TrueHoop: New York Knicks
Special to ESPN.com
The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.
Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.
Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.
Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.
Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.
Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.
Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.
Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.
Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.
Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.
Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.
Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.
Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.
Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.
James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.
Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.
Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.
Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.
New York Knicks
Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.
Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.
Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.
Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.
Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.
Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.
Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.
Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.
Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.
Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.
Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.
D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.
With his less-than-super-efficient high scoring average, Anthony might well have symbolized how casual fans get snookered into worshipping false idols. His volume shooting was the past, and players of more balanced yet subtle skill sets were the future. That iso ball that the "eye test" loves was so early Iverson era. It had no place in the NBA’s version of a Moneyball revolution.
Less than four years later, Anthony plays host to a vigorous recruitment effort from advanced-stats godfather and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. Melo is the missing piece in Chicago, the foundation of a new era in Los Angeles. Yes, there are still concerns over whether Anthony will be worth a five-year max contract, and there remains criticism of Anthony's defense. But ultimately, Anthony’s New York adventure has seen a rehabilitation of his game, if not his reputation.
It took some unfortunate injuries to Amar'e Stoudemire, but the Knicks managed to stumble upon a Carmelo Anthony better suited for this era. Playing power forward, Anthony received better spacing, and he ultimately started making better choices. In the season before his trade to the Knicks, fewer than 14 percent of Anthony’s shots were 3-pointers. Last season, 25 percent of his shots were from behind the arc.
By shifting his shot selection from the dreaded “long 2” zone out to where shots count for an extra point, he moved to the forefront of basketball. Shooting is in, "stretch-4s" are in. The game had seemingly left isolation scorers behind, but Melo, one of the shiniest examples, has persevered.
After a shaky, injury-addled first full season in New York, Anthony notched his two best seasons according to player efficiency (PER) and win shares. Not only did the numbers look better, but his game got more aesthetically pleasing. Decisions were quicker, the ball stuck less often. He turns the ball over far less than he did back in Denver. There are still bouts of grinding iso-ball, but it’s not like the old days, when Anthony would average more turnovers than assists.
You can blame him for the lack of options (the Knicks were strip-mined because Anthony forced a trade to New York), but it’s getting harder to find fault with his offensive approach. His game has matured from headstrong to nuanced. Guard him with a mobile wing and he can post that guy into some pain. Guard him with a burly big and he can lose that guy for many an open 3-pointer.
“Olympic Melo” is the nickname for that sweet-shooting forward we’ve seen in international competition. He thrives in an environment where the ball is shared around the arc and shot from behind it. That’s where basketball is heading, if this latest, emphatic San Antonio Spurs championship is any indication. The NBA is trending toward a drive-and-kick international style that just so perfectly fits the guy who, earlier in his career, was the caricature of American-style hero ball. Melo was the past before he took a few steps back and became the future.
But there’s finally some good news: Carmelo Anthony intends to opt out of the remaining year of his contract, and rumors abound that he’ll skip town.
Yes, losing their best player would be welcome news for the Knicks. Should Anthony leave, the Knicks would finally be free to start over with a player good enough to carry a franchise.
Just how good is Anthony? It’s hard to find consensus. Some count him among the best in the NBA and perhaps the best one-on-one scorer in the league. He has a top-10 player efficiency rating and two Olympic gold medals. There just aren’t guys with his kind of size and strength who can handle and shoot the ball like a guard. In the right scenario, he’s deadly. With his quick, accurate release and great first step, covering him on a hard closeout is pretty much impossible. He is a monster on the offensive glass and has been one of the best scorers as a pick-and-roll ball handler for the past two years. It’s a rare combination.
What’s tough for the Knicks is that both impressions of Anthony are correct. He is not a contributor on defense, and he’s a constant mismatch for just about everyone in the league, especially when he plays on the perimeter as a power forward.
Anthony has serious game, but all the things you have to do right to maximize what he brings to a team make him tricky as a franchise centerpiece. You need multiple guys with point-guard-level passing skills to keep the ball moving. You need a lockdown defender on the perimeter to take on the toughest wings, because he’s just not very interested in those assignments. You also need a great defensive big man behind him, because to max out Anthony’s offensive capabilities, you need to play him at the power forward, which means you need extra-stout basket protection from your other frontcourt player.
Anthony is a good player to build with but not around.
Although there’s room to argue about just how good Anthony is, almost no one would claim that a player with his faults is the second-best player in the NBA. But if he reups at the max in New York, only Kobe Bryant would be more handsomely compensated.
