Report: Knicks remain a cash cow, Nets losing money

new york knicks, julius randle

The New York Knicks may have missed the NBA playoffs, but James Dolan still raked in more money than Joe Tsai did with his star-studded luxury tax team Brooklyn Nets.

According to a New York Post report, the Knicks have brought in about $900,000 more than the Nets’ average gate receipts per game. A team headlined by struggling Julius Randle and ascending RJ Barrett at Madison Square Garden was the hotter ticket in town, drawing 18,621 fans per game, which ranked eighth in league attendance. On the other hand, the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving star power drew 17,354 spectators per game at Barclays Center, good for 13th in league attendance.

Those numbers translated to $3 million per game for the Knicks, a 9 percent jump from the pre-pandemic in the 2018-19 season. But while the Nets lagged with just $2.1 million per game, it was still much better than the pre-Durant-Irving era.

Before Durant and Irving chose Brooklyn over New York’s beloved Knicks, the Nets were only averaging $1 million per game from about 15,000 tickets sold, after giveaways, in the 2018-19 season. That 26-percent improvement represents the biggest bump in the league, which they share with the resurgent Phoenix Suns.

But still, Tsai, who bought the Nets franchise for a record $2.35 billion and the Barclays Center for $1 billion in 2019, is losing money with the second-highest payroll in the league.

Tsai bankrolled the Durant-Irving-Harden and later with unplayable Ben Simmons for a staggering $172,836,362 with an estimated tax bill of $97,731,568 this season. In contrast, despite his Knicks front office going on a spending spree in the last offseason, Dolan had the third-lowest payroll in the league, spending just $120,376,240, avoiding the luxury tax bill.

Now, Tsai and his GM Sean Marks, have a $247.6 million decision, among other things, to make this summer to retain the uber-talented but mercurial Irving.

Meanwhile, Dolan and his team president Leon Rose also have crucial decisions to make on their extension-eligible young core pieces, Mitchell Robinson and RJ Barrett.

Robinson is eligible for a four-year extension maximum of $58 million until June 30 while Barrett can be extended this summer up to five years, $181 million.

If not extended, Robinson will enter unrestricted free agency this July, while Barrett becomes a restricted free agent after next season.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Quentin Grimes rejoins Knicks; Bradley Beal enters health and safety protocols

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Rookie wing Quentin Grimes is the latest Knick to clear the health and safety protocols after RJ Barrett and Obi Toppin, the team announced Thursday.

It’s welcome news for the New York Knicks that will seek a second straight win against the Bradley Beal-less Washington Wizards at the Garden.

Beal is the latest NBA player to enter the health and safety protocols shortly after the Knicks announced that Grimes rejoined the team. Beal averages 22.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists against the Knicks. He joined Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the health and safety protocols. But despite their absence, the Wizards are still formidable with Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Daniel Gafford, and Montrezl Harrell.

Both teams are coming off victories but have lost seven of their last 10 games.

Last Tuesday, New York opened their three-game homestand with a 105-91 rout of the lowly Detroit Pistons. On the other hand, the Wizards beat the Utah Jazz, 109-103, last Saturday to snap a three-game skid.

Meanwhile, it is unclear how much playing time Tom Thibodeau would give Grimes, Barrett, and Toppin as the Knicks are currently stacked even after losing Derrick Rose for eight weeks due to ankle surgery.

The Knicks recently signed Danuel House, Jr. to a 10-day contract via the hardship exception rule. House appeared 16 games for the Houston Rockets before he was waived. He fielded calls from the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, and the Los Angeles Lakers before signing with the Knicks, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

A 3-and-D specialist, House averaged 8.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists over five seasons with the Rockets, Phoenix Suns, and the Wizards.

Currently, the Knicks have 15 available players on their roster: Kemba Walker, Evan Fournier, Barrett, Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, Alec Burks, Grimes, Toppin, Taj Gibson, two-way player Jericho Sims and 10-day contract signings House, Tyler Hall, Matt Mooney, and Damyean Dotson.

Immanuel Quickley, Kevin Knox, Miles McBride, and Nerlens Noel remain in health and safety protocols.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks need ‘aggressive’ Julius Randle as COVID-19 continues to strike

The New York Knicks are down four men as they embark on a two-game road trip in Houston and Boston to end the week.

Kevin Knox joined RJ Barrett, Obi Toppin, and Quentin Grimes in the health and safety protocols, the team announced on Thursday morning, less than 12 hours before tipoff against the Rockets.

With Knox out, it’s almost certain that Julius Randle’s playing minutes will reach the 40s. New York coach Tom Thibodeau will have to break the glass and pull out emergency backup big Taj Gibson to spell Randle some breather, especially when the Rockets play rookie power forward Usman Garuba off the bench.

