Three Things to Know: Carmelo Anthony could learn from Dwight Howard about grabbing last chance

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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.

1) Carmelo Anthony has got his last chance, can he grab it like Dwight Howard has his? He got one last opportunity. It came in an unexpected place, but that didn’t matter because this was it — things work out here or his NBA career ends now. Be in shape, accept your role and know this is not your team, play hard nightly, defend with energy, don’t be a diva and demand touches how and where you want them, and don’t pout or be a distraction if things don’t go exactly how you want them to.

That was Dwight Howard’s situation entering this season — and he’s done all those things and given the Lakers the inside presence they need. Howard’s raw numbers are not eye-popping, 7.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per night, but he’s been the team’s best center (allowing Anthony Davis time at his preferred power forward slot). Howard has been a vital part of the Lakers 9-2 start.

Now Carmelo Anthony has his last chance — the Portland Trail Blazers will sign Anthony to a non-guaranteed contract and ask him to fill a role and help their ailing frontcourt.

The particulars are different from Howard, but the theme is the same.

This is it for Anthony, he “2,000 percent” wanted another shot in the NBA, to go out on his terms, well he’s got it on a team that could really use what he brings. However, it’s not his team (it’s Damian Lillard’s) and Anthony will need to accept a role, get buckets at the four in the system (far more catch-and-shoot than isolation), and defend well enough to stay on the court. Do that and he can help this team.

Portland’s 4-8 start made it the perfect team to take a chance on Anthony. This is a smart signing by Portland (a low-risk one because of the non-guaranteed contract).

The Blazers have an elite backcourt. Damian Lillard is playing like an MVP and averaging 30.5 points per game — he’s carrying the offense so far. CJ McCollum has struggled out of the gate, but Portland isn’t really worried about him getting back on track, this is just a little slump.

The frontcourt, however, has been a disaster, mostly due to injuries. Jusuf Nurkic — Portland third-best player last season and a guy critical to their success — is out until likely after the All-Star break from a fractured leg that required surgery. Portland hoped Zach Collins would step into Nurkic’s role, but Collins is out four months following shoulder surgery. Pau Gasol was signed this summer but he has yet to step on the court and is battling a foot issue. Hassan Whiteside came in via trade and the Blazers brass talked him up, but he has played like he always has — sporadic effort and empty calorie stats. Whiteside does not set a good pick, and on a pick-and-roll heavy team that has hurt Lillard and McCollum, who have had to work harder for space.

That has left Anthony Tolliver and Skal Labissiere as rotation players getting significant minutes.

Now enter Carmelo Anthony.

Portland needs what Carmelo can bring — buckets. He’s not going to get old-school isolation touches on the wing (although coach Terry Stotts would be smart to throw him a couple a game), but Anthony in the past has shown he can be a catch-and-shoot guy who can space the floor and hit threes. Portland desperately needs that. They need a guy who takes the shot or moves the ball, not one who stops it or pounds it into the ground a dozen times then makes a decision. Portland needs a four who can defend well enough not to get played off the floor (and you can be sure teams will test Anthony early and often).

Anthony can do all those things. He can be the player that helps turn Portland’s season around.

He just has to grab his chance and take it.

2) Boos rain down on Kristaps Porzingis, but it is Marcus Morris that gets the ultimate revenge with game-winner for Knicks. Kristaps Porzingis’ return to Madison Square Garden went exactly as expected — Knicks fans unleashed their venom on him.

Knicks fans felt betrayed. Porzingis was the Porzingod when he first came to New York, the anointed savior of the franchise who would return it to the promised land (read: playoffs).Porzingis put up numbers and made an All-Star team, but injuries slowed him, and eventually his relationship with then team president Phil Jackson soured to the point KP blew off an exit interview at the end of the season. A new Knicks front office — president Steve Mills, GM Scott Perry, and coach David Fizdale — could not salvage things. Even while out recovering from a torn ACL, the relationship worsened to the point Porzingis and his agent/brother went into Mills’ office and demanded a trade (something the Knicks had privately already been working on). The next day he was sent to Dallas and the Knicks scapegoated him as not wanting to be there.

Knicks fans started in on KP the lay-up lines pregame, and “KP Sucks” chants broke out all night.

However, the ultimate revenge came via Marcus Morris, who drained what proved to be the game-winner with this stepback three (New York won 106-103).

Porzingis finished the night with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting, plus 11 rebounds. Good but not eye-popping numbers, still better than most of his games to start the season. After 20 months off, Porzingis is still shaking off the rust, and getting used to playing next to Luke Doncic (who had a triple-double of 33 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds).

Now this is behind him, and Porzingis can focus on getting his groove back and becoming the All-Star next to Doncic that the Mavericks need — and that would be his ultimate revenge on New York.

3) Paul George scores 33 in debut for Clippers, but Los Angeles still falls to New Orleans. Paul George is smooth — despite missing all of training camp and the first 10 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgeries (plural), he looked fluid in his return to the court Thursday.

And he scored 33 points.

The rust was there. George had defensive miscommunications with teammates and got himself in foul trouble. Also, his handle is not all the way back yet (Jrue Holiday stripped him three times at the end of the game). George needs time on the court.

“That’s the best my shoulders have felt in a really long time, so I knew coming into tonight shooting wouldn’t be a problem,” George added. “Just playing basketball is what I’m lacking right now.”

Holiday was brilliant with 36 points leading the Pelicans to a 132-127 victory. Derrick Favors had a 20/20 game, and Frank Jackson added 23 points off the bench.

Saturday night against Atlanta the Clippers are expected to have George and Kawhi Leonard on the court together. Then we get to witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational Death Star.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.