Posted on: June 22, 2011 11:35 pm
The latest trade buzz surrounding Thursday night's NBA draft, from conversations with executives, agents and others in the know:
* The Warriors have fielded numerous calls about Monta Ellis, and seem to be cautiously open to discussing the star guard's desire for a change of scenery. Such efforts have become increasingly difficult since the hiring of Mark Jackson as coach. Jackson wants to coach Ellis, and has become well aware that he has emerged as owner Joe Lacob's favorite player on the team.
* A recent conversation between the Warriors and Lakers centered around Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown going to Golden State for Ellis, but those talks went nowhere, sources said. The Bulls would become involved if they were willing to part with Joakim Noah, and Chicago executives have consistently balked at including him in trade talks for the past year -- mostly due to the base-year compensation factor in the five-year, $60 million extension he signed last year.
* Executives also have heard Ellis mentioned in conversations with Memphis for Rudy Gay, but acquiring Gay would be extraordinarily problematic for any team given the uncertainty about what new economic and cap system the league and players eventually will adopt. With four years and $68 million left on his contract, Gay "isn't going anywhere," one executive said.
* One of the few trades that makes sense as teams weigh the effects of taking on money in a shrinking-cap world is a deal that has been dormant for weeks: Ellis to Philadelphia for Andre Iguodala. Both players have three years left, and although Iguodala is owed $44 million compared to Ellis' $33 million, those are the only deals most teams will be willing to make between now and June 30 -- those in which they don't have to take on additional years of salary.
* The Timberwolves have peddled the No. 2 pick far and wide and have been unable to land an offer that tempts them. Discussions with the Lakers centered around Odom, but that wouldn't be good business to trade young, cheap labor for a 31-year-old making $8.9 million next season -- even though he has only $2.4 million guaranteed in 2012-13.
* Speaking of the Wolves, team officials continued to say Wednesday night that coach Kurt Rambis hasn't been fired yet, but the more things like that are stated, the more obvious it becomes that Rambis is gone. The search for a replacement will begin soon after the draft.
* Spurs officials continue to do what they're paid to do -- find out what their players are worth on the trade market. That's all the Tony Parker speculation is, several rival execs believe. "You know and I know they're not trading Tony Parker," one GM said. "You can't get anything close to equal value for him."
Posted on: January 7, 2011 11:32 pm
The Denver Nuggets are considering offers from at least five teams for Carmelo Anthony and soon will begin the process of deciding what direction to go when they trade the three-time All-Star, multiple sources told CBSSports.com Friday.
Among the teams that have registered the most credible interest are the Nets (obviously), Knicks, Rockets, Bulls, and Clippers, according to three sources familiar with the situation. Details of the various discussions are still evolving, but the one constant has been efforts on the part of the Nuggets and Nets to involve a third team in the discussions.
The Nuggets have been trying to recruit the Timberwolves as a third team that might be willing to take the expiring contract of Troy Murphy from the Nets and send the Nuggets a first-round pick in the equation. The Wolves have two extra first-round picks in 2011 -- one from Utah and another from Memphis.
But just as efforts on the Nuggets' part to involve the Cavaliers in the discussions -- an attempt to have Cleveland use its $14.5 million trade exception from the LeBron James fiasco to absorb Murphy -- have gone dormant, so have talks aimed at involving the Detroit Pistons in the scenario. Two sources confirmed to CBSSports.com Friday night that the Nets were trying to recruit the Pistons to enter a blockbuster three-team scenario in which New Jersey would've gotten Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the Nuggets and Richard Hamilton from the Pistons. The complicated and intriguing scenario was first reported by the The Record of Hackensack, N.J.
One of the sources confirmed Yahoo! Sports' report via Twitter that the talks died when the Nets tried to extract a first-round pick from the Pistons and dump Johan Petro's $6.75 million due over the next two seasons on Detroit.
"Dead," is how the source described those talks, although in another form, the Pistons could be enticed to participate if it meant dumping Hamilton's $25 million due over the next two seasons -- $21.5 million of which is guaranteed.
The Nuggets' essential posture hasn't changed over the past few weeks. They are taking their time, evaluating interest from various teams, and one person familiar with their strategy said they soon will begin weighing the various offers. Denver GM Masai Ujiri and executive Josh Kroenke are in no hurry, and most executives involved in the talks believe the situation will go right down to the Feb. 24 trade deadline -- with the Nets still the leader in the clubhouse, pending Anthony's approval of a contract extension with New Jersey. That is where the Pistons' potential involvement could become crucial, as Anthony presumably would be more likely to sign off on a three-year, $65 million extension with New Jersey if Billups and Hamilton were on board. Oddly enough, it would represent a formation of the trio that could've been created in Detroit if the Pistons had selected Anthony instead of Darko Milicic in the 2003 draft.
