Posted on: December 16, 2009 12:44 pm

T-Mac returns, but for who? For what?

CHICAGO -- Tracy McGrady returned to the Houston Rockets Tuesday night, and the fans cheered. T-Mac hit a 3-pointer, his only points during an eight-minute stint, and all was right in Rocket Land again. Right?

No, not so much.

McGrady's comeback is only part of a larger plan to increase his minutes and prove his worth to a team willing to take a chance on his once-breathtaking ability to score and benefit from his $23 million expiring contract at the same time. The Rockets were 14-10 this season without Yao Ming and McGrady, and now the only question is how long they'll have to keep up the charade until McGrady is in good enough condition to help another team.

"The plan is to increase his minutes because they’re gonna trade him," said a person familiar with the Rockets' plans. "I know they are. It doesn’t do them any good to have him playing eight minutes a game on that contract. They’ll find somebody, and there are plenty of teams that are interested, in spite of the contract."

In fact, there will be plenty of teams interested because of that contract. McGrady's $23 million salary comes with two built-in perks: It comes off the books on July 1, 2010, making it a vehicle for clearing cap space for the highly anticipated free-agent signing period, and it's 80 percent insurance-protected. The insurance provision already has kicked in, since McGrady missed 41 consecutive games during his recovery from microfracture knee surgery. The Rockets, or McGrady's new team, would receive 80 percent of his per-game salary for any games he misses the rest of this season.

Any number of teams desperate for short-term scoring punch while they prepare for a 2010 spending spree would be obvious fits; the Bulls and Knicks are at the top of my list. The Heat reportedly also are intrigued by McGrady, and team president Pat Riley is said to be closely monitoring T-Mac's progress.

On Wednesday, I brought all of this information to someone who is personally invested in McGrady's success -- Tim Grover, the renowned trainer at Attack Athletics on the West Side of Chicago. Grover famously trained Michael Jordan and has recently worked with such stars as Kobe Bryant, Gilbert Arenas, and McGrady. Grover wouldn't speculate on the Rockets' motives with regard to T-Mac, but said McGrady's debut Tuesday night was "long overdue."

"I wasn’t down in Houston, and I don’t know what the situation was or why they felt they needed to hold him out this long," Grover said. "Obviously, they had their reasons. They must have found something they wanted to be cautious with. The end result is we're happy to have him back on the floor."

Grover didn't merely help McGrady recover from microfracture surgery, which despite its name is a major procedure requiring months and months of rehab. He reinvented McGrady's body, which had no core strength when he got to Grover's gym.

"We took care of every single issue that he ever had -- the knee, the back, everything that’s ever bothered him in the past," Grover said. "We realigned his body and balanced everything out and made it much stronger and got a lot of his explosiveness back. Now getting back mentally 100 percent is the challenge. And the only way to do that is go out there and compete against NBA players."

At least McGrady is doing that now. Though in a perfect world, he won't be doing it in a Rockets jersey for much longer.
Posted on: November 21, 2009 7:07 pm

D'Antoni: Maybe we should've signed Iverson

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mike D'Antoni provided some more insight Saturday into why the team decided not to offer four-time scoring champion Allen Iverson a contract. And while the Knicks' coach said he's "really comfortable" with the decision, he didn't sound convinced.

"Talk to me 30 games from now," D'Antoni said before the Knicks beat the Nets 98-91. "Maybe we should’ve done it, I don’t know."

The process never got to the point where D'Antoni felt compelled to meet face-to-face with Iverson, who is a free agent after getting waived by the Grizzlies in another ugly parting of ways for the future Hall of Famer. D'Antoni said he didn't need to meet with Iverson to understand what kind of role he would've expected in New York.

"You guys have written enough about him," D'Antoni told a small group of reporters. "I think everybody pretty much knows the deal. He’s been pretty open about the deal. You have to play a certain away (with Iverson). Now, he’s good enough to command that and that’s fine. With Eddy (Curry), with our young guys, that’s not the way we wanted to go. Nothing against Allen."

Asked if he would've been sold on the idea if Iverson were capable of accepting a secondary role, D'Antoni said, "That’s not Allen. You know that, and it’s not even fair to ask him to do that."

D'Antoni then compared Iverson's situation to that of Stephon Marbury -- reluctantly, he said. D'Antoni benched Marbury at the start of last season and ultimately banished him from the team.

"It’s a little bit like Stephon," D'Antoni said. "That’s not right. That’s not right to him. Either you're giving him the keys to the car, or you’re not."

Miami and Charlotte have been mentioned as potential destinations for Iverson, but NBA front office executives expect him to be on the market for a while -- perhaps becoming a contingency option for a team that suffers backcourt injuries. Iverson's agent, Leon Rose, attended Saturday's game between the Knicks and Nets but said there were no developments warranting a comment.