Garuba played 17 minutes in the Rockets’ 124-89 loss to the Cavaliers Wednesday night in Cleveland.

Coming off a 31-point explosion in the Knicks’ latest loss to the Golden State Warriors at home, Randle is looking to have another big night. He should have an easier time against 6-4 Jae’Sean Tate and 6-6 KJ Martin, the two Rockets’ undersized forwards.

Randle regained his shooting touch in the second half against the Warriors. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Knicks forward scored 25 of his game-high 31 points in the final two quarters. He went 5 for 6 from deep, catching rhythm as he abandoned his pump fakes and fired without hesitation.

“I just locked in and said I’m going to be aggressive,” Randle said after the loss. “I think when I overthink, naturally I try to be unselfish and try to kind of think the game and get everybody going and stuff like that. But I just said I’m going to be aggressive and kind of let my instincts take over.”

According to NBA’s tracking data, Randle hit 50 percent of his catch and shoot attempts, including 4 for 7 from the 3-point zone. In the eight games before the Warriors’ game or since Kemba Walker was out of the rotation, Randle only shot 25 percent off catch and shoot, including 26.1 percent from the outside.

“When I’m naturally just myself, I naturally do those things,” Randle said. “I’m hesitant and overthinking and I got an open shot and I don’t shoot it or whatever it is or I’m trying to play the right way and get other people going, it kind of takes me out of rhythm. It takes away from my aggressiveness.”

“It’s crazy because then I start to get turnovers and stuff like that. When I’m naturally aggressive and playing with force, everything falls into place. I get in a rhythm and I start not overthinking, open and shoot it, if they close out, then get into the paint and find people.”

Randle was prolific in the second half, hitting 7 of 12 shots, and only had one turnover in 20 minutes against the Warriors’ league-best defense. He also attacked the rim and made 6 of 6 free throws. In the first half, he had zero attempts from the stripes.

Overall, Randle made 4 of 7 shots within 10 feet from the basket, on par with his average attempts during the eight-game stretch entering Tuesday’s game. His attacking threat gave him some open looks from the outside. He had 12 open shots (4 to 6 feet from the closest defender), and he sank five of them. In the last eight games before Tuesday, he was only hitting 38.5 percent on 4.9 open look attempts.

“When he’s aggressive like that, it makes us better. And I love to see him when he’s attacking the rim,” Thibodeau said. “That puts a lot of pressure on people and it opens up things for us. And then I think he got into a good rhythm doing that. But we need everyone.”

Randle only had three assists, one in the second half. But it wasn’t like he did not try to move the ball and find his teammates. According to the NBA tracking data, Randle made 62 passes, resulting in 15 field goals for his teammates. Unfortunately, his teammates only hit 4 of 15.

Randle is still trying to strike a balance between when to pass and when to take over. But with their roster gutted out by COVID-19, the Knicks need an aggressive Randle to charge up their flailing offense.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

 

Knicks: RJ Barrett not too worried about shooting funk

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New York Knicks’ third-year wing RJ Barrett returned on Saturday after a non-Covid illness caused him to miss his first game over the last two seasons. But he also returned to his shooting slump that hastened their ugly loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Barrett shot just 38.5 percent from the field, including a horrendous 1 of 7 from downtown. Over his last 15 games, Barrett had only two games when he shot above 40 percent of his 3s. Both games ended in Knicks’ victories — a 3-of-7 outing against the Indiana Pacers and the 3-of-5 performance against the Los Angeles Lakers.

In his last 16 games in which the Knicks went 6-10, Barrett’s three-point shooting hit rock-bottom at a 23.9 percent clip. His 38.2 percent three-point shooting mark to start the season that crescendoed in New Orleans, where he hit 6 of 8 triples, capping a fiery Knicks’ 5-1 start, became an afterthought.

“No idea,” Barrett said Saturday of his recent shooting slump. “I think [that usually happens], especially at the beginning of the year, when a team is trying to figure itself out and also figuring out the shots that I’m going to get during the game with this team with new players, and I think I’ve kind of figured that out now.

His three-point shot diet increased this season despite the addition of the now-banished Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier. In his first 23 games last season, Barrett only attempted an average of 3.8 3s compared to 4.9 per game this season.

Looking at his three-point shot chart, Barrett’s weak spots are the top of the key (3 of 15) and the right corner (2 of 14). He is within the league average (39%) from the left corner (9 of 23). His 13 of 41 3s from the left elbow is near the league average (34.7%). He is most lethal from the right elbow as he made 8 of 20 3s that is well above the league average (32.9%).

