NBA Free Agency Primer: Will Knicks remain conservative or make a splash?

The New York Knicks remain a mystery despite a playoff run that purged the long years of misery. But if there’s anything we’ve learned from Leon Rose’s leadership after a year of operating in the shadows is that patience is a virtue.

There’s already a pattern we can deduce from the way they approached last summer’s free agency and last Thursday’s NBA Draft.

Last summer, the Knicks created over $40 million in cap space, yet their signings didn’t scream sexy and fancy. Instead, they went after grimy stuff and made them shiny once the sexy names like Gordon Hayward went off the board.

Last week, we saw the same kind of maneuvering from the Knicks in the NBA Draft when they took a calculated conservative approach once their targets were off the board. They got away with Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride, two rookies who could become rotational pieces after the once-grimy stuff they stumbled upon last summer sign fancy deals somewhere else.

They followed up that conservative Draft Day by exercising their $1.8 million team option on Mitchell Robinson and waiving Norvel Pelle and Frank Ntilikina. Now, they are armed with the most significant cap space — $52.6 million — in the NBA landscape this summer.

All moves are indicative of one thing — creating the largest cap space as much as possible.

The thing is, the Knicks also want the shiny stuff like the rest of the league. Even their two-time NBA Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau pleaded for stars, whether from free agency, trade market, or at the very least, organically developing one through the draft. But after returning to relevance with a first-round playoff appearance, the third option is no longer viable. And it’s no longer as impossible as it was a few years back for the Knicks to land a star via free agency.

Rose moves in mysterious ways. He may be silent, but the Knicks’ actions are pretty telling. His silence is synonymous with the Knicks’ patience.

Based on their recent actions, here is my educated guess on what the Knicks free agent board look like:

Top Targets

Chris Paul and Kawhi Leonard remain this summer’s biggest prizes despite overtures that they will re-sign with their respective teams, Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers. Things can change quickly in the NBA.

The Knicks can easily slot one of them to their cap space and possibly work a trade to dump salaries if both A-list stars want to team up in New York. The operative word here is “if.”

Backup plan

If Paul and Leonard opt not to move, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will dictate this summer’s free agency. Both former All-Stars are on their last legs, and reuniting in a contender would be a dream come true for the best of buddies.

Pat Riley has his eyes set on Lowry via sign-and-trade and DeMar DeRozan for the Miami Heat’s full MLE.

The Knicks have all the cap space in the world to scuttle those plans and immediately solve their glaring holes in the point guard and wing spots while still having the option to have either Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock or both of them re-sign via their Bird rights.

Lowry and DeRozan starting alongside Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and Robinson with Rose and Bullock leading the bench with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin will make them more formidable than last year’s overachieving roster.

This move makes them a bona fide playoff contender for the next couple of years while they continue to organically develop their young core and angle of the next disgruntled star.

Place holders

Just like last year, the Knicks could always go back to the route of signing underrated players to shorter deals to preserve cap flexibility. If Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler, Bradley Beal, and Zach LaVine won’t sign an extension this year, next summer’s free-agent market will be loaded.

And there’s always the allure of the trade market as Damian Lillard’s clock in Portland has begun ticking or even Beal if he sees the Wizards heading to a rebuild rather than contending soon.

But having the cap space to absorb the exorbitant contract of a disgruntled star isn’t enough for the Knicks to become a major player in the trade market. They can use this free agency to get solid pieces that can help them in the present and become salary fillers in a blockbuster trade in the future.

If the Knicks decide to punt this summer again, here are some names to watch outside their own free agents:

(starting salary range based on ESPN’s projection)

PG: Spencer Dinwiddie ($18-20M), Lonzo Ball ($18-20M), Dennis Schroder ($16-18M), Devonte Graham ($12-14M), Reggie Jackson ($10-12M), Cameron Payne ($8-10M)

SG: Norman Powell ($18-20M), Evan Fournier ($14-16M), Danny Green ($8-10M), Malik Monk ($6-8M)

SF: Duncan Robinson ($14-16M), Josh Hart ($10-12M), Kelly Oubre, Jr. ($10-12M), Carmelo Anthony ($4-6M)

C: Richaun Holmes ($12-14M), Andre Drummond ($10-12M), Javale McGee (veteran minimum)

The Knicks have all the tools to upgrade — cap space, stable organization, family environment, and a team on the rise. They will strike when the opportunity arises. This summer gives them a small opening to get that shiny stuff and not settle with the grimy one that needs elaborate work. But they are also disciplined and wise to acknowledge when they couldn’t crack that opening wide enough.

Let’s see if the patience the Knicks have shown so far finally pays off.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Report: Knicks could be eyeing Kawhi Leonard if he departs Los Angeles

kawhi leonard, knicks

The likelihood of Kawhi Leonard leaving the Los Angeles Clippers is low, but rumbles have occurred in recent days suggesting that the possibility is increasing. In the case that Leonard declines his player-option and leaves Los Angeles, the New York Knicks could target him as a high priority.

