Frank Ntilikina

Atlantic Notes: Harden, Simmons, Embiid, Knicks, Ntilikina

Nets superstar James Harden is ready to embrace the sacrifice needed for his team to succeed this season, Brian Lewis of the New York Post writes.

Harden, who was acquired by Brooklyn in a massive three-team trade on Wednesday, joins a Nets team already featuring two of the league’s best offensive players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The looming question, of course, is whether the three talents will be able to co-exist going forward.

“Chemistry. Sacrifice,” Harden said, as relayed by Lewis. “We’re all elite, so depending on the game and what’s going on throughout the course of the game, that’s going to determine who gets the ball and who makes the plays.

“We’re all unselfish, we’re all willing passers and we play basketball the right way.”

Harden is currently listed as questionable to play in Saturday’s game against Orlando, with Irving set to miss the game due to health and safety protocols. The team could have its full Big 3 available for Monday’s showdown against the defensive-minded Bucks on TNT.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division today:

  • Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer explores the fit between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, a pairing he believes is still questionable even with some added shooting. Simmons was prepared for the possibility of being traded by the Sixers in a deal centered around Harden this past week, but Houston made a deal with Brooklyn instead.
  • The Knicks considered extending the contract of Mitchell Robinson last offseason, perhaps showing how they value the 22-year-old, Ian Begley of SNY.tv tweets. Robinson’s game remains a work in progress, but he possesses the tools needed to be an intriguing player for the future. In 13 games this season, he’s averaged 8.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest.
  • Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau issued a brief injury update on Frank Ntilikina, who hasn’t seen action since Dec. 29 due to a knee sprain. “We have to be patient and let him work through that,” Thibodeau said, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post (Twitter link). “He’s making steady progress. It will probably be a little while longer.”

Knicks Notes: Gibson, Toppin, Ntilikina, Hayward

The Knicks signed Taj Gibson to a rest-of-season contract last Thursday, according to NBA.com’s official transactions log. However, the veteran big man hasn’t been able to play for the team yet due to COVID-19 protocols, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. It’s possible that Gibson will be able to join the club for Wednesday’s game against Brooklyn, Berman says.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Obi Toppin (calf) and Frank Ntilikina (knee) aren’t yet close to returning, according to Berman. Toppin hasn’t been cleared for contact, while Ntilikina may not be back at practice until next week.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau pushed to sign Gordon Hayward in free agency in November, but the team ultimately felt the price was too high, writes Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News. With the Knicks in Charlotte on Monday, Thibodeau acknowledged that Hayward was “rated pretty high on our (free agent) board,” while the Hornets forward said there was “a lot of interest on both sides.”
  • The Knicks aren’t as good as their 5-3 start suggested, but they seem refreshingly free of dysfunction this season, according to Chris Mannix of SI.com, who says the franchise finally seems to be building the right way with the right people.

New York Notes: Ntilikina, Dinwiddie, Chiozza, Bullock

A rash of backcourt injuries have allowed 6’5″ combo guard Frank Ntilikina to become the primary option at backup point guard for the Knicks, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post.

Rookie Immanuel Quickley bruised his hip in the Knicks’ season opener, Dennis Smith Jr. will be missing all of the club’s current four-game road trip due to a bruised quadriceps muscle, and veteran off-guard Austin Rivers has yet to suit up for New York as he deals with a pulled groin.

Ntilikina has been striving to improve his jump shooting during this young season. “Working [on it] is the key,” he said. “The answer to probably everything in this game is probably work and just treat it with confidence.”

There’s more out of the Empire State:

  • With guard Spencer Dinwiddie likely out for the season due to a partially torn ACL, some league executives weighed in on whether or not he will pick up his $12.3MM player option with the Nets for the 2021/22 NBA season, per Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Dinwiddie released a statement on his Instagram page, expressing his hope to beat the odds as he works to recover from this latest knee issue.
  • Two-way Nets guard Chris Chiozza is currently the biggest rotational beneficiary of Dinwiddie’s absence, according to Mollie Walker of the New York Post. “You never want to see your teammate get hurt and praying for Spencer, we’re here for him, hopefully he makes a speedy return,” Chiozza said. “He’s a big part of this team. While he’s out, we take it, everybody takes it, to do a little bit more than we’ve been doing, collectively.”
  • After battling health issues for much of his 2019/20 season with the Knicks, veteran swingman Reggie Bullock has managed to contribute on both sides of the court to the injury-depleted club this year, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. “Well, his defense has been terrific,” head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “So just watching him move on the court he’s obviously not laboring like he did last year. I think health is the big thing and he’s been a good pro wherever he’s been.” Bullock just poured in 17 points in almost 41 minutes to help the Knicks beat the Cavaliers tonight, 95-86. He connected on five of his nine three-point attempts.

