Posts Tagged ‘Amar’e Stoudmire’

Phil Jackson tension good for Knicks

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com




VIDEO: Knicks fans give new team president Phil Jackson a standing ovation

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The standing ovation was a given.

The hero’s welcome from that wild Madison Square Garden crowd on hand for the first official game of the Phil Jackson era was right off the pages of the script of a Broadway production. And the Knicks nailed the ending, knocking off the Eastern Conference leading (and reeling) Indiana Pacers to punctuate the night.

The Knicks have won seven straight and are giving legitimate chase for that eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a last-dtich effort to put a little lipstick on a season gone awry. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they heated up around the time the Jackson rumors cranked up.

That same energy that was in the building last night is the same type of energy that fuels seasons in the NBA. A healthy dose of tension, the good kind that puts everyone on alert and drives a lackluster or average effort into an elevated state, can work for all involved. Think of it as the Knicks’ very own version of March Madness. If they can keep it going long enough, maybe they can find their way into the playoffs (something the new boss has mentioned repeatedly) against all odds.

Carmelo Anthony has played this way all season. He’s been relentless, even while some others wearing Knicks uniforms have not been on that same page, so to speak. He was relentless last night, as Knicks coach Mike Woodson found out during one timeout. Phil’s presence gives the rest of the Knicks, coaches and players alike, something to play for the rest of this season. Intended or not, his arrival gives this team a rallying point that can be used in whatever way is needed.

Watching Amar’e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler, Iman Shumpert and Tim Hardaway Jr. and even J.R. Smith all crank it up to that next level with Anthony shows us that the Knicks have had it in them all along.

If you listen to the men who have had the ultimate success with Jackson, this is what they insist he will bring to the Knicks. A championship-level attitude and energy might well be worth the $12 million a year Knicks owner James Dolan is reportedly paying the Zen master for his presence.

Kobe Bryant certainly believes it to be true. He told the “Dan Patrick Show” yesterday that the entire Knicks roster is in store for a type of wisdom they haven’t been privy to before Jackson’s arrival. And yes, Bryant thinks Jackson can do it from the president’s perch instead of the coaching fox hole:

“I just think his mentorship shifts,” Bryant said. “I think it goes from having a direct influence on the players themselves to having a direct influence on the coaching staff, which he’s accustomed to doing because that’s how he coached as well.

“He really had a great rapport with his coaching staff and he was really a great mentor for them, and I’m sure he’ll do the same thing and it will just kind of trickle down from there. It’s really no different from what Pat [Riley] has been able to do in Miami with [Erik] Spoelstra.”

There’s no need to go there right now with the Riley and Jackson comparisons. Riley has accomplished far more as an executive and it’s an unreasonable measurement at this stage of the game.

What should resonate, though, is the staunch support Jackson is receiving from all corners of the basketball establishment. You expect it from his former players. But I’ve spoken with several of his new competitors, executives who have every reason to root against him, that think his presence alone changes the game in New York.

“People talk all the time about changing the culture and reshaping a franchise,” a Western Conference assistant general manager told me, “but they don’t come through the door and command the respect of the people within the organization. And I mean the secretaries, the training staff, the folks in the ticket office as well as the coaches and players. Phil doesn’t have to worry about that. He’s got everyone’s attention. It’s his show now.”

Indeed it is. And if the first impression means anything, it’s going to be a wild ride for the Knicks and their fans.


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony talks about the Knicks’ streak and Phil Jackson’s potential impact

Which State Could Construct The Best NBA Roster?

By Jonathan Hartzell, NBA.com

Just for fun, we decided to see which states produce the best NBA players. Then we created the best hypothetical teams that could be put together from players that were born in those states. Not surprisingly, the most populous states in sunny climes are well represented in our top 10, and a team full of All-Stars from a golden West Coast state runs away with the No. 1 spot. Here’s the rundown from 10th place up to No. 1:

 

10. Florida

New York Knicks v Miami Heat - Game One

Amar’e Stoudemire leads team Florida.

