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Knicks Should Steer Clear of Kemba

The Knicks should not spend draft capital or youth to acquire Kemba Walker, writes Tommy Beer.

Tommy Beer

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Kemba Walker is better than any point guard the Knicks have had in a decade. He’s dynamic, disruptive and exciting on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, Walker was named to his first All-Star team and was one of just four players in the entire league to average at least 23 points, five assists and three made 3-pointers per game (James Harden, Steph Curry and Isaiah Thomas were the other three). Kemba is also a New York native, born in the Bronx back in May of 1990, and has had some incredibly memorable performances inside MSG.

Yet, with all that said, the Knicks should not trade away draft picks or young players for Kemba Walker.

Last Friday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Hornets had made Walker available in trade discussions. This created a buzz in New York, as Knicks fans weighed the pros and cons of trading the homegrown star.

Although many overzealous fans are willing to abandon a patient approach at the first opportunity to add a high-profile player, the Knicks would be foolish to even consider such a move.

Despite a hot start fueled by a favorable early-season schedule, New York is currently six games under .500 at 21-27. They are four games back of the eighth-seeded Sixers. Based on the current standings, the Knicks are just as close to having a top-five pick in the 2018 NBA draft as they are to the qualifying for the postseason (New York is four games ahead of the Phoenix Suns, who currently have the fifth worst record in the NBA). Despite the recent struggles of the squads atop the Eastern Conference (the Cavs and Celtics are a combined 3-10 over their last 13 games), the Knicks are nowhere near being competitive with the top teams in the league. New York won’t be close to that elite level next season either. The addition of Walker would not change that fact.

Instead, it would merely push the Knicks closer to the middle of the pack, the NBA’s dreaded no man’s land: Not good enough to advance past the first round of the postseason, but not bad enough to land a top lottery pick. It’s a situation the Knicks have found themselves in far too often over the last two decades. At times, New York has talked about rebuilding, but they have been unable to remain patient enough to rebuild the right way.

Here’s a sobering fact: Dating back to the start of the 2001-2002 season, the Knicks have the been the worst team in the sport. Yes, with a cumulative record of 549-795, their winning percentage (.408) ranks dead last among non-expansion franchises. The only team with fewer wins over the previous 17 years is the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats, who were re-established in 2004.

The primary reason for the Knicks’ continued failure is their refusal to commit to competently constructing a roster. In the past, even after they had taken a couple of steps in the right direction, they would scrap the plan and change direction mid-course. We’ve seen it time and time again; trading away the future for a big-name player, or spending far room much of the salary cap on an offensively gifted free agent.

The Knicks are currently on relatively firm footing, and could be on their way to building a competitive team. For starters, they have Kristaps Porzingis. He is the foundation, the building block upon which a contender can be created. You need at least one All-NBA caliber player to be a truly elite NBA team, and KP has that potential. The Knicks also own all of their future first-round draft picks. As we know, that hasn’t always been the case in New York. In fact, the Knicks haven’t been able to use first-round picks in back-to-back drafts since 2008 and 2009. It is imperative that the Knicks hold onto their future selections. Especially with the stagnating salary cap, it’s crucial to be able to have rotation players locked into rookie-scale contracts.

Speaking of the salary cap, the contracts that the Hornets want to attach to Kemba Walker in any potential deal is another major reason why the Knicks should stay far away. Walker is the carrot Charlotte is dangling in order to get another team to swallow the bloated salary of Marvin Williams, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist or Nicolas Batum.

The Knicks need to keep their cap clean going forward, so they can flesh out the rest of the roster around Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina.

Yes, keeping Frank Ntilikina in New York should be a priority as well. Ntilikina has struggled mightily on the offensive end over the first few months of his rookie campaign, and there is no denying that. His inefficiency has been staggering; his percentages are horrendous. However, his mechanics are solid and his body of work in France and international competitions suggest that it’s only a matter of time before his shots start falling. Plenty of stars have struggled as rookies transitioning into the NBA, especially those that have entered the league as teenagers. Keep in mind, Frank is the second youngest player in the league this season.

