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Is Trading for Kyrie Irving Worth the Risk?

Despite the temptation, Tommy Beer argues the Knicks should avoid breaking the bank for Kyrie Irving.

Tommy Beer

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When reports first surfaced that Kyrie Irving had requested a trade and that New York was one of his “preferred destinations,” Knicks fans were thrilled. And the excitement was understandable.

New York has been in desperate need of a quality point guard for a long time and Irving, one of the most gifted and dynamic young guards in the NBA, would represent an enormous upgrade for the Knicks. There is simply no denying that the Knickerbockers would be a far more competitive team with Kyrie running the show. He’d be welcomed with open arms, greeted as a superstar and would immediately have Madison Square Garden buzzing again. The offensive fireworks produced by a tag-team of Irving and Kristaps Porzingis would make the Knicks exciting and entertaining for the first time in a long time.

Yet, with all that said, giving away the farm to bring Irving to NYC would be a mistake. Trading away too many valuable assets would set the Knicks franchise back in the long term.

Here’s why…

The Knicks currently own all their future first-round draft picks, which is an uncommon situation for this franchise. They also have a solid foundation in place, centered around Kristaps Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez. That core will be supplemented by what is expected to be another high lottery pick next June.

They will also have a decent amount of cap space to play with next summer, assuming Carmelo Anthony is no longer on the roster. (They would have far more space and far greater flexibility if they hadn’t overpaid for Tim Hardaway Jr., but that’s a story for another day.)

As I have previously written about in this space, the Knicks should be steadfastly focused on the long-term future. They should aim their attention at how to best maximize Porzingis in his prime, which is still a few years down the road. Attempts to immediately improve the team’s record this season or next, at the expense of the future, would be a fool’s errand, especially considering New York has no chance of competing with the league’s best teams. There’s an old maxim that declares “good is the enemy of great.” Well, in recent Knicks history, the enemy of “sustainable success” has been: “Let’s doing something short sighted and flashy so that we won’t suck next season.”

Too often in years past, instead of taking their much-needed medicine and investing in a methodical, patient rebuild, the Knicks have abandoned well-laid plans to chase immediate satisfaction, which inevitably fails to produce the desired results. The Knicks have a chance to rebuild the right way. Porzingis and company are the cornerstones.

Let’s take a second here to address the concerns of those worried about Porzingis skipping town as a free agent. In actuality, it’s a highly unlikely scenario. Next summer, Porzingis will be eligible to sign a massive five-year extension with the Knicks. Based on current salary cap projections, that extension will be worth $156.6 million, an average of $31.3 million per season. It would kick in following the 2019-20 season. If KP were to decline that offer, the Knicks would still control his rights through 2019-20. Yes, he would have to wait until July 1st of 2020 to become an unrestricted free agent. Again, despite the recent bumps in the relationship between Porzingis and the franchise that drafted him, it is very difficult to envision a scenario where Porzingis (after conferring with his agent and family) refuses to sign an extension that would provide him with immense financial security and generational wealth. Assuming he signs the offered extension next summer, the Knicks would have him locked up through the end of the 2024-25 season.

Okay, so if we agree that KP is going to remain in NYC for the foreseeable future, then the impetus is on the Knicks’ front office to properly build around him so that New York slowly evolves, and then peaks, years down the road.

Many Knicks fans will declare: “Trading for a 25-year old Kyrie Irving, an offensive superstar about to enter his prime, is a no-brainer! Pair him alongside Porzingis and get a front-row seat for the Knicks resurgence. You can’t win without a dominant point guard, and the Knicks need to do whatever is necessary to bring Kyrie to MSG!”

Parts of that argument are accurate. However, the primary flaw with that line of thinking is there is absolutely no guarantee that Kyrie will be around for more than two seasons. Unlike Porzingis, Irving would be disincentivized to sign an extension with the Knicks. In order to secure max money, Kyrie has to opt out of his current contract in the summer of 2019 and become an unrestricted free agent. And this is a guy who has requested a trade from a team that won a title and advanced to three straight NBA Finals; how confident can the Knicks be that he’ll be 100 percent committed to staying in New York two years from now?

Furthermore, assuming the Knicks have to give up a package of picks and Carmelo Anthony (and possibly a player such as Courtney Lee or Kyle O’Quinn), what’s the best case scenario for that newly-formed Knickerbocker team. Do they flirt with .500? Maybe they even scratch out 45 wins? Could they win a few playoff games? It’s conceivable they even advance to the second round of the postseason.

They would have an undeniably explosive and exciting offense, but a starting backcourt of Irving and Hardaway Jr. would be abominable defensively. Hernangomez is also a subpar defender at the center position. If Melo is gone, who starts for the Knicks at small forward? Also, the analytics suggest Irving is not capable of carrying a team if he is the focal point.