Consider Anthony’s market value. How does $23 million sound? What about $25 million or $27 million? Because that could be his price tag at the tail end of another max deal.
Consider that Anthony just turned 30, about the age most NBA players begin to decline. He would make most when he’s worth least.
Consider whether Anthony is truly a franchise cornerstone. At the price he can command by staying in New York and reupping for a medium-term deal, the Knicks had better be sure, because these contracts cripple payrolls. He just had his best season ever, with career highs in a bunch of key scoring and rebounding metrics ... but his team won 37 games. It’s possible that his teammates were just that bad, but at his salary, one would hope for a player who guarantees a winning season in a weak Eastern Conference.
Then consider where the Knicks are as a franchise.
The Knicks' foundation is rotted; even if Anthony stays at a discounted price, they likely will want to dispose of their three other most highly paid players. If the Knicks can’t make major moves next season, there is no chance they will contend for anything other than a playoff spot.
No matter what happens next with Anthony, the Knicks will be rebuilding. There are variously expedient ways to do so, but whether you’re piling up assets or luring name free agents, it’s still called rebuilding. Phil Jackson does not have to slowly, meticulously build through the draft, but he does have to be careful about where he spends James Dolan’s money. The Knicks have almost no money on the books after the 2014-15 season. They are resetting the roster one way or another. The only question is how prudently they will do so.
Anthony’s departure would release the Knicks from the cycle of adding overpriced veterans and pretending to contend. This is the league’s richest franchise in the media capital of the world, and this is an opportunity to rebuild from the ground up. But there is less margin for error, which means that signing anyone to a huge max contract is a high-risk proposition.
It’s especially risky with Anthony because he limits the kinds of other players you should sign. Championships are won by two-way stars.
It must be acknowledged that Anthony is a star attraction, even if he’s not always a superstar player. There will be plenty of pressure to sign Anthony and retain at least one star player on the roster to drive fan interest. But the Knicks are an organization with coffers to make Scrooge McDuck blush; they aren’t going bankrupt off a down season or two.
There’s also a chance Anthony will go somewhere else and excel as a complementary piece. But that’s what he is. A wise team doesn’t make him the second-highest-paid player in the league, and a wise team doesn’t make a secondary piece its franchise cornerstone.
Fisher may not have been Jackson’s first choice, but on some level, that small victory is heartening for an organization that has drifted rudderless for 15 years, with a brief stint of respectability steered by Donnie Walsh in between.
Jackson wants to infuse the Knicks with his cultural leanings and basketball beliefs, and who better to do it than Fisher, a five-time champion as the point guard for Jackson’s Los Angeles Lakers and a certified leader of men? This is the guy who could reportedly get in Kobe Bryant’s face at halftime of a Game 7 and to whom Kevin Durant praised in glowing terms in his MVP speech: “Even though he's done so much in this league, played with so many great players, he always wants to learn.”
Fisher’s curiosity should serve him well in New York. In today’s NBA, the ability to communicate credibly with players, and the openness to new influences and information may be the two most valuable resources a coach can have.
As Henry Abbott wrote in a piece wondering if Phil Jackson’s adherence to orthodoxy could hinder the Knicks, there’s so much new information and data that, for a coach, “The only right answer is to be curious.” Decisions guided by curiosity are less likely to be fueled by ego and more likely to be pragmatic.
Fisher’s new neighbor offers an instructive example. When Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd realized he wanted to be a head coach a few seasons before his retirement as a player, he began writing things down. Then a point guard under Rick Carlisle, Kidd kept a journal of how Carlisle and his staff decided substitution patterns and taught the 2010-11 Mavericks’ systems. As a coach, that journal became a starting kit, something that Kidd could reference as he faced new challenges. It’s hard to tell how much his notes helped. The first two months of Kidd’s tenure were a disaster, but he eventually found his footing.
We don’t know if Fisher has an equivalent to Kidd’s coaching journal, but we do know that Jackson has literally written the book on coaching … eight times. This is a good thing. New coaches need mentors and guidance, and Fisher is lucky to work for someone so knowledgeable, and who also respects and cares for him.
Still, Jackson’s influence will loom large in Fisher’s first season as a head coach. Some will openly question whether Jackson is the one “pulling the strings.” Just how involved Jackson is at practice and in other on-the-court settings will be a daily beat in itself. Did Jackson scurry upstairs before reporters were allowed into the practice facility? You can already see the “Zen Master of Puppets” headline in the Post.
