NBA

New York City Going Just a Little Nuts for Zion Williamson

from the New York Post

Zion Williamson would be Knicks’ first domino with ‘endless potential’

The Knicks hope that having the biggest star at the NBA draft lottery will bring long-awaited luck to the downtrodden franchise.

Patrick Ewing, the prize of the first-ever lottery in 1985, will represent the team which drafted him at Tuesday night’s event in Chicago, with the Knicks tied for the best odds (14 percent) of landing the No. 1 overall pick, and the rights to Duke superstar Zion Williamson.

Former rival and fellow Georgetown legend Alonzo Mourning will be representing the Miami Heat, while active players Kyle Kuzma, of the Lakers, and DeAndre Ayton, last year’s No. 1 overall pick of the Suns, will also be on stage.

Actress Jami Gertz, part of Atlanta’s ownership group, will be the face of the Hawks for the second straight year, an honor she called a “lot of pressure” last year.

Here is the complete list of team representatives for the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery:

SEE ALSO

NBA draft lottery 2019: Time, how to watch and how it works

SEE ALSO

2019 NBA draft lottery odds: Knicks’ chances at landing No. 1 pick

New York Knicks: Patrick Ewing

Cleveland Cavaliers: Nick Gilbert (son of team owner)

Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton

Chicago Bulls: Horace Grant (special advisor to team president and COO)

Atlanta Hawks: Jami Gertz

Washington Wizards: Raul Fernandez (vice chairman)

New Orleans Pelicans: Alvin Gentry (head coach)

Memphis Grizzlies: Elliot Perry Minority (owner and director of player support)

Dallas Mavericks: Cynthia Marshall (CEO)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Gersson Rosas (president of basketball operations)

Los Angeles Lakers: Kyle Kuzma

Charlotte Hornets: James Borrego (head coach)

Miami Heat: Alonzo Mourning (vice president of player programs)

Boston Celtics: Rich Gotham (team president)

Philadelphia 76ers: Chris Heck (team president)

Kawhi Leonard – The Under-publicized NBA Superstar

Leonard just may be the best player in the world

by Scott Mandel

The Toronto Raptors season has always been about pacing themselves for the playoffs. The Raptors have tasted regular-season success plenty in the past, but it never tastes so great when the seasons always end in the same way: With too-early losses in the playoffs.

That’s why general manager Masai Ujiri made the gutsiest move of the last offseason in trading franchise centerpiece DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio for the Spurs‘ disgruntled superstar, Kawhi Leonard. It was risky on many different levels. One was that the Toronto fan base adored DeRozan, and DeRozan adored them back, and you just don’t sever those types of relationships without feeling very uncertain about your decision.

Another reason was that Leonard was coming off a bizarre season lost to injury, a mysterious quad injury where the Spurs often felt left in the dark and out of step with Leonard and his camp. When the Raptors made the trade, they could not be sure if they were sending the beloved DeRozan for a player still capable of being a Finals MVP – or whether they would be getting, in exchange for their franchise player, an ex-superstar who was now damaged goods.

But the risk, Ujiri deemed, was worth it. The DeRozan-led Raptors era felt tapped out as a very good regular season team that wasn’t built for playoff success. A Leonard trade was going for it: Ujiri pushing all of his chips to the center of the table. Perhaps the biggest risk that Ujiri was taking was to trade for a superstar who was in the final year of his contract, and who had made well known his desire to return to Southern California. The Raptors would have one season to capitalize on the talents of Leonard and their impressive surrounding pieces. Succeed there – say, make an NBA Finals – and it would all be worth it, even if Leonard decided to leave in the offseason anyway for SoCal.

Which brings us to Sunday evening in Philadelphia. The Raptors were in a pickle. In Game 1, they dominated at home, with Leonard showing – as he has these entire playoffs – that it might be him, not LeBron James and not Kevin Durant and not Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is the best player in the world. This was close to the best version of the Raptors, even if the contributions from the bench were less than you’d hope.

