We all knew the New York Knicks desperately needed to upgrade their backcourt this summer. Phil Jackson decided he’d rather not wait until free agency to address the point guard position.
On Thursday afternoon, the Knicks officially announced they had traded center Robin Lopez, guard Jose Calderon and guard Jerian Grant to Chicago in exchange for guard Derrick Rose, guard Justin Holiday and a 2017 second-round pick.
It’s an interesting and confusing trade, in which there does not appear to be a clear-cut winner – at least not at first blush. Let’s dig into the pros and cons from the Knicks’ perspective.
Increased Cap Space in 2017
Before we discuss Rose, let’s first acknowledge that the Knicks currently have just three players on their roster whose contracts extend beyond the 2016-17 season: Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle O’Quinn. That’s it. Other than those three, the books are bare. Of course the Knicks still have to flesh out their roster this summer, but it’s possible that Phil Jackson may be planning on completely revamping the roster and swinging for the fences in the summer of 2017, which will feature an incredible free agent class including the best PG crop of all-time.
If the Knicks play their cards right (i.e. trade for additional expiring contracts and/or sign a number of players to one-year deals), New York would be looking at upwards of $60 million in cap space next summer. And that’s not just cap space and a barren, empty roster. That’s with the salaries of ‘Melo and Porzingis included, with another $60 million to lavish on top-tier free agents. That’s enough to offer two max contracts. Would Phil be able to entice the combo or Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to relocate into the Eastern Conference to play alongside a rising superstar like KP as well as Anthony? The free agent class of 2017 will also likely include Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, Gordon Haywood, Paul Millsap, Kyle Lowry, Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka and many others. Certainly a gamble, but is it one worth taking?
A Possible Rose Revival Inside the Garden?
Will Rose stay healthy and bounce back in NYC? Will a change of scenery benefit him?
Depending on how you dissect the data from last season, you can convince yourself either way. The fact of the matter is he was inefficient offensively. There were 40 NBA players who attempted over 1,000 FGs last season, and Rose ranked 39th out of those 40 in terms of True Shooting Percentage. Kobe Bryant was the only player with a worse TS%. However, Rose’s overall numbers were dragged down by his horrendous start to the season, which was due largely to an eye injury sustained in training camp. Rose had his orbital bone fractured by an errant elbow from a teammate in practice on September 29 and had surgery the next day. Rose admitted he was literally seeing double during games and would play with one eye closed at times.
Over his first 20 games of the 2015-16 campaign, Rose (playing through that eye injury) averaged 12.9 points per game in 32.4 minutes, while shooting under 37 percent from the floor, 23 percent from three-point territory and 72 percent on free throws.
However, Rose turned a corner and began playing much better in late December. Beginning on the day after Christmas and extending into mid-March (a total of 28 games in the middle of the season), he averaged 19.4 points per game in 31.4 minutes, while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor, 35.5 percent from three-point range and 87 percent from the free-throw line. Those are impressive numbers.
Rose came back down to earth toward the end of the season. He missed six of the final 19 games of the year. In the 13 that he played, he averaged a respectable 15 points while shooting 42.8 percent, 31 percent on threes and 70 percent from the stripe. Rose’s on/off splits last season weren’t encouraging: Chcicago’s Offensive Rating with him on the court was 104.6; it was 105.2 with him off.
His defense is an issue. Chicago’s opponents scored 108.5 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the floor. They scored 104.4 points per 100 possessions with Rose on the bench
Still, Rose was able to avoid a serious injury to his knees and look fresher and more athletic at times that he had in years. Rose will never be his “MVP-caliber” self of 2011, but he showed encouraging flashes of the burst and athleticism that thrust him to stardom.
Knicks Desperately Needed to Improve at PG
The sad reality is that if Rose plays at even an average level next season, he would be a huge upgrade for the Knicks. Jose Calderon was arguably the NBA’s worst starting point last year. In order to be competitive in today’s NBA, it is imperative that you have a point guard who can break down his defender and penetrate into the heart of the defense, thus creating opportunities for himself and his teammates.
Calderon scored a total of 46 points in the paint over the 2,024 total minutes he played last season. Rose scored 453 points in the paint (10th most in the league) over the 2,097 minutes he played. And even though his defense leaves a lot to be desired, Rose is obviously still a massive upgrade over Calderon on that end of the floor as well.
It is also important to note that there were very few attractive free agents PGs on the market this summer. Mike Conley is the only top-tier PG available, and he is going to get max money. Rose, while no longer as good as Conley, is a year younger and actually played in 10 more games last season than Conley (who suffered a significant Achilles injury). It could easily be argued that one year of Rose is a far more prudent decision than spending $110 million over four years for Conley.
