BULLS RUN: A DEFENSIVE DILEMMA

It must irk a former defender like Mike Petke to no end that his team is seemingly unable to keep the ball out of the net.

Last Saturday’s 1-1 draw with San Jose was yet another match the Red Bulls dropped points due to defensive errors. With New York looking to close out a win against the Earthquakes, a poor clearance in the Red Bulls’ penalty box led to Steven Lenhart’s dramatic 85th-minute equalizer to give the Quakes a share of the spoils.

It’s been a recurring theme this season and a sight that Petke is sick of seeing. New York has only manage to record three shutouts in 20 games and haven’t had one since a May 4 victory over FC Dallas. The Red Bulls have allowed 31 goals in 20 matches, or 1.55 goals per game . Compare that to 2013, when New York gave up 41 goals in 34 games, or roughly 1.2 goals per game.

It’s been a myriad of issues that have plagued the Red Bulls’ head coach throughout the season. Petke has had to rely on youth more than he’s expected to this season due to the fact that veteran players on the roster have simply disappointed.

Petke has yet to find a consistent center-back partner for Jamison Olave and the results have been mediocre at best. After losing Markus Holgersson last year, the Red Bulls’ front office had hoped that an Olave-Armando partnership would flourish. Unfortunately for New York, Armando has found more of a penchant for getting himself suspended instead of being in the starting XI. Petke has tried 19-year-old Matt Miazga and Ibrahim Sekagya alongside Olave, but those combinations have yet to find much success.

Full back has also been a problem. Petke has been missing the services of Roy Miller since May 10 after the left back went to Brazil to join up with the Costa Rican national team at the World Cup. It was expected that Bobby Convey would be used as the stand-in left back while Miller was away, but the former US international has yet to impress. Petke has opted to go for youth in recent matches, calling on 23-year-old Ambroise Oyongo. Over at right back, Petke has also opted to go with youth over experience, choosing 22-year-old Chris Duvall over Kosuke Kimura.

While this fits into the Red Bulls’ vision for the long-term development of their youth players, it has come at a cost. Miazaga was on the bench for the match against San Jose after making several high-profile mistakes in previous matches. Nevertheless, the coach remains undeterred and believes in his youngsters.

“These kids have energy,” Petke told the media after the match against San Jose. “These kids have done a good job so far. That’s all I want to say because [they’re] still young. I’m not ready to call them ‘the next this’ or proclaim them to be ‘bonafide starters or all-stars’. They’re young kids who have done well with their opportunities. If they keep continuing to do that it’s positive for us.”

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The Knicks Fix: Melo Takes Ownership

When Carmelo Anthony officially announced his decision to remain with the Knicks, the headline of his website, thisismelo.com, read, “My City, My Heart.”

It should have also read: “My Team.”

While the critics will point to the massive five-year contract Melo signed to stay in New York — more than any other team could offer — that money represents not just the biggest payday of his career and security for his family for generations to come, but also his position among the hierarchy of this franchise. He appears to be part-owner now and responsible for the direction of this team almost as much as Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher.

That is what makes so significant his willingness to adjust the contract. Jackson, Steve Mills and Melo’s reps put together various concepts for Melo to consider that would allow the team to still be major players in free agency next summer, when the team anticipates to have the ability to create room (keyword: create) for at least one max contract to offer.

“He did exactly what we kind of asked him to do: give us a break in the early part of his contract so when we have some wiggle room next year — which will be hopefully big enough wiggle room — we can exploit it,” Jackson said.

The argument from others, of course, is that if Melo was really about winning, he would have signed with the Chicago Bulls, who have Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, along with one of the game’s most respected coaches in Tom Thibodeau.

Let’s get one thing straight for the record: The Bulls were the only real threat in this situation. Anything you heard about the Rockets and Lakers was fabricated speculation by agenda-driven sources. And teaming up with LeBron James to play in Miami? That scenario was impossible considering that LeBron had his mind focused on a possible return to Cleveland for months. But at least the coverage didn’t lack for entertainment.

The Bulls offered Melo the best immediate potential. To go to Chicago, however, he would have had to take a significant pay cut — almost $10 million less than New York — unless a sign-and-trade was executed. That, however, was never discussed because Melo never asked for it, which lends credibility to when he said, “my heart never wavered” about leaving New York.

And while on paper, Melo on the Bulls might have been ranked ahead of even LeBron’s Cavs next season, there are no guarantees it could win a title in the first year. Or even the second.

The only thing that’s guaranteed is the money. So there’s no faulting Melo for taking the money over the potential. But there’s still even more to it than that.

The Knicks represent something Melo wants beyond the salary: The stage, the city and the challenge.

In his three-plus seasons here, he quickly learned playing in New York is unlike anywhere else in the NBA. Not just because of the bright lights of The Garden or the marquee status he earned as a celebrity, but for the burden that suddenly dropped on his shoulders, for the incessant criticism that he’ll never win here.

I talked about this with Patrick Ewing, who looks at Melo and sees himself a decade or so ago. Ewing heard it all the time too. In 1991, he almost left for the same reasons. But he took the money to stay, took ownership of the franchise, trusted a championship coach (Pat Riley), who came in with a plan, and then came so painfully close in ’94.

Any of this sound familiar to current events?

What Melo said in his statement, about being “a New York Knick at heart,” is true. If the 2012-13 season, when he won the scoring title and led the team to the Atlantic Division title was his baptism, the record-setting 62-point performance in January was his confirmation. When his career ends, Melo will be in the lineage of Braun, McGuire, Guerin, Reed, Frazier, Monroe, King and Ewing.

