A Knicks-Wolves Conversation with Zachary Bennett

Greetings and salutations, ‘Bocker brethren. No, the Knicks were not able to escape Mill-ee-wa-kée with a noble, spirited dub-ya, but don’t let that get you down—yet. Next up: A frisky pack o’ Wolves in the great state of Minnesota. What better way to limber up for the ritualistic, 11 o’clock assumption of the fetal position than a gentlemanly to-and-fro with Zachary Bennett. He’s a big wheel over at Canis Hoopus, SBNation’s Minnesota Timberwolves blog. Though the Knicks have, at times, resembled fifty shades of macabre more so than a geometrically sound basketball team, I hope you’ll find this exchange as enjoyable as we did.

Zach Bennett 

Realistically, where do you see the Knicks finishing the season? Is there a best and worst case scenario?

Angus Crawford

Ugh. It’s tough to hold an especially rosy disposition about the prospects of the regular season proper, but that’s not to say that the Knicks can’t (or won’t) take anything away from it. As intoxicating as it can be to watch Carmelo Anthony unleash all hell upon opponents, engrossing fans in a one-man show—seriously, watch this and tell me you didn’t just get a lil’ misty-eyed—the Knicks need to look beyond the horizon. Without doubt the “worst” case scenario is mediocrity, to win just enough games to damage your dalliance with the Ping-Pong balls, only to wind up squarely in basketball purgatory.

Let’s be clear, too: Derek Fisher kvelling about “East” and “big” in one sentence is a little more than a Freudian slip. The well of Woody-isms is a plentiful one, and ‘Fish’ managed to extract a mighty good’n.

Best? Iman Shumpert tippy-toes along his current form line, slowly progressing into the more rounded two-way force that some have long anticipated; José Calderon gels seamlessly with ‘Melo, and clicks some geometric variety of offense into gear; Fisher fosters a healthy rapport with the team’s key long-term cogs, and the Knicks fall right into the meaty part of the 24-32 win range. Plop yourself into the ol’ lottery mix, and who knows how the #sporps gods will look down on the team’s rep on the dais of shame.

And what of your Wolves, Zach? Has this ‘Flip’ fellow once again endeared himself to Minnesotans? Are 30-plus point losses nauseating, par for the course, or both?

Zach Bennett

Flip Saunders is a name most know, and some trust, but it’s only fair to give him credit for not fumbling the Kevin Love situation during the offseason. He put together a pretty good group of young pups – i’m so, so sorry – and savvy veterans, before signing Ricky Rubio to an extension in early November.

In theory, the Wolves were ready to surprise some people this season – this was the vibe around the locker room, anyway. However, when the season started, everyone would be watching to see how Flip would manage his players; would he hinder the development of Andrew Wiggins? When was Zach LaVine going to get playing time? Is Nikola Pekovic capable of playing more than 60 games? How will his minutes be managed?

Basketball minds have tipped their proverbial cap in approval to Flip Saunders: President of Basketball Operations. That much is certain.

As for Flip Saunders; the Head Coach, inserting Zach LaVine into the starting lineup – after Ricky Rubio suffered a sprained ankle – was a bold statement that worked in his favor to appease the locals.

However, Britt Robson of MinnPost, a renowned Wolves scribe, thinks the Wolves weren’t just bad against New Orleans. They were disgraceful.

And he’s correct.

With Rubio sidelined and Thad Young out for an indefinite amount of time due to the death of his mother, mentorship responsibilities were bestowed to Kevin Martin, Mo Williams and Corey Brewer, who did not relish in the opportunity. To be fair, Corey Brewer played with the same energy we’ve seen throughout his career.

However, if the rumors reported by Marc Stein are true, Flip Saunders is currently – as we speak, maybe – shopping Brewer to a competitor. Is this parting with an influence that can render a unique, positive impact on the younger players? Maybe. Will it make or break the development of guys like Andrew Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Glenn Robinson III?

I doubt it.

All in all, Flip’s done a good job, his feelings about players shooting three-pointers notwithstanding.

Angus Crawford

Speaking of veteran leadership and currency in the locker room… Flip made the decision that, for one reason or another, it better suited the Wolves to pawn off the rights to Miami’s 2015 first round pick for Thad Young. If anybody is familiar with the idea of mortgaging a future asset for a present one, it’s Knicks fans. Where did you stand at the moment of that trade? Has your opinion wavered at all in the three months since?

Zach Bennett

After trading Kevin Love, the Wolves were left with approximately zero power forwards. Had they not swapped the Heat’s draft selection, which they received from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Wolves would have started either Robbie Hummel, Anthony Bennett or Glenn Robinson III at the 4 spot.
Yea. Robinson III, a rookie, isn’t even a power forward. Hummel and Bennett are, essentially, perennial backups – Bennett has a bit more upside – so it was essential for the Wolves to land Thad Young if they were going to part with Love.

Thad Young will miss an undetermined amount of games tending to family matters. His mother passed away last week.

He’s been great! Young seems to score 20 points per game on a nightly basis. Moreover, it’s his character and charisma that has impressed me the most. He knows his role is to play hard at both ends of the floor and, thus far, he’s been nothing but a positive example for the younger players to look up to. At least as far as I can tell.

Thad could elect to forgo his player option for next season and test the market as a free agent. Otherwise, he’s slotted to make $9,971,739 in ‘15-’16 and would become an Unrestricted Free Agent in the summer prior to the ‘17-’18 season. For now, he’s here to start at power forward and help his teammates “get better” – two words Flip Saunders uses alllll the time.

So, no, my opinion has not altered since the trade was consummated. In fact, as it stands now, Thad is the second-most important player received in the Love trade. I hadn’t even thought about the aforementioned draft selection until you mentioned it just now.

JR Smith, Iman Shumpert and Carmelo Anthony. There’s Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni and Minnesota Native Cole Aldrich….that’s all I got.
Who the hell else is even on the Knicks?

With what parts must Derek Fisher try to implement Phil Jackson’s renowned Triangle Offense? And how’s that working for them?

Angus Crawford

I’m on the record as a Jose Calderon fan, for one thing, but you’re right in terms of the cupboard being pretty, pretty, pretty bare. Pretty bare. I’ll leave the bishophood of the First Church of Cole Aldrich to Señor Silverman.

Other than that, unless you’re really high on Lane Sharkin or Cleanthony Early, there ain’t a whole lot going on here. I don’t fancy Derek Fisher’s chances of plugging Travis Wear into the lineup and letting him run riot in the pinch-post.

Fisher is privy to a bunch of flotsam, expiring deals, one transcendent talent, and not a great deal in between.

There have been fleeting moments of competency, little snippets of something resembling a three-sided shape, but unless there’s some resilience on the opposite end, the role of the Triangle Offense in steering the Knicks to wins (this season) is more or less a moot point.

Nonetheless, for tonight, that Melo-plus-Shump-plus-Earl-plus-Pablo-plus-scrapheap formula may well be enough. Tell me, Zach: Minnesota are favored by 1.5. On that basis, which side of the coin do you find yourself on?

Zach Bennett

Tonight’s game against the Knicks will be the Wolves best chance to win until November 28th, that’s when they play the Lakers. Does that mean a victory is imminent? Certainly………not for the home team, though.