Now the Raptors were in trouble. Lose this one and they’d be heading back to Toronto having to win out to win the series. In all of NBA history, only 11 teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit in a seven-game series. It can happen – just ask noted Raptors killer LeBron James – but it is not the situation any team wants to find itself in. Especially when the alternative, losing in the second round of the playoffs after planning an entire franchise future around this moment, would likely portend close to a total franchise rebuild. The pressure was on. This felt like the last time Toronto could do anything of note in the postseason for a long, long time. Lose here, and the Raptors were about to take a huge step back as a franchise. Who knows when they’d ever find themselves back at this point.

So what did the Raptors do on Sunday? They stood up to the challenge and were close to that best version of themselves. Even with a visibly struggling Pascal Siakam, who had been listed as doubtful with a calf contusion but gutted it out anyway, the Raptors had their most complete game of the series. Leonard was machine-like in his efficiency. This wasn’t just the same Leonard who was a top-five player in the NBA before his injury-riddled 2017-18 season. This was quite possibly a better Leonard, at least on the offensive end: 39 points on 20 shots, 14 rebounds, 5 of 7 from 3, including the dagger in the final minute. It was another Jordanesque playoff performance from Leonard. But even Michael Jordan needed Scottie Pippen to win championships, and it was the stellar supporting cast that pushed the Raptors past the Sixers. Kyle Lowry was aggressive, and at times he looked like a younger version of himself, a.k.a. an All-Star. Danny Green didn’t shoot much, but he played good defense and got to the free throw line, making all eight of his attempts. Most importantly, Marc Gasol showed why Ujiri made his trade-deadline move to nab him from the Memphis Grizzlies. Gasol played his finest game of the playoffs, playing his typically excellent defense while scoring 16 points and reminding the Sixers they have to respect him as an outside shooter. The Raptors outscored the Sixers by 13 points while Gasol was on the floor, the best plus-minus on the team.

It is here where we should note that one big reason the Raptors were able to steal one on the road was because Embiid was very clearly not himself. He was playing without the aggression he brought to his incredible Game 3 performance, and without the joy, too; Embiid ended up with only 11 points on just seven shots. Head coach Brett Brown offered up an explanation afterward: Embiid had texted him at 6:20 a.m. and said he wasn’t sure he could play. He’d been up all night throwing up and got an IV hydration early in the morning. It was, apparently, a virus, and unrelated to the stomach bug that hampered him in Game 2. Whether it’s a stomach bug or a virus, knee tendinitis or too many milkshakes from the night before, it’s become even more clear during these playoffs that the Sixers need Embiid close to 100 percent in order to fulfill their very large potential.

Still, this should not take away from the Raptors’ complete and dominant performance. They regained home-court advantage after a Game 3 where they looked wholly outclassed. They leaned on their superstar, but they got important contributions from their supporting cast.

In so doing, they extended this era of Raptors history. Maybe the era will end this week, or maybe it’ll go well into June. They played with urgency, but it never felt like desperation. With more performances like that – where their superstar plays like the best player on Earth, and their supporting cast doesn’t turn into a collective pumpkin at the mention of playoff pressure – the Raptors could very well be playing later this season than they ever have.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Best Basketball Player In the World

  • Kirk GoldsberryESPN Staff Writer
  • ESPN

At 24 years old, Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best basketball player in the world. He is the best offensive player on a top-five NBA offense. He’s the best defensive player on the No. 1 defense. As the catalyst of an incredible basketball system, Giannis has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the NBA and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

With respect to Houston’s bearded prophet, Antetokounmpo isn’t just this season’s MVP. He is the perfect two-way superstar for where the NBA is right now — and where it’s going.ADVERTISEMENT


A revolutionary throwback on offense

Let’s start on offense — specifically Giannis’ favorite spot on the floor.

Owning the paint

Antetokounmpo has quickly surpassed some dude named LeBron James as the league’s premier interior force. He also is doing things we haven’t seen since Shaquille O’Neal was in his prime.