The scrutiny will be merciless and at times unfair, but Fisher has as much experience as any player could in such settings -- first as a player during tumultuous stretches in Los Angeles, then as the leader of the NBA Players Association during a time of intense and public strife. His temperament appears fit for the madness of the New York media and the potential franchise overhaul that awaits, even if the Knicks retain Carmelo Anthony.
Jackson’s priorities have changed since he last teamed up with Fisher. The new team president must focus on more than just a title run. He must set up the organization for a sustained run of success.
Fisher’s focus will be in the weeds. The coach-front office dynamic works best when both parties are aligned on long-term goals and how those objectives are served by day-to-day instruction and player management. Fisher will need to define a space for himself to assert authority and maintain the respect and trust of his players while also relying on Jackson, the guy who can decide whether those players stay on the team.
Jackson wants to be more involved with the on-court action than most front-office execs, but doing so risks rendering Fisher as something less than a fully empowered head coach. It’s a question that Erik Spoelstra once had to deal with as a rookie coach under Heat president Pat Riley. It’s no fun wondering if your guardian will one day decide to come down and do your job, too. Fisher carries the benefit of an 18-year playing career and five championship rings, but it goes without saying that Fisher will have less to work with than Spoelstra.
Jackson is an important resource, but Fisher must assert autonomy and be more than an implement of Jackson’s will. He should certainly borrow from Jackson, but how much can he defer? Nothing is ever simple in New York.
The Knicks are at an inflection point. Who really knows what this team will look like going into the 2015-16 season? In that sense, Fisher literally doesn't know what he’s getting into. If the Knicks are lucky, Fisher will have the right mix of personal experience and open-mindedness to navigate a situation very much in flux. In Fisher, the Knicks may not have a solution to all that confounds them, but at least they appear to have a plan.
Special to ESPN.com
With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.
The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.
The deal: Trade Machine
Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014
This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.
The deal: Trade Machine
Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016
Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.
Brooklyn NetsThe deal: Trade Machine
Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett
Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.
The deal: Trade Machine
Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014
The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.
Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.
The deal: Trade Machine
Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014
Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.
The deal: Trade Machine
Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014
Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.
Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”
I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.
It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.
The deal: Trade Machine
Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014
Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.
The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.
Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy
I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!
Golden State Warriors
The deal: Trade Machine
Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016
I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.
The deal: Trade Machine
Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017
This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?
Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?
The deal: Trade Machine
Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West
I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.
Los Angeles Clippers
The deal: Trade Machine
Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford
I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.
The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.
Los Angeles Lakers
The deal: Trade Machine
Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners
In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.
The deal: Trade Machine
Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017
This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.
The deal: Trade Machine
Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018
The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.
The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.
The deal: Trade Machine
Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league
Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.
New Orleans Pelicans
The deal: Trade Machine
Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon
Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.
New York Knicks
The deal: Trade Machine
Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]
The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?
Oklahoma City Thunder
The deal: Trade Machine
Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017
I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.
The deal: Trade Machine
Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014
I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.
The deal: Trade Machine
76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014
The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.
The deal: Trade Machine
Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015
This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.
Portland Trail Blazers
The deal: Trade Machine
Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland
This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.
The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.
The deal: Trade Machine
Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry
This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.
San Antonio Spurs
Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich
This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.
For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.
The deal: Trade Machine
Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016
It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.
The deal: Trade Machine
Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014
Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!
The deal: Trade Machine
Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene
This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.
It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.
Woodson’s coaching reputation has swung wildly over the last 26 months. Under Woodson’s direction, the Knicks went 72-34 from when he took over for Mike D’Antoni in March 2012 through the end of the 2012-13 season. It’s not as if Woodson’s name was mud before the Knicks' 100-game hot streak, but his regular-season success in Atlanta -- the team won more games than the year before in five consecutive seasons -- was tainted by Atlanta’s inability to make noise in the playoffs. The Hawks never lost to a lower seed, but they never really looked capable of a deep playoff run, either.
After his time in Atlanta, critics cast Woodson as inflexible and somewhat dreary from a tactical standpoint. Woodson’s isolation-heavy offense repeatedly broke down in the playoffs, and his Hawks never had an effective backup plan.