It’d be nice to think the Wolves are catching the Knicks on a tail end of a back-to-back, which they are. However, it remains to be seen how well Andrew Wiggins can contain Carmelo Anthony – if at all. A deep bench gives Flip Saunders a lot of chess pieces to play with, but the story lately has been his team’s inability to defend.

If Carmelo gets going, and the Knicks get competency from the scrubs, it could be another long night for Wolves fans. Part of the dilemma when predicting a winner in this one has been the Knicks inconsistency: I don’t believe either of us knows which team will show up.

The Wolves are on a three-year plan. So, thankfully, unlike last season, a sub .500 year will not doom the franchise into a horrific situation. Therefore, tonight, I’m able to sit back, relax and just take everything in, because the outcome of tonight’s game won’t ultimately make-or-break the ‘14-’15 season.

Away you go. OH? I won’t get away without predicting a score.

Knicks: More

Wolves: Less

Knicks win.


Game Preview and Thread: Knicks vs. Jazz

So this jumbled, ragtag collection of Knickerbockers have burped their way to six straight losses. Le sigh. They’ll be looking to buck that trend in the upcoming five-game stint against 2014 lottery teams (unless, you know, you’re down with the whole Hinkie-ing thing). There are two more supposedly soft tussles on tap in their four-game home stand, starting with the friendly fellows from the Mormon State tonight. Friday night Knicks, y’all. Save for a certain rookie coach’s eerily Woodson-ian, shaky lineups, it’s tough to get truly pissed at macro issues at this juncture.

Thankfully, Ben Dowsett of Salt City Hoops (along with Hardwood Paroxysm, Nylon Calculus, and BBALL BREAKDOWN, to name a few) is joining our lil’ chamber of lost souls KnickerBlogger fraternity. Ben’s a really terrific talent (if you’re not already, you should be following him @Ben_Dowsett). He’s here to give us the low-down on Quin Snyder’s merry band of shooters and saxophonists. Let’s hope that Ben’s tempered, well-balanced words soften the inevitable flurry of #sadz that’ll be the bulk of this thread by around 10pm tonight. Enjoy!

The Jazz have had more than a few major, course-altering executive decisions to make in the past eighteen months—whether it be trading up in the 2013 draft for the rights to Trey Burke, allowing Jefferson and Millsap to walk as free agents, Derrick Favors’ extension, swinging for the fences on Dante Exum, or matching Gordon Hayward’s max offer sheet. How have they done so far Do you think there’s a point on the transitional timeline to flip the switch and move to become something more than a young, rebuilding team?

BD:  I’d assess it as something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, given the way a guy like Millsap has performed in his new home (and given his quite affordable salary figure), it’s easy to wonder if the Jazz made a mistake letting him walk for nothing in return. But by the same token, if Millsap is on the roster last year, there’s a good chance the team never even gets a pitch to swing at as far as Exum is concerned. As far as some of the other deals mentioned, one can certainly find little qualms with them, but given the market size and historical rate such markets have of holding onto their stars, I think they were solid moves. Sure, it’d have been nice to have Hayward for less – which team doesn’t wish it could pay it’s best players less and have room for other talent on their cap sheet? The same goes for Favors, but to a much smaller degree; should he continue the sort of offensive improvement he’s flashed so far in this young season, he could be one of the league’s premier bargains at just over $12 million per year in the not-too-distant future.

All that said, there’s absolutely a point in time where potential needs to become reality, and correctly assessing that time might be the largest challenge ahead of Utah’s front office. Do they make the push in the next year or two, with Hayward and Favors approaching the beginnings of their physical peaks? Or do they wait an extra couple years for Exum to blossom into the potential superstar they’re hoping for? These are tough, highly-contextualized questions that Dennis Lindsey and staff have certainly already begun discussing behind closed doors.

Speaking of the front office, management came to terms on a four-year, $42 million extension with Alec Burks, who was originally nabbed with the twelfth pick in the 2011 draft. Overpay, underpay, or just about right? Do you think Burks would have attracted offers of that size and beyond on the open market (as a restricted free agent)?

BD:  I think the Burks deal is just about right, based on past performance and of course, the massive TV rights deal that promises to vastly change the NBA landscape by summer 2016. He compares well with certain other recently-extended players at his position, at least as far as their performance to the same point in his career at which he accepted the deal. My full thoughts can be found here, but given the financial landscape and the scarcity of players in the league with his sort of skill set (one that’s becoming increasingly coveted by smart teams), I think it was fairly standard. Now, Burks has some real work to do to prove the Jazz didn’t make a mistake – his numbers are down across the board to start the year, and he’s not getting to the hoop and creating havoc at nearly the same rate. If he can’t quickly get back on the horse, and indeed begin improving upon previous seasons, it could in fact end up they made a bit of an overpay. As Burks’ biggest fan, though (my only non-objective feature left, I’m sad to say), I certainly think he’s capable of far more once he becomes more comfortable in a new system.

Enes Kanter, Utah’s other candidate for a contract extension prior to the October 31 deadline, didn’t reach a deal with the team and is headed for restricted free agency this offseason. Some have suggested that Quin Snyder should yank Kanter from the starting unit in favor of Trevor Booker though the numbers show that the Jazz are nearly 10 points (per 100 possessions) better off with Kanter playing alongside the core four starters (The Law Firm of Burke, Burks, Hayward & Favors). Who should start in the frontcourt, and what’s Enes Kanter’s value to this team?

BD:  This is a question that, in some ways, is illustrative of the perils of judging too much too early. Not even a week ago, Booker was producing far better numbers with the rest of the starting unit as compared to Kanter, both individually and for the units as a whole. But a couple ugly games this week for Booker have reversed the trend, and it would now appear at first glance that Kanter is the more appropriate start. This is likely true, but for many more reasons than just the numbers. Kanter, as you mentioned, hits RFA this upcoming offseason, and with a new long-term head coach at the helm with a previously unfamiliar system, deciphering just how well he fits alongside his young teammates in the scheme is of paramount importance. The Jazz know the perils of RFA, having just gone through it with Hayward this past offseason, and will want to be very sure of their assessment of Kanter when it comes time to make any decisions. For that reason, even if the gap between Kanter and Booker continues to ebb and flow, barring major catastrophe I think Kanter should, and will, remain in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

Mild hysteria broke out during the FIBA World Cup when Dante Exum struggled to carve out a consistent role with the Australian national team after a rocky start to the tournament. How have you judged the Aussie’s first half-month, and how challenging has it been for the fan base to remember that they’re dealing with a 19 year-old who just uprooted his entire family and moved to the other side of the world?

BD:  He’s shown exactly the sort of flashes of brilliance many had expected, and perhaps more frequently than some thought. And of course, there have been times where he’s looked somewhat lost. But these are all perfectly normal signs, and I think Jazz fans, occasionally known for their tendency to get a bit ahead of themselves, have done a great job tempering their wilder expectations so far. Exum has shown a lot more defensively than most had likely predicted, especially coming out of the draft where many expected him to be among the worst defensive guards in the league. He’s just so long and fast, and guys will put a successful first move on him (he’s still only 19 and learning defensive nuance, after all) and get into their shooting motion for what seems to be an open look, only to have his wiry frame come flying back into the picture and disrupt things. His shot and NBA legs need real work, but there’s nothing broken about his form or really his fundamentals anywhere, and if he can keep his head on straight and learn from everything that’s happening around him, Jazz fans have an absolute ton to be excited about in the next few years.