Moreover, Ntilikina’s defense has been impressive since he first stepped foot on an NBA court. His combination of length and athleticism on the perimeter are already giving opposing point guards headaches. As he puts on weight and strengthens his core, he will become an even feared defender. There will be plenty of bumps in the road, but Ntilikina’s upside is undeniable.

Trading away a young, promising, defensive-minded point guard for Kemba Walker would provide a short-term benefit, but wouldn’t serve the best interests of the franchise in the long run. Arguably the most appealing aspect of trading for Walker is having him at an under-market salary through the end of the 2018-19 season. However, as noted above, the Knicks aren’t going to make noise next season even with Kemba. Then, come July of 2019, they would have to re-sign him with a significant raise. The thought of handing $100-plus million to a 29-year old Kemba Walker is not appealing.

Instead of trying to trade away young players or draft picks for veterans, the Knicks should be trying to trade their veterans for young players and picks.

Incredibly, New York has not received a first-round draft pick in a trade since 2005, when they agreed to take on the bloated salary of Malik Rose from the Spurs. Over the last seven years, the Knicks have traded away four first-rounders, the maximum allowable amount under the league’s “Stepien rule.” They have not owned the rights to both their first and second-round picks in the same draft since 2003.

Fortunately, it appears the Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are taking a prudent approach to the upcoming trade deadline. According to Ian Begley of ESPN, “opposing executives have gotten the impression that the Knicks are opposed to trading draft picks or taking on a significant amount of salary unless it brings back a transformative player.”

Kemba Walker is not a transformative player. The Knicks would be wise to sit tight, protecting their picks and cap space so they can properly build around Porzingis.

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 Daily: Poeltl Looking Forward To New Beginning With Spurs

Spencer Davies looks at the under-the-radar portion of the DeMar DeRozan-Kawhi Leonard trade and how Jakob Poeltl is already embracing the change.

Spencer Davies

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One month ago, a superstar-swapping trade between the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs was agreed upon.

The deal—which once again sparked a national debate about player loyalty—sent a reportedly disgruntled Kawhi Leonard to The North in exchange for Masai Ujiri’s franchise cornerstone, DeMar DeRozan.

Longtime Spur and veteran sharpshooter Danny Green was also moved to Toronto, while San Antonio acquired a protected future first-round draft pick and 22-year-old big man Jakob Poeltl.

Remember, Poeltl was an integral piece of a talented Raptor bench that produced a better net rating than their starters, as well as nearly all five-man groups in the league.

While the majority of pundits have gone back and forth about who won the trade, few have mentioned the ninth overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Being involved in the transaction admittedly caught Poeltl “a little bit off guard.”

But entering his third year as a pro, the seven-foot Austrian is embracing the change and a brand new start with one of the most well-respected organizations in sports.

“That’s one of the things I’m most excited about, just the fact that this program has such a big history in developing players,” Poeltl told reporters in his first media appearance since the move. “I’m really excited for the process. Gonna be a lot of work, but I’m looking forward to it.”

From what he has heard from players who have been a part of the Spurs in the past and those who are currently there, it’s an unselfish group of people. They consider it a family environment.

“Everybody is just in it together,” Poeltl said. “From the very top to the very last guy on the bench or in the gym. It’s really like a great atmosphere, at least from what I’ve heard. So I’m looking forward to actually experiencing it myself.”

As soon as Poeltl got to San Antonio, he gazed at the championship banners hanging inside of the gym and quickly realized the expectations he’ll have to fulfill this season are a little higher than where he came from.

“It’s crazy, it’s different,” Poeltl said. “Obviously in Toronto, we didn’t have banners like that. Like we’re on a good way there, but this program here has some tradition to it. Over the last 20 years been a great basketball team. Obviously, you can tell by the championships and all the accomplishments.

“It’s a little bit of pressure, too. Like we’re trying to live up to that. There’s obviously a very high standard here, so we’ve gotta come in and put the work in and really show what we’ve got on the court as a team.”