But after coaching under Mike D’Antoni with the Knicks, Woodson seemed to become a believer in the spread pick-and-roll, and his Knicks rode that action, and a barrage of 3-pointers, to a 54-win season in 2012-13. The conversation around Woodson changed almost overnight: He had won full buy-in from Carmelo Anthony and somehow kept J.R. Smith focused; he modernized his offense and embraced the state of the art in basketball strategy.
The Knicks, for the first time in a long time, exceeded expectations. Was it Woodson? Or were the Knicks just more talented than people realized? Wasn't it Woodson who made Jason Kidd, Pablo Prigioni, Steve Novak and Chris Copeland useful players?
Before the 2012-13 season, Wages of Wins combination of metrics and analysis predicted the Knicks would be the top seed in the East. The two main reasons were Kidd and Tyson Chandler, the point guard-center battery of the 2011 champion Mavericks. Kidd was old, sure, but he still made his teams better with rebounding, shooting and crisp ball movement. With the Knicks, Kidd’s play became the shared language through which Anthony’s game could communicate with the spread pick-and-roll.
When Kidd retired, the Knicks’ half-court offense descended into Babel. Again, this was partly due to situations outside of Woodson’s control. In the offseason, the Knicks replaced important shooters Novak, Kidd and Copeland with Metta World Peace and Andrea Bargnani. World Peace was a defensive contributor during a brief period of good health, but otherwise the Knicks essentially scrapped the identity that made them so dangerous -- great ball movement and killer shooting -- in favor of big names.
The same Wages of Wins analysts who picked the Knicks to be very good in 2012-13, then picked the Knicks to finish outside the playoffs, as did the SCHOENE metric developed by ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton.
Whether Woodson ever really believed in the free-wheeling, 3-pointer crazed offense of 2012-13 is an open question. The Knicks abandoned their small-ball strengths at the first sign of trouble in the 2013 playoffs, abdicating their perimeter advantage to wage an unwinnable war inside against the Pacers. And this season, Woodson often professed a desire -- possibly at behest of the front office -- to make the “Big” lineups work, even though playing Bargnani, Anthony and Chandler together had miserable results.
Strategy aside, if you consider the variable roster quality during the last two seasons, it is hard to say whether Woodson is responsible at all for either the good times or the bad ones.
Doubt that those role players the Knicks lost in the offseason really matter enough to so dramatically swing the Knicks' win-loss records? The fact is Carmelo Anthony was actually better this season than he was last season. Logic argues that he wasn't the controlling factor in the Knicks' success.
With Kidd and the shooters gone and Chandler hobbled, the Knicks just didn't have a very good roster -- so they weren't a very good team.
This gets us closer to the truth of Woodson’s value as a coach. Of course his teams in Atlanta got better every year, the roster improved every year, too!
Young stars such as Josh Smith and Al Horford joined the Hawks as rookies and followed a logical trend: They were better at 21 than 20, and better at 24 than 23.
History suggests Woodson does not make his teams better, nor does he really inhibit them. He puts his players in positions to succeed, but he is no Rick Carlisle, masking flaws with smoke and mirrors.
Given the Knicks’ lack of draft picks and tradable assets, the roster probably won't be much stronger next year. If they want a significantly better record, they'll need to find a coach who can win more games than player quality projects.
Woodson will be remembered as a players' coach, one who forged strong bonds with difficult personalities but never found a way to make them much better than they already were.
ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:
Quotes were gathered by ESPN.com writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.
Hardwood Paroxysm/TrueHoop Network
NEW YORK -- The New York Knicks entered Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on a major roll, having beaten their past eight opponents by an average of 14.3 points per game. When they opened up a 17-point first-half lead over the hapless Cavs -- who were missing their best player, Kyrie Irving, as well as No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett -- it looked like the winning streak was about to hit nine.
And then the early-season Knicks showed back up, the Cavs came storming back and the streak was suddenly over. Apart from the blow it deals to their playoff hopes, that’s the most disconcerting thing about the way the Knicks lost to the Cavaliers -- the fact that all the issues that plagued them down the stretch looked so familiar.
The Knicks blew a fourth-quarter lead, making this the 14th time this season they’ve done so. New York has been a poor fourth-quarter team all season -- the team is now 27th in average fourth-quarter scoring margin, having been outscored by 1.3 points per game in the final period.