True or False: The good folk of Utah have forgiven Derek Fisher for his unceremonious divorce from the team seven years ago, and will welcome him with open arms when the ‘Bockers come to town in early March.

BD:  I’d say about 75% true, though I don’t know about “open arms.” Jazz fans are certainly a passionate bunch, but eventually the long-term good a guy did tends to win out over the one or two incendiary things they also did later on – just look at someone like Karl Malone, who drew some ire for chasing a ring with the star-studded Lakers late in his career but remains a beloved Jazz figure after a couple years of slight bitterness. Fisher never accomplished what the Mailman did over his career, of course, but even the nuttiest of us Utahn’s know how to forgive and forget.

Fill in the blanks’ with Ben Dowsett:

___________ will be the leading scorer in this game.

Carmelo Anthony

Steve Novak will make ____ treys in this game.


________will come away with the win, because ___________________

The Jazz, because the Knicks’ frontcourt won’t be able to handle the Favors-Kanter high-low combo, nor will they be able to contend with Derrick and Rudy Gobert at the rim.

Hawks 103, Knicks 96

New York Knicks 96 FinalRecap | Box Score 103 Atlanta Hawks
Carmelo Anthony, SF 37 MIN | 8-20 FG | 2-3 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 1 TO | 20 PTS | +1A perfectly imperfect game for Melo—that first quarter outburst (14 points, eight ‘bounds and a block) flickered like a neon light spelling out ‘H-O-P-E’, before his next 25 minutes on the floor chewed up and spat out a line of 2-10 from the field, 1-for-2 at the line, three fouls, one board, and a solitary assist. He bodied up Millsap well in an all-round admirable defensive effort in the fleeting moments that Fisher was willing to stick with him in the frontcourt.  The offense after that first quarter though?  That’s now four straight games in which Melo has attempted at least 20 shots and made eight or fewer, a stretch matched only by Kobe and Danny Granger in the past six seasons. The perky smile that came with the Knicks’ 13-point lead in his halftime walk-off spot with MSG didn’t take long to dissipate, sadly. Side note: Fisher left Anthony in the game at the beginning of the 2nd period, overlapping with the usual window where he nabs 3-4 minutes of rest, but it did little to perpetuate Melo’s bullish start.

Samuel Dalembert, C 25 MIN | 3-4 FG | 1-1 FT | 6 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 3 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | -1Contrary to reports, Dalembert has not started the first seven games of the season with cinderblocks for hands. The “Haitian sensation” is often credited as a nifty and willing passer, though it shouldn’t have taken you seven starts to decipher that the Knicks aren’t exactly deploying Arvydas Sabonis at the pivot spot. Triangle, trapezoid, or rhombus, no manner of geometry can cover for the fact that Dalembert is a limited stopgap whose offensive merits are made to stand out only by comparison to the rest of the Knicks’ frontcourt depth chart.He finished with three blocks, and on a night like this, was the best of an especially bad bunch. 20-24 minutes is right about where you’d want to squeeze Dalembert into the equation, and no more than that.

Shane Larkin, PG 29 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 4 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 9 PTS | -4 Fisher brought Larkin back into the starting unit after Deron Williams had his way with Shumpert in Brooklyn. Shane had difficulty handling Jeff Teague early on and picked up a couple of fouls, and the Knicks looked significantly better with Shump at the controls (and benefited defensively, of course). Not his finest outing, but he avoided gifting the ball to the Hawks, and has done a nice job of manning the fort in Calderon’s absence.

Iman Shumpert, SG 35 MIN | 8-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 4 REB | 7 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 4 TO | 19 PTS | -3Iman Shumpert, rim-finisher, orchestrator, outside shooter, and overall destroyer of worlds. Quite frankly, if all that is gained from a season riding into battle with this grimy pu-pu platter of a roster is a considerably developed, confident Shumpert, then so be it. There’s no other way to say it—save for a hiccup in Brooklyn—he has been fantastic, and the Knicks’ best performer through a week and change. The fact that he can rely on precisely zero cover/help defense from teammates is going to be a bone to pick for all 82 games, and it’s another reason why he has to figure out a way to dodge picking up those ticky-tack fouls without sacrificing his stout on-ball D.Count me in for the Shumpert-as-lead-guard experience in the short-term; what’s to lose from tossing him out the front of the tire fire?

Tim Hardaway Jr., SG 25 MIN | 5-12 FG | 2-3 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 15 PTS | +7Second straight start for THJ, as part of the undersized crew cobbled together by Derek Fisher to kick-off the proceedings. Couldn’t finish off a four-point play opportunity (beating the shot clock) in the first—though the resultant shimmy was nice. Have to like his relentless approach to attacking the basket, but boy is there scope for improvement on the opposite end. Sooner or later, the powers that be will (should?) wise up to the fact that it’s nothing short of crippling to have THJ scrambling on the perimeter like a stray cat ducking oncoming traffic.

Amar’e Stoudemire, PF 21 MIN | 6-11 FG | 2-2 FT | 9 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 0 TO | 14 PTS | -5Here’s a fun game: over/under number of times Clyde gleefully mentions Hakeem and/or the ‘dream shake’ in reference to Amar’e’s post moves? I’ll set the line right at 156.5 for the season. Amar’e worked really well on the glass, plucked a few crafty twirls and spins from his repertoire, and overall clocked out with an honest 20-minute shift.The key to his involvement is how (or if) Fisher staggers lineups, and sends him in at the right time, and with the appropriate complementary lineups. In the 11 minutes that Melo and Amar’e were on the floor together, the Hawks put up—*sigh*—31 points on 10-of-20 (with four 3s) shooting. This has been your 3,464th reminder that said combination cannot, under any circumstance, be depended upon.

Cleanthony Early, SF 11 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -8Cleanthony was into the game early for the second consecutive night, a sign that the coaching staff might be willing to wet his feet in non-garbage time scenarios (at least while they’re short on cattle). He couldn’t knock in a jumper and didn’t have the blurst of times with Atlanta’s wing players, but it’s still encouraging to see him out there and remaining aggressive offensively.

Quincy Acy, SF 14 MIN | 1-1 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 2 PTS | -10Too much Quincy Acy. Plus, six of his 14 minutes were alongside Amar’e. If somebody can explain why the hell anyone in good conscience would want to toy with that pairing, I’d love to hear it. In fact, I’ll go you one better—grab a quill and some ink, and have it on my desk by 9 o’clock on Monday. I can wait.

Jason Smith, C 11 MIN | 1-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 1 BLK | 3 TO | 2 PTS | -3The Knicks’ resident enforcer and mid-range connoisseur had a forgettable night. The stench on this one was particularly pungent in the third period:

J.R. Smith, SG33 MIN | 4-8 FG | 0-0 FT | 5 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 8 PTS | -9 49 passes for five assists for Earl in this one. Pretty pleasing when he’s able to fulfill a deferential role and avoid sprinkling it with nincompoop turnovers. Second half was a tad bizarre, producing only two attempts and no points. It’s a bit of a weird fit for him to be on the court with both Hardaway Jr. and Shumpert simultaneously, and that’ll likely iron itself out once Calderon returns.

Derek Fisher
Fifth time in seven games that the starting lineup has changed. The smaller lineup was a welcome surprise, and there were one or two tinkers mid-game that shook things up, but I’m not a fan of that shade of mauve resonating out of Fisher’s self-inflicted wounds. Look, the leash has to be longer than seven October-November games, though that doesn’t mean one can’t question decision-making here and there.

