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.”
Monte Morris: Waiting for his Chance
Nuggets two-way guard Monte Morris talks to Basketball Insiders about his time with Denver.
Monte Morris has only seen action in three NBA games with the Denver Nuggets this year. While most players who receive little playing time spend most of their time at the end of the bench cheering their teammates on, Morris’ situation is a bit different. He’s spent the majority of his rookie year in the G-League.
The NBA’s minor league has grown tremendously since it’s inception in 2001. All but four NBA teams have a G-League affiliate now. There are plans for the New Orleans Pelicans to have their own team by next season, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has spoken about having a team in Mexico.
As part of the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, they expanded the partnership between NBA teams and their G-League affiliates even more by adding two-way contracts. Essentially creating a 16th and 17th roster spot, two-way players are allowed to split time between an NBA team and the G-League.
For Morris, two-way contracts are an added opportunity for players to make an NBA roster.
“It’s a good chance for guys to make a roster, especially second-round picks to get a chance,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “With two-way contracts, I feel like they’re going to get a lot better as far as rules and things like that go. This is the first year so they’re testing it out, but it’s a good opportunity. It’s a blessing at the end of the day.”
Morris was drafted by the Nuggets with the 51st overall pick in last summer’s draft. Second round picks are not afforded the guaranteed contract stability that comes with being a first-round pick. He was tabbed for a two-way contract almost immediately after he was drafted.
He had a stellar four years of college at Iowa State, where he was one of the top point guards in the nation as a senior. He also had a strong showing in Las Vegas with the Nuggets’ summer league team.
The Nuggets were a little crowded in the backcourt to begin the season with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay ahead of Morris in the rotation. When Mudiay was injured and out of the rotation, Mike Malone opted to go with Will Barton as the backup point guard. The Nuggets’ trade deadline acquisition of Devin Harris pushed Morris farther back on the depth chart.
“The toughest thing is just staying mentally tough, staying true to yourself, and developing your own craft,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “Just not losing that self-confidence cause you might not play when you go up. When you come down here [G-League], take advantage of it, have fun, and keep getting better.”
Morris has definitely done his part to stand out in the G-League. The Nuggets are without a sole affiliate, so they’ve used the Houston Rockets G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, to get Morris additional experience. In 36 games with the Valley Vipers, he’s put up 18.2 points per game on 47.8 percent shooting from the field, 35.6 percent from the three-point line, 4.6 rebounds, 6.6 assists, and 1.8 steals.
He believes that if called upon, he can be a major contributor for the Nuggets. There are certain aspects he can bring to the team and he thinks it’s possible for him to play with Murray in the backcourt together.
“I think I can bring energy off the bench. I feel like me and Jamal Murray, the way the game is going you can play small ball. I feel like I can bring pace to the game and play defensively,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “I like getting after it when I’m up there with those guys on defense and getting guys open shots. I know we got a lot of scorers, my goal would be getting everybody their shots.”
Morris has been able to show he can produce at the NBA level, even if it’s a small sample size. On Feb. 9, only the second game he’s played in with Denver, he scored ten points on 4-5 shooting from the field, dished out six assists, and nabbed three steals against the Rockets.
Players on two-way contracts are allowed a maximum of 45 days with the NBA team. Those days are not solely game days; they include practices and travel days as well. Once those 45 days are up, NBA teams have the option of converting a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal provided they have roster space.
If a player uses up the 45 days and does not have their contract converted, they go back to the G-League. They can rejoin their NBA team once the G-League season ends but are not able to play in the playoffs.
For now, Morris is just biding his time, waiting for his opportunity. He’s staying ready for when the Nuggets might need him. In the meantime, he’ll continue to take advantage of what the G-League has to offer.
“It’s definitely a good starting point. It’s just all about how guys attack it on and off the court,” Morris told Basketball Insiders. “It’s just being a pro and not losing confidence in your ability when you go up and don’t play. You just got to be ready, you’re really one injury away, one call away to step on and have to play.”
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.