Trading young star like Kristaps Porzingis such a Knicks move

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As Knicks president, Phil Jackson built teams that went 17-65, 32-50 and 31-51. Jackson gave Joakim Noah a huge contract. Jackson offended the NBA’s best player, LeBron James, shortly before LeBron changed teams in free agency. Jackson reportedly floored multiple free agents with his unpreparedness in meetings, couldn’t get his computer to work during pitches, became unreachable to rival general managers even shortly before the trade deadline and fell asleep during a pre-draft workout.

But Jackson also drafted Kristaps Porzingis.

Whatever deserved criticism Jackson faced for his calamitous New York tenure was always weighed against that single wonderful transaction. That’s how good Porzingis was.

The 7-foot-3 big man wowed early with his putback dunks. With an excellent shooting stroke and mobility, he blossomed even further. His rim protecting made him a true two-way player. He even made the All-Star game last season, just his third year in the NBA.

Porzingis was the type of franchise player most teams only dream about. He was a young star in a league that gives teams plenty of contractual control over such players. When teams find a gem like that, they almost always hang on as tightly as they can. Remember, Knicks owner James Dolan fired Jackson, despite just opting into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, only once Jackson made such a big deal about shopping Porzingis.

But in a shocking turn, New York traded Porzingis to the Mavericks yesterday. It was just the fifth time since the NBA-ABA merger someone made an All-Star team then got traded within his first four seasons. The five:

  • Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks to Mavericks in 2019)
  • Jason Kidd (Mavericks to Suns in 1996)
  • Alonzo Mourning (Hornets to Heat in 1995)
  • Mike Mitchell (Cavaliers to Spurs in 1981)
  • Billy Knight (Pacers to Buffalo Braves in 1977)

At 23.5-years-old, Porzingis is the second-youngest established All-Star to change teams. The only one younger: Jrue Holiday, who was 23-years-and-1-month-old when traded from the 76ers to the Pelicans after his fourth season in 2013.

But as shocking as a deal like this is, it’s far less surprising New York was the team to make it.

Charlie Ward, who was drafted in 1994, was the last player to spend his first six seasons with the Knicks. Since, only David Lee (drafted in 2005) made it even his first five full seasons with New York. If not even Porzingis gets a multi-year contract after his rookie-scale deal, which Knick ever will?

New York just hasn’t shown sustained interest/ability in identifying, developing and retaining young talent. Even though that was Knicks president Steve Mills’ explicit plan only a year-and-a-half ago, he has already pivoted in a new direction. That’s how it goes in James Dolan’s franchise. Over and over and over.

It isn’t necessarily a mistake this time, though.

New York got a haul for Porzingis. The Knicks unloaded Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s and Courtney Lee‘s onerous contracts (opening a projected $73 million in cap space next summer) and got two future first-round picks (one guaranteed to be in the first round and one likely to convey), Dennis Smith Jr. (a promising young player) and DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews (productive veterans who could be flipped before the trade deadline).

The big question is what the Knicks do with all that cap space. They’ve chased quick fixes and failed many times under Dolan. But if they land Kevin Durant and/or Kyrie Irving this summer, the trade will have been a home run. If New York misses on star free agents, the trade looks far more ominous. Presumably, the Knicks have a better idea than I do about impending free agents’ interest. Cap room goes further in a market like New York. This risk makes more sense for the Knicks than it would most teams.

Either way, it’s not as if keeping Porzingis was a foolproof plan. He remains out while recovering from a torn ACL, a major injury – especially for someone so big. He has had multiple other injuries in his short career and shown signs of frailty.

Maybe, as he gets older and stronger, he’ll be fine. Maybe he just needs a team that will put less stress on his body.

But the injury risk with Porzingis appears real.

That was particularly concerning with him entering restricted free agency this summer. He could easily draw a max offer sheet projected to be worth $117 million over four years. Or worse, he could sign a qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

Teams should trade young stars more often. Sometimes, a player’s value peaks early in his career. That could be the time to sell high.

But it’s difficult to tell when those cases are occurring. Amid uncertainty, NBA teams usually avoid risk.

If they kept Porzingis and his career stagnated due to injury or other reasons, the Knicks would largely get a pass. But if he flourishes in Dallas, New York will get shredded. Teams – unfairly, though understandably due to a lack of public information – are held accountable for the moves they make, not they moves they don’t make.

The Knicks are showing plenty of courage with this trade, but they’ve never been afraid to take big swings before. They’ve just usually struck out.