Stick with what works; it’s not complicated. For the record, I’m a Fisher optimist, and I’ve been thoroughly encouraged by his willingness to yank guys for cut-and-dried defensive lapses. That shouldn’t overrule the damage done by toeing the line with Amar’e-at-the-5, the Acy-Smith frontline, and a smattering of other wrinkles that flat out do not work. Bake it away, Tob:

Three Things We Saw

  1. This cheeky little drop-off pass from Melo to Shump:
  2. Melo at the four! To start the game, no less.
  3. Kyle Korver with more space on the perimeter than an incontinent person on the subway. According to the NBA’s player tracking data, Korver had six (!!!) uncontested field goal attempts—defined as the shooter not having a defender within a vicinity of 3.5 feet. This was at its worst in the final 7:00 of the game, when Korver and DeMarre Carroll broke free for a combined three triples, while being checked (using that term generously) by Hardaway and J.R. Korver finished 6 for 9 from deep for the game.

Game Preview and Thread: Knicks vs. Wizards

To get set for tonight’s matchup against the Washington Wizards, we hooked up with Conor D. Dirks of the TrueHoop Network’s Truth About It. Me n’ Robert Silverman talked Knicks over at their place too. Link’ll be up soon.

It was a tad surprising to see Washington ditch their starting small forward, Trevor Ariza, filling the gap on the wing with Paul Pierce. What’s the primary cost of Ariza’s exit, and how might we expect Pierce to fit in alongside Otto Porter Jr. and Rasual Butler Wall & Beal? Also, on a scale of one to 1995 Pat Riley, how much more should Knicks fans loathe the Wizards with Pierce on board? 

CDD: As one of my favorite Wizards to cover (his throwaway press scrum one-liners were unmatched), the personal cost is high. Ariza has picked up in Houston right where he left off, and through four games, is shooting 59.3 percent on 3-pointers. That this is not particularly surprising should be an indicator of how expected, and necessary, Ariza’s redefined role as a catch-and-shoot ace was with Washington. Trouble is, with Beal and Webster both injured, the shooting issue is compounded. The theater in which samples are held is small and all, but the Wizards are taking five fewer 3-pointers per game so far this year.

That said, the Wizards did the right thing when they didn’t beat Houston’s offer for Lord Threeza. Signing Ariza would have locked them into their current team for years, with very little wiggle room to tweak and improve their good, but not great, roster. The Pierce signing, on the other hand, is a bargain (two years, $11 million) and wraps up neatly before the summer during which every red-white-and-blue-blooded Wizards fan will be convinced the team is on the brink of signing Kevin Durant.

Of course, Paul Pierce the player (rather than chess piece) is still excellent, when he’s not getting tossed unceremoniously from games for talking incessantly at a very busy referee. He’s already started to discover what Martell Webster and Ariza discovered before him. If you stand in the corner, John Wall will get you buckets. Last year, in Brooklyn, his pet shot was the above-the-break 3-pointer, and I expect he’ll get opportunities there, too, as a trailer to the Wall-led fast break. Ultimately, the Wizards signed Pierce for exactly what he provided in the game against Orlando last Thursday: in the fourth quarter, Wall fed Pierce when the Wizards needed points to keep up with a suddenly frisky Magic team, and Pierce delivered, posting up a smaller Ben Gordon on back-to-back plays before hitting a jumper he’s hit hundreds and hundreds of times over a long career.

Maybe I underestimate the Wizards notoriety, but I’m not sure they’re a hate-worthy team yet. They haven’t won 50 games since 1979, man. Unless they fax 120 points to Carmelo’s home office tonight, I think they’re subject to more of a gentleman’s distaste than a Cavs-level “these motherfuckers” eyeroll. But hey, that’s just me. Maybe you hate the Wizards before it’s cool to hate the Wizards, maybe you hate “their early stuff.” It’s New York, after all.

Last year, Washingon bopped the Knicks at MSG in one of the more Knicks-ian ways imaginable. Most of the participants from said debacle are gone (pours one out for Beno Udrih), but it doesn’t appear as if the Knicks are any better equipped to combat the ‘Zards chief offensive weapons. Which dagger do you do you see Washington choosing to slice up the Knicks tonight?

CDD: Short answer: I don’t! While New York’s lineup strikes me as one of the most unlikely in recent history, something is working so far. When the Knicks transubstantiated LeBron’s new Cavs skin into the stale biscuit of misguided corporate zeal last week, they showed that they’re capable…aw shit, I’m not going to be able to sum this up better than your own Kevin McElroy did in the recap: the Knicks are not here to be extras, whether it be in LeBron’s coronation scene, or, presumably, elsewhere this season.

Remember, too, that the final, fatal points in that game were scored by a Washington Wizard who is on the shelf – Bradley Beal. Washington’s defense hasn’t figured itself out yet (it will – Randy Wittman does defensive systems very well, even if he doesn’t do all that much else), and the team is vulnerable to hot 3-point shooting.

The Wizards got a shade less than 1000 minutes from the Gortat-Nene pairing last season, besting opponents by nearly 11 points per 100 possessions with those two on the floor. How many minutes do you realistically think they’ll log together in 2014-15, and what’s the ceiling for this team with a healthy frontline?

CDD:  I would have opened this answer by saying there’s just no way that Nene plays all 82 games this season, but he beat me to the punch. The NBA’s most draconian rule resulted in a Game 1 suspension for standing up and observing the aftermath of Paul Pierce “booping” Joakim Noah in the team’s first preseason game. The Brazilian “gladiator” (Marcin Gortat’s words, not mine (Gortat also recites lines from 300 in the pre-game locker room, so he has a thing)) is a lock to play less than the full complement of regular season games this year. My best guess? 65.

In terms of total minutes, it depends on whether new signees Kris Humphries and DeJuan Blair ever get their acts together. Humphries has been awful thus far, and is at risk of making his “reformed celebrity” image vulnerable to criticism, even in D.C., known to many as “Hollywood for ugly people.” Here’s something about Humphries that you might not know: he said “organic” outside the context of food in his first-ever D.C. media day Monumental Network (owner Ted Leonsis’ web-based broadcast network) interview. Regardless, his chunky cardigan-wearing ass is semi-likable for now. If he and Blair play well, Wittman may be comfortable giving Nene fewer in-game minutes, thereby reducing the likelihood that he’ll miss a game here and there for maintenance. So: 900 minutes.

For the last two seasons, even when Emeka Okafor rather than Gortat started, Washington’s starting lineup has been one of the top 5-man units in the NBA. By contrast, their bench has been one of the worst. That was supposed to be a thing of the past, but here we are. Kevin Seraphin’s aura is so toxic that he seems capable of poisoning a lead just by entering the game (he’s second-worst in the NBA in PER right now at MINUS-19.7) This team’s ceiling, if healthy, is probably a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Caveat: if the Wizards draw Chicago in the semis, they have a real shot at the Eastern Conference Finals.

There is a cupboard full of veteran bros on the roster. Who’s the shrewdest, savviest floor general/locker room leader/[insert cliché] of them all, and why? 

CDD:  TAI’s editor-in-chief Kyle Weidie answered this question with aplomb, after chirps from myself and co-editor John Converse Townsend, in our annual season preview. So I’m punting to him. Bring us home, Kyle.