Knicks RJ Barrett 3-pt shooting
courtesy of Stat Muse

Barrett and his trainer Drew Hanlen worked on the Knicks wing’s off-the-bounce game this past summer. But so far, it hasn’t translated yet in his three-point accuracy.

According to the NBA’s tracking stats data, Barrett is hitting only 24 percent clip from 1.3 pullup 3s attempts per game this season. Last season, Barrett attempted only 0.3 of that type of shot per game, and he was 30 percent accurate.

His accuracy from catch-and-shoot 3s this season (1.3 of 3.8) is nearly identical to last season (1.6 of 4.0).

New York coach Tom Thibodeau, who was effusive in praising Barrett’s work ethic until Saturday’s loss, had a more revealing and interesting view about his ward’s shooting funk.

“A couple of things — it’s similar to last year,” Thibodeau said. “I have a lot of confidence in him being able to work his way out of it. When you throw in, he’s been sick, and to me, you get rhythm when you work.”

“Last year, he got going when he started coming in every night to shoot. So there’s no notion that ‘okay, I do it sometimes.’ No, you got to do it all the time.”

Last season, Barrett ended up shooting 40.1 percent from deep after also enduring an early-season slump when he missed 21 straight three-pointers over a four-game stretch.

“So get back in the gym, get back to grooving your shot. Shoot a lot of 3s, and you’ll start making more,” Thibodeau implored.

But Barrett doesn’t need Thibodeau to tell him to get back to his nightly routine because that was always his plan after his recent bout with the non-Covid illness that made him throw up in their loss in Brooklyn last week. Barrett had to shut down for two days. After Saturday’s matinee, Barrett said that the illness was completely gone, and he was ready to return to his routine.

“Go back to the basics, which you know works,” said Barrett on how he plans to attack his shooting funk. “After that, everything will figure itself out.”

Barrett is confident, too, that he’ll work his way out of this another shooting slump.

“I’ve just been working on the shots that I know I’m going to get. I’ve been in shooting funks before. I’m not really too worried about it,” Barrett said.

Barrett is more concerned with the whole team figuring out their defense.

“We just gotta fight, bro. At the end of the day, all the X’s and O’s don’t matter,” he said.

“If we’re gonna play defense, we gotta fight and fight together the whole game and just do whatever it takes to win.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks’ 2OT win over Celtics is ESPN’s most-watched Wednesday NBA opener in 18 years

It’s fun being a Knicks fan these days.

The New York Knicks have solidified their status as one of the must-watch teams in the NBA after opening the new season with an epic double-overtime win over their old rival Boston Celtics.

According to Nielsen, the Knicks-Celtics classic was ESPN’s most-watched Wednesday NBA season-opening game in 18 years.

Evan Fournier’s red-hot shooting, Julius Randle, and Derrick Rose’s clutch plays were enough to withstand Jaylen Brown’s 46-point career night.

Their riveting showdown drew an average of 1.96 million viewers, which peaked at 2.87 million viewers from 10:30-10:45 p.m. ET.

The double-overtime classic drew a 3.5 rating in the New York market, making it the highest-rated national regular-season Knicks game telecast since 2017. The game also delivered a 4.0 rating in the Boston market.

Overall, Wednesday’s telecast, which also included the Denver Nuggets win over Phoenix Suns, became ESPN’s most-watched season-opening doubleheader since 2017. It drew an average of 1.74 million viewers, up 39 percent vs. 2020, up 10 percent vs. 2019, and up 22 percent vs. 2018.

The Knicks’ resurgence buoyed by their surprising, feel-good playoff run last season has inspired the league and its broadcast partners to put them on 22 nationally televised games, including Wednesday’s season opener. It’s the biggest jump by any NBA team in the last two seasons. In 2019, the Knicks only had three games on national TV while they had six during the previous pandemic-condensed season.

The Knicks will also have seven games on NBA TV in addition to their games on ESPN, ABC, and TNT.

Fox Sport’s Colin Cowherd summed up why it’s so easy to root for the Knicks.

“When you watch the New York Knicks play, I find them so redeemable and so easy to root for because they’re winners,” Cowherd said on his Fox Sports’ show The Herd.

The sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd was electric on Wednesday night. The building was rocked to its core after every Obi Toppin slam, Fournier three-pointer, Randle’s go-to move, and Rose’s dagger.

The Knicks’ culture and impression around the league had dramatically shifted when team president Leon Rose and coach Tom Thibodeau took over last year. The players have responded well to Thibodeau’s no non-sense coaching.

Judging by fans’ reactions and the Knicks’ box office appeal on national TV, it’s safe to say that New York basketball is back!