And if he wins just one championship here … just one … he understands that, considering market, fan base and the desperation of an agonizing four decade wait, it would be equal to the two LeBron won in Miami.

The effort to do that started with Melo keeping his word. That was the first investment in the plan.

Remember, it was he who, before the All-Star Break, first discussed the idea of taking less money to help the Knicks build a championship team around him. But when Jackson acknowledged that idea publicly after he was hired as team president, Melo bristled.

After the two had a chance to talk on a personal level, things were smoothed over quickly. Jackson’s pedigree had Melo’s attention and Melo’s potential, which Jackson scouted carefully over the last month of the season, had Jackson’s attention. An early bond formed quickly and Jackson found Melo engaging him in philosophical discussions about the game, which, of course, the Zen Master loved.

“There was never any tension in our conversations,” Jackson said. “So I think it really went very well for us. All of our conversations were relaxed, they were comfortable.”

And that allowed Jackson to offer his opinion about Melo’s game and changes the seven-time All-Star needed to make from his reputation as a primary scorer into a player who can thrive within a system. It wasn’t dissimilar to the process Jackson went through to help Kobe Bryant go through his own transformation.

“I talked to Carmelo a little bit about that in the process,” Jackson said. “That one of the things about the [Triangle] offensive system is you can’t try to score every time you touch the ball. You have to participate.

“And you also have to have guys who are strong enough to know there’s a whole offense to run and guys to all be involved. Then when breakdowns happen, you need to have that guy who can get shows on his own and we have a guy that’s a great bailout guy in Carmelo.”

Jackson came away from those conversations convinced that Melo, at 30, was ready to make that transformation.

“I think that’s what he’s really looking for,” he said. “He admired San Antonio’s game and the way they played. And that’s the way we want to play.”

There is still a great distance between New York and San Antonio. And not just geographically.

Considering their salary cap limitations this season, there isn’t much improvement possible for the Knicks on the short-term. But Jackson believes the system alone will improve the team dramatically.

They will have significant cap space next summer, with a chance to make a play for a major piece such as, perhaps, Marc Gasol (who might be a better fit than his brother, Pau, in the Triangle) or two excellent supporting cast players.

That, of course, suggests patience, which is another investment Melo made in this agreement.

“We’re glad Carmelo is seeing we have the vision, trusted us with … his desire to win, be on a competitive team,” Jackson said. “And our message to him is we are going to be a competitive team.

“It may not be instantaneous, we may not just be able to drop in and win a championship, but it’s going to be something that we’re goal-oriented and that’s the direction we’re going.”

FIXINS

  • Jackson admitted the Knicks may not use their exceptions — the $3.2 million Taxpayer’s Mid-Level or the $3.6 million trade exception they received in the Mavericks trade — because “I want to be fiscally responsible.”Keep in mind the NBA has a repeater penalty that escalates the tax charges for teams that are over the luxury tax threshold in consecutive years. The Knicks may try to stay as close to the threshold ($76.8 million) as possible this season to alleviate the expense that is likely to come after signing another major free agent in 2015.
  • So what’s next? With a roster loaded with guards and wing players, Jackson said the focus is to look for another big to bolster the frontcourt with a rebounder to join Amar’e Stoudemire, Andrea Bargnani, Sam Dalembert and Cole Aldrich. He also mentioned the need to “get some support behind Melo, he played a lot of minutes,” which likely means if rookie Cleanthony Early isn’t ready for the job, the Knicks will be in the market for an affordable, versatile wing player.
  • That player Jackson hoped could take some minutes from Melo and also give the Knicks some versatility was Lamar Odom, but the team waived him on Saturday. Jackson, in a statement, made note of how Odom was unable to “uphold the standards” to return to being an NBA player.Jackson, who enjoyed great success coaching Odom with the Lakers before the former New York City product fell into off-the-court issues, said it “hurt” to cut Odom.”Oh yeah, it hurt,” he said. “We really wanted him to have an opportunity. Just couldn’t break free from what was going on and get back on the basketball court and work.”
  • The Knicks return to action in the NBA Summer League Monday against the Charlotte Hornets. We’ll have the coverage on MSG Network at 4 p.m. ET.
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    The Knicks Fix: Inching Closer?

    The options, Phil Jackson noted, involved percentages. Players can get up to 7.5 percent raises from year-to-year in their contracts. Jackson suggested that adjustments could be made in those raises to quell the annual cap hit.

    “It’s about percentages,” he said. “Less than one percent that’s available in a series of dollars that grow over a period of five years. It’s not a big deal, it just gives us more flexibility, that’s all.”

    Jackson on Draft night also hinted that would be the potential for increased revenue in the NBA, which would create a spike in the salary cap. That would alleviate some of the cap hit of a max, or near-max, contract in future years.

    “I think there are going to be things that are going to be happening in the near future in the NBA that’s going to grow this league,” Jackson said, in perhaps a reference to a new national TV deal for the league, which would bring billions in revenue.

    “And I think, monetarily, it’s going to end up being not an issue for us to do that.”

    EARLY INDICATIONS ARE POSITIVE

    Rookie Cleanthony Early has had a nice start to the summer league, averaging 12 points per game on 8-for-18 shooting (4-for-6 from three-point range). But where he has impressed the most isn’t in scoring or defense, but intelligence. Early, who put in four years of college (two at Wichita State), is now majoring in the Triangle Offense. And he told me he’s going to use every tool available to learn it.