Posted on: November 20, 2009 11:08 am
Edited on: November 20, 2009 4:10 pm

Iverson: If not New York, then where? (UPDATE)


Once you've been told "no" by the Knicks, I'm not sure where else there is to go. But I hear Europe is pretty nice this time of year.

The sad decline of Allen Iverson's once-brilliant career continued Friday when he was informed that, yes, there is an NBA player too controversial, too high-maintenance, and too wrong for the Knicks. And he was handed a mirror to help him figure out who that player is.

This isn't good news or bad news for the Knicks, who aren't going anywhere before July 1, 2010 with or without Iverson. But it's terrible news for Iverson, because New York might've been his last hope for a dignified exit from the NBA.

After the Knicks, the line of interested parties appears to be shorter than the line outside Edward Scissorhands' barber shop. The two most recent members of the cutting-off-nose-to-spite-face club -- Detroit and Memphis -- serve as Exhibits A and B in the perils that accompany one of the most talented, unique, and maddening players ever to suit up in the NBA.

What about the Magic, who just lost point guard Jameer Nelson for at least a month due to a knee injury? "I like where my team sits right now," GM Otis Smith told me Friday. The Nuggets, who enjoyed a mostly positive experience with A.I.? "Zero interest," said a person familiar with their plans. Iverson's former coach, Larry Brown, has been quick to call every team on his speed dial and recommend his former point guard/nemesis. But that says everything you need to know. Imagine getting a call from a colleague recommending that you hire someone. Aren't you just dying to ask, "If this guy's so good, why don't you hire him?"

The Knicks' decision to back away came hours after Iverson, released by the Grizzlies after playing only three games, cleared waivers Thursday night. At one point during the Knicks' deliberations, some members of the team's hierarchy, including coach Mike D'Antoni, were willing to take a chance on the multiple-time scoring champion as a way to infuse some life into a 2-9 team that is struggling to score points.

The tipping point was that the baggage and controversy Iverson would bring with him to the Knicks, a franchise trying to emerge from years of drama and negative publicity, outweighed the potential gains.

"I've always admired him," Knicks president Donnie Walsh told reporters at the team's Westchester County practice facility. "I think he'd be a great addition for a team that's in a different position than we're in, and I hope he gets picked up." 

D'Antoni said Iverson's desire to play 40 minutes a game, which was his undoing in Detroit and Memphis, wouldn't have worked.

"We just didn't think right now we wanted to have that dominant force on the team," D'Antoni said. "We're going to stick with the plan and it just wasn't the right situation. Allen is a great player, no doubt about it, but that's not the route we're going to take right now."

For the Knicks, that route is something that resembles sanity, which has been in short supply at Madison Square Garden for the past decade. If the Knicks had gone through with this with Iverson, you wouldn't have heard one word of criticism from me. Iverson would've made the Knicks watchable for the rest of this miserable season, and signing him wouldn't have affected the plans to clear cap space for 2010.

But I also have no problem with Walsh and D'Antoni looking into the eye of a franchise wrecking ball and concluding that the Knicks couldn't afford any more scrapes. If Isiah Thomas were still running things, the buzz up in Greenburgh, N.Y., would've been generated by an Iverson press conference capped off by his first day of practice. Under Walsh and D'Antoni, short-term fixes and moves motivated by short-sighted desperation are no longer requirements for the job.

Iverson, 34, would've provided a spark for the Knicks' moribund offense and generated fan interest in a team with no marquee star as the franchise limps through the last season of a salary-cap purge to prepare for the free-agent bonanza of 2010. But the Knicks, who've endured years of dysfunction, also are trying to turn the page on the kind of controversy, headlines, and distractions that have accompanied years of losing. 

While the team was deliberating Iverson's value over the past few days, a second source with knowledge of the team's strategy said it appeared likely the Knicks would go forward with a contract offer. But the source cautioned that there was the potential for "hang-ups" in the process. In the end, there may have been cause for concern on both sides. If Iverson didn't hear what he wanted to hear about his potential role with the Knicks, it was for the best that this didn't work out. 

So where else can he go? The Miami Heat have been mentioned as another potential suitor, but Dwyane Wade would have to sign off on such a controversial addition. A prolific scorer when in his prime, Iverson can still get to the basket and put up numbers. But it appears that his hopes of landing with a contending team are over; there were no takers over the summer when he opted to sign with the Grizzlies.

The Bobcats? Again, if Brown thinks signing Iverson is such a great idea, then he should go ahead and do it. The only problem is, Charlotte just acquired Stephen Jackson, another controversial scorer, and there's little reason to believe Iverson would be any happier in Charlotte than he was in Memphis.