The Knicks began that fourth quarter with a questionable player grouping on the floor, once again bringing focus to head coach Mike Woodson’s unusual lineup decisions. Woodson sent Pablo Prigioni, Tim Hardaway Jr., Shannon Brown, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler -- a group that features three or four “minus” defenders and had played just four minutes together prior to this game -- onto the court together to start the quarter, and the results were not good. Cleveland outscored the Knicks by three in the three minutes that unit played together, with Stoudemire picking up a technical foul just before a substitution was made.
After the Cavs scored on their subsequent two possessions, the lead was officially gone. Jarrett Jack scored both of those baskets, and he tallied 31 points in all, making him the 15th player this year to set his season high in points against New York. Jack had 14 points and three assists in the fourth quarter alone, as he victimized New York repeatedly out of the pick-and-roll -- the most basic of NBA actions which the Knicks have struggled to defend all season (the video tracking service mySynergySports pegs the Knicks as the league’s worst team at defending both pick-and-roll ball handlers and roll men) -- as he drained pull-up jumpers, slithered his way into the paint for floaters, and found shooters dotting the arc with pinpoint passes.
Raymond Felton, the man tasked with guarding Jack for most of that fourth quarter, said after the game, “Jack came out and did a good job of just hitting shots. He hit a lot of tough shots contested by me, contested by Tyson. He had a good night.” But it wasn’t really that simple. Jack knew he could either get an open jumper or else engineer a switch whenever he wanted by running Felton into a screen set by Anderson Varejao or Tristan Thompson, which he did repeatedly down the stretch. If the jumper came open, he took it. If it didn’t, he simply drove at Chandler, drew extra help and made the right play.
On the other side of the court, New York’s late-game offense once again devolved into a series of predictable isolations for Carmelo Anthony. Many of New York’s early-season losses in close games featured the Knicks going “iso Melo,” with Felton bringing the ball up the floor and simply tossing it to Anthony between the elbow and the 3-point line while the rest of the Knicks stood around and watched Anthony futilely try to create an open look. With the lead dwindling midway through the fourth quarter on Sunday, the Knicks isolated Anthony on Luol Deng on two out of three possessions, and Anthony came away with only two points. Meanwhile, Cleveland generated five points out of its three trips in that time to take a lead it would never relinquish.
This latest winning streak had many thinking the Knicks had finally turned a corner. Sure, they were playing bad teams -- their opponents during the streak had an average winning percentage of just 36.0 percent, and that includes the 51-19 Indiana Pacers -- but they were taking care of business and blowing them out of the water. But between nearly blowing a big fourth-quarter lead against the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night, and actually blowing such a lead against the Cavaliers on Sunday, it’s looking more and more possible that the streak may have just been a fluky stretch of high-quality play in the midst of a bleak season.
Special to ESPN.com
This season has been different, for reasons I hadn’t quite anticipated. Though I’ve watched from the metaphorical nosebleeds -- a second half here, a phone update there -- I’ve been engrossed by the season’s narrative and how it’s resonating in a city like New York at a time as transitional and unpredictable as the present.
The Knicks have performed poorly, sure, but they still garner headlines and fill seats because they tend to fail in a truly engrossing way only the Knicks can: A-plus tweeter @desusnice refers to it, almost affectionately, as “Knicking.”
Defensive blunders, fourth-quarter meltdowns and the coaching equivalent of a crazed partner have added up to not only a difficult season, but also -- in a cathartic, primal-scream kind of way -- must-see TV. The Knicks are ABC’s “Scandal” for basketball fans: a dizzying, at times cringe-worthy guilty pleasure, best experienced with close friends and strong drinks.
The story arc bends wider every week -- Will Mike Woodson go? Will Melo stay? A Heat win? A gun charge? An MSG protest? Phil Jackson?! -- and every game feels like life or death. New Yorkers aren’t known for their sympathy, so it’s easy to imagine a city of the disgruntled throwing up their hands and remotes in exhaustion. But we don’t.
Folks tune in every night and talk, text and tweet through the pain. It’s not only because we know anything is possible and the numbers haven’t doomed them just yet -- as evinced by their current six-game tear -- but also because on some level, this year’s Knicks narrative fits New York’s current moment more accurately than any dramatized TV series ever could.
The Knicks' season has become symbolic of a city that has never been more relevant on the world’s stage and never been more conflicted within its own walls. Its creative output is bleak, compared to the artpop '60s, grainy '70s and experimental '90s. Its economy is one of the county’s most rigidly slanted, with staggering wealth gaps and neighborhood borders in constant flux. Mayor Bill de Blasio feels like the kind of guy who waits until he’s in front of the turnstile to fish out his MetroCard and gets the “PLEASE SWIPE AGAIN” display three times.