Such a scenario wasn't in play about a month ago, when a person directly involved in Anthony's decision-making process told CBSSports.com that Melo -- if traded -- would only agree to a contract extension with the Knicks. There have been no indications that Anthony has changed his stance, although that hasn't stopped his suitors from lining up and putting their best offers forward.
Among the teams that believe they have at least a puncher's chance of landing Anthony, the Nets have always been the one with the most attractive assets to the Nuggets: Derrick Favors, the expiring contract of Murphy and multiple first-round picks. The Nuggets appear to have decided they prefer going young while acquiring draft picks and prospects over established players -- which would seem to bode poorly for the Knicks, whose existing players have yet to draw serious interest from the Nuggets. But the Knicks continue taking a patient approach, with the understanding that they're performing at a playoff level without Anthony and would have the inside track to sign him as a free agent if the Nuggets weren't able to achieve an acceptable trade by the deadline.
If the Nuggets were able to parlay Murphy's expiring deal into another first-round pick while also going farther down the road toward youth and savings by unloading Billups, it would seem to represent nirvana among the various Melo scenarios they are considering. The Nets also have made it clear they'd be willing to take on Al Harrington -- due $27 million over the next four years, of which $20 million is guaranteed.
As for the other teams in the mix, the Rockets can offer the Nuggets enormous savings in the form of Yao Ming's expiring (and insured) contract as well as the expiring contracts of Shane Battier and Jared Jeffries, plus young assets such as Aaron Brooks, Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger or Courtney Lee. The Clippers have one of the most valuable first-round picks on the market in the form of Minnesota's 2011 first-rounder, which is unprotected in 2012, plus young assets such as Al-Farouq Aminu and DeAndre Jordan. The Bulls have not been regarded as a serious contender since signing Joakim Noah to a contract extension, which signaled their unwillingness to trade him and made it impractical due to base-year compensation rules.
Tags: Aaron Brooks, Al Harrington, Al-Farouq Aminu, Bulls, Carmelo Anthony, Cavaliers, Chase Budinger, Chauncey Billups, Clippers, Courtney Lee, DeAndre Jordan, Derrick Favors, Jared Jeffries, Joakim Noah, Jordan Hill, Knicks, Nets, Nuggets, Pistons, Richard Hamilton, Rockets, Shane Battier, Timberwolves, Troy Murphy, Yao Ming
Posted on: November 1, 2010 8:54 pm
Edited on: November 2, 2010 12:45 am
By not completing a trade for Carmelo Anthony before the start of the season, the Nets knew they were faced with a calculated risk. What could’ve been a coup for them – the Nuggets being awful out of the gate and Anthony making the situation untenable for coach George Karl – hasn’t happened. But something else has gone the Nets’ way as they’ve continued to keep the trade talks alive.
Derrick Favors, the centerpiece of a four-team deal sending Melo to New Jersey that fell apart last month, has shaken off a poor preseason and made important strides toward proving that he’s worthy of inclusion in a franchise-shaping transaction like the one Denver is considering. It’s only three games, but the No. 4 overall pick is shooting 58 percent from the field while averaging 10.3 points, 10 rebounds and only one turnover per game. His talent is raw, and his defensive instincts are nonexistent. But at the very least, Favors hasn’t done anything in this ridiculously small sample size to infect the Denver front office with any serious doubts.
One executive who has watched Favors went so far as to say, “His stock as skyrocketed,” which is true any way you look at it. (After the up-and-down preseason Favors had, one way to look at it is this: There was nowhere to go but up.) The Nuggets, according to sources, are still in wait-and-see mode. And they’ll be seeing plenty before the key date in this saga, Dec. 15, when summer free agents become trade-eligible.
One of the aspects of this decision that GM Masai Ujiri is evaluating is how competitive his team will be with Melo on board. The next two weeks will be telling, with five games against teams that made the playoffs in the West last season – Dallas (twice), the Lakers, Suns and Trail Blazers. Rival executives have speculated that in some ways, Ujiri’s job becomes more difficult if the Nuggets get off to a strong start. If that happens, it will be exponentially more difficult to sell an Anthony trade to the paying customers. Given that Anthony left no doubt that he’s leaving Denver one way or another when he told Yahoo! Sports last week, “It’s time for a change,” a catastrophic start to the season would’ve been a far easier environment in which to justify trading him.
