When a team is struggling in the NBA, there tends to be a lot of frustration behind the scenes. When a team has lost 10 straight games and, at 4-20, has the league’s third-worst record, it’s no surprise to see that frustration boil over and lead to finger pointing, fighting and a lot of drama.
That seems to be what’s happening with the New York Knicks right now, as they have dropped 16 of their first 20 games and things are reportedly getting ugly behind the scenes.
The team is struggling on both ends of floor and, according to a report from ESPN’s Chris Broussard, players have been butting heads and doubting that the triangle offense will work with this roster. The report describes the Knicks as “full of discord, defiance and doubt.”
The article indicates that Carmelo Anthony threatened to fight Tim Hardaway Jr. during a recent game, that there has been “a lot of arguing and cursing each other out after games” and that the team has “disdain for the triangle offense.”
Head coach Derek Fisher and team president Phil Jackson are trying to implement the triangle offense, but it hasn’t been successful yet since many of the players are still learning it and some don’t appear to be a good fit for the system. With so many losses in recent weeks, the team is reportedly losing faith in the triangle offense and, at times, going away from the system and playing within their comfort zone instead. Jackson alluded to this during his state of the team press conference earlier this week.
“I think guys understand what we’re trying to do; hopefully, they’re getting to be more compliant,” Jackson said. “There’s some resistance to discipline and order and culture change and things like that.”
One issue that the Knicks have encountered is that they are preaching patience and selling the idea that learning the triangle will pay off for the team in the long run. However, many of the players on the roster could very well be gone at season’s end since some are in the final year of their contract (Amar’e Stoudemire, Iman Shumpert, Samuel Dalembert, Andrea Bargnani, Jason Smith, Shane Larkin, Cole Aldrich and Quincy Acy) and some have been mentioned in trade rumors (Shumpert, J.R. Smith and Hardaway Jr. among others).
These players are trying to showcase their skills and audition for their next contract rather than make individual sacrifices and struggle for the long-term good of a franchise they may not be a part of by this time next year. This me-first behavior becomes even more prevalent when a team is at the bottom of the standings and seemingly playing for nothing. It’s always tough to get NBA players to change their game and make sacrifices, and it’s even harder to do when individuals are playing with their next deal in mind.
Another issue that is apparently dividing the team is the play of Anthony. According to Broussard, several Knicks players are “at odds with Anthony and believe he is not playing team basketball” and Broussard said that some of his teammates confronted him over the weekend during a players meeting. It seems that Anthony has some supporters and some detractors in the locker room.
Broussard says that Anthony’s biggest critic is Hardaway Jr. since both players have accused the other of shooting too much and playing poor defense. During one game, Hardaway Jr. yelled, “Grab a rebound!” and Anthony thought the comment was directed at him. This led to Anthony threatening the sophomore during the game and then the two exchanged words again in the locker room after the loss.
It’s worth noting that Anthony and Hardaway Jr. were asked about their alleged issues on Wednesday night and they downplayed the ESPN report.
“Me and Tim have no problems,” Anthony said, according to Ian Begley of ESPN. “Tim is a guy who I always wrapped my arm around and put under my wing from day one, helped him through times when he’s been down, and I will continue doing that.”
“We’re brothers,” Hardaway Jr. “Brothers argue in the heat of the moment and then they make up. It’s just that simple. I look at Melo as a mentor.”
Anthony also denied that the team is doubting the triangle offense or that anyone confronted him during the team’s meeting on Saturday.
“We’re all committed. We’re all committed to the triangle and to this system,” Anthony said. “We do have times when we do get frustrated. But are we committed as a team to doing what’s right by it? We are committed. We said it from day one.
“Everybody had the platform to kind of speak their piece on what they felt about what’s going on and how they can better the situation [during the team meeting]. But it wasn’t no pointing fingers or anything like that or solely pointing me out to be the blame for what’s going on.”
Is this Anthony telling the truth and shooting down the report because it is inaccurate or is he just doing damage control and trying to keep the Knicks’ issues from going public?
While it may be true that some members of the team aren’t pleased with Anthony’s play, he is really the only Knick who has any job security since he just inked a five-year deal worth over $120 million. Jackson was determined to re-sign Anthony this past offseason and he’ll likely be a big part of New York’s free agent pitch going forward as Jackson tries to add another star or two to the roster.
Winning certainly fixes a lot of problems and if New York can string together some victories and gain some momentum, perhaps things will start getting better behind the scenes as well as on the court. Fortunately for the Knicks, the Eastern Conference is wide open so they’re only six games back from the eighth seed even with their horrendous start.
