The Knicks: a disaster in 3 acts.
Act I: Knicks locker room, pregame
Metta World Peace was holding court. We should provide some context here because context is everything, especially when gifted with random Metta World Peace quotes that are of course bizarre and funny, but also illuminating in their way.
“I’m not chasing (a championship). Listen, whatever team I’m on is never rebuilding. When you get Metta World, you’re officially championship mentality. Right here, officially championship. I know everybody’s talking about division in here. I’ve heard that a lot. But that’s not what Metta World brings. Metta World brings a championship. That’s it. One thing. That’s what I do.”
The Knicks are in last place, the coach is on the proverbial hot seat and the inevitable trade rumors have started. The trade rumor in question involves Kyle Lowry, the tough but ornery Raptor point guard who is very much available and would be an upgrade over injured starter Raymond Felton. The price for Lowry includes Felton, World Peace and a future first round pick.
“There’s nothing to deal with. What am I dealing with? Getting paid to play basketball? Is that what I’m dealing with? I know some guys take trade rumors a little more personally.”
On its face that’s not a bad deal. Lowry is better, younger and healthier than Felton and has one less year on his contract. The pick is the cost of doing business, but it’s a defensible move for a team with playoff aspirations that has fallen on hard times, especially in a division as bad as the Atlantic Division when more than half the teams ahead of the Knicks probably wouldn’t be upset if they got their game together and passed them in the standings.
“I love challenges. All the teams that called me last year I wanted something that was going to be an adventure: China, the Knicks and Arena football. That was it. What else is an adventure, you know what I’m saying? This is the adventure that I was talking about. I didn’t know what adventure I was getting, I just wanted to hop into an adventure. And hey, let’s do it. Sometimes it’s good to be ready for the unpredictable.”
Here’s where it gets all Knicky because this is exactly the kind of trade that always comes back to haunt them. They already dealt first rounders in 2014 and 2016, so the earliest pick they can trade is in 2018, which is the one that would get them Lowry. Because the Knicks traded those picks to Raptors GM Masai Ujiri and the basketball world laughed at them, it’s been reported that owner Jim Dolan squashed the deal because he didn’t want Ujiri to make him look bad. Again.
“Patience is a weapon. I learned that from my Laker days.”
Metta World Peace played 11 seconds on Friday against Boston.
“When you take on a challenge some things are out of your control. If you go to work and your boss moves your desk, it is what it is. It’s similar. My desk has been moved from playing to riding the bench. But it’s OK, you know?”
Act II: #TakeThatMasaiUjiri
Mike Woodson decided to start Pablo Prigioni, mainly because Felton is injured and Prigioni is the only capable point guard left on the roster. A man of convention, Woodson rarely deviates from the tried-and-true Basketball Starting Lineup consisting of two guards, two forwards and a center, despite the surprising success the Knicks enjoyed playing unconventional lineups the previous season.
This is well-worn territory for most Knick fans, but it’s worth mentioning because with Prigioni handling the ball the Knicks looked a lot like their 2012-13 selves for long stretches of the game. Carmelo Anthony was in catch-and-shoot rhythm, dropping 20 first half points as New York clawed its way from back from a 17-point deficit. This was a lot better than just five days ago when the Celtics came to New York and won by 41 points on the Knicks home floor.
“We’ll have to play a perfect game,” Woodson had said prior to the action, which was both depressing and not entirely true. His team was hardly perfect and the Celtics aren’t exactly the juggernaut of old, but for about three quarters the Knicks looked surprisingly good. That was when Melo went to Prigioni and suggested that he use him as a decoy and instead feed Andrea Bargnani, who banged home a couple of fateful jump shots:
"Take that Masai Ujiri. Bargnani's two straight jumpers give #Knicks a 69-62 lead. Why are fans thinking Ujiri won that trade? TBD."
-- Marc Berman, New York Post
Predictably, that’s when everything went to hell. The lead evaporated. The Knicks scored just 13 points in the fourth quarter as Bargs and Melo took a dozen shots and made just two of them in a familiar haze of isolations and broken sets.
Melo wasn’t the only one with ideas. J.R. Smith decided -- without prompting -- that the Knicks would be better off if he didn’t shoot, which is a rather astonishing development for a guy who came into the game with 186 attempts in 486 minutes. Of course, he’s made just 34 percent of them so maybe he was on to something. The Celtics came roaring back and held on for a 90-86 victory.
Act III: Postgame
J.R. Smith: “I was going into the game trying to make opportunities for my teammates to excel. We need playmakers more than just scorers. My job is to get my teammates the easiest buckets we can, and we’re not getting those so I took it upon myself to sacrifice my shot to get other guys going. And it might not be the right way, it might be the right way, I don’t know. Just trying to figure this thing out.”