We are touted year after year as a city of innovation and creation, rebellion and dissent, revelatory mornings and chaotic, white-knuckle nights, where upstarts and outcasts from all over the world make their pilgrimage to incept their wildest dreams with wilder ones. But we’ve also overbranded and underdeveloped, selling a dream of boundless possibility but offering clear ceilings and shrinking walls to the same rooted communities that give New York its identity. Unlike the Frankensteinian Nets, a freak experiment that’s just feeling its way into the cultural fabric of the city, the Knicks feel more outerborough than ever, embodying the neighborhoods and blocks that also don’t win that often.
Lee’s courtside antics are a part of the show, of course, and the red-lined neighborhoods he highlights in his films and his rants have gone from isolated pockets of New York history to menu items for an increasingly predatory culture of expansion and development. As the “underdog” narrative has gained relevance in real-estate wars across the city, the Knicks can be seen as fighting to defend their legacy as fervently as these neighborhoods defend their facades -- well aware that history suggests their efforts may be in vain.
And then there’s Carmelo Anthony: an undeniable star player who has carried his team and produced record-breaking numbers this season, still left to shoulder the hefty weight of the Knicks’ futility. He plays the ever-tortured protagonist in this comedy of errors, and speaks to the frustration and despair that settles in when you realize, loss after loss, that even being the best in this city still isn’t good enough, as countless natives and transplants alike have learned the hard way. If anything, New York holds such prominence in our nation’s consciousness because it’s the one place you can truly discover your rank in the world, against your smartest, fastest, most capable peers.
When asked how he’d feel to bring a championship to the city, newly named president of basketball operations Phil Jackson said, winking: “You’ve jumped a long ways away. But we hope it’s going to happen” -- all but leaving out “tune in next week, same Knicks channel, same Knicks time.”
It’s the latest plot twist this season, cliffhanging on a vague promise of a “Zen front office” and a “competitive team.”
It isn’t easy to be a Knicks fan, and it isn’t easy to be a New Yorker. But it’s how you handle your big losses that define your stay here, whether for a season, or a lifetime.
“If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere,” Jackson evoked during his introductory news conference. Cliché? Sure. But that’s why it makes for great cable TV.
Matthew Trammell is a writer from Brooklyn. He subtweets and favorites from @trmmll.
Victory in hand, the dominant equation for both became: Big mouth + bigger ego = the verbal victory lap. Any quote book is loaded with Churchill’s high-testosterone patter. Jackson’s latest book, ostensibly about teamwork, has a title that has only to do with Jackson. Michael Jordan didn't win "Eleven Rings." Neither did Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal or Scottie Pippen. Only Phil did.
Jackson is expected to return to the NBA, as a New York Knicks executive, packing not just a lot of the NBA’s gravitas, but the majority of it. Add up all your other coaches, players and experts. If Phil says they’re full of it ... his voice is even money to carry the day.
That has to be a big part of why Jackson could mean so much to a team like the Knicks. The common denominator of their dominant commonness has been bad front-office decision-making, specifically one high-profile overspend after another. There's no arguing James Dolan is an owner without a clue, determined to bludgeon the competition not with his insight, but with his wallet -- a method that, for a bundle of league-wide cap reasons, always makes teams difficult to improve and almost never ends in titles.
The Knicks might already be the world’s most over-loved team. New York hoops fans, those hopeless romantics, have been dashing their hearts on the rocks of false optimism since the days of Patrick Ewing. Remember when Zach Randolph was the revolution? Amar’e Stoudemire? Carmelo Anthony?
Time and again, Dolan has gotten his man. Time and again, like Charlie Brown, the fans have believed. Time and again, the only thing needed to prove Dolan got the wrong man has been time.
Will this time be different?
I’m convinced the answer is no, and not because Jackson’s the wrong guy, but because this is the wrong time.
It’s too late. The league is changing too fast, learning too much, and Jackson, for all the open-mindedness that once led him to the novel and wonderful triangle offense, has been telegraphing his incuriousness for more than a decade.