    “You just got to pay attention, honestly,” he said of the complicated system, which was installed during practice this week and being utilized in games.

    “We go through it enough in practice where you should be picking it up. And on your off time, it’s not like you have to go to school or anything. So, you could just sit home and look at old film of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, those guys, doing it.

    “You could read books. [Phil Jackson] has a lot of books out. So I try to do as much as possible to get myself up to speed. And I think that’s what it takes and I’m all for it.”

    Later he said, “I want to know as much as possible. I’m trying to learn as much as possible from those guys.”

    Seriously, could this kid be any more of a model student?

    Tim Hardaway Jr. made note of Early’s relentless inquisitiveness.

    “He’s asking a lot of questions, which is great,” Hardaway Jr. said. “We like to see that in a young player.”

    Hardaway Jr., who was named first team All-Rookie last season, has willingly played the role of mentor to Early. The two, plus Shane Larkin, have stuck together throughout the time here.

    That’s always great to see. What’s funny, though, is to hear Hardaway Jr., at 22, say “we like to see that in a young player” in reference to Early, who happens to be a year older.

    FIXINS

    • Rookie Thanasis Antetokounmpo has also had some attention-grabbing moments. While he remains a raw offensive player, he plays with an unbridled intensity that is infectious. Antetokounmpo is an aggressive defender who had the Mavericks’ Ricky Ledo glaring at him a few times. He single-handedly drew an eight-second violation with full-court defense on the ball against the Trail Blazers. But he also picked up seven fouls in the first game (you are allowed 10 in Summer League play) and four in the second game, while averaging 14 minutes per game. The question in regards to Antetokounmpo is where he may play this season if he doesn’t make the NBA roster. He played last season in the D-League and the Knicks would probably prefer to send him to the Westchester Knicks, where they can work with him on a regular basis. There are new rules in place that allow teams to send an unsigned draft pick to their D-League team — similarly to “stashing” him overseas — without it costing an NBA roster spot.  Antetokounmpo may prefer to go to Europe, where the money is much better, though the Knicks can’t be there to develop him.
    • Hardaway Jr. has put on some added muscle in the offseason, which he said will help him keep defenders off him as he tries to create his shot. He has taken on the role of the primary scorer, so far, and is averaging 22.5 points per game on 12-of-31 shooting. He’s three-point shot has been a little rusty at 6-for-18 (33.3 percent) after two games.
    • The Knicks were unable to attract Pau Gasol to New York, despite Jackson’s relationship with the 34-year-old Spaniard. He agreed to go to the Bulls, who will now have two excellent passing big men (Joakim Noah). But there is still some hope that the Knicks can lure Pau’s brother Marc next summer, when he becomes a free agent.
    • Once Melo is in the fold, the Knicks will be over the salary cap, which means they have only three other means to sign/acquire players without even money trades: 1. The $3.2 million Taxpayer’s Mid-Level Exception; 2. The $3.6 million trade exception that came in the trade with the Mavericks; and 3. Veteran’s minimums.

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    Interesting Facts About Melo

    • Melo attended Towson Catholic High School and was actually cut from the basketball team as a freshman. But he returned for his sophomore year five inches taller and with a new level of confidence and talent. For his senior year, he transferred to Oak Hill Academy in Virginia.
      CHECK OUT MELO IN HIGH SCHOOL
    • According to scouts, he could have most likely gone right from high school to the NBA, but his mother insisted he go to college.
    • He won the 2002 High School All-American Slam Dunk Contest, beating out Amar’e Stoudemire.
      WATCH CARMELO IN ACTION
    • He was selected third overall by the Denver Nuggets in the 2003 NBA Draft and was named to the All-Rookie team during his 2003-04 rookie season, averaging 21 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
      SEE DRAFT NIGHT PHOTO
    • His favorite players are Michael Jordan, Bernard King, and Dr. J.
    • In December 2004, he became the third youngest player, behind LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, to reach 2,000 career points.
    • He proposed to La La Vazquez on Christmas Day 2004. Their wedding took place in July 2010 and was filmed by VH1 for a reality series called La La’s Full Court Wedding. Carmelo and La La have a son named Kiyan Carmelo Anthony.
      SEE A CLIP FROM THE WEDDING
    • He was a member of the 2004, 2008, and 2012 USA Olympic basketball teams. Carmelo, David Robinson, and LeBron James are the only players to suit up for Team USA in three straight Olympics.
      MELO BREAKS OLYMPIC RECORD
    • He donated $3 million in 2007 to Syracuse, his alma mater, for the Carmelo K. Anthony Basketball Center, a practice facility for both the men’s and women’s basketball teams at the University.
      MELO RECALLS SYRACUSE MEMORIES
    • He has a scar above his left eyebrow from when he fell off a speaker at four years old trying to watch his brother play basketball.
    • He is immortalized as a wax figure in the world-famous Madame Tussauds wax museum in New York City.
      CHECK IT OUT AND HEAR MELO’S THOUGHTS
    • He is afraid of cats, but once bought himself a pet camel.
      SEE PHOTO
    • He has his own sandwich at the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City. The Melo Sandwich, pastrami, corned beef, salami, bacon, tomato, and Russian dressing on rye bread, is priced at $21.95.
      WOULD YOU EAT ‘THE MELO’?
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    The Knicks Fix: The Jackson Five

    LAS VEGASPhil Jackson grinned at the inquisition, amused — as we all are — at the avalanche of information that continues to pummel NBA Free Agency, which hit its moratorium deadline today.

