Luca Vildoza undergoes surgery after getting waived by Knicks

Now it can be told.

The ankle injury doomed Luca Vildoza’s chances even before he could start his NBA journey with the New York Knicks.

Vildoza revealed Tuesday that he underwent surgery to extract fluid from the back of his right foot. The Knicks waived him last Sunday.

The 26-year old Argentinian guard said he sustained the injury before the Tokyo Olympics. That explains his poor showing after an impressive outing in the FIBA World Cup two years ago, which led to Kobe Bryant calling the Los Angeles Lakers to take a look at him and his other teammate Gabriel Deck, who is now with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

At the Summer Games this year, Vildoza failed to help Argentina get past the quarterfinal round. A week later, he played meaningless minutes with the Knicks in the NBA Summer League before being held out due to his ankle injury.

Vildoza may have aggravated the injury as he pressed on playing. Those months leading to Tokyo games and during the tournament proper were difficult, according to him.

“I always tried to keep going, but at one point I couldn’t take it anymore,” Vildoza said.  “The pain was very intense and constant. That is why I made this determination with my family and my girlfriend looking for the best for my health and my future.”

Vildoza reported to the training camp in a walking boot. The Knicks could have until after the opening night to arrive at a decision. But they couldn’t wait any longer. They decided what was best for the team and Vildoza’s health.

“You gotta make roster decisions this time of the year, and so availability is a big part of it,’’ Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said Sunday. “And we feel that the guys who are here, those are the guys that are fighting it out for that last spot. But he’s a good player and we wish him well.

Vildoza signed with the Knicks last May, but only the first year of the four-year, $13.6 million deal was guaranteed. He collected at least $1.5 million after the $2-million buyout of his contract with Baskonia in the top Spanish League was deducted.

“I thank the people in the Knicks organization. They were amazing to me and also to those who genuinely cared about my health. This NBA outing is just “a see-you-later” for me. I will do my best to return,” Vildoza said. “It is my dream, and I will pursue it while I can.”

There was no timetable provided for his recovery. Vildoza is now a free agent and can sign with any NBA team after returning from the injury.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Ex-Knick Pablo Prigioni to Luca Vildoza: See you soon!

It takes one to know one.

Luca Vildoza just got the stamp of approval from Pablo Prigioni after the 25-year old Argentine signed a four-year, $13.6-million deal with the New York Knicks.

Prigioni was the first Argentinian point guard to suit up for the Knicks. As the NBA’s oldest rookie in history at 35 years old, Prigioni helped New York reach the second round of the playoffs in the 2012-13 season. It was the last time the Knicks made it to the postseason.

Eight years later, the Knicks are on the cusp of breaking the playoff drought and have signed another Argentinian point guard. But unlike Prigioni, who was in the twilight of his career then, Vildoza is entering his prime years.

The 25-year old Vildoza is about to follow Prigioni’s footsteps and hopes to leave a mark like his legendary compatriot. 

Prigioni, who is now an assistant coach with the Minnesota Timberwolves, shares the excitement of the Knicks fans on Vildoza’s decision to take his act to the NBA.  

“Congratulations on your four years of constant growth in Baskonia, and I’m sure you are going to do great here, Prigioni wrote on Vildoza’s heartfelt parting shot with Baskonia on his Instagram. “See you soon!”

Ultimate Dream

Before leaving for the NBA, Vildoza delivered an ACB Spanish League title to Baskonia last year and was named the Finals MVP.

Prigioni also won several titles for Baskonia before heading to the NBA. He returned to Baskonia and retired there following a four-year NBA stint. For Vildoza, who admires Prigioni growing up, leaving Baskonia was bittersweet.

“Making the decision to leave has not been easy at all, Vildoza wrote. “However, I have to take the step. Being able to play in the NBA for me is the ultimate dream. It was what I projected when I was a child and played in the room at home with my father. I want and need to realize the utopia. And measure myself.”

Vildoza will have the entire offseason to measure himself to the Knicks standards before the team can guarantee the second year of his contract. He is not expected to play with the season already coming to a close. But they are invested in him moving forward as signing him cost a $2-million buyout with his Spanish club.