Marc Stein said on a Spotify Green Room event on Friday that Dallas, Miami, and New York would chase Kawhi Leonard in the event of a departure from the Clippers:

“The Mavs will try to do everything they can to get Kawhi Leonard. The Knicks and the Heat will try as well. The situation with Kawhi is no longer a safe assumption he’s staying with the Clippers.”

Leonard underwent surgery to repair a “partially torn ACL,” but there is no timetable for his return at the moment. The probability is that Leonard will not be available for the start of the 2021-22 season, in fact, he might miss a good chunk of it.

Considering the timing of the injury, Leonard could very well miss the entire season, coming off a campaign where he averaged 24.8 points, 5.2 assists, 6.5 rebounds, and shot 51% from the field. He also connected on 40% of his shots from range, averaging 4.9 attempts per game. At 29 years old, Kawai has earned five All-Star appearances over the past six seasons, showcasing his quality and impact.

Based on Kawhi’s injury situation, the Knicks would have to be content with the fact that he might not play next year, signing him to a contract nonetheless. Currently, he is on a three-year, $103.1 million deal but is headed into the final year of the contract, which includes a player option.

If he elects to decline, he can take his talents anywhere, which would open the door for the Knicks and others to pursue. However, accepting the player option and guaranteeing his money seems like the more intelligent move.

If I were the Knicks, looking elsewhere for a player who can make an impact immediately and isn’t coming off a significant injury might be more efficient, but the opportunity to secure a generational talent is always a consideration.

Knicks News, 7/2: Kawhi Leonard a realistic option in free agency as opt-out imminent

kawhi leonard, knicks

The Knicks will have their fair share of free-agent players to target this off-season, and one superstar is Kawhi Leonard. Leonard, who missed the last two games of the Western Conference series against the Phoenix Suns, is apparently frustrated with the way they handled his injury, and there is some belief that he will require surgery this off-season. The extent of the injury is unknown, and if it requires a lengthy rehab, the Knicks could stay away from Leonard, considering they need a superstar player ready for the start of the 2021-22 regular season.

However, Leonard pushed to make a return against Phoenix, but the medical staff simply wouldn’t allow him to do so. The Clippers had Leonard listed with a right knee sprain, which would suggest he avoided significant structural damage to his knee.

“I have been told by a very good source that the first issue became Kawhi was unhappy with the Clippers medical staff, because he felt that they, early on, misdiagnosed and underplayed the extent of this knee injury,” Bayless said on Friday’s episode of “Undisputed.”

If this issue is far more serious than initially diagnosed, the Knicks would have to sign Leonard with hopes of him returning at some point during the regular season next year, which ultimately might not be the most efficient move. However, the belief is that New York will pursue any superstar available on the market, especially if it doesn’t require parting ways with significant draft capital and/or young talent in a trade.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer believes the Knicks will be pressed to pursue any superstar in free agency, and Leonard arguably represents the best of them all.

The Mavericks and Heat plan to make a hard push to acquire Leonard, league sources say. The Knicks will also pursue any superstar that becomes available, and a long list of other suitors would at least make an attempt if he hits the market. Who wouldn’t want a 30-year-old two-time Finals MVP still performing at an All-NBA level?

Kawhi is coming off a three-year, $103 million deal but does have a player option for next season at $36 million. The 30-year-old small forward is expected to opt-out of his deal and take his talents elsewhere, but there is a strong possibility he tries to stay in California, where he grew up. If he is looking for a change, the best small forward in basketball is coming off a season where he averaged 24.8 points, 5.2 assists, 6.5 rebounds, and shot .512 from the field. He also connected on nearly 40% of his three-point attempts, averaging 4.9 per game.

Pairing a strong and physical defender like Leonard with Julius Randle would be phenomenal, but the Knicks still need a solid point guard to spread the ball around. Ultimately, the retention of Derrick Rose might be enough to get the job done, especially with so much fire power. Again, as long as Leonard hits free agency, the Knicks will be in the picture, but they might have to overpay for Leonard if they want to convince him to move to the West Coast.

What do you think about the next pursuing Kawhi Leonard? Would that be a good move? Comment below!

Built to Win: Knicks’ prospect Isaac Okoro hates losing

The New York Knicks are intrigued by Auburn’s one-and-done prospect Isaac Okoro who could be the second coming of Kawhi Leonard.

In the summer of 2019, before Isaac Okoro went to Auburn for his lone college season, Boston Celtics’ rising star Jaylen Brown came back to town.

Brown hails from Marietta, Georgia where he willed Wheeler High School to the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 6A State Championship as a senior. He hit the game-winning free throws in a 59-58 thriller in the state championship game that capped off a 30-3 season record for Wheeler High School.

Okoro, meanwhile, comes from Atlanta, just 23 minutes away from Brown’s hometown. Like Brown, Okoro has also made his mark in Georgia high school basketball. As a senior, Okoro has led the Powder Springs-based basketball powerhouse McEachern High School to the GHSA Class 7A state championship. Their first state championship was the culmination of a historic run. McEachern had a perfect 32-0 regular-season record, becoming the first undefeated team in the highest Georgia classification since 1995.

On that day, the scrimmage turned into a showdown between two Georgia high school legends.