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

What drives Julius Randle: Winning NBA MVP and ending Knicks’ title drought

new york knicks, julius randle

Julius Randle had been counted out several times in his career.

Just last year, most Knicks fans wanted him out of New York. But he used the disappointing 2019-20 as his motivation to bring out the best in him.

With the backing of a new front office led by Leon Rose and a new coach in Tom Thibodeau, Randle did exactly that and carried the Knicks to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

It was a dramatic improvement, a rarity in the NBA for players like Randle, who had drifted from team to team trying to find his footing in the league. He found a home in New York.

It was a season of many firsts for Randle: first NBA All-Star, first NBA playoffs, first individual award with the Most Improved Player, and the first selection in any All-NBA team.

“People really thought I had a great year last year. What continues to drive me is knowing that I have so much room to improve,” Randle said in the Mobil 1 Series “Behind the Drive”.

“Things like the Most Improved Player of the Year award show you my dedication and hard work. I think I’m just scratching the surface. This was the culmination of years and years of dedication and hard work.”

After a breakthrough season in the NBA, Randle has no plans of slowing down. Even after locking up a $117 million, four-year extension with the Knicks.

He has set lofty goals for himself during the duration of that deal.

“The next accolade would be the MVP, man,” Randle boldly declared. “I think that would be fitting. I think the ultimate goal is bringing a championship to the city of New York. So that’s what really drives me every day.”

The Knicks haven’t won an NBA championship since 1973. After their last NBA Finals appearance in 1999, what followed next was a long stretch of mediocrity and futility.

Randle vowed to change that.

The 26-year old forward learned life lessons at an early age that made him driven and ambitious.

“I felt like I always had that drive whether it comes from people that I look up to or my idols growing up like my mom seeing how hard she worked on a daily basis to provide for me and my sister,” Randle said.

Carolyn Kyles was a single mother who raised Julius and his older sister Nastassia to become tough and resilient. Kyles, a 6-foot-2 former basketball player for the University of Texas Arlington, schooled him on the court when he was young.

“My mom was definitely hard on me,” Randle said.

His mother and his sister would always beat him that make him cry.

“She would always kick my butt and it would truly upset me and I would be in tears. Honestly, it was a great lesson about determination and just pure will,” Randle said.

Those moments toughened up Randle, who grew up into a 6-foot-9 bully on the court in Kentucky that led him to become the Los Angeles Lakers’ lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He was thrilled to have played with the late Kobe Bryant, who was his idol growing up.

“I studied everything about Kobe growing up. When I got to L.A. as a rookie, I was really excited just to practice with him,” Randle said. “He called me up at 5 a.m., 6 a.m. bringing me all the way out to Orange County to work out. And just to have that example and be able to ask questions to a basketball genius was like ‘what more could I ask for?’

If Randle learned toughness and determination from his mother, he learned how to channel that to productivity on the court and improve every summer from Kobe.

“One of the things that I really learned from Kobe was when going to the summer, you list the things that you want to improve on — focus on one or two things. That’s what I did last summer. I was very specific about how I wanted to get better. And I’m doing the same thing this year focusing on footwork and finishing at the rim. Those little things could make the biggest difference,” Randle said.

Last summer, Randle focused on sharpening his shooting after a down year in 2019. The result was a dramatic 13-percent jump, leading to a career-high 41.1 percent shooting clip from long range last season. With the work he put in this summer coupled with the talent and shooting that the Knicks brought in, it’s safe to say that Randle will play more bully ball this season.

Thibodeau was also a big part of Randles’ success last season. The reigning two-time Coach of the Year empowered Randle to become the team’s leader after seeing how sharp he was during their bubble workouts that preceded training camp.

Many raised their eyebrows when Thibodeau declared that he saw a leader in Randle in their training camp. But he was right all along. Thibodeau knows one when he sees one.

“Thibs is absolutely amazing. Who he is as a coach, who he is as a person to his core, all he cares about is putting players in the best spot to win the game. I’ve never seen a coach works harder than him,” Randle said.

“There were times when I go to the gym at 9 o’clock at night and Thibs is still there studying, watching films. He always tells me the best form of leadership that you can give is the example that you set for others.”

Randle fully embraced that role. And the whole Knicks’ team followed him. He brought with him the work ethic that Kobe taught him.

In every city they played, Randle would have the team arrange a gym for himself to get some extra shots. He said that routine kept him in constant rhythm and kept him locked in. During his first year with the Knicks, not everybody on the team put in the extra work on the road as he did. That changed when Thibodeau took over as the coach as he established a culture of accountability.

“This is the first time that I have a team that they all came with me,” Randle said. “Now we have the whole team bus taking us to the gym because everybody on the team wants to go and get extra shots and extra work. And I think that just became a part of the identity of our team that we just don’t want to be outworked.”

