Mario Hezonja

Knicks Notes: Hezonja, Porzingis, Burke, Vonleh

Mario Hezonja is one of several Knicks players who have found themselves out of the lineup as part of coach David Fizdale’s revolving rotation, but he might be the only one who believes the experience was positive, relays Chris Iseman of NorthJersey.com. Hezonja has played his best basketball since being given another chance, averaging 14.3 PPG and 5.0 RPG over the last three games while shooting 57.7% from the field.

“I think that stuff when I was out for a couple games really opened my mind even more about the game of basketball. It really benefited me,” Hezonja said. “It wasn’t really messing with my rhythm or any of that stuff.”

It’s still not clear if Hezonja is in the organization’s long-term plans after signing a one-year, $6.5MM deal last summer. However, he told reporters Thursday that he knows how the situation will play out and loves playing for the Knicks.

“This coaching staff, I wish I had them in my rookie year,” he said. “I’m not saying anything about what I had. It was just rough and unfortunate situation what happened to me. I wish they were my coaching staff in my rookie year. We’d be talking a different story right now. Yeah, I’m happy to be around them. …This is not a typical BS talk. ‘I’m only thinking about this, I don’t know what it’s gonna be.’ I know. This is it. I love this. I want to be in New York.”

There’s more Knicks news to pass along:

  • It’s not a surprise considering the prognosis for his recovery from an ACL injury, but Kristaps Porzingis has officially passed the point where he could meet starter criteria for his upcoming restricted free agency, tweets ESPN’s Bobby Marks. That means the qualifying offer the Knicks will have to make drops from $7.5MM to $4.5MM. His cap hold will be $17.1MM and he will qualify for a $158MM contract over five years with a starting salary set at $27.25MM.
  • Trey Burke is an obvious trade candidate given his expiring contract and his place on the team, but he tells Marc Berman of The New York Post that he tries to avoid thoughts of the upcoming deadline. Burke is already well traveled at age 26, being with his third team in six seasons, and is only seeing regular minutes because of an injury to Frank Ntilikina. “It’s something I look at as fool’s gold. It’s an illusion,” Burke said. “You can always put yourself in a playoff-team situation. What would it be like if I was with the Lakers? Or with Golden State? You can always do that as a player. It’s not reality until it happens.”
  • Several teams have already identified Noah Vonleh as a possible free agent target, a source tells ESPN’s Ian Begley.

Atlantic Notes: Hezonja, McCaw, Sixers, Morris

Mario Hezonja is seeing fewer minutes on the court this season with the Knicks, but that hasn’t stopped the 23-year-old from enjoying his time in New York, Steve Popper of Newsday relays. Hezonja is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“No, no, no. I love New York. As I said, this coaching staff, I wish I had them in my rookie year,” Hezonja said. “I’m not saying anything about what I had. It was just rough and unfortunate situation what happened to me. I wish they were my coaching staff in my rookie year. We’d be talking a different story right now. 

“Yeah, I’m happy to be around them. Even when I wasn’t playing, I just said, how important they were for me and how much room I still have for growth, for learning the game and all that stuff, so it’s big time for me. I love this team. I love everybody over here. I was surprised as soon as I came here. I’m focusing only on here. This is not a typical BS talk. ‘I’m only thinking about this, I don’t know what it’s gonna be.’ I know. This is it. I love this. I want to be in New York.”

Along with Hezonja, other Knicks players set to reach unrestricted free agency this summer include Enes KanterNoah Vonleh and Trey Burke. Hezonja is averaging 7.6 points and 17.8 minutes per game on the season, shooting 40% from the floor and an underwhelming 29% from 3-point range.

