FIBA World Cup Schedule 2014: Complete Preview for Preliminary Round of Tourney

The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gives fans of international basketball the opportunity to watch their favorite nations in action outside of Olympic play.

Hosted by Spain, the 2014 FIBA tournament is going to be filled with excitement. The Spanish team is loaded with talent, evidenced by its silver medal in the 2012 Olympics. Its main competition is the United States, a team that won gold in the Olympics and also won 2010′s installment of this tournament against host nation Turkey.

The two teams have plenty of history, and they’ll enter the tournament as likely favorites to take home the top spot. Before group play gets underway, we’ll have to get through the preliminary rounds. The entire preliminary schedule can be found below.

 

Preliminary Round Schedule

Preliminary schedule is courtesy of NBA.com.

 

United States

Kevin Durant has pulled out of the FIBA tournament, and Paul George will miss out on the tournament because of a terrible injury he suffered in a scrimmage. Regardless, this team is poised to dominate in Spain.

Of course, it won’t be easy. Team USA’s schedule is a grueling one, and that even includes its pre-tournament tuneups. Nick Gallo of NBA.com broke down the team’s itinerary:

The United States’ training in Las Vegas ends on August 1st with the USA Basketball Showcase at 8:00 p.m. CDT. The team will then travel to Chicago, Ill. For two more days of training and an exhibition game against Brazil on August 16th at 8:00 p.m. CT. From August 18th-22nd, the United States squad will be training in New York City, squaring off against the Dominican Republic on August 20th and Puerto Rico on August 22nd in two more exhibition games before departing for Spain. Training camp concludes for the Untied States in Gran Canaria, Spain with two days of practice and a final exhibition tune-up against Slovenia on August 26th.

That’s a lot of basketball, but the tuneups will be necessary for success in this tournament. Basketball is a game of consistency, and it’s hard to find consistency if you aren’t playing consistently. Makes sense.

Team USA’s exhibition against Brazil is Saturday evening, and head coach Mike Krzyzewski has already named four of his five starters for the game, tweets NBC’s Kurt Helin:

The other spot won’t be occupied by DeMarcus Cousins, as SportsCenter tweeted that he won’t play in the contest:

Even without Durant, George and now Cousins (for at least one game), the United States have the weapons to make noise. Just look at the four listed in the starting lineup. Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry, James Harden and Anthony Davis are a scary quartet on the floor.

This lineup might be fluid during exhibition games as Coach K works out the kinks with his roster, but there are multiple candidates to start games on this stacked roster.

 

Spain

The Spanish team is loaded with talent.

Serge Ibaka, Pau Gasol and Marc Gasol are the three headliners. This frontcourt is absolutely dominant in every facet of the game, so it will be interesting to see how teams combat these big bodies.

Veterans like Jose Calderon, Rudy Fernandez and Juan-Carlos Navarro are also set to play well. They’ve proved themselves in international competition in the past, making them candidates to help keep the offense flowing efficiently.

Ricky Rubio is the X-factor for the Spanish. Everyone is aware of his incredible passing ability. It’s that ability that’s going to help Spain confuse opposing defenses and get easy baskets, so in that regard, Rubio is a plus.

But then there’s Rubio‘s ineffective jump shot.

Rubio isn’t a good shooter. The whole world knows it. Sometimes he himself doesn’t, however. Rubio tends to lean on that jumper a bit too much, and if he does that in this tournament, Spain will lose a good amount of their dominance.

Playing in front of their home fans gives Spain an edge, but there is certainly something playing against them. If Rubio realizes that he needs to dish before shooting, Spain can challenge the United States.

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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What Offseason Moves are Next for Denver Nuggets With the Draft Complete?

Last summer was a trying one for the Denver Nuggets.

The franchise watched wunderkind general manager and 2013 NBA Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri depart the Friday after Memorial Day to take the same position with the Toronto Raptors, then fired Coach of the Year George Karl a week later.

A month after those twin debacles, Andre Iguodala left Denver, agreeing to a four-year, $48 million deal with the Golden State Warriors—the team that ended the Nuggets’ tremendous campaign with a first-round playoff upset.

On the heels of one of the greatest regular seasons in franchise history, it was a disaster of the least mitigated sort. Denver tumbled from 57 wins to 36. So by sheer virtue of the fact that nothing colossally damaging has happened to the Nuggets this spring and summer, this offseason represents an improvement.

Good thing. The Nuggets are an organization with lofty goals. In Denver, as GM Tim Connelly explained to Nuggets.com, “good” isn’t good enough.

We’re aware of where we need to get better, and we’ll address those needs, whether it’s on draft night, whether it’s through free agency, whether it’s through trades. We’re not content. Our goal’s not to be a bubble playoff team. Our goal is to be a team that’s playing for the Western Conference finals and then you have a puncher’s chance at winning a championship. We’re going to be very aggressive on our end. It takes two to make a deal, so who knows if we’ll find willing suitors, but we’re going to be really aggressive trying to improve this team and use every tool at our disposal.

Connelly has already been plenty aggressive. On draft day alone, he swung a deal to get shooting guard Arron Afflalo back to Denver and traded with the Chicago Bulls to bring rookies Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris into the fold. Both moves were wins.

But while Denver has plenty of holes to fill and weaknesses to fortify, the team might be done tinkering with the roster. Coach Brian Shaw surmised as much during a post-draft interview with Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post.

“If everybody is healthy and available, then I think we’re good,” Shaw told the reporter. “That’s how I felt last year going into the season.”

But even if the roster is largely set, that doesn’t mean the Nuggets’ work is done. The training staff will be hard at work rehabilitating the many Denver players who were bit by the injury bug last season. Ty Lawson missed 20 games. Nate Robinson was unavailable for 38. JaVale McGee played in five. Danilo Gallinari missed the whole year with a torn ACL. Simply getting these players back healthy should make the Nuggets considerably more competitive. Call it upgrade by inertia. 

But the most meaningful maneuver of the offseason won’t come in the training room but at the negotiating table. The biggest agenda item for Denver is coming to terms with Kenneth Faried on a long-term extension.