PG – Brandon Knight – 13.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, 3.2 rpg (career averages)

SG – Vince Carter - 20.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 5.0 rpg

SF – Chandler Parsons - 12.8 ppg, 2.9 apg, 5.1 rpg

PF – Amar’e Stoudemire - 21.3 ppg, 1.4 apg, 8.6 rpg

C – Larry Sanders - 6.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.9 bpg

Bench: Marreese Speights, Marquis Daniels, Reggie Evans, Trevor Ariza, Udonis Haslem, Keyon Dooling, Steve Blake

Overview: Team Florida is led by Stoudemire of the New York Knicks and Parsons of the Houston Rockets. They would be tough to score on in the paint, but guard depth would be a clear problem for this squad.

9. New Jersey

Charlotte Bobcats v New York Knicks

J.R. Smith leads streaky team New Jersey.

PG – MarShon Brooks - 8.5 ppg, 1.6 apg, 2.4 rpg

SG – J.R. Smith – 13.2 ppg, 2.1 apg, 3.2 rpg

SF – Gerald Henderson - 11.3 ppg, 1.8 apg, 3.1 rpg

PF – Kenneth Faried - 11.1 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg

C – Andrew Bynum – 11.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Bench: David West, Earl Clark, Tyshawn Taylor, Jason Thompson, Chris Copeland, Randy Foye

Overview: New Jersey certainly would be an exciting team to watch. However, led by Smith of the Knicks and Bynum of the Cleveland Cavaliers, they would be an extremely streaky squad that could defeat or lose to any team on any given night.

8. Georgia

Dwight Howard and Josh Smith

Dwight Howard and Josh Smith finally would be able to play on the same team.

PG – Toney Douglas – 8.6 ppg, 2. apg, 2.3 rpg

SG – Jodie Meeks - 8.0 ppg, 0.9 apg, 2.2 rpg

SF – Al-Farouq Aminu - 6.3 ppg, 1.0 apg, 5.2 rpg

PF – Josh Smith - 15.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.1 bpg

C – Dwight Howard - 18.3 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.2 bpg

BenchDerrick Favors, , J.J. Hickson, Andrew Goudelock, Jae Crowder, Jordan Hill, Chris Singleton

Overview: Georgia is able to construct one of the best frontcourts in the United States with Smith and Howard. These two friends since high school would have their way around the rim, but the limited guard depth may prove to be too much to overcome.

7. Texas

LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh

LaMarcus Aldridge and Chris Bosh would create an extremely offensive frontcourt.

PG – Daniel Gibson – 7.8 ppg, 2.0 apg, 2.0 rpg

SG – Wesley Matthews – 13.4 ppg, 1.2 spg, 2.9 rpg

SF – Jimmy Butler - 6.6 ppg, 1.0 apg, 3.1 rpg

PF – Chris Bosh – 19.5, 2.1 apg, 8.9 rpg

C – LaMarcus Aldridge – 18.3 ppg, 1.0 bpg, 7.8 rpg

BenchDeAndre Jordan, Quincy Acy, Mike Dunleavy, Kendrick Perkins, Emeka Okafor, Ronnie Price, Darrell Arthur

Overview: While Georgia may have a more dangerous starting frontcourt, the bench depth of Texas allows them to claim the seventh spot. Bosh, Aldridge, and Matthews would be able to handle most of the scoring with Jordan, Perkins, and Okafor being huge bodies to have come off the bench.

6. Pennsylvania

Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant leads team Pennsylvania.

PG – Tyreke Evans – 17.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 4.8 rpg

SG – Kobe Bryant – 25.5 ppg, 4.8 apg, 5.3 rpg

SF – Michael-Kidd Gilchrist – 9.0 ppg, 1.5 apg, 5.8 rpg

PF – Marcus Morris – 6.8 ppg, 0.7 apg, 3.1 rpg

C – Markieff Morris – 7.8 ppg, 1.2 apg, 4.7 rpg

BenchDion Waiters, Kyle Lowry, Dejuan Blair, Jameer Nelson, Lavoy Allen, Hakim Warrick, John Salmons

Overview: Pennsylvania is led by an intriguing backcourt of Evans and Bryant which would take some of the pressure off their tiny frontcourt. But Pennsylvania could be tough to beat if the Morris twins are able to hold their own and Dion Waiters provides a spark off the bench.

