Dec 03, 2013 9:06 PM EST
After a disappointing start to the season, the New York Knicks’ front office has to be figuring out their best path forward. While winning now and winning later are not necessarily mutually exclusive, having a clear priority between the two becomes necessary when evaluating all but easy decisions about constructing the team.
While the Knicks are capped out for 2014-15 regardless of what happens with Carmelo Anthony thanks to the final seasons on current contracts for Amar'e Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler and Andrea Bargnani, New York looks to have plenty of financial flexibility in the summer of 2015. As of now, the only players on the ledger are J.R. Smith and Raymond Felton’s player options, Pablo Prigioni’s partially guaranteed deal, and Tim Hardaway Jr’s first team option on his rookie contract. With all but Hardaway Jr. expiring that season, 2016 has even clearer books as of now. Of course, any deals added between now and then will likely run that far and thus reduce the space they can work with.
New York unquestionably has a few major advantages in the current CBA landscape. While the individual max contract may have been designed for other aims, the functional result has actually been advantageous to major markets since they can offer more off-court money/fame opportunities and the on-court money has to be almost the same. Those factors coupled with the aura of New York City culturally provide the Knicks with plenty of reasons to have high hopes with cap space when they have it. While the assembled group from 2010-2011 has disappointed in terms of results, much of that can be attributed to the horrendous decision to give Amar'e his huge non-insured contract.
The lesson of that Amar'e deal should be that teams with advantageous situations and the flexibility to wait absolutely should do so if necessary in order to maximize their peak. Miami got almost all their pieces in one summer while Houston built brilliantly over the course of years in a process that ended up netting James Harden and Dwight Howard.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, they will not be able to have every piece of information before making decisions that will affect the long-term ceiling of the team. Carmelo Anthony’s upcoming opt-out and free agency forces a part of their hand in 2014 since any contract they sign him to takes up space that cannot be used on other players in 2015 and beyond. That does not mean necessarily that the team should not re-sign Anthony- rather it means they need to assess what signing him to the inevitable max contract he expects makes the most sense for the franchise moving forward.
Carmelo Anthony turns 30 before hitting free agency, so the likely four-year deal (with a potential player option for a fifth if he re-signs) covers his age 30-33 seasons. While we never know exactly how an individual will age, it stands to reason that Anthony will not be better over the course of his next contract than he has been the last few years with the possibility of downside based on aging and/or injury just like for anyone else. At this point, we have a pretty good idea what Carmelo is and thus do not need to spend a ton of time debating it.
Instead, the pivotal question should be simple to state and potentially hard to answer: Can the Knicks do better than a 30-33 year old Carmelo Anthony for their No. 1 or No. 2 player for the next four years and beyond?
Without a definitive answer one way or the other due to the unpredictable nature of free agency and the continually changing landscape of the league, the answer in all likelihood should be yes.
Since elite Restricted Free Agents simply do not change addresses in the current CBA, it makes sense to focus on unrestricted players.
The 2015 free agent class should include Kevin Love, Brook Lopez (player option), Marc Gasol, Roy Hibbert (player option), LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay (if he picks up his player option) and Rajon Rondo.
The 2016 class should include Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Dwight Howard (player option), Al Horford, Mike Conley, Deron Williams (player option- possible he picks it up), Ryan Anderson, OJ Mayo, Brandon Jennings, Thaddeus Young (player option) and Eric Gordon (if he picks up his player option).
While Carmelo plays offense well (particularly as a scorer though he has been underrated as a passer), he will not become an all-around player overnight after turning 30. On top of that, his role as a ball-dominant scorer makes adding a wide variety of other elite talents a more difficult proposition that parallels the problems the Los Angeles Lakers have had wooing high end guys to play with Kobe Bryant after Shaquille O'Neal's departure since those guys will not have the ball as much as they would like. Considering the wealth of talent that could be available to woo in 2015 and 2016, the Knicks can have a reasonable expectation to have a one-two punch that yields a better team than one with Carmelo Anthony filling one of those two spots.
In some ways the factor that looms even larger over the question of having Anthony as the No. 1 or No. 2 Knick for the next four-plus years is the fact that a team with him as a top-two player cannot be reasonably considered a true championship contender in a league with other top-heavy franchises. There are very few franchise-changing talents that could make this true (I can think of two off-hand) and I doubt having Anthony on the team makes them more likely to become Knicks.
Since Anthony appears wholly unlikely to take a substantial pay cut necessary to become the third-best player on this team, especially when necessary to do before the other pieces are at MSG, the question becomes what to do over the next year.
