Zion Williamson

New York Notes: Dolan, Durant, Russell, Nets

With Kristaps Porzingis sidelined due to his ACL tear, the Knicks have lacked star power this season, something owner James Dolan observed this week, as Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News details. Drawing a line between the Knicks and the other team he owns – the NHL’s New York Rangers – Dolan suggested that his NBA club would “probably be competing for a playoff spot” if it featured a star player like Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Instead, the 10-30 Knicks are just two games away from having the NBA’s worst record. Although New York has been focusing on developing its young players at the expense of some veterans’ playing time, Dolan dismissed the idea that he’s in favor of tanking, per Bondy.

“You have responsibility to the fans,” Dolan said. “Fans pay for tickets and they deserve (the) best game you can give them. That’s probably No. 1. But when you go in and tell a team, even if you’re just telling the coach, to lose the game, you’re dispiriting your team. That hurts more than getting a better draft pick helps. It’s hard to reignite the spirit of the team.”

While Dolan publicly disavowed the idea of tanking, he did acknowledge that he hears from plenty of Knicks fans who want the team to lose in order to have a chance to draft “this kid out of Duke.” NBA executives generally aren’t permitted to publicly comment on college underclassmen, but the league isn’t expected to take action against Dolan for his oblique reference to top prospect Zion Williamson, tweets Bondy.

Let’s round up a few more items on the NBA’s two New York clubs…

  • Kevin Durant didn’t offer up any juicy comments today when he was grilled by New York reporters about the idea of joining the Knicks in free agency later this year, but he also didn’t seem to mind the back-and-forth, Bondy writes in a separate Daily News story. “I wish it was the other way where it was totally about the game, but I get it,” Durant said. “Our league has grown so much in popularity. The sexy thing is what happens in the summer moreso than what happens in the season – playoffs and free agency is the big thing now. I get it.”
  • After starting his 41st game of the season on Monday, Nets guard D’Angelo Russell has officially met the “starter criteria” for restricted free agents, as Bobby Marks of ESPN.com observes (via Twitter). That means that Russell’s projected qualifying offer ($9.16MM) and cap hold ($21.06MM) for this summer will remain unchanged — both would have been reduced if he hadn’t started at least 41 games or played 2,000 minutes this season.
  • Hamstrung for years by their infamous trade with the Celtics, the Nets aren’t in the same class as the C’s, who comfortably beat them on Monday, but Brooklyn’s future looks much brighter than it once did, says Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com.

And-Ones: Brown, Davis, Paul, Williamson

Longtime NBA coach Larry Brown is having a rough time coaching the Euroleague’s Fiat Torino in Italy. The team has lost 10 straight and Brown is on the hot seat, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets. Brown was hired over the summer, his first head coaching job since leaving his position at Southern Methodist two years ago.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA big man Glen Davis has drawn interest from multiple teams in Asia and Israel, according to a Sportando report. Davis briefly played for a Croatian team this season. His last taste of the NBA came in 2014/15, when he played 74 games with the Clippers.
  • Brandon Paul is in serious talks with Greece’s Olympiacos, according to another Sportando report. Paul was waived by the Spurs in late July and failed to hook on to another NBA club. The shooting guard made his league debut last season and appeared in 64 games, averaging 2.3 PPG and 1.1 RPG in just 9.0 MPG.
  • Duke forward Zion Williamson has emerged as the favorite to be the top pick in next year’s draft, according to ESPN’s Mike Schmitz. He’s passed freshmen teammates RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish because of his unique skill set and it’s hard to imagine a rebuilding team choosing anyone else, Schmitz adds.
  • NBA prospect Akok Akok has withdrawn from Putnam Science Academy in Connecticut and will enroll in college in January, he told Adam Zagoria of 247Sports.com. Akok, a 6’10” power forward, has graduated high school and is eligible for the draft. He is considering Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

And-Ones: Wizards, 2019 Draft, Williamson, NBAGL

The Wizards recently became the 28th NBA team to reach a jersey patch agreement with a corporate sponsor, teaming with GEICO on a multiyear deal, as the club announced in a press release. GEICO’s logo will now appear on the uniforms of multiple D.C.-area organizations, with the Wizards, the Washington Mystics (WNBA), and the Capital City Go-Go (G League) all getting the advertisement patch.

The Pacers and Thunder are now the only two NBA teams without ads on their uniforms, as we outline here. The NBA’s jersey sponsorship pilot program is set to run through the 2019/20 season, but the league seems likely to extend it beyond that, given its success so far.