Fresh off that historic state title run, Okoro was eager to size up Brown.

Okoro and his co-Atlanta Journal-Constitution state MVP point guard Sharife Cooper engaged Brown’s team in a dogfight that spilled over to a post-scrimmage challenge.

“He (Brown) watched them grow up, and he just came to show them some love. He’s a big brother,” Omar Cooper, Sharife’s father and Okoro’s Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) coach, told Empire Sports Media. “And they played five on five. It got a little testy, and they started playing one-on-one-on-one.”

Okoro and Cooper want a piece of Brown. But the Celtics shooting guard just won’t let them.

“The score was 8 to 8 to 8 like all of them had 8. The first one to score a 9 would win,” Cooper recalled. “Jaylen had the ball and he scored against Sharife to win the game.”

“Isaac wasn’t letting Jaylen go. He followed him, and when Jaylen was putting his clothes on, he’s asking him like, ‘Let’s play again, let’s play again!” And Jaylen Brown says, ‘You know maybe next time.’ And Isaac and Sharife were really, really mad. Isaac really hates losing.”

Fierce competitor

Okoro takes basketball seriously. Whether it is a pickup game or in a tournament, he views the game the same. He will do whatever it takes to win.

That’s how Omar Cooper built the basketball foundation of Okoro, one of the top prospects in this year’s NBA Draft. And up to this day, Omar has been guiding Okoro as the CEO of the Lifestyle Sports Agency in partnership with rapper Lil Wayne’s agency Young Money APAA Sports.

“He was part of a group of kids by Omar Cooper who were late or were not picked in the recreational draft. They worked extremely hard for years. When they got to the middle school, by the time they’re in eighth grade, they were no longer playing in the local leagues anymore. They’re traveling to high school events. That’s were Athletes of Tomorrow (AOT), the AAU program, was started because of those kids,” McEachern High School coach Mike Thompson told Empire Sports Media.

Omar took Okoro under his wings at the age of seven.

Okoro, being the tallest kid in that group, became the de facto center of the team on offense and a swiss-knife army on defense.

“He was the tallest kid and was playing down low [on offense] but he had to guard all five positions. He took this thing seriously. Because when people scored on you and then when we practice, we would get on you and he doesn’t want anybody to get on him. He had to guard people who are a whole foot tall than him, faster than him, ball-handling is crazy and so as a kid when you used to be defending these elite players, when you grow older, you start to defend at a high level,” Omar said.

Okoro’s transformation went through a process. He started out guarding Omar and his 6’5 brother to players who would, later on, become NCAA standouts and NBA draftees.

“When Mike Young (Pittsburgh), who led ACC in scoring, would come back as 6’9 and would punish Isaac for the whole summer. Isaac would go home knowing that Mike Young tomorrow will wear you out again. Then Tony Parker (UCLA), who’s about 6-foot-10, huge guy, MJ Walker (FSU), future NBA players Jaylen Brown (UC), Collin Sexton (Alabama) will come in and wear you out again. These kids will come to the gym to train and Isaac had to guard them. That just built Isaac to be the defender that he is today,” Omar said.

And every day at practice, Okoro had to defend his teammate, Sharife, the crafty 6’1 point guard who has committed to Auburn as well.

“That’s how you learn to defend point guards, you learn how to defend the pick and roll, stand in front of him, how to stop in isolation and then the next day, you’ll have to defend a guy who’s so strong who will bully you,” Omar added.

Winner everywhere

Those defensive instincts Okoro has developed have made him one of the most intriguing prospects in the Draft. He hasn’t skipped a beat since his AAU days. From McEachern High School to Auburn where he grew up to become a solid 6’6, 225-lb guard-forward, Okoro has built a reputation as a solid two-way player and a winner.

“Only a few have that combination of skills, the body, and the work ethic that separates you from the rest. Some people like to play basketball. Some people are basketball players. Isaac is a basketball player,” Thompson raved about his ward.

Okoro has made a strong impact wherever he went.

“When he was seven, eight years old he’s won a state title in a recreational league. He’s never lost a game in middle school. He won championships in 2 of 3 years, the third year we were about to defend our title but he went on to play high school ball. He went undefeated in high school and won state and national championship and you see the run he had in Auburn to no.5 in the country and at one time, were 15-0,” said Omar who spoke glowingly of Okoro’s winner mentality.

“Isaac as a winner is an understatement. Going undefeated as a high school in that national schedule is unheard of.”

Okoro did everything he was asked.

As a freshman at McEachern High School, he averaged 15 points and eight rebounds per game. In his senior year, he was everywhere on the floor posting monster numbers of 19.7 points, 10.6 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 2.7 steals per game. He powered the Indians to the City of Palm Classic and Tournament of Champions titles on top of their undefeated run to the state championship. Fittingly, he became the only second player in the school history to have his jersey retired.

“He’s one of those guys that no matter what program he goes to in the NBA, it will become a better program once he’s there,” Thompson said.

