May 21, 2013 1:54 PM EDT
The Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder won their first round series, but fell short of reaching the NBA's Final Four.
The Big Questions:
- Can Jimmy Butler become a good starter or even better next season?
- Is ownership willing to amnesty Carlos Boozer in 2014?
- Will they get a few nice bench values like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli this summer?
- Do they cut Rip Hamilton to save money?
Notable Free Agents: Nate Robinson (Unrestricted), Marco Belinelli (Unrestricted), Rip Hamilton (Partially Guaranteed) and Nazr Mohammed (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Own 2nd Rounder
The Lay of the Land: Even after Chicago shed so much of the bench depth that played a huge role in their 2011-2012 season, players like Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli ended up doing a solid enough job in Derrick Rose’s absence for a full season. Having Tom Thibodeau and his system helps a ton, of course.
I cannot wait to see if Jimmy Butler can become a huge piece of the Bulls’ future because he has shown some incredible flashes this season. Since Luol Deng only has one more season under contract, Chicago does not have a ton of time to figure out whether Butler fits in better as a Deng complement, Deng replacement, or neither since 2014 would be their only chance in the near future to even have a possibility of cap space (if they amnesty Boozer). Considering we have not seen Rose play in such a long time, it would be surprising to see the Bulls make any big moves before seeing how everything fits together in the 2013-14 regular season. That said, some smart moves with their mid-level could make the team even more dangerous for a full season with a healthy Rose.
New York Knicks
The Big Questions:
- Will J.R. Smith re-sign with the Knicks?
- Seriously, will they be able to keep JR Smith?
- Can New York get a young guy or two in the frontcourt?
Notable Free Agents: J.R. Smith (Player Option), Chris Copeland (Restricted), Pablo Prigioni (Restricted) and Kenyon Martin (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder (own 2nd Rounder held by Washington)
The Lay of the Land: Thanks to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams over the luxury tax line have an incredibly hard time improving. That change makes J.R. Smith’s decision so much more important since the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference would not be able to replace him easily if at all. Smith seems happy with the Knicks but would presumably be giving up a ton of money to stay and he has never gotten that big contract despite his immense potential.
Beyond Smith, the Knickerbockers have nine players under contract for next season not including Pablo Prigioni and Chris Copeland. Since they cannot receive players via sign-and-trade this summer, New York has to hope both will opt to return to the team for at least next season either by signing reasonable deals with the Knicks or by securing matchable deals with other squads. Considering all the money the Knicks already have committed for 2014 outside of him, even the looming opt-out for Carmelo Anthony next summer cannot dictate too many moves at the present time.
Golden State Warriors
The Big Questions:
- Can they retain both Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry without ruining their long-term flexibility? Should they?
- Would they be willing to trade any of their big expiring contracts for a talent upgrade and more money for 2014 and beyond?
- Can they buy a pick in the late first or early second round?
- If either Jack or Landry head elsewhere, can the team effectively replace them given their limitations as a luxury tax payer?
Notable Free Agents: Jarrett Jack (Unrestricted), Carl Landry (Player Option) and Brandon Rush (Player Option)
2013 Draft Picks Held: None (1st Rounder held by Utah, 2nd Rounder held by Orlando)
The Lay of the Land: After a successful season largely driven by strong years from their stars and quality depth, the Warriors will have to figure out if they can keep two pivotal rotation players. The team acquired Jarrett Jack heading into the last year of his contract and he had a fabulous year, garnering serious Sixth Man of the Year consideration. Carl Landry had a productive season and has a $4 million player option for next summer. Considering their ages (both turn 30 before the start of next season), this could be a chance for them to take a longer contract for the last time. That desire could take them away from the Bay.
The Warriors have cornerstone Stephen Curry locked up now, but will eventually need to pay Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes while enigmatic big man Andrew Bogut has one more year left before unrestricted free agency. Golden State should be less aggressive in retaining Jack and Landry if the players want the Warriors to commit to them for longer than the team is comfortable with considering those factors. Finally, the team could make the decision to give up possible space in 2014 by trading expiring deals belonging to Andris Biedrins and/or Richard Jefferson for quality players signed for more years. Considering the desirability of next year’s free agent crop and the oppressive nature of the luxury tax, they might be able to improve the team that way though it would limit their flexibility in future offseasons.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Big Questions:
- Do they re-sign Kevin Martin?
- Can they turn the Toronto lottery pick into an immediate contributor?
- Will they use the amnesty on Kendrick Perkins?
