Elfrid Payton

Knicks wing Reggie Bullock
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Report: Knicks likely to guarantee Reggie Bullock’s salary for next season

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After striking out on stars Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard, the Knicks found a type last summer – marginal veterans who’d take big two-year contracts with the second season barely or completely unguaranteed.

The hope was giving New York a competitive team (failed), trade bait (failed so far) and flexibility. At least the flexibility will still come, with decisions on salaries for next season:

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Bullock’s modest option year is likely to be picked up, according to an NBA source.

Does Berman’s source have direct knowledge of the Knicks’ plan? The possibility is what makes this interesting.

Otherwise, anyone with a general understanding of the league could guess. This would be my guess, too.

Bullock is a good 3-point shooter with the size to defend wings (though he doesn’t consistently actualize that defensive potential). Those types of players are in high demand.

Since signing Bullock, New York has changed presidents from Steve Mills to Leon Rose. The Knicks might also seek to maximize their cap space. So, there was reason to suspect they might waive Bullock.

But it’s a weak free-agent class. Bullock should have positive value on a $4.2 million salary. With only one more season left on his contract, New York won’t be stuck long-term with the 29-year-old if something goes wrong. He’s worth keeping (and I nearly selected him in our mock expansion draft).

A parting reminder: The Knicks got Bullock at such a bargain only because he failed his physical. They initially planned to pay him twice as much.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division. Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Maurice Harkless keeps getting traded. He’s unbothered

Knicks forward Maurice Harkless
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Maurice Harkless is a solid NBA starter. He works hard. He fits in. He produces. Just last season, he was starting in the Western Conference finals.

In fewer than nine months since, Harkless has technically been traded two times – effectively three times, and it easily could have been four times. He started this season with the champion-contending Clippers and got sent to the lowly Knicks just before the trade deadline.

None of the deals were primarily about Harkless’ on-court ability. His $11,011,234 salary on an expiring contract just made him highly exchangeable as teams sought to achieve greater objectives.

A prominent casualty of the NBA’s transactions era, Harkless has elicited sympathy. Told of that sentiment, Harkless stared blankly before chuckling.

“Don’t feel bad for me,” Harkless said, breaking into full laughter.

Harkless is a true professional. He has perspective both outside the NBA (“A lot of people that have got worse things to deal with”) and inside the NBA. He has been traded four (effectively, five) times in his eight-year career.

Heck, the first trade came before his career really began.

Harkless is one of just six players in the last 20 years who signed his rookie-scale contract then got traded before the ensuing season.*

The 76ers drafted him No. 15 in 2012 then included him in the blockbuster four-team Dwight Howard trade, which landed Andrew Bynum in Philadelphia.

*The other five:

For the 76ers, the trade as a disaster. For Harkless, it came just in time. He was set to sign a lease his next trip to Philadelphia.

He joined the Magic and showed promise his first couple seasons. But his role shrank his third year.

Still, Harkless left an impression that season on a rookie teammate named Elfrid Payton, who now reunites with Harkless in New York.

“Everybody comes from a position where they’ve always been The Man, so to speak, quote unquote,” Payton said. “But when you get here, everybody’s like that. So, somebody has to sit down. Even when he was in those situations, he still works hard, came to the gym on time, put in extra work.”

After the season, Orlando traded Harkless to the Trail Blazers for a top-55-protected pick – literally the smallest-allowable return, what amounted to nothing. He didn’t take offense.

“All I cared about was I was in a new situation,” Harkless said. “I didn’t care how I got there.”

Harkless blossomed in Portland. He re-signed for four years, $42 million in 2016 – the only big contract the Trail Blazers didn’t quickly regret from that summer’s spending spree.

That contract contained a $500,000 bonus if Harkless made 35% of his 3-pointers in 2016-17. In the final week of the season, Harkless was at 35.1%. Another miss would drop him to 34.9%.

Harless – who’d been attempting a 3-pointer every 11 minutes of playing time – finished the season going more than 100 straight minutes without shooting a 3 to clinch the money.

What an all-time classic example of a player understanding the business.