The Knicks now get an up-close look at Rose for an entire season, and can then decide if they want to sign him to be Porzingis’ running mate for the rest of the decade. If not, they will have $21+ million coming off the books to go shopping for a new PG.
A Playoff Team in 2017?
If the goal is to revamp the roster next summer, it would presumably benefit Phil Jackson’s sales pitch if the Knicks are coming off a season in which they showed tangible improvement and advanced to the postseason.
Even with oodles of cap space and the promise of Porzingis, if the Knicks entered next offseason having missed the playoffs in four consecutive seasons, that losing stench may be hard for prospective free agents to ignore. If New York can make strides in 2016-17, elite FAs may be sold on the idea that the Knicks are just one or two pieces away from making a major jump.
More Porzingis at Center?
Losing Robin Lopez hurts, but one possible bright side of Lopez being out of the picture is that this might lead to increased opportunities for Kristaps to play the five, where he can use his incredible athleticism and versatility to overwhelm slower opponents. Spread the floor out and let KP run high pick-and-rolls with Rose all day.
You also can’t help but wonder if part of the reason Phil and company felt comfortable trading away Lopez was because they feel confident they will be able to sign center Willy Hernangomez, their 2015 second-round pick who played well in Spain last season. Hernangomez’s contract with Real Madrid expires at the end of this month and he expressed an eagerness to come overseas and play in New York, alongside his former teammate Porzingis. (*Note, if the Knicks do something stupid like sign Dwight Howard to a big contract then the previous paragraph will self destruct and this was all was naught).
The Knicks Have Their 2017 First-Round Draft Pick
The worst case scenario is Rose suffering a major injury and the Knicks slinking to another season in the Atlantic Division basement. However, even in that situation, the silver lining is the Knicks still have their first-round pick next year. They would shed Rose’s contract prior to free agency and have a lottery pick in a strong draft.
Why Give Away Valuable Assets For Rose?
When Ian Begley of ESPN initially reported that the Knicks were entertaining the idea of trading for Rose last week, it made some sense for the points outlined above. Rose would keep ‘Melo, James Dolan and the fan base happy by improving the team’s prospects for next season, while also serving as a salary cap placeholder until 2017. In fact, many pundits reported that most other teams dealing with the Bulls demanded that Chicago throw in a pick or another player in order to take on Rose’s cumbersome contract.
Not only did Chicago not have to sweeten the Rose package with a first-round pick, they got Phil to fork over Lopez and Grant. Lopez was an underrated defensive stalwart for New York, and Grant, despite being unwisely buried on the bench for much of the season, showed flashes of promise late in the year. In the six games he started at the end of the season, Grant averaged 14.5 points, 3.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 three-pointers and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 49.3 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point territory. It also would have been interesting to see if he flourished under new head coach Jeff Hornacek in an offense more suited to his strengths.
Lopez and Grant Are Inexpensive
Robin Lopez certainly wasn’t a star, and $13 million a year doesn’t seem cheap. However, check back with me in a couple weeks, right after the first few waves of free agents have signed throughout July. With the salary cap spiking to $94 million, that means that the salary floor will jump all the way to $84 million. Consequently, every team is going to have to find a way to hand out an immense amount of salary this summer. Relatively unappealing mid-tier free agents will be making upwards of $15 million per season. And $13 million for a legit starting center will be a solid value.
Players signed to their rookie contracts will also be especially valuable. Jerian Grant will only make $1.6 million next season. He’ll be paid just $1.7 million in 2017-18. That’s less than two percent of the salary cap. Grant likely projects as an average career backup, but having dependable rotation players that account for such a small percentage of the cap is how winning teams are constructed.
Defense Is Now a Major Issue
The Knicks allowed fewer than 108 points per 100 possessions last season. That’s below average relative to the rest of the league, but for the Knicks that represented a major step forward. In fact, it was just the third time in the last 12 years that the Knicks had a Defensive Rating south of 108.
Lopez was obviously a significant reason for their improved defensive intensity. Lopez led the Knicks in rebounding and was second on the team in blocks. Phil has $30 million to spend this summer to round out the roster, but with Rose and Carmelo as the team’s two highest paid players, defense certainly appears as if it will be a season-long problem.
Downside to Cap Space and a Rose Rebound
The negative aspect of Rose hitting free agency next summer is that even if he stays healthy and rediscovers his game, the Knicks will have to pony up in order to keep him long-term, which would obviously be a major gamble.