Notable Free Agents: Kevin Martin (Unrestricted) and Ronnie Brewer (Unrestricted)
2013 Draft Picks Held: Own 1st Rounder, Toronto’s 1st Rounder, Charlotte’s 2nd Rounder (own 2nd Rounder held by Minnesota)
The Lay of the Land: The same financial reality that led to the James Harden trade persists for Oklahoma City. While we cannot expect Kevin Martin to get paid an amount similar to his current $12.5 million, the Thunder do not have a ton of room to retain him with what could be a respectable market for an efficient scorer who can start or come off the bench. Fortunately, the Thunder have young guys on the roster who can try and take the role as well as a lottery pick from Toronto. These players could either take the role themselves or be used as assets in a deal to bring the right piece to OKC.
Sam Presti also has to make a decision on Kendrick Perkins because shedding the final two years of his contract would allow the team to be more creative in filling their more important holes in the rotation. That could be kicked down the road to Perkins’ final season (when Thabo Sefolosha becomes a free agent) but now is the right time to pull the trigger if they want a strong No. 4 after Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka.
May 12, 2013 2:47 AM EDT
INDIANAPOLIS – As the clock pushed into early Saturday morning, J.R. Smith awoke freezing, chills running through his body, and sickened with a virus. Treatments had started ferociously then, and the New York Knicks’ doctors began giving Smith fluid, trying anything to get him in playing capacity.
Smith had been consistent offense in the regular season, a Sixth Man of the Year, revitalizing himself as a force the Knicks can’t win without. They need his shooting and the way he creates plays, but he’s settled for jumpers and played unsteady too often in these playoffs. Smith never felt like himself Saturday night, and his voice was groggy and he lacked energy in his shooting.
For Smith, the walk out of the Fieldhouse couldn’t come sooner after the Knicks had lost to the Pacers, 81-72, in Game 3 of this conference semifinals. Smith rose for eight jumpers on Saturday, coming up short on several, and appeared out of place on some offensive possessions. With his head down heading toward the team bus late Saturday, Smith perked up to greet a Knicks official and let out a truth that has haunted him throughout the playoffs: “Just missed shots, man.”
In all, Smith missed eight of 12 from the field, slipping to just 11 makes in 42 attempts for the series. Just minutes into entering the game, Smith already had his hands on his knees and was admittedly winded. Nevertheless, the Knicks badly needed Smith on a night Carmelo Anthony took a beating, took the least amount of shots he has all postseason, and no one else scored more than nine. The Knicks know this is what the Pacers do: Slow the pace, muck up the game and close off the three-point line.
Amar’e Stoudemire did play for the first time since March, logging just eight minutes and wearing bulky casts of ice around both knees on the bench. He’s discussed with Mike Woodson that his limit is 15 minutes, and clearly Stoudemire won’t be the savior of these Knicks and their offense that revolves around how Anthony and Smith attack.
All the time sidelined has given Stoudemire heightened prospective about the Knicks, and he understands the offense’s limitations when Smith doesn’t assert himself, doesn’t weave through defenses for drive and kicks. Never mind in a Game 3 when two rotation players (Pablo Prigioni, Jason Kidd) went scoreless and Tyson Chandler dealt with foul trouble because of Roy Hibbert’s immense paint control.
“It was difficult for [Smith] out there,” Stoudemire said. “He’s still under the weather, not feeling great. Hopefully he feels better by Game 4.”
Smith, for his part, believes he has either a stomach or nasal virus and he was adamant he’ll play on Tuesday night – whatever treatments await him. “I don’t know, but I’m still playing. Being sick doesn’t really matter,” he said.
From one end to another within the Knicks’ locker room, players believed the Pacers aren’t using any different schemes, but rather they’re simply missing shots. Truth is, Indiana has the bodies, the defensive structure and the manpower in Hibbert, Paul George, David West and George Hill to destruct New York’s gameplan in a way that the depleted Boston Celtics couldn’t in the first round.
“It was a bad offensive game and we couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Ray Felton sighed.
The Knicks have come to rely upon the brilliant scoring and one-on-one abilities of Anthony and Smith, but Anthony kept getting crowded, kept getting hit, and Smith never shook off the chills. Anthony’s talent has widened the Knicks’ margin for error in stretches of these playoffs, and yet the Pacers are determined to show he won’t have those scoring binges on them. This is where Smith has been so valuable, so consistent in proving opponents’ efforts futile.
Smith had gotten a virus and sat for dinner here Friday night, wondering how worse it would get, wondering if he’d play. Sure enough, there was no flu game out of J.R. Smith on Saturday – just shots going awry, shots falling short, and a teetering, welcomed walk out of the Fieldhouse and into recovery time to find any resemblance of the Sixth Man.