Check this out:

Most Paint Points (Past 20 Years)

PLAYERSEASONPOINTS
Shaquille O’Neal1999-001,774
Shaquille O’Neal2000-011,480
Shaquille O’Neal2001-021,348
Shaquille O’Neal2002-031,312
Shaquille O’Neal2004-051,266
Giannis Antetokounmpo2018-191,226

If the NBA analytics era has taught us anything, it’s that the best shots in the game occur either beyond the arc or near the hoop. The Bucks bask in both zones. Giannis makes hay at the rim, yet he does it so much better than everyone else, partially because his team is woke to the spacing movement.

“If you don’t knock down shots, then everybody’s gonna be in the paint,” Antetokounmpo told ESPN.com last week. “[My teammates have] been making shots all year, so it gives me a lot of space to make plays for them and myself.”

Simply put, he has become the most self-sufficient dunker we’ve seen in decades. After dropping 19 unassisted dunks as a rookie in 2013-14, Giannis reached 116 this season — the only guy to top 100 for as long as the league has been tallying play-by-play data.

Most Unassisted Dunks

PLAYERSEASONDUNKS
Giannis Antetokounmpo2018-19116
Dwight Howard2006-0795
Shaquille O’Neal2004-0593
Since 1996-97

But Giannis plays a completely different game than those other two supermen. He handles the ball, he faces up, he drives. Those guys played in the low post.

“I think the thing that’s so unique and different about how Giannis is dominating in the paint is that lots of times he’s starting with the ball outside the 3-point line — and still finishing in the paint,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said.

And there’s just something especially satisfying about an unassisted drivingdunk. It’s such a dramatic display of dominance. It’s why in many of his best highlights, Giannis looks like a man among boys.

But then you remember this is the best basketball league on Earth.

Every NBA player would love to dribble up the court and slam it home at will. They can’t. Yes, that unassisted dunk stat is a little esoteric, and it might not translate directly to wins, but it does reveal just how unprecedented this kid’s dominance is right now.

Coaches design entire defensive philosophies around protecting the paint. Antetokounmpo doesn’t care. With only a dribble or two and some crafty footwork, he can transport the ball from the perimeter to the hoop and hammer it home. Basketball rarely looks so easy:

By surrounding Antetokounmpo with a fleet of long-range shooters and stationing them on remote perimeter outposts, Budenholzer has unleashed the NBA’s most dominant interior scorer.

“We have so much spacing,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’ve got stronger and I’m able to get in there, play through contact now, and go up and finish the play.”

In the NBA, stars aren’t born, they’re built, and Giannis has built himself in the weight room. All that extra strength is important. Remember this guy?

Yeah, he’s not creating 100 dunks at the NBA level. But this guy is:

Spacing starts at the rim, and Milwaukee’s ferocious interior minister is the most critical component of the most prolific 3-point offense in the Eastern Conference. Between Giannis’ physical development, his accelerated skills and Budenholzer’s offensive architecture, the Bucks went from 27th overall in made 3-pointers in 2017-18 to second in 2018-19.

Crucial playmaking

Sometimes finishing the play means dunking on some fool’s head, but other times it means doing this:

“His ability as a passer and a playmaker has been so important to us,” Budenholzer said. “And he’s already ahead of where any of us envisioned.

“He takes a lot of pride in being a playmaker.”

The passing highlights will never go as viral as the dunks, but they are more important. After creating only 8.4 assist opportunities per 100 possessions as a rookie, Antetokounmpo doubled that number this season (up to 17.0), per Second Spectrum tracking. He ranked fourth in the NBA in total 3-point assists.

Even if he is not great at knocking them down himself, Antetokounmpo has found a way to create easy treys. Milwaukee led the league in assisted 3s this season, but no player assisted on more of them than Giannis. It wasn’t close:M

Although the step-back 3 is quickly rising in popularity, more than 82 percent of NBA 3s are still assisted. The secret to increasing 3-point offense is finding players and actions that can generate clean looks on the perimeter. Giannis is one of those players, and Budenholzer’s playbook is chock-full of those actions, but the front office helped too.

The offseason addition of Brook Lopez was a stroke of genius. Last season, John Henson was the Bucks’ starting center. Henson can’t space the floor. He doesn’t shoot 3s. Lopez came in and immediately became the team’s most prolific deep threat. Opponents have to station a big man out on the perimeter even when Lopez doesn’t fire away; “Splash Mountain” has opened up the interior, helping Giannis become more efficient than ever.

