Associated Press

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

6 Comments

The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.

Jarrett Jack reportedly reaches non-guaranteed deal with Pelicans

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After knee injuries and surgeries sidelined Jarrett Jack for the better part of two seasons, he was back last season with the Knicks and showed he’s got some game left in those 34-year-old legs. He started 56 games for New York, averaging 7.5 points and 5.6 assists per night, and while his shooting has slipped (an unimpressive 48.9 true shooting percentage, and shooting 29.1 percent from three) he showed he still could have a role in the NBA.

That role may be back with the Pelicans. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

Jack has a chance here, because while the Pelicans are bringing a lot of guards to camp there is only one worth trusting, Jrue Holiday. He is a borderline All-Star. After that, they are putting a lot of trust in Elfrid Payton as a point guard (to call the feeling on him around the league “divisive” would be kind), and behind them there are Ian Clark, Frank Jackson, and Trevon Bluiett. A solid veteran like Jack, asked to play a smaller role than he did in New York ( playing 25 minutes a night), could work.

The Pelicans are going to have one of the most interesting training camps in the league, because it is an actual tryout with roster spots and minutes up for grabs. They are not going through the motions in the Big Easy.

David Fizdale focused on foundation, not wins this season for Knicks

AP Photo
4 Comments

This is the first of NBC’s NBA preview stories, with at least one a day appearing on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, starting with the Knicks.

Phil Jackson was once in this exact same spot, saying almost the exact same things.

When he was hired, the Zen Master talked about changing the culture of the New York Knicks. He talked about defense, about building slowly and laying a foundation that would last long beyond his tenure in New York. He promised sustained success.

Then he decided to shortcut all of that and go get Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee and try to win now with what was left of Carmelo Anthony’s career. (He did a lot of other things wrong, too, in the name of the triangle.) When that inevitably failed, the Knicks were back to square one and stuck with contracts that are still an anchor on the franchise today. If there has been one consistent thing from the Knicks for more than a decade now, it has been taking the quick fix.

For the Knicks, the 2018-19 season is about getting back to foundation building. This time patiently. No shortcuts. No skipping steps.

“Culture and accountability. I’ll be putting those words on walls in a lot of places” new coach David Fizdale said at his introductory press conference. “They’re very cliché in a lot of ways, but I’ve really learned through my experience that I’ve gotten to live a lot of these words and fail through these words and achieve great things with these words and I hope I’d be able to communicate that and share that with these group of men. It takes so much to win in this league and if one person is off in one way it crumbles.”

Fizdale — with Steve Mills and Scott Perry running the front office — have talked about culture, accountability, building slowly, laying a foundation that will last through Kristaps Porzingis’ tenure and beyond.

Those need to be more than words this season — which starts with patience and buy-in from owner James Dolan. Not a man exactly known for those things. Dolan is the reason for the constantly shifting tides and sense of paranoia that seems to pervade the organization. Fizdale, Mills, and Perry all said they had a commitment from Dolan to do this the right way this time. No step skipping. Dolan needs to stick with that, and those three need to manage their owner when he starts to read tabloid headlines about his team and gets an itch.

With this being Fizdale’s first season, those three should have room to operate for a while, which makes the 2018-19 Knicks season about Fizdale building a foundation — not about wins or making the playoffs this season. (It’s not impossible that happens in an East that gets a little shaky around those final few playoff slots, but decisions can’t be made with that as the goal.) It’s about not “skipping steps,” a phrase that came up repeatedly (almost to the point of annoyance) when Fizdale was introduced as the Knicks’ coach.

The first step? When asked at that press conference what the first thing he needed to establish, Fizdale didn’t hesitate: “Player relationships.” Weeks later, he backed that up by getting on a plane and flying to Latvia and meeting with Porzingis in Europe. A meeting that reportedly went well. Fizdale challenged him.

“The best way to describe him is he’s the future of the NBA,” Fizdale said. “Look around who’s playing (deep in the postseason). They all got guys super long, super athletic, super skilled, super tough-minded. He fits all of the qualities of a megastar and a guy who can really propel a franchise forward to high places.”

All true, but it will not help the Knicks on the court in the short term, Porzingis remains out following a torn ACL and his return date uncertain (my guess is we see him later in the season, but he could miss it all). In the short term, Fizdale needs to develop other players, starting with building the game of rookie Kevin Knox, who showed a lot of potential at Summer League.

Then Fizdale needs to work with and decide how good Frank Ntilikina really is (he did not impress in Las Vegas this summer). Is a change of scenery and a new coach what Mario Hezonja needed to get closer to his potential? Where does the talented but raw rookie Mitchell Robinson fit in?

