Tag:Brandon Roy
Posted on: May 23, 2011 5:57 pm
Edited on: May 24, 2011 10:57 am
 

Buffoonery at its best in Portland

The way things are going in the circus that is the NBA these days, with the tents and elephants and freak show setting up shop in Portland once again, there’s never been a better time to resurrect this memorable quote from Tayshaun Prince.

You know what they call this? They call this buffoonery.

Except this goes way beyond comedy – beyond even the wackiness Prince experienced in Detroit this season. The firing of Rich Cho as the Trail Blazers’ general manager Monday, and the search for the team’s third GM in less than a year, means the Blazers are no longer simply a joke. They are a league-wide embarrassment, a proverbial Petri dish for the experimental breeding of ego, incompetence, and the kind of empty-suit entitlement that rears its ugly head when rich guys think money and malice trump class.

On July 19, 2010, when Portland hired Cho to replace Kevin Pritchard – who was fired, for reasons that remain a mystery, hours before the previous month’s draft – team president Larry Miller issued the following statement: “Rich is the perfect fit for our organization.”

Whoops!

On Monday, a month before the next draft, the Trail Blazers announced they’ve “parted ways” with Cho. The first line of Miller’s statement explaining that bombshell went like this: “The fit between Rich and our team simply wasn't right.”

Can I get a whoops, whoops?

Of course it wasn’t right, because Cho was an independent thinker who wanted what any GM in the NBA should have as long as his business card bears that title: autonomy. The Blazers do not believe in autonomy, unless your name is Paul Allen or you are employed by Allen’s Seattle-based Vulcan Inc. The “Vulcanites,” as NBA front office insiders call them, ran Pritchard and assistant GM Tom Penn out of Portland and now someone has run out their replacement. Cho probably doesn’t feel this way now, but he’s better off. Or at least that’s what his colleagues in the GM profession hope.

“Rich is such a nice guy, such a good, gentle guy, and this could destroy him,” one of Cho’s colleagues said Monday. “He may never get another job as a GM because people will say, ‘How weird is it that you got fired after only 10 months on the job?’ But they don’t care about that stuff. They don’t care how they treat people.”

The person in the GM’s seat – now, it’s Chad Buchanan, who will hold the interim title until, or rather if, Portland is able to persuade some other poor soul to take the job – is never the one calling the shots there. Ultimately, that is Allen, who gets his advice from two key Vulcanites who’ve lurked behind the scenes in the organization for years: Steve “Hat Man” Gordon and Bert Kolde, a longtime friend of Allen’s who is listed in the team’s front office directory as director of the board.

“He’s the de facto GM,” said a person familiar with the Blazers’ hierarchy. “He’s the guy always trying to make calls and make decisions.”

Echoing the tasteless, underhanded way the Blazers fired Penn and Pritchard, NBA front office sources told CBSSports.com Monday that word began circulating at the scouting combine last week in Chicago that Portland already was looking for Cho’s replacement. Good luck to Allen, Miller, Hat Man, Kolde, the dancing bears and clowns on a unicycle in their quest to find a better person for the job than the three aforementioned executives, who were all capable – not to mention deserving of the freedom to make their own basketball decisions.

Was the mild-mannered Cho, after working under Sam Presti in Oklahoma City, prepared for this kind of hot seat? Was he as capable and accomplished as his predecessor, Pritchard? Of course not; but that’s the organization’s fault for firing Pritchard in the first place. And it was their responsibility to hire the right person, and to give that person a chance to grow into the job. The Vulcanites didn’t like Pritchard’s talkative, cocksure ways, so they hired the quietest person in any room; they overcompensated. Next, they should sew themselves a puppet and put it on the payroll, or go to the pet store and buy a parakeet. Hat Man will have him chirping, “Yes, sir, Mr. Allen,” in no time.

What the Blazers want above all else is a weak-minded yes man – not the kind of team-first, independent thinker that Cho proved himself to be when a report surfaced in the Oregonian last week that he wanted to suspend star Brandon Roy over his complaints about playing time after Game 2 of the first-round series against Dallas. This is the kind of authority a GM has to have if he’s going to shape the organization according to his vision. It is the kind of moment when, if an executive is undercut by ownership, it becomes apparent to everyone how much juice he has.

None.

All NBA executives face pressure from above. It’s part of the job. It’s the first thing they think of when they wake up and the last thought that crawls through their weary brains when they go to sleep: How do I keep my owner happy? Owners from coast to coast meddle in coach hirings and firings, weigh in on personnel decisions they know nothing about, and generally exert the influence that goes along with the flourish with which they sign the checks.

But Portland? This is ownership run wild. This is an organization that deserves to have no one – and I mean no one – even agree to interview for the job that was unfathomably vacated for the second time in less than a year.

At least the Blazers didn’t wait until draft night to drop the hammer on Cho, who made no discernable mistakes since taking over for Pritchard – and, hell, didn’t even have time to make any. Unless you consider getting Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats and losing a first-round playoff series to the Mavericks – still in the running for the NBA title – with his star player hobbling around on one leg a mistake.

And so the Blazers are right back where they were less than a year ago, when they fired Pritchard for no good reason and were firm in their belief that money and the allure of working for an owner with limitless pockets would trump any concerns candidates might have about working in the theater of the absurd.

Here’s hoping that this buffoonery hurts the Blazers more than Cho. Here’s hoping that their hunt for the next victim turns up much the same as the cache of credibility they have left.

Empty.
Posted on: December 30, 2010 2:27 pm
Edited on: December 30, 2010 9:43 pm
 

Sources: Blazers, Roy weigh ending his season

The Trail Blazers are involved in ongoing discussions aimed at determining how much longer Brandon Roy will have to rest his ailing knees. Among several options under consideration is shutting Roy down for the rest of the season in hopes he can restored to his previous All-Star status, two people with knowledge of the team's thinking told CBSSports.com. 