“[Lopez] has done a lot, because his man is not in the paint,” Antetokounmpo said. “One thing that I tell Brook every time when the game is starting is, ‘Shoot the ball. Doesn’t matter if it goes in. Shoot the ball.’ Because I know the guy will have to come out and guard him.”

Antetokounmpo wouldn’t look this good without Budenholzer’s offense or his friends on the perimeter, but organizational competence shouldn’t hurt his best player case. His main competitor for the MVP award, James Harden, also benefits from the strategic alignment of front office, head coach and superstar. The best organizations in the league always have embraced some kind of fitting structure, and the most successful ones put their best players in conducive habitats, just as general manager Jon Horst and Budenholzer have done with Giannis.

Regardless, Giannis is probably not the absolute best offensive player in the league — at least not yet. But he doesn’t have to be. The Bucks’ offensive improvements have been remarkable — they ended the regular season with the best offense in the East — but as crazy as it sounds, that pales in comparison to Milwaukee’s defensive awakening.

Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Great defense and how to value it

There was always a defensive juggernaut buried in this roster. For years, the Bucks have had a reputation as one the longest, most athletic rosters in the NBA. But previous coaches just couldn’t crack the code. Last season, the Bucks ranked 18th in defensive efficiency. This season, they ranked first, and many of their NBA-best 60 victories have more to do with getting stops than they do with getting buckets. The entire culture around the team has changed. That’s most evident on defense.

Budenholzer redesigned the defensive playbook. Whereas last season’s team was overaggressive at the point of attack and gave up more layups than anyone, this season’s team is the opposite. The Bucks run arguably the most conservative pick-and-roll defense, happy to keep their big men in the paint and give up perimeter looks as long as they protect the rim.

Giannis is the best defender on the team and arguably the most versatile defender in the league. He can protect the hoop. He can guard on the perimeter. He is a nightmare in transition. His ridiculous mix of size, athleticism and length essentially enables the Bucks to have an extra big man on the floor at all times without getting slower.

Forget MVP for a second. You could argue Giannis should win the Defensive Player of the Year Award too. I’ll make his case right here with four quick stats.

  • Stat No. 1: Of the 216 players (almost half the league) who have defended at least 100 shots at the rim, nobody has been a more effective rim protector than Giannis. Per Second Spectrum tracking, opponents convert just 52.7 percent of their shots at the rim when Giannis is the closest defender. Jayson Tatum knows.
  • Stat No. 2: Antetokounmpo ranks second in the NBA in defensive rebounding.
  • Stat No. 3: Of the 206 players who have played at least 50 games and averaged at least 20 minutes per game, Giannis has the third best defensive rating — and the highest such mark on the team with the best defense.
  • Stat No. 4: Antetokounmpo and Robert Covington are the only wing players in the top 20 in ESPN’s defensive real plus minus.

When Antetokounmpo isn’t making plays as a primary defender, he is a terrifying free safety. Out of 78 players who have provided help defense on at least 300 drives this season, he has been the best, holding opponents to a measly 0.82 points per chance, according to Second Spectrum data. And when teams are silly enough to isolate against him, he has been fifth best at stifling that nonsense — among 135 players to defend at least 100 such plays — allowing just 0.74 points per chance.

The numbers are impressive, but the footage is even better. Giannis has the NBA’s best defensive highlights. Just ask Blake Griffin.

Imagine a defender as punishing as Rudy Gobert and an offensive star nearly as dominant as Harden. That’s Giannis.

Still, defense remains woefully underappreciated in player valuation. Not only is it hard to measure, but it’s boring. Whenever a decent scorer is also a strong defender, he is labeled a good “two-way player.” But here’s the thing: This isn’t football. Everybody is a two-way player in this sport, and its best players excel on both ends of the court.

For years, we didn’t have enough data to even try to quantitatively value individual defensive performances. In turn, even the most sophisticated MVP debates — Giannis vs. Harden, Russell Westbrook vs. Kawhi Leonard, you name it — can overlook the unglamorous arts of stopping dudes.