However, they have a lot of work to do in order to climb into the playoff picture. New York is currently ranked 27th in defense and 21st in offense, and they have lost to non-playoff teams like the Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz, Minnesota Timberwolves and Charlotte Hornets. Their schedule doesn’t get much easier in the near future either, as 12 of their next 15 games are against playoff teams.
New York has been one of the biggest disappointments of the season, and right now they’re on pace to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. If the Knicks continue to struggle in the coming weeks, things could get even uglier and drastic changes could be made.
Kirilenko Deal Almost Complete Between Nets, Sixers
In a move that is expected to be finalized on Thursday, the Philadelphia 76ers will acquire Andrei Kirilenko, a 2020 second-round pick, the right to swap second-round picks in 2018 and possibly Jorge Gutierrez from the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for Brandon Davies.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports was the first to report the details of the trade.
Kirilenko had fallen out of Lionel Hollins’ rotation, playing in just seven games this season for a total of 36 minutes. He had recently been excused from the Nets as he dealt with a family matter, and then it became clear that he wasn’t going to be suiting up for Brooklyn again.
Now, the Sixers will acquire him and likely waive him right away. This is what Sam Hinkie has been doing quite often since taking over as the 76ers’ general manager. He is fine with facilitating another team’s salary dump as long as he gets draft picks or young talent back in return. The 76ers did the same thing when they acquired and waived Danny Granger, Hasheem Thabeet and Marquis Teague among others. Philadelphia has acquired 11 additional second-round picks between 2015 and 2019.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers are two teams that are reportedly interested in Kirilenko’s services, since they could use an upgrade at small forward (particularly a defensive-minded player like Kirilenko).
The 33-year-old is in the final year of his contract and is being paid $3,326,235 this season. This is his 13th year in the NBA, and he has career averages of 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.4 steals.
Middleton, Bucks Aiming To ‘Lock In’ As Season Comes To Close
Spencer Davies catches up with Milwaukee Bucks swingman Khris Middleton in a Basketball Insiders exclusive.
Basketball Insiders had the chance to chat with Khris Middleton about the direction of the Milwaukee Bucks as the season comes to a close.
You guys won three out of four before you came into Cleveland. What was working during that stretch?
Just being us. Doing it with our defense, playing fast-paced offense. Just trying to keep teams off the three-point line. We haven’t done that. We didn’t do that [Monday] or two games ago, but it’s something we’ve just gotta get back to.
With the offense—it seems like it’s inconsistent. What do you think that’s got to do with mostly?
Just trying to do it by ourselves sometimes. Standing, keeping the ball on one side of the floor. We’re a better team when we play in a fast pace. And then also in the half court, when we move the ball from side-to-side it just opens the paint for everybody and there’s a lot more space.
For you, on both ends you’ve been ultra-aggressive here in the last couple weeks or so, does that have to do with you feeling better or is it just a mindset?
I’ve been healthy all year. Right now, it’s the end of the season. Gotta make a push. Everybody’s gotta lock in. Have to be confident, have to be aggressive. Have to do my job and that’s to shoot the ball well and to defend.
Have you changed anything with your jumper? Looking at the past couple months back-to-back, your perimeter shooting was below 32 percent. In March it’s above 45 percent.
I feel like I got a lot of great looks earlier this year. They just weren’t falling. Right now, they’re falling for me, so I have the same mindset that I had when I was missing and that’s to keep on shooting. At some point, they’re gonna go down for me.
Is knowing that every game at this point means more an extra motivator for you guys?
Definitely. We’re basically in the playoffs right now. We’re in a playoff series right now where we have to win games, we have to close out games, in order to get the seeding and to stay in the playoffs. Each game and each possession means something to us right now.
Is it disappointing to be in the position the team is in right now, or are you looking at it as, ‘If we get there, we’re going to be alright’?
I mean, we wish we were in a better position. But where we’re at right now, we’re fine with it. We want to make that last push to get higher in the seeding.
Lots of changes have gone on here. Eric Bledsoe came in two weeks into the season. You had the coaching change and lineup changes. Jabari Parker’s been getting situated before the postseason. How difficult does that make it for you guys to build consistency?
Yeah, it was tough at first. But I think early on we had to adjust on the fly. We didn’t have too many practices. There was a stretch where we were able to get in the film room, get on the court, and practice with each other more.
Now it’s just at a point where we’re adding a lot of new guys off the bench where we have to do the same things—learn on the fly, watch film. We’re not on the court as much now, but we just have to do a great job of buying in to our system, try to get to know each other.