In addition, with the cap space the Knicks cleared out by trading Lopez and Grant, will Phil be able to better allocate those resources? Will he find a better use of $15 million combined than RoLo and Grant? If he can somehow convince a superstar to come to New York, then the roll of the dice pays off. If he can’t, it’s difficult to imagine he’ll find a better value for role players with the cap jumping up to $108 million in 2017.
As is the case with most deals, we will likely have to revisit the entire picture a few years from now to truthfully determine which side “won” or “lost” this trade.
NBA Daily: What Should the Raptors Do at the Trade Deadline?
The Toronto Raptors are surging. Bobby Krivitsky examines whether they’ve been good enough to keep their current core intact or if they should take a different approach at the trade deadline.
After losing eight of their first 10 games to start the season, the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 23 matchups, surging to fifth in the Eastern Conference.
The Raptors had to quickly recharge during a truncated offseason, get acclimated to a new setting and adjust to Aron Baynes and Chris Boucher stepping into the void left by the departures of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka. Despite all of that, they’re scoring the 10th-most points per 100 possessions, are 13th in defensive rating and have the ninth-best net rating in the NBA.
Through Toronto’s ups and downs this season, they’ve been able to count on Fred VanVleet. After signing a four-year, $85 million contract to remain with the Raptors, the fifth-year guard from Wichita State has once again taken his game to a higher level. He’s averaging 20 points, 6.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds — all career-bests — and eighth in the NBA with 1.7 steals per contest. It’s discomforting to imagine where this team would be if he had left.
Then there’s Pascal Siakam, who’s finally shaken off a rough second-round series against the Boston Celtics last postseason and thawed from an icy start to his 2020-21 campaign. Siakam is averaging 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 1.2 steals per game. One of the main reasons for his turnaround has been Siakam’s growth as a facilitator: those 4.8 assists represent a career-best. And, with the Raptors shifting more towards small-ball, Siakam is thriving working off a screen from guards, spotting where the defense is vulnerable and taking advantage of it.
Another crucial component of Siakam’s improvement is him playing with more energy on the defensive end. Effort can only take a defender so far, but when that individual is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and has the strength, quickness and intelligence to guard positions one-through-five for varying amounts of time, doing so can have a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
While Siakam’s production has more of an impact on the Raptors’ ceiling than any other player on the team, Kyle Lowry, alongside VanVleet, establishes Toronto’s floor. Lowry, who turns 35 in March, is averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per game this season. He remains the heart and soul of the team. That makes it even more impressive that, despite losing him to a thumb injury during a Feb. 16 matchup against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto went on to win that night and again two days later, stretching their winning streak to four games (including a victory over the Philadelphia 76ers).
One major change stemming from the Raptors playing small more often is Norman Powell entering the starting lineup. He’s started his last 17 games and is averaging a team-high 21.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals. During that stretch, the sharpshooting Powell is also knocking down 44.4 percent of his 6.4 threes per game and shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. Toronto has won 10 of those 17 games.
Powell gives the Raptors more offensive firepower, allows them to play faster and, when they don’t have a traditional center on the floor, has made it easier for them to switch on defense. It’s an adjustment that’s worked so well for Toronto, even in Lowry’s absence, Baynes came off the bench while DeAndre’ Bembry joined the starting lineup.
So, with the Raptors finding their footing and the March 25 trade deadline inching closer, what’s Toronto’s best course of action? That decision revolves around their plan with Lowry.
Lowry, whose $30 million deal is set to expire after the season, is interested in playing at least two more seasons at a similar value, per Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Are the Raptors willing to meet those demands, paving the way for the franchise icon to spend the remainder of his career with them? Secondly, the Raptors aren’t a title contender right now, which could lead to the two sides working together to send Lowry to a team meeting that criteria by the trade deadline, which also happens to be his 35th birthday.
If it comes to that, Pompey listed the 76ers, Miami HEAT and Los Angeles Clippers as Lowry’s preferred destinations, noting the North Philadelphia native would like to return to his roots. For the Raptors to go through with trading the six-time All-Star, it would likely take multiple first-round picks and promising young players along with any contracts included for salary-matching purposes to be expiring after this season.
Considering Toronto’s current place in the NBA’s hierarchy, if Lowry intends to leave for a title contender or the Raptors aren’t willing to meet his contractual demands, it’s clear what they should do at the deadline. Trading Lowry isn’t going to net Toronto the return necessary to vault them into the league’s top tier, but it would still figure to serve them better in the long term, even though the Raptors’ resurgence suggests if he’s still on the team after Mar. 25th, they’re once again going to be a difficult out in the playoffs, and they could go as far as the Eastern Conference Finals.