    Since 12:01 a.m. this morning, free agents could be officially signed. But as of 2 PM local time here in Las Vegas (5 PM Eastern), there has been no word from Carmelo Anthony.

    FOLLOW ALAN HAHN ON TWITTER FOR THE LATEST

    “Mercury is in retrograde? I think that’s what happens,” Jackson said. “Communication broke down.”

    Jackson said he has texted Melo since they last spoke last week, but he has not received any replies. Asked if he expected a decision today, Jackson seemed to be as in the dark as the rest of us.

    “I am,” he said. “I expected one yesterday and the day before yesterday. We’re waiting.”

    Jackson likes Tom Petty, but doesn’t need him to know the waiting is the hardest part.

    And being extremely careful with your words isn’t easy, either. That’s why Jackson gave little indication about reports that have said Anthony will decide to stay in New York for the maximum contract of five years, $129 million.

    What he did was repeat what he said before about his pitch to Melo and reveal that, no, the Knicks are going to have to play the role of the Tortoise in this race to a championship.

    “I felt really good about my conversation with Carmelo,” he said. “We really struck a chord. The two of us feel really passionately about what we’re trying to get accomplished. It’s his ability to stay, be patient, lead and watch us develop a winner.

    “There’s no instantaneous winner that we think is going to happen to the Knicks right now, but we’re going to be a lot better.”

    What Melo wants is to never have a season like the last one — the first time in his career that he has ever experienced a losing record and failed to make the playoffs — and also to do what all stars in their prime should do in this league: get their maximum salary according to the CBA.

    That, to me, has been the most underreported part of this year’s free agency: the idea that the high-end players should take less and “sacrifice” for their team to add other players. Shouldn’t it be that other players sacrifice to play with the star player? Shouldn’t it also be that teams are willing to pay the higher tax amounts in order to build a winner around that star?

    A lot has been, and will be, made of the Knicks offering the max to Melo. Jackson said the media “made a much bigger thing about this, about what would happen, it’s not really a big thing.”

    He then said when it comes to Melo’s contract, “there are, maybe, five different options” and said he and Melo “will talk about that when the time comes.”

    The options involve chipping off a few bucks each year by dipping the percentages in the raises, he said. “It’s about the percentages, less than one percent that’s available in a series of dollars that grow over a period of five years,” he explained. “It’s no big deal, it just gives us more flexibility, that’s all.”

    In other words, the Knicks won’t ask Melo to talk $16 million per year like the Bulls would have to if he wanted to go to Chicago. They’d keep him very close to the max number annually.

    Jackson also said Melo and his representatives were “amenable to what we’re trying to get accomplished” which might be the strongest statement of the day.

    As for statements with the roster, Jackson seemed to suggest the first move has to come from Carmelo.

    “That’s the first kind-of kingpin we have to have in this whole situation,” he said.

    PAU-WER PLAY GOAL?

    There have been reports that the Knicks were trying to move another big salary — Amar’e Stoudemire or Andrea Bargnani — to create an ability to sign a high end free agent such as Pau Gasol. But Jackson seemed to surrender any hope of that kind of effort.

    “Not possible clearing money right now,” he said. “Everything’s pretty much set. We’ve run around a little bit and tried to figure out a lot of different strategies. Right now, we’re pretty set.”

    So reported efforts to send Amar’e to the 76ers or Bargnani to the Magic went unrealized.

    What that means is that Pau Gasol, a free agent that Jackson said the Knicks are interested in, would have to take a significantly lower salary to come to New York. Jackson forecasted Gasol’s asking price to be “somewhere above $10 million,” which is over $6 million more than the Knicks can offer (the most they have is a $3.2 million Taxpayers Mid-Level Exception) after Melo re-signs.

    Jackson didn’t completely surrender his interest in Gasol, with whom he won two NBA Championships in Los Angeles. Gasol is said to be garnering interest from the Spurs, the Thunder and the Bulls, who can give him some of the money they would have offered Melo.

    “We don’t have that kind of money,” Jackson said.

    But Jackson allowed hope that Gasol, who serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations and puts a great deal of time in for UNICEF, might be lured to New York because of the presence of the UN headquarters.

    “That’s a platform,” Jackson said. “Pretty soon he’ll be Secretary for the United Nations. Your career is headed that way and this is a good platform for you. I don’t know if that’s going to buy him into New York or not, but we’d like him to be there.”

    Gasol could, theoretically, sign a two-year deal at the TMLE with an opt-out and then re-sign next summer when the Knicks have more cap space. The team could also attempt to make a run for his brother, Marc, in 2015.

    Jackson said he did talk to Pau recently, to offer birthday wishes last week (he turned 34). Oh and maybe a few other thoughts, as well.

    “I told him in the right system, and the right coach, he could probably play a couple of more years,” Jackson said. “He got a laugh out of it.”

    But did he express interest?

    “He knows what he has here and what is possible,” Jackson said. “I think he’d like to play with Carmelo. I think he’d like to play for a winner. We can’t guarantee that, but with him we guarantee a much better chance.”

