Tag:Berger's Post-Ups
Posted on: February 8, 2010 10:33 pm
 

Post-Ups

A year ago, one of the most active storylines of All-Star weekend in Phoenix was whether Amar’e Stoudemire’s last game with the Suns would be an exhibition game. This weekend, it’ll be the same storyline, but in a different city.

And this time, Stoudemire isn’t alone. The few contenders who are clear buyers at the trade deadline are feasting their eyes on an impressive list of big men who could change uniforms before the Feb. 18 trade deadline and perhaps change the playoff picture, too.

A high-level source involved in the Suns’ strategizing estimated that Stoudemire has a “30 percent chance” of being traded. His situation is the most intriguing of all the star players who could be moved by Feb. 18, given his status as an All-Star starter. The plot only became more interesting with Stoudemire’s recent comments/head fake that he’s leaning toward not exercising the early termination option in his contract, which would pay him $17.7 million next season. Some team executives believe Stoudemire, surmising that opting in would be the best move if Stoudemire doesn’t believe max money will be there for him this summer. Others find ignoring the ETO implausible for any player with a choice between signing a long contract under the current collective bargaining agreement and waiting for the new one, which clearly will be worse for the players.

One league source familiar with the market for Stoudemire expressed skepticism about rumblings that Stoudemire could be headed to Philadelphia. The person said there’s no consensus among the Sixers’ brass that Stoudemire would be the player they’d want to commit max money to – especially after the Elton Brand fiasco. From the Phoenix side, the person said, owner Robert Sarver’s non-basketball businesses (banking and real estate) have been hit too hard by the recession to make the Suns a credible landing spot for Samuel Dalembert’s $12.2 million due next season – not to mention Andre Iguodala’s four years and $56 million remaining.

With that, let’s get to the rest of the Post-Ups – pre-All-Star/trade deadline edition:

Tyrus Thomas isn’t as big a name as Stoudemire, but league sources agree he’s far more likely to be dealt by Feb. 18 – if not sooner. One person familiar with the situation said it would be surprising if the Thomas situation stretched into next week after his recent dustup with coach Vinny Del Negro over losing his starting job to rookie Taj Gibson. Sources say the Bulls would prefer to package Thomas in a bigger deal that would clear cap space for a major free agent signing -- such as a scenario detailed here involving the CelticsRay Allen. Short of that, the Bulls would be eager to unload Thomas in a smaller deal that would bring back less significant assets that could be used to surround and entice a marquee free agent. Two Western Conference teams intrigued by Thomas are the Nuggets, patiently seeking a big man to contend with the Lakers, and the Spurs, who were characterized by two rival executives as desperate to acquire an athletic big man. “They feel like they have to do something, like they’re behind the eight ball a little bit,” one of the execs said. The Spurs have a full complement of expiring contracts that would intrigue the Bulls, who want to avoid losing a significant player with no compensation (see Ben Gordon) for the second straight summer. The Spurs, who dipped their toe across the luxury tax line this season, will have to decide before the end of their annual circus road trip – which continued Monday night against the Lakers – what they’re willing to give up to see that investment pay off.

• Team executives differ widely in their assessment Marcus Camby’s availability, with some convinced Camby’s gone and others equally convinced he’s going nowhere. The truth is somewhere in between. A person familiar with the Clippers’ internal discussions said the team would move Camby and his $7.65 million contract only in a deal that would yield a significant player who could help them next season – or the cap space to sign one. The Clips are a small deal away from clearing the $15-$16 million necessary to sign a max player. If they can’t improve their 2010-11 position dramatically, Camby stays. Two of Camby’s former teams, the Nuggets and Knicks, are intrigued by the possibility of bringing him back for an encore.

• Another active buyer in trade talks, the Mavericks, haven’t pushed hard for Kevin Martin in their conversations with Sacramento, sources say. That’s an indication that the Mavs are focused on another wing who’d fit their needs – Washington’s Caron Butler. How aggressively the Wizards look to unload contracts as they try to pick up the pieces from Gilbert Arenas’ suspension depends on how a fundamental internal disagreement is resolved. Some elements of the Wizards’ power structure favor “completely blowing it up,” according to one source, while others are holding out for a more patient approach. “How badly does Dallas want Caron Butler?” one rival executive said. “Washington will find out.” The Mavs have not been pushing for Antawn Jamison in their talks with the Wizards, believing they have enough 30-somethings on the roster.

• An important factor to remember in trying to decipher the Wizards’ strategy is their ownership situation. Despite a recent hangup in the transfer of power from the family of late owner Abe Pollin to Ted Leonsis, rival executives believe a completed sale to Leonsis is a foregone conclusion. The Wizards have little hope of trading enough contracts to get under the luxury tax, but any savings derived from pre-deadline deals would produce double the benefit in tax payments – a scenario that would appease both the owner and the seller in that transaction.