Mike Woodson: “I don’t know what that’s about.”
"My panic button's been on." -J.R. Smith
Smith: “We‘ve got enough guys on the offensive end. In order to get those guys going we have to have somebody to make the plays to get them easier shots and I’ll take that upon myself.”
Carmelo Anthony: “I don’t think it was his fault but we want him shooting the basketball. I don’t want to look up and see he took one shot. We need guys to do what they do well.”
Woodson: “Bargnani passed up on about three shots and we missed the mark for a big, opportunity to go high/low with him when he was wide open and that’s just the difference.”
Anthony: “Everybody’s trying to figure it out. Whether it’s helping us, hurting us, who’s to say. Everybody’s trying to figure everything out in a small period of time.”
Smith: “The pressure should have been on two and half, three weeks ago. My panic button’s been on. We have to figure out as a team how to make it work.”
Anthony: “I mean, It’s tough. If I said it was not tough I’d be lying to you, but what are we going to do? Stop playing now, and stop fighting and stop believing, we can’t do that.”
Kenyon Martin: “When it rains, it pours.”
OvertimeMore thoughts from the week that was
The NBA released its first All-Star voting update and you know what that means: Time for everybody to freak out about who’s in seventh and how many votes Kobe Bryant received. How dare fans not want to watch Roy Hibbert in a fast-paced, defense optional exhibition game! It’s like they don’t break down every game on Synergy.
But picking All-Stars is fun, so here’s how we’d vote.
FRONTCOURT (Vote leaders: LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony)
LeBron James: Obvious.
Paul George: Also obvious, and good on the fans for getting this one right.
Roy Hibbert: Hibbert’s the choice because of his defensive impact, but you could also make a reasonable case for Anthony, Al Horford, Brook Lopez or even Andre Drummond. Melo will probably get the vote and it’s really not worth getting worked up about.
GUARDS (Vote leaders: Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving)
John Wall: We’re going with Wall who has posted better numbers than Irving, and has the Wizards generally playing up to expectations. The Cavs have been a huge disappointment and Irving has to bear some of the responsibility.
Arron Afflalo: I’m picking Afflalo over Wade because they’ve had very similar production, but Afflalo has played significantly more minutes. Let’s do the side-by-side comparison heading into play on Friday:
Afflalo: 21.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 4.0 apg, .591 TS%, 19.6 PER, 828 minutes
Wade: 18.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.4 apg, .572 TS%, 21.0 PER, 539 minutes
FRONTCOURT (Vote leaders: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin)
Kevin Durant: Yes.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love: Let’s take these two together since this is where the argument will come into play. Despite Minnesota’s slide, Love is averaging 24 points and leading the league in rebounding while posting a 26.3 PER. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points and rebounds for the team with the best record in the league.
It’s hard to argue against either one of these two picks, but because it’s the West there are other deserving candidates. In some order: Howard, Griffin, Tim Duncan, DeMarcus Cousins and Dirk Nowitzki should all get consideration. (Let’s pour one out for Anthony Davis, who would be awesome in the All-Star game, especially the one that’s going to be played in New Orleans.)
All of these players are great and having fantastic seasons. You can’t really go wrong with any of them, but the rules say you can only have two more and we’re going with Love and LMA.
BACKCOURT (Vote leaders: Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant)
Chris Paul: Still the “third-best player” in the league, but it’s getting tighter.
Steph Curry: He’s behind Kobe, but not by much and it won’t be long until he’s a fixture in the starting lineup. Let’s make a pact that if an aging all-time great who is either the first or second most well-known player in the league and who returned to the lineup after a scary career-threatening injury gets voted in by the fans, that the basketball community won’t shriek in horror about the injustice in the world.
Viewers GuideWhat we'll be watching this week
MONDAY Lakers at Hawks
Let’s give Mike D’Antoni some credit here. The Lakers have been without Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant for most of the year and Pau Gasol is a pale imitation of his former self. Yet thanks to players like Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Xavier Henry they have been hanging around the .500 mark despite a subpar offense and wretched defense. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but here they are. Hill isn’t that much of a surprise. He just needed time and the right system. But Henry and Johnson? Those guys had one foot out of the league. Regardless of what happens, they can thank D’Antoni for rescuing their careers.
TUESDAY Thunder at Nuggets
A man can go crazy trying to figure out the Nuggets. Wiith the slow start and a long winning streak behind them, things have started to slow down. They’re on a four-game homestand and will play 11 of the next 15 in their building. That’s 11 chances to run people out of the gym and into that cold, unforgiving altitude. Let’s see where they are in mid-January before trying to figure them out.
