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February P&T mailbag, part one: Quickley vs. Payton, which Knicks should re-sign & LeBron’s greatness

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at New York Knicks Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you live under a rock, you know this weekend is the biggest sports weekend of the year. The Knicks welcome Carmelo Anthony back to town tomorrow, while Manchester City visit Liverpool Sunday with a chance to gain a stranglehold on the Premier League standings. As you prepare for this Super Sports Weekend, stretch your muscles with the latest P&T mailbag.

1) What’s your take on...the debate about Immanuel Quickley starting?

— David_SelfHatingKnicksFan

[Does] starting = development? What do we think “development” means?

— garfzilla

John Stockton played 82 games his rookie year. He started only five. Kobe Bryant played 71 and started six. Lou Williams, whom Quickley idolized growing up, didn’t start a single game his first four years in the league; he’s started only 12% of his career games. Meanwhile, Landry Fields started 81 games his rookie year. Willy Hernangómez started 22. Kevin Knox? 57. Even first-year Frank Ntilikina started more than Stockton, Kobe and Sweet Lou.

I don’t care if Quickley starts this week, this month or this year. He’s exceeding expectations, his confidence is stable if not growing, and his minutes are on the uptick. After playing 22+ minutes in only three of his first 13 appearances, Quickley’s bested that mark in five of his last six. Meanwhile, Elfrid Payton saw fewer than 25 minutes only five times in his first 17 games, but has now done so in five of his last six outings.

I get it! The Knicks FINALLY have a point guard to be excited about for the first time since Linsanity. The fans have been wandering the desert for 40 years with only the occasional nosh of manna to sustain them, and now they’ve caught a whiff of meat and they’re salivating. But if I may mix metaphors for a moment: when I was 10, I spent hours one bitter winter evening hanging outside with my friend Justin with no gloves on. We just kept talking despite freezing; being young and dumb, it felt like I was giving the cold the middle finger. When I finally came home, triumphant, I ran my frozen hands under hot water. This is what it felt like.

Despite the latest Blamem Witch Trials swearing on a stack of Bibles that Goody Payton is the crone behind why the Knicks don’t win more, all your crops failed and your cow is giving spoiled milk, verily I say nope. Are the Knicks some butt-awful first quarter team? In their last five losses, the Knicks ended the first up one, down 13, up nine, up two and down five. In their last five wins they were up 11, 6, 9, 2 and 17 after one. Read whatever runes, entrails or tea leaves you like: none of them point to those numbers indicating Payton is killing the team’s chances to win.

Development means putting young players in realistic scenarios and giving them a safe space to sink before they master swimming. It means successfully lifting one weight before jumping to a higher one. Quickley is ahead of schedule. The Knicks might be, too. Whatever this team is right now, it ain’t broke. Trying to fix it may cause more trouble than it solves.

2) What is the biggest thing stopping the Knicks from being a playoff team? In terms of...team-wide execution, while most will say shooting...I still think it is the lack of fastbreak scoring. We have the fewest fast break points in the league. The only players who even try are IQ and RJ Barrett. You can tell Obi Toppin, Kevin Knox and Mitchell Robinson are chomping at the bit trying to get out in transition, but they can’t because the ballhandlers don’t. More fastbreak scoring would make a lot of what we do way easier.

— Spike Lee’s Joint

The Knicks rank seventh in the league in defensive rebounds and dead last in pace. They don’t run because they’re not asked to. I’d like to see them get out more than they do. But I wonder if this is another instance of needing to appreciate the baby is standing before pushing them to walk.

Tom Thibodeau is a defensive coach. No successful defensive possession is complete until you secure the defensive rebound. The past four years the Knicks ranked 17th, 19th, 20th and 17th in defensive rebounding. The past five their pace has been a palindrome of the pathetic, ranking 26th, 17th, 15th, 17th and 26th. In short: for years this team has been slow and unable to stop anybody. We’d like them to reach a point where they’re faster and harder to score on. The latter is happening. I’m guessing Thibs needs to see more of that before he tries breaking into the upper-level lessons.

3) Justify a trade proposal for either Zach LaVine, Victor Oladipo or Bradley Beal.

— tugger

Short answer:

Longer answer: LaVine misses a ton of games and is due for a new contract after next season; Oladipo turns 29 in a couple of months and has an injury history of his own to worry about; Beal will cost a Carmelo’s ransom of young players and draft picks, plus whoever acquires him will have to give him a supermax contract that kicks in when he’s 31. I’ll pass.

4) What is the max you would pay [the Knicks] who will hit free agency within the next two years?

— kenbannister

Julius Randle: I’d pick up his option next year at $19M, then give him three years, $100M.

Mitch: I’d pick up his option and if he doesn’t sulk or hire another four agents I’d offer three years and $50M.

Payton:

Alec Burks/Reggie Bullock: There’s a two-year, $20M offer on the little table. Whoever signs first gets it. Whoever doesn’t is free to explore free agency.

Nerlens Noel: Two years, $16M.

Frank:

DSJ:

5) Trade idea: Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, Immanuel Quickley, Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas 1st in 2021, Dallas 1st in 2023, Detroit 2nd in 2023 for Kristaps Porziņģis and Tim Hardaway Jr.

— Am I Immanuel, or am I a Toppin

Ahhhhh I see what you did there!

6) If you replace 2007 LeBron with current LeBron on the ‘07 Cavs, do they win a championship that year? If you replaced the best player of any of the current bottom 14 teams with LeBron, which teams could make the WCF or ECF?

— DontDrinkFromDaHudson

First, an appreciation for LeBron’s historic sustained brilliance. These are his per-36 numbers in 2007 at 22 and this year at 36. I included games played just to highlight perhaps his greatest quality: his endurance. James has played every game this season.

I actually do think putting today’s LeBron on the ‘07 Cavs could swing the series. While San Antonio swept Cleveland in those Finals, the last two games were decided by three points and one point. James led the Cavs in three-point attempts but hit only 20% of them. Long gone are the days when a team like the Spurs considered themselves lucky when James settled for a three-ball. In the ‘07 Finals 22% of LeBron’s shot attempts were from deep; in last year’s Finals versus Miami that jumped to 31%, as did his accuracy (42%). Games 3 and 4 of the ‘07 Finals finished 75-72 and 83-82. In Game 1 neither team reached 90. Last year neither team scored fewer than 93 in a game and L.A. reached 100+ in all six contests. A better-shooting LeBron against a team content with 1990s scorelines? I’d def give the Cavs a shot.

As for this year’s also-rans who could rise from pauper to prince with some King in their lives: the Raptors come to mind if James replaced whoever you think is their best player — Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred Van Vleet. I’ll bend the question a bit for Washington and say if they kept Beal but replaced Russell Westbrook with LeBron, that would be interesting. I know South Beach is in love with Jimmy Butler, but bring James back and that’s a team that could reach the ECF for sure. Out west, I imagine LeBron would raise the Rockets’ ceiling over what John Wall can enough to make them a conference finals contender, at least a dark horse. Maybe the better question is how many NBA teams would not be conference final contenders even with LeBron?

I put this question to you, reader: what if LeBron replaced Julius Randle tomorrow? How far do you think the Knicks could go? See you next week for part two.