UPDATE: The Blazers are in limbo, both with their .500 record and their posture in trade discussions, until they reach some definitive conclusions on how serious and long-term Roy's knee woes really are. Roy, who has missed the past seven games while being re-evaluated on a daily basis, was put on what the team described as "indefinite rest" Thursday. 

“Unfortunately, Brandon Roy’s condition has not significantly improved and we’ve decided to hold him out indefinitely,” GM Rich Cho said in a statement. “In the short term, we’re going to proceed with an extended period of rest. Beyond that, we’re looking at all available treatment options to help better determine a course of action.”


As for how long Roy could be out, a person with knowledge of the team's decision-making process said, "There are multiple options here. At the end of the day, it's got to be a decision the player is comfortable with." Roy said Thursday that surgery was under consideration and confirmed that sitting out the rest of the season was a possibility.

Roy, along with his agent, Bob Myers, and the Portland medical staff, had been weighing the merits of a game-to-game decision-making process on when Roy will be able to play. But there is consensus among some of Portland’s decision-makers and Roy’s camp that having him bounce in and out of the lineup indefinitely may not be in anyone’s best interests. Uncertainty surrounding his status would hinder coach Nate McMillan's ability to prepare for games and also become a distraction to teammates. 

Putting Roy on a minute-limit seems unlikely, since he tried that after missing three games in November and decided it wasn't helping. Another course of action would be extending Roy's rest indefinitely, in the hopes that his knees would respond. But also on the table is shutting him down at some point through the remainder of the season, sources said. Along with the latest season-ending injury to 2007 first-round pick Greg Oden, such a move would be another blow to a franchise that felt it was on the cusp of championship contention. 

"It would not surprise me to see him try to play again," one of the sources familiar with the team's strategy said. "It would not surprise me to see him set a date when he wants to try to play. And it would not surprise me if he doesn't play again this season. ... At this point, anything is a possibility. The doctors and Brandon are ultimately going to make that decision." 

Trading Roy, who signed a five-year, $82 million extension in August 2009, won't be an option until potential suitors gain some clarity about whether Roy will ever return to his previous form. Sources have told CBSSports.com that Roy has a separate, outside insurance policy on his knees that could protect the Blazers -- or his new team -- depending on the timing and extent of any disability. 

After he repeatedly had his knees drained early in the season, Roy revealed in November that there is no meniscus left in either knee. The bone-on-bone condition is something Roy, 26, said he would have to "deal with for the rest of my career."
Posted on: December 30, 2010 11:28 am
 

Post-Ups

After an appropriate cooling-off period surrounding Carmelo Anthony trade talks after the tragic death of his sister, teams are beginning to get a renewed sense of where the Nuggets are strategy-wise. And once again, multiple sources tell CBSSports.com that Denver officials are sending mixed signals and still appear undecided as to whether they're seeking veteran players who can help them now or some combination of cap relief, draft picks and young players. 

As a result of what one rival executive referred to as the Nuggets having "overplayed their hand" in negotiations with the Nets, frustrated New Jersey officials are in the process of "substantively" re-evaluating their pursuit of Anthony, a three-time All-Star who has refused to sign a three-year, $65 million extension with the Nuggets. 

No one is fully aware of Anthony's mindset after he's missed five games grieving the loss of his sister, Michelle, who died tragically at 38 last week. But with trade demands that another executive described as "too high and unrealistic," the Nuggets run the risk of alienating the team that from the beginning had the most assets to offer -- starting with Derrick Favors, multiple first-round picks and the expiring contract of Troy Murphy

The Nuggets' outward appearance of indecision could very well be a negotiating tactic, as a person with direct knowledge of Denver's strategy has told CBSSports.com that the team has decided it wants to get young and accumulate draft picks if and when they decide to trade Anthony -- not attempt to tread water with sub-par veteran replacements whose contracts would hinder the team's future flexibility. The other wild card, of course, is Anthony's reluctance to sign an extension with the Nets, which has been confirmed by a person with direct knowledge of his thinking. 

In view of their frustration, the Nets have not yet gotten to the point where they're ready to pull all their chips off the table. But it's clear that the Nets are "sick of the whole charade," according to one source and have "backed away," according to another. And with that, we move along to the rest of the final 2010 edition of Post-Ups: 

* Exploratory trade talks the Trail Blazers are involved in on multiple fronts hinge on what decision is made with regard to Brandon Roy's short- and long-term health. Team officials already have engaged in internal discussions about trading older players such as Marcus Camby, Andre Miller and Joel Przybilla. Such an avenue would seem to be more likely if it's decided that Roy will miss significantly more than the six games he just sat out due to a bone-on-bone condition in both knees. One scenario involved Miller going to the Bobcats, but those talks took place prior to Charlotte's recent coaching change. The Bobcats now are entering a new evaluation period under coach Paul Silas and have no current interest in straight salary-dump trades. "That's the furthest thing from the truth," one source said. "We want to do basketball deals if we can." 

* A person with knowledge of Camby's thinking confirmed a report that the 14-year veteran would indeed contemplate retirement if traded to a rebuilding team. Camby's overwhelming preference is to stay in Portland, and there is "no close second," the person said. But if a trade to a contending team in a city his family would be willing to relocate to were presented, Camby would be open to the idea. The Knicks, who from time to time have expressed interest in bringing Camby back to New York, are one team that would meet the 36-year-old's approval. 

* The Rockets have been engaged in trade discussions regarding Yao Ming and his expiring $17.7 million contract, but have been met with underwhelming offers thus far. One rival GM said that's because any team contemplating acquiring Yao would have to do so only for cap relief. "You have to do that with the assumption that he'll never play again," the executive said. The balance of Yao's contract for this season is insured due to his latest foot injury, and thus would provide current savings as well as future cap relief. 