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

  • ESPN’s draft gurus, including Jonathan Givony, recently revealed their complete prospect rankings for the 2019 draft, with Duke players nabbing three of the top four spots. R.J. Barrett leads the way, followed by Zion Williamson at No. 3 and Cameron Reddish at No. 4. The Blue Devils’ trio sandwiches North Carolina small forward Nassir Little at No. 2.
  • Speaking of Williamson, Chris Stone of The Sporting News took an in-depth look at the 285-pound youngster, writing that the Duke forward represents a “truly one-of-a-kind prospect.”
  • The NBA G League has reached a multiyear deal with ESPN that will allow ESPN+ subscribers to watch more than 200 games per season, the league announced today in a press release. This season’s broadcast schedule begins with three games on Tuesday.
  • The Timberwolves could still end up trading Jimmy Butler for valuable long-term pieces, and Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine could become long-term core pieces for the Bulls. However, in the view of Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, the 2017 trade between Minnesota and Chicago is at risk of becoming the sort of blockbuster deal that doesn’t turn out perfectly for either side.

And-Ones: 2019 Draft, Age Minimum, Team USA

After attending a handful of summer events involving top prospects, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony and Mike Schmitz (Insider link) have updated their 2019 NBA mock draft. While Duke freshman R.J. Barrett continues to be viewed as 2019’s top pick, he’s joined in the top three this time around by a fast-rising teammate — Givony and Schmitz have Duke forward Zion Williamson at No. 3 in their latest mock.

Other new names in ESPN’s top 10 include Kentucky freshman wing Keldon Johnson and Oregon freshman center Bol Bol. Johnson excelled in the Wildcats’ exhibition games in the Bahamas, though the ESPN duo was also impressed by Johnson’s teammate PJ Washington, who “looks to be in much better shape” than he was last season. As for Bol, he had a strong showing at the Nike Basketball Academy, as Givony detailed earlier in the month.

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

  • Although the NBA’s draft eligibility rule related to a player’s minimum age won’t change within the next couple years, it seems highly likely to be altered or eliminated at some point. Tom Ziller of SBNation.com explores a few possible alternatives to the current rule.
  • In a step toward the elimination of the one-and-done rule, the NBA, NCAA, and NBPA reached an agreement with USA Basketball, announcing today that Team USA will expand its Men’s Junior National Team program to include additional training camps and year-round player development programming. The program will include approximately 80 top high school prospects, or about 20 per high school class. Here’s the official announcement from USA Basketball, along with more details from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst.
  • Players on two-way contracts who spend the maximum allowable number of days with their NBA clubs in 2018/19 will be able to earn up to $385,612 this season, tweets cap expert Albert Nahmad. That’s still well short of the NBA rookie minimum ($838,464), but greatly exceeds the standard $35K G League salary.
  • Shane Rhodes of Basketball Insiders examines some potential surprise teams for the 2018/19 season, suggesting that the Bulls, Mavericks, Pistons, Clippers, and Suns are candidates to exceed expectations.

And-Ones: George, Lakers, Team USA, 2019 Draft

It was overshadowed last week by the excitement of the NBA trade deadline, but Thunder forward Paul George once again addressed his 2018 free agency, this time during a conversation with Sam Amick of USA Today. The last time George weighed in on his upcoming decision, he was telling ESPN that Russell Westbrook‘s advocacy for George’s spot on the All-Star team was making his free agency choice easier.

This time around, George continued to praise the Thunder – an organization he called “smart” and “savvy” – and laid out a strong case for why he might end up re-signing with Oklahoma City. However, he didn’t close the door on heading west to Los Angeles either.

“I’ve been really happy,” George told Amick. “(The Thunder are] a great organization to be a part of, but again, you know, I don’t want people looking at this and (saying) like, ‘Hey, because he said it’s his happiness at the end of the day (that he’s definitely re-signing).’ I don’t know whether I’m going to LA, or what I’m going to do this offseason. But I can say I am happy about being here. I’m happy with playing with Russ, happy with playing with Melo, and this organization. This front office has shown what they can do to go get pieces and how active they are about winning.”

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

  • RealGM has the unusual protection details on the first-round pick acquired by the Lakers in their deadline deal with the Cavaliers. The 2018 first-rounder is top-three protected, so it’s a virtual lock to change hands this year. But if the Cavs somehow fall out of the playoffs and jump into the top three in the lottery, the Lakers wouldn’t have another shot at the pick until 2023, when it’s top-10 protected.
  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer identifies several players who would be top candidates for a Most Improved Situation of the Year award, if such an award existed.
  • USA Basketball recently announced the 14 players who will participate in training camp for the next World Cup qualifying event. Former NBAers like Terrence Jones, Semaj Christon, and Alonzo Gee are among the players looking to represent Team USA.
  • Jonathan Givony of ESPN (Insider link) takes an early look at the 2019 draft class, which currently projected to be headed by a trio of Duke commits, R.J. Barrett, Cameron Reddish, and Zion Williamson.