Thibodeau would always tell Randle that “true leadership is not only bringing the best out of yourself but also bringing the best out of others.” 

Randle exemplified that last season, whether it was playing hard on the court or being early and staying late in the gym to put in extra work. He was the Knicks’ alpha. He was their leader on and off the court. 

But after a disappointing first-round exit in the playoffs where his performance dipped, Randle is being counted out again by some people who view his breakout year as a fluke.

It’s hard to count out somebody who has that drive to become one of the greatest in the game.


The Mobil 1 Behind the Drive campaign, a unique offseason NBA content series and sweepstakes to reward fans with unique gifts and experiences, has partnered with prominent sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache to create custom, hand-painted sneakers inspired by the Mobil 1â„¢ brand. These extremely rare kicks are now available as Behind the Drive prizes.

Watch Mobil 1 partners Randle and Karl Anthony Towns unbox the custom sneakers, with Mache describing the making-of process and going behind the scenes on his design motivation. 

Fans can join the Behind the Drive sweepstakes at gobehindthedrive.com.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

No Shortcuts: Ex-Knick Pete Mickeal owes legendary Euroleague career to Tom Thibodeau

Knicks, rom thibodeau, Pete mickeal

Pete Mickeal was dejected. Even after a solid showing in the NBA Shaw Summer Pro League in Boston, Mickeal still couldn’t make the cut.

Jeff Van Gundy, then New York Knicks head coach, told him to wait for his turn. The Knicks, coming off an NBA Finals appearance in the previous season, were loaded at the wings with Latrell Sprewell, Allan Houston, and Glen Rice.

Mickeal, an All-American honorable mention in his senior year, already felt embarrassed when he ended up as the last pick of the 2000 NBA Draft after a productive two-year stint with the Cincinnati Bearcats, one of the best teams in the country at that time.

The Dallas Mavericks used the 58th pick on him but quickly shipped him to New York along with Erick Strickland for John Wallace and Donnell Harvey.

So the news of being relegated to the reserve list was another dampener.

It was Tom Thibodeau, a Van Gundy assistant at that time, who kept his spirits up.

“I was disappointed, and Thibs was always positive, and he said, ‘Listen, man! Just keep working.’ And I would work with Thibs that year,” Mickeal told Empire Sports Media on the phone.

Thibodeau and Mickeal forged a good relationship as they were inseparable that year. Mickeal became Thibodeau’s project. They hit the weight room early in the morning before other Knicks players showed up in their old practice facility in SUNY-Purchase.

“Then he takes me to the court and worked me out hard. So once practice comes, I’m really, really ready to go. And after the two-hour practice, Thibs will work me out again. He was always positive. He said, ‘Keep the right mentality. Don’t worry about not playing. Just work your ass off.’ That’s all I remember him saying,” Mickeal recalled.

That laid the groundwork for Mickeal to flourish in a legendary career overseas. His NBA career never took off, but thanks to another Summer League stint under Thibodeau, other doors opened for him.

“You always take a little piece of every coach you had during your career, and you take that mentality as a player, so I was fortunate to have a coach like Thibs,” Mickeal said. “I played for Thibs in the Summer League for two years. Those games helped me get attention in Europe. I was averaging 18 pts per game, and Thibs played me for 30-35 mins per game. So I had a chance to show what I can really do.”

Mickeal spent 15 years overseas playing in the Philippines, Korea, Greece, Spain, and Argentina, where at the tail end of his career, he faced a young Luca Vildoza.

“I knew Vildoza was good. I know his agent very well. And he’s played for the coach that’s most similar to Thibs in Europe. His name is Dusko Ivanovic,” Mickeal said.

Ivanovic, a multi-titled Euroleague, and Liga ACB champion coach, was Vildoza’s mentor in Baskonia.

“He and Thibs have the same mentality when it comes to coaching,” Mickael said. “They are coaches who you have to play defense, or you won’t play. So (Vildoza) played for tough coaches. He can play. If he’s healthy and he gets a chance, let’s see what happens.”

Mickeal won a dozen Liga ACB crowns and a Euroleague title, making him the winningest American player in Europe.

When his legendary overseas career was over, Thibodeau again gave him the opportunity to return to the NBA.

Mickeal reached out to Thibodeau, the head coach and Minnesota Timberwolves team president at that time.

“Right now, we don’t have a coaching opening, but we got something that you might like it better,” Mickeal said, recalling his conversation with Thibodeau. “It turned out to be true. I love being in the front office. I love scouting.”

It was like 2000 all over again, albeit the coaching and the development were off the court. Mickeal absorbed everything like a sponge as he got his feet wet into the NBA front office.

