Posted on: March 25, 2011 11:48 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2011 1:40 am
NEW YORK – In the uncomfortable quiet of a losing locker room, Chauncey Billups perked up and spoke up when asked about the issue that ultimately will determine the success or failure of Carmelo Anthony’s shotgun wedding with the Knicks.
Billups had just played another poor game and once again could not orchestrate the Knicks’ offense down the stretch in the team’s fifth straight loss and eighth in nine games, a 102-96 loss to the Bucks on Friday night. Billups and Anthony had checked in with 7:15 left and Milwaukee leading 91-88. With Billups, Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire on the floor together, the Knicks proceeded to miss their next nine shots from the field and made only 3 of 15 the rest of the way.
“Tough times,” Anthony said.
“Everything is so hard,” added coach Mike D’Antoni.
Billups and Anthony have been a painful fit with D’Antoni’s triple-threat, pick-and-roll offense, which should be unstoppable with a point guard of Billups’ skill and leadership and two scorers like Anthony and Stoudemire. But like the opening weeks of the season, when offensive juggernauts LeBron James and Dwyane Wade couldn’t get out of each other’s way, the Knicks cannot do the one thing they’re currently built to do – score – when it matters most. Most puzzling of all, it’s more difficult for them to score when their three most accomplished offensive players are on the floor together.
So I asked Billups in a quiet moment in the locker room if the offense is going to have to change to fit Anthony, or if he will adapt to a system he’d thrive in if only he’d embrace it.
“Yeah, I think that’s in his makeup,” Billups said. “I think he’s probably done it before. The problem is, he’s always been so good that the system has always been just whatever he kind of wants, you know what I mean? He’s always been so good that he’s always been able to just do that and they make the system up around his strengths. I think now this is the first time he’s coming into this system and the system is a little different than the way that he plays. But he’s so good that he can be effective in any system, I think.”
When Billups said Anthony has done it before, he meant when he played with multiple stars with USA Basketball. The offense didn’t always run through Melo with Team USA, and he didn’t always score the most points. It’s what Anthony needs to embrace now, more than he’s ever needed to embrace anything in his eight-year career.
“He’s done it before,” Billups said. “He’ll do it again.”
Anthony got his 25 points Friday night, and Stoudemire got his 28. But they combined for only four baskets and 12 points in the fourth quarter – and only one basket each during the horror show that was the final 7:15.
“It’s so not fluid,” D’Antoni said. “It’s almost like mud in your engine. We’re just chugging, and it’s tough to play that way, in my opinion. We’re not spacing the floor real well, and the ball’s not moving. And it gets more pronounced in the fourth quarter.”
With the Knicks 7-11 since the Anthony trade, D’Antoni unsurprisingly is facing the brunt of the criticism. It has not been a honeymoon for him in New York. After two years spent tearing down and cleaning house, D’Antoni finally has been given multiple All-Stars to coach for the first time since he left Phoenix. The problem is, this has been given to him with a quarter of the season left – on a team with no center, and on a team whose depth was badly depleted by the trade.
He has also been given one of the most gifted scorers in the NBA, a player whose existing game happens to clash with the system that he runs. There are those who will follow the simplistic script and say D’Antoni is no good for the talent he has, and that the Knicks should start over again with another coach who will let Anthony do whatever he wants.
Doing this without giving D’Antoni a realistic timeframe to break some of Anthony’s bad habits would be too silly to spend much time addressing. But more to the point: Has everyone forgotten that the Knicks gave $100 million to Stoudemire, who has played his entire career in the very system that people want to scrap after 18 games?
The solution, which obviously isn’t going to come easily, is for Anthony to do what Billups suggested he’s never had to do before: adjust his game to the talent and system around him. He and Billups obviously have spent some time thinking about this, if not talking openly about it, because they said all the right things Friday night.
“It’s an open offense – a lot of movement, a lot of pick and rolls, a lot of just spacing the court out,” Anthony said. “So that’s something that I have to adjust to. I will adjust to it. I’m not worried about that. And that’s something that I knew coming into this system, that I will have to adjust my game to fit into what’s going on.”