* According to Kings GM Geoff Petrie, Tyreke Evans' injury prognosis may not be as bad as it seems. Petrie told CBSSports.com Wednesday that specialists have informed the team that if Evans elects to undergo a laser procedure to resolve plantar fasciitis in his left foot, he could be back as fast as 3-4 weeks -- not the 3-4 months that Evans told reporters after a one-point loss to the Clippers Monday night. In that game, Evans scored 32 points in 40 minutes. On Wednesday night, he hit a 50-foot game-winner to give the Kings a 100-98 victory over Memphis. "He seems to be managing it fairly well right at the moment," Petrie said. 

* The December holidays brought an intermission to labor talks, with no substantive negotiation expected until after the New Year. But in recent weeks, at least 10 teams have signed petitions approving decertification -- a tactic that would put the owners' right to lock out the players in legal question. National Basketball Players Association officials plan to continue meeting with teams in January and get further decertification petitions signed. If and when the owners notify players of a lockout at or near the expiration date of the current CBA on July 1, union officials will have the paperwork they need to dissolve the union and challenge the lockout as a violation of antitrust laws. But there are divergent views in the labor-law world on whether decertification is a legitimate tactic. In his most recent public appearance in Memphis earlier this month, commissioner David Stern described it as "a nuclear option. But I'm not sure whether it isn't the nuclear option that falls on the party that launches it."
Posted on: December 17, 2010 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 9:28 pm
 

Post-Ups (UPDATE)

Houston and Portland, we have problems. 

Two teams that have been tantalizingly close to championship contention in recent years are suddenly in turmoil due to injuries -- franchise-shaping injuries to their franchise players. 

Portland had no sooner come to grips with the loss of Greg Oden -- again -- when the gathering storm of controversy between ailing star Brandon Roy and veteran point guard Andre Miller popped up. The Rockets, struggling without point guard Aaron Brooks, now may have to completely rethink their style of play and strategy for the future with word that center Yao Ming could be out for the year with a stress fracture in his ankle. 

“They built around Yao and they’re going to have to change who they are and become a more transition-oriented team,” a rival executive said. * No one ever thought the Rockets would commit to Yao beyond this season until they learned whether he’d be able to return to the court and be productive. With the answer to that question now being no, it’s time to scrap the notion that Houston can rely on Yao to ever be the centerpiece of a title-contending team. 

Changes are needed in the short run, too. Once Brooks returns -- and that will be soon -- the Rockets will need to forget about Yao and push the pace in a way that fits the talent they have. Kevin Martin is a transition player, and Brooks certainly is. So is recently acquired Terrence Williams, who could be a key part of this new strategy if the change of scenery also changes his attitude. 

As for the Blazers, it would appear that their incredible aptitude for overcoming serious and numerous injuries has come to an end. In the past, winning masked the uncomfortable co-existence of Roy and Miller. Now that Portland is struggling, there’s no way to hide the fact that Roy and Miller aren’t a good fit in the backcourt together. Sources already have told CBSSports.com that Blazers officials are considering going young and moving some of their older pieces -- such as Miller, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. Miller, with a fully non-guaranteed $7.8 million in 2011-12, has off-the-charts trade value -- especially for a contender in need of a steadying force at point guard. 
UPDATE: A person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Friday that Roy's recent comments about the difficulty he's having playing with Miller were no accident. "He's an unhappy camper," the person said. "A very unhappy camper. For Brandon to talk like that, he's got to be at his breaking point."
Sources continue to tell me that Orlando, which is concerned about not measuring up to Boston and Miami in the East, would be the perfect fit for Miller. The Magic are not going to accept carrying a $94 million payroll into the playoffs, only to lose in the conference semifinals -- which seems to be their fate as currently constructed. Rashard Lewis’ impact continues to diminish, Vince Carter is little more than a jump-shooter, and Jameer Nelson is too inconsistent to rely on as the floor general of a championship-contending team. 

Miller could be the elixir for Orlando. All he does is find open shots for his teammates, and Dwight Howard would be thrilled with Miller’s elite talent as a lob-passer. Howard, who will be part of a blockbuster free-agent class in 2012, has quickly grown frustrated with the Magic’s obvious limitations. 

The piece that could get it done is Marcin Gortat, who’s a starting center on any team but one that has Howard. Though Gortat’s contract goes out three more years, it’s at a reasonable rate for a starting center -- topping out at $7.7 million in 2013-14, when Gortat has an early-termination option. 

Blazers GM Rich Cho has liked Gortat since his days working as Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City, so such a deal would seem to make sense from all angles. Gortat would give Portland a reasonable insurance policy in case Oden never becomes worthy of his No. 1 overall selection in 2007, and Roy would have the ball in his hands more -- which is something he can’t have when playing alongside Miller. Whether Roy’s knees will hold up under those demands is a valid question, but one Portland may very well need answered one way or another. 

UPDATE: According to one source, Roy’s contract is insured against injuries to either knee. There is an outside, secondary policy, the person with knowledge of the policy said, and it also covers one of his ankles. Another person familiar with the details pointed out there are restrictions tied to the length of disability and stipulations related to the timing of a particular injury. Either way, that’s an insurance policy the Blazers never want to have to dust off. Better to put the ball in their franchise player’s hands and see what happens. What have they got to lose? 