Iverson's personal manager, Gary Moore, said recently that A.I. is determined to hook up with another NBA team this season and conclude his career on a positive note. But I keep going back to the moment last season in the visiting locker room in New Jersey, when Iverson vowed to retire before coming off the bench for another team. I've known him for nearly 14 years, so that statement didn't surprise me. "Playing every game like it's my last" has been the mantra that's sustained him. Now, that last game might've already come and gone.

Category: NBA
Posted on: November 19, 2009 3:44 pm

Why I love N.Y. with A.I.

Does Allen Iverson in New York make about as much sense to you as Eddy Curry working in a donut shop? I'm here to help.

A source with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com Thursday that the Knicks are expected to offer Iverson a contract once certain issues are resolved. Iverson clears waivers at 6 p.m., and the source said there are potential "hang-ups" that could delay a meeting of the minds.

Despite A.I.'s ugly breakups with the Pistons and Grizzlies, the Knicks will be different for him. They have absolutely nothing to lose -- zero -- other than a few million dollars. And those millions are for this season, and this season alone. Iverson won't affect the Knicks' cap-clearing endeavors. They get a marketable talent, albeit one past his prime, who will finally be enthusiastic about the situation he's in. If Iverson can't get on board with finishing his career in New York as opposed to Memphis, then he's more hopeless than I think.

There's no way Iverson, 34, refuses to appreciate what an opportunity this would be. He will play in front of a full house on the biggest stage in basketball. He will play an up-tempo style that will allow him to handle the ball, but one that also will require him to move it, as well. My word of caution to Iverson is that the ball cannot stick in Mike D'Antoni's offense. But at least it will be in better hands with Iverson than with Chris Duhon.

From the Knicks' perspective, this goes beyond the desperation of a losing, boring team that needs to sell tickets until the 2010 fun begins. Yes, the Knicks need Iverson for his ability to produce a watchable sideshow to keep the mind-numbed masses interested for the rest of this otherwise abysmal season. But they also need a scorer, and a closer. Despite Iverson's age, stubbornness, occasional petulance, and addiction to ball-dominance, he can still do both of those things fairly well. Better than Larry Hughes and Toney Douglas, certainly. Better than Al Harrington, too.

Will Iverson's presence slow the growth of Douglas? That's a possibility. But I think D'Antoni can find 36 minutes a night for Iverson and still keep Douglas in the rotation enough. And facts are facts. Nobody's paying big money to go to the Garden and watch Toney Douglas.

Is Iverson 100 percent guaranteed to start with the Knicks? Hey, if he's terrible, he'll have to be man enough to recognize it and do what's best for the team. But this makes no sense without the assumption that a starting job will be Iverson's to lose, which is why Donnie Walsh said Thursday he wants to have "conversations" with Iverson before committing to the idea.

One way to make this work is to keep Duhon at the point with Iverson starting at shooting guard. That's been his best position the past few years, and it accomplishes a few things. It allows Iverson to run around screens to get his shots, as opposed to getting them off the dribble. The latter would bog down the offense and expose the step Iverson has lost; he simply can't get to the basket and finish like he used to. Besides that, such a move would keep Duhon, a team captain, involved in the offense in a way that takes shooting and dribble-penetration off his list of responsibilities. He'd become Eric Snow.

Is this the ideal scenario for both the Knicks and Iverson? Not even close. Iverson should've accepted that he's a bench player at this point in his career and signed with a contender. The Knicks hoped to be better than 2-9, and thus not in any hurry to make such a move. But desperation loves company, and to this extent, the Knicks and Iverson are perfect for each other. It's sad, in a way, but undeniably true.

Category: NBA
Posted on: November 11, 2009 7:28 pm

LeBron: No more 2010 talk

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The King has spoken: No more 2010 talk for the rest of the season.

Our long national nightmare is over.

In a strange turn of events that could have -- some would say, should have -- taken place weeks, or even months ago, LeBron James announced Wednesday night that he will not answer any more questions about his impending free agency until after the season.

"Honestly, you know, this fee agency talk is getting old," LeBron said at the end of a seven-minute interview session with reporters before the Cavaliers played the Magic in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals. "You know, it’s getting old. I'm gonna stop; I think tonight will probably be the last time I answer any more free agent questions until the offseason. I think I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to myself. It’s just getting old."

For a player who carefully calculates every word he speaks publicly, this seemed like a spontaneous decision. It was only five days ago when James went to New York and soaked up the atmosphere provided by one of the teams unabashedly clearing salary cap space for him. As he always does when visiting the Big Apple, LeBron seemed to relish all the attention being on him. He entertained every question, carefully constructing every phrase in a way that only further stoked the speculation.