But this wide-open system that Anthony and Billups keep describing bears no resemblance to what they do when they’re together with Stoudemire on the floor. Stoudemire’s pick-and-roll opportunities, the bread-and-butter of the offense, are nonexistent. The ball movement and spacing fall apart when Anthony touches the ball, sizes up his defender(s), and makes his move.
“I don’t really think we can say the offense has to go through me or the offense has to go through Amar’e,” Anthony said. “In this offense, everybody touches the ball. Everybody gets open. … Everybody is a part of the offense. So for me to sit here and say the offense has to go through me or Amar’e … Chauncey has the ball. He coordinates all that, and we feed off him.”
Billups described D’Antoni’s system as “different than any other system out there. … I’ve always pretty much been kind of a fast learner, but it is more different than any other system I’ve played in.”
Not to belabor the Miami comparison – because we’re clearly talking about different caliber players – but LeBron and Wade have gone back and forth in trying to decide whose turn it is to score and to lead. Through 18 games, Anthony has been the focal point of the Knicks’ offense. That’s right, the player whose game fits the system the least has been the one getting the most opportunities.
It is time for the Knicks to remember why they brought Stoudemire here, and what he does best: score easy baskets on pick-and rolls, and if not, create wide-open shots for someone else. Facing a far bigger challenge than he imagined when he got here, it is time for Anthony to embrace that, too. He’ll get his opportunities to do what he does best, and in some ways they’ll be better and higher-percentage opportunities than he’s ever had before.
“Me personally, I’m gonna try to figure it out, and we’re gonna try to figure it out as a team,” Anthony said. “And when that happens, those times are gonna be fun. Basketball will be fun again.”
He has no idea how much.
Posted on: November 22, 2010 9:52 pm
Edited on: November 22, 2010 10:14 pm
Erick Dampier has a one-year offer from the Miami Heat and is expected to sign it Tuesday, CBSSports.com has learned.
The 35-year-old center arrived in Miami Monday night and, pending his passing of a medical exam, will join the team to replace Udonis Haslem, who is out until at least February with a torn ligament in his foot. The deal is for one year at the prorated veteran's minimum, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The Heat will have to release a player to create a roster spot for Dampier, likely Dexter Pittman or Jamaal Magloire.
The Heat previously worked out Dampier in September, but decided not to proceed with an offer. The Suns, Raptors, Rockets and Bucks pursued Dampier, who had a verbal agreement to join the Rockets. But Houston surprisingly backed away after failing to clear a roster spot for Dampier. In the end, Dampier got his preferred situation: a title contender forced to accelerate its pursuit of him based on a need that arose during the season. His patience, it turns out, paid off.
Another team inquired about Dampier Monday: the Hornets, who caused Dampier to give them serious consideration based on their 11-1 start. But the Heat remained the ideal fit from Dampier's perspective, and he becomes the latest free agent to join Miami's title pursuit -- albeit under unfortunate circumstances.
The need to act quickly in the wake of news Monday that Haslem will need foot surgery that will shelve him for several months was only underscored Monday night, when the Heat were getting blown out at home by Indiana. Even with the high-profile free-agent additions of the summer, Miami still lacks a true center and has been getting exploited around the basket by bigger, tougher teams.
How ready Dampier is will determine how quickly the Heat will be able to reverse that trend. By his own admission, Dampier has always been a player who plays himself into shape as the season progresses. After initially meeting with the Heat in September, Dampier considered working out at the Pro Training Center in Clearwater, Fla., to get himself ready to sign. In the end, he decided not to take that route.
Further complicating the decision on who to sign as Haslem's replacement is the fact that Miami's offensive efficiency clearly has been hurt by their slow pace and coach Erik Spoelstra's insistence on playing a traditional point guard with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Adding Dampier, a plodding, post-up center with limited mobility, may signal that Spoelstra -- and, by extension, president Pat Riley -- are digging in on their strategic preferences instead of freeing up the offense with smaller lineups. Either way, Dampier was the best and only option available to a team that badly needs an interior presence to get past Boston or Orlando in the East.
Posted on: June 22, 2010 5:53 pm
The first of what figures to be many draft-related trades went down Tuesday when the Warriors agreed to trade swingman Corey Maggette to the Bucks for Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric, sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.