If the Knicks makes the correct decision that he should not be a key part of their future, there are three potentially relevant time periods to consider:
1. From now until the trade deadline- The Knicks could trade Anthony to another team that likely would expect to retain him on a new contract after the season. Ideally, the Knicks would focus on long-term assets and avoid reducing their cap flexibility for 2015 and 2016 for everything but a special offer.
2. Next summer- The Knicks could either let Anthony walk or try to engineer a sign-and-trade to a team under the apron. Considering the current CBA rules on sign-and-trades, that seems like an unlikely option particularly with New York’s desire to keep money off the books for 2015-16 and 2016-17.
3. After next summer- What I refer to as the “Nene Special” – signing a player without the intention of keeping him for the duration of his contract. Certainly possible but a dangerous game because of factors like injury or poor performance.
If I were the decision-maker for the Knicks, I would be focusing on the first time period because it has the least risk and potentially the greatest return. Under previous CBA’s, a sign-and-trade would have been an interesting option but the limitation to teams under the luxury tax apron and the fact that Anthony cannot get more money that way undercuts the team pool and their leverage. While hard to answer firmly without a clear understanding of his trade value in the immediate, deciding that Carmelo Anthony does not make sense as one of the Knicks’ top two over the next four years makes a more immediate trade the best path to take. Even though that could make the Knicks worse this year yielding a benefit in draft position they cannot reap since Denver has it unprotected, a likely larger return in terms of assets could tip the balance. While making this season worse could be a little hard for Knicks fans to swallow, the vision necessary to make the decision and the intestinal fortitude to make the move would send a clear sign that the Knicks see themselves as a championship organization with the willingness to sacrifice to make it happen.
Dec 04, 2013 9:12 PM EST
“[Terrence Jones] brings a lot to the game. Defensively he’s very long and active, rebounds the basketball well. Offensively he’s knocking the 3 down now, but he handles the ball very well. When he has a bigger forward closing out on him, he can make plays for his teammates which is the style we play, so he’s the X factor going into every single night.” -- James Harden
After a slow start where they experimented with an ill-fitting Twin Towers lineup, the Houston Rockets have found themselves over the last few weeks. They are 9-3 in their last 12 games, a streak that coincides with second-year power forward Terrence Jones moving into the starting line-up. Jones has made the most of the opportunity, averaging nine points, six rebounds and one block a game on 51 percent shooting, good for an 18.2 PER.
Getting on the floor has been an uphill battle for Jones, who played only 18 games as a rookie. At various points last season, the Rockets had five other young guys -- Patrick Patterson, Marcus Morris, Royce White, Donatas Motiejunas and Thomas Robinson -- at his position. Of the five, only Motiejunas was taken later than Jones, the No. 18 pick in 2012. A year later, Jones is the only one still standing in Houston.
Despite his draft pedigree, it’s hard to call him an underdog. A consensus Top 10 recruit in the class of 2010, Jones was one of the crown jewels of John Calipari’s second recruiting class at Kentucky. He was a star the day he walked on campus, averaging 16 points, nine rebounds and two blocks on 43 percent shooting as a freshman. Along with Brandon Knight, he led Kentucky to the Final Four, where they lost a one-point nail-biter to eventual champion UConn.
Like most of Calipari’s elite recruits, Jones was widely presumed to be a one-and-done player. However, with the threat of a season-long lockout looming, he decided to return for his sophomore season. If he had declared, he would have been a lottery pick, at worst. In a draft as thin up top as 2011, it’s hard to say how high Jones could have gone. Tristan Thompson, who put up similar statistics on a worse team, was a surprise pick at No. 4.
After such a strong freshman campaign, the expectation was that Jones would dominate the college game in 2012. Instead, his statistics slipped across the board -- his points, rebounds, assists and blocks were all down from 2011. With his progress seemingly stalled, the armchair psychologists began breaking him down -- Was he too content to blend in? What about his occasionally contentious relationship with Calipari? Oh my, the body language!!
The other way of looking at it was that he was sharing a frontcourt with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. As a result, there just weren’t as many points and rebounds to be had as when Josh “Jorts” Harrellson was the starting center. Davis and MKG were the first college teammates in the history of the draft to go No. 1 and No. 2 overall. It would have been a bigger concern if Jones hadn’t been willing to take a back-seat.
If a college team had a No. 1 option in a No. 3 role, you would expect them to do exactly what Kentucky did in 2012. The Wildcats were an all-time great team, going 38-2 and breezing to a national title. They had only two wins within five points, neither in the NCAA Tournament. It’s no wonder Jones looked bored at times -- he didn’t have all that much to do.