Okoro also had that same impact with Auburn. The Tigers were 25-6 and appeared headed to another deep NCAA run before the college season was cut short by the pandemic. In just one year, he went from a four-star recruit to Auburn’s first one-and-done NBA prospect and a potential high-lottery pick.

Auburn has not produced a lottery pick since Chris Morris went fourth overall in 1988. Chuck Person (fourth pick, 1986) and Charles Barkley (fifth pick, 1984) were the only other Auburn lottery picks.

Despite being the only freshman in the senior-filled starting unit, Okoro has lived up to the hype.

Okoro played like a veteran for Bruce Pearl just like when he hit the game-winning shot with 2.9 seconds left in a thriller against South Alabama in just his third game.

In two of their six losses — a back-to-back against SEC’s bottom-tier teams, Missouri and Georgia — the Tigers felt Okoro’s absence (due to hamstring injury).

It became apparent that he has become the Tigers’ most indispensable player last season.

“Isaac is incredibly valuable to us on both the offensive and defensive end,” Pearl said following that twin loses. “His man never scores, so put him on whoever you’re going to put him on at Georgia, at Missouri or against Tennessee, and that guy’s not scoring. He’s our best help defender, taking charges, getting vertical, ending possessions with rebounds and things like that, and then offensively he’s a really tough cover, another breakdown guy that can get to the rim, and so we miss him a lot.”

Pearl just echoed what he has seen in the preseason: that Okoro is the best defensive player he’s ever coached.

“He can guard 1 to 5. I’ve never had a player be able to do that. Big, strong, physical, and wants to defend. He wants the opponent’s best player. And offensively, he’s just very productive,” Pearl said.

Okoro wound up his short stint with the Tigers with season averages of 12.9 points (second in the team) on just nine shots along with 4.4 rebounds, 09. steals and 0.9 blocks in 28 games. He ranked 10th among NCAA Division I freshmen in field goal percentage (51.4 percent) and he was one of the only three players in the league to average at least 12 points and pile up at least 25 steals and 25 blocked shots.

Kawhi 2.0?

While scouts are high on Okoro’s defensive gifts, the same can’t be said on his lack of outside game. It’s the biggest reason why scouts have been reluctant in ranking Okoro up there on top of the Draft.

Most Draft boards have LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman on top with Okoro all over going as high as fourth to as low as eight to ninth pick.

But to Okoro’s coaches, the shooting won’t be a problem in the NBA.

“I wouldn’t make too much of an issue with his shooting — I just wouldn’t,” Pearl told The Athletic. “He’s going to win. He’s going to start. He’s going to work. He’s going to train. He’s going to be disciplined. I don’t think his whole pendulum of whether or not he’s good depends on his shot.

Omar has the same sentiment.

“He can shoot. There’s nothing wrong with his jump shot. He just didn’t shoot enough. He’s a freshman and he had seniors on a team in front of him,” Omar told Empire Sports Media. “I just think that you can’t ask an unselfish kid to be selfish coming into a program as a freshman.”

“He just did what he felt the team needed from him to be successful. Projecting the next level, if you came and saw him work out, you’d be amazed.”

Sifting through the numbers, Omar appears to have a valid argument.

Okoro has only attempted 69 attempts from deep in 28 games with the Tigers. His three-point totals ranked seventh in the team with seniors Samir Doughty (182), Danjel Purifoy (147), J’Von McCormick (131) and Anfernee McLemore (93) leading them in most threes attempted. Okoro has made 20 of his 69 attempts for a 29 percent clip.

“Isaac’s offensive gifts have yet to be unveiled because he hasn’t stayed in college long enough,” Omar said.

Before Okoro went to Auburn, he shot 46 percent of his three-point shots with AOT in the Nike U17 EYBL. In 10 games, he hit 13 out of 28 attempts.

“He’s gonna come out in the NBA where the court is more open. He’s not gonna come in there and gonna try to take over from behind. He’s not gonna do that. He’s gonna come and he’s gonna mature and when that time comes that he develops, like a Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, those guys gradually grew into who they became,” Omar said.

Thompson also sees the Kawhi comparison.

“His passion to play defense separates him a little bit from most NBA players. Maybe Kawhi Leonard’s desire to defend as he does. Of course, his game is a little bit like when Kawhi was younger, I think he wasn’t a tremendous offensive player but he’s just tenacious, he’s tough-minded. That’s how he reminded me more than anything. I think he has plenty of time to work on his offensive game and it’s gotten better since he was in high school,” Thompson said.

Leonard also was a 29-percent three-point shooter as a sophomore in San Diego State before he declared for the NBA Draft. As it turned out, Leonard went on to become the biggest steal of his Draft class. Now a two-time champion, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, and a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Leonard is a 38-percent career three-point shooter in the pros thanks to San Antonio Spurs’ shooting coach Chip Engelland who worked on his shot.

While Leonard is an outlier rather than the norm, there is a strong indication that Okoro will likely develop a potent three-point shot in the NBA with a team that has a strong developmental coaching staff.

Okoro had received the same criticism with his shooting when he didn’t make the cut in the 2017 USA U17 Basketball Team.