By acquiring Maggette, Bucks GM John Hammond took on $30.8 million over the next three years but also cleared the way for John Salmons -- a key to Milwaukee's playoff appearance -- to leave as a free agent. Salmons intends to opt out of his contract, and the Bucks need someone to replace his scoring. According to sources, Hammond still hopes to have Salmons back, but needed to make a pre-emptive move to avoid leaving what would've been a gaping hole in the Bucks' offensive production.
The Bucks save about $1.5 million next season, but Golden State clears about $6.2 million in 2011-12 cap space by making the deal.
Posted on: April 4, 2010 1:34 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2010 2:19 pm
BOSTON -- The video of Andrew Bogut's horrific arm injury was bad enough. The specter of a late-season injury to their own teams was enough to make stomachs turn Sunday at TD Bank Garden.
Ray Allen, a former Buck who had been preparing for possibly facing his former team in the playoffs, said, "This is a tough time of the year because they are making playoff plans, selling playoff tickets and they’re right there in the hunt. I think every coach dreads that."
Rivers was adamant -- and I agree -- that Bogut was not the victim of a dirty play. Running out for a court-length pass and breakaway dunk Saturday night against the Suns, Bogut dunked ahead of Amar'e Stoudemire and tried to hang on the rim in an effort to protect himself and Stoudemire.
"If he could've hung onto the rim long enough to get his feet back, he wouldn't have been injured," LeBron James said. "Just a freak accident."
There was no significant contact from Stoudemire, who may have had a hand on Bogut as he went up -- if that. The issue was that as he tried to protect himself by grabbing the rim, Bogut lost his grip and tried to brace the fall with his right arm, which bent catastrophically beneath his entire body weight.
And with it, the Bucks' aspirations of going deep in the playoffs crumpled, too.
Posted on: December 27, 2009 10:02 pm
NEW YORK – Gregg Popovich was a lot more cheery after the game Sunday than he was before, when he openly lamented having arrived at the team hotel in Manhattan at nearly 4 a.m. – 14 hours before the Spurs were scheduled to play the Knicks.
“I think any team that can get in the night before a back-to-back and go to bed at 4 or 4:30 in the morning and play at 6 the next day, I think that’s a good thing,” Popovich said, tongue planted firmly in cheek. “I think it puts a good product out on the floor. … It must be something that I don’t understand, because trips like this don’t make sense.”
After the Spurs’ overnight misadventures between Milwaukee and New York – ice, delays, the whole deal – Popovich actually was in a position to feel optimistic about his team for once. After beating the Bucks 112-97 Saturday night, the Spurs finished off the Knicks with an 11-4 run in a 95-88 victory. Popovich called this San Antonio’s most complete effort of the season in consecutive games.
The closing run against the Knicks was fueled by the Big Three: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. But this season has been about, and will continue to be about, the supporting cast that has changed around them. That’s why Popovich isn’t ready to declare the crisis over.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” he said.
The Spurs, architects of four championships on a shoestring budget, finally took the plunge over the luxury tax last offseason. Realizing that their window was closing while the big-spending Lakers were digging in for another dynasty, San Antonio traded for Richard Jefferson and made this season about paying the price to win.
“The landscape has changed,” Popovich said. “We did it as long as we could, and we were great at it – trying to stay under the cap and still compete for championships. A lot of people deserve a lot of credit on the financial and management side. It got to the point where teams got so good and had so many good players. To stay in the hunt, there was a simple question: Do you want to compete for a championship? If you want to, you’ve got to spend the money. And so we did it this year.”
The result has been an inconsistent team trying to find its way, which is news to the Spurs, who have been a model of stability for much of the past decade. With three new starters and with longtime defensive stopper Bruce Bowen retired, the Spurs aren’t necessarily a better team than they were in the pre-luxury tax era. Just different.
How different? Duncan offered this painfully honest assessment.
“We’ve got to figure out the scheme that works for this team,” he said. “It might not be what’s worked for this team in the past.”
A third of the way into the season, the Spurs are 11th in points allowed per game (96.9), 13th in opponent field-goal percentage (.453), and 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions (102.8). Those are ghastly numbers for a San Antonio team that has built a winning culture around defense.