• If the Wizards take the “blowing it up” route, their exploratory conversations with Houston involving Tracy McGrady would become more serious. But a high-level source familiar with the situation said T-Mac’s best chance to play again this season is in New York, which would willingly take on his $23 million expiring contract if it meant clearing some 2010-11 money off the books. The Knicks aren’t willing to part with anything Houston would want, however, so a third team would need to be recruited.

• Despite their active posture in trade talks, the Sixers aren’t willing to do strictly a financial deal for Iguodala. Thus, they’re not interested in McGrady alone, but instead are pushing for legit value in return.

• Miami and Charlotte remain in the mix with the Rockets and Trail Blazers for Wizards center Brendan Haywood. The Blazers continue to steadfastly reject any scenario that includes Rudy Fernandez or Nicolas Batum.
Posted on: February 2, 2010 11:48 pm
 

Weekly Post-Ups

With a little more than two weeks to go before the Feb. 18 trade deadline, the chatter is starting to pick up. Here’s the latest trade buzz culled from conversations with team executives, agents, and others in the know:

• It’s been well documented that the Cavaliers’ infatuation with Antawn Jamison has been rekindled. What’s been underplayed is the reason behind it: LeBron James is the one driving the team’s pursuit of Jamison, according to a source, and Cavs GM Danny Ferry – as usual – is trying to appease the King. A couple of problems: The Wizards want a young asset in return, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas – while a fit salary-wise – doesn’t fit that description. The sensible piece to include in the deal would be J.J. Hickson, whom the Cavs are reluctant to give up. But if the Cavs got Jamison, what value would Hickson be to them as their fifth big man? One scenario that is believed to be under discussion would have the Cavs hoping the Wizards bought out Ilgauskas after the trade, using some cash added to the deal by Cleveland. That way, the Cavs could sign Ilgauskas back on a minimum deal, giving them the player James covets (Jamison) and a 7-foot-4 insurance policy for Shaquille O’Neal. The Wizards would have to ask themselves if getting out from under Jamison’s contract and adding Hickson is enough to justify a deal that would get them under the tax next summer, but not under the cap.

• If the Cavs can’t get Jamison, Indiana’s Troy Murphy is Plan B. And yes, there’s a Plan C -- Andre Iguodala. Whereas the Cavs’ front office believes Jamison could help them win a championship this year, Iguodala would be more of a long-term solution. And he better be, with four years and $56 million left on his deal.

• Rumblings about Ray Allen being on his way out of Boston are accurate, but only if the Celtics can get back a player who’d crack the top eight in their rotation. One scenario that has been discussed would have Allen going to Chicago for Kirk Hinrich and another piece – John Salmons? – to satisfy the salary requirements. If it came to fruition, what an intriguing swap it would be for teams that waged such a thrilling postseason battle only eight months ago. Since Allen’s $19.7 million contract expires after the season, acquiring him would leave Chicago flush with cap space for a 2010 free-agent binge centered around Chicago native Dwyane Wade and an additional superstar.

• One of Allen’s teammates also is generating some interest: Kendrick Perkins, who’d be a perfect fit for a team like the Pistons, who are desperate for a post presence. But Perkins only makes $4.3 million, and it’s difficult to imagine the Celtics parting with him given the way Kevin Garnett is gimping around.

• Other than Cleveland, only a handful of teams are active in trade talks and willing to take on money. The others are Dallas, Boston, Portland and potentially Denver, which could get ownership approval for a big enough name – though no such possibility is imminent. The Nuggets are steadfastly refusing to include J.R. Smith in any deal, and their quest for a big man will have to go in a different direction with Indiana’s Jeff Foster likely out for the year with back issues.

• The Mavs, behind big spender Mark Cuban, are always buyers at the deadline. Nothing has changed this year, with the Mavs said to be targeting help at shooting guard in a deal that would likely include Josh Howard and Erick Dampier.

• The Blazers’ interest in Wizards center Brendan Haywood is understandable, considering the catastrophic injuries to Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla. But an expiring contract – such as the one belonging to Travis Outlaw – won’t be enough to pique Washington’s interest. As with Jamison, the Wizards want useful assets in return. In this case, sources say, Washington has asked for Rudy Fernandez and has been strongly rebuffed. Consider those talks stalled for now, but don’t discount a revival before Feb. 18 for these reasons: 1) The Blazers’ desperate need for a big man, and 2) Their ability to get ownership approval to take on money in the right deal.

• Miami also has expressed interest in Haywood, but sources say that would require taking on money in the deal – something Heat president Pat Riley has been unwilling to entertain.

