Well, that was quick.
In the end, all it took was a loose ball, four dribbles and four seconds for Kevin Knox to become one of the most talked about rookies in Las Vegas.
On the second day of competition at the NBA’s 2018 Las Vegas Summer League, Knox led the Knicks to a 91-89 victory over the Atlanta Hawks. The rookie turned in a 22-point, eight-rebound effort that sent a pretty clear message to everyone: Knox didn’t come to mess around.
Although one decent summer league showing doesn’t mean Knox is headed for the Hall of Fame, the road to superstardom in the NBA is littered with footprints that track back to impactful summer league performances.
In other words, dominance during July doesn’t necessarily translate to productivity in November, but it sure doesn’t hurt.
So if you’re searching for a major takeaway from Knox and his NBA debut on Saturday, let it be this: he’s at least shown you why Scott Perry decided to select him with the ninth overall pick in June’s draft.
He competed at both ends of the floor and showed the traits that the more dominant players in this era of “position-less” basketball possess—he’s rangy, athletic and can handle the rock. He excelled playing both in the middle of the floor and on the wing and as both a pick-and-roll ball handler and finisher.
It was impossible to not notice.
Riddle me this: what’s more dangerous than a talented kid with these tools?
Answer: a talented kid with these tools and something to prove.
Knox, you see, rarely answers a question about himself without offering one of his fondest memories—being booed by the Knicks fans in attendance at Barclays Center on draft night.
“I just wanna come out and just play as hard as I can,” Knox said.
“[The fans] were booing me and stuff like that, but I just want to come out and play hard and show them what type of player they were getting.”
The true test for the 18-year-old forward is the extent to which he can find consistency. Unlike his collegiate days, Knox is being counted on to provide some hope for a generation of fans that haven’t experienced meaningful playoff basketball. When asked, he’d tell you that his opportunities at the collegiate level were necessarily limited to help maximize his team.
Now, Knox needs the Knicks to maximize them.
Even as a rookie, with Kristaps Porzingis expected to miss the majority of the 2018-19 season, he’ll have every opportunity to. If his performance on day one is anything near an omen of how he’ll translate, the Knicks might be looking back at draft night as the day Scott Perry firmly changed course and charted the Knicks back toward the North Star.
“He’s super mature,” head coach David Fizdale said of his rookie.
“He’s very comfortable with himself, very comfortable with his game. He knows his game. He really understands at a young age how to get to spots and find his shot. We put him in a lot of different situations. He was rolling on pick-and-rolls, he was handling in pick-and-rolls. We’re gonna mix it up with him try to utilize every bit of his skillset.”
That skillset will have every opportunity to find itself at the NBA level. More than ever, teams will employ forward-heavy rotations that rely on the versatility that players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetkounmpo and even Jayson Tatum bring. Call it a stretch, but in today’s NBA, coaches value individual traits more than traditional rotations. Eventually, we’ll see a lineup featuring five players between 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-10. A ball handler, a rim protector and slashers who can finish at the rim and space the floor—those are the five requirements for such a unit.
Most teams in the NBA aren’t blessed to have five such players in the same unit, though the Milwaukee Bucks seem close.
At this point, Knox doesn’t belong in a conversation with those players, but the potential is what tickled the fancy of the front office in New York. On Saturday, it tickled everyone else in Las Vegas, too.
“It’s totally different from college,” Knox said of his first NBA game. “A lot of up and down. Fast paced, a lot of threes, it was good to get out here and play my first NBA game…
“There were a lot of nerves before the game, but a lot of veteran guys just told me just to keep playing. I got my first dunk and the jitters went away.”
Where his personal jitters ceased is where the infatuation began. It continued over the course of the contest, where Knox was put in many different situations and found ways to impact the game.
“[Coach Fizdale] wants me to handle the ball a lot during the season, be able to get rebounds, push it, at the top of the key, be able to come in pick and roll. I’ve been working on that a lot this summer, so I just wanna show people that I can really handle the ball and be able to make plays.”
As the Knicks look toward the summer of 2019 as the time when they can go spearfishing, the franchise knows that merely being able to offer the bright lights and Broadway won’t be enough to lure the best of the NBA’s talent. The type of truly transcendent players that would be needed to help the Knicks become a contender are good enough to get the attention, accolades and greenbacks that New York could offer elsewhere.
The league just got a sobering reminder of such with Paul George opting to keep his talents in Oklahoma City without even as much as hearing an official recruiting pitch from the Los Angeles Lakers.
So if the Knicks have their sights set on Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Klay Thompson or any of the other members of the star-studded free agency class of 2019, they’ll need Knox to prove to be a tad bit more than someone who can fill a mid-July Las Vegas auditorium. They’ll need him to join Kristaps Porzingis and Frank Ntilikina as young studs upon which the franchise can hitch its wagon.
With Fizdale having learned a thing or two about the personal relationships and connections that help serve as a catalyst to building a unified locker room culture, his message to his youngsters has been consistent with an interest in building connections.
That’s why it’s no coincidence that both Ntilikina and Knox have been investing in one another.
“We have really good chemistry,” Knox said of he and Ntilikina. “We work out a lot after practice. We’re just always communicating with each other. He’s a great guy, he’s young too, just like me, so I’m kinda learning from him.”
And at this point, it’s already kinda safe to say that we’re learning from Kevin Knox, as well.
To this point, he’s been exemplary. He’s gone from being a somewhat overlooked contributor to one whose potential—even in just 30 minutes in a summer league game—is quite evident.
During the relatively short duration, he’s soaked up instruction like a Bounty paper towel and has kept his head to the ground as he attempts to prove himself worthy of the adoration of those that believe in him.
But when he gets on the court, make no mistake about it, Kevin Knox has a lot to prove.
And in just four seconds on an early-July afternoon, in an instant, we saw just a flash. But at this point, it’s enough.
The NBA knows that now, and today, certainly knows who the newest Knick hopeful is.
NBA Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk
Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.
In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.
There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.
The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.
The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.
But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.
Think about this for a moment.
While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.
Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.
Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.
Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.
Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.
At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.
Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.
NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available
Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.
With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.
As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.
The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.
Available Restricted Free Agents:
Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.
Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.
Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.
Available Unrestricted Free Agents:
The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.
“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”
Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.
Jamal Crawford and Nick Young
Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.
A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.
NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense
In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.
The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.
In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.
Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).
While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.
After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.
On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.
At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.
Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.
On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.
DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.
From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.
Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.
Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.
All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.