Nothing, which is the opposite of what we have in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups: 

* Executives working the phones during these early days of trade inquiry say the teams that appear most determined to make deals before the Feb. 24 deadline are Portland, Detroit, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte. But while execs have seen the usual volume of calls, the urgency to clear cap space and/or dump salary isn’t nearly as high as it was last summer. Leading up to the 2010 deadline, multiple teams were hellbent on clearing cap space for a robust free-agent class. Not only will this summer’s free-agent class pale in comparison, teams also are unsure of how and when free agency will take shape due to labor uncertainty. 

* Amid commissioner David Stern’s latest CBA rhetoric, sources say there won’t be any bargaining meetings the rest of the year due to scheduling conflicts and the holidays. As of now, the goal is to gather key participants for a smaller negotiating session in January leading up to an all-important full bargaining session during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. Union officials will be most disturbed by Stern’s assertion during a trip to Memphis this week that the NBA needs to transition to a hard salary cap in order to restore competitive balance. The players view this as a smokescreen, believing that the league wants a hard cap simply as a mechanism to reduce salaries. Meanwhile, Stern dismissed aspects of the NBPA’s proposal that were geared toward improving competitive balance, saying those changes actually would cost owners more money than the current system. So that’s where we are: nowhere. 

* One aspect of the players’ proposal, complete details of which were reported for the first time last week, has gone largely overlooked. The NBPA proposed a broad outline for redistributing draft picks as a way to respond to the owners’ desire to enhance competitive balance. The precise method would be subject to negotiation, but the union envisioned taking draft picks away from the top-tier teams and giving extra picks to the bottom feeders. For example, the top three or top five teams in the draft order would see their first-round picks go to the bottom three or five. So using last year’s lottery order and redistributing the top five teams’ picks, the Wizards would’ve selected first and 26, the Sixers second and 27th, the Nets third and 28th, etc. Not a bad idea, although I wonder if some of those teams would simply be inclined to sell the second of their first-round picks. Either way, it would give struggling teams more assets in their quest to return to playoff contention. 

* As the Nuggets continue to weigh their options with Carmelo Anthony, rival GMs and high-profile agents are divided on whether Anthony would even be a good fit for the Knicks if New Jersey wasn’t able to get him to agree to an extension. There’s no doubting the star power Anthony would bring to New York. Would he make the Knicks better? Clearly, he’d give them the closing perimeter scorer they lack, and in that way he’d be a perfect complement to Amar’e Stoudemire. But would Anthony make the Knicks that much better than a defensive- and transition-oriented wing, such as Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala? “I don’t think the Knicks win any more or less games if it’s Gerald Wallace vs. Carmelo,” a rival GM said. “They’re already scoring 120 points a game. I think they have enough offense.” Others point out that Anthony is a low-efficiency shooter and a ball-stopper; coach Mike D’Antoni could live with the former but detests the latter. But my point is, if the ball stops with Anthony and its next stop is in the basket, so be it. In some ways, the inside-outside combination of Stoudemire and Anthony -- with a capable point guard, Raymond Felton, divvying up the shots -- would be more dangerous than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But here’s what the Melo-doesn’t-fit crowd will tell you, and I concede this point: The Knicks controlled the pace of Wednesday night’s game against Boston for 47-plus minutes. At the end, when they needed someone to stop Paul Pierce, they had nowhere to turn. Anthony is capable of playing better defense than he’s been asked to in Denver; he showed it in Beijing with Team USA. But it’s worth wondering if a player like Wallace or Iguodala would get you just as much scoring in transition and as the second option on Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls and be capable of defending the other team’s closer on the last possession. Other than the fact that Donnie Walsh never panics, this line of thinking could have a lot to do with why he isn’t crushed by the Nets’ all-out pursuit of Melo. “The Knicks are in a pretty good position to sit back and see where the cap falls,” another executive said. “I don’t think Knicks will give up much to get [Anthony], and I don’t think they have much to give up to begin with.”
Posted on: December 10, 2010 12:02 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2010 12:05 pm
 

In the Moment: Wesley Matthews

Aside from their much-needed victory over Orlando Thursday night, the Portland Trail Blazers have had a rough year. Greg Oden's out for the year (again), and the former No. 1 overall pick may have played his last game in a Blazers uniform. Brandon Roy is hobbled with bad knees.

Suddenly, getting to .500 for the Blazers (11-11) feels like some sort of accomplishment after they recently lost six in a row prior to their current three-game winning streak. But one bright spot throughout has been Wesley Matthews, whose five-year, $32 million conrtract as a restricted free agent raised plenty of eyebrows this past summer.

Overpaid? Not quite. Matthews addressed his contract, his famous basketball-playing parents, and what it was like to grow up without knowing his father, former Laker Wesley Matthews III, in an exclusive interview with CBSSports.com.

"Difficult growing up when I was younger," Matthews said. "It was tough because he went to school in Madison [Wisc.] and that's where I grew up, and so everybody knew the name. So right away, everybody put that connection with me and my father, and he wasn’t around. As I got older, our relationship grew and we're closer now. Still not where we need to be, but I didn't expect it to be that way right now. We're growing, we're getting better, we talk, we talk often, and our relationship is on the rise."




Matthews' father won two championships with the Showtime Lakers in the 1980s, but split with his wife, Pam Moore, when the younger Matthews was only a toddler. Matthews IV shares the same competitive streak that his father had -- Matthews III famously got under Xavier McDaniel's skin so badly one night that the X-Man put him in a choke hold -- but that trait wasn't exclusive to him.

Moore, a basketball and track star at the University of Wisconsin, raised Matthews IV alone in Madison, and he credits her influence more than anything else for his success. When Matthews IV got his front-loaded contract -- with more than $9 million up front -- he finally persuaded his mom to retire and put the wheels in motion to buy her the first home she has ever owned.

"It's the best feeling of my life, being able top let my mom relax," Matthews said. "She's still not relaxed, but she's trying. She's not very good at relaxing yet, but she doesn't have to get up and go to work. All she's doing is helping take care of my business, what's going on with me, and she loves doing that. It's been a blessing being able to do that for her."