“Andre Miller by unanimous decision,” posed John C. Townsend in a GChat. I was most definitely ready to concur. Oldest dude in the NBA (who will play; Steve Nash still “technically” an NBAer) with deceptive on top of deceptive on top of deceptive passing skills to boot? That’s like savvy meatloaf made with savvy grass-feed beef from savvy cuts of certified Angus with savvy bacon from Marcin Gortat’s finest, savvy pig wrapped around it. Gots to be the Professor, right?
Hol’ up, chimed Conor D. Dirks. “What about Paul Pierce?” Miller’s passing is nice, but savvy really means that you bring game-closing offense to the table. Telling the truth always wins out in savvy contests. (And contrary to popular belief, the savvy do not lie.)
One final point from Mr. Dirks, “Also, is RASUAL BUTLER the savviest? I mean, he found a way to make a team over younger prospects despite being on/off NBA teams over last few years.”
Mr. Butler is more like a wrench to this game, but a wrench that can do other things (for the ingenious and defensive-minded, a knife, a cork screw, and a nail file fold out the end of said wrench).
Alas, in the two-horse race between Andre and Paul, as Mr. Townsend called it, the nod is going to go to Pierce. He’s got a ring (so savvy), and unlike Andre Miller, he embraces mind games with opponents. That Paul Pierce, he’s like the candy corn of savvy. Whatever that means.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: A Knicksplainer

As part of the Knicks’ summer renovation, perhaps the most beloved (if not the most important addition) of the bevy of 2nd Rounders is the shiny, aromatic coat of varnish they snagged with the 51st pick, Thanasis Antetokounmpo. Like most, you might know little about the twenty-two year old, save for the fact that he is the older sibling of Giannis, the Milwaukee Bucks’ gangly, smile-laden force of nature also known as “The Greek Freak.” The jury is still out on whether “Greek Freak 2.0” and “Greek Freak Jr.” will make for apt monikers, but Phil Jackson’s rolling with “Thanacity”–a pretty solid summary of his current skill-set.

Despite all our giddy excitement, for the bulk of the summer, it wasn’t clear where he’d be plying his trade. The front office continued to re-arrange the pawns at the back end of the roster,  guaranteeing Quincy Acy‘s contract after acquiring him, and letting Toure’ Murry flee to the Jazz. With all 15 chairs filled, Antetokounmpo seemed the likeliest victim of the roster squeeze:

But given the choice between a bushel of Euros and balling in the suburbs, RealGM’s Shams Charania reported:

That news emerged after a bit of scuttlebutt suggesting that he would join the Knicks in training camp, but as P&T head honcho and friend of Knickerblogger Seth Rosenthal rightfully explained, the process is more complicated than simply welcoming the international draftee into the team’s pre-season program:

To come to camp with the Knicks, Thanasis would have to sign a contract (probably a non-guaranteed one). If the Knicks were to then cut Thanasis out of camp, they would forfeit his exclusive draft rights. So unless they really think a spot is going to open up for him, bringing Thanasis to camp just for funsies would be a waste of an asset. If the above is true, the Knicks are either up to something or they’re short-sighted.

So, yay! But for those who weren’t devoutly tracking the progress of the D-League’s Delaware 87ers in 2014, and for a grasp of where (or if) Thanasis will fit into the team’s long-term plans, I called in the services of opinions far more qualified and expert than my own.

Scott Rafferty, founder of Crabdribbles.com, and contributor to Hardwood Paroxysm, Magic Basketball, and Ridiculous Upside, kindly shared this:

Thanasis has all the tools teams look for in a wing defender in the NBA today, and he knows how to use them. He’s got the size (6-foot-6) to defend twos and threes, the quickness to stay in front of guards, the wingspan (7-foot) to be a pest in the passing lanes, and the leaping ability to challenge shots. To add to all that, he’s a relentless worker who seems to take defensive assignments personally and he’s not afraid to contest a shot at the rim or put his body on the line to make a play, which is what makes him unique. He’s not all there defensively (he sometimes falls asleep on coverages and gets caught ball watching) but it shouldn’t take much to iron out those creases.

With the 87ers, Thanasis’ three-point shooting was up-and-down all season long. He was a sub-30 percent shooter from three over the first three months and shot around 40 percent in the final two months. All in all, he’s proven the ability to knock down threes; just not over a huge sample size. But if he can develop a more consistent jump-shot (which isn’t out of the realm of possibility) and continue to fine tune the rest of his game, there’s no reason why he couldn’t work his way into a team’s rotation.

The issue is, however, if Thanasis can’t become a knockdown shooter, his ceiling drops dramatically. He’s not great in half-court sets, he’s turnover prone (mainly because he’s predictable offensively), and he has little-to-no in-between game. That’s why his future in the NBA hinges greatly on his ability to become, at the very least, a solid outside shooter. (For what it’s worth, in the seven games Thanasis scored 20 or more points last season, he made at least two threes in each; in the games in which he scored single digits, he combined to shoot 5-for-52 from three).

I’d encourage you to go ahead and read Scott’s pre-draft scouting report on Thanasis, penned for Ridiculous Upside in early June, too, a more thorough breakdown of his skills and weaknesses.

As for the skeptics who might imply that Thanasis did little more than ride the happy-go-lucky coattails of his younger brother all the way to the Barclays Center podium, Rafferty responded with this:

Giannis’ emergence certainly helped put Thanasis under the spotlight, but he did more than enough to prove himself worthy of a draft pick. Teams rarely get a lot of value out of a second round pick — a reason why they aren’t guaranteed a contract — so a team could do much worse than taking a gamble on an athletic freak who is willing to put the work in and work his ass off defensively… especially if said team is the Knicks.

Before you flock to the stores to load up on Antetokounmpo-based gear, consider that not everyone holds a disposition as relatively rosy as Rafferty’s. The Greek swingman’s tornado of flailing limbs are a serious tease, but his athleticism hasn’t been enough to gloss over a passel of raw, scattered play.

I also spoke with Ed Isaacson, owner and curator of NBADraftBlog, well-respected scout, writer, and draft analyst. He writes:

I have a hard time seeing Antetokounmpo making it to the NBA, even if his offense continues to improve. [As you mentioned,] he is 22, and he is behind development-wise of most other prospects, even those younger than him. There are two key things he can do if he wants to get to the NBA – become a consistent long-range shooter and learn to use his athleticism to be a pest on the defensive end. My biggest concern is something I mentioned, he is 22 and still raw in many ways. Even if the improvement comes, will he still be better than a lot of other prospects who teams can turn to? Probably not.

The biggest thing Antetokounmpo has going for him right now is he isn’t that skilled yet. It may sound silly to say, but he is still in a developmental stage as a player and he should have some great coaches around him to teach him what he needs to go with his physical ability. In Delaware last year, he showed flashes of being able to do a little bit of everything, though not extremely well and not consistently. If the Knicks are serious about him as a prospect, they need to take total control of his development to maximize it.

Isaacson also suggested that the Knicks’ new one-to-one ‘farm team’ relationship will need to establish a track record before receiving the faith and praise of scouts:

I want to say yes [committing to the Knicks’ affiliate was the right move], but before I can do that, I have to see how Westchester is set up and who is working with the players. If the Knicks can follow the model of other single-affiliate teams, like Houston, then Antetokounmpo will not only be developing as a player, he should be developing as a player that fits the Knicks’ system. There is still a lot to be seen yet with the [Westchester] team though.