    AROUND THE NBA

    • Speculation remains rampant about LeBron James’ impending decision but one point LeBron seems to be making with all of this is that he will do whatever he does on his own terms, conditions and schedule. James was here in Las Vegas for meetings with Nike and then Pat Riley and the Heat before running his annual basketball camp. I’ve talked to a few people who have told me in confidence that James will, as Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com has reported, choose to return to the Cavaliers. But others have also said James has not talked with anyone in the Cleveland organization, which makes this impossible to report with any conviction.
    • Chris Bosh, as I said in the previous Fix, is expected to bolt for Houston if James leaves for Cleveland, but would the Heat make an effort to keep Bosh with a max offer and make him more of an offensive focal point like he was on Toronto?
    • The Heat may also receive some interesting sign-and-trade offers for Bosh from teams that aren’t under the cap. Keep an eye on that market. There will be a great deal of fallout if LeBron does leave the Heat.
    • There will also be a flurry of moves to follow, as LeBron’s move – and in some ways, Melo’s too — will unlock free agency. This weekend could be extremely busy around the NBA with signings and transactions.
    • The Cavs would like to be in the hunt for Kevin Love, but I still get word that the Boston Celtics won’t give up on their pursuit of Love and the Golden State Warriors also have a bevy of talent and assets to offer the Timberwolves, as well. Flip Saunders would like to settle the issue, but expect him to be stingy, as he should. Love might not go anywhere until either before training camp or perhaps even during the season.

    The Knicks begin their NBA Summer League schedule here on Friday at 4 p.m. ET on MSG Networks. We’ll have all the Knicks games for you and, of course, the latest on Carmelo Anthony and everything else.

    MORE FIXIN’S:

    Read Alan’s Recent Blog Posts
    Follow Hahn on Twitter
    Complete Knicks Coverage

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    The Knicks Fix: Derek and the Dominoes

    It’s been almost a month since Derek Fisher was named head coach of the Knicks, but he has gone weeks without a coaching staff in place and many of you have asked me via Twitter about this. A lot of the hold up had to do with some of the candidates being under contract with other teams (the NBA “year” ends on June 30). So there are still a few dominoes to fall here before a staff can be finalized.

    The New York Post reported Thursday that Kurt Rambis is in negotiations to be Fisher’s lead assistant. Rambis, a longtime Phil Jackson confidant, was on Mike D’Antoni’s staff last season with the Lakers and was considered a candidate for that job.

    I’m told Rambis may join the Knicks before the holiday weekend.

    Jim Cleamons, another Jackson disciple, has been linked to the Knicks via reports. Cleamons is technically still employed as an assistant of the Milwaukee Bucks, who, in case you were in the pool (like me) and missed the news, fired Larry Drew after one season and replaced him with Jason Kidd, who left the Nets after one season.

    According to reports, Kidd doesn’t plan on keeping Drew’s staff, so Cleamons is expected to become available.

    Rambis and Cleamons not only have ties to Jackson (and Fisher, to that matter), but they are also former Knicks. Rambis was a third-round pick by the Knicks out of Santa Clara in 1980, but was not signed. Cleamons played for the Knicks from 1977-78 to 1979-80. He was signed by the team in Oct. 1977, which resulted in the Knicks dealing legend Walt Frazier to the Cavaliers as compensation.

    Most teams prefer to have the bulk of their staff in place for NBA Summer League, which begins July 11 in Las Vegas. It’s also become a recent trend in the summer to see rookie coaches work the sidelines, while the norm usually involves assistants running the teams.

    Last year, for example, Kidd ran the Nets in the Summer League. Steve Clifford did the same for the Bobcats/Hornets.

    There was some initial talk that Fisher might do the same, but that has yet to be determined.

    What’s notable is that the free agency moratorium ends on July 10, when the Knicks contingent – including Jackson and Fisher — is expected to be in Las Vegas. Will Carmelo Anthony come to Vegas to re-sign?

    SUMMER ROSTER TAKING SHAPE

    The Knicks Summer League team will display an interesting collection of young players (assets?), with experienced players such as Tim Hardaway Jr., Shane Larkin, Cole Aldrich and Jeremy Tyler expected to be on the roster along with draft picks Cleanthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

    The roster is not yet finalized so there will be other names. Toure Murry, who caught everyone’s attention last summer and earned a roster spot this past season, is a free agent and has not yet decided where he plans to play.

    MELO MYSTERY TOUR ROLLS ON

    Carmelo Anthony is in Los Angeles Thursday to meet with the Lakers, led by a pitch from Kobe Bryant. Not many are speculating that the Lakers are a real contender for Melo, but they cannot be overlooked. Kobe’s presence, plus the LA market are enticing possibilities for Melo. The Lakers have plenty of cap space to offer Melo close to a max, but with Bryant and Steve Nash both in the twilight of their respective careers, the Lakers aren’t looking like a contender in the West.

    According to reports from ESPN‘s Ian Begley and Chris Broussard, Melo is supposed to meet with the Knicks in LA right after his get together with the Lakers.

    Melo was in Texas Wednesday for two contrasting recruiting efforts. First, the Rockets met him with all the pomp and circumstance one can muster in Houston. *crickets*

    Dwight Howard came to offer rhetoric based on his experience in leaving a major market and tons of money on the table to play there (and later complain about not getting enough touches).

    Clyde Drexler, who left Portland to sign with the Rockets (his hometown team) and won a title there in 1995, was also present to offer his perspective.

    The Rockets, who have all-stars Howard and James Harden, tried to stoke Melo’s imagination with signage of him in a Rockets jersey and holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The controversy that arose from those images was that the Rockets had Melo in a No. 7 jersey . . . which happens to currently belong to another one of the team’s popular players: Jeremy Lin.

    melo-blog-addon1

    Oops.