Matthews has one bone to pick with his mom: He doesn't quite believe the tale of her supposed 50-point, 50-rebound game in high school.

"I haven't been able to prove it to be true, but I can't see it -- 50 points and 50 rebounds," Matthews said. "She wouldn't lie, but she might stretch the truth a little bit."

However this season turns out for the Blazers -- who, according to rival executives are considering a plan to trade older players like Andre Miller and Marcus Camby and set themselves up for a new labor agreement with a younger roster and more flexible payroll -- they appear to have found a gem in Matthews. An undrafted free agent out of Marquette who played his rookie season in Utah, Matthews is averaging 14.7 points per game and shooting .465 from the field and .354 from 3-point range. Instead of accepting the pundits' conclusion that he's overpaid, Matthews is making a name for himself and could wind up being an extremely valuable backup plan if Roy's knees deteriorate further.

"They can say whatever they want to say -- overpaid, underpaid, paid correctly, I don’t know," Matthews said. "The only claim that I can state is I work, and I refuse to be outworked. I always want to get better, I'll be the first to critique myself, and I love winning."


Posted on: December 8, 2010 7:51 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 11:03 pm
 

Post-Ups: Nuggets ready to move Melo

After weeks of speculation and despite a strong start by the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony's last days in Denver may finally have arrived.

The Nuggets have all but decided to trade Anthony if he does not sign an extension with the team by the trade deadline, and Denver's management team believes Anthony is fully prepared to play out the season and become a free agent, multiple sources told CBSSports.com.

The Nuggets’ strong start, coupled with George Karl’s inspirational return from cancer treatment and positive discussions about a contract extension for the soon-to-be-1,000-win coach, have the organization feeling they've done everything possible to persuade Anthony to stay. But according to people with knowledge of the team’s strategy, if Anthony doesn’t agree to sign the three-year, $65 million extension by the Feb. 24 trade deadline, the wheels are all but certain to be put in motion to part ways with the three-time All-Star rather than lose him as a free agent and get nothing in return.

According to people in contact with the Nuggets’ management team, there is far more clarity today about what the team is seeking in a potential Anthony trade than there was in September, when new GM Masai Ujiri was thrust into the tempest in his initial days and weeks on the job. Executives believe the Nuggets have decided they would like to receive the best possible package of young players and are not interested in stopgap options that would hamper their flexibility. Acquiring a high-priced veteran player -- such as Andre Iguodala, whose talent the Nuggets value but not his contract -- would only hurt the team’s ability to build around youth while maintaining payroll flexibility into the uncertainty of a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Nets’ package of 2010 No. 3 pick Derrick Favors, guard Devin Harris, the expiring contract of Kris Humphries and two first-round picks remains the most attractive option to the Nuggets, sources say. Additional trade partners such as Charlotte and Utah are not eager to get involved in the discussions again, but wouldn’t necessarily be needed this time.

The wild card remains Anthony’s desire to sign an extension with the Nets, who obviously would not be willing to offer the same package without such a guarantee. While rival executives continue to doubt that Anthony would be willing to spend the next season-and-a-half in Newark, N.J., sources who have been in close contact with the power brokers in Anthony’s camp -- William Wesley and Leon Rose -- say the Nets remain an option for Anthony.

Anthony and the Nuggets will play Sunday at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, which remain his top choice via a trade or free agency -- even though the latter option could cost him millions depending on how successful owners are at imposing salary reductions in the new collective bargaining agreement. Sources say Anthony is so fixated on winding up with the Knicks that Denver management has become convinced that he will tempt fate and the new CBA by playing out the entire season in Denver and signing with the Knicks as a free agent on July 1 – or after the lockout. The only way that scenario could be positive for Denver would be in a sign-and-trade deal. But such an arrangement – like the pennies-on-the-dollar deals that sent LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami – would not be nearly as beneficial as what the Nets are offering now.

The Knicks, playing their best basketball in years with free-agent acquisition Amar’e Stoudemire, have believed that their best chance of landing Melo was for the process to play out slowly – and they’ve gotten their wish so far. But the Nuggets, sources say, are not sold on the young players New York could offer such as Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Point guard Raymond Felton -- who has been on an offensive tear since gaining chemistry with Stoudemire and who becomes trade-eligible on Dec. 15 -- also does not interest the Nuggets, who view him as a halfcourt player who wouldn't fit their style.

Nuggets officials are said to be coming around to the idea that Harris could play in the backcourt with Chauncey Billups, who often played shooting guard this past summer with Team USA. But if Anthony is traded, sources say management also wants to show Billups -- who came to the Nuggets not just to come home, but to win -- the proper respect by engaging him in conversations about whether he'd prefer to be traded.

Other than hoping to persuade Anthony to sign the extension and stay in Denver, the biggest variable for the Nuggets is the sliding scale of quality on the Nets’ own first-round pick they’d convey in the trade. (They also would include Golden State’s protected 2012 first-rounder). The sooner the Nuggets trade Melo to New Jersey, the better the Nets get and the worse the pick gets. But that is a matter of timing and patience. As far as willingness to deal, it appears that the Nuggets are finally open for business.

And so are we in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups:

• With the Trail Blazers' obvious struggles and the health challenges (that's putting it mildly) of Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, two people with knowledge of the team's strategy told CBSSports.com that Portland management is contemplating trading older players and going young. The obvious targets for such a purge would be Marcus Camby (36), Andre Miller (34), and Joel Przybilla (31). Roy isn’t old, but his knees are -- though one of the sources said Portland would find no takers for the five years and $82.3 million remaining on Roy's contract, given the state of his meniscus-less knees. Przybilla ($7.4 million expiring contract) and Miller (whose $7.8 million salary in 2011-12 is fully non-guaranteed) are eminently moveable. Another candidate to be dealt, though not because of age or health, is Rudy Fernandez, who has wanted out of Portland for some time. Sources caution that the Blazers have engaged in only internal conversations about this strategy, and it is contingent upon the team (10-11) continuing to struggle. But the writing certainly is on the wall for major changes in Portland.