5. North Carolina

John Wall guards Chris Paul.

John Wall and Chris Paul would have their way with opposing defenses.

PG – Chris Paul – 18.6 ppg, 9.8 apg, 2.4 spg

SG – John Wall – 16.9 ppg, 8.0 apg, 1.5 spg

SF – Kent Bazemore – 2.0 ppg, 0.4 rpg, 0.4 apg

PF – John Henson – 6.0 ppg, 0.7 bpg, 4.7 rpg

C – Hassan Whiteside – 1.5 ppg, 0.8 bpg, 2.1 rpg

BenchIshmael Smith, Anthony Morrow, Eric Maynor, Darius Johnson-Odom

Overview: Yes. I know John Wall would be a weird, undersized shooting guard. But his and Paul’s speed would be nearly impossible to slow down and with the emerging Henson in the frontcourt, North Carolina could surprise some people. 

4. Ohio

LeBron James

LeBron James would be even more outstanding with Stephen Curry on his team.

PG – Stephen Curry - 19.2 ppg, 6.1 apg, 1.7 spg

SG – Kevin Martin - 17.8 ppg, 2.0 apg, 3.3 rpg

SF – LeBron James - 27.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 6.9 apg

PF – Jared Sullinger – 6.0 ppg, 0.8 apg, 5.9 rpg

C – Byron Mullens – 8.4 ppg, 1.0 apg, 4.8 rpg

BenchLuke Babbitt, Kosta Koufos, Norris Cole, Daequan Cook

Overview: James and Curry lead team Ohio and besides help from Kevin Martin, there wouldn’t be much more than those two scoring for this team. But those two are more than enough and James passing the ball out to Curry for countless 3-pointers would be beautiful to watch.

3. New York

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony leads team New York.

PG – Kemba Walker – 15.2 ppg, 5.9 apg, 1.7 spg

SG – Danny Green – 8.7 ppg, 1.3 apg, 2.9 rpg

SF – Carmelo Anthony - 25.0 ppg, 3.1 apg, 6.4 rpg

PF – Joakim Noah – 9.4 ppf, 9.1 rpb, 1.5 bpg

C – Roy Hibbert - 11.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.8 bpg

BenchAndre Drummond, Tobias Harris, Jimmer Fredette, Greg Oden, Andray Blatche, Taj Gibson, Channing Frye, Metta World Peace, Maurice Harkless

Overview: Team New York is loaded with talent at every position and they have some of the best depth in the nation. Noah and Hibbert would be an unmatched force inside and Anthony would be able to handle most of the scoring. The main problem would be a lack of 3-point shooters but with a starting lineup like theirs, it could be worked around.

2. Illinois

Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade

Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade would be nearly impossible to defend.

PG – Derrick Rose – 21.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 6.8 apg

SG – Dwyane Wade – 24.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 1.8 spg

SF – Iman Shumpert - 8.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.4 spg

PF – Andre Iguodala – 15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.7 spg

C – Anthony Davis - 13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg

BenchTony Allen, Steve Novak, Will Bynum, Evan Turner, Patrick Beverley, Luke Harangody, Jeremy Pargo, Will Bynum

Overview: Team Illinois and team New York are relatively equal talent wise with New York having much better depth. But the backcourt of Rose and Wade would have their way with New York and the frontcourt defense from Shumpert, Iguodala, and Davis would be incredibly difficult to defeat, no matter how undersized Iggy is at power forward.

1. California

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love lead team California.

PG – Russell Westbrook - 19.9 ppg, 6.9 apg, 4.8 rpg

SG – James Harden - 16.2 ppg, 3.3 apg, 3.8 rpg

SF – Paul George - 12.9 ppg, 1.5 spg, 5.8 rpg

PF – Kevin Love - 17.3 ppg, 1.9 apg, 12.2 rpg

C – Tyson Chandler – 8.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.3 bpg

BenchPaul Pierce, Andre Miller, Brook LopezJeremy Lin, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Klay Thompson, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard

Overview: Is there any argument that California doesn’t have the best team? Led by the backcourt duo of Westbrook and Harden, the Golden State has All-Stars at every starting position and three on the bench. They’re an excess of talent who would be nearly impossible for any other state to defeat.