The offense will come. Duncan, who had only 13 points and seven rebounds Sunday night, is on regular-season cruise control with his minutes being monitored as closely as ever. Ginobili, who had six of the Spurs’ final 11 points, played more freely in the past two games than Popovich had seen him all season. Parker, trying to figure out how to integrate Jefferson into the offense while keeping the focus on Duncan, will do whatever it takes to make it work.
The Spurs have won eight of 10, so it’s hard to nitpick. But they’ve been so good for so long, the standards for those watching them are as high as their own. The most encouraging statistic during this 10-game stretch is that San Antonio has allowed 100 points only twice. The most sobering stat: They lost to the only two teams with winning records that they played (Phoenix and Portland.)
“Look at all the other top teams in the league,” Jefferson said. “You look at Boston, they’re trying to integrate Rasheed Wallace. Look at Denver, they pretty much have their core, everybody back. The Lakers are trying to bring in Ron Artest, but they have everyone there. This is one of the few teams, us and Cleveland, that are good teams, but have a lot of new faces that they’re trying to get into the group.”
Popovich was asked before and after the game how long it should take for the Spurs to become the Spurs again – or become whatever it is they’re going to be. Of course, he said, “I have no idea. I don’t even try to figure that out. When it happens, it happens.”
And if it doesn’t, it could be a long time before the Spurs play the luxury tax game again.
Posted on: September 4, 2009 1:18 pm
The Minnesota Timberwolves didn't waste much time finding a replacement for Ricky Rubio.
Just days after Rubio backed out of a deal to play with Minnesota next season and opted instead to sign a six-year contract with FC Barcelona, the Timberwolves on Friday extended a four-year, $16 million offer sheet to restricted free agent Ramon Sessions. The former Bucks point guard signed the offer sheet Friday afternoon, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
The Bucks, who have point guards Brandon Jennings, Luke Ridnour, and Roko Ukic on the roster, are unlikely to match, the person said. Interesting aspect of the offer sheet: It includes a player option for the fourth year -- not a team option. A team option would've strengthened a growing belief around the league that the Timberwolves are working under the assumption that Rubio will stay in Spain for three years instead of two.
I'll explain: If Rubio agreed to a buyout after two years, his contract with Minnesota at that point would be subject to the rookie scale guidelines. If he waited until after the third year, he would no longer be restricted by rookie scale parameters and thus would be able to sign a far more lucrative deal. That situation evidently is not directly tied to the fourth year of Sessions' deal.
Sessions can play off the ball and should be a good fit in the backcourt with rookie Jonny Flynn, whom team president David Kahn had penciled in as the starting point guard earlier this week when the Rubio situation was resolved. But adding Sessions also gives first-year coach Kurt Rambis the option of starting Sessions at point guard and taking the pressure off Flynn to contribute immediately as a starter.
Posted on: July 24, 2009 5:28 pm
After failing in their pursuit of free agents Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap, the Portland Trail Blazers are closing in on point guard Andre Miller.
Miller, 33, is on the verge of agreeing to a two-year deal worth slightly more than the $5.9 million mid-level exception annually with a team option for a third year, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said.
The Sixers, whose youth movement Miller helped stabilize, decided early in the free-agent negotiating period that they were content to move forward with Lou Williams starting at point guard and first-round pick Jrue Holiday backing him up. Despite their emphasis on upgrading the point-guard position, the Blazers initially prioritized their pursuit of Turkoglu and Millsap -- in part because, like the Sixers, they were concerned about overpaying an aging point guard with a suspect shot. When Turkoglu reneged on a verbal agreement to sign with Portland and the Jazz matched the Blazers' offer sheet for Millsap, a restricted free agent, Portland officials circled back to Miller, who had also attracted interest from the Knicks on a short-term, cap-friendly deal.
Devoting a little more than $6 million in 2009-10 cap space to Miller leaves the Blazers with about $1-$3 million to spend this summer. The short-term deal also does not jeopardize Portland's plans to re-sign Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge to extensions as early as next summer.