“Working for Thibs is great being your first job coming out of playing. It will really teach you the work ethic you need to be a great scout. Because the type of work you do when Thibs is your boss is tripled compared to any other team,” Mickeal said.

His familiarity with Euroleague players and NBA players playing overseas helped him seal the deal. The job taught him to become innovative and go the extra mile to get the intel on the players. He scouted not only in Europe but also players in the NBA, G League, and even in Asia. He was in meetings with coaches and other front office staff that made him appreciate how rosters are constructed in the NBA.

Nerlens Noel was one of the players he scouted extensively when the beanpole center was still playing in Oklahoma City Thunder. The former lottery pick has been on Thibodeau’s radar as far back as 2018. So he was not surprised the Knicks targeted Noel last summer.

“Obviously, I’ve been in the front office, so I can appreciate why teams are put together the way they are, like Nerlens Noel, for example. When I scouted him when he was with OKC, I’ve always liked him. I’ve always thought he’s a really good backup center,” Mickeal said.

“It’s very difficult to find a backup center that can give you rebounds and points every game and can switch screens who can move his feet well on the perimeter. It isn’t easy with all the switching the NBA does. And his body type fits today’s NBA. He’s got the long, slender body type, but he’s got a huge wingspan. So that really helps in deflection and playing straight-up defense with your hands in the air, showing your length. That’s difficult to find in the NBA — a mobile backup center,” Mickeal said. “I thought they did a great job in finding a guy like that. And the contract they got him for, I thought that was great.”

After Noel’s solid play last season, the Knicks locked him up to a $32 million, three-year contract this summer, with the last year as a club option making it a team-friendly deal.

Noel’s scouting report was just one of the hundreds Thibodeau received each week when Mickeal was scouting for the Timberwolves.

“We write all these (scouting) reports each game, and a hundred reports are coming in each week, and the guys in the office told me that I make this list, and Thibs read every single report every week. And I was like, okay, he’s the coach, and he’s reading all these reports? That story sums him up,” Mickeal said.

”He reads the reports every scout has written, and he was also in the meetings that I was in, and he’s coaching at the same time. That’s a level of commitment that’s unearthly. It’s not normal. But that’s a great tribute to him because everything he got in his career was through hard work.”

Thibodeau has made a career transforming losing teams into playoff contenders. He made solid rotation pieces out of fringe players. He developed All-Stars and All-NBA players at every stop. Derrick Rose became the league’s youngest MVP under his helm and resurrected his career in Minnesota.

“Thibs’ player development is underrated. They’re not giving him the credit he deserves. They always say Thibs plays his guys too many minutes,” Mickeal said. “But the truth is he’s developing players.”

Mickeal himself largely benefited from Thibodeau’s developmental coaching on and off the court. He parlayed Thibodeau’s teachings into a successful overseas career and later on as a scout and now as a sports agent.

After two years with the Timberwolves, Mickeal moved on to scout for the Washington Wizards until he decided not to return last year and bet on himself. He put up the Miami-based Mickeal Sports Group, a sports agency specializing in sending American players to Euroleague and identifying young NBA prospects around Europe.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to get into the sports agent business,” Mickael said.

Mickeal prepared himself for his post-playing career by getting directly involved in all negotiations of his playing contracts from 2008 until he retired. While he thought coaching would have been great, he was grateful Thibodeau steered him towards the front office, which equipped him with the additional skill set and network necessary to set up his dream sports agency.

“Thibs gave me that opportunity to start with. Then I branched out from there. It worked out really well. It’s a really good business which I want to do for the rest of my career. I work with a lot of smart, analytics people. We got a marketing firm behind me, and we’ve hired some really, really experienced agents. After one year, it’s already exceeded expectations,” Mickeal said.

Mickeal is a Thibodeau lifer who, unlike the Derrick Roses, Jimmy Butlers, Taj Gibsons, never found success in the NBA. But he’s earned a seat at Thibodeau’s table because of his motto: being the hardest working guy in the room.

“I didn’t have long experience with him like other players have, but the short time that I’ve been with him, I can honestly say he doesn’t take shortcuts. If you work the way he works, he’ll give you the respect,” Mickeal said.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

Knicks have one of the toughest schedules according to Positive Residual

New York Knicks, Tom Thibodeau

The odds are stacked again against the New York Knicks.

The Knicks have the 19th best odds overall and the 11th best odds in the East to make the playoffs at -135, according to DraftKing Sportsbook.

Crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets are an odds-on favorite to make the playoffs at -20000, followed by reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks (-8000) and the revamped Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns, tied at -3500.