———————————————————————————————————————————————

And just for argument’s sake, here’s the best roster the rest of the world could assemble:

International

PG – Kyrie Irving (Australia) – 20.6 ppg, 5.7 apg, 1.3 spg

SG – Tony Parker (France) – 17.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.0 rpg

SF – Andrei Kirilenko (Russia) – 12.4 ppg, 1.4 spg, 1.9 bpg

PF – Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) – 22.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 8.2 rpg

C – Marc Gasol  (Spain) – 13.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg

BenchTim Duncan (U.S. Virgin Islands), Steve Nash (South Africa), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), Pau Gasol (Spain), Ricky Rubio (Spain), Omer Asik (Turkey), Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey), Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro), Luol Deng (Great Britain), Nicolas Batum (France)

Lin’s Future With Knicks Cloudy After Felton Sign-and-Trade


What seemed a certainty days ago — that the New York Knicks would match any offer sheet for restricted free-agent guard Jeremy Lin from the Houston Rockets — became quite unclear Saturday night, after the Knicks agreed to terms with free-agent guard Raymond Felton in a sign-and-trade deal with Portland. The Knicks also received forward/center Kurt Thomas from the Blazers for a second tour of duty in New York. In exchange, the Knicks sent forward Jared Jeffries and center Dan Gadzuric to Portland.

Felton reportedly signed a three-year, $10 million contract with New York, a hefty deal for someone that wasn’t going to play very much as a third point guard. The Knicks already signed Jason Kidd to a three-year, $9.5 million deal earlier this month, and also have Argentinian guard Pablo Prigioni under contract.

Bringing back Lin, the undrafted guard out of Harvard who electrified crowds in New York in a three-week stretch in early February that was quickly dubbed “Linsanity,” seemed a formality. But unless the Knicks are planning to play Kidd much more at shooting guard next season, it would appear they have at least one point guard too many around.

The Rockets, according to a source, thought there was a chance Saturday that the Knicks wouldn’t match the offer sheet. New York will have three days from when it receives the sheet to decide whether to match it or not. If it matches the offer sheet, it can’t trade Lin until next July.

(more…)

Report: Knicks In Lead For Nash





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin wearing the same uniform?

If the New York Knicks get their way, that’s exactly what’s going to happen in training camp.

The Knicks have moved into the lead to land Nash, per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, using a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns to make it happen:

Nash and the Knicks are in the critical stages of discussions on a three-year deal worth between $27 million-$30 million to be executed through a sign-and-trade deal with the Suns. The Knicks would send rookie guard Iman Shumpert and multiple players – including Toney Douglas – to Phoenix for Nash, sources said.

Nash, a two-time MVP, has been enthusiastic about joining the Knicks’ core of Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amar’e Stoudemire.

… The Knicks also intend to match any offer restricted free-agent point guard Jeremy Lin receives.

The potential addition of Nash would be a game-changer for the Knicks and could vault them into the conversation of teams capable of legitimately challenging for one of the top spots behind the Miami Heat in the East.

Nash has history with Stoudemire dating back to their days in Phoenix, when the Suns were contenders in the Western Conference on a regular basis. He’d also be the perfect maestro for a Knicks offense that lacked one in the time before and after Lin’s rise last season.

Blogtable: Will The Knicks Make The Playoffs?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

One bonus blogtable question (non-trade department): Not even a month ago, all y’all said that the Knicks would make the playoffs. Still convinced?



[Editor's note: This question was asked and answered before Mike D'Antoni resigned as coach on Wednesday afternoon.]

Steve Aschburner: No. My hedge has more to do with the competition near the bottom of the Eastern Conference bracket than it does with the mixed-up Knicks, who might have had enough talent to qualify in spite of their drama, poor chemistry, inattention to defense and ill-fitting parts.

