Practice? We Talkin' About Practice?
The Knicks now await what the league has in store for the teams that won't be going into the Orlando bubble.
Slow weekend for hoops news, with the one major item being about what the Knicks may be doing in their downtime:
Woj reports that seven of the eight teams not invited to Orlando (everyone except the Warriors) “are pushing to engage in joint practices as ramp-ups for regional summer leagues in August.”
Per Woj, some ideas that have been floated include a combination of voluntary and mandatory workouts in July, regional minicamps in August (possibly including three games on television), OTA’s for September, and an earlier training camp start date than the other 22 teams, perhaps in the neighborhood of 7 to 10 days.
While there’s still much left to determine about all of this, for the Knicks in particular, it brings up a very interesting issue. New York currently has more roster flexibility than just about any team in the NBA. Who the hell is coming to these things?
As Marc Berman pointed out in his follow-up story, only RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Frank Ntilikina, Dennis Smith Jr., Ignas Brazdeikis and Julius Randle have fully guaranteed contracts. New York holds restricted free agent rights on Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier, and has team options on Taj Gibson, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton, Reggie Bullock, Bobby Portis, and two-way player Kenny Wooten. They also have Moe Harkless and two-way guard Kadeem Allen under contract, but only until the new league year begins, tentatively set for October 18.
New York will have until a few days before that - perhaps October 16 (h/t to JB) - to decide whether they want to tender qualifying offers to the RFA’s, exercise any of those team options, and/or re-sign their UFA’s. That means they can theoretically bring all these players back - including Harkless and Allen - for the workouts, minicamp and OTA’s (assuming all of those events occur) and then cut them loose before the season.
But what if they’ve already decided that one or more of those players is not in their future plans? The Knicks currently don’t have an open roster spot, but they do have over half a million dollars in cap space. John Hollinger raised the question in an Athletic article last week about whether teams can waive players in order to open up space to sign someone new. If so, this would seem to be an opportunity for the Knicks to waive, say, Harkless, and then take a low-risk flier on someone currently in the G-League, perhaps even their own Lamar Peters.
The good news is that whatever way the league decides to go, with cap wiz Brock Aller now in tow, the Knicks should be in a good position to pounce on any potential opportunities.
More importantly, it’s likely that their new head coach will get a chance almost never afforded to new hires: he can audition existing players and then give the front office feedback on who should stay and who should go. If it is indeed Tom Thibodeau, these assorted camps and practices should give him an opportunity to not only install his once ballyhooed (and recently derided) defensive schemes, but see how well the players take to it. It’s not a terrible outcome, all things considered.
One figures that whether it’s Thibs, Kenny Atkinson, or Leon Rose’ white whale, Coach Cal, Mike Miller will be back. Ian Begley confirmed as much over the weekend when he reported that “[p]eople within the Knicks organization have a strong desire to keep Mike Miller on their coaching staff.”
As they should. As I wrote about over the weekend, the Knicks went from a team that won 16 percent of their first 24 games to 40 percent of their final 42. Easy schedule or no easy schedule, that’s no small accomplishment. Some other tidbits:
The Knicks went from a 54.7 assist percentage under Fizdale to 55.5 under Miller, but that doesn’t capture the whole story. From December 7 to the end of the season, it was 55.5, from January 10 to the end of the season is was 56.7, and from January 31 to the end of the season it was 57.6.
New York - which had at least 30 assists just twice in 104 chances under Fizdale - had five such games in 44 tries under Miller, including their last two outings of the season, marking the first time the Knicks had back to back games of 30 or more dimes since April of 2018. A team that by all rights should have been getting more selfish was instead getting less so.
Finally, via Cleaning the Glass, New York went from having the fifth worst location effective field goal percentage (which measures how well opponents should shoot given the quality of the looks your team’s defense gives up) to 12th best under Miller. The league’s very best defenses usually find themselves at or near the top of this stat.
It wasn’t all perfect - the Knicks went from 24th in frequency of 3-pointers under Fizdale to dead last under Miller, and remained fifth in the league at taking the dreaded long-two - but there’s enough there to warrant a return to the sideline, even if it won’t be in the primo seat.
Whoever it is, and whenever they get to start, that person will have something to build on. It got lost in the moments of frustration over Julius Randle spin moves and young players being glued to the bench for too long, but the Knicks were beginning to resemble a competent (if still quite bad) basketball team by the end of the season. If the winning percentage they achieved in Miller’s final 42 games was the clip they stayed at for the whole season, they’d be heading to Orlando. While it’s almost certainly best for the organization that this isn’t the case, it speaks to all not being lost.
As they await to find out when and in what capacity they’ll return to the court, Knicks’ brass finds itself in an envious position. Rarely have their front offices taken advantage of such situations in the past. Hopefully this time is different.
Fake Trade of the Week!
It’s going to be a while before we get any semblance of Knicks basketball, so I’m coming up with this to pass the time. “Fake Trade of the Week” may turn into “Fake Trade of the Day,” but I figure it’s best to start modestly ans se how this goes.
On Friday, I named Joel Embiid as the player I’d be watching most closely when the games come back on. I’ll have an Embiid piece dropping for SI.com this week, but for shits & giggles, let’s give a shot at something that gets the big guy to New York. I didn’t check the math exactly, so if this doesn’t work, feel free to @ me or email your own ideas/thoughts to KFSMailbag@gmail.com.
Joel Embiid (yay!), Nicolas Batum, Terry Rozier
John Collins, Clint Capela, Reggie Bullock, Malik Monk, Mavs 2021 1st Round Pick (via Knicks), Knicks 2021 1st Round Pick (unprotected)
Al Horford, Julius Randle, Dennis Smith Jr.
Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox, Knicks 2020 1st Round Pick
This would need to take place after the Knicks make their 2020 pick to get around the Stepian Rule.
There’s a chance everyone besides the Knicks says no to this. I have no idea if the Hornets have any interest in paying Al Horford $81 million over the next three seasons. The Hawks would have to be incredibly high on Mitchell Robinson (and to a lesser extent Kevin Knox) for this deal to be worth doing from their perspective, not to mention the trade market on John Collins would have to be tepid. And the Sixers, well…you never want to be the team giving up the best guy in the deal.
That said, Collins is legit, and he and Capela fit Ben Simmons’ style of play far more than Embiid.
As for the Knicks, they get to keep RJ Barrett, and for as unpalatable as Terry Rozier may be, he’d look a lot better playing third fiddle alongside Embiid and Barrett. This also leaves the Knicks with a boatload of cap space opening up in 2021.
Tweet of the Weekend
That’s it for today! See everyone later this week, and please stay safe. #BlackLivesMatter