Until then, the Nuggets, Nets and Knicks – Anthony’s preferred destination – are in limbo until more tradable assets flood the market in six weeks. Which gives us a chance to flood the market with the rest of this week’s Post-Ups:
• As interesting as it will be to watch the first head-to-head matchup between John Wall and Evan Turner, the top two picks in the 2010 draft, the more intriguing figure in the Wizards’ backcourt hasn’t played a minute yet this season: Gilbert Arenas. The artist formerly known as Agent Zero is likely a no-go against the Sixers Tuesday night as he prepares to undergo further tests on his injured right ankle. He’s already seen foot-and-ankle specialist Mark Myerson in Baltimore. While the Wizards hold out hope of making a Wall-Arenas backcourt work, the scant hope that Arenas and the $80 million he’s owed can be moved before the trade deadline requires Arenas to return to the court, be productive, show signs that his All-Star talent remains intact, and prove that he’s no longer a locker-room risk. None of that can happen until teams see a significant sample size of Arenas on the court.
• A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Denver’s interest in Portland swingman Nicolas Batum in a potential Anthony trade, but those overtures have fallen on deaf ears among the Trail Blazers’ brass. Portland isn’t about to include the talented, versatile Batum in a deal unless they’re getting Melo, which isn’t happening. Having said that, the Blazers have a tremendous asset in Batum if and when they get involved in any trade discussions as the deadline nears. Batum is not only affordable – he’s still on his rookie contract – but his value is much greater to faster-paced teams. With their grind-it-out style, the Blazers understand that they don’t take full advantage of Batum’s open-court abilities.
• Commissioner David Stern went easy on the Knicks over the Isiah Thomas fiasco, allowing Thomas and then the Knicks to announce the death of their failed attempt at a reunion via a blatantly illegal consulting arrangement. Stern could’ve really embarrassed Garden chairman James Dolan on that one, but elected to allow the Knicks and Thomas to clean up the mess themselves and then say there was no need for the league office to take action. Pending the outcome of a league investigation of alleged illegal workouts with draft prospects – some perpetrated under the Thomas regime as team president, according to Yahoo! Sports – the NBA office is not likely to be so kind this time around. While there is no precedent for forfeited draft picks for such violations, those alleged to have been committed by the Knicks in the Yahoo! report would be the most extensive and persistent on record. The league has hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations, and the Knicks plan to cooperate fully. All of this was simply another lesson that re-hiring Thomas in any capacity was a bad idea whether it was against NBA rules or not.
• I am justifiably puzzled by the Heat’s apparent pursuit of a point guard to get Miami’s offense running more smoothly until floor-spacer Mike Miller returns from injury. I could see the usefulness of a Derek Fisher-type in that role, but short of that, the Heat’s offense would run just fine with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James acting as interchangeable wings initiating the offense. Coach Erik Spoelstra could play that way now, if he wanted to, by benching Carlos Arroyo for James Jones – who would fill Miller’s role as the shooter until Miller returns. The problem with Jones is his lack of defense, but the rest of Miami’s defense is so smothering, I’m not sure Jones-for-Arroyo wouldn’t be worth examining. Something tells me the Heat will eventually realize that they don’t need a point guard, simply because they’ve already got two of them: Wade and LeBron. Besides, after signing the top three free agents on the market and turning the NBA upside-down this summer, it strikes me as gluttonous for the Heat to be out on the market pursuing more pieces. Dear Coach Riley: I think you’ve got enough.
UPDATED 12:45 a.m.
• Though most 2007 draft picks were not getting extensions by the midnight Tuesday ET deadline, the Suns agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Jared Dudley, said his agent, Mark Bartelstein. ESPN the Magazine reported that the Grizzlies signed Mike Conley to a five-year, $45 million deal. With hours to go before the deadline, only Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Dudley and Conley had received extensions amid uncertainty over a new collective bargaining agreement that makes it difficult to assess such players’ value.
• It cannot be overstated that the public truce between the Blazers and Rudy Fernandez is no indication that the Spanish star is happy spending this season – and next, now that his fourth-year option has been picked up – in Portland. While sources say Fernandez is resigned to the fact that he’s a Blazer for the foreseeable future, efforts by Fernandez and his agent, Andy Miller, to tone down the rhetoric will go a long way toward making the situation more fertile for a trade. If nothing else, the fact that Fernandez now has two years left on his contract makes him far less of a flight risk if he’s traded. The Blazers remain steadfastly opposed to giving Fernandez his wish and releasing him from his contract so he can return to Spain. So for now, Fernandez appears content to accept his minutes and role while allowing trade inquiries from other teams to progress naturally.