The first thing that jumps off the page about Faried is that, statistically, he doesn’t have any real weaknesses. There’s nothing that he doesn’t do well. In 2013-14, relative to other power forwards, Faried was an above-average scorer in terms of volume and efficiency, posted steal and block rates that exceeded the positional average along with a foul rate that came in below it, all while grabbing nearly 33 percent more rebounds than his fellow 4s, according to Boxscore Geeks

This well-roundedness is reflected in the advanced metrics, which are simply googly-eyed with affection for Faried. According to Basketball-Reference, he’s never posted a player-efficiency rating below 18.5 or a win shares per 48 minutes lower than .144 in his three NBA seasons (average is 15 and .1, respectively) while, per Boxscore Geeks, he’s produced 10.7 and 9.4 wins the last two years, both of which led the Nuggets.

And then there’s the remarkable energy the forward plays with, which is something else entirely. Bleacher Report’s Andy Bailey explained it thusly:

There may not be another player in the league who plays harder on a nightly basis. That’s overly simple analysis, but have you seen this guy play? Every loose ball and rebound is attainable in his mind, and he goes after them with unbridled energy. It’s no wonder he’s known as “The Manimal.”

Bailey suggested the Utah Jazz’s contract with Derrick Favors would be a helpful template for Faried and Denver. Something like the four-year, $49 million deal Favors signed last October would likely work for both sides.

If Denver can get Faried locked-up long term and the rest of the roster healthy and ready to roll by November, it might not be long before the Nuggets return to their winning ways. The summer of 2013 was a disaster for the organization, but so far in 2014 the franchise has made strides to repair the damage. 

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Complete list of potential free agents

LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade have company in being potential free agents.

      
 

 

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Charlotte Hornets with the Draft Complete?

The completion of the Charlotte Hornets (formerly the Bobcats) draft opens up the door for the most exciting part of the NBA offseason: free agency.

Big name free agents such as LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony will get plenty of airplay and rightfully so, but the smaller moves often help complete the equation. For instance, Shane Battier helped swing the 2013 title in the Miami Heat’s favor with his shooting, while Boris Diaw had a similar effect with his passing for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2014 championship season.

In the case of Charlotte, the endgame isn’t a title, but competing for a second-round postseason berth would surely be a welcomed development for its fans. How do the Hornets get there?

Excellent question if I do say so myself.

In order to properly respond, we will look at the glaring needs on the roster, and from there see which players could potentially come in and help.

 

Shooting

The Hornets made 44.2 percent of their shots during the 2013-14 campaign, a figure that ranked 25th in the league.

Those numbers are only slightly better than those of a Milwaukee Bucks team that won 15 games last year. In other words, the Hornets weren’t quite good enough on this front, and that will have to change.

The main problem was that Charlotte was incredibly dependent of Al Jefferson. He is the only player on the roster capable of creating quality shots for himself and others.

Grantland’s Zach Lowe offered this take in late March: “Jefferson commands a double-team on the block against almost any defender, and that has made life easier for his teammates.”

His post-ups produce high-percentage scoring chances either for himself or his teammates whenever defenders converge on him. But that’s not enough.

The front office will have to address the lack of offensive options before the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The Hornets desperately need players capable of manufacturing and making shots.

LeBron and Carmelo would certainly give the Hornets ample help in this spot, however both have title aspirations, and Charlotte isn’t the kind of destination that will help them in their quests.

Instead, there are lesser talented players such as Paul Pierce and Vince Carter who could give the Hornets what they are looking for. Pierce scored 17.1 points per 36 minutes last year, on 45.1 percent shooting for the Brooklyn Nets.

He was an adequate option in isolations and post-ups, where he got to the areas he wanted and produced scores. The same is true for Carter, who averaged 17.6 points per 36 minutes, albeit on 40.7 percent shooting. He offset the low field-goal percentage by shooting a very solid 39.4 percent on three-point shots.

Also, Carter spent his college days playing for North Carolina. That’s not necessarily high on the priority list, but fans might enjoy seeing one of their own in a Hornets jersey.

Considering that Charlotte will have nearly $20 million in cap space, they could potentially sign both Carter and Pierce to orbit around Jefferson. This sounds at least a bit interesting in theory, but both players will be 37 years old when next season opens.

That means there might be too much mileage on their respective legs to carry a heavy burden. In addition, it’s probably fair to assume they might retire after the 2014-15 campaign.

Instead, the Hornets might want to focus their energy on luring Kyle Lowry from the Toronto Raptors and Lance Stephenson from the Indiana Pacers.

Lowry averaged 17.9 points and 7.4 assists on 42.3 percent shooting last year. One can forgive the low shooting number in this instance because he was effective in setting teammates up for easy scores.

Lowry is a good drive-and-kick player, and he always does a solid job in the pick-and-roll of sucking defenders toward him and then finding the man rolling to the basket.

Lowry gave Toronto some extra gravy by converting 44.1 percent of his spot-up treys during the 2013-14 campaign, per SportVU player tracking. The shooting and playmaking make Lowry a superior option to current Hornets starter Kemba Walker (39.3 percent shooting during 2013-14).

Lowry would be an ideal fit because he addresses the team’s offensive dilemma.

In the event Charlotte fails to get Lowry, Stephenson is a really interesting option because of his ball-handling ability. The Pacers used him as a backup point guard with the second unit and gave him the freedom to orchestrate the offense. He beat defenders off the dribble in one-on-one scenarios and also did a good job of setting up his teammates on pick-and-rolls. His handles allow him to get to most spots on the floor without much of a hitch.

To be fair, playing alongside All-Star Paul George meant that Stephenson didn’t always draw the best defender from the opposing team. But by the same token, George’s presence was part of the reason Stephenson averaged “only” 13.8 points and 4.6 assists in 35.3 minutes per game.

If Charlotte can get one of these players, I would then put the full court press on getting a shooter. P.J. Hairston was drafted to help in this area, but it’s entirely possible that it will take him some time to get acclimated to the professional ranks.

Thus, the Hornets should pull out all the stops to acquire Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies, who would open up the floor for Jefferson.

Some might prefer to see the Washington Wizards’ Trevor Ariza instead, given his defensive acumen and the fact he made 40.7 percent of his three-point shots last year. I can’t fault anyone for that line of thinking.

