LeBron’s Knicks comments prompt defense from Porzingis, Kanter

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LeBron James has been a kind of mentor to Dallas Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr., and this weekend the Cleveland Cavaliers forward made comments that turned heads about the New York Knicks passing on the NC State product in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Speaking to reporters, James praised Smith Jr.’s athletic ability and said that, “The Knicks passed on a really good one. Dallas got the diamond in the rough.”

Of course, that comment was seen as a dig at the Knicks and perhaps former team president Phil Jackson. Smith Jr. went at No. 9, and the Knicks took fellow PG prospect Frank Ntilikina at No. 8.

Now that the dust has settled on LeBron’s comment, folks in New York are expanding that interpretation to include disrespect to Ntilikina as well. On Sunday, several New York teammates including Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter came to the defense of the French point guard.

Via ESPN:

“I mean, I don’t know why he made those comments, but all I can say is we love Frank, we’re happy with him,” Kristaps Porzingis told reporters after the Knicks’ practice on Sunday. “He’s doing a great job. He’s playing great, and he’s doing what he’s supposed to. And I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple.”

“I don’t care who, I just cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that, because when I play for an organization, I see my teammates and that organization as like a family,” Kanter told reporters on Sunday. “And it doesn’t matter if it’s LeBron or whoever it is, I cannot just let him disrespect him like that. The coaches, the GMs, the president, this organization knows what they’re doing. … I mean, come on. That’s a rookie. You cannot just say anything like that about him.

“I don’t care, it doesn’t matter LeBron or whoever it is. I don’t care who. I cannot let anyone disrespect my family like that.”

For his part, Ntilikina wasn’t worried about what LeBron said about him. “I think in life people can think whatever they want,” said Ntilikina. “However, it’s not gonna affect us and me.”

It’s always funny to see how NBA players turn things like this on their head to use it for motivation. Obviously there is some ranking going on from LeBron here, but saying the guy one below you in the draft should have gone in your spot isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened between players. Remember, this is a league where Matt Barnes once got in a fight with Derek Fisher for dating his ex-wife.

NBA players could take a misspelled name on a Starbucks cup and use it to fuel their competitive fire, so in the meantime I suppose we just get to sit here and watch.

Rumor: Pelicans interested in Iman Shumpert, but deal unlikely

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The New Orleans Pelicans are desperate for help at the three.

Solomon Hill — who is better as a small-ball four — was set to play the three, but he is now going to miss most or all of the season with a torn hamstring. The Pelicans are so desperate they worked out Josh Smith, Chase Budinger, and Martell Webster. They need a three who can defend.

Iman Shumpert isn’t that, but he’s close enough that there is interest, according to Basketball Insiders.

A source told Basketball Insiders last week that the Pelicans were among the teams interested in Cleveland Cavaliers forward Iman Shumpert. Since acquiring Jae Crowder from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade, many speculated that Shumpert could be expendable.

Shumpert has been shopped around for a while (but did not ask for a trade, despite reports).

The problem is making a deal. Shumpert is owed $10.3 million this season (with a player option for $11 million next season) and the Pelicans are creeping up on the hard cap they created for themselves. They just traded Quincy Pondexter to the Bulls in a move to create some salary cap space, but the Pelicans would need to send out just about as much salary as Shumpert is owed. Omer Asik fits perfectly as a salary, but there is no way the Cavaliers take him (plus Asik has three years left on his contract, so Cleveland would be adding an extra year of salary). If the Pelicans threw in sweeteners they could try to get a third team to take on Asik, but good luck with that.

The Pelicans have to be looking at guys like Matt Barnes and Shabazz Muhammad, although landing them will not be easy either. That just makes more sense than a Shumpert trade.

Top 15 Free Agents still on the market

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The pickings are slim — the biggest names and best players have been snatched up.

Also, the market is now tight — teams have spent most of their money and now are just rounding out their rosters. There are no more massive contracts to be handed out.

Still, there are some players who can help teams still out there. Here is our list of the Top 15 free agents still available. We’ve broken the list down to unrestricted (the top 10) and restricted (top 5) where the team has the right to match any offer.

TOP 10 UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

1) Pau Gasol. He remains the best player still on the board as an unrestricted free agent — he is still a fundamentally solid big who can score inside, make smart passes, and defend the rim all with a high IQ. There is also no drama here. He will re-sign with the Spurs, he opted out only to help them make moves in free agency. In the coming days, he should re-sign with San Antonio, likely for something around the $16 million he opted out of.

2) Derrick Rose. The music has stopped in the point guard market, and Rose is the one standing without a chair. He’s the best point guard left available, but the market is tight now and he’s going to get a short deal with a team for the minimum or little more. Rose put up solid numbers last season in New York and on paper he looked like an average NBA point guard, but he’s still a defensive liability and is not versatile offensively (nor is he much of a jump shooter). Rumors on where he will land have slowed way down.

3) Shabazz Muhammad. He’s had a couple respectable seasons for the Timberwolves, last season averaging 9.9 points per game and shooting 33.8 percent from three (he was Minnesota’s leading scorer off the bench). He’s not a great defender, but he has improved. He reportedly has drawn some interest from the Knicks, Hawks, Bucks, and Nets but no deal has been forthcoming.