New York Notes: Ntilikina, Point Guards, Stoudemire, Thibs

Ahead of the first game of the 2020/21 Knicks season, point guard Frank Ntilikina stated that the sore left Achilles that had limited his preseason availability had fully recovered, according to Ian Begley of SNY (Twitter link). Ntilikina, the No. 8 pick in the 2017 draft, also noted that he and the Knicks did not discuss a potential contract extension ahead of Monday’s deadline, as we previously detailed.

The future of Ntilikina, the final lottery pick of former Knicks team president Phil Jackson, remains unclear, as Steve Popper of Newsday details. He will be eligible to become a restricted free agent in the 2021 offseason.

There’s more out of the City That Never Sleeps:

  • Reserve point guards Dennis Smith Jr. and Ntilikina would not have made the cut for the club’s 10-man rotation in the Knicks’ season opener, a 121-107 loss to the Pacers, had rookie point guard Immanuel Quickley not gotten injured in the second quarter with a hip pointer, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. Both guards are former top-10 2017 NBA draft picks. Head coach Tom Thibodeau opted to play shooting guard Alec Burks as his initial replacement before ultimately bringing in Ntilikina for five minutes of relatively ineffective play. “We wanted to keep as much shooting on the floor as we can to try to create the opportunities that we’re looking for factored into it,” Thibodeau explained.
  • New Nets player development assistant Amar’e Stoudemire was reticent to make the leap from player to coach this summer after another productive season with the Israeli Basketball Premier League club Maccabi Tel Aviv, per Marc Stein of the New York Times. A six-time All-Star with the Suns and Knicks, the 38-year-old Stoudemire is reuniting with former Phoenix running mate Steve Nash, now Brooklyn’s head coach, and former Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni, now another assistant on Nash’s bench. “We wanted him to come in and share all the things that he learned from his experiences — but also to learn about coaching, video analysis, analytics and the front office,” Nash said. “I get to learn from all departments,” Stoudemire said, “to see where I want my career to go.”
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is smartly prioritizing building good habits and player development rather than worrying about the club’s win-loss record, according to Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post. “You either win,” Thibodeau said, “or you learn.”

New York Notes: Ntilikina, Rivers, Thibs, Durant, Nets

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina was one of the 13 players who didn’t sign a rookie scale extension by Monday’s deadline despite being eligible for a new deal, and will now be on track for 2021 free agency.

While some of those 13 players engaged in contract negotiations with their respective teams, that wasn’t the case for Ntilikina, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv, who says there were no extension talks between the Knicks and the former lottery pick.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that the Knicks won’t attempt to re-sign Ntilikina when he becomes a free agent in 2021 or that they’ll try to trade him before then. But it appears as if the team is content to take a wait-and-see approach with the fourth-year guard, as Begley observes.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York teams:

  • New Knicks combo guard Austin Rivers, who has missed all four preseason games due to a right groin injury had yet to return to practice as of Monday and seems very likely to miss the start of the regular season, per Zach Braziller of The New York Post.
  • Ian O’Connor of ESPN takes an in-depth look at Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau, examining Thibs’ popularity among players, his coaching style, and his outlook in New York.
  • Nets forward Kevin Durant will face his old team in Tuesday night’s opener, but doesn’t anticipate added emotions or higher stakes in the game against the Warriors, writes Malika Andrews of ESPN“I feel like each game is important to me,” Durant said. “And it’s no more important to me because I am playing against my old teammates. I just feel like the game of basketball is going to have me on that level anyway and it’s going to be good to see some of my old teammates.”
  • The preseason gave us a preview of what the Nets‘ primary bench unit should look like, according to Mollie Walker of The New York Post, who says the group, led by Caris LeVert, should also feature Jarrett Allen, Taurean Prince, Landry Shamet, and Jeff Green.

Knicks Notes: Ntilikina, Randle, Anthony, Robinson

The Knicks have 15 days to decide whether to extend Frank Ntilikina‘s rookie contract, but the 22-year-old guard still doesn’t have an established role with the team, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Given Ntilikina’s uneven NBA career so far and the logjam in the team’s backcourt, Berman believes a trade before the March deadline is more likely than an extension.

