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Dennis Smith Jr. and second chances

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The Knicks got a lot in their trade of Kristaps Porzingis. Double-max cap space next summer that could be used to sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. An unprotected future first-round pick. Another likely first-rounder.

And Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith has been treated as an afterthought in New York’s return for Porzingis. That’s somewhat understandable when the trade puts established stars like Durant and Irving in play, but don’t just forget about the 21-year-old Smith.

“I’ve been overlooked before,” Smith said. “It’s nothing new. This is familiar territory for me.

“That’s why I’ve been in grind mode. I’ve been in grind mode since I stepped foot in New York. That’s what I’m all about.”

Smith was most infamously overlooked in the 2017 draft, when he fell to No. 9. The Knicks drafted Frank Ntilikina one spot higher. LeBron James even said New York should have taken Smith.

To be fair, LeBron was feuding with then-Knicks president Phil Jackson. Jackson, in an incident that drew a lot of attention, pressured Smith into eating octopus at a pre-draft dinner meeting. Did Smith’s reluctance to try the octopus actually contribute to New York not drafting him?

“I hope not,” Smith said. “I ain’t for sure. But I hope that wasn’t the reason.”

It’s remarkable we can’t be certain of it not factoring. But that was the absurdity of Jackson’s tenure.

At least the Knicks get Smith now.

He even sometimes orders octopus for himself.

“I’ve got a little bit of money now,” Smith said.

Dallas drafted Smith, and his future there appeared promising. He scored 15.2 points per game as a rookie. Obviously, scoring isn’t everything, but it indicates a player’s stature, how much his team has entrusted him. When teams get someone young with Smith’s scoring average, they almost always build around him.

But the Mavericks acquired Luka Doncic in last year’s draft and are justly prioritizing him. Doncic is better and younger. Smith, who also fills a primary-ballhandler role, no longer fit.

Smith left Dallas averaging 14.5 points per game with the Mavericks. That’s one of the highest-scoring averages ever for someone with his original team who got traded or sold before the end of his second season:

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In Smith’s lifetime, only Michael Carter-Williams had a higher-scoring average with his original team then got traded before the end of his second season.

Smith is no longer the player I ranked No. 4 on my draft board or even the one who actually got picked in the top 10. His stock has rightfully dropped while in the league. He’s inefficient as a scorer, and he lacks complementary skills. His accuracy on 3-pointers is disappointingly low. His distributing lags well behind with his score-first approach.

But the reasons Smith looked so intriguing fewer than two years ago haven’t completely dissipated, either. He’s got nice handles and quickness, and he has the athleticism to finish above the rim. His inefficiency seems due more to shot selection than mechanics and is therefore likely an easier fix. Point guards tend to develop later.

In the meantime, Smith is losing prominence. He played in the Rising Stars Challenge last year but wasn’t invited back this year. Of the several dozen players who participated in that game as a rookie but weren’t selected as a sophomore, only three – Joe Johnson, Caron Butler and Chris Kaman – developed into All-Stars.

Smith wanted to return to All-Star Weekend this year, anyway. It’s in his native North Carolina, and his grandma is getting older. She wanted to see him there. So, after competing in last year’s dunk contest then declaring it wasn’t for him, he’ll re-enter.

“I kind of learned what it was about last year with all the extra gimmicks and things,” Smith said. “So, I have a couple myself.”

That’s where Smith wants the gimmicks to end.

Knicks fans can dream about Irving or even look to Kemba Walker as a fallback. Smith wants to earn the starting-point guard job for himself.

Right now, it has been handed to him on a barren roster. New York is tanking, biding time until its next era.

Maybe, just maybe, Smith will be an integral part of it.

“He really knows how to run a team,” Knicks coach David Fizdale said. “And we’re just getting started together, and I’m really excited for the future with him.”

Kyrie Irving reportedly re-aggravates right shoulder, to see specialist

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Kyrie Irving missed 26 games this season with shoulder bursitis, but rather than have surgery he got a cortisone shot eight weeks ago and was able to return to the court for nine games. Eventually, a knee issue sidelined him.

Now he has re-aggravated that shoulder and, once again, will see a specialist, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media on Tuesday.

There are no details on if there is a specific moment the re-aggravation happened. Irving had been trying to avoid surgery, but that could be back on the table. Irving and the Nets may take a few weeks to make their decision on a next step.

Atkinson may not go there but the rest of us can — it would be a surprise to see Irving back this season. At this point, the smart play is to let Spencer Dinwiddie run the offense the rest of the way, play hard and see what happens in the playoffs, then return next season with a healthy Irving and Kevin Durant.