He improved as a player, even though his per-game stats were down. No longer the primary option, he had to learn how to pick and choose his spots. As a result, he was more efficient, going from 43 percent to 50 percent shooting. He took 30 less 3’s than he did as a freshman. For the most part, he did a better job of playing within himself and letting the game come to him. For this, he was criticized heavily.
As it turns out, knowing how to “blend in” has been pretty useful for Jones at the next level. He came into college as a combo forward with an iffy jumper, not the ideal skill-set for a complementary player. He shot 33 percent from three at Kentucky, just good enough that he fell in love with the shot a little too much. If he had started jacking up 3’s, like Motiejunas did in his time in the rotation, he would have fallen out of favor too.
The inconsistent jumper is one of many similarities Jones has with Josh Smith. At 6’9 250 with a 7’2 wingspan and a 35’ max vertical, Jones is a prototype small-ball power forward. He has the size to hold ground in the low post, the speed to defend on the perimeter and the athleticism to play above the rim. And while he’s not the playmaker Smith is, he has the ability to create shots off the dribble. Jones can attack a close-out and finish at the rim.
His game isn’t a perfect fit for the Rockets spread-and-chuck system, but he has still found ways to contribute. He moves the ball, makes smart cuts to the rim and only shoots when he’s open. It’s not like he doesn’t have range on his jumper -- he’s 10-23 from 3 this season -- he just doesn’t force the issue. If Jones is open at 12 feet, he can take two steps and dunk, its own way of spacing the floor.
With Jones in the game, the Rockets score 120.6 points per 100 possessions. Without him, they are at 108.5. His ability to clean the glass and run the floor allows them to get out in transition, while his efficiency in the half-court means he doesn’t end many possessions with a turnover or a bad shot. For a guy with his athleticism and finishing ability, it’s easy to be a release valve next to Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons.
The defensive numbers aren’t quite there yet, but he has a lot of potential on that end of the floor. Jones is the second line of defense when Howard makes a rotation, averaging two blocks per-36 minutes. With Howard, Jones and Parsons upfront, the Rockets have the length and athleticism to control the glass and make up for Harden’s defensive shenanigans. If he ever gets dialed in, they have all the pieces to play great defense.
Jones is still only 21; he would be a senior in college this season. In 34 career NBA games, he has a PER of 17.7 and a usage rating of 18.1. Going forward, the sky is the limit to how good he can be. And while his cost-controlled contract makes him a great trade chip, he’s played well enough that Houston doesn’t have to make a move for a PF. Jones won a title as a third option in college; let’s see how he develops in a similar role in the NBA.
Dec 02, 2013 5:38 PM EST
For the depth to which Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett infiltrated locker rooms, brought back championship respectability to the Boston Celtics, Avery Bradley absorbed his old veterans’ most subtle traits. From the ferocity with which Garnett and Pierce had to the dignity they distributed in every way, Bradley rekindled how those virtues never left from their unproven Minnesota Timberwolves and Celtics seasons, to legitimate contention in Boston.
Out of Boston and onto Brooklyn, Pierce and Garnett understood leaders on their former team would be newly cultivated. As much as anything, Bradley heard from them that being a foundational part of the Celtics’ rebuild wouldn’t be easy – that there’s a preciousness to patience, to discipline.
“They told me this was going to be hard,” Bradley told RealGM. “At some point in their careers, they both played on teams that were very young, and that’s how our team is now. It takes time, but if everybody buys into what we’re trying to do, everything works out.”
Bradley has been a solidified voice for these Celtics, and him developing a close relationship with Jeff Green has proven a reliable influence on a hard-playing team. Already, Brad Stevens has established a rapport within his locker room, a scheme on both ends of the court; infusing seven wins a month into the season.
For Stevens, Jordan Crawford has grown into a playmaker and Jared Sullinger is continuing his basketball growth, adding range and versatility to his jump shot. Nevertheless, the Celtics feed off Bradley’s tenacity on defense and he knows how critical his outside jumper is to the offense. In Bradley, teammates see a little more Pierce than Garnett, more action and force than rah-rah and verbiage.
“I don’t really speak much, I try to lead by example,” Bradley said. “I definitely learned leadership from the guys that were here before, because the Celtics have a culture. Playing hard and respecting the game – I try to keep that going, hoping it rubs off on my new teammates and some of the younger guys.”
Those three seasons under Doc Rivers and Pierce and Garnett went so far in instilling lessons into Bradley, and at 23, his value had been made clear last month when Danny Ainge held negotiations on a contract extension.
Bradley told RealGM he never got a sense about whether an extension was close, and his approach has kept him from straying in focusing on the season – separating himself from the way contract discussions impacted Gordon Hayward.