4) Andrew Bogut. There’s an obvious injury risk here — the 32-year-old’s last season ended with a fractured tibia, and he has a history of missing chunks of the season. That said, in a tight free agent market for big men he is the best one on the market when healthy. He is a smart defender, a very good passing big, and he’s an efficient scorer. Cleveland tried to pick him up last season for a reason (then had to waive him after the injury), another contender should consider the move.

5) JaVale McGee. He may be unhappy that the Warriors didn’t offer him more money after last season, but with the market drying up he may need to decide whether he wants to chase another ring or move on. McGee brings some athleticism at the five, some rim protection, and a guy who can finish at the rim.

6) Gerald Henderson. He was solid for the Sixers last season, averaging 9.2 points and 2.6 rebounds a game, shooting 35.3 percent from three. With their backcourt getting crowded, the Sixers waived Henderson, and at this point he’s not going to get close to the $9 million he was going to make last season. There has not been much buzz about where he may land.

7) Matt Barnes. He picked up a ring last season after getting picked up by the Warriors, and at age 37 the feisty forward is still an above replacement level player. Barnes helped the Warriors through the Kevin Durant injury last regular season and still has something in the tank. He’s not going to get more than one year at the veteran minimum level, but at that price there are teams who could use him.

8) Ty Lawson. There’s not a lot of teams looking to add a point guard, but Lawson will get a call from someone. He was above replacement level for the Kings last season and averaged 9.9 points per game, however, he does not space the floor with his shooting. He’d make a respectable backup point.

9) Boris Diaw. The market for the veteran forward is pretty small, and Diaw is now 35, but he could certainly help a team looking for a guy who can provide versatile minutes off the bench, smart passes, and some high IQ play. Plus he comes with his own espresso machine. Diaw averaged just 4.6 points per game and had a PER of 9 last season in Utah, yet they considered him part of the stabilizing veteran influence that helped that team take a step forward.

10) Tony Allen. Grit n’ grind is dead in Memphis, but if another team is looking for a defensive guard who can come in and help them get some stops, Allen is still on the market. His lack of shooting is well known, but there are still teams that could use him. He said he didn’t want a lot of money but wanted to be taken care of by the Grizzlies, now with the market tight he may not get more than the minimum

TOP 5 RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

(Note: The market is very tight for all of these guys, there are no max offers out there, and frankly no more $20 million ones either. These guys mostly have to negotiate with their teams.)

1) Nerlens Noel. He and his agent seemed to think that a big offer sheet — the kind we saw last summer for guys like Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson — would be on the way for Noel, setting up his big payday. Instead, there has been nothing. Part of is that other teams knew Dallas would just match, but part of it was also a tighter market this summer. Noel is a rangy, defensive-minded center who Dallas traded to get at the deadline last season, they see him as part of the future of the franchise. All the money for a massive offer has dried up, and Dallas can play hardball and offer a deal that is in the mid-teens in millions per year. Noel will want north of $20 million per year, but considering his injury history he’s not likely to take the qualifying offer and bet on himself.

2) JaMychal Green. Even more than Noel, this is the guy I thought some team would max out and try to poach, but nothing has come down the line for him. There was this odd note on the Fourth of July…

But since then nothing. Crickets. With Zach Randolph gone there is a bigger role for Green in Memphis, expect him to reach a deal eventually.

3) Mason Plumlee. Last summer his brother Miles Plumlee got a four-year, $52 million deal, and Mason is going to get nowhere near that. The summer of 2016 has proven to be an outlier — everyone got paid, and this year teams sobered up. Denver has the rights for Plumlee, who would be the backup to Nikola Jokic, and with a tight market the Nuggets will get to keep this Plumlee at a very affordable price. The only question now is the number.

4) Nikola Mirotic. Stretch fours are in demand across the league, the fact that Mirotic has had no offer sheets speaks to his inconsistency. He’s a stretch four who shot just 34.2 percent from three last season and doesn’t defend well. He did average 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds a game, he has some strong showings in the final six weeks of the season, but those seem the aberrations. The Bulls will play hardball, but with No. 7 pick Lauri Markkanen being unimpressive at Summer League, the Bulls will want Mirotic back and ready to play.

5) Alex Len. You can’t blame him if he saw Meyers Leonard get four-years, $41 million last season, and Bismack Biyambo get $72 million, and Len thought his payday was coming. As with a lot of guys on the restricted free agent market this year (and still on this list) that big offer sheet from another team never came, now their home team can play hardball. He was solid last season averaging 8 points and 6.6 boards per game, but if Noel and Plumlee aren’t getting offer sheets, neither is Len. He’s going to have to reach a deal with the Suns or play for the qualifying offer and test what will be a tight market next summer.

Report: Kevin Durant will wait until late July, let Warriors sign other players, before inking his deal

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Kevin Durant isn’t going anywhere as a free agent this summer. He will remain a Golden State Warrior. He wants to stay and he wants to win, which is why he already said he would take a little less money so the Warriors could re-sign players such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

Now he’s taking it to the next level, saying he will delay signing his deal — something he could start negotiating on July 1 — until the team’s other players are taking care of. That according to Marc Stein of ESPN.