In 2018-19, Irving, Hardaway and Joakim Noah would account for approximately $58 million, or nearly 60 percent of the team’s salary cap. It would be difficult to adequately flesh out the roster in just one year dealing with those cap constrictions.

If the Knicks’ record does not improve dramatically over the next two seasons, what are the odds Irving agrees to re-sign and stay in New York?

That brings us to the potential nightmare scenario of Irving abandoning the Knicks in two years and leaving behind a roster bereft of talent, and the draft picks necessary to improve.

Some meaningful games in May and a couple of seasons worth of amazing crossovers and highlight plays that energized MSG would be welcomed. But at what cost?

If the Cavs were desperate to dump Irving and were willing to send him to the Knicks at a discount, then New York would be foolish to pass up such an opportunity. For instance, if the Knicks only had to trade away Carmelo Anthony and a first-round pick with limited protections, then that’s a deal they should pull the trigger on. However, the Cavs are currently demanding far more. (Not to mention the fact that Melo would have to waive his no-trade clause to consummate such a transaction.)

Despite Irving’s trade request and his accompanying list of preferred landing spots, the Cavaliers have absolutely no reason to do him any favors. Unlike Melo, he does not have a no-trade clause. The Cavs can send him to whichever team offers the most enticing return. Irving’s preference is irrelevant from their perspective.

Cleveland reportedly wants a veteran starter, a young player on a rookie contract and draft picks. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the HEAT offered a package centered around Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow, but that still wasn’t enough.

As of now, the Cavs would likely ask for Carmelo Anthony, Frank Ntilikina and future draft picks. That’s simply too high of a price tag, too much of a gamble.

It is important to note that the Knicks have gone “all in” on young, exciting, offensively-gifted players in the past. The results have not been favorable.

* In June of 2002, the Knicks traded Marcus Camby, Mark Jackson and the No. 7 overall pick (Nene) to Denver in exchange for Antonio McDyess, who ended up playing a grand total of 18 games as a Knick, averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.

* In January of 2004, the Knicks traded away a plethora of players and took on a bad contract (Anfernee Hardaway) and traded away future first-round draft picks (one of which turned into Gordon Hayward) to acquire Stephon Marbury from Phoenix. The Knicks failed to win a single playoff game during Marbury’s time in New York.

* In October of 2005, the Knicks traded away two future first-round picks in exchange for Eddy Curry. LaMarcus Aldridge and Joakim Noah were later selected with the two picks the Knicks gave up.

* In February of 2011, the Knicks traded away Wilson Chandler, Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, cash and multiple future picks (one of which turned into Dario Saric) in exchange for Carmelo Anthony.

You get the idea…

If the Knicks are involved an eventual blockbuster involving Kyrie and Melo, it would be wise for New York to pursue a deal in which they were the team that doesn’t land the star player, but rather facilitates the transaction and ends up with draft picks instead. We know all too well about the many first-rounders the Knicks have traded away (I didn’t even mention the infamous Andrea Bargnani deal above), but New York has not received a first-round pick in a trade since the Spurs sent them two protected picks to take on Malik Rose’s salary in 2005. The Knicks have not owned the rights to both their first and second-round picks in the same draft since 2003.

Furthermore, if it is true that Kyrie “very badly wants to join the Knicks” as has been intimated, then the Knicks should play the long game and wait him out. He’ll be a free agent soon enough.

If New York holds onto Ntilikina and their future draft picks (and whatever other assets they might get back in a separate Melo deal), they would be a far more attractive option once Irving hits the free agent market in July of 2019. Porzingis will be two years closer to his prime. It’s possible the Knicks could be viewed as a team on the precipice of being competitive, needing a stud point guard to push them into the playoffs and beyond. Irving would be needed far more at that point than he is right now. And, most importantly, the Knicks wouldn’t have to give up any draft picks or players to bring him home.

Of course, there is the risk that Irving has no interest in playing for New York at that point, but the Knicks would still be in a position to attract other free agents or use that available cap space to improve the roster in other ways.

Assuming the asking price for Kyrie Irving remains too steep, it’s time for the Knicks to stop giving into the temptations that have tripped them up in the past and chart a new course, one centered on Porzingis, patience and picks.

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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The Lakers Have Finally Stabilized

After a tough five-year period filled with loss and disappointment, the Lakers have finally put themselves back in a position to succeed.

Matt John

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On paper, missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row would rarely be considered impressive, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s suffered pretty much nothing but misery over the last half-decade, this season was a sign of progress.

Leading up to this past season, the previous four years overall were anything but easy on the Lakers. Besides consistently being one of the worst teams in the league, some of the team’s high lottery picks, such as D’Angelo Russell, did not pan out as well as they had hoped, and management baffled the fanbase when they signed both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to approximately $140 million combined over four years.