As for Thanasis’ own short history with the NBA’s second tier, were his Delaware exploits enough of a motive alone for teams to take a flyer on his potential?

I highly doubt it. Looking back at his first D-League season, at his best he was average, though he was showing improvement by the end of the season. Even with the improvement, I think the Knicks, and other teams that were considering him in the 2nd round, are willing to take the chance that he can show some of what his brother has. 

Dealing with the highs and lows of a developing prospect has been (to some extent) a foreign concept for Knick fans, and although Antetokounmpo arrives with an endearing, unfettered innocence and pogo-stick hops, the message remains clear: proceed with caution. The best case scenario for both club and player is that the next twelve months are especially fruitful, and Antetokounmpo can improve enough to merit a spot on what will be a very blank Knicks canvas as soon as the summer of 2015. At a minimum, he’ll be one of the more recognizable  faces on the unimaginatively-named Westchester Knicks–a mere Metro North ticket away. More importantly, he’ll learn the Triangle and hopefully pick up a few tricks from the wise heads in the organization, both on the roster and in the front office. All in all, that is infinitely preferable to having to hijack a feed from the Slovenian Pro Leagues to see him in action.

It’s only natural to savor the fact that the Knicks even have draftees to discuss, and I’m not going to sit here (© Mike Woodson. Hi Woody!) and throw anyone under the bus that wants to take the Billy Mumphrey route on this one. Thanasis Antetokounmpo’s ceiling is more of a floating tarp than it is wood and plaster. He can be whatever you want him to be, without fretting about how his actual production might impact the win-loss ledger. For now, that’s more than enough.

Triángulo: José Calderón’s Value to the Knicks

After the dust settled on the trade with Dallas, and the unfamiliar high of receiving draft picks simmered down, one slightly unnerving reality kicked in: the length (three years) and cost ($22.21M) remaining on José Calderón’s contract, and the hearty bite into New York’s desired 2015 cap space. Though shipping Tyson Chandler and his expiring deal) back to Texas and extraditing the oleaginous mutta that is Raymond Felton netted the team a handful of assets, it seemed puzzling that the Knicks would be willing to accept the multiyear baggage attached to a guard approaching his 33rd birthday.

How difficult would it be to flip Calderón down the line? How does this affect Carmelo Anthony’s free agency? How would Calderón gel as part of the triangle offense?

These are all legitimate questions, though not before doing your due diligence on exactly what the scruffy Spaniard could bring to the Garden fold.

Calderón, whose 2013-14 season was his first and only with the Mavericks, boasts an elite shooting touch. A career 41.1% shooter from the outside, he ranked seventh in the league last season for made three-pointers, but finished fourth in 3PT%. His shooting numbers are insane across the board. He has eclipsed the 59.0 percent plateau for True Shooting in six of his nine seasons, and even enjoyed a 68-game run in 2009 where he converted 98.1% of his attempts at the charity stripe. Simply put, it’s very, very tough to find a level of sustained shooting excellence that is on a par with what José Calderón has produced throughout his nine seasons.

As a starter for 81 of the Mavs’ regular season games, he was a major factor in Dallas cobbling together an offense that tied as the second most efficient in the league. Granted, Calderón was flanked by the two-headed, Dirk-and-Carlisle offensive juggernaut, but his role in orchestrating the attack shouldn’t be dismissed. The Mavs’ scoring engine churned out 108.6 points per 100 possessions in nearly 2,500 minutes with Calderón on the floor, per NBA.com.

Dallas plugged Calderón alongside a ball-dominant, high usage guard in Monta Ellis, and the undersized duo (somewhat unexpectedly) proved to be a blessing for the Mavs’ offense. It’s hard to hide more than one player on the opposite end of the floor, however, and the move didn’t auger well for the team’s defense. For fans who grew tired of the Knicks’ switch-heavy, chaotic scramble of a defense last season, with Calderón on board, you might want to avert your eyes. Calderón is many things, though a league-average level defender is not one of them.

The Knicks’ self-inflicted anarchy under Mike Woodson’s scheme created headaches all season long. Calderón, on the other hand, has historically struggled to negotiate even a half-decent pick, and is too often found wandering in no man’s land on defensive possessions.

A quick glance at the stats and you might think Calderón is a respectable defender in pick-and-roll situations. He managed to rank in the top one-hundred defenders when guarding the ball-handler. In comparison, Raymond Felton came in at no. 205, allowing opponents to score on40.6% of his defensive stands, per Synergy Sports. Calderón’s opponents scored on 37.1% of their screen-and-roll plays, far from a humiliating mark. But it would be remiss not to consider the secondary effects of the Spaniard’s approach on the defensive end, where the bulk of the problems emerge.

The above example shows Calderón neither fighting over nor slipping under the Varejão screen, instead feigning activity and freeing Kyrie Irving for the regulation twenty-two footer. It’s a troubling bit of apathy on defense, but not exactly a criminal offense.

Calderón’s flaws are most exposed when the opponent is able to initiate a hint of ball movement, zipping the ball across the perimeter, and sending him into a tailspin. Here, moments after the Pelicans had swung the ball from one side of the floor to the other, and Calderón encounters a screen from Greg Stiemsma, he is visibly pointing for teammates to make a last ditch recovery on his opponent, Brian Roberts:

Again, elementary picks like this weren’t the worst outcome for Dallas. Things started to get a little nightmarish when the opposing point guard wasn’t necessarily the person to put up the shot attempt. A screen, a pass, another pass, and maybe another action, and you’ll get this:

This only highlights the closing moments of the possession, with the shot clock winding down. After a brief switch was forced earlier in the play, and Ellis was sucked over from the weakside on Jimmy Butler’s baseline drive, Calderón is caught ball watching at the top of the key, allowing Mike Dunleavy to break loose for the corner three. Plays like this constitute the less-than-ideal notion of having Calderón deployed as the “primary” defender on spot-up shooters.

Even if only due to his own absent-mindedness and curious positioning, Calderón cops the brunt of these defensive mishaps on the stat sheet. Nearly a third of his defensive plays resulted in covering spot-up gunslingers and, as Dallas quickly learned, it’s a slippery slope straight to scoreboard damage from that point on. According to Synergy, opposing players drilled 43.5% of their long range attempts with Calderón as the primary defender, contributing to his season average of 1.09 points per possession allowed.

Trotting out Calderón with anything but a defensive stalwart by his side is a major gamble, and one that can only be micromanaged in the most extraordinary of circumstances, a la with Dirk in tow. But before you pound your head to the desk at the prospect of one, two, or three seasons of this caliber of backcourt defense, take a moment to understand why an organization like the Mavericks would be willing to doll out a pricy, four-year deal to a player of this mold.

Last season in particular, Calderón was lethal on the perimeter. Scorching hot. He nailed almost two and a half triples per contest, shooting 44.9% on 425 total attempts. As futile as it seemed having Calderón within a five mile radius of opposing wings, he can dazzle with his own deadly jumper. Crack open an extra inch or two of space by setting a high screen, and he will gleefully fire away.

Check the film of José and Dirk running the pick-and-roll, and you will likely find yourself drooling at the thought of him doing with same with Melo (provided that Anthony re-signs). The threat of a capable shooter and/or stretch four fanning out onto the wing or popping out to the top of the key, with armed and readied shooting hands, poses a scary threat to the defense. That’s a choice that nobody wants to have to make–wrestle over to try to corral Calderón, or scurry away to a tough crossmatching scenario.