Poeltl hasn’t wasted any time in immersing himself into the culture. In fact, he’s been working out at their practice facility since he arrived and feels like there’s a “natural chemistry” already with his new teammates.

In the weight room, Poeltl came across the forever face of the Spurs and future Hall-of-Fame forward, Tim Duncan. The conversation between them was short, sweet and casual. Basketball wasn’t brought up, as that will likely be saved for another time when the season approaches.

Duncan still sticks around and helps in practices from time-to-time, but he won’t be there every day. Somebody else who will be, however, is Pau Gasol, a fellow international center that Poeltl looks forward to learning from.

Though those two will be able to give veteran advice and priceless pointers, Poeltl’s most crucial teachings will come from the Spurs lead general—Gregg Popovich. Like with Duncan, on-court discussions were not the focus of their first interaction.

“We went to dinner,” Poeltl said. “We didn’t really talk too much basketball. It was more just like trying to get to know each other, like a first impression. I think there’s more than enough time for us to talk basketball and really learn what the Spurs are all about on the basketball court.

“But it was a really good conversation. Like I really enjoyed it. He’s a very down-to-earth type guy for if you think about what he’s accomplished in his career. He’s really cool.”

Once training camp comes and the dialogue does take a turn towards the hardwood, Poeltl will be all ears. As it stands now, Poeltl’s niche is the hustle guy. He picks up the scraps, corrals offensive rebounds and dives after loose balls, but don’t pigeonhole “role player” to his name. He plans on doing more in San Antonio.

“I take a lot of pride in that,” Poeltl said. “I think I do a lot of the little things out there—set good screens, be in the right places, making good reads off of my teammates and making plays for my teammates at the same time. Obviously like for me, that’s my role right now and I’m really enjoying that.

“I’m working on my game every single day in practice and I’m trying to develop more offensively and defensively so I can take on more responsibilities in the future.”

Moving on from the team that drafted you to another can be difficult. Luckily, Poeltl isn’t coming alone.

“Obviously it helps to have a familiar face like a guy that I’ve played with over the last three years,” Poeltl said of DeRozan. “Like I know how he plays basketball, he knows me. I think we play well together.”

In the two years they have played together, Poeltl has noticed DeRozan fine-tune his game. Although he is first and foremost a pure scorer, his all-around offense is getting better.

DeRozan’s reads on the opposition are crisper, as are the adjustments he makes due to that. He understands when to take games over and has involved his teammates more and more with each season.

It’s no surprise that the four-time All-Star guard is coming to the Spurs with a statement to make. All he’s done since being drafted is improve and devote himself to his second home in Toronto. He hasn’t uttered one favorable comment towards the front office he feels betrayed him.

Witnessing the kind of player DeRozan is when he’s pushed, Poeltl expects we’ll see a whole other side of him unleashed this year.

“It’s a little bit scary, to be honest,” Poeltl said. “Because I know what he can do when he has a chip on his shoulder, when he gets that extra motivation. I think he’s gonna be ready.”

Poeltl doesn’t have quite that big of a score to settle with the Raptors.

He’s just ready to give his all to an organization in a blue-collar town that matches the kind of work ethic he’s had since he started playing the game.

“That’s kinda how I’ve been for my whole basketball career,” Poeltl said. “Just get the work done.”

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NBA Daily: Can an Anthony-D’Antoni Marriage Work for Houston?

Shane Rhodes lays out how the Carmelo Anthony-Mike D’Antoni pairing could work this time around in Houston.

Shane Rhodes

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It’s official: Carmelo Anthony has joined the Houston Rockets after putting pen to paper on a contract. In doing so, Anthony will join a gifted offensive team helmed by former Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Stop me if you’ve heard that one before.