Apr 19, 2013 2:25 PM EDT
After playing only four minutes on an injured foot in the New York Knicks' final regular season game, Rasheed Wallace retired on Wednesday. One of the most talented and controversial players of his generation, he was still effective at 38, 20 years after he appeared on the national scene at North Carolina.
Along with Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber and Dirk Nowitzki, Wallace redefined the power forward position and revolutionized the game. But while he was as talented as his four contemporaries, he's the only one won't wind up in the Hall of Fame. Wallace never cared much for his image or his legacy, which is why, paradoxically enough, he became such a beloved countercultural figure.
There were very few things Wallace couldn’t do on a basketball court. At 6’11, 230 with exceptionally quick feet and a rumored 7’4 wingspan, he was a defensive prototype. He had the strength to battle the best low-post scorers on the blocks, the quickness to move in space and the length to protect the rim. He had all the tools on the offensive side of the floor too: an excellent post game, complete with a turnaround jumper that was essentially indefensible and the ability to stretch the floor out to the three-point line. His versatility on both sides of the ball and his understanding of the game made him the perfect teammate, capable of playing any role his team needed.
If there was a criticism of the way he played, it was that he wasn’t selfish enough. Despite being an overwhelming force on the low block, he shied away from dominating the ball, preferring to play a more team oriented game and often floating out to the three-point line. Even though he could create his own shot against anyone, he never averaged more than 20 points a game. His lack of aggression on the offensive end can be seen his number of free throw attempts. While Dirk, Webber, KG and Duncan all had seasons with more than six a game, Wallace’s career high was a little over four. He wasn’t as suited to being a primary offensive option as his peers, but when he was dialed in, his versatility allowed him to have a similar impact on a game.
In many ways, Wallace was ahead of his time. His fascination with the three-point shot drove many fans and analysts crazy, but it’s the ideal place for a big man to be on offense. The modern game is built around spacing the floor, with coaches in the NBA and the NCAA searching everywhere for a “stretch 4” who can drag his defender out of the paint. The problem comes on the other end of the floor, as most jump-shooting big men can’t play defense. Wallace was a stretch 4/5 who doubled as one of the best defensive big men in the game. MVP candidates are the only players more valuable than that. It's the same reason why Chris Bosh, not Dwyane Wade, is the second most indispensable player on the Heat.
It’s no coincidence Wallace won everywhere he went. The only year he missed the playoffs was his rookie season, when he played with Webber (!) and Juwan Howard (!!) on an underachieving Washington Bullets squad that was quickly broken up. By 22, he was one of the key players on the legendary “Jail Blazers” squads in Portland, where he began to develop the “rebel without a cause” reputation that followed him throughout his career. Seven years later, he wound up with the Detroit Pistons, where he teamed with Ben Wallace to form one of the most fearsome defenses in NBA history. He finished his career with stops in Boston and New York, where he was still a key player on two elite teams, even in his late 30’s.
Few players had more near misses than Wallace. The Jail Blazers came this close to knocking off the Shaq/Kobe Lakers in 2000, blowing a 15-point lead in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Lakers went on to win the next three NBA titles while the Blazers were quickly dismantled after the public grew tired of their off-court shenanigans.
In 2005, a year after Wallace got his revenge on L.A. as the missing piece for the Pistons, they lost to the Spurs in a classic 7-game series in the NBA Finals. In 2010, Wallace was the third big man for the Celtics who lost to the Lakers in another 7-game Finals that went right down to the wire. A couple bounces are all that separate Wallace from four titles.
All that, however, has been overshadowed by the way he carried himself both on and off the court. In terms of records that will never be broken, his 41 technical fouls in 00-01 is up there with Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. With the NBA now suspending players after 16 technicals, no player will ever be able to carry on such a long-standing feud with the officials. Perhaps the best testament to Wallace’s talent was his ability to thrive despite so openly thumbing his nose at the sport’s power structure.
That’s where Wallace angered so many basketball traditionalists. Rather than using his immense talent to make himself the very best basketball player he could be, he used it to give himself the freedom to be the type of player he wanted to be. Wallace was such a good player that he could afford to view the game from an entirely different perspective, disregarding the basic norms of being a professional. He openly used recreational drugs, disrespected people in power and spoke his mind. Depending on your own personal view of the world, that made him either a hero or a villain. What made Wallace such a fascinating character is that he didn’t really care either way.