Vildoza on Kobe Bryant and Lakers’ radar in 2019

The 6-foot-3 Vildoza will also suit up for the Argentia national team in the Olympics. It was in the 2019 FIBA World Cup where Vildoza started to get into NBA’s radar.

Vildoza was one of the two Argentines that caught the fancy of the late Kobe Bryant.

Los Andes, an Argentinian publication, reported in 2019 that Bryant called the Los Angeles Lakers people and toyed with the idea that Vildoza and Gabriel Deck should play for his former team at some point.

Bryant was said to be enamored by “the speed of the point guard (Vildoza) and his launching mechanics with agile movements plus the aggressiveness.”

Deck recently signed a similar four-year deal with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Knicks didn’t waste any time to lock up Vildoza before the Lakers, and several NBA teams get into him in the offseason.

Octagon’s Alex Saratsis, whose clients include Knicks’ Alec Burks, the Antetokounmpo brothers, Bam Adebayo, and Vildoza’s Argentina national teammate Facundo Campazzo, negotiated the deal.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks coach Thibodeau: Randle, Ewing cut in the same cloth

More than three decades ago, Patrick Ewing fell into New York Knicks‘ lap with a stroke of luck in the 1985 Draft Lottery.

Ewing’s star had the staying power that made the Knicks relevant in the 90s.

Ewing had been the face of the Knicks for already a decade when Tom Thibodeau, a young and a rising star assistant coach in the NBA, joined Jeff Van Gundy’s coaching staff.

Thibodeau saw up close Ewing’s blue-collar approach to the game. He was there at Van Gundy’s side when the Knicks 1997 season crumbled with Ewing suffering a career-threatening wrist injury. Thibodeau saw how Ewing survived that fall and rebounded, leading the Knicks to a Cinderella run — becoming the first eighth seed to reach the NBA Finals — two years later during the lockout-shortened 1999 season.

More than two decades later, Thibodeau found his way back to New York, this time at the helm of an incredible rise from seven long years of misery.

Thibodeau has brought New York basketball back on the map. He’s made the Knicks relevant again like the Ewing-led teams in the good old days in the 90s.

Thibodeau found his Ewing in Julius Randle, a 6-foot-8 bruiser that has evolved into a sweet shooter and undisputed leader.

Randle’s combination of bully ball and sweet stroke from the perimeter is currently leading a nine-game winning streak, the franchise’s second-best stretch in the last 25 years.

Before Thibodeau took the Knicks coaching job, he laid out his blueprint on The Platform podcast in May last year.

“How you build a culture is you have to sell your vision to your best players and your best players have to sell it to the rest of the team,” Thibodeau said. “Your first meeting is the most important meeting of the year. You have to begin with the end in mind. What wins in the playoffs, these are the things that you have to do, building habits.”

Culture is the buzzword that hasn’t been associated with the Knicks since the 90s. Not even the brief success they’ve had with Carmelo Anthony at the beginning of the last decade had a culture set in place. It was tumultuous at times. Dysfunction blurred the Knicks’ vision.

Thibodeau changed everything right on his first meeting.

He sized up Randle. He came away impressed. And that set the tone for the amazing season the Knicks are having.

Thibodeau was sold on Randle as the team’s best player. He sold his vision to him, and all the rest followed like dominoes.

“It always starts with your best players,” Thibodeau said after the Knicks beat the Toronto Raptors for their league-best ninth straight win. “If they work like that and it sets the tone for the team. He’s relentless. It’s not an accident that he’s having the type of season that he’s having. His commitment — I saw see it from the moment I met him how committed he was in turning this around.”

A year ago, Randle was the most vilified Knicks player. The fan base was ready to move on from him when the Knicks front office took the slam-dunking Obi Toppin with their eighth pick in the Draft.

But as it turned out, the Knicks were not as ready as their fans to move on from Randle. In fact, the new front office led by Leon Rose, who is close to Randle’s CAA agent Aaron Mintz, was planning to hand the keys to the enigmatic forward.

When Knick’s new VP and senior advisor William Wesley aka World Wide Wes, called up Randle to ask his input on the coaching search, it was clear Randle’s words carried weight like the stars in the league.

That seminal moment empowered Randle’s incredible turnaround, which mirrored the Knicks’ success this season. No one saw it coming except for Randle, Thibodeau, and the front office.