But I have concerns.

Lowry and Stephenson enjoyed their best professional seasons in contract years (career high PER of 20.1 and 14.7 respectively), which could be a red flag. It’s possible they might never be as good again.

Know who else has that problem?

Ariza!

During the 2009 playoffs, he drilled 47.6 percent of his treys and helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the title in a contract year. He then signed a five-year $33.9 million deal with the Houston Rockets after the 2009 NBA Finals.

In the final year of that contract (the 2013-14 campaign), Ariza had the best three-point shooting year of his career. Coincidence? It’s a possibility, but it could also be a trend that’s taking shape.

That’s why I’m more inclined to pick Miller and his 40.9 percent career mark from long range.

 

Help Inside!

Jefferson is certainly a load on the interior, but he is the only reliable big man on the roster.

The Associated Press reported that Brendan Haywood and the new draft pick Dwight Powell were traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Alonzo Gee, which removes a center from the lineup. Haywood missed the 2013-14 campaign due to a stress fracture.

In addition, Bismack Biyombo has proven he’s only a bench option at best judging from the fact he averaged 13.9 minutes per game during the 2013-14 season. Cody Zeller wasn’t much better. He played 17.3 minutes per game and shot 42.6 percent from the floor. Further exacerbating issues, Josh McRoberts is opting out of his contract, according to ESPN.com.

McRoberts was a key piece to the team because of the mix of skills he brought to Charlotte. He’s a good passer with range on his jumper, talents which prompted Charlotte head coach Steve Clifford to use him as a high-post passer at the three-point line.

Instead of stationing him at the free-throw line, Clifford pushed him further out where defenders were forced to abandon the paint and give Jefferson more room to operate.

“He [Jefferson] stays on me to shoot the ball from the outside just because it will give him more space,” McRoberts said to Sporting News’ DeAntae Prince in late January. “That’s something that I have to do in order for him to have more room. Make some plays out there and just stay aggressive so that throughout the game he gets open and we can get him the ball a little bit easier.”

The numbers might not be all that impressive, but they do have the feel and impact of Boris Diaw. McRoberts averaged 10.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists per 36 minutes coupled with 36.1 percent shooting from downtown (Diaw’s per 36 numbers: 13.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, four assists and 40.2 percent three-point shooting).

Even though the Hornets drafted Noah Vonleh, losing McRoberts would be a big blow.

“He was a big part of our team and we definitely want to re-sign him,” general manager Rich Cho said at a pre-draft press conference per ESPN.com. He helped Kemba (Walker) and he helped Big Al (Jefferson). He’s such a great passer. He’s a connector to the team. And he’s a great teammate also. So we’re hoping we sign him.”

In the event Charlotte can’t re-sign McRoberts, the Hornets simply might have Vonleh learn on the job or perhaps go after someone with skills similar to McRoberts. In an odd twist of fate, Diaw is a free agent, but he played before in Charlotte, and the franchise paid him (waived) to go away.

That’s probably still in the back of his mind, and also, there’s that small thing where Diaw was an integral part to a Spurs team that just won the title. I think he wants to enjoy defending it.

That leaves Charlotte with two wildly different choices: Marcin Gortat of the Washington Wizards or Channing Frye of the Phoenix Suns.

Gortat is your classic center: sets picks, rolls to the basket, protects the interior and rebounds in traffic. He’s not a great low-post player, but he can generate some offense down there.

Because Gortat is a center, that means he would either back up Jefferson or play next to him, with big Al sliding over to power forward. Smart coaches can get away with lineups featuring two interior players (see Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Spurs to name a few) provided they have an abundance of shooters.

Because Charlotte doesn’t yet have an army of snipers coupled with passers to hit them when open, we go to option No. 2.

Frye won’t much get in the way of Jefferson on offense, because he will be stationed beyond the three-point line. He averaged 5.3 long-distance attempts last season and hit 37 percent of them.

That’s a terrific way of loosening the defense while still having a big man on the floor. Frye isn’t the passer that McRoberts is, but Frye’s a better rebounder (6.5 boards per 36 minutes).

These are the moves that I can see Charlotte executing to improve the roster. It should allow them to build on the success of last season’s postseason berth and potentially become a better team.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Minnesota Timberwolves with Draft Complete?

Fresh off a successful 2014 NBA draft, the Minnesota Timberwolves now are faced with some tough decisions in free agency.

Most notably is superstar Kevin Love‘s future. There’s little to no chance Love will opt in for his extra year, so the T-Wolves will have to either find a trade partner or let him walk and get nothing in return, the worst of choices for Minnesota.

The result of Love’s situation will shape the rest of the free-agency period for the Wolves as they’ll try to fill out their roster with pieces that could get them back in the playoffs.

Their second unit is in dire need of shooting after very bad years from J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved. Rookie guard Zach LaVine and second-round pick Glenn Robinson III could both remedy that situation, but they could take a while to pan out.

Minnesota could also fortify its frontcourt with some strength and athleticism as Dante Cunningham is a free agent, and their backups at the 4 aren’t very effective.

The Wolves have limited cap space, but some creativity could land them solid rotation players.

 

Sign a Backup Point Guard 

Barea had a very disappointing year, shooting 31 percent from downtown, his second-worst career mark. If his struggles continue, he could certainly find himself riding the pine.

LaVine could fill in as a backup point, but his inexperience might delay his insertion into the regular rotation during the opening weeks. The T-Wolves can always sign a new backup, and there are a few good players available with different skill sets.

Ramon Sessions could be a cheap option.

Sessions excels at attacking and finishing around the basket, scoring on 56 percent of his attempts near the rim. He has had some struggles with his shot over the past few years, though.

If the Wolves want more of a shooting specialist, they can look at someone like Mo Williams.

Williams opted out of his contract with the Portland Trail Blazers recently, wanting a three-year deal, per James Herbert of CBS Sports. If Portland is unwilling to offer him that deal, Minnesota, which needs shooters, could step in and give him a chance.

He has proved to be a streaky scorer throughout his career, helping spark the second unit. He can also play the 2-guard and line up alongside Ricky Rubio, an excellent drive-and-kick player. Williams would also be a solid veteran presence.