“He was disappointed. He felt like they didn’t see his best performance. He went there trying to be a team player, moving the ball around and when he left, he felt he could’ve scored more. Because he could but then again, he wanted to be a team player,” Omar said.

Thompson recalled that Okoro would often call him to open the gym for him.

“He’s a hard worker. He’s coachable. You know, he didn’t make the USA team the first time he tried basically because of his offensive skills, his shooting, was not what they needed. But you know he made it the second time because he did go to work on those skills and he was shooting the ball a lot better,” Thompson said.

Okoro only took Sundays as a day off working on his overall game but added extra focus on his jump shot. He said he did take 500 to 1,000 shots a day during that year.

His dedication and determination paid off when he got accepted the next year, joining the likes of RJ Hampton, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley in the talented-laden team that won the 2018 FIBA U17 World Cup Championship in Argentina.

‘Most ready guy in the Draft’

In all of his four years at McEachern High School, Thompson recalled that Okoro has only missed two practices — first was the 25th wedding anniversary of his parents and the other was a church event where Okoro and his family are active members.

Okoro is locked in, training in Auburn as Nov. 18 couldn’t come sooner.

“I’m watching a lot of NBA films, and I’m working on my game 24 hours a day, 7 days a week not just physically but mentally as well,” Okoro told Empire Sports Media in a short message through Omar.

Okoro added that he’s been studying the games of Allen Iverson, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, to Leonard and Nikola Jokic and the stifling defense of the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys.

Omar said all 30 teams have reached out to their camp.

Of course, he dreams of having Okoro as the top pick but whichever team bets on his intangibles and high upside, he sees his former player fitting in like a glove.

“He’s a guy who could fit 30 teams,” Omar said.

Thompson thinks the same.

“I really can’t think of any place where he couldn’t fit in. He’s an ultimate team player. He cares more for the team than himself. Even here as a high school player, he deferred to (Sharife) Cooper a lot who was more of an offensive player. Isaac did the things were needed to score. He fitted in Auburn with a lot of older kids you would think it’ll be hard to do but he was well-liked and most probably the best player they’ve had in one year he’s there. And he was the youngest in the starting five,” Thompson said.

Minnesota has the No.1 pick but it is still unclear if they will keep that pick. The Golden State Warriors, who are selecting at No.2 is in the same boat.

The Timberwolves already have their backcourt set with D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, and Karl-Anthony Towns as their big man. What they seemingly lacked is a lockdown defender in Okoro’s caliber.

The Warriors, if they hold on to their pick, could plug Okoro and play him in Andre Igoudala’s previous role with their championship core.

“He is maybe the most ready guy in the draft,” a Western Conference executive told ESPN’s Tim Bontemps last month. “I think he could go to a team like Golden State or another good team and contribute right away.”

The Knicks are also strongly considering Okoro according to The New York Post.

But he’s not the only wing who is strongly linked to the Knicks. He has competition in FSU’s Devin Vassell, a more polished three-point shooter but with a leaner frame.

But Draft Analyst Matt Babcock believes Okoro should be the Knicks’ pick if both wings are available.

“For me, it’s close between the two. Vassell’s ability to shoot the ball is certainly intriguing in regards to the Knicks current roster. However, I personally think Okoro has the edge over him in my book because he has more upside. Okoro is probably the best overall athlete in the draft and he has a chance to be an elite defender. If he is able to develop his outside shooting, he could end up being a big-time player when it’s all said and done,” Babcock told Empire Sports Media.

Okoro has also the Jimmy Butler aura in him that Tom Thibodeau would love to have in his team.

“He (Okoro) doesn’t get caught up with the bright lights, the glitz, and the glamour. He’s not going to the NBA for the money. He wants to go to the NBA to play against the top competition,” Omar said.

A player like Okoro doesn’t come around often. You can always find a high-scoring player or a skilled passer but not a tenacious lockdown defender who has a strong offensive game to match and has won at every level.

“I know it [the NBA] has become a shooter’s league. You hear it all the time that it’s a make-or-miss league. But it’s also a winner’s league. And you have to be a winner. Isaac is a winner,” Thompson said.

Okoro hates losing as much as he loves winning.

And the next time he’ll have his shot at Brown, it’s no longer just a pickup game. It’s in an NBA game where the stakes are high and where Okoro would love to fly.

New York Knicks:Where do they land in my season preview?

It’s been one of the craziest offseasons in NBA history, with almost half the league switching teams. Some teams improved dramatically, some teams left us scratching our heads, and some teams managed to fall into both buckets. So I’d thought I’d take some time and offer my opinions/prediction on how everything is going to turnout. As always, delusional messages telling me how I’m an idiot and your team is going to the finals is always welcome @aelderbaum. Let’s start with the Western Conference.