Randle asked for a coach who will make him accountable. He got it.

Just like when Randle came to New York, Thibodeau’s return to the Knicks organization was met with mixed reactions after his flameout in his last stop in Minnesota.

But it took two polarizing figures — Randle and Thibodeau — to galvanize a Knicks team that looked lost for years.

“I think it’s critical for success, and I saw that right away,” Thibodeau said when asked to comment on Randle seeking accountability. “I asked him when I first got hired to come in for a few days because I wanted to see where he was conditioning-wise and get to know him a little bit. When I saw the way he came in and I saw the way he worked, and we had our first conversation, I pretty much knew. And I worked him out, so I felt like ‘OK, this guy has a great capacity for work, he has the ability to concentrate, he’s in great shape and you start there. He’s been tremendous. I’ve said it many times: he’s our engine. He’s been a great leader right from the start, and he’s growing. He’s still getting better.”

Thibodeau had seen that kind of leadership before. Ewing was the engine of Van Gundy’s Knicks teams. He was at Van Gundy’s side, having a courtside view of Ewing terrorizing the league. It can be argued he was the best player in the Eastern Conference, not named Michael Jordan during his time. And that also didn’t happen by accident, even though Ewing was gifted with the size and talent.

“I can recall back in the ’90s when I first arrived here as an assistant, the thing that blew me away was Patrick Ewing every morning in the offseason he was the first guy in the building,” Thibodeau said. “He worked like crazy. He got himself ready, and the rest of the team did the same. That’s leadership. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. When you see an example like that it gives you confidence and it gives the team confidence.”

Randle was just five years old when Ewing led the Knicks’ improbable run to the NBA Finals in 1999. Ewing was already a decade removed from the league when Randle rose into a future NBA lottery pick in Dallas.

Randle wasn’t into Ewing. He grew up in Kobe Bryant’s era. He played with the Los Angeles Lakers legend who patterned his game after Jordan, Ewing’s tormentor.

But on his quest for his own greatness, moving from West to East, Randle finds himself having to hold up to the standard of the former Knicks great.

“It’s amazing,” Randle said when he was told of Thibodeau’s Ewing comparison. “I’ve asked him to talk about that before. He kinda gave me insight into what he saw first-hand. I pride myself on my work ethic. The greats, they did that before. The guy I idolized the most, the guy I look up to, is Kobe (Bryant). His work ethic was top-notch. There’s nobody better at putting the time in than him.”

Randle learned from one of the greatest in LA. He also yearns to learn from one of the best players ever to set foot in New York through the lens of Thibodeau.

The Knicks never had the luck of the draw again to find a franchise-changing player like Ewing. Their constant chase for stars that never came made them the league’s laughingstock and meme.

They always settled for the next best available talent but never panned out in New York.

As their targeted stars — Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving — shunned them again two summers ago, they had Randle as a consolation.

Consolation was even an exaggeration at that time as media and fans alike frowned upon the three-year, $63-million signing of Randle.

But little did they know, what they had could be their next Ewing.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Kobe Bryant: “I Wanted to be Darryl Strawberry”

Kobe Bryant

The sad and shocking news of basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s passing on Sunday has elicited responses and condolences from around the globe. It also is bringing to the surface many of the great stories and legends behind this iconic man, who touched the lives of so many.

We offer our condolences to the Bryant family and the families of the other victims of the California helicopter crash that took the lives of Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter Gianna and seven others on Sunday.

Here’s a quick factoid about Kobe that many may not have known. Although he grew up in the Philadelphia area, Kobe was a New York Mets fan.

Those players, of course, were part of the powerhouse Mets teams of the 1980s. Bryant, who was born in 1978 would have been and impressionable eight year old when the Mets were on top of the baseball world in the mid-late 80s, so yes, this is believable.

And it makes sense. Those Mets teams were bold, talented and had swagger. Bryant was undaunted and courageous in life as well. Of course, he went on to become a Dodgers fans after spending so much time in LA but as a kid, he found those Mets hard to resist.

Strawberry was an LA local legend out of Crenshaw High School and there were many Darryl fans in LA and around the country. He was an inspiration to many youngsters back then but didn’t realize the impact he had. Only in his later years did Strawberry come to realize his fame and influence.

