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Free Agent Forwards, Centers the Knicks Can Target

Tommy Beer looks at some forwards and centers that the New York Knicks could target in free agency.

Tommy Beer

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Last week, I examined 15 guards whom Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks can realistically target in free agency. Today, I’ll look at forwards and centers who are set to hit the open market in July and would be a good fit for New York.

The Knicks’ starting frontcourt – featuring Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Robin Lopez – was actually one of the better frontlines in the Eastern Conference last season. They also have Kyle O’Quinn under contract for three more seasons. In addition, 2015 second-round pick Guillermo (Willy) Hernangomez has expressed interest in coming stateside after a strong season in Spain. Hernangomez, whose contract with Real Madrid expires at the end of the month, is a 6’11 center who played alongside Porzingis during KP’s final season in Europe. It will be interesting to see if the Knicks are able to sign Hernangomez to play in NYC next season and, if so, what kind of contract that will require.

Clearly, the Knicks’ primary priority will addressing the gaping hole in their backcourt. However, considering the Knicks have failed to qualify for the playoffs in three straight seasons, they obviously need to search for value contracts wherever they can find them. Again, the idea here is not to list the best available players, but rather identify players that New York may view as potential values, which would allow them to improve incrementally, while also retaining the cap space necessary to make a big splash in 2017.

Marvin Williams, 29, Unrestricted free agent:
The 2015-16 campaign, Williams’ 11th NBA season, was also his best season. He set career-highs in PER (16.8), Win Shares (7.8), and True Shooting Percentage (.585). He was one of just seven players to knock down at least 150 threes and shoot above 40 percent from behind the arc. In addition, he posted a career-high in rebounds and blocks. He’s a reliable, solid “stretch four” in today’s NBA.

Solomon Hill, 25, Unrestricted free agent:
Hill was largely ineffective for Indiana over his first two NBA seasons, which is why Larry Bird and the Pacers decided to decline the team option on the final year of his contract prior to the start of last season. However, Hill surprisingly emerged as a valuable contributor in 2016, particularly over the second half of the year and into the postseason. There are certainly limitations to his game (for his career, he has 32.5 percent from three-point territory and as eFG% of 46.5 percent), but if signed at the right price, he profiles as a valuable “glue guy” off the bench.

Nicolas Batum, 27, Unrestricted free agent:
A terrifically talented and versatile player, Batum would immediately improve any team he joins. Last season, he was one of just four players to average at least 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and two three-pointers per game. The other three players were Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and James Harden. Batum is also a plus-defender who can guard both bigger and smaller payers. If he signed with New York, the Knicks could roll out a starting lineup featuring four players 6’8 or taller. Signing Batum would also give the Knicks the flexibility to trade either Lopez (moving Porzingis to the five spot) or Carmelo Anthony (if ‘Melo was willing to waive his no-trade clause, of course). The obvious issue is his potential cost. With so many teams having so much cap space, Batum will receive max offers this summer.

David West, 35, Unrestricted free agent:
Yes, the Knicks needs guards. This we know. The Knicks also need leaders in the locker room. ‘Melo is a supremely talented basketball player and played extremely well last season, but he has never been a vocal leader. When he’s experienced his greatest success in NBA, it has been when he was surrounded by vets who took control of the team. The Knicks have won over 50 games only once this millennium, and that was back in 2012-13, when they fielded the “oldest team in NBA history,” featuring Kurt Thomas, Rasheed Wallace and Jason Kidd among others. West took an enormous pay-cut last year in order to prioritize winning and a chance at a title, so it’s highly unlikely he would consider the Knicks. With that said, he is the type of ‘pro’s pro’ the Knicks would love to bring to MSG.

Terrence Jones, 25, Restricted free agent:
The Rockets had high expectations for Jones coming into last season, hoping he would continue his development and emerge as a star. Instead, beset by injuries and ineffectiveness, Jones took a step backward in 2015-16. Does that make Jones a “buy-low” candidate? As a 22-year-old, in his second NBA season, Jones averaged 12.1 points (while shooting above 54 percent from the floor) and 6.9 rebounds per game. The Rockets will likely match any reasonable deal, so a team would likely have to gamble and offer Jones above market value in order to scare off the Rockets.