New York is reportedly exploring trades for several players ahead of the Feb. 7 deadline, but Hezonja’s name has yet to surface as a candidate.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division today:

  • Blake Murphy of The Athletic examines how the NBA’s roster rules brought the Raptors to sign Patrick McCaw as a free agent. The Cavaliers waived McCaw days after signing him in restricted free agency, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent and sign with any team. McCaw is expected to provide backcourt depth for the Raptors as they ready themselves for a deep postseason run.
  • The Sixers still hope to re-sign Jimmy Butler this summer despite the team’s recent drama, ESPN’s Zach Lowe writes. Lowe provided details on Butler’s comments to Brett Brown at a recent 76ers film session, with Butler reportedly speaking up for himself and teammate T.J. McConnell. McConnell, who’s averaging 20.7 minutes per game, also voiced his concerns during the session when Brown asked if anyone else had something to add, Lowe notes.
  • Celtics forward Marcus Morris relayed the importance of winning as his major long-term focus, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports. Morris, who’s making $5.3MM this season, is also set to become a free agent this summer. “That’s all I care about; winning,” Morris said. “That other stuff, the big-money contract, being in the conversation for All-Star, none of that happens if you’re not winning. So for me, that’s what all this is about, keeping finding ways to win.”

Atlantic Notes: Carroll, Brown, Rozier, Hezonja

The Nets have been surging in recent weeks, and the team’s hot streak has coincided with strong play from DeMarre Carroll, who is finally gaining comfort after returning from ankle surgery on November 9. As Brian Lewis writes for The New York Post, Carroll has been providing stellar and consistent play off the bench, averaging nearly 17 points and 6 rebounds per game in his last five contests, while knocking down 50% of his 3-pointers.

Carroll’s turnaround couldn’t have come at a better time for the Nets, who are missing Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert due to injuries.

Coming into the season, Carroll was expected to play a key role for the Nets as a small-ball power forward. Due to his injury and early struggles this season, he lost that role and has had to work to regain it. Now he is a key cog on the Nets’ bench unit, which is one of the best in the league.

There’s more from the Atlantic division:

  • After getting off to a rough start this season, Jaylen Brown has stepped up his play in recent games for the CelticsAs Sherrod Blakely points out for NBC Sports Boston, Brown has finally started to hit shots in recent games and has resembled the player he was last season on a more consistent basis.
  • Speaking of struggling Celtics, Terry Rozier continues to navigate his smaller role now that the team is healthy. As Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald points out, Rozier is struggling with accepting the smaller role for the good of the team versus constricting his career to being a backup point guard.
  • In their recent win over the Lakers, the Knicks received strong contributions from Mario Hezonja. However, as Marc Berman writes for The New York Post, Hezonja and Enes Kanter are two parts of the Knicks’ rotation that have seen their roles decrease significantly in recent weeks as their future with the team is in question.

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Graham, Knicks, Crabbe

The Sixers don’t have long-term concerns about signing Jimmy Butler to a possible five-year contract, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Butler is set to turn 30 in September, currently playing in his eighth NBA season.

“No concern, because of the way he takes care of his body,” Sixers GM Elton Brand said, according to Pompey. “But, of course, there’s other things that would have to happen before you discuss those kind of things… like he has to opt out of his contract. So I don’t want to talk about that yet.”

For most NBA players, production levels begin to decrease as they turn the corner and reach age 30. There have been some outliers in this case during recent years, such as four-time MVP LeBron James, but teams usually give added thought before offering lucrative, long-term deals to players who are on the wrong side of 30.

Butler, who was acquired by the Sixers in a trade last November, is holding per-game averages of 18 points, 4.7 rebounds and one steal with the team this season. He can turn down a $19.8MM player option for the 2019/20 season to enter free agency this summer and seek a new deal.

The Sixers’ offer to Butler could be a five-year, $190MM maximum contract, which would help solidify the team’s “Big 3” of Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for several seasons to come.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Nets swingman Treveon Graham will be available to play in the team’s game against the Grizzlies on Friday, according to Brian Lewis of the New York Post (Twitter link). Graham last played for the Nets on Oct. 19, taking the last 11 weeks to rehab from a hamstring injury. He signed a contract to join the team this past summer in free agency.
  • Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee aren’t the only players who have seen their roles diminish on the Knicks in recent weeks, Marc Berman writes for The Post. Mario Hezonja, Trey Burke and Lance Thomas have also been given reduced time, with all five players becoming trade candidates for the Feb. 7 deadline, according to Berman. Knicks coach David Fizdale has prioritized playing younger talent this season, making the futures of some veterans uncertain.
  • Nets guard Allen Crabbe is set to miss more time than expected with his knee injury, Lewis writes in a different story for The Post. Crabbe last played on Dec. 12 due to general soreness and will be re-evaluated in 1-2 weeks, with surgery an unlikely option. “No, we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I haven’t gotten to that point. It will be a re-evaluation in a week to 10 days and then go from there.”