But Milwaukee made a move, with the Bogut trade, that could help immediately, assuming Monta Ellis gets worked into the Bucks’ schemes quickly. With forward-center Ekpe Udoh, that trade is all addition, no subtraction for Milwaukee, which was getting nothing from Bogut and Stephen Jackson. And heck, Cleveland might prove to be a little engine-that-can, in its low-profile, overlooked, Kyrie Irving way. New York’s record should have been flipped by now – 24-18, not 18-24 – and those six games in the standings will prove costly.

Fran Blinebury: To quote Gov. Rick Perry from here in Texas: “Oops!”

Scott Howard-Cooper: Yes. Still convinced they’re not as bad as Cleveland and Milwaukee.  The talent level is good enough to put together something along the lines of four wins in seven games. That’s good enough to take control of No. 8 in the East.

Shaun Powell: The Knicks will make it. The schedule will lighten up, and Carmelo Anthony will figure it out, at least enough to get the seventh or eight seed. I will say this: Being unable to fend off the Bucks for a playoff spot is an occupational hazard, Mike D’Antoni. (more…)

Blogtable: Thoughts On Linsanity?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

Jeremy Lin … what are you seeing? What do you like? Predict his future.

Steve Aschburner: His future? Jeremy Lin is going to unite with Tim Tebow to feed the hungry, heal the sick, solve the globe’s economic woes one jersey sale at a time and persuade Ahmadinejad to swap his nuclear program for one of those big foam No. 1 hands. Meanwhile, because the NBA is a copycat league, the gyms of the Ivy League soon will be crawling with scouts, eager to beat Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs to the four-year talent … Seriously? What I like best about Lin is that no one saw this coming. No one knows when it will end. Rival coaches and players will try to crush Lin and maybe someday soon they will. But, heh heh, maybe they won’t …

Fran Blinebury: A starter in the 2013 All-Star Game.  Hey, Lin would have started this year if he’d have been on the ballot and “Linsanity” had taken place maybe two weeks earlier while voting was still open.  That’s because all of those itchy-fingered, left-out Yao Ming voters in China would have flooded the online balloting.  I see a good story, a fun story, a kid who finally got his chance and is making the most of it.  But before we start clearing out space in the Hall of Fame, let’s wait to see what happens in a few more weeks and months when teams and scouting reports catch up.  He’s probably a better perimeter shooter (38.5 percent) than he showed at Golden State, though he doesn’t have 3-point range [Tuesday night notwithstanding].  I love the crossover moves and ability to get to the hoop and also his court vision and knowledge of how to play the game.  In the era of the point guard, he’s a keeper.

Scott Howard-Cooper: I am seeing the perfect convergence of a team desperate for a point guard at a time when Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire have been injured. All credit to Lin, a hard worker who was ready when the chance came. But this is about circumstances as much as the player. I predict a future with dollar signs. The player cut by two teams this season and unable to get off the bench for a third until recently just clinched a guaranteed contract as a restricted free agent in the summer, and not just for one season. And then there are the marketing opportunities. (more…)

All-Star Debate: Allen v. Felton

You’re down to one guard to pick for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and the choices are Ray Allen and Raymond Felton. Which Ray do you go?

Coming into the season, it’s a no-brainer. Allen, on the basis of a distinguished career, makes the East team hands down. He’s second all-time in 3-pointers made and the leader among active players. Nine All-Star Games on are the résumé. He’s a career 20-point scorer with more than 21,000 career points.

Not only can Allen shoot, he can shoot in the clutch with games on the line. He’s a great teammate and, perhaps most importantly, Allen has won. Two of the last three years, his Celtics have played in the NBA Finals, winning it all in 2008.

While there’s obviously a career achievement element to All-Star elections that can’t be ignored, whether through voting by fans or coaches, let’s stop and consider the half-season Felton has put together. In his first year with the resurrected New York Knicks, Felton is out-playing Allen in most meaningful stats.

New York’s playmaker is outscoring the Celtic sharpshooter (17.6 – 17.5) going into today, has an understandable huge assist edge (8.8 – 3.1), is outrebounding (3.9 – 3.7) and is doubling up on steals (1.8 – 0.9). Allen does has sizable leads in shooting percentages from the floor on all shots (51.3 to 42.8) and 3-pointers (46.8 – 34.4).