We still have a long way to go. Basketball has borrowed a lot from baseball, including an attempt to measure and catalog every statistical event. NBA defense isn’t event-based, and defensive play involves constantly doing stuff that is hard to tally in spreadsheets. The best defenders in the sport are constantly suppressing shots, intimidating opponents, stifling sets and disrupting offenses in ways that are inconvenient (or impossible) to count.

Basketball also has modeled its most prestigious individual award after America’s pastime. Major League Baseball introduced the most valuable player award in 1931, decades before basketball did. Trying to identify and award the best player in a sport at the end of the season isn’t unusual. However, those first two words — most valuable — make things weirder than going with best player or most outstanding or whatever. That’s how we end up in unanswerable debates.

No one will totally agree on what is valuable in the game of basketball. While the analytics era of the NBA has helped us quantify value in dozens of new ways, our accounting framework and discourse still remain skewed toward offensive numbers. It’s within this environment that terrible defensive players still get paid millions of dollars. It’s within this framework that the stank of superstars on the defensive end gets obscured by buckets.

This season’s MVP vote will probably be close. But the league’s best team has a superstar who is clearly the best two-way player in the world’s best two-way sport. What is more valuable than that?

Mandel’s Musings: Durant to Knicks Will Change Sleepy MSG into Dynamic HHG (Hip Hop Garden)

by Scott Mandel

If Kevin Durant joins the Knicks, this sad, bad, moribund franchise will immediately metamorphosize into the NBA’s version of the (old) Oakland Raiders. Or, more appropriately, a modern iteration of the Detroit Pistons’ Bad Boys.

Durant loves playing the “bad MF/villain” role. On this soft, pliable Knicks roster of nice guys, he would become the alpha dog, the Lester Hayes, Jack Tatum, the “Mad Stork,” Ted Hendricks of New York and the NBA.

Instead of hitting receivers crossing over the middle in the chops, causing snot and sweat to come flying off their faces, as the original sports assassin, Tatum, did for the Raiders, Durant would easily take on the role of being another kind of assassin – one with the ball in his hand, taking unmakeable shots from 25 feet away from the basket with a hand in his face that would put games out of reach. Or, getting a defensive rebound, going 90 feet with the ball, finishing at the rim by throwing it down in someone’s face.

Bad dude, that Durant (if he’s on the opposing team).

Durant got thrown out of yesterday’s Game 1 of the playoff series between KD’s Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers. It came after an altercation with another pit bull, Patrick Beverley of the Los Angeles Clippers towards the end of the game. They had been jawing at each other throughout but Durant, realizing his Golden State Warriors had the game in the bag, took the opportunity to get up in Beverley’s face and push him to the ground. Right in front of the referee and a national television audience.

Illustration for article titled The Beef Between Kevin Durant And Patrick Beverley Will Make This Inevitable Warriors Sweep Fun As Hell
Two tough competitors in Game 1 of Warriors-Clippers playoff series

Bad dude, that Kevin Durant.

He speaks to the media without much of a filter. He doesn’t hide his dislike for his opponents, inside the black lines and often, outside of them, either. He’ll tell the gathered media to shut the hell up and do their jobs, which in his view is to just cover basketball games. Or, he’ll ignore his professional responsibility to speak to the press after games, often telling us to “get outta my way.”

Bad dude, that K.D.

Knicks fans will love it. He’ll bring a mentality not often found in basketball. The Patrick Ewing Hoya Destroyers of the 80s, with guys like Michael Graham not allowing anyone to come into the lane without a physical message being laid upon them.

The 1990s Knicks, with Charles Oakley and Anthony Mason. A team that wasn’t a good fit for nice guy, and soft player, Charles Smith, a 6’10” power forward who played with finesse.

Image result for detroit pistons bad boys
Detroit’s Bad Boys of the 1990s won two NBA championships playing dirty, especially Bill Laimbeer

The Bad Boys of Detroit, with Rick Mahorn and that dirty, little Isiah Thomas, who would cut you up with his skills and toughness while smiling at you like Mona Lisa.

