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Kevin Knox II Needs A Fresh Start

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In the NBA Draft, late-lottery teams typically face tough decisions. The late lottery is usually home to teams with some – albeit not a whole lot – of talent. Ideally, teams in the late lottery are up-and-coming, allowing them to either draft based on need or take a chance on someone they can bring along slowly.

In 2018, the New York Knicks had the ninth pick in the draft. Due mostly to a talented draft class, there were still a few strong prospects in play when it was the Knicks turn to make a selection.

Prior to the 2018 draft, the Knicks had been closely linked to Mikal Bridges. There were also rumors about their interest in Miles Bridges. Michael Porter Jr. was looked at as a long shot to drop to ninth, but he, too, was available when the Knicks made their selection.

Ultimately, the Knicks went with a less established forward from Kentucky – Kevin Knox II. The Kentucky product initially looked the part, impressing in his first Summer League. Knox averaged 21.3 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. He was even named to the All-NBA Summer League First Team.

His first season was similarly impressive. As a 19-year-old role, Knox averaged 12.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in 28.8 minutes per game, scoring 20 or more points 11 times – including a career-high 31 points against the Philadelphia 76ers in January 2019. He shot 37% from the field – which definitely requires improvement – and 34.3% on three-point attempts.

But everything can’t be summed up by stats. Knox demonstrated a strong foundation. He proved to be a fluid athlete, even against NBA-level competition, and the form on his jump shot was clearly a strength.

Knox also had his work cut out for him – but initially, the areas of game requiring work seemed easy enough to improve—namely, strength, shooting and shot selection. Knox’s biggest need – from this writer’s perspective, anyway – was that he avoided contact at the rim, opting to rely on off balance floaters far too often. But that’s an easy fix involving strengthening and repetition.

Knox’s second go-round in Summer League was as impressive as his first. He averaged 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2 assists per game. He demonstrated a more complete game throughout Summer League play, and he looked more comfortable picking his spots, all the while helping to accommodate the new rookie, RJ Barrett.

But confidence is a fickly beast, especially for NBA players, and Knox’s confidence quickly took a hit in his Sophomore season. And it had little to do with him or his game.

Coaching is paramount to player confidence. A select few guys really know they belong, but most young players are only as good as their opportunities. In his rookie season, Knox had a player-advocate for a coach in David Fizdale. In the 21 games that Fizdale was still the Knicks’ coach in 2019-20, the Knicks struggled and Knox slumped a bit – averaging just 7.9 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 20.2 minutes per game on 37.1% shooting and 35.9% on three-point attempts.

After Fizdale was let go, the Knicks promoted Mike Miller to interim head coach. Miller dealt with all of the same pressures as Fizdale, but he also had to struggle with the idea that his NBA future would be based squarely on the final 44 games of the season, a fact that likely motivated him to lean on his more proven players – Knox was not a part of that group.

Knox averaged only 5.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 16.9 minutes per game under Miller, shooting 35.3% from the field and 30.6% on three-point attempts.

Knox has had a tough go-of-it as a professional so far. He’s had three coaches in three seasons. Coach Tom Thibodeau is by far the best of the bunch, and he’s had an incredibly positive effect on many of the younger Knicks – but Knox is simply not in his rotation. Once again, it’s not his fault; he’s plays the same position as All-Star Julius Randle, who is Thibodeau’s most beloved workhorse.

Knox is receiving just 11.6 minutes per game in 2020-21, in which he’s posting 4.1 points, 1.6 rebounds and 0.5 assists. His shooting is improved – 39.9% from the field and 39.1% on three-point attempts – but he’s too far down the bench for it to matter. He’s scored in double-figured just three times this season, and he’s received 25 DNP-CDs through 63 games.

New York is a tough place to play, especially for kids who aren’t brimming with confidence. Somehow Knox is still only 21-years-old, so he could very realistically make his mark yet – after all, most teams would trip over themselves to grab a young 6’7” shooter with a good first step. But it’s unlikely to happen in the Big Apple — which is unfortunate because he has all of the tools.

But switching gears, imagine if the Knicks had taken any of the other guys they were linked to prior to the 2018 NBA Draft? Porter Jr. Mikal Bridges. Miles Bridges. All three have made their mark on the league, and all three would add tangible skills that would benefit the Knicks. It’s hard to imagine any of those three failing to develop into what they’ve become.

This past Monday, Mikal Bridges came to the Garden and gave them an up-close look at what they passed up. Bridges scored 21 points on three-for-six shooting from three-point range in a eight-point Phoenix victory. That game snapped a nine-game win streak for the Knicks.

Examining past drafts picks is an exercise in futility. Players develop partially because of their teammates, coaches and training staffs. You can’t just grab a player’s stats three years into his career and drop him on a roster that developed partially due to the ramifications of the picks they made since.

But it’s pretty clear that any of the other three prospects to whom the Knicks were linked would have produced more for a team currently  in need of offensive fire power.

As for Knox, his inability to secure a consistent role under Thibodeau and the crowding at his position mean it’s it’s unlikely that a role materializes for him in the near future. A fresh start elsewhere is probably best. It’s not his fault. It’s just the way it is.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal, and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks are expected to pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick, and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs’ organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs’ owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings, or Philadelphia 76ers.