• Multiple NBA team executives told CBSSports.com this week they believe a significant number of college underclassmen will stay in school rather than risk losing a year of development (and pay) in a lockout. College coaches making the pitch to underclassman to stay in school will have more leverage than ever before. “They’ll have the hammer,” one exec said. “To lose a year of development at that stage of your career, that’s huge.” This could have a dramatic impact on a team like No. 4 Kansas, which in an ordinary year would have as many as three first-round picks: freshman Josh Selby (serving a nine-game NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits); and juniors Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor. Sophomore Thomas Robinson also impressed NBA execs scouting the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

• Speaking of Madison Square Garden, rival execs agree that New York would be a logical landing spot for Andre Iguodala, and they believe the Sixers will be more than open to discussing trades for the dynamic but high-priced swingman as the Feb. 24 deadline approaches. The Knicks, one of the few teams in a position to absorb salary in the uncertain labor environment, also would be looking for an attractive piece to pair with Stoudemire in the event the Nuggets follow through with an Anthony trade prior to the deadline. Team president Donnie Walsh would have to decide if, short of Anthony, Iguodala is the best option that will be available to him between now and 2011 free agency -- if and when that happens. And also, if Iguodala is worth giving up the cap flexibility he's toiled three years to create. Pricetag notwithstanding -- the 26-year-old is due $56.5 million over the next four years -- Iguodala would be an excellent fit for Mike D'Antoni's high-octane offense and would instantly become the best defender on the roster by a mile.

• With details of the National Basketball Players Association's July proposal finally becoming fully public Wednesday, the question of how prepared the union is for a lockout is naturally going to come up. According to sources familiar with the union's financial documents, the NBPA currently has just shy of $100 million in liquid assets in its war chest in the event of a lockout. The funds have been accumulated largely through players agreeing to put aside licensing money they receive from the league -- something they are doing again this season to the tune of about $30 million. If you add non-liquid assets, such as property, the union will have about $175 million on hand. This is a lot of money to you and me, but not to 450 NBA players. Consider that the players' salaries (without benefits) last season totaled about $2.3 billion -- with a "b." Now consider that players are paid 12 times during the season -- twice a month for six months. That means the NBPA's total war chest is enough to cover the players' first paychecks during a lockout in the 2011-12 season.

• With trade discussions typically heating up around the 20-game mark -- and also around Dec. 15, when summer free agents become trade-eligible -- execs league-wide are curious to learn what sort of trade climate will exist in light of the labor uncertainty. Many predict that teams that have typically been willing to take on salary between December and the trade deadline (Feb. 24) will be less willing (or unwilling) to do so in this environment. Similarly, teams performing below management's internal expectations (Houston, the Clippers, the Blazers) have a tough decision to make. They could try to fix their problems now, but without knowing what the rules will be under the new agreement, they don't know what conditions they’re planning for. Of the aforementioned teams, the Blazers are in the best position to dump salary because of the attractiveness of the contracts they'd be moving. Plus, Miller's value is not only in his contract, but in his ability to push a contending team in need of a steadying point-guard presence over the top. Full disclosure: this is my idea, not anybody else's, but Orlando would be the perfect landing spot for Miller depending on what the Magic would be willing to send back.


Posted on: November 29, 2010 12:12 am
 

With Roy hurting, Blazers have decision to make

NEWARK, N.J. – The Trail Blazers had one of those players-only meetings Sunday night, which is what playoff teams do when they’ve lost three straight games, fallen to .500, and shown a startling in ability to close out games – at home and on the road.

The culprit? Lack of execution, according to coach Nate McMillan. Lack of rhythm, added Brandon Roy. Effort, said Wesley Matthews. All good answers. But not the answer – not the problem that looks like it’s going to haunt the Blazers for months, if not longer.

It was the lowest point of the season, everyone in the visiting locker room agreed after Portland turned in another lackluster fourth quarter and lost to the Nets 98-96. What’s scary about the Blazers, the team with by far the worst injury luck in the NBA, is that calling it the lowest point was optimistic. It may very well not be.

When it rains on the Trail Blazers, it pours with a ferocity rarely seen. Greg Oden is recovering from his second microfracture surgery. Joel Przybilla was supposed to play his first game in almost a year Friday night against New Orleans and got sick. Sean Marks, signed as a stopgap to play 8-10 minutes again under the basket, is shelved with an ankle injury. And yet somehow, those aren’t the biggest concerns for a team whose future was once so bright. Roy, Portland’s superstar and closer, clearly isn’t physically able to perform either of those roles – and it’s not even December yet. His left knee is something all the players-only meetings in the world won’t fix.

“I’m fine,” Roy said “I’m playing. I don’t have any excuses.”

Nor would you expect any from a guy who came back about a week after arthroscopic knee surgery and played – or tried to – in a playoff series against Phoenix last spring. Now Roy has played two games since sitting out three when his left knee started barking at him again. The numbers say he’s thriving – 21 points on 9-for-16 shooting from the field against the Nets after scoring 27 points on 10-for-20 shooting in a 97-78 home loss to the Hornets Friday night. The visual evidence says otherwise.

