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NBA Saturday: Carmelo Anthony Committed to Knicks

Carmelo Anthony opens up about his looming free agency, and it sounds like he’s still committed to the Knicks … Trey Burke still adjusting to the NBA game

Alex Kennedy

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Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul talks about his return to New Orleans, his first All-Star game and his teammate Blake Griffin’s outstanding season.

Carmelo Anthony Seems Committed to Knicks

Less than five minutes into Carmelo Anthony’s All-Star press conference, the conversation shifted from the weekend’s festivities to the superstar’s uncertain future.

“How likely is it that this will be your last All-Star game as a New York Knick?” one reporter asked.

Upon hearing the question, Anthony grew frustrated and shook his head.

“Man, why do you want to start that?” Anthony responded. “I can’t sit here and say this is my last All-Star game as a New York Knick. I would be shooting myself in the foot by saying that, so I won’t go down that path.”

While initially it seemed like Anthony didn’t want to discuss his looming free agency, the 29-year-old eventually opened up about his future and spent a large portion of his 30-minute media session discussing that topic. Anthony has an early termination option for next year, and he has made it clear that he’ll opt out to become an unrestricted free agent and secure a new long-term deal.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Anthony is leaving New York. In fact, he was adamant that his preference is still to finish his career as a member of the Knicks.

“I came to New York saying that I want to retire a Knick and that’s not something I was just bullshitting about,” Anthony said. “I said it, I meant it and that’s how I feel. I still feel strongly about that. That’s why, at the end of the season, that’s the time that everything has to be laid out on the table, from both parties. If there’s something we can grow or build on to compete at the highest level, then we’re rolling. If that’s not the plan, then we have to talk about something else. At the end of the day, that’s my first priority – to stay. That’s my first priority. Let’s figure it out. Let’s figure it out together, what we have to do. Just because I said I want to be a free agent doesn’t mean that I want to leave. I’ve never been a guy that comes into a situation and then, when it’s not going well, leaves. That’s not my character. That’s not my personality.”

Perhaps the biggest revelation to come from Anthony’s press conference is that he’s open to taking a pay cut in order to help the Knicks surround him with talent.

“Without a doubt, without a doubt, without a doubt,” Anthony said when asked if he’d be willing to agree to a pay cut. “Any opportunities that I can have to kind of build that up in New York, I’ll do it. I tell people all the time, if it takes me taking a pay cut, I’ll be the first one on Mr. [James] Dolan’s step saying, ‘Take my money, and let’s build something strong.’ … As far as the money man, it don’t really matter to me. If I go somewhere else, I get paid. If I stay in New York, I get paid. So as far as the money goes, that’s not my concern. My concern is being able to compete at a high level, at a championship level, coming at this last stretch of my career. I want to be able to compete at that level.”

If Anthony were to re-sign with the Knicks and take a pay cut, New York could emerge as a serious player in free agency as soon as the summer of 2015. That’s when the contracts of Amar’e Stoudemire ($23,410,988), Tyson Chandler ($14,596,887) and Andrea Bargnani ($11,500,000) come off the books and the Knicks would have just $290,000 in guaranteed commitments (before Anthony signs). That’s when Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge and Roy Hibbert among others can all become unrestricted free agents.

This is the type of plan that Anthony wants the Knicks to put on the table after the season. He wants to see the front office’s blueprint, a detailed look at how they plan on turning the team into a contender.

“Honestly, I haven’t had any in-depth conversations with management about who I want to play with or what kind of team we should have,” Anthony said. “That time will come, and when that time comes everything will be laid out on the table. If they can counter that, then we have a long future ahead of us.”

Anthony also put to rest any rumors that he would be moved before the trade deadline on Feb. 20, saying  that the Knicks don’t want to move him and he doesn’t want to be moved.

“It happens,” Anthony said of being mentioned in trade rumors. “I don’t think I’ll be traded. When is the trade deadline? Tuesday? Thursday? Yeah, see, I don’t even pay attention to it. I don’t think there’s any way it’s possible that I’ll be traded. I don’t even think they’re considering me being traded. … If they feel like they want to get rid of me, then I think we would have already had that conversation. I know for a fact I’m not being traded. It’s two things: I know for a fact I’m not being traded, and I know for a fact I’m not going in there saying I want to be traded.”

While Anthony seems hopeful that things will work out in New York long-term, he did make it clear how frustrating this season has been for him. He truthfully believed that the Knicks were going to take the next step this season, building off of last year’s 54-win campaign. New York brought back much of the same core, yet they’ve dropped from the second seed in the Eastern Conference to 10th with 30 games remaining.

“I wasn’t ready for this season and the way that this season has gone,” Anthony said, and later added: “Coming off of last season, I was expecting us to take another step forward. Obviously, we took some steps backwards.”

It’s clear that the team’s struggles have taken a toll on Anthony, who has received plenty of criticism throughout the year. When asked to describe how his stint in New York has gone, it’s clear that he’s having a hard time dealing with the extreme highs and lows in New York.

“For the most part, I’ve had a fantastic time,” Anthony said about his time with the Knicks. “I mean, up until now. This has been a roller coaster first half to the season for me. But for the most part I’ve had a lot of fun, especially after coming off the season like we had last year. That right there really showed me how New York can really be, especially when we have good players and we have everybody feeling good about themselves. There’s no better place to play than New York when it’s going like that. But then it’s a gift and a curse too. Because on the flip side, you’re like, ‘Damn, I got to go through this today, I got to go through that.’ So for me, I got to be strong for the other guys that are on the team, because a lot of them haven’t experienced stuff like this before.”

Anthony later added: “There’s no better place in the world to play, on a good night, than Madison Square Garden. It’s electrifying. The energy that goes into that building when the fans are on and we’re on, you can’t even explain that feeling that you have.”

Fans in New York have to feel giddy after reading Anthony’s latest quotes. Not only does it sound like Anthony is still committed to the organization, it seems like he’s willing to do whatever is necessary to help the Knicks become a championship-caliber team.

Trey Burke Still Adjusting to NBA

Around this time last year, Trey Burke was becoming a household name with his dominant performances at Michigan. He was preparing to lead the Wolverines on an outstanding postseason run that would culminate in an appearance in the national championship game.

Now, Burke is a member of the 19-33 Utah Jazz and he’s still trying to adjust to the NBA. The college-to-pro transition isn’t easy, especially for a point guard in 2014 since today’s league is overflowing with star floor generals.

However, the 21-year-old is doing a solid job, averaging 12.5 points, 5.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds. The Jazz are clearly a much better team with Burke than without, as evidenced by their 1-12 start to the season while he was sidelined with a fractured finger. Burke was named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December and January, becoming the first player in Jazz history to win the award multiple times.

Even though he’s had some success, Burke is the first person to admit that he still has a lot of learning to do as a player.

“I’m still adjusting to the pace of the game and the speed of the game,” Burke told Basketball Insiders. “Really, it’s not just about natural talent anymore. You have to have a high basketball IQ out there on the court to really get you to that next level because everyone is athletic and talented at this level. It’s just all about learning, and I’m going to continue to do that.”

This weekend, Burke is New Orleans competing in several All-Star events. Last night, he played in the Rising Stars Challenge and tonight he will appear in the Skills Challenge. Burke is enjoying himself and after getting a taste of the All-Star experience, he wants more.

“It makes me very hungry,” Burke said. “It makes me very hungry, motivated and eager to work not only throughout the rest of the season, but also to work over the offseason to get back into this position next year. It should be fun, I’m looking forward to it.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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