Ntilikina brushed off questions about a possible new deal, saying, “The business part is going to take care of itself. I’m here to get better every day, to get this team better.’’

Ntilikina’s chances to prove himself to new coach Tom Thibodeau might be limited. Elfrid Payton, who started the most games at point guard for the Knicks last year, re-signed during the offseason. Dennis Smith Jr. is also back, and New York added Austin Rivers in free agency.

“We have a lot of guards on this team, a lot of competitors, which is going to bring the best out of the team,’’ Ntilikina said. “We’re going to compete hard for minutes and the coach is going to decide what he wants to do. We have trust in him. He knows what he’s doing. He knows his job. So he’s going to put the best players together on the court.’’

There’s more from New York:

  • Julius Randle isn’t concerned that the Knicks used their lottery pick to add Obi Toppin, a player with similar skills who may eventually replace him at power forward, Berman adds in a separate story. Many observers don’t think Randle and Toppin can be effective playing together, but Randle insists they’ll find a way. “He’s an athletic player from what I know,’’ he said. “I haven’t seen much of him. But he can shoot it and run the floor. So I think we’ll be able to complement each other very well. The game is position-less now. To have many guys be versatile and do many things is great.’’ 
  • Team president Leon Rose reportedly had interest in bringing Carmelo Anthony, one of his former CAA clients, back to New York, but Anthony didn’t consider the move once it became clear the Knicks were going to continue with their youth movement, Berman writes in another piece“They are rebuilding and figuring out what’s in their near future,” Anthony said. “It was me personally wanting to be part of a situation I was already comfortable with (in Portland). I just finished playing with these guys two, three months ago. I felt it was the right fit at this point of time where I’m at right now this particular year.’’
  • Mitchell Robinson is moving on to his sixth agent as he enters his third year in the league, according to Berman. Robinson is leaving Klutch Sports to sign with the Wasserman Group.

Eastern Notes: Pacers, Knicks, Rondo, Hawks, Magic

The Pacers are adding Calbert Cheaney to Nate Bjorkgren‘s coaching staff as an assistant, sources tell Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link). An Indiana native who played his college ball for the Hoosiers, Cheaney spent 13 years in the NBA as a player. He has been an assistant for Atlanta’s G League affiliate for the last two seasons.

Cheaney is the latest addition to a new-look coaching staff that will also feature Kaleb Canales and Greg Foster, in addition to returning Pacers assistant Bill Bayno. Indiana recently issued a press release confirming that all three of those coaches will be part of Bjorkgren’s staff in 2021.

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

Community Shootaround: Knicks’ Offseason Trade Options

With only about $56MM in guaranteed salary on their books for next season, the Knicks have the flexibility necessary to create cap room and make a run at one or more top free agents. However, the team also feels as if it’s well-positioned to trade for an impact player, as an April report indicated.

This year’s free agent class isn’t particularly star-heavy, so it’s possible that greasing the wheels for a blockbuster trade may be a better use of the Knicks’ cap space. Plus, New York has accumulated seven first-round picks in the next four drafts and has a roster loaded with former lottery selections, so the team could put together an appealing package for the right player.

In a report this week, Marc Berman of The New York Post indicated that Pacers guard Victor Oladipo could be that player. Knicks general manager Scott Perry, who drafted Oladipo when he was a member of the Magic front office in 2013, “still is enamored” with him, according to Berman, and there have been rumblings that the All-Star may not be fully committed to Indiana for the long term.

Thunder guard Chris Paul, a former CAA client of new Knicks president of basketball operations Leon Rose, is another potential trade target for the franchise.

Writing today about that possibility in a separate story for The New York Post, Berman suggests that Oklahoma City would likely seek a first-round pick and a young prospect on his rookie contract in return for Paul. According to Berman, the Thunder would probably target Kevin Knox in a deal with New York, while the Knicks would rather give up Frank Ntilikina or Dennis Smith Jr.

Oladipo and Paul aren’t the only potential trade candidates who could catch the Knicks’ eye this offseason, but they’re probably two of the only All-Stars who will realistically be available. Within his initial article on Oladipo, Berman names three more trade targets who would intrigue the Knicks, but it’s hard to imagine any of them (Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Paul George) actually changing teams this fall.

Of course, even if Embiid, Towns, George, or another superstar becomes available, the cost to acquire them in a trade would be extremely high. On the other hand, there are certain factors that should keep the price tags of Oladipo (health; expiring contract) and Paul (age; exorbitant salary) in check, which may appeal to the Knicks — making a trade for one of those two players could help New York move back toward playoff contention without emptying the team’s treasure chest of assets.