Few teams are going to be willing to punt on the opportunity to cover Calderón with the knowledge that he comfortably splashed 46.6% of his three-point attempts as the setup man in pick-and-rolls. Of course, shooting–if used correctly–creates bonus opportunities, leaves opponents scattered, and opens avenues that maybe you never even knew existed.

Part of the reason why the Mavericks were able to get away (for the most part) with the Calderón-Ellis tandem was what happened when teams deliberately looked to shun the screen-and-roll situations. What’s the best way to deal with above defensive dilemma? Avoid it altogether? Perhaps, but then you’re faced with the problem of tossing too many eggs into one ball-stopping basket.

Ellis’ slashing game shouldered a decent load for Dallas, and Calderón was one of the primary beneficiaries. With the Spanish veteran, though, it doesn’t even require a stream of high voltage hurls into the paint to free him up on the outside. He connected on 45.9% of his catch-and-shoot attempts from distance, courtesy of NBA.com. A basic action, balancing of the floor, and another draw card or two in the lineup is a tantalizing recipe for unchaining Calderón around the arc.

Tim Hardaway Jr.’s trigger happy hands are streaky, useful tools from time to time, but the transition from guards who were either not willing (Prigioni), able (Felton), or confident (Shumpert) to launch from beyond the arc to heavier minutes for the deadly Calderón is an overdue adjustment. That change, in the shadow of the triangle offense, figures to be smooth.

Calderón only has to look as far as, say, his new head coach Derek Fisher for inspiration on how to yield sharp shooting as a weapon within the parameters of the triangle. Having the team’s new point guard outside the arc, with Carmelo Anthony–again, in the event that he stays–or another agile frontcourt player functioning through the “pinch post” role would be a nice start. It’s not worth delving too deeply into the mechanics of Calderón in the triangle until the makings of the supporting cast are a little clearer, suffice to say that he is the model lead guard to slot into the system with Anthony either on the block, or cutting from the weakside.

He was also one of the premier protectors of the ball among all point guards last season, turning it over on just 11.7% of his possessions, an invaluable commodity in a system that’s based on fluid passing and well spaced quarters. Calderón deserves to be viewed as more than just a cap-clogging relic, and his serious defensive weaknesses can be skewed and lessened with the aid of a cohesive system. He is, for now, the Knicks’ starting point guard, and if you’re itching to see him clad in blue and orange, it’d be worthwhile watching him suit up for Spain in the FIBA World Cup (in September).

It’s also worth mentioning that he does have some serious mileage on his legs (almost 19,000 minutes, including playoffs), and–depending on your belief in the real plus-minus measurement–you could argue that he finished 2013-14, defensively, as one of the ten worst players in the league that spene any time at the point guard position. Calderón’s contract is more palatable than some have suggested, given the current market for perimeter players with a jumper of his caliber, and the showpieces of his skillset (vision, passing, shooting) should fare well with age.

Trading Tyson Chandler brought a close to one “era,” (for lack of a better term), and reaped a basket of returning goodies. Rather than panning his inclusion in the deal, it may yet prove easier to shade José Calderón as one of the chief assets gained in the move that began a welcome changing of the guard.

A Free Agency Roundup (Thus Far)

Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of cooldesign / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome to the Knickerblogger free agency roundtable! Whilst we wait for the Melo-choly Dane to make up his so-called mind, we’ll chat about where things stand. Our lovely and talented contestants are Angus Crawford, Robert Silverman, Dan Litvin, Chase Thomas and Taylor Armosino. Let’s delve!

The Knicks’ primary vehicle for adding talent to the roster in this free agency window is the Taxpayer Mid-Level exception, scheduled to carry a first-year salary of $3.28M in 2014-15, per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ. Given that the market is flooded with teams hoarding cap space, who should be on the Knicks’ shortlist for the mini-MLE?

Angus Crawford: The starriest name of all to be tenuously linked to the Knicks is Pau Gasol, a former disciple of Phil who would have to be amenable to a discount in the range of $15M per year, in order to call Manhattan home. Patty Mills was a nice thought before his injury news broke, but that was never likely to eventuate. I’d take a long look at Hornets forward Josh McRoberts, who’d be receiving a slight raise on his 2014 salary with the taxpayer’s MLE. He functions as one of the league’s premier passing forwards, and could slot nicely into the triangle alongside any number of players. McRoberts canned a career-high 105 threes at an above-average rate this past season, too, adding versatility and a few extra lineup options.

Robert Silverman: Obviosuly, Gasol would be a great get, but he’s going to get better offers from teams that are closer to contending, like Oklahoma City, Miami, and Chicago. I’ve always been a big McBob fan, and it’s not just because he looks like a super-sized Charlie Day, and adding a shotblocker/interior defender with upside like Ekpe Udoh has some appeal. Then again, unless it’s a player of Pau’s caliber that’s willing to take a seriously below market value deal, I would prefer the Knicks hoarded their 2015 cap space, especially since they just took a Calderon-sized, 5 million dollar bite out of it (Jose’s contract minus what they would have spent on Felton) in the Chandler trade. 

Dan Litvin: The Knicks aren’t taxpayers anymore. Moreover, I think they’re far enough under the apron that they can use the full MLE. While this would hard cap them, it would open up some options. I’m not sure exactly who the Knicks should target, but I think that while the Chandler trade may have improved the team overall, I do think they need some more defense up front. I kind of like the idea of Pau Gasol, although he’s not the player he once was, and I’m leery of handing out too much cash heading into next summer and the summer after that.

Chase Thomas: Steve Blake is the first name that comes to mind here. Yes, the Knicks traded for Jose Calderon and Shane Larkin, but the team could really use a point guard familiar with the Triangle, and Blake fits that bill.  Pau Gasol would be taking a big pay cut, but he’s obviously another very intriguing target for the Knicks. Vince Carter, Francisco Garcia, Danny Granger, Thabo Sefolosha and Emeka Okafor round out my not-so-short list.

Taylor Armosino: As a team that needs to be adding cheap role players that can contribute for multiple seasons, it’d be smart for the Knicks to look towards younger free agents who might be willing to sign multi-year deals that include either team options or qualifying offers. Such free agents include Ekpe Udoh, Al-Farouq Aminu, Lavoy Allen, DaJuan Blair and Jimmer Fredette. Of that group, Aminu, Blair and Udoh intrigue me the most. I like Josh McRoberts as well.

Rank the following criteria for prospective additions to the roster, in order of importance: youth, fit for the triangle offense, positional need, cost, ability. 

AC: Youth, ability, triangle fit, cost, need, in that order. The Knicks’ need to start fermenting young talent in-house has been long overdue, and is even more pressing with the grim outlook for the upcoming season. I expect that the autonomy brought in by operating an independent D-League franchise will help to cultivate this process. Heck, even a “nothing” move like purchasing the rights to the 57th pick in last week’s draft–French center Louis Labeyrie who, by all accounts, is likely to never appear in the NBA–is a positive development. You may as well utilize every available avenue to find potential contributors.

RS: This is a transition year, regardless of what happens with Melo. Like I said above, one year deals for borderline talent are going to weigh more heavily than a few WARP’s. Take risks on more Jeremy Tyler/Toure’ Murry types. Roll the dice on two year contracts (with the 2nd year a team option) and see if you can pick up a developing talent for cheap.