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Lakers Need More Than Big Three

The Lakers have their “big three” after trading for Russell Westbrook but is he the right fit in Los Angeles? The former MVP has had an incredible career but he may not be the point guard the Lakers desperately need.

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The Los Angeles Lakers have formed their three-headed monster as they pursue the franchise’s 18th championship next season. Just as the NBA Draft was getting started, the Lakers completed a deal with the Washington Wizards that landed them the 2016-17 league MVP, Russell Westbrook.

The deal sent Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell and the 21st overall pick in this year’s draft to Washington, paving the way for Westbrook to join fellow superstars LeBron James and Anthony Davis. While the Lakers added a dynamic point guard, not everyone is sold on the idea that the Lakers are the team to beat in the loaded Western Conference.

Over the past several weeks, the Lakers were rumored to be seeking perimeter shooting. Some reports had Los Angeles linked to guys like Chris Paul, Buddy Hield and DeMar DeRozan. When the dust settled, it was Washington that made the deal as Westbrook informed the front office that he preferred the Lakers as a destination.

The move is a homecoming of sorts, as Westbrook grew up in the area and spent two seasons playing at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the 2008 Final Four. He had a solid 2020-21 season, averaging 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists per game for the Wizards, who earned the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.

Oddly enough, this is the third straight offseason in which the 9-time All-Star has been traded. After leaving Oklahoma City, Westbrook was not able to find postseason success in Houston or Washington. Will that now change in Los Angeles?

For all of his accomplishments, Westbrook’s legacy has been defined by his play during the regular season. This past season, the point guard passed Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in the history of the game. Out of his 184 triple-doubles, only 12 have come in the playoffs. By comparison, Magic Johnson has the most playoff career triple-doubles with 30, and James is next with 28. Now all three will have played for the Lakers during their careers.

The thing about triple-doubles (and this is especially the case with Westbrook) is that they don’t always translate to wins. They clearly help the team overall but some would argue that a more balanced attack is tougher to stop. History has shown that having a “big three” is almost a requirement to be considered a legitimate championship contender, but this trio in Los Angeles doesn’t exactly fit together like many of those others.

As talented and valuable as Westbrook has been over the course of his career, he needs to have the ball to be effective. His poor perimeter shooting has been the big hiccup in his game, and that is something that this Lakers team desperately needs. The problem isn’t that any of these three won’t share the ball. In fact, they had already discussed checking their egos even before this trade went down.

Westbrook has never had a problem sharing the ball. He was able to co-exist with Durant in Oklahoma City, Harden in Houston and Beal in Washington. The difference in this scenario is that he will be occupying the same space as James and Davis. The concern is efficiency. Out of 34 players to average at least 20 points per game over the last four seasons, Westbrook ranked 33rd in true shooting percentage.

When James drives to the rim or when Davis is facing a double-team inside, how confident will they be in passing out to Westbrook for a three-pointer? Better yet, how patient will they be if the shot isn’t falling? We have already seen what happened with Danny Green and Caldwell-Pope.

Now that the Lakers have assembled their trio of stars, many fans are hopeful to witness an NBA Finals matchup where James and the Lakers meet Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. As juicy as that series would be, the Western Conference is a gauntlet. There is no guarantee that the Lakers will make it there.

What helps their path is that the crosstown rival Clippers will likely be without Kawhi Leonard next season. The Denver Nuggets will be without Jamal Murray and the Golden State Warriors might not be the Warriors from four years ago. There is also uncertainty surrounding Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers and some potential roster changeup with the Utah Jazz.

Considering all of the top-tier point guard talent available in free agency this summer, the Lakers may have been better off trying to do a sign-and-trade. Such a scenario would have hard-capped them but after this deal, they are just $12.6 million below the hard cap with just five players on the roster. Putting together a deal for Hield is still possible, but the Lakers will have to get creative. Adding a third team to this trade, in particular, is one way to accomplish that. Again, it is possible but it will be complicated.

In a perfect world, the Lakers could have worked with Toronto on a sign-and-trade for Kyle Lowry. Even though Lowry is older than Westbrook, the current window for Los Angeles to win with this group is closing fast. Lowry would be cheaper and a much better fit overall. His durability, toughness, defense and high basketball IQ would pay dividends for the Lakers. Adding in the fact that he is a much better shooter, one has to wonder why the Lakers wouldn’t pursue this route instead.

Westbrook is still going to help this team. He is a tremendous asset for them in the regular season, especially when James is on the bench or unable to play. Having another floor general on the court to generate offense is something they have not had since James arrived. If Los Angeles can land some above-average shooting to the roster, Westbrook could flourish in this role.

With James sliding to the power forward position and Davis playing more at center, the key for Los Angeles will be to surround these guys with shooters. The Lakers ranked 21st in three-point percentage and 25th in makes last season. Expect the organization to be busy when free agency starts next week. Targets will include guys like Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Norman Powell, Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott, Bryn Forbes, Patrick Mills, Reggie Bullock, Kendrick Nunn and Alec Burks.

Obviously, the Lakers are counting on their individual talent and figuring out the rest later. It likely means the end for Dennis Schröder. Can Alex Caruso fit in and where does this leave Talen Horton-Tucker? The rest of the roster is in limbo, but the star players and the front office both feel confident that they will land the other pieces that they need to raise another banner next summer.

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