With Miller off the board, the Knicks likely will turn their attention to Bucks restricted free agent Ramon Sessions. While it is accurate that the Bucks may not match a lucrative offer sheet for Sessions as they try to rein in payroll, the Knicks are not likely to make a prohibitive offer because they are determined to preserve precious 2010-11 cap space for their pursuit of LeBron James or another high-end free agent. The Bucks, however, appear ready to move on with first-round pick Brandon Jennings as their starting point guard.
Posted on: June 29, 2009 6:18 pm
Edited on: June 29, 2009 11:32 pm
With the stunning news that the Milwaukee Bucks decided Monday not to make a qualifying offer to Charlie Villanueva came confirmation of what we already knew: This is going to be a strange free-agent signing period in the NBA, one in which conventional wisdom need not apply.
By dumping Richard Jefferson on the Spurs, the Bucks seemed to be clearing cap space to keep restricted free agents Ramon Sessions and Villanueva. But Sessions got a qualifying offer and Villanueva didn't, making him an unrestricted free agent at midnight Wednesday.
In a league that is increasingly becoming about the haves and have-nots, one team's problem is another team's savior. Fresh off their pre-draft acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal, the Cavs are looking for a versatile big man to complement the Big Cuyahoga while at the same time not clogging the floor for LeBron James. Enter Villanueva, who would appear to be an ideal piece for GM Danny Ferry's plan of making a serious championship run this season.
When the Cavs acquired Shaq, Villanueva wrote the following on his Twitter account: "Very interesting, Shaq to Cleveland, nice, all Cleveland [needs] is a PF now."
Also in that mix is Pistons unrestricted Rasheed Wallace, who could be an attractive option for Cleveland and Orlando, among others.
The problem is, the best the Cavs could offer Villanueva is the mid-level exception of about $5.5 million. Short of that, a sign-and-trade would work, but the Cavs divested themselves of their two most tradable assets -- Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic -- in the Shaq trade. The Villanueva decision also has a direct impact on the Pistons, who are among the teams with the most money to spend on free agents. Joe Dumars is believed to be targeting Carlos Boozer and/or Hedo Turkoglu. But the availability of Villanueva makes his decision a lot more interesting.
UPDATE: The Bucks' thinking behind not extending a qualifying offer to Villanueva was discussed internally at least two dozen times, a person with knowledge of the situation said. The person, who is familiar with the team's strategy, said matching Villanueva's offers as a restricted free agent -- or possibly keeping him on the one-year tender for about $4.7 million -- would've rolled back the flexibility general manager John Hammond had just achieved by trading Jefferson, who was due $29.2 million over the next two seasons.
Whereas most observers -- including rival team executives -- believed the Jefferson trade opened the door for Milwaukee to re-sign both Villanueva and Sessions, there's a chance the team won't keep either one. The organization is determined to get out of the rut caused by overpaying the likes of Bobby Simmons, Charlie Bell, and Dan Gadzuric in similar situations in the past. If the offers received by Sessions on the restricted market are fair, Milwaukee will match. If not, the team is planning to hold the line on not overpaying.
Another factor with Villanueva is that, given the economy and dearth of teams with cap space to sign free agents, the organization believes it is feasible that Villanueva won't be blown away by free-agent offers and thus would have been inclined to accept the one-year offer for $4.7 million. The Bucks didn't want to be in a position of having to rescind the non-binding qualifying offer, which would've hampered Villanueva's efforts to land a free-agent deal. Having chosen to get their financial house in order and preserve the possibility of being as much as $7 million under the cap in 2010, the Bucks' hierarchy felt it was better to be up front with Villanueva and allow him unfettered access to the free-agent market. Although a sign-and-trade technically remains an option, the Bucks aren't interested in jeopardizing their roster and cap flexibility by taking on the kind of contracts that would come back in such a deal.
Clearing up one piece of draft business: While one of the many executives who spoke with the Nets on draft night came away convinced that the team had selected Terrence Williams for someone else with the No. 11 pick, a person with knowledge of the situation said Monday that T-Will is most likely to stay in New Jersey. On the heels of trading Vince Carter in the hours before the draft, the Nets had conversations with numerous teams involving, among other things, the No. 11 pick. Nothing came to fruition, and while the Nets are still listening, it appears that Williams is staying put for now.