“I can’t read the future,” Bradley said, “but all I can control is improving every single game, improving for my team.”
Over a summer of sharpening his ball handling and smoothening his jumper, Bradley replayed situations from his most extensive memories last season. As a combo guard asked to play more point guard late in the year, he knew struggles would come in placing the Celtics into proper offensive sets. Yet, everyone around the Celtics expected out of Bradley nothing but further repetition in the offseason – now off to a career start.
“I was put in situations where I had to learn both guard positions,” Bradley said. “I just have to keep improving each game now. Once I got the chance, I knew everything would work out. My main thing now is just consistency.”
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had returned significant winning to the Celtics, but mostly a fury and respect to the game that incoming leaders like Bradley needed to grasp. Avery Bradley was so used to 50-win seasons in his first three NBA years, the deep playoff runs, and on their way out his two past vets let him know this rebuilding process won’t be simple and will take all the patience Boston’s got.
Nov 27, 2013
It’s hard to beat the recruiting package Miami can put together. Come to South Beach and play for the champs, where you get to be in an uptempo system next to one of the greatest players of all-time in the prime of his career. At this point, it really is like going on the tour with the Beatles.
Nov 20, 2013
The NBA is like the NFL -- people focus too much on the guy with the ball in his hands. As the Knicks are finding out, the irreplaceable guy was the seven-footer anchoring the defense and finishing on the pick-and-roll.
Nov 18, 2013
Derek Fisher has witnessed leaders forget about individual benchmarks and forfeit time away from the court for his five NBA championships. He’s pursuing a sixth now and in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Fisher knows there’s a commitment to fill any vacancy on the floor.
Nov 17, 2013
Mark Jackson has unequivocally and unquestionably proven to be an excellent motivator and leader of men. While entirely correctable by adding in a quality assistant that Jackson listens to or by him gaining experience over time, right now the strategic deficiencies of the Warriors coaching staff are their ceiling.
Nov 13, 2013
While each class ends up incredibly different, this potential group stands out for one key reason: it has so many interesting commodities that competent management can go the entire way through the lottery by picking the best player available. While BPA generally proves to be the best path anyway, we often see GMs pass on or reach for players because of current fit.
Nov 12, 2013
Giannis Antetokounmpo has already become a mini-legend among hoopheads, but stories about the possibility of further growth, huge hands and potential as a future superstar only go so far. His minutes as a rookie are almost certainly dependent on whether the Bucks contend for a playoff spot.
Nov 11, 2013
Not trading for Marcin Gortat would have all but guaranteed that the Wizards continued to be a losing organization. This trade shows that the Wizards are tired of losing and they are committed to making the playoffs regardless of long-term implications.
Nov 11, 2013
If this is it, Lamar Odom leaves behind a complicated legacy in the sport. However, the player he could have been shouldn’t detract from the incredible player that he was.
Nov 08, 2013
The challenge that the Pacers have is that Lance Stephenson has only demonstrated to play his best when he believes he is entitled to game privileges other starting shooting guards are entitled too; starting every game, shooting 10 plus times a game, attacking in transition, not getting back on defense, arguing with referees, etc.
Nov 07, 2013
Andrew Bynum has played four games as part of a comeback with an established Cavaliers organization that prepared itself to fulfill his rehabilitation. Through it all, a clear truth washed over Bynum: His rehab promises to be ongoing as he talks to RealGM about the state of his health.
Nov 03, 2013
Perry Jones, Jeffery Taylor, Terrence Jones, Will Barton and Quincy Miller are five players from the 2012 NBA Draft taken outside the lottery poised to have a breakout second season.
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a player’s connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 26, 2013
2K could have easily rested on their laurels and made something closer to a port and devoting their resources next year to making a true next generation game. Instead, they jumped that path and are putting out what feels like an entirely new game that can stand up on its own as a premier launch title and be a remarkable jumping off point for the rest of this console generation.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Oct 14, 2013
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has evident traits to translate into an elite player. He’s lengthy, relentless in drives to the basket, and displays a visible passion in both high and low moments in a game. His first season didn’t match the expectations of the Bobcats’ No. 2 pick, and yet MKG remains a willing learner at just 20.
Oct 10, 2013
Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love are too good to be annually missing the playoffs. Of course, even if they make the playoffs, there is no guarantee that the Wolves, Blazers and Mavs keep their franchise player. If any of them move to the right team, the balance of power could shift.
Oct 08, 2013
Roster shakeups, injuries and skill development can all contribute to a player’s overall level of production. It can also be as simple as a situational change. These factors should all be considered when you’re on the clock on draft night in your fantasy basketball leagues.
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