• There are differing opinions in Utah as to what strategy to pursue with Carlos Boozer. Ownership wants to trade him to avoid paying luxury tax. Coach Jerry Sloan wants to keep him because he thinks the Jazz can make playoff noise. All in all, the Jazz might be better off keeping him because their payroll will be roughly $58 million – under the projected tax line – after his $12.7 million salary comes off the books this summer. But don’t discount a solution that would solve both problems: Trading Boozer to the Pistons, who have long coveted him, for Tayshaun Prince. Such a swap would give the Jazz a playoff-tested defender with length and all but get them out of the luxury tax for this season. Prince would be on the books for $9 million next season, but he’d be easy to trade because of his expiring contract. Plus, the difference between owing and receiving luxury tax money this season would be roughly a $7 million swing.

Tracy McGrady’s level of availability – as in, very available – far exceeds the seriousness of the offers Houston has received, sources say. “A lot of talk,” is how one person in contact with Rockets officials characterized the status of the Free T-Mac campaign. Ditto for Amar’e Stoudemire in Phoenix.

• While there are only a few select buyers in the trade market, there are about two dozen sellers – but none more serious than the Sixers. Philadelphia is said to be open to trading anyone and everyone, and the conversations always start with the guys with the most money committed to them: Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, and Iguodala. Good luck.

• On an unrelated note, former Knick John Starks attracted a star-studded crowd in New York City Tuesday night for a celebrity bowling tournament benefiting the John Starks Foundation, which provides college scholarships for kids in the New York City area and Starks’ native Tulsa, Okla. Hall of Famer Earl Monroe, actor Matthew Modine, and Knicks forward Al Harrington were among the headliners.
Posted on: January 29, 2010 4:25 pm
 

Weekly Post-Ups

In addition to what Mark Cuban recently promised would be the “biggest party weekend in the history of the United States,” All-Star weekend in Dallas will mark another important milestone: The beginning of critical negotiations on a new labor agreement between NBA owners and players.

The two sides have met informally and have been exchanging financial and other data for several months. The massive gathering of league and team officials in Dallas will present the first opportunity to begin exchanging proposals. One thing that can be assured is that both sides should expect some sticker shock.

One executive involved in the process told CBSSports.com that the owners seek to take a huge bite out of player salaries, and that one method under consideration would be to drastically reduce the length and amount of max contracts. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said targeting the highest-paid players would serve two purposes: It would unify the vast majority of players who don’t make the current max – which is expected to start at about $15 million annually for players signing new deals next summer – and it would wipe out the owners’ financial losses all by itself.

“They need us more than we need them,” the executive said.

I’m not sure I agree. While there is little question the system needs to be changed, owners have to remember that fans pay to see stars. A certain segment of ownership, according to the executive, is prepared to argue that players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh enjoy millions of dollars in endorsement income by virtue of playing in the NBA. Take away the NBA and its platform, and you take away the superstars’ ability to make money.

“If they don’t like the new max contracts, LeBron can play football, where he will make less than the new max,” the executive said. “Wade can be a fashion model or whatever. They won’t make squat and no one will remember who they are in a few years.”

If those seem like harsh words, get used to it. The tone of negotiations aimed at avoiding a lockout is only going to get uglier. The owners are unified, the executive said, and determined to crush the union on this one.

There are many ways to solve the NBA’s financial problems, and my guess is that owners will have to look beyond the superstars to get this done. In many cases, it isn’t the superstar signings that get teams in trouble. It’s the ill-advised mid-level deals that wreck the cap because teams reach for seemingly affordable free agents who push gently against the luxury tax line but, over time, cost far more than they’re worth. The Knicks have had among the highest payrolls in the NBA for a decade and they haven’t signed a big-ticket free agent since Allan Houston and Chris Childs. But they’ve had more than their share of Jerome Jameses.

So with that in mind, we get to the rest of the Weekly Post-Ups:

Tracy McGrady is splitting time between Houston and Chicago, where he’s working out with trainer Tim Grover while he hopes for a trade that would extricate him from the Rockets. With a league-high $23 million salary, suitors are seeking the same thing the Rockets would get if they simply keep T-Mac and let his contract fall off the books – cap space for next summer. According to a person familiar with the situation, the Knicks, Sixers, and Wizards are the most persistent names linked to McGrady, with the Bulls becoming a less likely destination with their improved play of late.

• Other names on the “hoping to be traded” list are Indiana’s T.J. Ford and Oklahoma City’s Etan Thomas, who both have fallen out of their respective rotations.

• Though Utah’s heightened level of play would seem to lower the urgency to trade Carlos Boozer to get below the tax line, don’t be surprised if the Pistons re-enter the fray before the Feb. 18 deadline. Joe Dumars had been planning to go after Boozer had the power forward opted out of his contract last summer, and the Pistons are internally mulling what to do with Tayshaun Prince and Richard Hamilton.