On Wednesday night, prior to Cleveland's first meeting with the Magic since losing to them in the conference finals, James entertained several questions about free agency. At one point, he even admitted that he and pal Dwyane Wade -- whose Heat host the Cavs Thursday night -- have talked privately about playing together. (In case you've been hiding under a rock, both LeBron and Wade can opt out of their contracts next summer and become unrestricted free agents.) 

Then, when someone exceeded the "last question" limit that had been set by one of the Cavs' media relations people and asked James again about playing with Wade, he fidgeted nervously and made his no-2010-talk proclamation.

"I'm focusing on this season and this is going to be a really good season for us," James said. "I don’t want to have any more distractions to my teammates, to my organization, to my family. This will be the last time I answer a free agent question for the rest of the year."
Posted on: November 7, 2009 12:34 am

LeBron hurts shooting hand; X-rays negative

NEW YORK -- LeBron James had everything he wanted Friday night: A star-studded packed house at his favorite arena, handshakes with his favorite Yankees after the game, and a win. What he could've done without was an injury to his shooting hand.

James, who scored 33 points -- 19 in the first quarter -- as the Cavs beat the Knicks 100-91, had his right hand in a bucket of ice in the Cavs' locker room afterward. He appeared to be in some pain, and a member of the Knicks' training staff examined him. After his postgame news conference in a crowded interview room, James walked to the Knicks' training room for a precautionary X-ray, which was negative, according to a source. It was a huge sigh of relief to the Cavs, as James appeared to be in some pain after the game and spent his entire postgame news conference clutching the injured hand. He didn't know how he hurt it.

The part of the hand that concerned James was the bone leading from the knuckle of the ring finger to his wrist. Though it was painful, James was in good spirits after the game, joking with teammates and performing his usual singing routine. His good mood was justified when the X-ray results came back. Just another night at the office known as Madison Square Garden.

Category: NBA
Posted on: October 31, 2009 7:14 pm

Gallinari gets start in Knicks' home opener

NEW YORK -- In the second-most significant athletic event between teams from New York and Philadelphia, Danilo Gallinari was inserted into the starting lineup Friday night for the Knicks' home opener against the 76ers.

Coach Mike D'Antoni hopes that pairing Gallinari with a more athletic lineup -- and bringing Al Harrington off the bench -- will help the Knicks shake off the slow starts that have plagued them during their 0-2 start. The Knicks have allowed 59 first-quarter points in their first two games and 107 in the first half.

Harrington, who only 10 days ago proclaimed that he's a starter and urged reporters to "write it," softened his stance considerably after D'Antoni announced the shakeup during his pre-game media session.

"I think I'm a starter, but on this team if Coach needs me to come off the bench, I'm gonna come off the bench," Harrington said. "And I'm gonna be the best bench player, too. So I'm looking forward to it."

It'll be the third career start for the 21-year-old Gallinari, who was limited to 28 games during his rookie season due to a back injury. In the Knicks' first two losses, he scored 22 and 16 points and made 10-of-20 from 3-point range.
Posted on: October 27, 2009 7:59 am
Edited on: October 27, 2009 7:18 pm

No extension for Rondo (UPDATE)

CLEVELAND -- It appears that Rajon Rondo will take the floor for the season opener in Cleveland Tuesday night with the knowledge that he won't get the contract extension from the Celtics that he's been seeking.

A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed to CBSSports.com that the Celtics and Rondo's agent, Bill Duffy, were not able to come to terms on a five-year extension that would've forestalled the point guard's foray into restricted free agency next season.

Technically, the two sides have until Saturday to finalize such an agreement. But they appear to be too far apart to make that a realistic possibility.

"It'll take care of itself," Rondo said Tuesday night before the season opener against Cleveland. "I'm just focused on doing my job (Tuesday night). It's crazy timing, though."

Is this bad for the Celtics? Under normal circumstances, I'd say yes. But an offseason of soul searching is still fresh in Rondo's mind after coach Doc Rivers and team president Danny Ainge directly challenged him to be more of a leader. It's a risk for the Celtics, who could very well face the possibility of another title contender stealing Rondo with an offer sheet next summer. But the Celtics no doubt are emboldened by the difficulty several marquee RFAs had in their attempts to change teams this past summer -- the Knicks' David Lee and Utah's Paul Millsap chief among them -- and believe it's worth the risk. I believe they're right.

Also, don't underestimate the motivation Rondo will feel to perform this season and earn a lucrative offer sheet, which the Celtics almost certainly will match anyway. Few players in the league carry a chip on their shoulders as well as Rondo, who could use this perceived snub to propel him -- and the Celtics -- back to the NBA Finals. 

It's a risk that could very well pay off for both sides.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com