Despite the Knicks retaining much of their core that finished as fourth seed last season and upgrading their backcourt with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, teams that didn’t make the playoffs were listed as favorites above them. 

Toronto Raptors (-300), Charlotte Hornets (-215), Indiana Pacers (-170), and Chicago Bulls (-155) have better odds to make the playoffs and the play-in tournament.

It doesn’t help that the Knicks have one of the toughest schedules in the upcoming season. They have the seventh toughest schedule based on Positive Residual’s metrics.

The Los Angeles-based sports analytics service provider said on their website that they measure the strength of schedule (SOS) by estimating how difficult a game or slate of games is based on the opponent’s quality, which is often defined by win percentage, net rating, or points above or below average and other variables such as home team strength, away team strength, rest and altitude at which home team plays. 

Positive Residual SOS chart

The Knicks’ schedule will feature 11 back-to-back games where Walker’s balky knee will be a question mark and two back-breaking road trips in February (5-game road swing in West Coast against playoff contenders) and March (7-game road trip: 5 in West Coast sandwiched by road games in Philadelphia and Brooklyn). But the Knicks front office has prioritized depth to mitigate these factors.

This could be arguably the most stacked team Tom Thibodeau will handle since the MVP Derrick Rose-led 2011 Chicago Bulls team he guided to 62-20 en route to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Thibodeau’s projected starting five this season will feature Walker and Fournier at the backcourt and Barrett, Julius Randle, and Mitchell Robinson in the frontcourt with a deep bench led by Rose, who should be an early favorite to win Sixth Man of the Year, and veteran Alec Burks.

Knicks Projected Depth Chart:

PG Walker, Rose, Quickley, McBride

SG Fournier, Burks, Quickley, Grimes, Vildoza/Bacon

SF Barrett, Burks, Knox

PF Randle, Toppin, Knox, Gibson

C Robinson, Noel, Gibson

The Knicks were never given a chance last season to enter the playoffs, but they defied the 22.5 win odds in the pandemic-condensed 72-game schedule and finished at 41-31. They are pegged as a 42.5-win team this year, with the NBA returning to the regular 82-game schedule.

But with a roster that deep and with Thibodeau, a two-time NBA Coach of the Year, at the helm, it’s hard to bet against the Knicks.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

How Kemba Walker can help take the Knicks’ offense to the next level

knicks, kemba walker

This offseason, the Knicks went out and signed 4-time All-Star Kemba Walker, and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who was against this move. Getting such a high-volume scorer for just $9 million per year couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? In hindsight, yes. However, as the starting point guard the Knicks so desperately needed, there is added pressure for Walker to perform well. Coupled in with his recurring knee issues, and there’s real concern that Walker could hamper the play of the hard-nosed Knicks.

Will His Knee Continue to Affect Him?

Despite being the lowest-risk signing the Knicks made all offseason, Kemba Walker has the most boom or bust potential on the roster. The reason for this is due to the fact that no one truly knows how Walker’s knee will continue to hold up. According to him, there’s little reason to worry, as he has continued to downplay the seriousness of his injury:

“I was feeling pretty good. I just had a little hiccup in the playoffs, which sucked obviously. Nobody likes to be injured, especially at that moment. But I felt pretty good all year, to be honest.”

Kemba Walker via Forbes

If his two seasons in Boston are any indication as to how the knee will impact him in New York, we could reasonably see more regression in the 31-year-old’s play. In these past two years, he saw consecutive decreases in his FG % and points per game, the latter by over 5 points from 2018-19 to 2019-20. With the Celtics, his injury problems effectively relegated him from the status of a bonafide star to simply an offensive threat. This, combined with the large contract Walker had, lowered his value so much that the Celtics needed to additionally send a first and second-rounder to Oklahoma City to offload him.

Now, no one’s saying that the Knicks need Walker to return to his Charlotte form to be successful. However, if they plan on making a deep playoff run in a much-improved Eastern Conference, he will need to be more efficient than he ever was on the Celtics. He won’t have to go out and score 20+ every night, but he will have to covert a higher percentage of his shots.

Will the Knicks’ Depth Help Kemba?

There is one big difference between Walker’s situation last season and the one he finds himself in now. The Celtics lacked depth, whereas the Knicks may be one of the deepest teams in the league. Boston relied heavily on their stars and didn’t have many spark plugs that could pick up the scoring load. New York, on the other hand, could potentially have multiple 10+ PPG scorers off the bench. There’s certainly hope that this could lead to a much more productive season from Walker with having to shoulder less of the scoring than he ever has.