Does this team feel like it has unfinished business based on what happened last year?
Definitely. Last year, we felt like we let one go. Toronto’s a great team. They’re having a hell of a season this year, but I feel like we let one go. This year’s a new year—a little add of extra motivation. We’ve been in the playoff position before, so hopefully, we learn from it when we go into it this year.
Would you welcome that rematch?
I mean, we welcome anybody man. We showed that we compete with any team out here. We can’t worry about other teams as much. We just have to be focused on us.
What has to happen for you guys to achieve your full potential?
Lock in. Just play as hard as we can, play unselfish, and do our job out there night-in, night-out.
NBA Daily: Raptors Look To Fine-Tune The Defense
The Toronto Raptors’ defense had a letdown against the Cavaliers, but has been outstanding overall.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors engaged in an offensive shootout on Wednesday that could be a playoff preview. The Cavs protected home court with a single-possession, 132-129 victory. Afterward, the Raptors spoke about the types of defensive adjustments the team needs to make as the postseason rapidly approaches.
“That’s how a playoff game would be,” said DeMar DeRozan, who missed a three at the buzzer that could have forced overtime. “This is a team we’ve been playing against the last two years in the postseason. Understanding how we can tighten up things defensively, how to make things tougher for them [is key].
“[It’s] little small things that go a long way, and not just with them … with every team.”
Raptors coach Dwane Casey concurred with DeRozan that fine-tuning of the defense is needed. He also pointed out that, with young contributors such as center Jakob Poeltl and power forward Pascal Siakam on the roster, defensive experience against the league’s best player, LeBron James, is something they will have to gain on the fly.
“I don’t think Jakob Poeltl played against him that much, and Siakam,” said Casey. “This is their first time seeing it. I thought Jak and Pascal did an excellent job, but there are certain situations where they’ve got to read and understand what the other team is trying to do to them.”
Poeltl was outstanding, leading the bench with 17 points and tying for the team lead in rebounds with eight. Casey praised the diversity of his contributions.
“I thought he did an excellent job of rolling, finishing, finding people,” said Casey. “I thought defensively, he did a good job of protecting the paint, going vertical. So I liked what he was giving us, especially his defense against Kevin Love.”
Basketball Insiders previously noted how the Raptors have performed vastly better as a team this season when starting point guard Kyle Lowry is out of the game. Much of that is due to Fred VanVleet’s emergence as one of the NBA’s best reserve point guards. VanVleet scored 16 points with five assists and no turnovers against Cleveland. It’s also a reflection of how good Toronto’s perimeter defense has been up and down the roster.
According to ESPN’s defensive Real Plus-Minus statistic, three of the NBA’s top 15 defensive point guards play for the Raptors. VanVleet ranks seventh while Lowry is 12th and Delon Wright is 14th. Starting small forward OG Anunoby ranks 16th at his position.
The Raptors also rank in the top five in offensive efficiency (third) and defensive efficiency (fifth). Having established an identity as a defensive team, especially on the perimeter, it’s perhaps understandable that Lowry was the one player in the visiting locker room who took the sub-standard defensive showing personally.
“It was a disgraceful display of defense by us and we’ve got to be better than that,” said Lowry. “We’ve got to be more physical. They picked us apart and made a lot of threes. We’ve got to find a way to be a better defensive team.”
Lowry continued the theme of fine-tuning as the regular season winds down.
“I think we’ve just got to make adjustments on the fly as a team,” said Lowry. “We can score with the best of them, but they outscored us tonight. We got what we wanted offensively. We’re one of the top teams in scoring in the league, but we’re also a good defensive team.”
Lowry was clearly bothered by Toronto’s defensive showing, but Casey downplayed the importance of a single regular-season game.
“We’ve got to take these games and learn from them, and again learn from the situations where we have to be disciplined,” said Casey. “It’s not a huge thing. It’s situations where we are that we’ve got to learn from and be disciplined and not maybe take this step and over-help here. Because a team like that and a passer like James will make you pay.”
While the Raptors continue to gain experience and dial in the fine defensive details, Casey was insistent that his players should not hang their heads over falling short against Cleveland.
“Hopefully our guys understand that we’re right there,” said Casey.
The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets tonight to open a three-game home stand that includes visits from the Clippers Sunday and the Nuggets Tuesday. After that, Toronto visits the Celtics March 31 followed by a return to Cleveland April 3 and a home game against Boston the next night. With three games in a row against the other two top-three teams in the East, the schedule presents plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to add defensive polish before the playoffs begin.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.