One can argue that Allen would put up even better numbers if he didn’t share the load with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Maybe, but it could also be presumed that playing with those guys makes it easier for Jesus Shuttlesworth to get his.

Felton is a vital second banana to Amar’e Stoudemire on Broadway. He’s not only the Knicks’ second-leading scorer, but Felton is sixth in the league in assists. The North Carolina product had always put up solid numbers, with his best season being three years ago — 14.4 points and 7.4 assists. Are his numbers now skewed by Mike D’Antoni‘s system?

Hmmm.

On the basis of stats, I’d give Felton the slight leg up. But what about intangibles? Ah, here it gets tricky. Allen is part of the defending conference champs and Boston currently leads the East. Winning has to count for something. The Knicks are mired in a bit of a slump, but they are in the playoff picture, checking in at sixth and have made pro basketball at Madison Square Garden relevant again. That can’t be discounted in the world’s largest media market.

Remember neither of these guys is going to start. In the latest voting returns, Allen checked in a distant fourth and Felton eighth. All-Star voting concludes Sunday night at 11:59 p.m. ET. Fans can still cast their votes on NBA.com and by mobile phones. Paper balloting in arenas has ended.

Their All-Star worthiness is going to be left up to the coaches. They may pick one, both or neither. Better the coaches than me.

About Last Night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If Wednesday night is any indication, we’re going to get spoiled rotten this season.

We had a 13-game slate filled with intriguing matchups, NBA debuts and virtuoso performances.

The Cavaliers kicked off the post LeBron James era in style, knocking off the Celtics team that knocked off James and the Heat Tuesday night. The Heat bounced back, especially Dwyane Wade, with a win in Philadelphia. Meanwhile the Nuggets thumped the Jazz, so much for all the Carmelo Anthony drama being an issue, and the Trail Blazers moved to 2-0 with a win over the Clippers in Blake Griffin‘s first regular season action.

Chris Paul looked fantastic in his return to action, the Hawks’ new offense was nothing short of spectacular in their win over the Hang Time Grizzlies and the Amar’e Stoudemire era in New York is off to a winning start. The Thunder and Bulls gave us a playoff worthy matchup in their opener and the Spurs appear rested and re-energized after their playoff run ended abruptly last season.

And I sincerely hope you didn’t fall asleep before Warriors scoring machine Monta Ellis got loose … here’s the Daily Zap:

And we mentioned this was Griffin’s first regular season taste, well he didn’t disappoint.

He looked as explosive as ever from the start, rattling as many rims as he could to make up for missing last season. We have a feeling he’ll be a regular in the Top 10 this season, along with several other rookies (Wesley Johnson has lift) :

Big Plans For Gallo!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – More often than not this season Amar’e Stoudemire will serve as the Knicks’ headliner.

The loudest roar of that Madison Square Garden crowd will be reserved for the Knicks’ All-Star free agent acquisition. The brightest lights will be his, as will the bulk of the responsibility of the Knicks’ dreams of a playoff bid.

This weekend, though, belongs to third-year Knicks forward and Italian import Danilo Gallinari.

Gallo(you’ve got to love a guy whose nickname means “rooster” in Italian) is going home in style. When the Knicks take on Milano Sunday night in a preseason game at the Mediolanum Forum, the roof will rattle with cheers for the hometown kid that made good. We’ve got big plans for him this season as well, since Gallo is the early leader for HT’s Breakout Player of the Year honor.

According to my main man Howard Beck of The New York Times, there were a staggering 85,000 ticket requests for the game in an arena that seats only 12,000. Not bad for a player considered a “minor star” in soccer-mad Italy.

He is actually recognized more often on the streets of Manhattan than in Milan, where soccer is a religion and basketball is a minor sport. Among basketball icons here, Gallinari would rank well behind his coach, Mike D’Antoni, who starred for Milano in the 1970s and ’80s, leading the club to numerous championships.