Knicks Notes: Ntilikina, Hezonja, Wall, Dotson

Before getting his third consecutive DNP-CD on Thursday night, Frank Ntilikina offered some terse answers when asked about his role, perhaps conveying a little frustration, as Marc Berman of The New York Post relays. Meanwhile, head coach David Fizdale made some ominous comments when asked about his lineup decisions involving Ntilikina and other Knicks.

“I got a front office that supports me in that,” Fizdale said. “We have to know who’s moving forward out of this group. And it won’t be every single player on this roster, unfortunately. That’s the nature of the business. We have to come out of this year knowing who those guys it’s going to be moving forward with us.”

After Thursday’s game, in which the Knicks surrendered 128 points, Fizdale acknowledged that maybe he should’ve given a strong defender like Ntilikina the opportunity to play, per Steve Popper of Newsday.

“I can always look at him,” Fizdale said. “It ain’t like he’s out, though. Again, it’s going to be a long season. Frank will be getting his opportunities again.”

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Fizdale said on Thursday that Mario Hezonja is still in New York’s starting lineup because of his effort on defense, as Popper notes. Berman of The New York Post passes along a tweet from former Knicks executive Clarence Gaines Jr. questioning Fizdale’s explanation, while sources also told Berman that Hezonja was happier during his Orlando days when he was in the starting five.
  • Following up on a pair of reports from earlier this week, Ian Begley of ESPN.com says (via Twitter) that the Knicks haven’t had any internal discussions about a possible trade for John Wall and haven’t heard from the Nets or Pistons about Damyean Dotson. Berman previously reported that people around the league believed the Knicks were gearing up to make a push for Wall and said that Detroit and Brooklyn had shown the most interest in Dotson.
  • Lance Thomas is getting close to returning to action, but – like Courtney Lee before him – may have a hard time carving out major minutes in a crowded rotation, Berman writes for The New York Post. Thomas and Lee look like potential trade candidates this season, so New York may make an effort to showcase both players.
  • Ten months after Kristaps Porzingis suffered his ACL tear, there’s still no set timetable for his return to the court, according to Berman.

Knicks Notes: Hezonja, Burke, Robinson, Trier

A cutback in minutes could ruin Mario Hezonja‘s return to Orlando on Sunday, writes Marc Berman of The New York Post. Hezonja, who spent three years with the Magic before signing with the Knicks over the summer, got his first DNP of the season last night in a loss to the Pelicans.

Hezonja has been the victim of an evolving rotation in New York, along with his own inconsistent play. He’s shooting just .397 from the field and a career-worst .280 from 3-point range.

“That’s just how the rotation is where it’s at,” coach David Fizdale said after the game.Trey [Burke] didn’t play [in two games] and he scored 24 for me tonight. I tell all the guys stay ready, it’s a revolving door. Everyone will get a chance to help our team. I think [Hezonja] will.’’

There’s more news out of New York:

  • Burke credits a change in attitude for Friday night’s scoring outburst, Berman relays in a separate story. He hadn’t shown the explosiveness that helped earn him a rotation spot after being signed from the G League last season, and says he wasn’t driving to the basket enough. “[I was] being conservative, letting the game come to me,’’ Burke said. “Not attacking immediately. Naturally I’m a scoring point guard. When I attack it’s not always for me to score, it creates for others to. I wasn’t doing that.”
  • Rookie center Mitchell Robinson showed off his shot-blocking prowess last night with seven rejections in 24 minutes, Berman adds in another piece. He ranks fourth in the league in blocks per 36 minutes at 3.7 and gets many of those with his left hand, a fact that his high school coach, Butch Stockton, takes credit for. “I taught him that,’’ Stockton said. “When he was in high school with us, I always stressed to him to block shots with his left hand. Most people you play against are right-handed. Mitchell can always spring better with his left hand up. His senior year he was the best shot-blocker in the country.’’
  • Two days after unveiling a new starting lineup, Fizdale changed it again in New Orleans, Berman tweets. The latest move involves rookie Allonzo Trier, who was inserted into the starting five in place of Noah Vonleh.