  1. Los Angeles Clippers: They added two premier scorers who also happen to be two of the best defensive players in the league. They still have Patrick Beverly to make opposing point guards miserable, a great roll man in Montrazl Harrell, and sixth man extraordinaire Lou William’s. They also have quality depth with Landry Shamet, Rodney Mcgruder, Moe Harkless, Ivica Zubac and Jerome Robinson. The Clippers should be able to manage both superstars workloads and match up with any opponent. LA will be the top seed in the west.
  2. Utah Jazz : That’s right Utah will be the second seed in a brutal conference. By replacing Ricky Rubio with a point guard who could shoot the Jazz would become a contender, by replacing him with Mike Conley they are a legit championship caliber team. Along with Conley they also added a scorer with playoff chops in Bojan Bogdanovic, a quality back-up big man in Ed Davis, and a serviceable back up guard in Emanuel Mudiay. I can see Knicks fans rolling their eyes, but he had his moments for the team, and imagine him with actual NBA caliber teammates. Utah also still has Defensive POY Rudy Gobert, the underrated Joe Ingles, and Donovan Mitchell who maybe someday will measure up to the man the Knicks passed on him to take.

  3. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets did what they always do and quietly added one of the best available players in a trade by acquiring Jerami Grant. Grant can play defense, is a career 37% three point shooter, and will play multiple positions. Adding him to a team that had the second best record in the west is only going to raise their ceiling. Nikola Jokic is an MVP candidate and maybe Jamal Murray wont soil himself in the post season this year. If Michael Porter can add anything and avoid spending time in a wheelchair this team is a legit title contender.

  4. Houston Rockets: This is the team I had the most trouble figuring out. Theres a reason every team Chris Paul has been part of has underachieved and had horrible chemistry. Removing him and the 30 games he was going to miss and replacing him with Russell Westbrook is a win for the Rockets. He and Harden will figure out how to coexist, and keep in mind Harden begged for this trade. He is going to be much more willing to play off the ball, defer to Russ, anything to make sure Houston is a better team. With teams having to try to stop the new superstar duo Eric Gordon and Clint Capela should be able to shine. Remember these guys almost took out the Warriors the last two years.

  5. Portland Trailblazers: The Blazers made the conference finals last season, and while I dont forsee an encore, they will still be a playoff team. With Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum they still boast one of the leagues best back courts, and have a ton of solid role players in Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, and Ken Bazemore. Hassan Whiteside should be able to man the middle until Jusuf Nurkic returns from his leg injury and the team is very high on second year guard Anfernee Simmons. Portland probably maxes out at a second round exit.

6.Golden State Warriors: Is it possible to call this team a sleeper? I think reports of their demise are greatly exaggerated. They still have Steph Curry, and by adding D’angelo Russell they have an all star caliber band-aid until Klay Thompson returns. Thompson is big enough to guard the opposition’s best wing player so him coexisting with Russell and Curry is not a ridiculous idea when he comes back. They still have Draymond Green, Kevon Looney and Alfonzo Mckinnie from last years team and I really like the Willie Cauley-Stein addition. I think he can be a rich mans Festus Ezeli, and an even better defender. If Klay does make it back they could be dangerous in the post season.

  1. OKC Thunder: Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari , Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Andre Roberson. Dennis Schroeder, Mike Muscala, Pat Patterson and Terrance Ferguson off the bench. OKC has built a sneaky fun roster while stockpiling approximately 450 picks in the next 5 drafts. Paul already has a chip on his shoulder, and now hes been exiled to Oklahoma, and everyone is saying he is stuck there because he is too old and expensive for anybody to want him. I think he will have his best season in the last few years just to prove people wrong, and he is on the perfect team to do so. Some talented role players, a borderline all star who can play unselfishly, and some young talent to mentor. I think it will be a struggle but they will sneak into the seventh seed.
  • New Orleans Pelicans: Lonzo on a team that will let him be this generations Jason Kidd, Brandon Ingram getting the chance to be a scorer and creator, and Zion electrifying crowds with his dunks and playmaking. In addition to that they have Nickeil Alexander-Walker looking like the steal of the draft, and Jackson Hayes being much further along then anyone planned. Jrue Holliday is an all star caliber two way guard to pair with Lonzo. They also added veteran shooter JJ Reddick and Jazz big man Derrick Favors. This is a fast rising team that seemed to make all the right moves this offseason and may arrive a year earlier than expected.

  • Los Angeles Lakers: Right now the Lakers starting five is DeMarcus Cousins or Javale McGee, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green and Lebron James. Lebron will turn 35 in December and is coming off the most serious injury he’d had in his career, so naturally he will be the starting point guard. Their bench is the washed Avery Bradley, the never actually been that good Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the even more washed Rajon Rondo, and probably should have retired Jared Dudley. There is noone on this roster to guard any of the Blazers or Warriors backcourt, or big athletic wings. Lebron will break down and this team will not make the playoffs.

  • San Antonio Spurs: They are running back essentially the same team in a stronger conference so I don’t see them finishing much higher than this. I’m more intrigued by the new Knicks/Spurs dirty tricks subplot. Popovich is ex military,  he may arrange for Marcus Morris to have an “accident” forcing the Knicks to sign yet another power forward.