Whichever way Minnesota goes, an upgrade is necessary, as Barea may be entering the downside of his career.

 

Sign a Backup Power Forward 

Minnesota needs a backup 4 not only due to the imminent Love departure , but also because Luc Richard Mbah a Moute isn’t exactly a great option.

Mbah a Moute didn’t see the court a lot, and he hasn’t shown much throughout his career and struggles because of his size. He might be more fit as a 3, but the Wolves are stacked at that position.

Minnesota could use some rebounding specialists, and there are a couple of solid options.

First is Jordan Hill, a high-energy rebounder who is also fairly effective from short-to-mid range. He’d be a nice upgrade at power forward as his season averages of 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game are better than Cunningham’s and Mbah a Moute’s combined.

The Timberwolves could also look at Jeff Adrien, another rebounding forward who can knock down the mid-range jump shot on occasion. Adrien benefited from being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks, where he found a spot in the rotation and averaged over 10 points and nearly eight rebounds per game.

Even if Love isn’t dealt before the season, the Timberwolves would benefit from adding a stronger option behind him, preferably someone who could continue to crash the boards as well as protect the rim.

 

Trade Kevin Love 

Minnesota has to try to get something in return for the star forward. The longer it waits, the lower the value of any returning assets since teams will know they can sign him outright during free agency.

The Golden State Warriors‘ deal including budding star Klay Thompson appears to have stalled as ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne and Marc Stein reported. And while that deal made the most sense for Minnesota, as it could build around Thompson for the future, there are still a couple of other options.

The Chicago Bulls apparently have interest and were rumored to have offered forward Taj Gibson, second-year guard Tony Snell along with the two picks they held in the draft, per ESPN’s Chad Ford (subscription required).

With the draft now behind us, though, the Bulls could offer a similar package that includes their draft pick along with the rights to Euro star Nikola Mirotic. Convincing Chicago to part ways with so many pieces would be the hard part.

Another option is the Houston Rockets.

They’re interested in both Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James, and they will surely clear cap space to make either signing a possibility. Bleacher Report’s own Ric Bucher has more on the Rockets as a possible trade partner:

As Bucher stated, a deal is more than likely contingent on the Rockets landing either Anthony or LeBron, as they could then deal Chandler Parsons without a problem. If Parsons is in fact No. 2 on Minnesota’s list, it should try to get the deal done regardless of what Anthony or James do in free agency.

Minnesota would add a player it likes and wants and could build around as it looks toward the future and past the Kevin Love era.

Whatever team the Timberwolves choose to strike a deal with, it’s imperative they do it fast before teams are unwilling to trade for him and simply steal him during free agency.

It could be another rough season in Minnesota, but adding a few good bench pieces and retooling the roster will at least turn a new chapter for the struggling franchise.

Chances are it will lose its biggest start since Kevin Garnett, but with a new head coach and perhaps a new roster, the T-Wolves could be looking at a postseason appearance in the near future.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Milwaukee Bucks with NBA Draft Complete?

The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t win a basketball game between Jan. 30 and March 28 and yet the Milwaukee Bucks finished with the worst record in the NBA. In fact, in the long history of the National Basketball Association, only 15 teams won a fewer percentage of their contests than the 15-67, 2013-14 Bucks.

So, at the moment, nobody is too fearful of the deer.

But with a strong offseason, that could change.

The Sixers are an instructive example here. Philadelphia, too, brazenly some would say, tore down its roster in the last 13 months to rebuild a stronger one. Likewise, the primary thing the Bucks need to do this summer is take things apart, accept that the team needs another high lottery pick—maybe two—to put around Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the franchise to have any hope of really competing. In other words, Milwaukee won’t raise a banner until it razes its roster.

“We have a piece that we’re sure is going to take us to another level,” coach Larry Drew told Genaro C. Armas of the Sheboygan Press. “Any time you go through a rebuilding process, it’s important you get the right pieces.”

The first step is finding new homes for veterans OJ Mayo and Ersan Ilyasova. According to HoopsHype, Mayo will cost the Bucks $16 million over the next two seasons, while Ilyasova is on the books for 7.9 million in each of 2014-15 and 2015-16, with an $8.4 million team option in 2016-17.

The logic behind moving the veterans is that neither player is young enough to help Milwaukee when the Bucks are liable to start winning basketball games again, but each player is good enough to win a few games now. This is exactly the opposite of the sort of player Milwaukee needs to stock its roster with.

While neither figures to be in high demand, both have a track record of recent success, and both can shoot the basketball. Ilyasova in particular might intrigue rival general managers. In a game that’s increasingly about three-point shooting, there will always be a home for 6’9” marksmen. In 2011-12 and 2012-13, the forward shot 45.5 and 44.4 percent from behind the arc.

It’s possible Milwaukee will consider moving Larry Sanders given his salary—the center’s four-year, $44 million contract kicks in this season—but that probably isn’t the smart play here. Sanders is just 25 and has established himself as an elite rim protector and generally efficient player. According to Basketball-Reference, he posted .149 win shares per 48 minutes in 2012-13. This is almost 50 percent greater than the league average.

Furthermore, given that he played in just 23 games in 2013-14, Sanders value is at an all-time low at the moment. If Milwaukee has any designs on moving him, it would be wise to let him recoup it first.

Another offseason move Milwaukee’s new ownership is surely eyeing is replacing head coach Larry Drew. Drew is a decent man and a decent coach, but he doesn’t make a ton of sense for a Bucks’ team at this stage in its development. As Bleacher Report’s DJ Foster has argued, the most sensible thing for Milwaukee to do would be to fire Drew and take a gamble on a young coach who might turn out to be great. The Bucks know what they have in Drew—mostly a mediocrity—so, to quote Foster, the franchise is probably “better off making a gamble and hoping they land the next Brad Stevens.”

But before any of these moves can be considered, Milwaukee’s new ownership needs to solve the GM position. While it’s difficult to say how much of the Bucks’ recent troubles stem from general manager John Hammond—there’s an argument to be made that he made the best of a bad situation; that being former-owner Herb Kohl’s “win now” mandate—they could probably upgrade here. GM is arguably the most important position in an organization, and Hammond has done little to distinguish himself since taking over from Larry Harris in April of 2008, beyond bizarrely winning Executive of the Year in 2010.