It’s still without saying that Kemba will be the key piece to this Knicks team. They wanted their replacement for the disastrous Elfrid Payton era, and they got it for a very low price. Last year’s team had it all besides consistent scoring outside of Julius Randle. Now, with the additions of Walker and Evan Fournier, they finally have enough players who can create their own offense. Depending on how each player fits in with this team, this team can be really good.

How Good Can the Knicks Be?

If Kemba is able to somehow return to what he was before his injury, this could be the best Knicks team we’ve seen since the 1990s. Yes, even better than the 2012-13 team. A healthy Kemba along with RJ Barrett, Fournier, Randle, and Mitchell Robinson backed by a solid bench could lead to the franchise’s first 2nd round appearance since that aforementioned Carmelo Anthony-led squad.

The possibilities are boundless, and the expectations are high but not too high, so this season could turn out to be another very fun one for the New York Knicks.

Despite what happens this season, the Knicks aren’t risking much by putting all this trust in Walker. The positive behind all of this is that no matter what happens, the Knicks are not bound to him long-term. He’s only under contract for 2 years and a reasonable amount of money. If this doesn’t work out, the future of the team will still be perfectly intact. This is certainly something to be relieved about going forward if you’re a Knicks fan.

Former NBA star Monta Ellis to conduct private workout with 3 NBA teams in Las Vegas

Former NBA star Monta Ellis is set to camp out in Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball this week as he ramps up his training in his latest comeback bid.

The 35-year old Ellis will fly to Las Vegas on Tuesday and is scheduled to conduct private workouts in front of at least three NBA teams until Saturday, according to his business manager Derrius Nelson of Dagger Basketball agency.

“I have reunited Tae and Joe. They have come a long way since Tae’s early years in the NBA,” Nelson told Empire Sports Media.

Ellis is rekindling his partnership with Abunassar that started when the former McDonald’s All-American player went into the NBA straight from high school.

Since his pre-draft workout, Ellis had been a regular at Impact Basketball during the offseason, including the year when he became the league’s Most Improved Player in 2007 that set him off to NBA stardom.

There are still about 17 roster spots left to be filled in the NBA, with the Los Angeles Lakers leading the way with three. Other playoff contenders with open roster spots are the Chicago Bulls, Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks, Miami Heat, Phoenix Suns. Young teams that may need veteran leadership like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, and Oklahoma City Thunder also have roster openings.

Nelson believes that Ellis can provide veteran leadership to a young team or a complementary piece — another shot creator and playmaker — to a playoff team.

“Tae is still a reliable source and a dominant factor to any NBA team organization,” Nelson told Empire Sports Media.

“When you talk about how can he fit in on any NBA team right now, he can play the pick and roll game, and he can add playmaking, score in transition, run lanes without the ball. He’s defensively fast and dangerous offensively if he gets going. He can still light up the scoreboard just as well any of them, like when he had 38 against the late Kobe Bryant in a dog fight battle back when he was playing with Golden State and had 48 points against Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden. He still can do the same damage as he did before.”

Ellis has career averages of 17.8 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.7 steals. He has recorded nine 40-plus points games building a reputation as one of the premier shotmakers and playmakers throughout his career.

“So he’s definitely will be a reliable source for anybody. He’s hit game-winners with Golden State, Dallas, Milwaukee, so he’s definitely clutch. Just think about him with the Nets, Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, or even with the Warriors. How much — offensively and defensively — will open up for them with Tae’s experience, abilities, and leverage that will lead to at least the conference finals.

The playoff-tested Ellis has 38 games in the postseason under his belt, averaging 13.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 steals.

During his NBA hiatus, Ellis kept himself fit by coaching kids under his AAU club, Ellis Elite, and training with Dallas-based NBA trainer Djamel Jackson. Jackson will stay in Dallas to attend to Ellis’ AAU club while Ellis pursues his NBA comeback.

In Las Vegas, Nelson said Ellis would conduct a workout simulating live game situations to show how ready and serious he is about this comeback bid.

Ellis said in a previous interview with Empire Sports Media when he announced his NBA comeback bid that he could still play for five years.

At this point, money is no longer a motivation for Ellis, who turned down a lucrative offer to play in China last season and is still set to earn $2.25 million this season from the Indiana Pacers, the last year of his salary stretch provision when he was waived in 2017.

“My main thing is, just bring me in and give me a look. Like you could make the decision on me. I just want a shot. I ain’t asking for a contract to get $5 million, $10 million, or even $1 million. All I’m asking is, give me a look. That’s all and let my game speak for itself. I just want an opportunity, a workout, and that’s not the end of the world, that’s not gonna hurt anybody,” Ellis said. “I will pay my own plane ticket and hotel to go to a workout.”

Now, Ellis is finally getting his shot. And he doesn’t want to miss it.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo