BRUSON BULLISH ON DONTE
With Jalen Brunson at the helm, the Knicks won 47 games and a first-round playoff series last season. Can they take another step forward this season? The answer to that question depends, in part, on how Donte DiVincenzo impacts the roster.
Brunson is a believer.
“He brings an edge, a mentality, he’s the type of player who can do everything,” Brunson said Friday after Team USA practice. “He wants to win, he’s doing whatever it takes to win. He just has that mindset. It’s something that we need to be a better team.
“Not only does he have that mindset, he has that will to win and it’s kind of contagious with everybody.”
The Knicks signed DiVincenzo to a four-year, $50 million deal early in free agency. He will reunite with old Villanova teammates in Josh Hart and Brunson. Hart exercised the 2023-24 player option in his contract, in part, to give the Knicks more financial flexibility in their pursuit of DiVincenzo. The three Wildcats remain close.
“I’ve loved that kid since I was a freshman in college, and he’s been one of my best friends for a long time,” Brunson said. “To get him on the team, I know what he is gonna bring to the table, night and night out. He’s just one of those dudes that are hungry every single night. We need that.”
Brunson will spend the next month or so traveling with Team USA gearing up to compete in the 2023 World Cup. Training camp in Las Vegas started days after his wedding to Ali Marks in Chicago (a wedding date that was changed last-minute so it wouldn’t conflict with Brunson’s Team USA commitment).
Brunson was Team USA’s starting point guard during scrimmages on Friday and figures to play a prominent role throughout its World Cup run.
“This opportunity doesn’t come around a lot. A very select few people get this opportunity. I’m honored and I’m committed to it,” Brunson said.
HALIBURTON EXCITED FOR OBI
“Me and Obi have been close since pre-draft. We have the same marketing agent. We’ve been friends since 2020. We were in a Finish Line commercial together,” Haliburton told SNY. “Every time I come into New York, every time he comes to Indy or Sac, wherever I’m at, we always link up and get dinner. So it’s exciting now to be on the same team. I think it’s just fun when you already have a connection with a guy, you can grow together.”
New York traded Toppin to Indiana for two future second-round draft picks earlier in the offseason (those picks project to land in the second half of the second round.)
Shortly after the trade, Haliburton shared his excitement on social media.
Both Haliburton and Toppin excel in transition. But Haliburton believes Toppin can expand his game in Indiana.
“I’m excited about (playing in transition with Toppin) but I’m also excited to help him add more parts to his game at the same time,” Haliburton told SNY. “I know how dynamic he is in transition. But I think, for him, the next step is going to be adding more in the half court and I hope that I can help with that with play-making and creativity. That’s a goal of mine.”
The Knicks took Toppin eighth in the 2020 NBA Draft – four spots ahead of Haliburton. Toppin’s role in New York was limited because he played behind Julius Randle, who has earned All-NBA honors in two of the past three years.
Haliburton believes Toppin can thrive with more minutes.
“I think, numbers don’t lie. You saw what he did when he started games for New York. His numbers go up as his minutes go up. That’s encouraging,” Haliburton said. “I think that’s something that he sees. Like, ‘if I have a bigger opportunity that’s going to be good for me.’ I think that’s something that the league is seeing and obviously something that our organization is seeing by making the deal for him.”
CAM EXCITED SEES BIG THINGS FROM SIMMONS
Cam Johnson and Mikal Bridges shared the floor during Team USA scrimmages on Thursday. They seemed to fit well in various Team USA lineups, making plays off the dribble and being disruptive on defense.
“I think it’s such a great learning experience to play alongside great talent, under great leadership,” Johnson said after Friday’s practice. “So it’s an opportunity that I’m going to do my best to take advantage of.”
Once Johnson and Bridges return to Brooklyn next month, they’ll likely be joined by a healthy Ben Simmons.
Johnson said on Friday that he’s looking forward to playing with Simmons, whose play Johnson sees as crucial to Brooklyn’s success.
“He’s very important. There are things that he does on the court that not many players in the NBA can do,” Johnson said. “He adds something that’s very valuable for myself, Spencer [Dinwiddie] and Mikal. To be able to set us up, get us shots and play in flow. With him on the court, it will definitely make us a better team.”
Simmons missed the final six weeks of the 2022-23 season with a back ailment. He has had a strong offseason and has progressed past rehabbing his back to focus solely on skill and conditioning work. Barring any set-back, Simmons expects to be fully healthy for the start of training camp.
“He says he’s progressing and he’s excited for the season. So looking forward to seeing what he brings to the table this year,” Johnson said.
ARTEST FOUNDATION EVENT
The Artest Foundation, founded by Ron Artest Sr., the father of Metta World Peace, is hosting Web3 and Sneaker Design competition in celebration of Hip Hop’s 50th anniversary this month. The event will take place on Aug. 27 at Queensbridge Park.
Metta World Peace will attend the event, which is being supported by the Mayor’s Office.
Attendees will hear from a panel of experts on Web3, NFTs, Metaverse, Cybersecurity, IP laws and more.
There will be a sneaker decision competition for teens and a Digital Art to NFT activity to Nick Davis, the late NFT artist, among other events. More information about the event can be found here.