In today’s Community Shootaround, we want to get your input on the Knicks’ offseason options.

Does Oladipo look like an appealing trade target for New York? How about Paul? Should the team wait for a star with fewer question marks to become available before looking to trade future first-round picks? Or should the Knicks altogether avoid trading multiple assets for one impact player, focusing instead – for now at least – on using their cap room to sign free agents or to keep adding draft picks by taking on unwanted contracts?

Head to the comment section to share your thoughts on the Knicks’ offseason plan!

Knicks Notes: Thibodeau, Draft, Point Guards, Robinson

Five coaching vacancies have been created since Tom Thibodeau agreed to terms with the Knicks on July 25, but he has no reason to regret his decision, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Thibodeau might have been a candidate to join the Nets, Sixers, Pacers, Rockets or Thunder, but a source tells Berman the coach is happy to be reunited with team president Leon Rose, his former agent with CAA.

“He took the job because he trusted Leon,’’ the source said.

Trust means Thibodeau will have input on important decisions such as the upcoming draft, where the Knicks own picks No. 8, 27 and 38. Thibodeau served as both coach and team president in Minnesota and is used to being involved in personnel moves.

“I think, as a head coach, the only thing you want is a voice,’’ Thibodeau told reporters Friday on a Zoom call. “I think a lot was made of a president’s title, but also, I had a GM and assistant GMs that did a lot of the day-to-day stuff that a normal general manager would do.”

There’s more from New York:

  • Finding a point guard will be the priority heading into the draft, but the Knicks are also taking a long look at Auburn’s Isaac Okoro, Berman adds in the same story. Okoro’s defensive skills could be a perfect fit for Thibodeau’s system.
  • Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. are both attending the Knicks’ mini-camp to show the new coaching staff what they can do, according to Steve Popper of Newsday. Neither of the former lottery picks has been able to seize control of the starting point guard job. “We’re three days in, so I’m getting to know both guys,” Thibodeau said Friday. “I like what they’ve done so far. They got to continue to work. There’s oftentimes ups and downs for young players. There’s a learning curve they have to go through. Some experiences will be better than others.”
  • Mitchell Robinson isn’t participating in the mini-camp, but he impressed Thibodeau during individual workouts last week, Popper writes in a separate story. Robinson pulled out of the team sessions at the last minute due to “personal reasons” that the Knicks say aren’t related to COVID-19. “He’s an incredible athlete, Thibodeau said. “But we don’t want to put a ceiling on him. We want to continue to work on all aspects of his game and develop. He spent some time here earlier in the summer and we’re hopeful that we can get him back in and get to work with him so he can build on those skills, but obviously he’s a very important part of this team.”

And-Ones: Beasley, Walkup, China, Ntilikina

The Nets issued a press release two weeks ago announcing that they had signed Michael Beasley, then voided that contract after the forward tested positive for COVID-19. According to John Hollinger of The Athletic (Twitter link), Beasley’s case is technically being treated as if he failed his physical and had his contract disapproved. As Hollinger puts it, “it’s like he was never there.”

Substitute-player contracts don’t count against NBA teams’ cap sheets this summer, so the Nets’ cap will be unaffected either way. However, presumably the team won’t be on the hook for the $183K they would have owed Beasley.

More importantly, the five-game suspension that Beasley would have had to serve if he had stuck with the Nets appears to still be in play — if and when the former No. 2 pick signs with a new NBA team, he’ll still have to serve that five-game ban before being activated.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former Stephen F. Austin guard Thomas Walkup, who has spent the last three seasons overseas, received some NBA interest, but has decided to remain with Lithuanian team Zalgiris Kaunas rather than exercise his opt-out, according to Donatas Urbonas (Twitter link).
  • The NBA has terminated its relationship with a basketball academy located in the Xinjiang region of China, according to a letter sent by the league to a U.S. senator, obtained by Ross Dellenger of SI.com. “The NBA has had no involvement with the Xinjiang basketball academy for more than a year, and the relationship has been terminated,” deputy commissioner Mark Tatum wrote to Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn. The Xinjiang region, where Chinese authorities are holding approximately one million Muslims in “re-education” camps, is “known as one of the world’s worst humanitarian zones,” Dellenger writes.
  • A handful of NBA players are taking part in a basketball tournament in Paris this week, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post, who reports that Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina, Pistons forward Sekou Doumbouya, and Bulls two-way player Adam Mokoka are participating in the event.