Irving has played in just 20 games this season, but without him the Nets are still the seven seed in the East at 25-28.

 

Coach John Beilein reportedly to leave Cavaliers, walk away from remaining contract

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The Cavaliers brought in Michigan coach John Beilein to install his motion offense, to develop young players, and to build a culture that could win big in Cleveland.

None of that happened. The Cavaliers are 14-40, they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense, their young talent — players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — are not developing, and the Cavs’ players have clashed with Beilein and each other, and the team abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season. It’s been rough.

Now he’s going to walk away, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Cavaliers return to practice Wednesday and it is likely J.B. Bickerstaff — a former NBA head coach in Houston and Memphis, and the lead assistant on Beilein’s staff — will take over as head coach. Whether that is for just the remainder of this season, or beyond, remains to be seen.

Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.

Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the losing, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat those players the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and his relationship with them became an issue when he reportedly said they were “no longer playing like thugs” during a film session. Those NBA players were not giving a college coach the benefit of the doubt, he had to prove himself to them. He didn’t. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA game.

He was in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $4 million a season (the last year of that was a team option). Beilein is unhappy enough to leave that money on the table to walk away. He could return to college coaching as soon as next season if he wanted, there would be a long line of universities interested.

Hiring Beilein is a big miss for GM Koby Altman (the first GM owner Dan Gilbert gave a second contract to; Gilbert pushed good GMs like David Griffen out the door). The revolving door of coaches is not the sign of a strong and stable organization. The Cavaliers need to develop a culture and they need a new coach who can deliver that.

 

Pistons reach buyout with Reggie Jackson, he’s headed to Clippers

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Reggie Jackson came to Detroit to be the outside to Andre Drummond‘s inside. That never panned out, in part due to a rash of injuries to Jackson that kept a lot over a couple of those seasons.

Drummond has been traded to Cleveland, and with that it was time for the Pistons to move on from Jackson as well. That has happened, the Pistons and Jackson have agreed to a buyout.

Once Jackson clears waivers, he is headed to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jackson has only played in 14 games this season due to injury but has averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists a game when he has played, plus is shooting 37.8 percent from three. Jackson is making $18 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $80 million contract he inked back in 2015. He is a free agent this summer.

Why the Clippers? They are contenders, and Jackson is friends with Paul George.

The Clippers get two things out of this. First, they get a third point guard who can spell Patrick Beverley 10-12 minutes a night down the stretch (and fill in if Beverley suffers an injury). Second, the Clippers keep a playmaking guard away from the Lakers.

Detroit saves a little money and takes another step to clear the roster for a rebuild. They have Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight at the point guard spot, don’t be surprised if they call up a few guys from the G-League to see if they can find a longer-term option.

Adam Silver acknowledges ratings drop as NBA tries to connect young viewers to broadcasts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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One of the NBA’s great strengths is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

One of the NBA’s great challenges is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

That means a lot of NBA fans are cord cutters — or, never had a cord to begin with — and don’t consume their entertainment the way their parents and grandparents did. Much the way we do a poor job measuring the economy by doing it the same way we did a century ago, using traditional Neilson rating measures is a poor way to judge the number of eyeballs on a game. Viewership is evolving.

But make no mistake, traditional ratings are down for the NBA, both nationally and at the regional level. Nationwide ratings are down by 12 percent, including 13 percent on TNT and 16 percent on ABC. On the regional level, the Sports Business Journal reports ratings are down by 13 percent. That is due to some big drops in certain markets (the Bay Area, for example), while the NBA says that ratings are up in 13 of the 28 markets that have reliable Neilson numbers (28 cities because Toronto and Denver are not included, the latter of which has a coverage/cable dispute that has much of the greater Denver region unable to view games at home).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver owned the drop during All-Star weekend. He added that while the league could blame injuries to players that would be draws  — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, Zion Williamson with the Pelicans, Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, etc. — the bigger issue is connecting those younger viewers to NBA broadcasts.

“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.

“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.

“Again, I think it’s a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues…

“So it’s not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I’m super confident over time we’ll work through it because there remains enormous interest in our players and our game.”

Silver also showed at the NBA’s tech summit where he thinks the broadcast of NBA games is headed, trying to bring the courtside experience into the home (with an assist from Bill Murray).

Silver isn’t alone in thinking this way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for one, said basically the same thing recently.

A well-respected media consultant recently told Forbes magazine he doesn’t think this ratings downturn is going to hurt the league in 2025 when it’s time to negotiate a new broadcast deal.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

That’s the vision Adam Silver sees. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect those young viewers to the content. Then to stop measuring viewership the way our grandparents did.