Tags: Al Horford, Berger's Post-Ups, Bulls, Carlos Arroyo, Carmelo Anthony, David Stern, Derrick Favors, Dwyane Wade, Evan Turner, Gilbert Arenas, Hawks, Heat, Isiah Thomas, James Jones, Jared Dudley, Joakim Noah, John Wall, Kevin Durant, Knicks, LeBron James, Mike Miller, Nets, Nicolas Batum, Nuggets, Rudy Fernandez, Thunder, Trail Blazers
Posted on: November 1, 2010 2:02 pm
Al Horford has agreed to a five-year, $60 million extension with the Hawks, becoming one of the few 2007 draft picks getting extensions by the midnight Tuesday deadline.
Horford joins only Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah among high-profile 2007 draft picks who will be getting extensions. Horford's deal marks a philosophical shift for Hawks GM Rick Sund, who has almost without exception declined to do such extensions in the past. Given uncertainty over a new collective bargaining agreement, few teams are extending their 2007 picks before the deadline.
Sources say the Hawks' hand was forced by the Bulls' decision to give Noah a five-year, $60 million extension. Atlanta officials were hoping that looming labor uncertainty would allow them to re-up with Horford at a discount, but that possibility went by the boards once Noah got his deal.
Jeff Green, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Wilson Chandler and No. 1 pick Greg Oden will not be getting extensions. Sources say Trail Blazers officials had a conference call Saturday with Oden's agent, Bill Duffy, to share the news. Horford's agreement with the Hawks prevents him from becoming a restricted free agent next summer, as the aforementioned players will become.
Posted on: October 28, 2010 3:44 pm
Jeff Green and Rodney Stuckey, two members of the 2007 draft class seeking contract extensions by Monday’s deadline, will not be receiving them, people familiar with the circumstances told CBSSports.com.
Thunder GM Sam Presti, who earlier Thursday told the Oklahoman that a deal would not be reached with Green, told CBSSports.com that he had good dialogue with agent David Falk and seriously explored the matter.
“We will have to revisit the discussions in the future,” Presti said.
As a result, Green will become a restricted free agent after the season, as will Stuckey, who also will not be reaching a deal with the Pistons, a person with knowledge of the situation told CBSSports.com. Among other factors, Stuckey’s situation is complicated by an ownership change in Detroit, sources said.
To date, only Kevin Durant and Joakim Noah among high-profile members of that draft class have received extensions from their teams. Agreements for Houston’s Aaron Brooks, Portland’s Greg Oden and Atlanta’s Al Horford also are long shots at best – although a person familiar with the discussions told CBSSports.com that talks are scheduled this week between Hawks management and Horford’s agent, Arn Tellem.
The reason for the extension drought is simple: With a new collective bargaining agreement coming after the season, and a new pay structure and possibly altered contract lengths and guarantees along with it, it is difficult for teams to commit to new deals that in past years were foregone conclusions for players of this caliber. Even restricted free agency, which could change under the new agreement, is an unknown because executives and agents don’t know how it will change under the new agreement.
“People want more certainty and want to understand the rules,” a person involved in contract negotiation said. “Are contracts going to be 75 percent guaranteed? Fifty percent guaranteed? What are the rules?”
Posted on: September 15, 2010 8:26 pm
One month after Carmelo Anthony’s high-powered team of advisers first began pressuring the Denver Nuggets to trade him, the superstar scorer has not wavered in his desire to be dealt, multiple sources told CBSSports.com.
“There’s no sign of reconsideration on Carmelo’s part, despite what [Denver] has publicly said,” said one of the people involved in the process.
The two sides remain locked in a stalemate over Anthony’s future while a three-year, $65 million extension offer sits untouched in front of him. While Nuggets officials – including influential adviser Bret Bearup and executive Josh Kroenke – continue to rebuff trade inquiries while hoping to repair the franchise’s relationship with Anthony, privately the team is beginning to examine which teams would have the most attractive combination of young players, draft picks and expiring contracts to complete a deal. And the team currently viewed by people close to the situation as having the most realistic chance of putting together a blockbuster, perhaps multi-team deal for Anthony is the New Jersey Nets.