None of those players mentioned above have even turned 24 yet — player development is going to be crucial for the Knicks. Not just this season, either, but critical if the Knicks are going to draw a big free agent next summer (big names will want to know the Knicks core is ready to take the next steps).

Next on the agenda, Fizdale has to make the defense respectable — and make playing hard on defense part of that new team culture. The last time the Knicks had a defense in the top half of the league it was 2012, and you were still listening to “Gangnam Style” and “Call Me Maybe.”

“I want to get up and down the court. I want to share the basketball. I want to attack the paint. But none of that will start without us being a great defensive team,” Fizdale said. “You know, we’re going to be a team that really plays a pressure, physical style of basketball. Get a lot of deflections, try to get a lot of steals, get into the open court, earn the right to go play a more free-flowing, attacking style of offense.”

That attacking offense will be more modern and positionless if Fizdale has his way.

“You hear him talk a lot about positionless basketball, not being afraid to try different combinations,” Mills said. “With where the game is going today, that’s a really appealing quality that he brings.”

Last season, the Knicks shot selection sucked — they were third worst in the league in percentage of shots either at the rim or from three. Expect that to change. Fizdale’s problems with Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies became trying to drag a veteran team into the modern age against its will (and not handling those relationships well enough), but with the Knicks he will not meet that resistance.

Does that mean what Knicks fans have begged for — more Porzingis at the five?

“Why limit it? Why put a ceiling on it?” Fizdale said. “I just see so many different ways to use him. Obviously, if you play him at some 5, it’s like that super-lineup you’re always seeing from different teams—I don’t even know how you match up with him. He can play some 4. If you have another speed guy at the 4, you might even be able to play positionless.”

It all sounds good, but getting that foundation in place this season will be a bumpy ride. Mistakes will come and players will have to learn from them. Wins will not be easy to come by, losses will pile up. This is New York, the pressure will come with those losses. Fizdale and the Knicks have to focus past all that on the long term — it’s not about this season. It’s about the foundation, it’s about the culture.

Install that right, get Porzingis back, land a free agent next summer, then the focus changes. But to get there, the Knicks have to learn the lessons of Phil Jackson — and so many before him — and can’t start skipping steps. That is the most significant culture change needed at Madison Square Garden.

Report: Knicks plan to trade or stretch Joakim Noah before training camp

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
3 Comments

The Knicks reportedly planned to stretch Joakim Noah after Sept. 1 if they didn’t trade him. Waiting until September would allow them to eat his entire $18,530,000 this season.

Well, it’s a couple weeks into September, and Noah remains on New York’s roster.

What gives?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

This is a very patient approach to a very impatient move.

The Knicks will almost certainly stretch Noah. It’s unlikely they’ll find a trade partner without attaching sweeteners that would make the deal no longer worth doing.

Once stretched, Noah will count $18,530,000 against the cap this season then $6,431,667 each of the following three years. The Knicks would lose the ability to use his contract in a trade later or even keep him if they strike out in 2019 free agency, which would preserve space for 2020 and 2021.

If they waited until landing a free agent next summer, the Knicks could still stretch Noah with the same effect then.

Unless he agrees to a buyout, letting Noah leave now would mostly be a favor to him. He’s not in New York’s plans, and he surely doesn’t want to sit on the bench for the next year or two while waiting for a longshot trade or just to get waived later.

So, he can wait another couple weeks, though unfortunately, it doesn’t appear as if he’ll land with the Timberwolves.

Ruining potential jokes, Timberwolves reportedly will not pursue Joakim Noah

Getty Images
2 Comments

NBA Twitter has had a lot of fun mocking Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves for getting the old Bulls band back together — Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Derrick Rose, and now Luol Deng are all reunited with Thibodeau in Minnesota.

And of course, there is one piece missing — Joakim Noah.

The Knicks are expected to reach a buyout/waive-and-stretch with Noah fairly soon, a deal similar to what the Lakers did with Deng to free up cap space for next season. The Knicks want to go big in the 2019 free agent market.

So Thibodeau is going to complete the TimberBulls collection, right? Apparently not. Marc Stein of the New York Times threw a wet blanket on that Wednesday.

So much for the jokes.

A few teams could bring Noah in for a workout, but his game was in serious decline when Phil Jackson signed him to that deal, at this point good luck finding scouts around the league who think Noah can contribute much. Noah may be able to land a deal overseas, but it’s hard to picture an NBA contract in his future.