Hammond has proven to be a capable drafter—he found both Antetokounmpo and Sanders with the No. 15 overall pick—but has done little else. At risk of sounding reductive, the Bucks intended to be a playoff team last season and won 15 games. That’s a pretty stinging indictment.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Detroit Pistons with NBA Draft Complete?

The Detroit Pistons left Barclays Center Thursday night heading for free agency with Spencer Dinwiddie in tow. They also have an armored truck with at least $20 million to deliver. If (read: when) they decline options on Chauncey Billups and Josh Harrellson, the truck gains another $3.5 million.

So, which doors should the armed delivery men knock on this summer? And how did we get to this point?

 

What’s been going on lately?

In a flash: Detroit finishes the 2013-14 season with a 29-53 record, fifth worst in the East and eighth lowest overall. Head coach Maurice Cheeks is fired in February and replaced by assistant John Loyer. The Pistons continue being the Pistons, and lure Stan Van Gundy out of retirement in May with the highly sought after coach/team president power grab. So he gets to start by adding a lottery pick to a disjointed but individually talented roster, right…?

Once upon a time two years ago almost to the day, former team president Joe Dumars made what looked to be a savvy move. He sent Ben Gordon’s two years and $25 million and a protected future first-round pick to Michael Jordan’s Bobcats in exchange for Corey Maggette’s last hurrah. The move saved Detroit $15 million, though that became Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings one year later.

Unfortunately, the Pistons had to pay the draft piper in year two on account of rotten luck. When Cleveland vaulted everyone to grab the top pick in the draft, Detroit dropped from their likely eighth spot (the last protected one in the Gordon trade). Having lost out on protection for their earned shot at the lottery, the Pistons conveyed that valuable No. 9 selection to the new Charlotte Hornets.

 

Draft night!

Only the eighth pick in the second round remained, and with it Stan Van Gundy chose the University of Colorado point guard recovering from a January torn ACL. But there’s reason for optimism with Dinwiddie. ESPN Insider and NBA draft expert Chad Ford wrote in his post-draft grade that the 6’6″ point guard had lottery potential prior to the injury (subscription required).

Though Dinwiddie is projected to contribute further down the road as his knee recovers and strengthens, Detroit’s crowded backcourt will need some shaking out before he can make his case. Will Bynum and Peyton Siva are ahead of him in line behind Jennings. They could also elect to use him as a combo guard to challenge Kyle Singler and last year’s lottery pick Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

 

The summer ahead: Monroe or Smith?

Aside from the lone selection, Detroit participated—whether willingly or by name onlyin plenty of draft-time trade chatter. I like to call it chattah

Though in the end it is all for naught, the move would simultaneously sting and feel like a sense of relief. Detroit breaks up the misguided and crowded Smith-Greg Monroe-Andre Drummond trio and allows Van Gundy to match any offer at Monroe’s restricted free agency.

This should be the theme of Detroit’s summer. Smith had his worst season as a pro in the Motor City, shooting a career-low 41.9 percent from the field. He also recorded a dreadful .264 three-point shooting percentage, jacking nearly 3.5 threes a night. Monroe, meanwhile, stayed relatively close to his 2012-13 level of production. The sweetener is that Monroe has already played four seasons in the NBA but is only a year older than some of the players drafted Thursday.

All indications are that Van Gundy is on board with this notion. MLive reporter David Mayo reports that Van Gundy would prefer to have the 6’11″ power forward on his roster than not. ”I think teams think it’s better, especially with younger guys, to have an asset, even if he’s overpaid, that can bring value down the road, than to have a guy go for nothing,” Van Gundy said.

Pro Basketball Talk’s Kurt Helin believes the Pistons boss will match a projected max offer of four years, $63 million, leaving $10 million in cap space. That doesn’t mean he won’t listen to sign-and-trade offers since Smith’s contract could easily prove unmovable.

I like Monroe’s game and think he can develop another few feet of range with proper coaching. The opportunity to trot out such talented twin towers doesn’t come too often, so let’s hope Van Gundy is shrewd in assessing trade proposals.

 

That’s not it, though, right?

Assuming the right decision is made and Monroe sticks around, SVG will need to consider unloading Smith and address his guard situation. Predicting a trade for Smith, now that Sacramento has ended talks, is difficult with the preps-to-pros star still owed $40.5 million over three years.

If Dinwiddie is to learn the point, some of that leftover $10 million should go to forcing either Singler or Caldwell-Pope out of the rotation. Both guys have upside but neither player made a huge impact last season. Singler deserves a shot at being a key role player. Caldwell-Pope can retain his starting spot if Detroit wants to return to the lottery. Avery Bradley could probably be had for most of that and cap the roster.

The other idea is to dangle Brandon Jennings in a package to a team in need of a scoring point guard. Though they’ll certainly get a lower return than what Jennings’ contract suggests, the Pistons can stand to absorb a small hit to remove the defensive pariah. Perhaps Indiana can be convinced that he’s an upgrade over George Hill or oblige Boston in taking Rajon Rondo off their hands.

 

The long con

Van Gundy can also opt to sit tight another year. Maybe Smith works out the kinks, and the frontcourt trio dominates as they were meant to.

Aside from any money given to Monroe, only Smith and Jennings will be under contract in the summer of 2015. The three would combine for around $36 million, assuming a sliding scale on Monroe’s max contract. Jennings would serve as the mother of all trade bait with an $8 million expiring contract.

All Van Gundy has to do is convince the game’s top players that Detroit Auburn Hills is a delightful place to live.

 

All salary information taken from Spotrac.com.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for Washington Wizards with NBA Draft Complete?

The Washington Wizards stayed quiet Thursday night at the NBA draft. They traded their only pick, the No. 46 selection, to the Los Angeles Lakers for cash, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin.

Besides that, the Wizards did absolutely nothing.

After an uneventful draft night, where will the team’s front office focus its attention the rest of the summer?