  • Sacramento Kings: This one pains me, because I actually really like this team. Fox and Hield compliment each other perfectly, Nemanja Bjielica and Bogdan Bogdanovic provide spacing, and who doesent want to see Harry Giles stay healthy and have good year. Dwayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza were perfect additions, and Marvin Bagley seems poised to make a leap. The Harrison Barnes contract is the first big issue I have, as he is being paid like an all star while hes at best slightly above average. They also dont have a true big defender, and on the wings Ariza is a little old to be your lockdown guy. I think Sacramento is a year and move or two away from really making some noise.

  • 12: Dallas Mavericks: I think Porzingis and Luka are going to be an awesome combination, and I dont get why Dallas backed out of adding Goran Dragic. Your not going anywhere this season,  why not go full Euro and bring in Luka’s buddy for a year. Maybe it goes great and Dragic resigns on a modest deal next season. Instead you add Delon Wright and resign Maxi Kleber with the money? Meh. Dallas has refused to tank in the past out of respect for Dirk, but now that hes gone, one lost year may not be the worst thing. They finally have their cap under control, adding another good young player and then building around Doncic, Porzingis and said player makes the most sense to me. I know Cuban and Carlisle always want to compete, but when your competitors have Paul George and Kawhi…maybe sit this one out.

    1. Memphis Grizzlies: Another team on the rise,  I just want to see Ja Morant play in games before I fully leap on the bandwagon. I dont have any real concerns and wish he would have landed in NY, but noone had concerns about Markelle Fultz either. I’m not sure what they’re doing at shooting guard with Josh Jackson and Grayson Allen, league sources tell me they are looking to add  Jayson William’s for  additional depth behind those guys.
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: So umm do YOU have any interest in picking up Andrew Wiggins?

  • Phoenix Suns: “So you know how theres tons of free agents right now, well were totally getting a new starting point guard!”

  • “Who? Kyrie? Kemba? Brogdon?

    “Ummm not exactly…”

     

    Click here for part 2, the eastern conference.

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    New York Knicks fans should not be mad over Kawhi decision

    News broke two days ago that the New York Knicks backed out of meeting with free agent Kawhi Leonard.  The Knicks were suppose to meet with Leonard on Wednesday after he met with the Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers.

    Let’s be honest, the meeting was not going to lure Leonard to New York.  It would have been a courtesy meeting for one of the biggest basketball markets and nothing more.

    Kawhi Leonard was not going to play for the New York Knicks.  There was a very small chance of the Knicks actually landing him.

    The Knicks said they made a ‘tactical’ move by backing out of meeting with Leonard so they did not lose out on other free agents.  That seems odd, especially when the meeting with Leonard was not suppose to happen until Wednesday, after free agency opened.

    Kawhi just won an NBA title and MVP.  He has been winning his entire career.  The Knicks are not doing anything close to those things.  It really does not make any reasonable sense for him to select the Knicks.

    The Knicks brass made a very wise decision in backing out of the meeting.  It seems like they knew that they were a long shot to sign him and did not want to tease the Knicks faithful with any more fairy tales.

    Many fans, analysts and talk show hosts continue to crush the Knicks for doing this.  However, it was the right move.  They were not getting Leonard, so why get the fans hopes up for even the slimmest possibility of signing him.

    This was a smart decision made by Scott Perry and Steve Mills.  Let the Knicks move on with the young, fun core of players they had and have brought in for the upcoming season.

    How the New York Knicks can convince Kevin Durant to join ranks

    New York Knicks, Kevin Durant

    There’s a simple fact to Kevin Durant’s impending decision on where he will take his exponential talents for the next five years — the team he joins must be ready to win. The New York Knicks, however, might not be in that position next season, but it won’t matter.

    Signing Durant comes with a caveat – he will likely miss all of the 2019 season due to a torn Achilles that he had surgically repaired earlier in June. This gives the Knicks a better chance at signing him, and they can utilize his experience in the meantime to mentor the younger players.

    The New York Knicks can still extract value from Kevin Durant even if he’s not playing:

    RJ Barrett would benefit significantly from Durant as a mentor. The issue will be this — if the Knicks do manage to convince Durant to sign with them, they will need to bring in another high-profile player to help him succeed once he returns. Persuading another max-contract player to sign and essentially forfeit a season of contention to wait for Durant’s return could be problematic.

    They must insist that the current team has the talent to compete and bringing in a solid tier-two player like point guard D’Angelo Russell would be transformative. It’s seeming unlikely that both Durant and Kawhi Leonard both sign with the Knicks — reports have stated that Leonard is only willing to give the Knicks a phone-calls chance at signing him. He’s more keen on staying in California.

    The Knicks need to approach Durant carefully, basing their negotiation around youth and the potential they have. Players like Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Barrett, Damyean Dotson, Dennis Smith Jr., all have the flash and potential to be the next wave of greats in the league. If Durant wants to complete his legacy, leading a young team to the playoffs is certainly the way to do it.

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    In Leonard’s case:

    It doesn’t seem as if joining an already competitive team is a driving force in his decisions, given his recent Finals victory with the Toronto Raptors. Widely thought of as the best player in the league at the current moment, joining a youthful Knicks team would solidify his desire to lead a team of his own and help bring the best out of young talent.