    At first, the Rockets said they gave Lin a heads-up about the imaging, but Yahoo! Sports reported that Lin’s agents said their client had no idea. Lin lashed back at the Rockets for the dis with a Bible verse on his Twitter account: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.”

    When a follower said he was entitled to be angry at the Rockets, Lin replied, “I’m entitled to standup for myself/say I felt disrespected as I did thru tweet but point is love unconditionally/as jesus loved me”

    Rockets GM Daryl Morey, who is the PT Barnum of NBA general managers, later tried to explain the PR mess his team created (if you didn’t know already, Lin is an extremely popular and polarizing player) by saying “it’s standard practice.”

    Oh? Please, go on.

    “I get the sensitivity and I hate that it creates some hurt feelings, I don’t like that,” Morey told Fox 26 in Houston. “But that’s obviously Carmelo Anthony’s number, that’s the number he wants. He told us that. Bottom line, if Carmelo comes, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin have to be traded. It’s just math. It’s not personal.”

    Mark Cuban and the Mavericks took a much different approach to their pitch to Melo. Cuban tried to appeal to Melo’s business side.

    “No tours, no banners,” Cuban said via Cyberdust. “All basketball and all business.”

    The Mavericks have a lot to offer. Dirk Nowitzki is a free agent, but already promised to re-sign. They have a great coach in Rick Carlisle. They also have good cap flexibility in the next two years and a progressive owner.

    On the court, however, they have issues. The team that pushed the Spurs to a seven-game series has already been broken up. There is a major question mark at point guard (Raymond Felton and Gal Mekel) and depth on bench. And they play in the unforgiving Western Conference.

    It has been a whirlwind three days for Melo, who has a lot to take in and digest. There are pros and cons at every stop. We should be expecting an answer soon, though. According to the Wall Street Journal‘s Chris Herring, the seven-time All-Star is expected to make a decision before the holiday weekend ends.

    FREE AGENCY ROUNDUP (Follow the NBA Free Agent Tracker)

    • The Pacers are reportedly trying to engage the Suns in a trade for Goran Dragic, the NBA’s Most Improved Player. The Suns know they can’t keep both Dragic (who has an opt out next season) and Eric Bledsoe. Man, Dragic would be a prototypical Triangle Offense guard, wouldn’t he? #justsayin.
    • Kyle Lowry became one of the biggest winners in free agency after he reached an agreement to stay with the Raptors for a reported four year, $48 million deal. Lowry, who emerged from the scrap heap as the best point guard in the East, essentially doubled his salary from last season. The Miami Heat were reportedly in hot pursuit, but he never got as far as a meeting with Pat Riley.
    • Meanwhile, in Miami, our friend Chris Broussard of ESPN reports that it is not a given that LeBron James will return to the Heat. As I’ve been saying for a few weeks on my weekly ESPN Radio show (shameless plug: Saturdays 10 a.m. to Noon), James wants a full max deal – the best player on the planet deserves that, don’t you think? – and the Heat can give him more than any other team. But what about Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? And how do the Heat build a strong supporting cast with very little cap space left over?
    • The Knicks have reportedly expressed an interest in Pau Gasol, but the 33-year-old center will have plenty of suitors with a lot more money to offer. Gasol will talk to the Bulls on Thursday, according to reports, and will also garner interest from the Thunder, Mavericks and the Spurs, the latter of whom would be a very intriguing destination for the Spaniard.
    • Could we see a reunion of Doc Rivers and Paul Pierce? ESPN reports that the Clippers and Nets are engaged in sign-and-trade talks for the veteran free agent.
    • Carlos Boozer has been informed that the Bulls will use their amnesty waiver on him, according to reports, to give the team more cap flexibility. The move is hardly a surprise, but can’t officially happen until July 10.
    • Quick shout out to everyone who has reached out the last few days with kind words about the return of the Knicks Fix blog. I’ve missed it, too.
    • From my Twitter (@alanhahn): In regards to Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher: to save precious character space, henceforth we should reference the duo as #Phish.
    • Happy Anniversary to Wally and Shannon Szczerbiak, married 14 years and a wonderful love story. Oh and if Wally’s Tie Game dominance is Spurs-like, then Shannon is unquestionably Coach Pop in the equation.

    Have a happy and safe 4th of July. God Bless America!

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    Islanders Agree To Terms With Kulemin

    **COURTESY NEW YORK ISLANDERS**

    Former 30-goal scorer signs four-year deal

    UNIONDALE, NY (July 2, 2014) – The New York Islanders announced today that Nikolai Kulemin has agreed to terms on a four-year National Hockey League contract.

    Kulemin, 27, scored 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 70 games last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the 6’1, 225-pound left winger’s sixth NHL season with Toronto.

    In 421 career NHL games, all with the Maple Leafs, Kulemin has 195 points (84 goals, 111 assists). His best season came in 2010-11, when he recorded career highs in goals (30), assists (27) and points (57) in 82 games.

    Toronto selected Kulemin in the second round (44th overall) of the 2006 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut 2008-09 with Toronto.

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    The Knicks Fix: The Melo Mystery Tour Begins

    There was signage welcoming Carmelo Anthony to the United Center and a large electronic image of the seven-time all-star in a Bulls uniform. He was met by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and he entered the area by the iconic Michael Jordan statue.