Gallinari obviously has work to do to catch his coach in terms of popularity back home. He doesn’t even have one of the Top 10 selling NBA jersey in Europe (Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Pau Gasol, Kevin Garnett, Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker have those spots on lock).

But Gallo’s working on cracking the list.

He’s only 22 and the Knicks haven’t exactly set the league on fire since he’s been with them, he was the sixth pick in the 2008 draft. A playoff trip this season, starring alongside Stoudemire, could go a long way towards improving Gallo’s profile back home and here in the states.

That said, there is plenty of work to do on the court. Gallo’s rookie season was washed away by injuries. His second season, however, was a bit of a revelation. He showed off a scoring touch that screams future star. And he wasn’t shy about performing on the big stage. Only Houston’s Aaron Brooks, the league’s Most Improved Player Award winner, shot and made more 3-pointers than Gallinari’s 488 and 186, respectively.

We love his moxie here at the hideout. The two times we saw him in person last season, Gallo carried himself like a star (you have to believe it before the rest of us will). We’re predicting big things for him this season.

He’ll have plenty of chances to prove he is indeed who we think he is, starting this weekend on his home turf.

***

Opening Pitches

***

Posted by Sekou Smith

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Who knew Rudy Gay would be the first free agent to hear his phone ring at 12:01 this morning?

The Minnesota Timberwolves decided to storm the free agency party when the bell rang, chasing the Hang Time Grizzlies‘ coveted restricted free-agent forward.

So much for all that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh talk.

Seriously, plenty of phones rang at the start of free agency.

Wade got a call from Heat boss Pat Riley, who has his recruiting team in Los Angeles for rounds of meetings with other free agents. Joe Johnson met with Hawks officials in Los Angeles. Houston GM Daryl Morey spoke to Bosh (“Just finished meeting with @chrisbosh – great player & person. He is about winning so I focused on how w/Houston he can win a championship.”), who is expected to receive a maximum contract offer from the Toronto Raptors as they try to salvage their summer. And surely, someone reached out and touched James (at least by phone), just to make sure we kicked this free agency period off the right way. His meetings take place later and he has told everyone he plans to make a decision by Monday, which would allow us all to get some rest.

(The Clippers released a statement indicating they are just “honored” to be one of the teams making a presentation to the King. Clippers point guard Baron Davis took it a step further and penned a letter to all the free agents … check it out here.)

Yet, the Timberwolves managed to make news on opening night/morning.

That they’ve even entered the conversation reminds us all just how wonderfully twisted a time this is. The same team that acquired three new small forwards on Draft night makes it’s splash in free agency by reaching out to what else but another small forward in Gay.

In fact, the Timberwolves have the first confirmed free agent get of the season, reaching an agreement on three-year deal with 2008 second-round draft pick Nikola Pekovic, per ESPN.com’s Chad Ford.

It’s okay to yawn right now. No offense to Pekovic, who by all accounts is an accomplished player. But we didn’t stay up all day waiting for news on Pekovic.

Bosh didn’t spend an entire day Tweeting himself into the Twilight Zone just to hear about Pekovic’s rise up the ranks from international project to NBA prospect.

And, as my NBA.com colleague Art Garcia reminded me after the fact,  Richard Jefferson didn’t opt out of the final year of his contract ($15.2 million) just to make us all ask, “is he smarter than a 5th grader?”

We’re more than an hour into the greatest free agent frenzy anyone has ever seen and I’m still waiting to see the fireworks. Will Johnson spurn the maximum contract offer from the Hawks and go elsewhere? He met with the Knicks immediately after speaking with the Hawks. Could they lure him to New York to work as Robin to James wearing a Batman mask?

There are theories running rampant that Johnson is now the key to enticing James (and perhaps even Amar’e Stoudemire) to play in New York … it’s yet another of the seemingly logical but unsubstantiated reports about this frenzy that will leave us all wondering what’s really going on.

If you thought there would be some clarity to all these things just because the clock struck midnight on July 1, you were wrong. We’ve still got a week to go before anyone can sign anything.

Verbal agreements are sure to start rolling throughout the 4th of July weekend.

Who swings at that opening pitch remains the most pressing question as we continue digging deeper into Day 1.

***