The Wizards have just seven players (John Wall, Nene, Martell Webster, Andre Miller, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr.) under contract for 2014-15, with their salaries totaling $46.5 million, according to Mike Prada of Bullets Forever. Prada projects the cap for next season at $63.2 million, which gives the Wizards lots of flexibility for the summer.

However, the front office has to be careful not to upset the mojo of a squad that advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2004-05. 

The Wizards should have three priorities this summer: keeping the starting unit intact, signing a undrafted free-agent big man and signing a scorer off the bench. 

 

Marcin Gortat and Trevor Ariza Need to Stay

When the Washington Wizards were healthy last year, they trotted out an excellent starting lineup.

They had an All-Star point guard with great scoring and passing ability (Wall), a 2-guard who could drive the lane and shoot (Beal), an athletic, defensive-minded small forward (Trevor Ariza), a power forward with post moves and a mid-range jumper (Nene) and a center who cleared the glass and protected the rim (Marcin Gortat). 

According to 82games.com, this unit played 486.6 minutes together in 2013-14. The group posted an offensive rating of 108 and a defensive rating of 98. This means that they outscored their opponents by 10 points for every 100 possessions.

For reference, the Indiana Pacers‘ starting lineup of George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert netted the exact same offensive and defensive ratings.

The Wizards have an elite starting lineup. Not necessarily because of sheer talent, but because of how the players’ games mesh with each other.

Gortat and Ariza will be unrestricted free agents this summer, but there is no reason for the Wizards front office to get too cute with their cap space and try to replace one or both of them.

And with how weak the Eastern Conference is at the moment, the Wizards should be more concerned with winning now than later. The 30-year-old Gortat and 28-year-old Ariza won’t improve much more as players, but they should be useful pieces for a few more years.

Now, re-signing Gortat and Ariza won’t be terribly cheap. The veteran starters both made approximately $7.7 million last year, and they have played well enough to earn around that amount for their next contracts. 

Wizards insider J. Michael of Comcast SportsNet Washington tweeted that the Wizards are working hard to keep both players in the nation’s capital:

If Gortat and Ariza are both re-signed this summer, the Wizards will have completed their biggest task of the summer.

 

There Are Plenty of Quality Players Who Weren’t Undrafted

The 2014 NBA draft is over, but teams shouldn’t give up on the draft class just yet.

SI.com interviewed Ryan Blake, the senior director of NBA scouting operations, before the draft. This is what Blake had to say about the 2014 draft class: ”It’s absolutely deep. After the 60 picks in the two rounds, teams will have players they want for the summer league whom they feel could make the team in the fall. Agents’ phones are going to be ringing off the hook.”

The Wizards, in particular, should look for a bruising big man who can play right away off the bench. Nene is always an injury risk, and unrestricted free agents Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin may be tempted to sign with teams that can offer bigger roles and salaries.

Signing an undrafted free agent with an NBA-ready game would certainly be a low-risk move. UNLV’s Khem Birch, North Carolina’s James McAdoo and Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim are all big men who could make an impact in their rookie years.

But Florida’s Patric Young is the most intriguing prospect. 

Young is slightly undersized for a post position, at 6’10″ in shoes, according to DraftExpress. However, he makes up for his unimpressive stature with nice athleticism (37.5″ maximum vertical leap) and length (7’1.75″). Check out his YouTube highlight mix below, suitably titled “King Kong.”

(Warning: Background music in video contains NSFW language.)

Young, or one of the other big men who slipped through the cracks at the draft, would be a smart investment for the Wizards.

 

The Wizards Could Use a Scorer Off the Bench

The Wizards ranked No. 29 in bench scoring this season (26.1 points per game), according to Hoops Stats

Most of the top teams in the NBA feature a lethal scorer leading their bench. Manu Ginobili of the Spurs, Jamal Crawford of the Clippers, Ray Allen of the Heat and Reggie Jackson of the Thunder can all heat up at a moment’s notice. The baskets these players hit are often huge momentum swingers for their teams.

Who do the Wizards have to fill that role? Webster, maybe? He’s not a bad player, but he doesn’t impact games the way the aforementioned players do. Porter may or may not develop into the player the Wizards want him to be.

There’s a way the Wizards can pick up a pure scorer off the bench, and that’s through the mid-level exception. According to Mike Prada from Bullets Forever, the team may have a full mid-level exception worth of salary to give out if it re-signs its higher-paid free agents, due to the cap holds technically putting it above the salary cap but still under the luxury tax. 

Last season, the full mid-level exception amount was at $5.15 million, also according to Prada. It should be slightly larger in 2014-15 due to the increasing salary cap. 

The Wizards can do some damage with that kind of cash. 

Nick Young is one player who could be a valuable bench spark for the Wizards.

Young, who was drafted by Washington in 2007 and played more than four seasons there, made about $1.1 million this season, per HoopsHype, but vastly outplayed his salary. Young’s 30.3 points per 48 minutes ranked No. 11 in the NBA in 2013-14, according to ESPN.com.

The front office should also look at the other free-agent wings with good scoring ability, but Young could be a nice fit with the team’s mid-level exception, if it re-signs Gortat and Ariza

Ariza could also be willing to take the mid-level exception, as Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb notes. If he is, the team would obviously have more money to offer other players.

 

Conclusion

Why mess with success? 

The Wizards shouldn’t make major changes to a team that overachieved in the playoffs and showed a lot of chemistry in the starting lineup.

But small fixes like improving the frontcourt depth and bench scoring could turn the Wizards from just a playoff team to a full-fledged playoff contender.

 

Note: All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com, unless otherwise indicated.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for OKC Thunder with NBA Draft Complete?

Despite having two of the biggest stars in the NBA, it’s going to take a strong offseason for the Oklahoma City Thunder to get back to the Finals.

Kevin Durant earned his first Most Valuable Player award in 2013-14, while Russell Westbrook continued to prove himself as one of the top three point guards in the league.

But they need help.

Oklahoma City also has Serge Ibaka, a shot-blocking big with a quickly evolving offensive game. But other than those three, the Thunder are pretty limited.

The team took Mitch McGary at No. 21 and Josh Huestis with the 29th pick of the 2014 draft, but there are still moves to be made.

This summer, expect OKC to be aggressive in the free-agency and trade markets while still maintaining its core trio.