Knicks Notes: Lineup, Hezonja, Porzingis, Lee

The Knicks are making a couple changes to their starting lineup, as Marc Berman of The New York Post tweets. Emmanuel Mudiay and Kevin Knox are set to replace Frank Ntilikina and Damyean Dotson in the club’s starting five.

According to Berman (via Twitter), head coach David Fizdale referred to Mudiay today as the Knicks’ “best passer.” While Ntilikina has been effective as a defender this season, he has struggled to produce on the offensive end, and Fizdale is looking for more creation from the point guard spot, Berman notes.

Here’s more on the Knicks:

  • Mario Hezonja represented the Knicks’ most significant free agent addition this past offseason, but he has struggled to hit his stride in New York — he’s shooting a career-worst 29.2% on three-pointers so far. Zach Braziller of The New York Post explores how the Knicks are trying to find the right role for Hezonja and get him going. “I think I’m falling into the same things that other coaches have tried to find: What is he?” Fizdale said. “What spot is best on the floor for him? Can he handle playing the four and the two from a position-less standpoint? Or does he just need to be slotted?”
  • In a separate article for The Post, Braziller relays comments Kristaps Porzingis made to GQ and observes that Porzingis sounds like someone who plans to return to the court well before the end of the season. “Now that it’s getting closer, I can taste it,” Porzingis, who continues to recover from last season’s ACL tear, told Alex Shultz of GQ. “I’m trying to stay patient. The day will come.”
  • The Knicks provided an update on Courtney Lee‘s health following a re-evaluation on Tuesday, tweeting that the veteran wing is progressing well and will begin running on the court this week. Lee is expected to be a prime trade chip for New York at this season’s deadline if gets healthy.

Knicks Notes: Robinson, Knox, Vonleh, Carmelo

Coach David Fizdale is committed to making rookie Mitchell Robinson his starting center, Marc Berman of the New York Post reports. Robinson has replaced Enes Kanter, who will enter the free agent market next summer, because Fizdale feels the second-round pick is a “superior natural defender” and he wants the whole team to have a defensive mindset. “He’s going to be our foundation, our anchor of our defense for the future,” Fizdale said. “Let’s get this guy going right now and really commit to the development of these guys and to what it’s going to take to get them to where they need to be for us to be the team we’re going to be later.”  By making an early commitment to a youth movement, Knicks appear to have gone into tanking mode early, sacrificing wins this season to improve their draft position.

We have more from the Knicks:

  • First-round pick Kevin Knox will likely return on Monday from a left ankle sprain, Berman writes in a separate story. Knox has only played three games and with Fizdale cancelling practice on Thursday, he won’t play against the Mavericks on Friday, according to Berman. Even if Knox practices on Saturday, he’ll likely be held out of playing Sunday against Washington because the team doesn’t want him playing back-to-backs right away, so he’ll return against Chicago on Monday.
  • Noah Vonleh has emerged as Kristaps Porzingis‘ fill-in as the starting power forward, Berman notes in another piece. Vonleh signed a partially guaranteed $1.6MM contract that doesn’t fully guaranteed until January 10th but he’s jumped ahead of Mario Hezonja, who signed a one-year, $6.5MM contract in the offseason, in the pecking order. Vonleh only has a cap hold of $1.62MM but he doesn’t want to look too far ahead. “I definitely want to be here in New York, but that’s up in the air,” he told Berman. “I have to focus on this season and go from there.”
  • Carmelo Anthony believes the franchise’s reputation scared away top-shelf free agents during his time with the team, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News“The perception of the organization. I think it probably scared a lot of people away,” he said. “Scared some people away. Not knowing the nuances and the ins and outs of kind of what was going on, who is in charge, who is not. So it was more than just basketball when it came to people making those decisions.”

Knicks Notes: G League, Hezonja, Dotson, Lee

As was reported last week, the G League is creating a new opportunity for NBA prospects over 18 years of age to sign a contract worth $125K as an alternative to the one-and-done route in college basketball. And per Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, at least two current Knicks players, both of whom had to wait a season out of high school before entering the NBA Draft, would have taken advantage of this new program if it had been offered when they were getting ready for college.