Related image
Jack Tatum of the Silver and Black Raiders in the 1970s

I could envision the Knicks pushing the toughness mentality with black (and orange) uniforms. I can even imagine them bringing back that tough old bird, Oakley, Ewing’s protector in the ’90s, to watch games from celebrity row, with Knicks owner, Jim Dolan posing for pictures alongside big “Oak.”.

And, if by some small 14% miracle, the 6’8″ 285 pound Zion Williamson becomes a Knick, to go along with Durant and Kyrie Irving (another tough kid with ‘tude), this will be Fizdales’ #@$ Dream.

Get ready for MSG being converted into HHG – Hip Hop Garden.

Kevin Durant will change everything because, K.D. is a bad dude with a ‘tude.

Archives: 2009: A 24-Year Old LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, One Year from Free Agency

Mandel’s Musings: Knicks Fall Again to James and Cavaliers

New York – Lebron James took his show on the road tonight to play in front of a jam-packed Madison Square Garden that included several players from baseball’s world champion New York Yankees, this town’s role models for what a winning franchise looks like. In stark contrast, James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were matched up on the court tonight with New York’s leading role model for a losing franchise, the New York Knickerbockers, who continued their dreary early-season play in what may turn out to be the dreariest of seasons as they were blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers, 100-91.

Blown out? A nine point differential? Yup, it was a blowout, not including a late Knicks run in the final five minutes of the game. The Cavs led 40-21 at the end of the first quarter, 63-40 at the half, 77-58 at the third quarter mark and led by as much as nineteen with six minutes in the game and seats emptying quickly until the Knicks went on one of their too little, too late frenetic paces of steals and three point shots being drained before they ran out of game clock. This game was never in doubt.

What is in doubt, however has been the status for next season and into the future for the Cavs’ still-young superstar, James. As usual when the Cavs come to town, the conversation veers from the game itself to the more important question-and-answer game of “Will He or Won’t He” starring LeBron James. While this magical player continues to dominate every game he plays in, the buzz going around this arena remains about whether the Cleveland superstar, playing with an expiring contract, will opt to leave his Ohio roots and decide to play out the rest of his career under the bright lights of Broadway.

At halftime, Yankees pitcher, C.C. Sabathia, here along with several of his championship teammates to bask in the warm embrace of Knicks fans dying to cheer for a winner, ventured the opinion that James would indeed, take his next act to New York.

“I’ve told him there’s no better place to be a winner than in New York,” said the former Cleveland Indian hurler who got to know James as a high profile athlete in that town. “If I’m a betting man, I would say he will be here in New York next year.”

James scored 19 of his 33 points in the first quarter as this game became a huge snoozefest through three and a half quarters. His performance could only make Knicks fans swoon and sigh in a wishful manner.

James came to play on the night the Garden crowd was feted not only with the presence of baseball champions who play to the north of the arena, somewhere up in the Bronx, but with celebrities from many walks of life. Ah, to be young and rich and an admired athlete in the city that never sleeps.

“I got an opportunity to say congratulations to C.C. (Sabathia), A-Rod (Alex Rodriguez), Robinson Cano, and Joba Chamberlain,” said James after the game. “Obviously, it was an unbelievable season for those guys and they deserved it.”

James smiled at the thought of being a champion in a city like New York and an arena with the history of Madison Square Garden.

“There is a lot of tradition in this building,” he said. “A lot of great players have been through this building that have laid down a lot of statistical things as individuals and as teams. It is a great building. To be a part of that and be able to play the game of basketball at a high level is great.”

You could almost sense the sighing and wishful thinking may be a two-way street, with James imagining himself as a star in the Big Apple.

“It is a humbling experience for myself,” said James. “You grow up in a city like Akron, Ohio. It is a really, really small city. For me, as a kid, you always wish and dream to be on the NBA level. Now that I am here playing for my hometown team and then be able to go on the road to showcase my talent to people who appreciate the way I play the game of basketball at a high level is humbling. I thank the New York fans. It is great that they really respect the way I play the game of basketball.”