“They’re working the hardest to get a deal done,” one of the sources said.
With No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors, multiple extra draft picks, and Devin Harris, whose $8.98 million contract could be parlayed into a serviceable replacement for Anthony in a three-team trade, New Jersey has the makings of a package that would appeal to Nuggets officials, one of the people with knowledge of Denver’s strategy said. The key, according to the person, would be involving a third team to convert Harris into something the Nuggets would view as “decent replacement value” for Anthony.
That is where another team equipped with attractive assets could enter the picture, multiple sources said: the Philadelphia 76ers. New team president Rod Thorn and GM Ed Stefanski – who formerly worked together in New Jersey – could be central to constructing a deal that would compel the Nuggets to move Anthony rather than endure a season-long distraction that ends with Anthony leaving as a free agent after the season. The key pieces of the Philadelphia equation would be the expiring contracts of Jason Kapono ($6.64 million) and Willie Green ($3.98 million), a young talent such as Thaddeus Young, and Andre Iguodala, who is coming off a solid contribution to Team USA’s gold-medal performance at the FIBA World Championships. Some executives believe the Sixers would at least discuss including No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner if it meant getting Anthony, but that would defeat the purpose of going over the luxury tax to get Anthony in the first place.
Thorn drafted Favors, so that is one piece that is expected to be integral to the discussion once the Nuggets officially begin seeking trade packages for Anthony. The dropoff in talent from Anthony to Iguodala is considerable, but so is the savings; Iguodala is due $44 million over the next three seasons, compared to the $65 million Anthony would command. Two people familiar with Denver’s strategy confirmed the Nuggets would be intrigued by a deal centered around Iguodala. The Nets could sweeten any such offer with Golden State’s 2012 first-round pick and two extra second-round picks they own in the same draft.
A package sending Anthony to the Nets, Favors to Philadelphia and Iguodala to Denver is one way all of these moving parts could come together. But Thorn is said to have reservations about such a deal, which has yet to rise to the level of discussion among the teams.
The situation is complicated by the difficulty in putting enough assets in the deal to satisfy the Nuggets, who don’t want the first move of GM Masai Ujiri’s regime to be trading the team’s cornerstone. Even more crucial is the need for Anthony to indicate he’d be willing to sign an extension with the team that acquires him. It is believed that Anthony, a Brooklyn native whose wife, LaLa Vasquez, also is from there, would sign off on a deal to the Nets, who move to the New York City borough in two years. It is not clear how Anthony would feel about signing an extension with Philadelphia, a city that is halfway between his New York birthplace and the Washington, D.C., area where he grew up. The Sixers were not on Anthony’s initial list of preferred destinations, which included the Knicks, Magic, Bulls and Nets. Anthony, who is good friends with former Sixers star Allen Iverson, also is aware of how harshly Philadelphia treats its sports stars, a person with knowledge of his thinking said.
The Bulls are viewed by one source as “not a realistic candidate” due to the team’s unwillingness at this point to include Joakim Noah in the deal. The Bulls and Noah are currently negotiating an extension. The Knicks, Anthony’s first choice, are viewed by rival executives as not having enough assets to entice the Nuggets. New York has Eddy Curry’s $11.3 million expiring contract, promising big man Anthony Randolph, and swingman Wilson Chandler, but the team’s draft-pick cupboard is bare. Adding to the frustration among Nuggets officials, sources say, is that Anthony’s team has been slow to offer a comprehensive list of trade possibilities.
As the Nuggets walk the tightrope between getting value for Anthony and trying to compel him to reconsider and sign the extension, other factors are in play. Ujiri, a former Nuggets scout who was with the organization when Anthony was drafted, just lived through the nightmare of losing star Chris Bosh in Toronto. Ujiri was part of the management team that decided not to trade Bosh at the February 2010 trade deadline, and Bosh bolted to join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami. The Raptors got a trade exception and two first-round picks – small consolation for the loss of the team’s franchise player.
Which is exactly what the Nuggets are trying to avoid, one way or another.
Posted on: April 29, 2010 10:29 pm
As Bulls management continues muddling through end-of-season evaluations with Vinny Del Negro’s status still unresolved, sources close to the process told CBSSports.com that one aspect of the decision on the coach’s future has been decided: Del Negro won’t be needing a lawyer, because the team has decided not to dismiss him for cause over a late-season confrontation with executive John Paxson.