Back in 2011, when Anthony joined the New York Knicks via a blockbuster trade with the Denver Nuggets, a younger D’Antoni was in the midst of his third year with New York. While he didn’t exactly have a sterling record with the Knicks prior to the acquisition (89-129 before), things improved little upon Anthony’s arrival in the Big Apple (31-38 after). The two butted heads constantly and, after just a year (and an ultimatum forced on the Knicks by Anthony), D’Antoni was out the door; he resigned from his position and pursued work elsewhere.

Now, together once again, questions remain about how their relationship and, ultimately, their offensive styles will mesh in Houston. D’Antoni has already come out and said things will be different this time around, but nothing is so certain in the NBA; what is stopping things from going south as they did for the Knicks, who, despite a bevy of talent, just couldn’t make things work?

It’s important to understand where things went wrong in New York in order to look at where they could go wrong in Houston.

From the jump, the two weren’t exactly the best fit. Anthony wanted to play the way he had his entire career — heavy isolation, high usage basketball — while D’Antoni’s offense was spread out, predicated on ball movement, and closer to what we see in the modern offense.

Those two styles aren’t exactly conducive to the success of one another.

The Knicks finished the season 42-40, going just 13-14 in Anthony’s 27 games with the team. The two continued to be at odds with one another into the next season until, after leading the Knicks to an underwhelming 18-24 start, D’Antoni resigned. While things improved under Mike Woodson in 2012 — Anthony posted the highest usage rate of his career while the Knicks won 52 games — they quickly devolved into disaster and the Knicks, once again, found themselves in a hole that they are still trying to climb out of.

Now, on to Houston. This isn’t the same D’Antoni; he has changed and so has his offense. While ball movement still plays an integral role, D’Antoni has put much more of an emphasis on isolation plays in order to better fit the profile of his current roster.

The Rockets posted historic offensive numbers with James Harden and Chris Paul running the show, but did so unlike D’Antoni teams of the past. Gone are the days of the seven-seconds-or-less offense; the Rockets played at a pace (97.4 possessions per 48 minutes) that was middle of the pack, while their assist total came in at just 26th in the league, third worst among teams that made the postseason last year. Despite that, Houston managed to post the highest offensive rating (114.7) in the league.

While those stylistic changes should aid Anthony as he looks to rebound next season, they alone don’t make this the perfect fit for the Rockets. Anthony will never see the touches that he was once accustomed to in New York or Denver. He isn’t the same player he was five years ago, either; as his athleticism has declined, so too has Anthony’s ability to get past his defenders, leading to tougher, lower percentage shots that could sink the Rockets come the postseason.

The only thing that really holds Anthony back now is his own stubborn ignorance of those facts. He refused to adjust last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder because he still has “so much left in the tank.” Anthony posted some of the worst numbers of his career last season and, while Billy Donovan isn’t the offensive wizard that D’Antoni is, things should only get worse as Harden (36.1 percent usage rate) and Paul (24.5) dominate the ball if Anthony remains unwilling to change.

So, while his words may hold true, Anthony is no longer in a position where he needs to put the team on his back in order for it to be successful. Houston already has a well-established hierarchy, and Anthony is merely a column meant to buttress what is already in place. If he can’t come to accept that, the chance Houston is taking on him could backfire tremendously.

Still, Houston needs someone to eat the minutes vacated by the departure of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency. While he may not be able to match their defensive exploits, Anthony is still more than capable of filling their shoes, or even providing an upgrade, offensively. That potential upgrade alone could make the move a worthwhile one for the Rockets, who came just minutes from dethroning the Golden State Warriors despite the loss of Chris Paul in the Western Conference Finals.

For things to truly work out, however, Anthony must be willing to accept a change in his role, a diminished one in an offense that isn’t hurting for star power or shot takers, but one that desperately needs role players. If Anthony can adapt, he could be exactly what they need to challenge the Warriors. If not, Anthony’s arrival could blow up in D’Antoni’s face just as it did with the Knicks.

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NBA Daily: The NCAA’s Recent Policy Changes are Problematic

The NCAA made unilateral changes to its rules that may look good on paper but more likely make a difficult situation even more complicated.