    And my first thought was if he noticed the large shadow it cast on this sunny afternoon in Chicago.

    The first day of the Melo Mystery Tour involved a pitch by the Bulls, who invited an excitable Joakim Noah, a concerned Taj Gibson and an apathetic Derrick Rose to the proceedings. The Bulls want to appeal to Melo’s ambition to win a championship by promoting the idea of him being the Final Piece to their puzzle, which, on paper, would have Rose, Jimmy Butler, Melo, Gibson and Noah as their Awesome Fivesome.

    The issue, of course, is the salary cap space available to the Bulls if they plan to keep Butler (a Thibodeau favorite) and Gibson (everyone’s favorite). According to the cap numbers, the most the Bulls could give Melo without dumping Gibson – even after waiving Carlos Boozer with the amnesty and jettisoning Mike Dunleavy for a draft pick – is a starting salary in the mid-teens ($15 million?).

    Melo has said he would be willing to take less in exchange for winning, but that’s almost a $10 million haircut.

    FOLLOW: NBA FREE AGENT TRACKER

    On Wednesday, Melo will travel to Texas and split the day between Houston and Dallas. Dwight Howard reportedly plans to sit in on the meeting with the Rockets to offer his take on leaving a big market and money on the table. Someone may want to also explain how Dwight expects to get his touches – which he complained about last season – with James Harden and Melo on the court.

    The last scheduled meeting reportedly comes on Thursday in Los Angeles, where he will listen to a pitch from the Lakers, who don’t yet have a coach but they do have Kobe Bryant.

    Then it’s the holiday weekend for Melo to consider his options and, perhaps, have one last sit-down with Phil Jackson, Steve Mills and

    , before making what will be a major career decision.

    “The average person just sees the opportunity to say that, ‘Oh Melo should go here, Melo should go there. I think that he should do this, he should do that’,” Melo said in an early-June interview with VICE Sports. “But they don’t take into consideration the family aspect of it, your livelihood, where you’re going to be living at. Do you want your kids to grow up in that place, in that city? Do I want to spend the rest of my career in that situation, in that city? All of that stuff comes into play.

    “My son goes to school, loves it, you know, here [in New York]. To take him out and put him somewhere else, he’d have to learn that system all over again, he’d have to get new friends. And I know how hard it was for me when I moved from New York to Baltimore at a young age. You know, having to work your way and try to make new friends and go extra to try to make new friends, and trying to fit in and trying to figure out the culture in that area. As far as this goes, basketball goes? It’s hard to just say, ‘OK, I’m gonna go here and make this decision. I’m going to do that.’ Because everybody’s affected by it.

    “And the average person is looking at it like, next year, like it’s just one year. Next year you’ll win a championship if you just go here. We’re looking at the big picture here right now. We’re looking at the next six to eight years of your career, of the end of your career, at that. So, do you want to spend that much time in that place?”

    Yes, he has a lot to think about.

    KNICKS CAN MAKE AN EXCEPTION

    Among the addition of a crafty point guard in Jose Calderon, an affordable defensive center in Sam Dalembert, a young prospect in Shane Larkin and two draft picks that produced a couple of intriguing talents, one very, very overlooked asset the Knicks acquired in the Chandler/Felton trade with Dallas is a $3.6 million trade exception.

    And yes, that is something the Knicks can use to acquire a player this offseason regardless of their cap situation.

    EARLY GLAD HE WENT LATE

    Cleanthony Early admitted he wasn’t much of a Knicks fan, despite his Bronx roots. His mother, Sandra Glover, is a die-hard fan who loved those ’90s Knicks (Fun fact, Cle was born just weeks before Pat Riley was hired by the Knicks). Early rooted for Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. “I was a player-fan when I was younger,” he admitted.

    But as he matured, as he began to treasure his New York roots, Early says he developed an affinity for the Knicks, even though some of the toughest years of his early teens.

    “As I grew older, that passion just grew because I’m a New York City kid and I’ve been traveling and, you know, you always want to have your city’s back in whatever you do,”he said. “So I always was like, even if things weren’t going too good, I was, you know, I would be happy if the Knicks won any game over the teams I once cheered for . . . Even more now.”

    Early, a versatile 6-8 forward standout on Wichita State’s dominant team, was said to have first round potential, but he slipped to the second round, where the Knicks grabbed him at No. 34. And while the competitor inside him wants to prove he deserved to be a first rounder, he isn’t asking for any do-overs.

    He found himself talking with Phil Jackson, the man who coached both of his idols: Jordan and Bryant.

    “Phil Jackson is Phil Jackson,” Early said. “It was just awesome to get to meet him and to have him know who I am and believe in my abilities and my approach to the game . . . He picked me for a reason, you know? Whatever that reason is, he seen something and I feel like I see it, too. I just have to continue to develop and get it to a level where it needs to be.

    “It’s Phil, man,” he then concluded. “I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else doing this.”

    FREE AGENCY ROUND UP

    Some teams came to terms with players on the first day, though contracts can not officially be signed until July 10. The first player to reach an agreement in principle was Jodie Meeks, who reportedly accepted a three-year, $19 million deal with the Detroit Pistons. Other noteworthy names to reach agreements on Day 1 include former Nets guard Shaun Livingston (Golden State Warriors for a reported three years, $16 million) and center Marcin Gortat (re-signed with Wizards for a reported five years, $60 million). And you can trust the news of the Gortat deal because it came from a very reliable source. John Wall tweeted the breaking news, trumping all of the media.

