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Knicks try to sell they built the team they wanted in free agency

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GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Free agency was only a few hours old when the New York Knicks acknowledged their fans’ disappointment.

Three months later, the Knicks have changed their tune.

Not only was free agency a success, they said at media day to tip-off training camp, but fans are going to forget about who the Knicks didn’t get because they’re going to love who they did.

“These are guys that our fans are going to like, the toughness that they bring every day when they come to the court to play for the Knicks,” team President Steve Mills said Monday.

The Knicks signed seven new players in free agency, adding Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Taj Gibson, Marcus Morris, Elfrid Payton, Wayne Ellington and Reggie Bullock. But by that time, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving had already committed to Brooklyn in the early hours of free agency, and Mills released a statement that night saying he understood that fans could be disappointed but that the team remained confident in its plans.

And though the Knicks had enough money to afford two top free agents, Mills said the team they ended up assembling was exactly the type of roster the front office targeted all along.

“So we’re excited about the group of guys that we have,” Mills said. “Obviously based on the timeline and how we signed those guys it was clear they were on our radar and they were part of what we thought the future of the Knicks could be and what it should look like.”

It’s certainly good enough, combined with No. 3 draft pick RJ Barrett, to improve on what was an NBA-low 17 wins last season. The physicality in the frontcourt and the shooting just about everywhere should exceed anything the 2018-19 Knicks could offer.

“I can tell you this: First and foremost, it’s not going to be like last year,” said Morris, who said the Knicks have a lot of “dogs” on the roster who won’t back down from competition.

The Knicks seem content to view themselves as a hard-working group of underdogs who together can overcome a lack of individual talent.

“The fact that none of them has been heralded as superstars, they understand that they’re going to need each other to win games,” coach David Fizdale said.

Other things of note from Knicks media day:

OWNER ON BOARD

Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan predicted the Knicks were going to have a successful summer during a radio interview last season, which seemed to hint that the Knicks believed they would get some of the top talent that was available. But Mills said Dolan was aware of what the Knicks were planning and satisfied with the results.

“Jim knew we were going to have a successful free agency period and we feel like we did that,” Mills said. “He was on board with what we were doing.”

GETTING THE POINT

The Knicks’ most interesting roster situation in training camp could be at point guard, where Payton will compete with former lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Smith came from Dallas last season in the trade for Kristaps Porzingis, and Ntilikina hopes to jump-start what’s been a largely disappointing Knicks career after playing well for France when it beat the U.S. at the Basketball World Cup.

“I think it’s going to be a great battle,” Fizdale said. “I think they’re all going to push each other. I think they’re going to compete their butts off.”

INJURY UPDATES

The Knicks said Bullock is making progress from a cervical disk herniation and will be re-evaluated in early November. They added that swingman Damyean Dotson likely won’t play in the preseason because of a right shoulder injury but could be ready for the start of the season.

ROOKIE’S ROLE

Barrett was the Knicks’ highest draft pick since taking Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing with the No. 1 selection in 1985, but he won’t walk right into a starting spot. Fizdale said the swingman from Duke will be treated like Kevin Knox, last season’s first-round pick who had to earn his minutes.

“It’ll be the same but probably tougher on RJ because I think, again, this team is more talented,” Fizdale said. “I think we have more guys that he has to fight with to get those minutes, but I think the kid is up for it.”

Report: Knicks canceled meeting with Kawhi Leonard

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The Knicks put out pathetic spin about why they didn’t get Kevin Durant.

Now – with Kawhi Leonard considering the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers – the Knicks are trying to control the narrative about their pursuit of him. Leonard and the Knicks didn’t even meet despite the team’s confidence it’d get a meeting.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source, Leonard agreed to meet with the Knicks, but not until Wednesday after finishing with the Clippers and Lakers.

That plan was scratched by Knicks’ brass over logistics.

The Knicks had spent almost all of their $70 million cap space in the first 20 hours of free agency, knowing if they waited until the Leonard meeting Wednesday, the players they did sign could be off the market. It was too big a risk, knowing they likely would finish fourth behind the Raptors, Lakers and Clippers.

I think the Knicks are correct: Leonard almost certainly wouldn’t have picked them. Best we can tell, Leonard likes winning and the West Coast and dislikes the spotlight. New York fits none of those parameters.

