LeBron James understands what it takes to reach the NBA Finals.
Kobe Bryant is still a Los Angeles Laker. NBA fans are anxiously waiting to see what he has left, wondering if this is his last year.
Robin Lopez found it intriguing Bucks center Greg Monroe is slated as his very first matchup as a Knick.
Monroe was among Phil Jackson's very top choices to fill the center position as a free agent in July. After getting spurned by Monroe, the Knicks president turned to the 7-foot Lopez, claiming afterward to be just as happy because of the defensive presence the former Blazer brings. The Zen Master spent a pretty penny — four years, $54 million.
"It's a heck of a coincidence,'' Lopez said. "I'm excited. Anytime I get to play against a great big man, I love that, especially as a defender. I love defending good big guys, and he's one of the best on the block. Anytime I play against a really good big guy, I get excited.”
Jackson, Derek Fisher and general manager Steve Mills met with Monroe in Washington at the stroke of midnight July 1. Wednesday night in Milwaukee, the clock begins on the Lopez Era, when the Knicks play their season opener against the Bucks. Let the comparisons rage.
"Free agents are free to decide who they want to play with,'' Fisher said after Monday's practice. "I don't recall any promises when we left the room that he's definitely signing with us. We were the first of his meetings. We had our opportunity. He chose Milwaukee. He seems like a really good fit. He's a really, really good player…. We like the guy we got at the center position. We'll see how it works.''
There's been some revisionist history since the Monroe decision. The Knicks' company spin had Lopez as a higher priority because of Monroe's defensive shortcomings. In fact, there were whispers the Knicks didn't initially offer a maximum contract to the low-post demon out of Georgetown. However, Monroe's agent David Falk told The Post emphatically the Knicks offered him a max deal for short-term and long- term.
For his part, the 25-year-old Monroe has fit in exceedingly well in the preseason, averaging 12.7 points and 8.2 rebounds in 23.6 minutes per game.
Yahoo Sports quoted Monroe last week saying the Bucks were his top choice, and the Blazers were the runners-up — not the Knicks. Shortly after Monroe signed, Falk said the Bucks were the choice because they were coming off a playoff berth and Monroe expected them to be even better with their young core. The Knicks were coming off 17 wins.
"Like I've always said, this was a basketball decision,” Monroe told The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel over the weekend. "What they did last year, I saw it. I didn't really need much more.”
In last week's NBA GM prediction poll, Monroe was rated the third best offseason acquisition and was tied for fourth for most underrated signing. He averaged 16 points and 10.2 rebounds last season for Detroit.
Lopez, 27, isn't nearly the low-post offensive force, but the Knicks want him to anchor the defense, protect the rim and rebound. Last season, Lopez collected 394 rebounds — 56 more than any Knick. And Lopez played just 59 games due to a broken hand.
"I'm excited to be here,'' Lopez said. "I feel I fit in next to Melo and KP [Kristaps Porzingis] and KO [Kyle O'Quinn] and Derrick [Williams], a lot of different guys. I'm glad to be here. I hope they're glad to have me.''
Having played his entire seven-year career out West with Portland and Phoenix, Knicks fans haven't seen him all that much at the Garden. Lopez likes to talk about defense as much as comic books — his passionate hobby.
"One point I'd like to make: I get myself going on the defensive end,'' Lopez said. "That's at the beginning of the game. If things are out of rhythm for me on offense, I like to refocus by getting it on the defensive end.''
Lopez is not yet ready to call the team's defensive deficiencies from last season solved and said with "a lot of new guys and turnover,'' the Knicks will have to improve as the season goes on.
"It was up and down,'' Lopez said of the team's defense in the preseason. "I think we're still getting accustomed to the coverages and each other. Defense is a team concept. People have to be on the same page.''
Monroe has praised the Bucks' recruitment presentation, highlighted by comedian Marlon Wayans' video joking about Jason Kidd, Milwaukee's new ownership and new proposed arena.
Jackson is waiting to see if the joke's on him.
Carmelo Anthony, in a video released Monday on Vice Sports’ website, is shown in the driver's seat of a car weaving out of traffic and speaking bluntly about his native New York City.
"New York is the greatest city on the planet,'' he says. "But you're not a New Yorker if you don't wake up in the morning and sometimes say f–k this place. I don't care who you are — the mayor, governor all the way down to the mailman. Everybody wakes up some days: ‘Hey, f–k New York.' ''
Indeed, Anthony is nothing if not moody, but currently is not saying anything derogatory about the Knicks as they embark on what could be another dismal season Wednesday in Milwaukee. Anthony is not seeing it that way, not yet, even as they go in against a rough first 10 games and likely without starting shooting guard Arron Afflalo (hamstring) for half of them.
In fact, Anthony said he sees as deep a squad since he's been here, giving him confidence he can take a night off occasionally to keep fresh.
"That's the importance of having a deep roster,'' Anthony said. "Guys being able to step up. Arron, we don't know how long he'll be out. We have a deeper roster where before my problem in the past was in being able to take a game here, a game there, feeling I had to do it all myself. I got to be smart about it. If I have to take a game off, I'll take a game off.''
In their opening 10 games, the Knicks play eight opponents that made last season's playoffs, including the Bucks twice, the Cavaliers twice, Atlanta and San Antonio. And it starts with a dreaded back-to-back that Anthony loathes.
"I was excited about our schedule,'' Anthony said. "Just knowing the excitement surrounding our team and the players we are opposing, against playoffs teams, we get tested right away. I love that.''
Anthony was asked for the billionth time this preseason if he's OK with Phil Jackson's plan that didn't exactly field Miami's former Dream Team with his $30 million cap space.
"I'm still chasing a championship, I'm just chasing it here in New York,'' Anthony said. "I've come to peace with that. I'm doing it in my own way on my own time.”
There won't be either Antetokounmpo for the season opener. Thanasis was cut by the Knicks and brother Giannis, the Bucks star, is suspended one game for a preseason flagrant foul. The Post reported Thanasis could wind up on the Knicks' Westchester D-League team but as an NBA free agent. The Knicks no longer own his rights.
Asked if he still could have an NBA future, Derek Fisher said, "We'll see. We obviously liked him and drafted him. We spent some time trying to help him improve, he has improved. We had conversations with him before making the decision and we did share some things with him about where he is.''
Fisher hinted he could go "bigger'' at shooting guard in place of Afflalo, which could mean Derrick Williams, who has often talked about playing three positions in preseason.
The Knicks still have a roster spot but aren't expected to use it on PF Maurice Ndour, waived by the Mavericks because of a serious stress-reaction injury that has him out indefinitely. Ndour was a Knick summer-league star and but they were outbid by the Mavs. …C Kevin Seraphin sat out with his recurring sore right knee and could miss the opener — already a suspect signing.
In an unusual scene, Fisher unveiled a championship belt to the players during practice that will be awarded monthly to the top free throw shooter.
Pigs aren’t flying and hell is probably still scorching, but Charles Barkley believes the Knicks are going to be better than expected.