Harkless helped the Trail Blazers reach the 2019 Western Conference finals and figured the team would remain intact.

Instead, with starting center Jusuf Nurkic injured, Portland landed longtime-target Hassan Whiteside from the Heat last summer. Harkless’ salary got him included in the trade.

But Miami didn’t want Harkless. In order to complete their sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler, the Heat re-routed Harkless – and a first-round pick! – to the Clippers in what became a four-team deal.

Harkless played well in L.A. as the third forward behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. It’s incredible the Clippers got a first-round pick for taking Harkless, a contributor on an expiring contract.

That contract also made Harkless key matching salary when the Clippers upgraded before the trade deadline. They sent him (with draft picks this time) to New York for Marcus Morris.

The Knicks are heading to the lottery and don’t have a clear need for a veteran like Harkless. It wouldn’t have been surprising if they flipped him before the deadline for a worse player and a pick. Maybe they just didn’t have enough time to work out that deal, especially given their chaotic front-office situation.

New York would accommodate a Harkless buyout if he wants, according to Marc Berman of the New York Post. Harkless would be playoff eligible elsewhere if waived by March 1.

For now, Harkless – a New York native who played at St. John’s – is excited about joining the Knicks.

There can be a lot of distraction and hassle with playing on a hometown team. It isn’t for everyone. But Harkless just saw firsthand how Leonard and George are handling playing in their native Southern California.

“They love it,” Harkless said.

This is a new experience, even for the veteran Harkless.

So is getting traded during the season. His previous trades all happened during the summer.

Last week, Harkless went from L.A. to New York for a physical then joined his new team in Detroit. Still learning the playbook, he didn’t play against the Pistons. The Knicks continued to Atlanta, but Harkless didn’t play against the Hawks, either, due to illness. New York will host the Wizards on Wednesday.

“It’s a whirlwind,” Harkless said.

Elfid Payton, two Grizzlies players suspended; Jae Crowder, Marcus Morris fined

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Elfrid Payton wasn’t backing down from his actions.

Hope he got his $55,000 worth.

He started a scuffle near the end of the Grizzlies win over Payton’s Knicks on Wednesday night. After a Dillon Brooks three with less than a minute to go in a decided game, New York’s Julius Randle got lazy with an inbounds pass, Memphis’ Jae Crowder took it, went to the corner, and took a three. Payton ran up and shoved him to the ground, staring an incident that got himself, Crowder, and Marcus Morris all ejected. After the game, Payton said:

“Standing on that. I’d a did it again. Didn’t matter who took that shot. Don’t disrespect the game like that.”

As expected, the league came down with its punishment Thursday and Payton was suspended for one game.

Also suspended were Memphis’ Marko Guduric and Jaren Jackson Jr. for leaving the bench during the incident (the league has always been strict about that one).

Crowder was fined $25,000 for “escalating” the incident.

The Knicks’ Marcus Morris was fined $35,000 for “escalating an on-court altercation… and for offensive and derogatory comments made to the media following the game.” Those comments deserved a fine.

Morris quickly apologized on Twitter, but he wasn’t going to get a lot of backing from his own team after that.

That’s a lot of money and energy spent because a guy decided to take a three — while the clock was still running — during a professional basketball game.

Elfrid Payton stands by shoving Jae Crowder: ‘Don’t disrespect the game like that’

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Marcus Morris embarrassed himself after the Knicks’ loss to the Grizzlies last night.

But he wasn’t the only New York player to do so.

Elfrid Payton started the in-game fight after Jae Crowder stole the ball then shot a 3-pointer late. Payton pushed down Crowder following the release.

Then, Payton doubled down post-game.

SNY:

Payton:

Standing on that. I’d a did it again. Didn’t matter who took that shot. Don’t disrespect the game like that.

Let me get this straight: Shooting the ball during a basketball game is disrespecting the game, but shoving someone is not? Right.

Did Crowder disrespect the Knicks? Absolutely. They can take umbrage with that.

But spare me the holier-than-though nonsense about disrespecting the game.