Big man Enes Kanter, who attempted to play his freshman season at Kentucky before being ruled ineligible, and his current backup, rookie big man Mitchell Robinson, both told Bondy that despite skepticism surrounding the new program (e.g. salary too low, missing out on benefits of big-time college basketball, etc.), they like the new option for young prospects.

Kanter, who turned down millions to play in his native Turkey to play at Kentucky, said in his typical brash fashion, “I turned (millions of dollars) down to play NCAA and then they say no college basketball. Are you kidding me? The NCAA rules are terrible. Write that.”

Robinson, who enrolled at Western Kentucky but quickly withdrew to take the year off to  prepare for the draft through individualized workouts, was a bit more measured, saying “I probably would (go that route) because the G League helps you get developed to play at the next level. I don’t see how it would hurt. You can get all the reps you want but you also need to be on the court. A lot people think that school won’t help them so this would be the best thing for them.”

Meanwhile, both Emmanuel Mudiay and head coach David Fizdale also support the new G League initiative, with Fizdale going as far as to support the end of the ban on high schoolers jumping straight to the NBA. “Most of them aren’t (ready for the NBA). But… I’ve always looked at this issue as a regular working human being would be able to make millions of dollars when they’re 18… so how do you tell an 18-year-old who can dunk and shoot 3s that he can’t go to the league?”

Marc Berman of the New York Post has more out the Big Apple this evening:

  • Mario Hezonja appears to have maybe taken it personally after being ripped on social media by former team executive Clarence Gaines Jr., the right-hand man to Phil Jackson during a forgettable era of Knicks basketball from 2014-2017. Hezonja scored 18 points on 8-of-16 shooting and was physical on defense in a loss to the Bucks one day after Gaines’ tweet went viral.
  • A potential silver lining to the ankle injury suffered by prized rookie Kevin Knox is the emergence of the otherwise seldom-used Damyean Dotson, who finished with 14 points in 31 minutes on 4-of-8 shooting from long range.
  • The neck injury to Courtney Lee that has sidelined the veteran since the beginning of training camp remains a mystery, with Lee planning to undergo more tests to find a remedy or the cause of the neck spasms. It remains to be seen whether the effects of the injury are in any way related to the Knicks’ efforts to trade Lee.

Knicks Notes: Porzingis, Knox, Dotson, Hezonja

Knicks coach David Fizdale has enjoyed the presence of Kristaps Porzingis at practice and games, with Porzingis still months away from a potential return to the court after tearing his ACL in February.

Porzingis, 23, has mostly been away from the team rehabbing his injury, but was at Madison Square Garden when the Knicks took on Boston Saturday night. He sat on the bench supporting his teammates and was available for advice when needed.

“It’s good for his mindset,” Fizdale said, according to ESPN’s Ian Begley (Twitter link). “When you’re out that long and you’re dealing with injury and you’re dealing with, (you think) ‘if I don’t come back the same and man I can’t even play and these guys are having fun and competing’ and all of that. For him to be around helps. 

“It’s very easy to go into some depression if you stay away from the team when you’re going through something that big. So I think it’s really good for him. I know it’s good for us. The young guys look to him for advice. And for encouragement. And he sees the game very clearly. The film sessions have been fantastic with him. Just him taking over the film sessions and (saying) hey, we have to do this, do this. I know he needs that right now. To feel connected and like I said he’s been fantastic from that point. Totally engaged.” 

There’s more out of New York today:

  • Kevin Knox sustained a sprained left ankle in Saturday’s game against the Celtics, an MRI confirmed. Knox is set to be re-evaluated in one week and won’t make the team’s upcoming two-game road trip.
  • The sudden injury to Knox will free up minutes for young forward Damyean Dotson, Peter Botte of The New York Post contends. Dotson scored 20 points on 4-8 shooting last game, with coach David Fizdale later telling reporters, “I told him this. I told him all through preseason — I trust the kid — ‘You’re a player. You’re exactly what we’re looking for in a player.’ And he earned the right to get on the court. I’m really happy how he kept himself ready, real professional approach.”
  • Former Knicks executive Clarence Gaines Jr. ripped Mario Hezonja following the team’s loss to Boston, tweeting that Hezonja is a “huge liability as an individual defender” (link). Knicks general manager Scott Perry is a longtime Hezonja supporter, with Gaines Jr. being a former right-hand man to Phil Jackson during his time with the Knicks.