    It will be interesting to see how he goes about free agency, but if Durant is convinced to come to New York, it will certainly be a catalyst in bringing others as well.

    New York Knicks to get a mere phone call interview with Kawhi Leonard

    New York Knicks to pursue Kawhi Leonard.

    While it’s not always the best idea to believe in pre-free agency rumors, there could be some truth behind them, especially for the New York Knicks. With star point guard Kyrie Irving reportedly going to the Brooklyn Nets, it’s expected that Kevin Durant will follow in his footsteps.

    The Knicks are being coined as “no mans land” for superstars, as some aren’t even willing to give them the time of day for an “in person” interview. Toronto Raptors star, Kawhi Leonard, is keen on giving the Knicks a mere phone interview and nothing more.

    The youth agenda the team has adopted has clearly been a deterrence for some free agent, as moving to an established team with a veteran presence seems more attractive.

    ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith went as far as to say:

    The New York Knicks, from what I’m hearing, it’s bad enough no one anticipates they’re going to get anybody…I’m hearing the New York Knicks might not even get an interview in person. If they get something, it’ll be phoners. I haven’t spoken to the Knicks, I don’t know if that’s true. But I’m hearing a phoner! Phoners, Max! Phoners.

    If the organization strikes out on all of the superstars, they will have to dig into a second-tier market that includes D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Demarcus Cousins, Bobby Portis, Tobias Harris and more. There’s plenty of talent that will be remaining for the Knicks to search through.

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    Rumors have also indicated that the Knicks could look to sign second-tier players to a one-year deal in an attempt to remain competitive in 2019 but to also keep their cap space flexible for the 2020 free agent class. That’s the best case scenario given the strikeout this offseason.

    New York Knicks: Is Demarcus Cousins a viable option in free agency?

    New York Knicks, demarcus cousins

    The optimism to land superstar Kevin Durant in free agency is dwindling for the New York Knicks, despite his moving from Malibu to the city that never sleeps. With concern over potentially striking a deal, there has to be a backup plan, or rather plan(s).

    It has been reported that the Knicks might look to sign Durant’s former teammate with the Golden State Warriors, Demarcus Cousins. A potential big-money, one-year deal could be in the works, however, I don’t necessarily see the value there.

    Signing a one-year deal would only take playing time away from the young core of the Knicks in what should be another building season where their player gain essential experience so they can compete in 2020.

    The Knicks seem more interested in finding a true organization leader that can carry the team with deficiencies at other positions than diving into the second-tier market. Players like Tobias Harris and Kemba Walker might even be out of their comfort zone.

    The New York Knicks are ready to spend big money:

    If they’re focused on bringing in the best of the best, I anticipate them dropping serious cash to bring in a top player — record-breaking money.

    The contingency plan, though, is to sign short-term deals to keep flexibility in their cap space moving forward so they can pursue other top option next year. With players like Durant, Kyrie Irving and Kawhi Leonard available right now, it’s important they land one max-contract player.

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    Cousins, the player of notice, was adequate with the Warriors, nothing more, nothing less. He averaged 16 points and eight boards per game in 30 regular-season games. While we can chalk up his decent season to adaptation hurdles, there’s reason to believe he can succeed in New York.

    Again, taking time away from the Knicks youth to sign a one-year max-deal doesn’t make much sense unless they truly believe 2019 can be a competitive season.

     

     

    What is the New York Knicks pitch to Kawhi Leonard in free agency?

    Can the New York Knicks convince Kawhi Leonard to come to New York?

    The free agent market in the NBA is one of pure unpredictability. The New York Knicks will see players expected to join their ranks take their talents elsewhere and others agree to compete in the Mecca. My initial thoughts are – Kevin Durant won’t wind up being with the Knicks, but that won’t stop them from pursuing Toronto Raptors star, Kawhi Leonard.

    As much as Leonard enjoys winning, he seems to enjoy the challenge just as much. Location doesn’t mean as much as holding the trophy at the end of the NBA finals, yet reports have stated he’s interested in going to Los Angeles.

    The Knicks will start their pursuit with a disadvantage, but their game-plan should be to convince him that he can solidify his name at the top by leading a team of youth and becoming a mentor as well as a winner.

    The New York Knicks need to emphasize their direction and the challenge:

    Having youngsters like RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Mitchell Robinson, and Damyeon Dotson to work with, Leonard might be intrigued by the leadership role and true challenge of New York. In addition, the Knicks have two max-contract slots to fill, which would allow them to pair Kawhi with another talented option.

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    Think — Kawhi and D’Angelo Russell. Two elite talents that can work well together. Given Kyrie Irving ends up in Brooklyn, the Knicks will need to find talent at the point guard position, which is where Russell enters the picture.

    Coming off an All-Star performance in 2018, the free agent will be looking to earn a pretty penny, and the reality is, the Knicks, residing up the block and a quick ride on the 4 train, are a good option. The point guard has already stated he wants to stay in the Big Apple, which gives the Knicks an advantage.

    It will be interesting to see how they approach free agency and if Leonard is actually a possibility. It’s expected they will earn a meeting with him, but convincing him to lead a team of youth will be the difficult part.