A little less wincing and limping was evident after both were on hideous display in the New Orleans game, but the fact remains that Roy is 26 years old and has no meniscus in either knee. And it shows. Instead of closing out a winnable game, Roy settled into the role of decoy. As a result, the Blazers’ offense stagnated in the fourth quarter again. After producing only 13 points in the fourth against New Orleans, the Blazers went into the fourth with a five-point lead over the Nets and got outscored 25-18.

Their poor excuse for execution, though, is the least of their problems. Roy, a player built to attack off the dribble and get to the rim, has been mostly relegated to the role of innocuous spot-up shooter. The explosiveness isn’t there, and neither is the confidence to finish at the basket. And so the Blazers head to Philadelphia for the first set of back-to-back games since Roy returned not knowing if he’ll be able to play the back end in Boston Wednesday night.

“We’ll see how he goes against Philly,” McMillan said. “If he feels OK, he’ll play the back-to-back. And if not, then we’ll sit him.”

And that is where the Blazers are – a .500 team on a three-game losing streak with their star and closer working on a 30-35 minute limit and unsure when, or if his knee will be strong enough to play back-to-backs. It’s a game-to-game predicament for Roy and the Blazers, making it exceedingly difficult for them to form an identity down the stretch of games.

“For me, it’s frustrating,” said Roy, who had four points and two turnovers in the fourth quarter – dribbling the ball off his foot and falling awkwardly out of bounds while trying to drive on Travis Outlaw for one of the miscues. “I’ve always been pretty good late in games. Right now, I’m trying to get my rhythm back, my timing back late in the game.”

The Blazers are a team without rhythm or timing, and the prospects look grim for them to be a team with a healthy Roy for the long haul. It’s a young season, they kept saying. But it gets older by the day as Roy’s struggles become more difficult to watch.

With free-agent shooting guard Wesley Matthews eager for a bigger role and capable of justifying his five-year, $32 million contract, it makes you wonder if it might be best for everyone involved to shut Roy down indefinitely so he has a chance to be a factor come playoff time. McMillan sent Matthews out with the starters at the beginning of the third quarter, in place of Nicolas Batum, and the reasons he gave were eye-opening. Accurate, but eye-opening.

McMillan said he was looking for some “scrappiness” and “fire,” and turned to Matthews to supply it. These are things that Roy brings on a nightly basis, except now, when he can’t.

The only problem with my solution is that there’s a good chance it might not help. Privately, Blazers officials are optimistic that the training staff, Roy and McMillan will be able to find a way to manage his injury and keep him effective enough – often enough – to carry them where they need to go. But that isn’t working so far, and it’s worth wondering if the alternative would work better. Let your superstar get better – or at least try – and figure out how to close games with Matthews doing what Roy used to do.

“We’re at a tough point right now, but it’s a young season,” Roy said. “We’ve lost three games in a row and we’re .500, so yeah, it’s a difficult time. We’ve got to stick together and find out what we’re made of.”
Posted on: November 17, 2010 1:14 pm
 

Post-Ups

Their three-game winning streak and 22-gun salute from the 3-point line against the Lakers notwithstanding, these are delicate times for the Phoenix Suns. So delicate, in fact, that a speculative riff on an NBA writer’s podcast last week sparked a flurry of trade rumors surrounding Steve Nash.

Such is life in the NBA blogosmear, but there’s an element of truth to the speculation. Watching Nash play without Amar’e Stoudemire, and Stoudemire without Nash, is a classic lesson in being careful what you wish for. The Suns, like many NBA teams, were hesitant to lavish five guaranteed years on Stoudemire given the uninsurable state of his knees. The Knicks, boxed out of the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sweepstakes, were in the rare position of being open to Stoudemire’s in-person overtures back in July. It was a match made in Desperadoville.

The Knicks were in Denver Tuesday night to face the Nuggets and the latest apple of their eyes, Carmelo Anthony. They arrived in a tailspin, having lost five in a row, and left with a 120-118 loss, a six-game losing streak, and much of the hopelessness inspired by Knicks teams of the past decade. No fewer than 15 power forwards playing at least 25 minutes per game are ahead of Stoudemire in efficiency rating, according to Hoopdata.com. Among them are Michael Beasley, Charlie Villanueva and Hakim Warrick – who replaced Stoudemire in Phoenix. You don’t need data to see that Stoudemire is struggling in his new home. Watching him search in vain for someone who knows how to run a pick-and-roll is evidence enough.

Despite Warrick’s statistical accomplishments, things aren’t much better for Nash and the Suns. Lost in the Suns’ unconscious shooting exploits in a 121-116 victory over the Lakers Sunday night was the ongoing horror show of watching Nash dribble around desperately in search of someone to set a capable screen and roll to the basket. Both Nash and Stoudemire have lost something irreplaceable in each other.

While the Knicks plan to do their due diligence and inquire as to Nash’s availability, the Suns haven’t gotten to the point of entertaining offers, according to an executive familiar with their strategy. Coach Alvin Gentry already has made it clear publicly that the Suns aren’t trading Nash, and the executive familiar with the team’s posture characterized the flurry of rumors as “random” and “not factual.” But in Phoenix, as with many revenue-challenged NBA cities, basketball sense doesn’t always align with financial reality.

Without Stoudemire – and assuming they can’t make 20-plus 3-pointers a night for the rest of the season – the Suns will be struggling to get a whiff of the eighth seed come April. They’re the worst rebounding team in the league in terms of defensive rebounding rate and offensive rebounding differential, and the loss of center Robin Lopez to a sprained knee certainly won’t help.

“We’ve got to be a little bit more scrappy than we’ve been in the past,” said Jared Dudley, a key member of the superior bench that made the Suns such a threat to the Lakers in the conference finals last spring.