WEDNESDAY Pacers at Heat
Sorry ‘Bron, but this is the best rivalry in the league right now. (See 'Say What?')
THURSDAY Spurs at Warriors
This is the second night of a back-to-back, the third game in four nights, the fifth game in seven and the last road game of a difficult four-game road trip. That sounds vaguely familiar, but there’s no way Pop would rest any of his starters for a TNT game though, right?
FRIDAY Bobcats at Pistons
Disclosure: I didn’t buy into the Pistons’ preseason hype, even though that hype was generated by really smart analysts whose work I admire, respect and trust. Just when I was ready to start gloating, they pulled it together and won six of eight. Then they lost three in a row. Given that the rest of the conference is in such a sorry state, the Pistons have the luxury of time to get things right so I will continue to withhold judgment. Love those Bobcats though.
SATURDAY Mavericks at Suns
The Suns have been hanging around the fringes of playoff contention in what feels like a happy accident, and now comes word via Scott Howard-Cooper that GM Ryan McDonough would consider trading some of the bevy of draft picks he’s acquired for an impact player now. It was always unlikely that he would keep all of them and if he can get an impact player now then why wait for the lottery?
SUNDAY Celtics at Pacers
Brad Stevens returns to the Hoosier State in what will surely be an emotional homecoming -- I can’t even type that with a straight face. Stevens didn’t set out to be the anti-Doc Rivers, and comparisons between the two are grossly unfair, but this will be the opposite of Doc’s teary return to the Garden last week.
The ListNBA players in some made up category
December 15 is the unofficial opening of the trade market as players who signed as free agents are now eligible to be dealt. With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the teams, players and execs who will play a central role in trade season:
1. Omer Asik: The Rockets have reportedly set a deadline of Dec. 19 to move the disgruntled big man -- Mark Deeks explains why that date is significant here -- and there are no shortage of suitors.
2. Masai Ujiri: The man is a wizard. That’s the only plausible explanation for how Ujiri could trade Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay and come out ahead in the transactions. Now he’s offering Kyle Lowry and the point guard market has opened wide, thanks to injuries in New York, Golden State and elsewhere. Someone will bite and they will probably regret it in the morning.
3. New York/Brooklyn: In order for there to be a trade there must be a seller and a buyer. This season more than ever, there are way more sellers than buyers, which would normally produce -- wait for it -- a buyer’s market where the well-heeled shopper can choose from a wide assortment of discounted players. That’s normally how things work, unless the shopper is flush with cash and desperate to make face-saving deals in the harsh glare of failed expectations. And that’s why we’re talking about first round picks in the year 2020.
4. Danny Ainge: The Celtics have been notably quiet so far this season. There have been few leaks and the ones that were out there, i.e. Rajon Rondo, were shot down so quickly that they barely registered a blip. Despite their better-than-expected start, the Celtics are not desperate to do anything, and it can be argued that things have actually worked out quite nicely for Ainge’s master plan. Veterans like Courtney Lee, Brandon Bass and Jordan Crawford have played well under first-year coach Brad Stevens and youngsters like Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger have upped their value with healthy, productive seasons. Since making his big moves last summer, Ainge has felt like he is operating from a position of strength. This is the first test of that resolve.
5. Oklahoma City: The underrated part of Sam Presti’s work is beginning to take shape as Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Reggie Jackson have all assumed larger roles with the Thunder. The question is whether Presti will make a big move that strengthens the roster now at the expense of the future. However, Thabo Sefolosha has stopped making shots, Kendrick Perkins is Perking and you only get so many chances with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It feels like the time is finally right to make a big move and Presti has the pieces.
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Say WhatRamblings of NBA players, coaches and GMs
"We've played (the Pacers) two years in the playoffs and you guys make it into a rivalry. There's no rivalry in the NBA these days. You don't see the competition enough. It's two really, really good teams striving to win a championship. Rivalries? There are no rivalries." -- LeBron James, before the Heat played the Pacers last week.
Reaction: Yeah, this is a rivalry.
"It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard. That’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well, you don’t have trouble getting up to the paystub line. You know what you need to do to get your check. You know what to do. They will. They’ll figure it out. That’s one thing. They don’t want to do it that way. I understand that. That’s when you have to accept it or not. But there’s no reason not to play hard." -- Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni.
Reaction: Daaaaaaayum. Psst Pau Gasol, he’s talking about you.
This Week in GIFsfurther explanation unnecessary
Worthy of museum space.
The serendipity of myriad TV cameras and the ol' DVR.
Not just a Grizzly, but a teddy bear too.
The question is how David West missed the 7'2 giant coming across his field of vision.