Concerns about Knicks organization reportedly at heart of why free agents stayed away

Getty Images
8 Comments

It’s not about the last 20 years, most NBA players don’t account for “ancient” history when choosing a free agent destination. It’s about the previous five years or so.

If you’re thinking about the last five years, what do you know of the Clippers? Went to the playoffs every year, have player-friendly and loved Doc Rivers as coach, was the fun show of Lob City, rebuilt well on the fly, have Jerry West in the front office and an owner worth about $50 billion in Steve Ballmer.

What do you know about the Nets in the last five years? Playing in Brooklyn now, and management there has built a player-friendly culture built on guys who play hard, and they have made smart rebuilding decision after smart rebuilding decision under Sean Marks. This is a playoff team already poised to take a step forward.

That’s now what players think of the Knicks, according to a story in the New York Times by David Waldstein.

Yet interviews with agents and other basketball executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing any future business with the Knicks, bear out the perception that players would rather not deal with an organization seen as dysfunctional, though there are more nuanced explanations for the radioactivity of the team, as well…

But there is also the remote location of the Knicks’ practice facility — in suburban Westchester County, nearly 30 miles from Manhattan, a long commute that complicates living arrangements — and most recently there has been the surprising success of the Nets…

Players around the league, according to the agents, have taken note of the Knicks’ instability: There have been 10 coaches since Van Gundy left in 2001 and almost as many top executives, some with impressive résumés, like Isiah Thomas, Donnie Walsh and Phil Jackson. Now [Steve] Mills and Scott Perry, the general manager, are at the helm.

James Dolan is painted as the villain, the Knicks need to overcome that perception.

Perry and Mills have done a good job this summer in this sense: After striking out with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they didn’t throw max contracts at second- and third-tier guys who would hamstring the organization going forward, as the Knicks have done in the past. They stuck with building around youth — R.J. Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson — while adding smart veteran contracts such as Julius Randle (a two-year deal). Keep improving, but keep the financial flexibility go after the next star.

Think about the struggling franchises that have made big moves. The Lakers did it by putting together enough good young players that they could make an interesting offer for Anthony Davis. The Nets had young players with talent such as D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris. The Clippers may or may not get Kawhi Leonard, but they also have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell plus veterans such as Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley who are respected around the NBA.

The Knicks need to spend a couple of seasons getting there, getting that core talent level up, then the rest of it can come together.

And then the stories about why players are staying away will stop.

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Adam Hunger/Getty Images
0 Comments

Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
Al Bello/Getty Images
0 Comments

Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.

Antetokounmpo talks about plans for his 28th birthday while holding Simpsons plush

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
0 Comments

Happy birthday, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak turns 28 today.

After he dropped a casual (for him) 34-13-5 line in the Bucks’ win over the Magic last night, Antetokounmpo discussed his birthday plans. He’s not going out, maybe just dinner, playing with his kids, and once they are asleep… ya know.

I feel safe saying Antetokounmpo is the first NBA player to talk about birthday sex while holding a Homer J. Simpson plush doll.

If you’re asking, why the Simpson doll… why not? Bucks reserve forward Sandro Mamukelashvili won it at Universal Studios, brought it to the game, left it behind in the locker room and Antetokounmpo appropriated it.

In a world where most postgame press conferences are formulaic and filled with cliches it’s good to see a player willing just to be himself and have some fun behind the mic.