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant plans to wait until after the team completes the bulk of its summer business before re-signing with the NBA champions, according to league sources….

“Look for (Durant) to sign later in the month,” one source said this week.

The Warriors first order of business this summer will be to sign Stephen Curry to a “designated veteran” super-max contract, a five-year deal starting at $34.7 million (assuming a $99 million salary cap).

Then they will go about trying to shore up their role players. Iguodala, Livingston, Zaza Pachulia, JaVale McGee, David West, and Matt Barnes all become free agents this summer. Iguodala is the one other teams are targeting — including the Spurs, Clippers, and Timberwolves — and it likely will take $10 million to $12 million a year for the Warriors to keep the guy who just finished second in the Sixth Man of the Year voting.

Durant’s moves help with all of this. Durant is expected to sign a 1+1 deal with the Warriors (a two-year contract where he can opt out next summer and get a larger deal), then opt out next summer and get his deal starting close to $35 million a year.

The Warriors are trying to lock up their core for as long as they can, and they should be a force for the next four or five years. However, the price tag will get expensive, and it will be interesting to see how the Warriors handle that when it gets to 2019 and Klay Thompson‘s contract is up, or 2020 when Draymond Green is a free agent.

Report: Knicks owner James Dolan expected to part ways with Phil Jackson Wednesday

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Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting with the Knicks to express his frustration with the way the organization is being run. He is spending the summer working out in Latvia rather than the Knicks’ facilities. If a franchise cornerstone, unicorn of a player skipped the exit meeting with 29 other franchises, the team president and GM would have been knocking on his door the next morning looking to talk about his concerns, listen, and make a guy the team should be building around feels appreciated and listened to.

Instead, Phil Jackson took it as a slight and threatened to trade Porzingis to send a message.

Add that to a treatment of Carmelo Anthony that has free agents seeing the Knicks as a refuge of last resort, not to mention forcing the triangle offense on players who do not want, and there’s a lot of reasons to question Phil Jackson’s leadership of the Knicks.

All of that has James Dolan, the Knicks owner, ready to let go of Jackson and make a change, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports. The move will be sold as a mutual parting of the ways, which is true in the sense that Jackson started to realize in the past week what was about to go down and made it so.

The New York Knicks are planning to part ways with embattled President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson later this morning, league sources told The Vertical.

Owner James Dolan has been weighing Jackson’s future role running the franchise and seriously considering his dismissal despite two years and $24 million-plus left on his contract, league sources told The Vertical….

Dolan has become increasingly concerned about Jackson’s fitness for the job and the long-term prospects of success for the franchise, especially in the aftermath of Jackson entertaining trades for Kristaps Porzingis, the franchise’s 21-year-old burgeoning star, league sources told The Vertical.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN added:

Conversations about what was best for the team’s future between Jackson and Knicks owner James Dolan accelerated this week when the franchise decided it would not buy out embattled forward Carmelo Anthony, sources said….

It had become clear, sources said, that Jackson had no plans to remain beyond the two years left on the five-year contract he initially signed in 2014. So with no clear path forward from the toxic situation with Anthony, a constant public relations war over Jackson’s preferred triangle offense, and new concerns about the organization’s relationship with Latvian phenom and 2015 No. 4 overall pick Kristaps Porzingis, sources said it was clear things had reached a breaking point by the eve of free agency.

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HALLELUJAH.

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With free agency starting in just days, the timing of this is tough, but frankly, the Knicks stand a better chance of landing free agents without Jackson in the mix. Expect current GM and trusted Dolan confidante Steve Mills to get the job temporarily.

When Jackson took over the Knicks it was hoped that for $12 million a year he could keep James Dolan at arm’s length from basketball decisions — he has done that — and that he would finally provide a direction and for the Knicks. The latter part has not happened. He hired Derek Fisher as coach, who realized the Knicks were not ready to run the triangle so he tried to run a hybrid offense, but that never clicked. Fisher also never clicked with the players, and got into a spat with Matt Barnes that was very public. Fisher was let go and Jeff Hornacek was brought in to run his more modern, up-tempo offense, but then he was given Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to go with the aging Anthony, with little else but Porzingis around them, and that didn’t work. Now the Knicks are back to the triangle, and players are not happy.

Jackson is unquestionably one of the great coaches the game has ever seen, a man with a great basketball mind, but the skills of coaching and the skills of running basketball operations are different things.

You can say it’s time for the Knicks to move on from Jackson but If not Jackson, then who?

Go ahead and joke that “anybody is better” but we have seen Dolan’s hires before and know that’s not true. Isiah Thomas is still out there. Much like Dan Gilbert in Cleveland, you don’t want to just fire your GM at this point of the year unless you have the next guy lined up. Does anyone believe Dolan has thought that far ahead? There are plenty of quality candidates, including the released David Griffin from Cleveland, but how fast can the Knicks get a man with a plan in place.

Still, this is a good thing for the franchise. The timing of it is just very Knicks.