But it’s not as if the Knicks pivoted to some great plan by not waiting on Leonard. They’re instead signing Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, Reggie Bullock, Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington and Elfrid Payton to expensive, but at least short, contracts. That underwhelming collection of players will likely lead to another losing season. If one or two become keepers or get traded for positive value, that’d be nice.

Chasing Leonard would have offered far more upside. He could’ve immediately vaulted New York into a strong playoff team.

But, again, it seems highly unlikely the Knicks would’ve landed Leonard.

So, it’s amusing to watch the Knicks spin like this. Their offseason went poorly.

That probably would have been the case whether or not they met with Leonard.

Report: Knicks signing Wayne Ellington to two-year, $16M contract

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The Knicks continue with their plan of not signing Kevin Durant and instead signing other guys.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

At this price, Wayne Ellington might be the Knicks’ best signing of the summer. He’s a good outside-shooting wing, and teams need those. Ellington is 31, so he probably won’t get any better than he is now, especially defensively. But he’s a helpful player with a reasonable salary.

Since raising concerns about their floor spacing by signing bigs Julius Randle, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson to expensive deals, New York has added two shooters in Reggie Bullock (two years, $21 million) and Ellington. Bullock and Ellington will help spread the floor. But spacing is determined more by the quantity of must-defend shooters in a lineup rather than the overall shooting ability of that lineup. The Knicks still look like they’ll fall short of quality spacing.

In bid to avoid luxury tax, Heat waive Rodney McGruder

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The Heat significantly reduced their impending luxury-tax bill by dealing Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington for Ryan Anderson shortly before the trade deadline. The only surprise: Miami didn’t make another trade to escape the tax entirely.

But it might not be too late to dodge the tax.

The Heat waived Rodney McGruder yesterday. If another team claims him, Miami will get under the luxury-tax line this season.

McGruder won’t be eligible for the upcoming playoffs, and he’ll be a free agent this summer. But a team claiming him can this offseason:

  • Make him a restricted free agent with a $3,021,354* qualifying offer
  • Count him against the salary cap at just that amount until he’s signed or renounced
  • Use Early Bird Rights to exceed the cap to re-sign him to a starting salary up to the estimated average player salary

*Correction: McGruder is entitled to a higher qualifying offer because he met the starter criteria.

McGruder is a solid 3-and-D wing with some complementary skills. Plenty of teams would benefit from having the 27-year-old.

Including the Heat, who are still in the playoff race. But they deemed saving money more important than maximizing their long odds of reaching the postseason.

A team claiming McGruder off waivers must use a trade exception or cap space and have an open roster spot. No team will cross this year’s luxury-tax line to add McGruder. The Clippers make a lot of sense, especially because they could use his low cap hold next summer while pursuing star free agents. But teams below the Clippers in the standings will have priority and could also make a claim.

If McGruder goes unclaimed, Miami will lose him and still be on the hook for the luxury tax. So, this is a high-stakes waiver period for the Heat.

Pacers use size to pull off big 111-102 win over Pistons

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Thaddeus Young scored 19 points and Domantas Sabonis added 18 points and 12 rebounds Monday night to help the Indiana Pacers snap a three-game losing streak with a 111-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons.

It was a crucial win for the Pacers, who had lost seven of their previous eight and their grip on potentially having home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Myles Turner chipped in with 17 points and five blocks.

Wayne Ellington scored a season-high 26 points and Andre Drummond had 18 points and 17 rebounds for the Pistons. Detroit started the night in the No. 6 spot with a 1 1/2-game lead over Orlando for the final playoff spot in the East.

But after a sluggish start, the struggling and short-handed Pacers finally got the spark they needed from their two big men, Sabonis and Turner.

Sabonis made his first five shots as Indiana charged back from an early 10-point deficit, and Turner made the big plays in the second half, including a 3-pointer and two free throws late in the third to give the Pacers an 87-80 edge.

The combination was just enough for the Pacers to slip past the Pistons, who were firing on all cylinders early to take a 33-23 lead.

Sabonis spurred a 12-5 second-quarter charge that got the Pacers within 43-41 and Indiana closed out the half on a 7-2 run to take a 59-55 lead.

When the recharged Pistons rallied in the third quarter with runs of 9-0 and 7-0 to retake a 77-74 lead, Sabonis answered with a short hook shot, Bojan Bogdanovic scored on a fast break and Turner scored seven points in the decisive 13-3 run that gave Indiana an 87-80 lead after the third quarter.

Sabonis also started the game-sealing 9-0 run with a 9-footer early in the fourth.