At least this was a pitch over the plate.

New York had to do something risky with Porzingis. Trading him for this return – as rare as it is to deal a player like him – seems reasonable. At least if the Knicks have an edge on top free agents next summer.

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”

Zion Williamson, New Orleans eliminated from playoff chase; Kings, too

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There was no team hyped like the New Orleans Pelicans heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando. They had Zion Williamson healthy (or so they thought), and they had been playing the best of any of the teams in the playoff chase just before the coronavirus shut the league (and nation) down. A basketball-starved nation dreamed of a LeBron James vs. Zion showdown in the first round.

The reality of the bubble was not so kind to those dreams or New Orleans.

The Pelicans lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113, despite 25 points from Williamson. Combined with the Trail Blazers beating the 76ers 124-121, the Pelicans became mathematically eliminated from reaching the nine seed and getting into a play-in series in the West.

The Pelicans are out of the playoffs. New Orleans will go through the motions of two more games in the bubble, but don’t be surprised if key players rest. The Pelicans went 2-4 in the bubble with offensive struggles holding the team back.

The Sacramento Kings also have been eliminated, extending the franchise’s playoff drought to 14 years. The last time the Kings were in the playoffs was 2006.

The Memphis Grizzlies sit as the eighth seed in the West, with Portland the ninth seed and just half-a-game back. San Antonio (one game back of Memphis) and Phoenix (1.5 games back) are both alive in the playoff chase still.

New Orleans getting eliminated ends J.J. Redick‘s playoff streak at 13 seasons, the longest of any active player and tied for seventh-longest all-time (the record is a tie at 19 between Karl Malone and John Stockton, who did it together). Getting eliminated is what leads to a 1000-mile stare meme.

 

 

 

 

Joel Embiid will not return to 76ers game due to left ankle injury

Joel Embiid injury
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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Philadelphia’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad bubble continues.

Joel Embiid went back to the locker room during the first quarter of the 76ers game against the Trail Blazers and will not return to the court due to a left ankle injury, the team announced, via Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

There are no other details yet on Embiid’s condition. He has been far-and-away the best player on a Philadelphia team that has struggled through the NBA’s restart in Orlando.

The 76ers have already lost Ben Simmons, likely for the rest of this season, due to knee surgery.

Despite the injuries and rough play, Philly was 3-1 entering Sunday. However, the one loss was to red-hot T.J. Warren and Indiana, which essentially locked the 76ers into the six seed (and a likely first-round meeting with Boston).

Embiid is averaging 30 points a game in Orlando and put up a ridiculous 41 points, 21 rebounds line against Indiana.

If Embiid misses much time, the Sixers’ chances against any team near the top of the East are slim. At best.

Play-in series guaranteed in West after Toronto beats Memphis

NBA play-in
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It’s now official: There will be a play-in series to determine the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Memphis’ 108-99 loss to Toronto on Sunday means that it’s no longer possible for more than a four-game difference in the standings between the eighth- and ninth-place finishers in the West when the seeding game schedule ends later this week.

By the rules the NBA set for this season’s restart, there had to be more than a four-game cushion for the No. 8 team to get the final playoff spot outright. The league decided to add the play-in series option in an abundance of fairness, since about 14% of the regular season schedule was eliminated because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Memphis remains alone in eighth place, even after Sunday’s loss. Portland is one game behind and is in the nine seed (with a Philadelphia Sunday night). San Antonio (who beat New Orleans Sunday) and red-hot Phoenix are 1.5 games back of the Grizzlies. New Orleans is now two games back and with a difficult road to the postseason.

No team has clinched a spot in the play-in series; the Grizzlies could have assured themselves of no worse than that had they beaten the Raptors on Sunday.

Game 1 of the play-in series will be Saturday, with Game 2 — if necessary — the following day, Aug. 16. To advance and face the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round, the eighth-place team will have to win one of the two games and the ninth-place finisher would have to go 2-0.

ABC will air Game 1 of the play-in series on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT. Game 2, if necessary, would be Aug. 16 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN.

There will be no play-in series in the Eastern Conference; Brooklyn and Orlando have secured what were the last two available spots on that bracket, with Washington — the only other team that came to Disney with a chance of qualifying in the East — already eliminated.

The playoffs begin Monday, Aug. 17.

“Obviously, that’s what everybody’s goal is,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said Sunday.

The matchup for the play-in will be known no later than Thursday. There are four seeding games on Friday, the last day of the regular season, though none of them will have any bearing on the West matchup.