DL: Keeping in mind that while this year, the Knicks can make the playoffs (if they keep Melo), it’s still a transitional year–a bridge into the next two seasons–I’d rank it this way: cost, length of contract (had to add that in), followed by some balance of the rest.

CT: Cost, ability, youth, fit for the triangle, positional need.

TA: Obviously all are important, but I’d go: 1. Ability (especially defensive), 2a. Triangle fit, 2b. Youth, 4. Cost, 5. Positional need.

How do you assess the value of creating an extra roster spot via either A) negotiating a buyout with one of the Knicks players holding an expiring contract (Bargnani, Stoudemire, Dalembert, Ellington etc.), or B) utilizing the stretch provision for the remaining two years and $12,382,125 on J.R. Smith’s contract?

AC: I raised the idea of stretching Smith’s contract last week, a move that would pry open nearly $4M in additional wiggle room next summer, if kicked into gear before the start of 2014-15. Smith’s cap figure would be reduced to approximately $2,476,425 if the Knicks’ front office elected to go down that path, though the notion of paying for his services through to the end of 2019 isn’t particularly enticing. At very least, it’s worth considering, but I don’t anticipate it’ll happen. Instead, the Knicks currently have eight (!!!) guards attached to their roster–if you include Murry and Shannon Brown–so a small exodus on that front is more likely.

RS: I wouldn’t stretch anyone on the roster, including J.R. Look at the contracts that guys that can catch and shoot are getting. 19 million for Jodie Meeks from the Pistons? Orlando dumped  4.5 million in Ben Gordon’s lap because… I have no idea why. Given this kind of inflation, you can find a taker for Smith’s contract if need be. Or, hey, there’s even a chance that he might thrive in the Triangle. If you want to buyout Bargs and/or STAT, because the team’s in full rebuild mode, sure. Then again, if you’re tanking, giving heavy minutes to ‘Drea and Amar’e at PF/C would work quite nicely in that regard.

DL: On J.R., I wouldn’t stretch him. Salaries for wings appear to be engaged in an inflationary frenzy. Ben Gordon just got $4.5M. Jodie Meeks got 3 years/$21 million. I’m not the biggest J.R. fan, but if he was a free agent this season he’d be commanding at least what he’s being paid on his current deal and probably more. That’s significant because he has an opt-out after this year and I think he’s likely to use it to try to get a long term deal. With respect to the first part of your question, I think if the Knicks can identify someone they’d rather have, then sure, buyout or waive someone they don’t need (Bargs, I’m looking in your general direction.)

CT: Utilizing the stretch provision would probably be the better option of the two.

TA: If I wanted the Knicks to be good, I’d say they should work to buy out Bargnani, and probably Stoudemire as well. That said, if Carmelo Anthony walks, I want the Knicks in full tanking mode. Play Bargnani 47 minutes a game next to Stoudemire and give up 4000 points a game. It’s the smart thing to do.

Earlier this week, the Knicks declined to extend a qualifying offer to Toure’ Murry, making him an unrestricted free agent. Marc Stein of ESPN.com reported, however, that they are still interested in retaining the second year guard. Should the Knicks move to re-sign Murry?

AC: Murry had fleeting moments last season before being banished to Mike Woodson’s doghouse. I think he’s deserving of a bigger shot than the 373 minutes of (mostly) garbage time that he was dealt in his rookie campaign. He played double figure minutes on only four occasions after February 1, and two of those arrived at the very tail end of the season. The concern is that the salary cap juggling that led to the Knicks rescind the QO–and the expected interest from rival teams–might just price them out of the Murry market.

RS: Maybe. I could be wrong about this (HELP! LAWYER! LARRY COON!), but I think if the Knicks had extended the QO for Toure’, it would’ve come out of the funds they have to spend as part of the mid-level exemption. Is that right? I think it’s right.

(Checks math) Got it. Murry’s deal would have come out of the mid-level but only if they are playing in the match this afternoon, and then they would have had to move their clothes down onto the lower peg immediately after lunch, before the Knicks wrote their letter home, if Phil Jackson is not getting his hair cut, unless J.R. has got a younger brother who is going out this weekend as the guest of another boy, in which case, collect his note before lunch, put it in the Knicks’ letter after Phil’s had his hair cut, and make sure Steve Mills moves their clothes down onto the lower peg for them.

But I could be wrong about all that, especially the haircut. Yeah, I’d like them to re-up Toure’ on another non-guaranteed deal.

DL: Not sure. I know a lot of people really like Toure’. I do like his moxie and hustle, but his playmaking and shooting seem wanting (caveat: eye test here). The Knicks already have Calderon, Larkin and Prigs. I wouldn’t mind adding Toure’ back to the mix but he likely wouldn’t see a lot of action. Moving on may be best for him too.

CT: Murry was a surprising bright spot for the Knicks backcourt last season, but with Jose Calderon, Pablo Prigioni and Shane Larkin in the backcourt re-signing Murry probably isn’t necessary. The Knicks will probably sign one more rotational point guard, but it should probably be somebody familiar with the Triangle, like Steve Blake, who Phil spoke very highly of in LA.

TA: Murry showed some nice promise as a possible 3rd point guard that can play some defense. However, he struggled offensively and doesn’t look to have a ton of upside there. I don’t think he moves the needle much. I’m indifferent.

Pick one: re-signing Carmelo Anthony to the maximum available contract (five years, $129M), or pursuing a sign-and-trade scenario with one of Anthony’s suitors.

AC: Ugh, that fifth year. Carmelo Anthony would be 35 years old at the conclusion of said max contract, making the price tag all the more burdensome. There has been talk of a “bidding war” among his suitors, setting up a juicy S&T competition for the Knicks. One problem with that: Melo himself would have to be receptive to the idea of joining any two of those teams. A max contract is just too much and stretches over too many years, at this point. In this hypothetical, I’d gauge the availability of other teams’ assets, whether it be current players (i.e. Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Chandler Parsons), future picks, or stashed prospects.

RS: Bye Melo.

DL: I am NOT a big fan of resigning Carmelo to a max deal, that will pay him close to $30,000,000 as he approaches his 35th birthday. While the cap is projected to go up, his salary will escalate by an even higher percentage, and will likely consume the same proportion of the cap throughout the length of the deal. While it’s probably not impossible to build in this context, there’s no question that having one player consume so much of your available spend will create challenges.I don’t think it would be the end of the world, by any means, to retain a player of Carmelo’s caliber. But I can definitely see the appeal in bottoming out, landing a top pick, and restructuring from scratch.

CT: This is tough, but I’d probably re-sign Melo the max rather than take one of the sign-and-trade options that’s been thrown out there. Sure, the Harden for Melo possibility is intriguing but I don’t think that’s realistic because Morey has wanted three stars all along and Melo would be the final piece to the puzzle. In a perfect world, Melo re-signs for less than the max, but that’s probably not going to happen, so the next best thing is probably to just re-sign him at the max and try to make a splash next summer when Bargs and Amar’e come off the books.

TA: Literally every single other possible scenario is preferable to re-signing Anthony to a mega-max deal. Even something lousy like taking back Carlos Boozer’s expiring and a bunch of second round picks would be better than having Anthony make $29.2M at age 35. There will be better free agents available in 2015 and ’16. Anthony fits nicely in the triangle, but he’s just not worth a mega-max contract.