The matter has gone all the way to the top of the organizational chain of command, with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf weighing in with assurances to Del Negro that he will not be fired for cause, one of the people involved said. Reinsdorf is said to be pleased with the way Del Negro has handled the fallout from the incident, in which Paxson confronted the coach after he allegedly ignored a minute-limit on injured center Joakim Noah.
A second source confirmed that the confrontation between Del Negro and Paxson would have no bearing on a potential coaching change, which would instead hinge on the idea that the team would have a better chance of improving with a new coach.
Exit interviews and internal evaluations are expected to reach a climax next week, when Reinsdorf will weigh in on all aspects of the offseason plan. Del Negro, who has presided over two first-round exits in two years on the job, is said to be quietly pushing for a quick and graceful exit if the team decides to make a change.
People close to the process are wondering how the fallout will affect the combatant who will be staying with the team – Paxson. Sources say the confrontation between Del Negro and Paxson did not mark the first time things got heated between them, a pattern that ultimately could begin to erode support for Paxson within the organization. Bulls officials are not publicly speculating on how Paxson’s status will be affected, saying only that the matter has been “handled internally.”
Long-running friction between Del Negro and Paxson reached a tipping point after a Feb. 26 game against Portland in which Del Negro allegedly ignored an agreement among management and the medical staff to limit Noah’s minutes to the 15-18 range as he recovered from plantar fasciitis. Del Negro played Noah 27 minutes that night, and he missed the next 10 games – all losses.
The situation became even more heated after Noah’s sixth game back against Phoenix on March 30. Del Negro again played Noah 27 minutes that night, another violation of the minute-limit.
While animosity continues to fester from the incident, it is a stretch of labor law to say the least that the Bulls would be able to successfully fire Del Negro and withhold the money owed to him on the last year of his contract. So while a coaching change is fully expected, it won’t be as messy as Del Negro’s second year on the Bulls bench has been.
If and when the Bulls make a change, it is anticipated that Dallas assistant Dwane Casey would receive serious consideration. Casey was a finalist for the job when Del Negro was hired and has more of a defensive background – an area that Del Negro didn’t develop as thoroughly as management had hoped when he was hired.
Posted on: April 19, 2010 11:12 pm
As I watched the Bulls force LeBron James to score 40 points to beat them in Cleveland Monday night, they reminded me of the team that kept playing and kept pushing the Celtics in the first round last spring – all the way to a nail-biting defeat in seven games.
This year’s Cavs are not last year’s Celtics, but this year’s Bulls aren’t last year’s Bulls, either. Every time Jamario Moon hit a 3-pointer or LeBron did whatever he wanted to do, the Bulls’ answer in Game 2 was, increasingly, nothing. A year ago, it was Ben Gordon.
Next year at this time, it’ll be _____.
The Bulls will be scary next year. That will be little consolation when they eventually lose this series to the Cavs – whether they win one or two games in Chicago or not. There was nothing to be ashamed of in their 112-102 loss to the LeBrons in Game 2, nor is there anything wrong with heading back to Chicago down 0-2 in the best-of-7 series. That was to be expected. This is what LeBron does, and it’s what the best team in the NBA is supposed to do.
But a year from now? With news Friday from David Stern that the salary cap could be $56.1 million next season – anywhere from $3 million to $6 million more than projected last summer – the Bulls will be able to bring this same team back to the playoffs with one exception. They’ll have someone to go shot-for-shot with LeBron.
That is, assuming it’s not LeBron; there’s no reason to believe it will be, and I hope it isn’t. Remember a few weeks ago, when LeBron lamented the lack of rivalries in today’s NBA? He’d go a long way toward bringing rivalries back by staying in Cleveland and standing toe-to-toe with whoever receives Chicago’s max money. Dwyane Wade, the ideal rival to LeBron, would be perfect – except he handles the ball too much to play with Derrick Rose and will have a hard time turning his back on South Beach once the Heat flex their salary-cap muscles to put more talent around him. Joe Johnson? Possible; he’d be a good complement to Rose and would’ve had something to say Monday night when LeBron started doing to the Bulls what Michael Jordan used to do to the Cavs in the playoffs.
However it works out, the Bulls will have an answer to LeBron next spring. They won’t need to resort to Joakim Noah’s made-for-headline quotes. With a lineup of Noah, Luol Deng, Taj Gibson, Rose, a max player to be named later, Kirk Hinrich off the bench, and a moderately priced big man who can block shots, the Bulls won’t be facing the Cavs in the first round. They’ll be squaring off in the conference semifinals or finals.
That’ll be a rivalry – one worthy of a bigger, later playoff stage.