Report: Kevin Durant considering Knicks, being recruited by Carmelo Anthony

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When Carmelo Anthony was a free agent last summer, Kevin Durant recruited him to the Knicks.

Durant reportedly pitched Melo on the virtues of New York coach Derek Fisher, who was previously Durant’s teammate with the Thunder.

Now, Melo – who re-signed with the Knicks – is reportedly returning the favor.

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN:

I know for a fact that Carmelo Anthony has been and will continue to recruit Kevin Durant until the cows come home. I’m also hearing that Kevin Durant is giving the New York Knicks consideration.

For what it’s worth, Melo strongly denied Smith’s last major report about him, that the star forward was upset about the Knicks drafting Kristaps Porzingis. That doesn’t mean Smith was wrong, but it’s something.

To the matter at hand, I believe Durant is considering the Knicks. I also believe he’s considering the Thunder and Wizards and…

I doubt Durant has made up his mind about 2016 free agency. Why would he this soon?

But outside Oklahoma City and Washington – the two major favorites for Durant – New York would be my pick to land him. That’s still a small chance, though.

First, the Knicks must prove they have a legitimate chance of winning. I believe the New York market still appeals to players, maybe including Durant. But that’s not enough. Seventeen wins in Phil Jackson’s first full season – especially when he appeared to be targeting a playoff berth – is concerning.

The Knicks should be better this year, though. Melo will likely be healthier, and the roster has improved around him. Free agent center Robin Lopez is a significant upgrade.

Respectability on the court won’t be enough, though. New York also needs to clear cap room.

The Knicks have $67,964,567 committed to eight players. With roster charges, that puts New York $18,861,549 below the projected salary cap of $89 million.

Durant’s starting salary projects to be $25,136,700.

Player options for Arron Afflalo ($8 million) and/or Derrick Williams ($4,598,000) could clear more room. If Durant wants to come, the Knicks would surely do what it takes to dump Jose Calderon ($7,708,427), Kyle O’Quinn ($3,918,750) and/or Jerian Grant (   $1,643,040). The salary cap could also land higher than projected, though that would also raise Durant’s max salary.

Clearing cap space is an obstacle, not impossible.

New York’s market can open the door for free agents considering the Knicks. Durant’s fondness for Fisher only helps, and Melo’s recruiting could help lay the groundwork. But it ultimately falls on Jackson – the team he assembled this season boosting New York’s credibility and his ability to clear cap space and sell Durant on his vision for the Knicks.

Justise Winslow reportedly aced pre-draft interviews. So why did he fall?

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Our own Scott Dargis described Justise Winslow’s draft range as the Knicks at No. 4 through the Heat at No. 10, but it’s difficult  to find others who thought there was even a chance Winslow would fall all the way to Miami.

Here’s how a few rated the Duke forward:

Most seemed to agree he was a clear tier above the players below him on those lists, too.

But Winslow slipped to the Heat at No. 10.

What did NBA teams see that so many of us didn’t?

Whatever it was, it apparently didn’t come out during pre-draft interviews.

Zach Lowe of Grantland:

Twenty-nine teams rolled their eyes in June when Justise Winslow fell to Miami at no. 10 in the draft. Winslow may never become a star, but he has a chance at it, and he blew away executives during the draft interview process.

Lowe is plugged in enough to know how teams perceived Winslow’s interviews. I believe, if there were a major red flag, it didn’t pop up there.

My working theory: The NBA consensus on Winslow was about as high as perceived – and if not quite, within the reasonable margin for error – but the teams picking before the Heat just happened not to like him as much.

Taking Winslow No. 4 would have been too high, and the Knicks made a better call with Kristaps Porzingis. I wasn’t as high on Hezonja as most, but few complained about the Magic taking him at No. 5. Admittedly, his upside is incredible. If a team has an appetite for risk, Hezonja made sense over the safer Winslow.

With respect to Winslow, it really got interesting at No. 6.

The Kings, who picked Willie Cauley-Stein at No. 6, deserve little benefit of the doubt for their drafting acumen. I rated Emmanuel Mudiay higher than Winslow, so I don’t knock Denver for picking the point guard at No. 7. The Pistons took Stanley Johnson over Winslow at No. 8, but that could just be a minority opinion. The Hornets are clearly in win-now mode, so polished senior Frank Kaminsky appealed to them at No. 9. Plus, Michael Jordan is hardly a reputable drafter.

So, a few teams didn’t like Winslow. It doesn’t mean the NBA as a whole thought less of him than it appeared.

If the Celtics were drafting before Miami, they would have taken him – and they offered a boatload of draft picks for that opportunity. I suspect many other teams would have drafted him sooner if positioned to do so.

Maybe something will emerge about why Winslow fell, but it darn sure wasn’t how he played at Duke, and it apparently wasn’t his pre-draft interviews. We’re running out of possibilities.