If a player doesn’t care about his image, there’s nothing the media can do to him. These are things he actually said, in reference to the NBA drafting kids out of high school: "They don't know no better, and they don't know the real business, and they don't see behind the charade," Wallace told The (Portland) Oregonian. "They look at black athletes like we're (expletive deleted). It's as if we're just going to shut up, sign for the money and do what they tell us ... As long as somebody CTC, at the end of the day I'm with them. For all you that don't know what CTC means, that's 'Cut the Check.” Wallace, quite literally, said anything he wanted too. He was good enough of at basketball to get away with it.
Wallace had the ability to be a Hall of Famer. He could hold his own against anyone in the NBA at his position; no one played better post defense on Tim Duncan. Circumstances never quite worked out for him, but it doesn't seem that he's all that bothered by it. The greatest players are supposed to play for their legacy, as if securing a place in Bill Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid should be their main goal. But why should a player spend his whole career worrying about how it will be viewed when he’s 60? Hopefully, he won’t spend his entire middle age re-fighting the battles of his youth. Rasheed Wallace was the A student happy with a B+. What’s the difference? He understood all the grades are pointless anyway.
Apr 09, 2013
While starving Bernard King fans naturally celebrate his call to the Hall of Fame, something just isn’t right. King’s 15 minutes of crumbs come too little, too late – 15 years to be exact. We could only hope this week will help raise the debate to a whole new level.
Jan 17, 2013
What made the Lakers so intriguing this offseason was that they were zigging when most of the NBA was zagging. With Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol upfront, they were gambling they had the size to punish teams with small-ball front-courts on the block, making the Mike D'Antoni hire more puzzling.
Dec 20, 2012
Without Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki never gets his ring. Without him dominating the paint on both sides of the ball, “Linsanity” never happens. And if he had stayed in Dallas, Carmelo Anthony would be battling the tabloids on a .500 team, not competing for an MVP award on a contender.
Dec 12, 2012
As we move forward with “Amnesty 2.0,” we will see the fascinating possibilities that the provision brings even as the number of teams and players left dwindles with time.
Nov 23, 2012
The things Raymond Felton can do have made people forget about Jeremy Lin and the hysteria that surrounded his rise to fame last season. Still, the pressure of being the Knicks’ starting point guard in a year they’re expected to win at least one playoff series comes with lofty expectations.
Nov 19, 2012
Chris Copeland's rookie season in the NBA has been in the making for six years, taking him from Colorado to the D-League and over to Europe before picking up with the Knicks.
Oct 22, 2012
The Knicks, Nets, Raptors and 76ers should all be improved in 12-13, which could put the Celtics' five season Atlantic Division winning streak on the line.
Sep 10, 2012
While the list of current surefire Hall of Famers is rather obvious, the candidacies of the next ten (Chris Paul, Chris Bosh, Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker, Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol, Tracy McGrady and Steve Nash) will be fascinating developments over the coming years.
Aug 27, 2012
Grassroots basketball has changed dramatically in the 18 years since “The Last Shot”, a book about Stephon Marbury and several of his Lincoln High teammates was published. Summer league teams and All-Star camps, in their infancy in 1994, are now the main avenue for even low and mid-major players to be identified by college coaches.
Jul 19, 2012
The Heat, Thunder and Lakers appear to be a cut above the remainder of the NBA, but how do the 27 other teams rank?
Jul 18, 2012
Jeremy Lin's actual production (even if he proves to be worse than a league-average starter at PG) and the fact that the Knicks have very few options to improve their team, the finances of the deal should not have given James Dolan a reason to say no.
Jun 29, 2012
Whle the Pistons, Blazers, Bobcats, Nets, Thunder and Bulls headline the 'Great Drafts', the caboose of 'Bad Drafts' is comprised of the Cavaliers, Suns, Bucks, Wolves, Heat and Knicks.
Jun 28, 2012
The Andre Drummond/Perry Jones effect on this draft before we make sense of picks seven through 30 just hours before a flood of draft-day trades shreds every mock.
Jun 21, 2012
The 2012 NBA Draft is a week away and nothing is certain beyond Anthony Davis going to the Hornets with the first overall pick even though several scenarios are beginning to crystalize.
Jun 19, 2012
There are two core reasons why players outperform their pre-draft expectations, while there are two main paths for prospects to underachieve.
May 23, 2012
While every team in the lottery can bring their Anthony Davis jersey if they win the first overall pick, the gap between Thomas Robinson, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Andre Drummond is extremely narrow for me and highly intriguing.
Apr 24, 2012
There was great concern about how teams would struggle with so many games in so little time, but the numbers indicate that they fared better than expected. Teams averaged a .547 winning percentage in the third game of consecutive days.
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