The fact that he had an impression on Kobe and his generation is telling.

New York Knicks & MSG pay tribute to the late, great Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Everyone around the world is in shock with the tragic passing of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.  Last night, the New York Knicks and Madison Square Garden honored Bryant in multiple ways.

The lights outside the Garden, that display the Knicks blue & orange colors on game night, were switched to Lakers purple & goldMike Breen and Walt ‘Clyde’ Frazier remembered Bryant during the pre-game.  There was a 24-second moment of silent before the beginning of the game.  Along with both Bryant’s number 8 & 24 were displayed on the Garden floor.

Like most teams around the league, each team held onto the ball for their first possession, taking the 24-second shot clock violation.  The Garden faithful, a lot supporting Bryant 8 & 24 jerseys, stood and applauded in honor of the late NBA legend.   Chants of “Kobe, Kobe” rained down from the rafters.  It was a emotional day around the entire league.

Bryant had an effect on the lives of so many current and former NBA players, coaches, executives and, of course, fans.  Therefore, playing the games was somewhat of a head-scratching move.  Breen and Frazier began the game with both the Knicks and Brooklyn Nets looking “uninterested and sluggish.”  This was as expected with Bryant’s impact on the game.

Nets point guard, Kyrie Irving, was getting ready in the pre-game warm-ups when he got the devastating news.  Irving sat out the game as his Nets lost to the Knicks 110-97.

While it was nice for the Knicks to get a victory over their rival, fans couldn’t help to think about all the memories Bryant gave the Garden crowd.

Bryant once had the most points scored in Madison Square Garden history with 61 points on February 2nd, 2009.  That record is now broken by Carmelo Anthony’s 62 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2014.

Like all other greats, Bryant always brought his A-game when he stepped foot in the Garden.  The lights always seemed brighter and more stars came out when Kobe was in town.  Bryant put on a show for the fans one way or another.

Whether you were a fan of Bryant or not, one has to respect his game.  Bringing that ‘mamba mentality’ to every game is rare.  Not many bring that mindset to each game on a consistent basis.  His determination and drive to be the best is another reason why he was great.

Bryant meant so much to the game of basketball and even more to those outside the game.  He was a larger than life icon that will be greatly missed.

The New York Knicks issued statements before the game on their Twitter account.  From all of us here at Empire Sports Media we wish our condolences to the Bryant family.  Rest in peace Kobe & Gianna.

Empire State Players React to the Death of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant’s sudden death has reverberated across the sports landscape, including here in New York. While his play for the Los Angeles Lakers befuddled and baffled our New York Knicks and New Jersey/Brooklyn Nets, every athlete everywhere is reeling in the news of Bryant’s passing via a helicopter crash in California. What makes the event even more tragic is that his teenage daughter, a travel basketball player, and that player’s parent, were also involved in the crash that took the NBA legend’s life.

New York Athlete’s Respond to Bryant’s Passing

Marcus Stroman, of the New York Met’s, tweeted this out:

“This is extremely tragic to society. One of the most influential individuals/athletes to ever live. His legacy in 41 years is insurmountable. I’m beyond sad. Cherish every single second of life man. Every second you’re breathing, be thankful!”

Le’Veon Bell and Jamal Adams of the New York Jets had this to say via Twitter.

Bell:

“I don’t believe it actually….it’s unbelievable, no way”

Adams:

“Life’s way too short.
My favorite athlete of all time is gone…”

Former Yankee and current Met reliever Dellin Betances via Twitter:

“I’m sick I can’t believe this my idol Kobe gone too soon”

Bryant was just passed by LeBron James on the all-time scoring list in the NBA on Saturday, January 25th.

While, admittedly, not the biggest basketball fan, the impact Kobe Bryant had on the sports landscape was inescapable, even for me. A former college professor of mine, and drummer for the New York-based avant-garde group, Bright Dog Red, summed it up brilliantly. The only apt comparison to the shock and disbelief at Maba’s passing was the sudden death of former Yankees captain, Thurman Munson.

On behalf of all the writers at EmpireSportsMedia.com, I express our deepest condolences to Bryant’s family, his fans, and the Los Angels Lakers organization. This was far too early for me to type this, but Rest In Peace, Kobe and Gianna Bryant.