolation ball got them in trouble in the postseason. This is the best Raptors team of this run, and if you think they’ll just fold in the playoffs you’re going to be disappointed.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).