If they want to play the long game, it would also make sense for them to trade Powell, who has an $11.6 million player option he’s likely to decline in the offseason. Granted, he’ll be 28 next season, so it’s not as if re-signing him would be short-sighted.
There’s nothing wrong with preserving the possibility Lowry never dons another team’s jersey — and parting with a franchise icon is never easy. But trading Lowry may be the best bet for the franchise’s future, while it would neither change the fact that the team will someday retire his jersey, nor would it take away from his legacy. In fact, doing right by him and giving Lowry another opportunity to compete for a title may just be the best parting gift the Raptors could give him while also strengthening their own long-term outlook.
NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Romeo Langford
Once a top-five high school recruit, Romeo Langford has yet to make an impact in his brief NBA career.
As a highly-touted high school prospect, Romeo Langford found himself at the fifth spot in the 2018 ESPN Top 100. His play earned him a spot in the 2018 McDonald’s All-American Game among big-name recruits such as Zion Williamson, and after a very successful high school career, the five-star shooting guard decided to take his talents to Indiana over both Kansas and Vanderbilt.
Langford’s time as an Indiana Hoosier was short-lived as he only spent one year with the team before declaring for the draft. He played in thirty-two games despite tearing a ligament in his thumb. His shooting percentages reflected this injury as he shot a meager 27.2 percent from three and 44.8 percent from the field, per Sports-Reference. Both of these percentages were not reflective of the electric, efficient scorer he was at New Albany High School.
Selected with the No. 14 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics, there was a lot to be excited about. For starters, the Celtics were able to draft a player just inside the lottery who many thought would be a top-five pick before the 2018-19 NCAA season. They were also able to get a resilient player that grinded through his injury and was still able to pace the BIG 10 in freshman scoring with 16.5 points per game. The potential with a healthy Langford is there, and that’s what led to him being a Boston Celtic.
During a 2019 interview with Boston.com, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens spoke highly of their rookie.
“If they would have been more on the national radar, and he would have not hurt his thumb, he probably would have been even more discussed,” Stevens said at the Celtics practice facility. “He’s a guy we were all well aware of before his first game at IU.”
If it was not clear by this quote, big things were expected from the former Indiana Mr. Basketball.
Unfortunately, his first season on the Celtics was not much of one to write home about. Across 32 games, he managed to average only 2.5 points with 1.3 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game, often finding himself with Boston’s G League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
This should not be a big indicator of how things will end up for Langford though – as flourishing Charlotte Hornets star Terry Rozier was also an afterthought off the Celtics’ bench in his first season, even though many people saw his future potential. In a Feb. 7th matchup with the Atlanta Hawks, Langford made the most of a starting opportunity, dropping 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including 2-for-5 from three-point range, and 3 blocks. Later, he would then undergo season-ending surgery to repair the scapholunate ligament of his right wrist during the team’s playoff run in the bubble.
As the 2020-21 season heads towards the All-Star break, Langford has yet to suit up as he still is recovering from surgery. But according to a report by NESN, Langford should be healthy enough to return following the pause.
This then leaves the question: where does Langford fit on the Celtics roster, if at all? Amidst a disappointing start to the season, many fans and people around the Celtics have begun to sound the alarm. When the owner even comes out to 98.5 The Sports Hub and acknowledges the fact that the young Eastern Conference finalists are not currently a contender, there should be plenty of reason to panic.
The Celtics’ troubles have been all over the place this season, but the one that seems to be the most glaring is the lack of explosive scoring outside of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. There has been some great play off the bench by Payton Pritchard and Robert Williams, but players like Grant Williams, Jeff Teague and Semi Ojeleye have struggled to be consistent factors.
As the Celtics continue to look for splashes in the trade market, there is a lot of uncertainty around Langford’s future as the team now seems to lack tradable assets outside of the core.
Despite his long injury, Langford is still a much more desirable piece than Javonte Green or Grant Williams. Moving on from Jeff Teague may be a route that the Celtics opt to take as well because he has failed to make much of an impact off of the bench, and this would open up playing time to test out a 100 percent healthy Langford.
Langford could bring a great burst of energy off the bench for the Celtics if healthy, and so exciting to see how he fits alongside the outstanding rookie point guard in Pritchard. With Langford on the second unit, it would open up the floor for Tatum as he would have another solid scorer to kick the ball out to.
Could Langford end up being the guy that fixes the bench scoring problem for the Celtics? Only time will tell, but based on his high school and collegiate careers, he very well might be 𑁋 if he’s still on the team past the deadline.