This season, things finally took a turn for the better. The team’s youngest players, particularly Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball, started to yield positive results. The team’s new acquisitions, specifically Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and briefly Isaiah Thomas, made a notable impact on the season. Second-year head coach Luke Walton proved himself to be up for the job with improved personnel at his arsenal. That may have led to only 35 wins, but compared to the previous four seasons’ final results, 35 wins is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.

And it should only get better from here. The biggest positive is that the team’s long-term outlook is now the brightest its been since Dwight Howard skipped town in 2013. Their impending return to the glory days is still up in the air, but the Lakers can finally look forward to a promising future for two reasons.

Cap Flexibility

When the Lakers replaced Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team, the two of them went to work right away. Pelinka and Johnson knew that if the Lakers were going to attain relevance again, they had to undo the franchise’s previous mistakes, even if it meant getting rid of some of their young talent.

It’s as the old saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”

Making said omelet started with getting rid of their albatross contracts. The Lakers found a taker for Mozgov when they traded him to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, but that deal also required trading Russell. Mid-season, the Lakers found a taker for Jordan Clarkson when they traded him to Cleveland, but that deal also required trading Larry Nance Jr.

Losing Russell and Nance Jr, and to some degree Clarkson, may have been tough cheese to swallow, but with Mozgov and Clarkson off the payroll, the Lakers have a ton of cap space at their disposal. In fact, this summer, the Lakers have only $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts, which will be the lowest payroll in entire NBA. This is a much bigger deal now that it’s been in the past for one simple reason: Hardly any teams will have cap room this summer.

The NBA salary cap’s drastic rise in 2016 caused many teams to overshoot their mark over the past two off-seasons. Because of that, quite a few teams will be paying the luxury tax while others will do everything in their power to avoid the luxury tax. This means that only a select few teams will have cap room to add a free agent on a max deal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the cap room to add two.

Their situation only gets better given the competition in free agency. Most of the other teams that have cap room are in rebuilding mode, so the Lakers shouldn’t expect many competitors in their chase for marquee free agents ie LeBron James and Paul George this summer. The only other team that will be competing for their services with available cap space is Philadelphia, who only has $44 million on payroll this summer. Houston will also be in the race, but they will have to get creative if they hope to add a max free agent this summer plus keep Chris Paul AND Clint Capela.

Even if the Lakers whiff on LeBron and George, it isn’t the end of the world. They can afford to re-sign Thomas and/or Caldwell-Pope to one-year deals worth over $10 million because hardly anyone else can do the same. Even if absolutely nothing goes their way this summer, they’ll have flexibility again next season. While having cap space does not automatically mean free agents will come to the Lakers’ door next season, it’s better to have money available to offer than having to spend it on Clarkson and Mozgov.

Promising Youth Movement

Many knew the Lakers’ young core was nothing to sneeze at, but for the first time since they’ve started their rebuild in 2013, their youth movement’s talent finally translated into wins. They didn’t do it all on their own, but nothing makes a team’s future brighter than their young players starting to reach their potential.

That starts with Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the textbook example of raw his rookie season, but his sophomore year, he started living up to his billing as the second overall pick in his draft. Across the board, he improved his numbers, but his shining moment came when the Lakers turned to him to run the point with Lonzo Ball out in late-January. During that stretch, the Duke alum averaged 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting including 46 percent from three, 5.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Ingram struggled mightily with injuries after that, but his vast improvement should be very beneficial in the long run.

Then there was the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Kuzma. When the deal was first agreed to, Kuzma was originally a throw-in when the Lakers traded Mozgov and Russell for Lopez, but knowing Brooklyn’s luck, Kuzma may wind up being the best player in this deal. Kuzma wowed the fans at the Staples Center, as he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. Since Kuzma is only 22 years old, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.

Then there’s the first lottery pick the Lakers drafted in their rebuild: Julius Randle. Randle got himself in the best shape of his life in preparation for this season, and it paid off on the court. Randle averaged career-highs in both point average (16.1) and field goal percentage (58 percent), but his best stretch came in February through March. In that time, Randle averaged 21.2 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Randle is a restricted free agent this year, but with the lack of available money this summer, his best option may be to stay in LA.

Finally, the biggest wild card of the Lakers’ young talent: Lonzo Ball. Ball was both injury-riddled and inconsistent his rookie year, but he showed flashes every now and again of the player his humble father said he would be. While he had his issues putting the ball in the bucket, Ball’s much-hyped passing translated in the NBA, averaging 7.2 assists a game, and his rebounding was terrific given his size, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game. The jury is still out on Ball, but he should be given a full season before anyone comes to judgment.

In short, the Lakers’ cap flexibility and promising youth movement give them stability that not many believed they would have had at the end of last season. Inadequacy and incompetence have plagued the Lakeshow for the past several years, but now that they’ve brought the right people aboard, they are now pointed in the right direction.

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NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man

Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.

In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.

Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.

“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”

In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.

He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.

“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”

It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.

“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”

Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.

While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.

“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”

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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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