If general manager Sam Presti can’t haul in any real reinforcements or struggles to deal for valuable assets, the Thunder will be doomed to another playoff exit in 2014-15.

 

Surround KD, Westbrook with better shooting

Durant put up 32 points per game last season, while Westbrook, who was injured early in the year, was good for 21.8 a night.

As a team, the Thunder averaged 106.2 points. That means that KD and Westbrook accounted for over half of their team’s total points on a nightly basis.

And that’s ridiculous.

It’s time for Presti to surround his superstars with what Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have with the San Antonio Spurs—shooters, and lots of ‘em.

Thabo Sefolosha used to be that guy for the Thunder. From 2011 to 2013, the eight-year veteran hit 42.2 percent of his attempts from downtown, but that number dropped to a clip of 31.6 this past season.

To worsen Sefolosha‘s decline, Caron Butler, who was OKC’s most efficient long-range shooter in 2013-14, is set to hit free agency this summer.

The Spurs, who wound up hoisting the 2013-14 Larry O’Brien Trophy, were the best team in the NBA for a reason.

San Antonio had five different players who averaged 40 percent or better from the three-point stripe in the postseason.

With snipers like Danny Green, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills lurking beyond the arc, the Spurs finished the regular season and the playoffs as the league’s best three-point shooting team.

Mills will be a free agent this offseason and would be wise to sign with another star-loaded squad if he opts to ditch Texas. The 6’0” Australian is great at what he does—he shoots and shoots and shoots. Despite his breakout postseason, he’s not a franchise point guard.

But that’s why he’d be a perfect fit in Oklahoma City.

Mills could line up alongside Westbrook or Reggie Jackson, or even run the show himself, all while stretching defenses with his lethal long-range jumper.

Other potential free-agent shooters include Mike Miller, who essentially killed OKC with a lights-out 2011-12 Finals, Ray Allen, Jodie Meeks and Jimmer Fredette.

Durant and Westbrook are going to get their points. But if they can’t confidently kick the ball out to the perimeter when defenses collapse in the paint, what kind of chances does OKC have in the cutthroat Western Conference?

None. With better shooting next season, though, the Thunder will be in a position to contend.

 

Trade Nick Collison

On draft night, the Thunder basically drafted Sefolosha‘s and Nick Collison’s replacements.

Huestis, a lockdown defender out of Stanford with a limited offensive game, will replace Sefolosha, while McGary, a hard-nosed bulldozer in the paint, will replace Collison.

Sefolosha will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and he is unlikely to re-sign with OKC after head coach Scott Brooks benched him for nearly all of the conference semifinals against the Spurs.

Per Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

“I have no clue,” Sefolosha said when asked if he expected to be back. “I’m going to have to take some time to think about a lot of things.”

Asked if playing time and role would play a factor in his decision, Sefolosha said: “I like winning. I want to be in a good place with a chance to win something, and that’s definitely something that we have here. So definitely the system is a big part of it. You want to be happy and be able to play to your strengths. But at the same time, it’s going to be a lot of questions going on in the summer and (we’ll) see where it takes me.”

Translation: “Thabo out.”

But where does that leave Collison?

Sefolosha wasn’t lonely on the bench, as Collison, who totaled just 20 minutes in the series’ final four games, was riding the pine along with him.

Collison’s time in OKC has run its course. The younger, more promising Steven Adams had a decent rookie season for Oklahoma City, beating out his 13-year elder for playing time as the postseason unfolded.

Being that he’s an expiring contract, which is something of high value on the market nowadays, Collison could be turned into a future second-round pick if Presti plays his cards right.

One way or another, Collison has to go. OKC’s frontcourt is overpopulated right now, so it’d be a shrewd move to acquire draft stock for a player who won’t make much of an impact next season.

 

Improve overall coaching

The notion that Brooks should be fired is a bit ridiculous.

In his six years with the Thunder, the former journeyman point guard boasts a 63.3 win-loss percentage, 39 playoff wins, a Western Conference title and an NBA Coach of the Year award.

Does having two of the league’s best players help his cause? Sure does. But look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers—a team with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash barely made the playoffs. Coaching matters.

Presti voiced his support of Brooks after the Thunder were eliminated from the postseason, according to Royce Young of ESPN.com:

I understand, we all have a tendency to look at the last game, or the last series. I respect that. That’s part of sports. I can’t do that. I’m looking at a body of work. I’m looking at an understanding of what drives our success and the way in which we’ve gotten to this point.

You have to look at yourself critically every year and that starts with me, that starts with everyone in the program, and I think Scott will do the same and come back a little bit better.

Durant backed his coach, too. “That’s our guy,” he said, per Young. “I’m riding with him.”

While Brooks doesn’t deserve the boot, he does need to show improvement in his game-planning and execution.

Far too often, OKC runs no plays or sets whatsoever.

Here’s a typical, late-game sequence: forced Westbrook jumper, contested shot from Durant, another tough shot by KD, a wild chuck of an attempt from Westbrook…and so on.

Some of those shots go in. Seriously, it’s not all bad. But that style of play isn’t reliable in big moments when defenses are legitimately engaged.

That one-on-one type of playground ball doomed the Thunder against the disciplined, well-coached Spurs.

There’s just not a lot of ball movement within Oklahoma City’s offense, resulting in an excess of isolation plays.

Granted, sometimes that’s the best thing that a coach can do—let some of the best athletes in the world take over and do their thing.

But late in games, Brooks needs to be better. And that starts in the offseason.

Brooks can follow the Miami Heat’s lead if he’s looking for inspiration. The Heat are carried by stars, but the team also whips the ball around the perimeter better than most teams in the NBA.

Iso-ball in small quantities doesn’t hurt. But you can’t live and die with it. Next season, Brooks needs to institute a more stable offense with the Thunder.

 

The sum and substance

Oklahoma City doesn’t need to move heaven and earth in order to lift itself above the other contenders in the West.

But as the team currently stands, and as elite as Durant and Westbrook are, roster changes need to be made.

First and foremost, Presti needs to bring in a shooter. Or two. Or 10.

The Thunder need to line the perimeter with guys who can knock down open threes. Last season, the offense relied solely on how spectacular Durant and Westbrook were.