This is not just basketball’s boom time for analytics, it’s also, as Nate Silver wrote recently in ESPN The Magazine, when analytics become basketball necessities, as opposed to niceties. From the stew of SportVu, Catapult and Vantage comes things that really matter: which pick-and-roll defenses stops which ball handlers, which offenses generate the best-quality looks, who plays good defense, the right number of hours to sleep before a big game and, increasingly, which players need to come out of the game right now before their fatigue-induced injury risk skyrockets.
It’s not that any one person knows ALL the right answers. It’s that no ONE person knows all the right answers. Much of this new stuff will prove to science bunk, but the best of it is exponentially better by the day. The only right answer is to be curious.
And at that, the league has passed Jackson by. All his books, all those interviews, all that insight into his thinking, and has he ever even once told of finding value in insight from a younger generation? Or, indeed, from anyone beyond his chosen short list of apostles?
Jackson spoke at this year’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. As he did, I took notes, but I soon stopped. There was no point. Other than a rude joke about needing a “grain elevator” to weigh Shaq, these were all things told previously. The oft-recited Gospel According to St. Phil. His conversation was a museum piece, the recurring soup of the words “Michael Jordan,” “Kobe Bryant” and “Scottie Pippen” that Jackson has been ladling out forever.
More importantly, Jackson was not at Sloan to learn. Never has been. Tuning people out, and discrediting them even, is also a mainstay of Jackson’s game -- just ask Jerry West, or Jerry Krause.
Jackson’s Lakers never bothered to attend the stat-geek confab, and the Lakers were famously the only NBA team not to have a representative there last year. Jackson’s generic public take on basketball innovation has long been, essentially, that Red Holzman and Tex Winter knew all that stuff.
At Sloan, Jackson bragged of once playing O’Neal 48 minutes per game -- on the same day sport scientist Michael Regan, of Catapult Sports, explained how resting after stints of just eight minutes dramatically improved performance in Australian Rules Football, a league that’s enjoying massive injury reductions league-wide thanks to science-based things we've learned only in the past decade.
It’s not that Jackson can’t make the Knicks winners. He might. Indeed, as the argument goes, at least he has won, unlike everyone else in the building. But he’s sending all the wrong signals if the task is to outclass 29 other teams in a race starting in 2014. That prize will, almost certainly, go to whoever best masters new ideas, about which Phil says, basically: Who needs ‘em?
The cautionary tale here of course is in Charlotte. Michael Jordan also filled the staff with like-minded friends. But, of course, a great executive is far more than a great player who lost his spring or a great coach who tired of travel. Without piling one good decision on top of another, the team is lost. The Bobcats did everything Jordan’s way for a while, until the competitive forces humbled even Jordan, who now listens not just to his gut and his friends, but also to people such as new executive Rich Cho, who is effectively the team’s ambassador from the post-Jordan, Sloan-infused world of hoops insight.
Jackson and the Knicks aren't playing the exact same tune as MJ and the Bobcats -- they have deeper pockets and more intricate team-building experience -- but they’re sounding a lot of the same notes.
Granted, Wade and Crawford light up a lot of teams, but the fact is that, outside of starting 2-guard Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City provides very little resistance in the backcourt. That's why the Thunder were hoping to land Iman Shumpert before last Thursday's trade deadline.
Even after Shumpert suffered a strained left MCL in a Knicks loss last Wednesday, Oklahoma City was willing to part with this season's first-round draft pick to land the Knicks shooting guard, according to sources with knowledge of the trade discussions. The Knicks, however, refused to do the deal because they weren't getting a current player in return who could help them make a push for this season's Eastern Conference playoffs. At the end of the day, they deemed Shumpert more valuable than the 28th pick (or whatever low pick OKC gets) of the draft, sources said.
The Knicks' priority all along in trading Shumpert was to attach Raymond Felton's contract to the deal and get a solid point guard in return. That nearly happened with the Clippers.
While Shumpert's injury did not deter the Thunder, it did kill the Knicks' hopes of sending him to Los Angeles. Clippers coach Doc Rivers really wanted Shumpert, sources say, and Rivers was willing to do a deal that would have sent Darren Collison, Matt Barnes, Byron Mullens and two second-round picks to New York for Shumpert, Felton and Beno Udrih. But Clippers owner Donald Sterling and others within the organization were hesitant to bet on Shumpert after seeing him go down in Wednesday's game at New Orleans, according to sources.
Shumpert's camp was hoping for a trade, but it can rest assured that he'll be back on the market around draft time.