But Suns owner Robert Sarver, whose non-basketball businesses in the banking and real estate sectors have been hammered by the recession, isn’t paying $63 million for a scrappy, barely .500 team. The Suns are comfortably below the $70.3 million luxury-tax threshold, so there’s no urgency there. However, Sarver has been one of the most vocal in a new wave of owners in the collective bargaining fight, and rival executives believe he’ll be on a rampage at the trade deadline if the Suns are out of the playoff hunt. That’s an eventuality the Suns hope to prevent, and despite their current upswing, it will prove to be a difficult fight.

“Hopefully we can get a couple of wins in a row so we can get those rumors away,” Dudley said of the Nash speculation. “You don’t want your franchise player to go. He makes everybody better here and he’s the face of Phoenix. If you think the transition is big with Amar’e, I can only imagine. It would be a journey having [Nash] leave.”

Which brings us to the next step in our journey, to the rest of the Post-Ups:

• With Jermaine O’Neal out several weeks with a sore left knee, you and I both know what name comes to mind as a free-agent replacement: Rasheed Wallace. While ‘Sheed’s agent, Bill Strickland, wouldn’t completely rule it out, it doesn’t sound like Wallace is even contemplating the possibility of coming out of retirement – for the Celtics or anybody else. “I have not talked to Danny [Ainge, the Celtics’ president] or Rasheed about that, but I think Rasheed is through,” Strickland said. Wallace, 36, isn’t believed to be working out on the court in any capacity in the event a team might be interested in his services. And while it’s hard to imagine Wallace coming back with the NBA’s tech-happy mandate to the referees, it’s more of a physical issue. As far back as when Wallace was still with the Pistons, he was known to sometimes leave his shoes on between games in order to keep playing. If he’d removed them, his ankles would’ve swelled up so badly that he wouldn’t have been able to get them back on.

• Leave it to the Zen Master to decode the mystery of Utah’s amazing string of double-digit road comebacks last week. Lakers coach Phil Jackson pointed out that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is perhaps the only NBA coach who elects to have his team play offense in front of his bench in the second half. Most coaches prefer to have their team in front of them on defense down the stretch of road games. Lo and behold, the Jazz reeled off double-digit road comebacks against Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte by pouring on the offense in the second half. Visiting coaches choose which basket to defend in which half. “You can generate a lot of points in front of your bench,” Jackson said. “Defensively, a lot of coaches like their team to be in front of the bench in the second half on the road, because you can call stuff and give eyes to the players with their back to the basket. They’re the only team in the NBA that does it the other way.”

Brandon Roy’s future with bone-on-bone in both knees bears watching, given that his game is based on getting to the basket and he’s only 26 – with a lot of mileage theoretically ahead of him. But Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and former consultant to the Philadelphia 76ers, said it depends on the extent of the damage and where it is. After his latest bout with knee swelling and pain last week, Roy learned that surgery was not an option because he has no meniscus left in either knee. DiNubile said Roy’s fate will be determined by whether he lacks cartilage, too. “It would be extremely unlikely at that age to have no meniscus and no cartilage,” DiNubile said. Whether the bone-on-bone condition is occurring in the actual knee joint (bad) or under the kneecap (still bad, but better) also is important. If the bone-on-bone situation is where the tibia meets the femur, “You’re kind of doomed,” DiNubile said. “That’s not compatible with up-and-down playing. If he were to have bone-on-bone in the main part of his knee, his career’s going to be limited one way or the other.” If the condition exists in the kneecap, DiNubile said athletes “can do surprisingly well.”

• As more than an innocent bystander in the Carmelo Anthony saga, Nuggets coach George Karl is more than doing his part by using his considerable powers of persuasion to try to keep Melo in Denver. But it’s impossible to evaluate Karl’s efforts on that front without noting his own pursuit of a contract extension. Two people familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com that the Nuggets view Karl as part of their future, regardless of whether Anthony stays. Whether Karl wants to remain in Denver if he winds up with a rebuilding team post-Anthony – that’s another matter. But despite Karl’s disenchantment with the ouster of his friends Mark Warkentien and Tim Grgurich, the lines of communication between Karl, GM Masai Ujiri, executive Josh Kroenke, and team president Paul Andrews are very much open. And weighing on the matter more than Anthony’s future is Karl’s health. Karl, 59, has several more hurdles to clear in his heroic efforts to beat throat and neck cancer, and wants to be sure he remains cancer-free before asking the Nuggets to commit to him beyond this season. Everyone in the NBA, including the Denver front office, is rooting for him.

Tayshaun Prince’s repeated blowups, with coach John Kuester giving as good as he’s getting, aren’t expected to play a major role in the Pistons’ decision on whether to trade the swingman and his $11.1 million expiring contract. A person with knowledge of Prince’s thinking told CBSSports.com that his frustration isn’t fully directed at Kuester; losing, after his time as a member of the formerly contending Pistons, is a bigger issue. But the biggest issue in the decision on whether to move him is the impending ownership change in Detroit. Trading an expiring deal, by definition, involves taking on future money – which is difficult, at best, to do when a new owner is entering the picture.

Kevin Love’s 31-point, 31-rebound game – an incredible performance and the first of its kind since Moses Malone in 1982 – was a quiet victory for Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis. Rambis had been trying to prove a point to Love by limiting his minutes: If you don’t play both ends of the floor, you’re not going to play. Rambis’ message finally got through, and the result was an example of what Love is capable of when he puts his mind to it. But this isn’t the end of the dysfunction in Minnesota, by any stretch. Just because Love performed in an historic way doesn’t mean he’s buying Rambis’ message long-term. And a person familiar with the Wolves’ locker room dynamics isn’t convinced it’s smooth sailing from here. “The team is a disaster,” the person said. Depending on who you ask, the issue is either lack of communication from Rambis, or an unwillingness to listen on the part of Love and others who are disenchanted with minutes. It’s going to take more time to sort it all out.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com