Lakers’ coaches liked how D’Angelo Russell handled himself, pressure in Summer League

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Nobody was under the pressure D’Angelo Russell was in Las Vegas at the NBA Summer League. Not Karl-Anthony Towns, not Kristaps Porzingis, not anybody. It comes with being the highest Lakers’ draft pick since James Worthy — in Russell’s first game, they had to open the top level of the Thomas & Mack Center for the first time in Summer League history (the Lakers were playing Towns’ Timberwolves, but this was a Lakers’ crowd). The crowds for Lakers games were huge all through Summer League, plus camera crews were popping up around Russell off the court as well. Welcome to the Lakers’ spotlight.

Which made his struggles at Summer League seem more pronounced. He looked slow while the game was moving fast. He averaged 11.8 points per game on 37.7 percent shooting, 11.8 percent from three. He had 3.2 assists and 5.2 turnovers per game. The fact this is that Summer League should be about learning — you can’t read much into his numbers, it’s about development — seemed lost on people. Lakers’ nation is not known for its patience.

But the Lakers’ coaching staff liked the big picture things they saw, Holly McKenzie wrote for Complex Magazine.

The biggest positive that the Lakers coaching staff took from his experience in Vegas was watching how he reacted to adversity. Rather than getting flustered or frustrated with those around him, he paid attention to things he needed to improve on as well as the ways the NBA game is different than college. Russell was the same player to his teammates during practice sessions whether the team had won or lost its previous game.

“It is rare any time you have a rookie [with] so much confidence,” Madsen says. “Most rookies enter the league so timid, really nervous. They were ‘the man’ in college and now going to the NBA, you’re dealing with grown men, you’re dealing with superstars. You’re dealing with financial endorsements that are massive. The pressure is that much higher. D’Angelo’s confidence never wavered and his love of the game never wavered.”

That is a good sign. When I spoke about Russell’s play with someone who saw a lot of him in college, he talked about how Russell took a little bit to adjust to the speed of the collegiate game as well. But once he got his mind around it, he played well enough to get drafted No. 2 — the lesson was to give him time.

The Lakers will do just that. They will sell the Kobe Bryant farewell tour (maybe) this season as the young potential future core — Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle — start to adapt to the NBA game. They will have good veteran mentors like Kobe, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams.

What should matter more Lakers fans is how Russell looks next summer in Las Vegas — has he improved dramatically, has his mind and body caught up with the speed of the game? If Russell is still struggling a year from now, then there should be concern. Right now, he looks like a player learning, sometimes the hard way.

The most overlooked – and maybe most significant – reason Carmelo Anthony won’t waive his no-trade clause this season

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Carmelo Anthony says he’s committed to the Knicks, says he trusts Phil Jackson, says he believes in Kristaps Porzingis.

And that might all be true.

But so is this: Anthony will get a bonus if he’s traded, and that bonus would be larger if he’s traded in 2016-17 or 2017-18 rather than this season. Anthony also has a no-trade clause, giving him final say in if and when he’s dealt.

Those circumstances – perhaps more than anything else – make it likely the star forward will remain with the Knicks this season.

Anthony’s contract contains a 15% trade kicker, which means if traded, he gets a bonus of 15% of the contract’s remaining value (including the season following his early termination option) from the Knicks. That bonus is allocated across the remaining years of his contract before the early termination option proportionate to the percentage of his salary that’s guarantee. Because Anthony’s deal is fully guaranteed, the trade bonus is allocated equally to each season.

But there’s the major catch: Anthony’s compensation – salary plus trade bonus – in the season of the trade can’t exceed his max salary as defined by years of service or 105% his previous salary, whichever is greater.

That’s why trade bonuses for max players have mattered only minimally. There just isn’t much room under the limit for their compensation to increase.

For example, Anthony has $101,606,280 remaining on his contract – 15% of which would be$15,240,942. But if Anthony is traded this year, his trade bonus would be just $2,118,963. That’s his room below the max –105% his previous salary ($23,581,321) minus his actual salary ($22,875,000) – multiplied by the number of years remaining before his early termination option (three).

And the bonus is only so high because Anthony took a smaller raise this season to give the Knicks extra cap space. If he had gotten his full 7.5% raise, as he does in other seasons, he would have already been above his applicable max. So, his trade bonus would have been $0.

But because the salary cap is skyrocketing in coming seasons due to the new national TV contracts, Anthony will be far below his max salary. That leaves room for the trade bonus to matter.

Next year, Anthony’s max projects to near $30 million while his salary will be shy of $25 million. He could accept a trade bonus of twice the difference (twice because he can allocate it over two years). That still won’t get him his full 15%, but it will come much closer than this season.

Remember, we won’t know 2016-17 max salaries until next July. If the cap comes in higher than expected, Anthony could get a higher portion of his potential trade bonus – up to the full 15% of $11,809,692.

If the cap isn’t quite high enough to get him that full amount, he could amend his contract to remove the early termination option just before the trade. That would allow him to allocate the bonus over three years rather than two, which should get him to the full 15%.

By 2017-18, the cap is projected to rise high enough that Anthony would get his full 15% if traded ($8,125,785). Obviously, though, each season Anthony plays reduces the amount of money left on his contract. In fact, the value shrinks even throughout the regular season.