“It’s the atmosphere, here,” he continued. “A lot of stars in the building. It’s humbling to know that you have guys like the Yankees come out and J. Z. You see some of the Giants out here and John Legend and Chris Rock. You almost feel like you’re a performer sitting on the stage and they’re watching you perform.”

You can just tell this kid can imagine himself on the biggest stage of all, lighting up the old arena in a way it hasn’t been lit since Patrick Ewing’s heyday, maybe even further back to the Knicks championship teams of 1970 and 1973.

“When I was a kid, I visualized playing for all the NBA teams,” James said. “There’s a lot of great individual NBA players that I would love to play alongside of and try to contend for an NBA championship. At the end of the day, a max contract doesn’t really matter to me. It’s all about winning. When that day comes next summer, I want to put myself  in a position where I want to win. If I feel a team is capable of winning, I’ll make my decision like that.”

That has to make Knicks fans sink a little, hearing that winning is James’ sole objective in determining where he’s going to play next year. Winning hasn’t exactly been part of the Knicks tradition over the past 36 years or so. That 1973 championship was the franchise’s last.

The Cavaliers are in an interesting position as far as LeBron’s future is concerned. Many of their players, including James, Shaquille O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, have expiring contracts this year so the feeling is this particular Cavs team won’t have the same look next year, either.

Cavs guard Daniel Gibson had an interesting take on the Cavaliers’ position, given the fact so many of the Cavs’ players have expiring contracts. I asked him if the team’s approach to this season has a little more urgency to it because of the potential of having this team ripped apart after this season.

“I never thought about it until you just asked me,” Gibson said. “We approach it as, right now, he’s still a Cav so we’re not thinking about next year. For us, we need to take care of business right now. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next year in this league. Every year you play basketball, you play for the ultimate goal. The fact that he’s potentially leaving next year, I don’t think any of us are thinking about it.”

Ilgauskas took an interesting position.

“I can see coming to New York to play if you’re leaving a team to play for the Yankees, already a winning organization,” said the seven-footer they call Z. “But, coming to New York to play for a struggling team like the Knicks? I’d rather stay in Cleveland where I know I have a chance to win.”

Somehow, I don’t think the Knicks will be trying to sign Ilgauskas anytime soon.

Knicks fans will have to hope when next July comes along, and LeBron is sitting on his porch in Akron, Ohio pondering his next career move, he’ll think about what he can accomplish in an offense devised by Knick coach, Mike D’Antoni, a man most NBA players would take a discount in pay to play for because of his wide-open offensive schemes.

At this point, as we watch the Knicks record fall to 1-5, it’s about the only thing they have left to dream about.