If that duo can get help along the lines of Mills, Miller, Allen or Fredette, the Spurs—and every other team in the West—are in trouble.

While offensive reinforcements should be coming in, Collison needs to hit the road.

Rather than letting him waste away on the bench, OKC might as well try to bring in something in return, likely a future second-round pick.

With Ibaka, Adams and McGary at power forward, the team no longer has any need for Collison. It’s been a nice 10-year run for the 33-year-old with the Seattle SuperSonics/Thunder, but it’s time for both sides to move on.

Working with what will likely be an improved roster this summer, Brooks is going to have to put a lot of work into his coaching.

Game-planning, executing, creating ball movement, getting his stars some easy looks—Brooks needs to be on top of his game next season. And the best way to do so is to become a better student and creative thinker this summer.

It’s tough to predict how next year will unfold, but don’t be surprised if the Thunder reclaim their spot at the top of the West and make a run at an NBA title.

 

All stats are accurate courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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What Offseason Moves Are Next for NY Knicks with NBA Draft Complete?

After a 36-hour trading-buying rampage this week, two New York Knicks starters are out; four Mavericks and three draft selections are in. 

One of the top offseason priorities—getting a new point guardmay be solved now that Jose Calderon is part of the Knicks family. Wichita State stretch forward Cleanthony Early has been brought on as a Carmelo Anthony backup (or replacement). 

Good work this week, Phil and company. But there’s more to be done this offseason. What should the Knicks’ next moves be?

  

Give Patric Young a Chance

Despite rumors Tuesday that the Knicks would use a draft pick to bring home Florida’s paint-assaulting forward-center Patric Young, they passed on him…three times. Surprisingly, no one else drafted Young either, leaving him open for the summer league or D-League.

The Knicks should jump on that unexpected opportunity and bring Young into the fold—because he has exactly the kind of talent they need, particularly now that Tyson Chandler has headed back to Dallas. 

On offense, the 6’9″, 249-pound Young has the strength and athleticism to play above the rim, attack the basket and set immovable blocks that help his teammates drive the lane—all skills that could help the Knicks get those desperately needed points in the paint they lacked last season. His lateral speed makes him a pesky defender, and his power and ups help him protect the rim. 

With Chandler gone, there are a lot of questions about the 5 spot. At the moment, the Knicks’ options for starting center are a guy with lots of experience but little stamina and a guy with potential, but little experience. 

Samuel Dalembert started most of his games for the Mavericks last season, but he only averaged 21 minutes per game when starting.

Knicks’ young center Cole Aldrich was fantastic in his two starts at the tail end of the season, averaging 34.5 minutes, 4.0 blocks, 12.5 points and 13 rebounds. Did Aldrich prove he deserves to start? Maybe, maybe not. But he did prove he deserves a chance.

Nevertheless, with Dalembert and Aldrich as their only real center options, there will probably be a lot of time when the 5 spot must be covered by someone better suited for the 4, like Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani or Jeremy Tyler.

Give him one year in the D-League and Young may be precisely the bench center the Knicks need. 

There is, of course, a little hiccup in that plan. The Knicks already scooped up a forward-center with the No. 57 pick they bought from the Indiana Pacers: Louis Labeyrie, the 22-year-old Frenchman playing for Paris-Levallois in the Eurocup League. Yet, as with other international players chosen late in Round 2, Labeyrie may be stashed overseas for at least a year.  

 

Convince Melo to Stay

Sure, there are arguments to be made for simply letting Carmelo Anthony go begin a new life in Chicago, Dallas, Miami or Ouagadougou. 

Yet Anthony had one of his best seasons ever. While the frustrations of loss after loss caused most of his teammates’ performances to get worse and worse, Anthony was one thing the Knicks could rely upon every game. A player who can continue to shine in such darkness is a keeper.

If he decides to stay in New York, it will show a devotion that should inspire the best in those around him. 

Yet, if Anthony does stay this year, he will not only need to lead by example, as he did in 2013-14. He will also need to be a more vocal leader. He should more willingly take on the role of the unflappable veteran who can rev up or calm down his teammates whenever they need it…which, judging by last season, could be rather often.

 

Break Up With or Commit to Shump

The Knicks need to stop playing with Iman Shumpert’s affections. If Melo leaves, the Knicks should not only keep Iman Shumpert, but they should also give him a promise ring (or an extended contract) and commit to their relationship. If Melo stays, it may be time to set Shump free, if the deal is right.

With Melo, Early and Delaware 87er Thanasis Antetokounmpo on the roster, there’s enough depth at the small forward position to live without Shump. If Melo leaves, Early will likely need to spend more time playing the 4, and another option at the 3 would be useful. 

However, if the Knicks are going to trade away Shumpert, they should get another starter or sixth man out of the deal, not just a handful of deep bench players and long-range draft picks. A straight swap with the Clippers for Matt Barnes may be an option—even without the 2014 draft trade pick that was originally part of the conversationbut New York will have to ask themselves whether or not Barnes is really an improvement.

If the Knicks decide not to trade Shump in the offseason, then they must decide to keep him for the long haul. As soon as trade rumors arose last season, he lost his swagger. He lost his focus. He wasn’t confident in his shot.

In February, leading up to the trade deadline, his numbers were worse than ever. Shooting, rebounds and assists tanked as turnovers increased. If Derek Fisher and Phil Jackson want Shump to return to his former glory, they need to make him feel more secure in his job. Even if that job is coming off the bench. 

 

Get That Old Spark Back 

Team chemistry was a huge issue last season. According to Ian Begley of ESPN New York, Phil Jackson certainly noticed, and he said that fixing chemistry was one of the main reasons for trading Chandler (who spent much of the season griping and getting smacked with technical fouls).

With a new president, a new coach, a new cast of characters and the black cloud of last season hanging over their heads, the Knicks need more than ever to rejuvenate team spirit. Perhaps they should hire a sports psychologist. Or go on a couples retreat. Hold a drum circle in the woods and talk about manhood. Join a bowling league. Throw a cuddle party. Whatever it takes. Next season depends on it.

 

Follow Sara Peters on Twitter at @3FromThe7

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