    SOURCES: PROCEED WITH CAUTION

    A bizarre trend has emerged this year that should cause ambitious reporters – even the most plugged-in – to pump the breaks on a big story. What we’re seeing are bogus sources contacting reporters with false information, which leaves a lot of confusion and a lot of egg on the face of the reporter.

    It started with Ric Bucher, formerly of ESPN and now with Comcast/NBC and 95.7 FM The Game in the Bay Area. Bucher tweeted the day before the NBA Draft that the Raptors were going to sign-and-trade Kyle Lowry to the Miami Heat for cash and future draft picks. He then added that to make room for Lowry, Chris Bosh would opt-out and return to Toronto. Wow, right? That report had the NBA buzzing.

    Bucher followed the next day saying Norris Cole would be added in the sign-and-trade. Even more intrigue. But shortly afterward, Bucher tweeted an apology about what he eventually discovered to be a bogus source.

    Next up was the usually-reliable and unquestionably connected Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, who also got caught in a Lowry scam. Spears tweeted that the Raptors planned to max-out Lowry at $14.5 million per to start at their meeting with the free agent at 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday. Now everyone who expected the Heat to make a push for Lowry – after everyone opted out, the Heat made headlines with the virtual cap space they created – figured he was now out of the game.

    But Spears had to follow up with his own apology, saying he “received a scam text from someone posing as a Raptors front office member” and that the Raptors were not offering the max.

    The Raptors have reportedly made an offer, but Lowry is said to be also considering an offer from the Houston Rockets (who, curiously, already have two point guards in Patrick Beverly and Jeremy Lin). The Heat is hoping to get a meeting with him, but so far nothing has been scheduled.

    Another questionable source told a couple of reporters that the Heat already has agreements in principle with Dwyane Wade ($12 million per) and Chris Bosh ($11 million per) for hefty paycuts from their previous contracts. That created a stir about a potential $12 million in salary the Heat could offer another free agent if LeBron James signed for the max, as expected.

    But Henry Thomas, the agent who represents Wade and Bosh, told TNT’s David Aldridge of those reports, “all the B.S. you are reading is just that.”

    Confused? Welcome to NBA free agency.

    In 2010, when I was at Newsday and covered one of the craziest free agency frenzies in NBA history, I had several reliable sources that I counted on, plus a collection of others I would talk to but never wholly trust. Many people have agendas in this business. You can never be too sure.

    Just before that year’s free agency began, I received some great advice from a friend in the business and it’s something I say frequently to fans: “Don’t get played.”

    After this experience, it’s worth comparing this to the breakneck pace of the NHL free agency period, which has no moratorium period, therefore signings are made official in an instant.

    NBA players have the time to visit, study and contemplate their options, but it creates a great deal of innuendo and false advertising. NHL players, however, deal with almost a Shotgun Wedding scenario.

    So, which is the better process? Tweet me @alanhahn with your thoughts on it.

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    Islanders Agree To Terms With Conacher

    **COURTESY NEW YORK ISLANDERS**

    24-year-old forward signs one-year deal

    (Uniondale, NY July 1, 2014) – The New York Islanders announced today that Cory Conacher has agreed to terms on a one-year National Hockey League contract.

    Conacher, 24, scored 26 points (seven goals, 19 assists) in 79 games last season with the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres. The Burlington, ON, native opened his second NHL season with Ottawa and played 60 games, before being claimed off waivers by Buffalo on March 5.

    A 5’8, 180-pound forward, Conacher has appeared in 126 career NHL games with Buffalo, Ottawa and the Tampa Bay Lightning, totaling 55 points (18 goals, 37 assists). He’s also appeared in 118 career American Hockey League games with the Rochester Americans, Milwaukee Admirals, Norfolk Admirals and Syracuse Crunch, totaling 114 points (55 goals, 59 assists).

    While playing for Norfolk in 2011-12, Conacher was awarded the Les Cunningham Award as the league’s Most Valuable Player and was also the recipient of the AHL’s Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, given annually to the league’s most outstanding rookie. He was named to the AHL All-Rookie team and helped the Admirals capture the team’s first Calder Cup.

    Conacher played four years at Canisius College (Atlantic Hockey Association) in Buffalo, where he became the Golden Griffins’ career leader in points (147) and goals (62) and was named the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year in 2009-10.

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    Islanders Agree to Terms With Mouillierat

     **COURTESY NEW YORK ISLANDERS**

    (Uniondale, NY July 1, 2014) – The New York Islanders announced today that Kael Mouillierat has agreed to terms on a one-year, two-way (NHL/AHL) contract.

    Mouillierat, 26, recorded career highs in goals (20), assists (33) and points (53) last season with the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League. The Edmonton, AB, native added 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 21 playoff games as St. John’s advanced to the Calder Cup Finals.

    A 6’0, 185-pound forward, Mouillierat returns to the organization after playing 44 games with the Islanders’ AHL affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, in 2011-12. In 160 career AHL games with St. John’s, Bridgeport and the Texas Stars, Mouillierat has 120 points (39 goals, 81 assists).

    Mouillierat had a four-year collegiate career at Minnesota State University-Mankato. He made his professional debut at the end of his senior season in 2009-10 with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. In 117 career ECHL games, all with Idaho, Mouillierat had 119 points (55 goals, 64 assists). He was named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team and played in the ECHL All-Star Game in 2010-11.

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