James Blancarte

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Going into 1995 NBA Draft, the NBA still allowed high school players to enter straight into the NBA but few had actually done so over the years. That year, Kevin Garnett, an extremely talented high school prospect, went straight into the draft from high school and went on to have a Hall of Fame career. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, like Garnett, also went straight to the NBA from high school and each have also had Hall of Fame careers. Many other similarly situated players such as Rashard Lewis, Jermaine O’Neal and Tracy McGrady succeeded on the same path. Yet concerns remained that although there were individual success stories, perhaps it would be best overall to have kids mature a bit more before entering the NBA. Eventually, through collective bargaining, new rules were put in place that prohibited high school players from entering the league.

As time has gone on there has been some frustration with the fact that perhaps these young men, legally adults at 18 years of age, have been unfairly prevented from earning at least one year of significant income as an NBA rookie. There is also frustration, mentioned below, at how the NCAA and college programs have policed themselves (or failed to do so) over the years. There is rampant abuse and under the table dealing that has largely benefitted the people around these young athletes and the schools, while often times harming the players or not benefitting them in any tangible way. The FBI has been conducting an investigation into these practices, which has shed new light and more focus onto the situation. Accordingly, now there is widespread discussion and speculation that the NBA again intends to reverse course and allow players to bypass the collegiate game.

With accusations of impropriety, constant attacks against the amateur model and an ongoing federal investigation, the NCAA took drastic action last Wednesday to counter the negativity around the college game — at least in appearance.

First the good part; players will be allowed to enter the draft and should they be not be chosen, the player may return to school under certain circumstances. Back at his collegiate program, a player can return to a place where he can continue to mature as a basketball player and as a college student. This is a nice option for many players and should have been available years ago.

For NBA teams, they now face the prospect of a first wave of high school seniors going straight to the NBA in addition to the other collegiate and international prospects. If it turns out that these high school prospects are collectively more prepared than expected and demonstrate they can contribute at a high level shortly after entering the league, there could be a sizable shift in how teams value first-round draft picks. Teams are already extremely hesitant to trade first-round picks, which means there would be some additional stagnation in the trade market. There are many complexities to this prospective new system that could have consequences that aren’t even foreseeable at this juncture.

Additionally, while this may be an appealing option for some players who are on the fence about going pro, it may not have as much widespread appeal. Some prospects may not realistically expect to be drafted. Once skipped over, a player is likely to seek compensation in the G-League or by playing international basketball. That’s the rub overall, the college game is sticking to the amateur model and the insistence that players not be compensated beyond the education they receive. Even worse, a player may have declared for the draft knowing that he might be leaving behind academic or conduct violations behind. Should that player attempt to go back, he would have to deal with any situation that joining the professional ranks would have avoided. The point here is that while this new rule may look good for the NCAA from a PR perspective, the truth is it may have little benefit to the college players overall.

Now the thornier part. As reported, the NCAA will allow “elite” high school prospects to obtain an agent. Previously this would have been a violation of NCAA rules that prevent amateur students from doing so. Should a player instead decide to go to college, he would have to break off his relationship with the agent. This adds more complications and issues to a system that is already plagued with questionable rules and policies.

In addition, it appears that USA Basketball was not initially thrilled to be put in a position to determine which players are considered “elite,” which could cause some more logistical issues. Also, there has been speculation about whether prospects participating in the USA Basketball system would be the only players selected or, at least, preferred over international prospects. Matt Norlander of CBS Sports spoke to NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball Dan Gavitt who explained this wasn’t the case.

“It is not going to be just the prospects who are Junior National Team players for USA Basketball. It’s going to be more than that. How that’s going to be determined, and how large a pool, is to be determined. That could be years away,” Gavitt stated.

There is much more to dive into on this issue unfortunately. The NCAA has seemingly taken a strategy to fixing issues that are symptoms of a bigger problem – that is the NCAA’s insistence on treating its players as students who should not be compensated rather than actual athletes. There are no easy solutions to this situation and adding more layers of complexity with unilateral changes such are likely to make matters worse.

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