Follow Scott Mandel at www.sportsreporters.com

SportsReporters’ NBA 2019 Mock Draft – Smile Knicks Fans

2019 NBA 1st-Round Mock Draft

1. New York Knicks: Zion Williamson, PF, Duke

2. Phoenix Suns: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State

3. Cleveland Cavaliers: R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke

4. Chicago Bulls: Jarrett Culver, SG, Texas Tech

5. Atlanta Hawks: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke

6. Atlanta Hawks (from Dallas): Rui Hachimura, SF/PF, Gonzaga

7. Memphis Grizzlies: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt

8. New Orleans Pelicans: Jaxson Hayes, C, Texas

9. Washington Wizards: De’Andre Hunter, SF, Virginia

10. Minnesota Timberwolves: Coby White, PG/SG, North Carolina

11. Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga

12. Charlotte Hornets: Keldon Johnson, SG/SF, Kentucky

13. Boston Celtics (from Sacramento): Sekou Doumbouya, SF/PF, France

14. Orlando Magic: Romeo Langford, SG, Indiana

15. Miami Heat: Bruno Fernando, C, Maryland

16. Brooklyn Nets: Kevin Porter Jr., SG, USC

17. Detroit Pistons: P.J. Washington, PF, Kentucky

18. Oklahoma City Thunder: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, Virginia Tech

19. San Antonio Spurs: Bol Bol, C, Oregon

20. Indiana Pacers: KZ Okpala, SF/PF, Stanford

21. Boston Celtics: Tyler Herro, SG, Kentucky

22. Boston Celtics (from Los Angeles Clippers): Talen Horton-Tucker, SF, Iowa State

23. Utah Jazz: Tre Jones, PG, Duke

24. Portland Trailblazers: Daniel Gafford, PF/C, Arkansas

25. Cleveland Cavaliers (from Houston): Naz Reid, C, LSU 

26. Philadelphia 76ers: Ty Jerome, PG/SG, Virginia

27. Brooklyn Nets (from Denver): Jordan Nwora, SF, Louisville

28. Golden State Warriors: Matisse Thybulle, SF, Washington

29. San Antonio Spurs (from Toronto): Cameron Johnson, SF/PF, North Carolina

30. Milwaukee Bucks: Dylan Windler, SF, Belmont

Mandel’s Musings: The Older LeBron May Not Be the Wiser LeBron

The kid from Akron, Ohio, LeBron James, is a generational talent and courageous athlete who has been an interesting guy to interview and be around. Nobody in sports has been more focused on success and championship missions than LeBron, unless your name is Michael Jordan or Bill Russell.

But, the more exposed the public persona of LeBron James becomes through his broadcasting projects, urban works, and his game time demeanor, such as his not participating in team huddles at timeouts, the less I’m appreciating him. Now 34 years old, he’s projecting a “get off my effing lawn” kind of approach around his teammates and the kids who make up the majority of the NBA, these days.

LeBron sees himself, and rightfully so, on the Mount Rushmore of the NBA, in fact, of sports history. But, as an increasing number of NBA free agent stars are publicly pronouncing no interest in playing on the same team as the ball dominant James, a little of his monument gets chipped away, in my view.

LeBron James, the athlete and civic leader, particularly in his hometown of Akron, does belong on Rushmore. It’s the other James, the aging, evolving, teammate/curmudgeon version of LBJ, that needs to become more aware of how he’s projecting to a society which looks to bring down idolatry.

Dwyane Wade Was/Is One Classy Dude and Great Player

Dwyane Wade made what was probably his final appearance as an active player at MSG on January 27th.

Back in Feb., 2005, after his Miami Heat, led by the 22-year old Wade’s 30 points, defeated the Knicks in overtime, an exhausted (and aging) Shaquille O’Neal literally walked me from his visitor’s team locker over to a kid, standing in the center of the room, and said, “This is the guy you should be interviewing, not me. This is his team.” It was Shaquille’s way of passing the torch to the youngster, Wade, a developing new star of the NBA.

Wade was a painfully shy and stiff interviewee, answering every question in a clipped, brief fashion. Tonight, at 37, at MSG, he was a much different, more relaxed man who is enjoying his final ride through the NBA. He received an ovation from the NY crowd when he entered the game. Classy fans, here in NY cheering for a classy guy, Dwyane Wade.


Will Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant Team Up for Broadway Opening?

There’s a strongly held insider’s theory Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, who are good friends, intend to join up with the Knicks. After Kyrie finally publicly pledged to stay in Boston a few months ago, an NBA general manager said, with some skepticism, “We’ll see.”

Both players are mercurial, which is to say their flights of fancy often take off from the wrong airports and head to the wrong towns. For Durant, Oakland wasn’t exactly what he thought it would be. They didn’t need a savior as much as they needed another piece to fit in with Klay and Steph.

Despite Durant now fashioning not one, but two new rings as a member of the Dubs, his legacy still doesn’t make him the key player in bring a city an unexpected world championship.

Irving is in the same boat. He won in Cleveland, but, as great as he played there, particularly so during the championship series, most of the props (okay, all of the props) went to homeboy, LeBron. So, like KD, KI is searching for that legacy-building franchise.

Enter your poor, awful NY Knicks, who haven’t won a championship since 1973, only 46 years ago. The hometown is getting restless.

It’s a good setup for the two stars to join the ragtag Knicks, who will be getting one of the top five picks in the upcoming draft. Let’s face it. though, the only pick they want is Zion Williamson, of Duke. He is surely the best player in the NBA minor league, aka, the american university system. He may even be a top 10 player in the NBA, right now, his talent being so enormous at age 19.

So, hold tight. We shall see.

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