Jared Dudley, 31, Unrestricted free agent:
Like David West, Dudley is pro’s pro who is a bit long in the tooth, but can still produce efficiently and contribute on both ends of the floor.

Joakim Noah, 31, Unrestricted free agent:
Who was the last Eastern Conference player not named LeBron James to finish in the top five in NBA MVP voting? That would be Joakim Noah. The last player not named Kawhi Leonard to win the Defensive Player of the Year award? Yup, Joakim Noah. Noah was a truly elite NBA player as recently as 2014. However, he is now coming off a major injury and played poorly when he was on the floor last season. Nonetheless, he’s the exact type of player I would gamble on if I’m Phil Jackson. Offer him a short-term, big-money ‘make good’ contract. He brings passion and defensive intensity every second he’s on the court. That’s something that’s been missing at Madison Square Garden for far too long. He immediately would become a fan favorite. Noah is also a solid screener and phenomenal passer out of the post, making him an ideal fit in Triangle-type sets. One other thing: Noah is also the last homegrown NYC product to make an NBA All-Star team. Would he give the Knicks a hometown discount?

Dwight Powell, 25, Restricted free agent:
An intriguing prospect, Powell has only played sparingly in his first two seasons in the NBA, but he’s raised some eyebrows when given minutes. His per-36 minutes averages are impressive at 14.5 points and 9.9 rebounds.

Ryan Anderson, 28, Unrestricted free agent:
The Knicks were once again near the bottom of the league in three-pointers last season. However, new coach Jeff Hornacek has already stated New York will modernize their offense and increase their attempts from behind the arc. Anderson has consistently been one of the NBA’s best long-range shooters since entering the league. He’s averaged at least two made three-pointers per game for six straight seasons. Given the premium placed on three-point shooting in today’s NBA, Anderson will have plenty of suitors, which will likely price him out of the Knicks range.

Jon Leuer, 27, Unrestricted free agent:
Leuer saw plenty of playing time in the train wreck that was the Phoenix Suns’ 2015-16 season. He ended up starting 27 games and averaged a respectable 8.5 points and chipped in 5.6 rebounds in less than 19 minutes a night. He’s has issues defensively, but he can stretch the floor on the other end. His familiarity with Hornacek could be a plus.

Donatas Motiejunas, 25, Restricted free agent:
A true “boom or bust” proposition, Motiejunas has continuously shown flashes of intriguing upside over his first four seasons in the NBA. However, he hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, with a lingering back issue being the most significant setback to date. He has starter potential and a game perfectly suited for today’s pace-and-space attack, but the questions is how much should a team invest in a young big with a balky back?

David Lee, 33, Unrestricted free agent:
Lee was so ineffective that he was unplayable at times over the first half of last season in Boston, and he was buried on the bench as a result. However, he showed signs of life once he signed with Dallas after the All-Star break, averaging close to a double-double in March. He’s still a well below-average defender, but he can help a team offensively. The former Knick enjoyed his time in New York, and he’s made over $75 million in his career (he was the highest paid player on the 2014-15 world champion Warriors). Would be be willing to come off the bench for the Knicks and play for at or near the veteran’s minimum?

Timofey Mozgov, 30, Unrestricted free agent:
Also a former Knick, it appeared Mozgov was headed toward a huge payday at this time last year, when he was starting and playing very well for the Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals. A year later, Mozgov is an afterthought in Cleveland. The Knicks have plenty of depth at center, but if Mozgov is underappreciated on the free-agent market, Phil Jackson could pounce and possibly scoop Mozgov up at a discount if he remains unsigned weeks into July.

* Other Potential Targets: Darrell Arthur, Mirza Teletovic, Meyers Leonard, Jordan Hill, Trevor Booker, Nene, Ian Mahinmi, Boban Marjanovic, Chase Budinger, James Johnson

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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