Anthony has an early termination option before the 2018-19 season, so if he wants to leave the Knicks at that point and can still command so much money, he might as well terminate his contract and become a free agent.

Here is the projected trade bonus for Anthony if he’s traded before each season of his contract:

image

Anthony’s bonus won’t change at any point this season. Even at the trade deadline, 15% of his contract’s remaining value will far surpass his potential bonus.

His bonus could begin to decline during the 2016-17 season, depending exactly where the cap lands and whether Anthony is willing to remove his early termination option. By 2017-18, it will matter when in the season he’s dealt.

Really, this whole conversation exposes the perverse incentive of trade bonuses. Anthony’s salary with the Knicks is set unless they renegotiate it upward (the only direction allowable, and why would they do that?), he accepts a buyout (why would he do that?) or he gets traded.

Simply, the only realistic way for Anthony to get a raise before 2018 is to get traded. And the way for him to maximize that raise to get traded in 2016-17 or 2017-18.

Of course, an NBA paycheck is not Anthony’s only concern. Playing in New York creates marketing opportunities he wouldn’t get elsewhere. He must also consider his family – his wife, La La, and son, Kiyan. Does he want to move to a new city? He also probably cares about his legacy, and many would look unfavorably on him bailing on the Knicks after forcing a trade from the Nuggets. There’s a lot to consider.

It’s also easy to see why Anthony would want to leave. The Knicks are (surprisingly patiently) rebuilding, and Anthony is on the wrong side of 30. His window could easily close before New York’s opens.

Don’t underestimate how good Anthony is now, though. Barring injury or major regression, teams will want to trade for him next summer. Remember how strongly he was courted just a year ago? The market for him will probably only expand.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Al Horford, Mike Conley, Hassan Whiteside and Timofey Mozgov could all be free agents next summer. Even add potential restricted free agents like Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond. That’s just nine players. More than nine teams will have max cap room. The ones that strike out on that premier group could very well choose to deal for Anthony rather than splurge on lesser free agents.

Trade bonuses create difficulties in matching salaries, but that’s much easier for teams under the cap. The odds of the Knicks finding a viable trade partner are higher with the cap shooting up. They can probably get a nice package of young players and/or draft picks to enhance rebuilding. That’s especially important, because New York must send the Raptors a first-round pick next year.

This is all hypothetical, though – assessments based on what previous players like Anthony and teams like the Knicks have desired. Anthony and/or the Knicks might buck precedent.

Perhaps, Anthony is totally loyal to the Knicks. But, if he’s not, his trade bonus dictates he should give him the benefit of the doubt this season.

He can reevaluate next summer. He’ll be a year older, and if the Knicks aren’t a year better – and even that might not be enough to get on Anthony’s timeline – he can explore a trade then. And if they have improved, he’ll surely be credited for the turnaround.

It pays to wait.

Literally.

Phil Jackson is optimistic about Knicks coming season, except the start

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The 2015-16 Knicks will be better than last season’s version.

Which is admittedly a pretty low bar to clear, but there are reasons to be optimistic. Carmelo Anthony should be healthy. The additions of players such as Robin Lopez and Arron Afflalo will help now, the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis brings hope for the future.

Just maybe not the start of the season. Phil Jackson is a little concerned about how everything meshes to open the season, he told Charlie Rosen in the last of the Phil Files posts at ESPN.

“We have a number of new players, so they may struggle early as they learn how to play with each other,” he says. “Where we end up as the season progresses is an unknown, but we have improved our roster and have a chance to be a good team.”

Define good. Does Jackson mean good as in better than last season? Then sure. Good as in a playoff team? That’s not an easy road for the Knicks — it would take a 21-game improvement in the win column to reach last season’s eight seed, and the Knicks likely need to do better than that. That said, it’s not impossible. Good as in a .500 team? That would take a 24-game improvement, and while that does happen it is also rare (and usually involves bringing in an elite player). Don’t bet the rent is what I’m saying.

However, Jackson is optimistic, and he lavishes praise on his new players in speaking to Rosen. Look at what he said about Afflalo.

“Some NBA watchers have questioned whether or not Arron has anything left as he nears his 30th birthday, but I’m positive that he does. He has a gym in his Las Vegas home and he works out religiously. Actually, he’s such a hard-worker that he holds his teammates accountable if they try to cut corners in any way. I look for Arron to be a leader on this team. He wanted us and we wanted him, so Arron and the Knicks is a very good match.”

I’ll buy that, I think Afflalo is a bit underrated. Of course, when Jackson heaps praise on the signing of SashaVujacic, you know he’s spinning.

“Except for a 10-day contract with the Clippers in 2014, Sasha hasn’t played in the NBA for four years, but at age 31 he still has plenty of game. He’s a classic streak-shooter who, when he’s zeroed in, can totally change a game in three minutes. He’ll be a significant force for us coming off the bench.”

Vujacic does know the triangle offense. So there’s that. But when a guy’s out of the league through his prime and you bring him back after that… it’s not traditionally a recipe for success.