Knicks Prepping For Run at Durant?
We’re still two years away from the summer of 2016 when Kevin Durant, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, hits free agency but that hasn’t stopped teams around the league from already preparing themselves to make a run at him when that time comes.
Earlier this summer, the Washington Wizards hired David Adkins as an assistant coach. The vacant position had a long list of applicants with extensive NBA experience, yet the Wizards went with Adkins, who had spent the last five years as an assistant coach for the Maryland women’s basketball program. Going from a college women’s basketball assistant coach to the NBA is as uncommon of a leap as you will find, but Adkins had something going for him that none of the other applicants did: a close relationship with Durant stemming from his time coaching him in high school.
In Adkins’ defense, he has worked with several other professionals including Greivis Vasquez, Victor Oladipo and Alex Len, and was very well respected prior to joining the Wizards, but it seems that his relationship with Durant is what pushed him over the top. John Wall, the face of the Wizards franchise, has made no secret about his interest in helping recruit Durant back closer to home, something that Durant admitted was intriguing to him during Team USA’s training camp before he pulled out.
“I grew up watching the Wizards, (the) Bullets-Wizards,” Durant said to the Washington Post then. “I grew up taking the train to that arena all the time. I watched Georgetown, I watched the Bullets, I watched the (WNBA’s) Mystics, so that whole city is a part of me, is in my blood. Like I said, I love going back home to see my family and stuff and playing there, but I love Oklahoma City too.”
Durant does indeed love Oklahoma City, but has to be a bit frustrated by the team’s lack of success. He’s emerged into the league’s second-best player next to only LeBron James, yet only has one NBA Finals appearance to show in seven seasons. He has a certified second star next to him in Russell Westbrook, but the team has not been anywhere near as formidable since sign-and-trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets when they couldn’t come to terms on a contract extension with him.
These next two years are going to be critical as Durant is clearly not committing to them beyond 2016 right now. At that point in time he’ll have played nine years with the Thunder franchise and if he doesn’t have a championship ring to show for it at that point, it’s going to be hard for him to believe that things are going to be any different. He’s going to go into free agency with an open mind in that case and could be lured away by a team that offers him a better opportunity to contend.
The Thunder’s lone advantage in trying to re-sign him is going to be the fact that they have his Bird rights and can offer him more money than any other team. However, Durant’s recent extension of his Nike endorsement deal is one of the richest in sports history. It’s going to pay him in the neighborhood of $300 million over the course of 10 years, which is actually more than he’s going to get for playing. Add all of the other endorsement deals he has, like the most recent one he signed with Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, and money is going to be one of the least important things on his mind going into free agency. He’s doing just fine monetarily, and is going to want to be in the situation that gives him the best opportunity to compete for a championship, especially after seeing how much the aforementioned James benefited from a change of scenery and improved supporting cast. James went to the Finals in four straight years after leaving the team that drafted him and won twice. Now he’s returned to that franchise and they seem to be equipped with a team that may be better than any he had in Miami. The competitor in Durant, who has consistently finished second fiddle to James throughout his career, whether it be in MVP voting until this past season or Finals appearances, has to be jealous and interested in taking a page out of his own book in order to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy that has been so elusive so far in his career.
By the time 2016 rolls around, there could be more than a third of the league that has cleared enough cap space to make a run at Durant. Judging by their recent hiring of former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Brian Keefe, another coach very close to Durant, it looks like the New York Knicks could be another team lining up to make a run at Durant. They’re poised to have plenty of cap room, and potentially two stars as they already have Carmelo Anthony locked up to a long-term deal and the space to sign another star this offseason. With the cap poised to increase significantly by 2016 and the Zen Master Phil Jackson working his magic in the front office, the Knicks should have no trouble being in a position to make a convincing pitch to Durant. Not only is he close with Keefe, but they have the allure of Jackson’s championship background, one of the league’s biggest media markets and another close friend of Durant’s in Derek Fisher, who he played with in Oklahoma City for a couple of years.
In all actuality, the Wizards and Knicks wouldn’t have made these hires if they didn’t think that they were the right fit and there were benefits beyond their Durant ties. They’re still two years away from being able to even talk to him about signing with them, but the Thunder should be painfully aware that they are going to be facing stiff competition come that summer, especially if Durant is still ringless.
“Two (championship) years straight? That would be cool,” Durant said to USA Today Sports in July. “It would definitely be tough to (leave then). That’s one of those things where you’ve got a dynasty now. But like I said, I don’t want to think too far down the line. I’m trying to focus on today. I love my teammates, my coaches, the front office, the city, but we’ll see.”
‘Melo Wanted Long-Term Deal
The New York Knicks, by virtue of keeping Carmelo Anthony alone, were one of the winners of the offseason. Not so much because it makes them a better team now, but because stars are one of the hardest things to get in this league. Keeping them is even harder, and good luck on trying to recruit a star without one already in place. Keeping Anthony was a necessity in order to get back to a championship level and they’re going to have Anthony in place for the next five years.
News has surfaced today that the Knicks were willing to do whatever it took to keep Anthony, even if that meant having to settle on a short-term deal that would have allowed him to opt out two years in so that he could re-sign for the increased max with a higher salary cap like LeBron James is planning to with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
However, according to Chris Herring of the Wall Street Journal, Anthony wasn’t interested in going through the free agency process again anytime soon. Citing the stress that he experienced with his run through free agency and all the hoopla that came prior to it, Anthony never strongly considered inking a short-term deal.
Only time will tell what kind of shape the Knicks are in the final two years of the deal when they’re paying Anthony $26.2 million at 34 years of age and $27.9 million at 35 years of age, but the security of having a star in place right now to help remain relevant and recruit other stars is well worth putting the concerns of the long-term risk on the back burner.
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.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.