NBA Daily: Luke Walton’s Uncertain Future
Could this be it for Luke Walton in Sacramento? David Yapkowitz examines.
There’s one big question surrounding the Sacramento Kings this season: what, exactly, will become of head coach Luke Walton? Walton, in the second year of a four-year deal he signed back in 2019, has often headlined the group of coaches that are thought most likely to be let go next.
Brought in by the previous regime, Sacramento’s situation has changed considerably since they brought in Walton. Former general manager Vlade Divac has since stepped down and been replaced with Monte McNair. And, often, new management will look to build their team, coaching staff included, in their own mold — that’s nothing really against the current personnel, just that different voices sometimes have different visions and want to construct a team within that vision.
If the team plays well, the new management team may be inclined to ride it out with the current staff. In a somewhat recent example, when Masai Ujiri first took over in the Toronto Raptors front office, the Raptors started surging in the standings and Ujiri held on to Dwane Casey for a while before ultimately replacing him with Nick Nurse. Casey had been hired by former executive Bryan Colangelo.
The Kings are in an interesting scenario in that, despite being a perennial bottom-dweller, expectations have existed for the team for over a decade now, the main expectation being that they would eventually improve beyond that bottom-feeder status. Now, that expectation may be more warranted than ever, as Sacramento has some seriously talented pieces in place, including franchise cornerstone De’Aaron Fox and Rookie of the Year contender Tyrese Haliburton.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, the Kings looked like they might actually be turning things around. On a four-game win streak, with wins over the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, they looked like a different team.
Since then, unfortunately, they’ve reverted to the Kings of old. Now, they’re on an eight-game losing streak, their first such skid since 2019.
There are plenty of good teams in the Western Conference and, because of that, at least a couple of them are going to be on the outside looking in come playoff time. Of course, it can be hard to fault teams that show consistent effort and improvement. But that just hasn’t been the Kings, for quite some time now.
The main area of concern for the Kings where they haven’t shown real improvement is on the defensive end. They were already among the bottom half of the league on that end before their most recent skid, while it’s been significantly worse during their last eight games.
It’s always a possibility to bring in a defensive-minded assistant to help with that end, much like Sacramento tried to do on offense this past offseason. To spark the team on that end of the court, the Kings added Alvin Gentry to Walton’s staff and for the most part, it’s worked out: Sacramento is 12th in the league in scoring, up from 22nd last season. They’re also shooting better from three-point range while playing at a quicker pace.
But in order to win in this league, you need to do it on both ends. And that’s something the Kings haven’t shown the ability to do.
Sacramento is allowing 119.6 points per game, dead last in the NBA. Their defensive rating of 118.7 is also last. And, at this point, simply adding an assistant might not do the trick; at this point, it might just be easier (and more effective) for management to simply cut ties with Walton and set up a new staff under a new head coach.
Walton’s popularity and potential as a head coach first piqued during the 2015-16 season with the Golden State Warriors. When he stepped in for Steve Kerr, who took leave from the team to recover from back surgery, Walton guided the team to a 24-0 start and a 39-4 record upon Kerr’s return. While the Warriors were in their second of what would be five-straight runs to the NBA Finals and had a strong foundation already in place, Walton’s involvement in the feat can’t be discounted, while it opened the league’s eyes as to his potential as a head coach.
But later, during Walton’s years as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, the team showed slight, if minimal improvement each year at best. In fact, those Lakers were similar to these Kings in that they were a young team with no real experience just trying to get better. And, obviously, it’s much easier to look good when you already have an established unit.
Coaching in the NBA is a tough and often thankless job. When things go right, they get little credit. When they go wrong, the blame lies almost squarely on their head. As with players, sometimes a coaching situation just isn’t the right fit for either party; maybe this Kings’ roster just isn’t built to maximize Walton’s system.
That said, in this particular case, it would probably be best for the Kings to ride the current situation out. Sacramento has shown some improvement from last season and Walton deserves some credit for that. He’s shown constant faith and trust in his rookie, Haliburton, while he has Fox playing at a near All-Star level and Richaun Holmes looking like one of the NBA’s best in the painted area (and an absolute steal, given his contract).
Going forward, it’s worth rolling the dice and seeing if they can’t end this skid and get back to their strong play earlier in the year. Further, it might not be that great an idea to make such a radical structural change halfway through the season when your team might still have a realistic shot at the postseason.
That said, should the team continue to struggle, then it would be wise to revisit the matter in the offseason. If they do, it wouldn’t be much of a reach if McNair decides that two years is enough and that he wants to bring in a head coach of his own choosing.