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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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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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