• A potential swap sending Brendan Haywood to Portland – discussed here a few weeks ago – indeed has risen to the discussion level. But it will take some time for the Blazers to extract more realistic offers for the $6 million big man, who could help any number of contenders.

• The Sixers have been among the most active teams in the trade grapevine, and who could blame them? With Elton Brand, Samuel Dalembert, and Andre Iguodala, team president Ed Stefanski has $120 million he’d like to divest himself of over the next four seasons. Moving any one of those players would be a start, but Iguodala appears to be the most attractive piece for a team seeking wing scoring for the stretch run.
Category: NBA
Posted on: January 20, 2010 12:42 pm
 

Weekly Post-Ups

As the Washington Wizards await word from the commissioner’s office on the length of Gilbert Arenas’ suspension, there is hope among some members of the team’s hierarchy that the relationship between the franchise and its disgraced All Star can be repaired.

The Wizards have thoroughly distanced themselves from Arenas since he was suspended indefinitely on Jan. 6 for bringing four guns to the Verizon Center locker room and mocking the offense with a finger-guns salute in a pre-game huddle in Philadelphia. Arenas, according to people who know him well, feels betrayed by the organization and is convinced that the team didn’t do enough to support him during the ordeal.

Be that as it may, Arenas’ path back to the NBA – whether it’s this season or next – thoroughly depends on reconciling with his Washington teammates, the coaching staff, and management. Regardless of the length of suspension David Stern imposes, Arenas won’t be able to broker a return to the Wizards or achieve a fresh start somewhere else without repairing his relationship with the team. 

In the meantime, the Wizards are stuck in limbo, waiting for Stern’s punishment to come down so they can begin making plans to move past this crisis, which has devastated the team’s immediate and long-term future. The possibility that Arenas also will face jail time after pleading guilty to felony gun possession last week – and the fact that his sentence won’t be known until March 26 – further complicates their strategy.

Despite speculation that the Wizards will seek to void the four years and $81 million left on Arenas’ contract, such a nuclear option has yet to rise to the level of serious discussion within the Wizards’ basketball department, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. Legal experts believe that a contract termination would be extremely difficult to achieve under the collective bargaining agreement, which protects players from being sanctioned by the league and the team for the same offense. Further clouding the issue is the fact that such a drastic move likely would be dictated by the new ownership group led by Ted Leonsis, the successor to late owner Abe Pollin.

According to the Washington Post, Leonsis was operating under a soft Wednesday deadline to agree on a price to purchase the Wizards and Verizon Center from the Pollin estate. If the two sides fail to agree on a price, they could opt to extend their exclusive negotiations. The deal would increase Leonsis’ stake in the Wizards to 56 percent from 44 percent.

Leonsis, 54, has long been a public supporter of Arenas, but has not commented publicly on his legal troubles; Leonsis’ last blog post on Arenas came Oct. 28.

With the Feb. 18 trade deadline less than a month away, the Wizards are incapable of trading Arenas until the length of his suspension is known. Sources say the sticking point in the league office’s completion of its investigation has been its inability to interview Javaris Crittenton, the other player involved in Dec. 21 locker-room dispute. Under provisions of the CBA, Crittenton eventually will be required to speak with league investigators, but is not required to do so until he is out of criminal jeopardy in the case. Crittenton has not been arrested or charged, in part because the firearm he allegedly wielded during the argument with Arenas has never been found. In a puzzling twist, sources say the three players who were in the locker room at the time of the dispute – Randy Foye, Mike Miller, and DeShawn Stevenson – have given different accounts of the incident.

So the Wizards can do nothing but wait. With rival executives sensing their desperation, sources say the Wizards have not received any realistic offers for their most tradable assets, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Brendan Haywood. In the end, everything hinges on Arenas – which is why it’s so crucial for him to reconcile with the team, thus restoring management’s negotiating leverage and giving himself the best chance to eventually return to the court.

If Stern suspends Arenas for the rest of the season, he would become effectively untradeable until next summer. A 20- or 25-game suspension would open the door slightly to a trade or buyout, but neither can happen without cooperation between Arenas and management. Arenas fired his former agent, Dan Fegan, but sources say Fegan has been advising Arenas and could be employed to broker a solution.

Even Arenas’ biggest supporters in Washington admit that there’s a chance he will never again suit up for the Wizards. But if Arenas is going to return to the court anywhere, the possibility of rejoining the Wizards has to at least be explored – and viewed by rival executives as a realistic option. Otherwise, who would offer fair value for him? Once that hurdle is cleared, league sources believe the Orlando Magic will be among the contenders who will at least express interest in Arenas. Orlando is only 9-11 in its last 20 games, and GM Otis Smith – who was in Golden State when the Warriors drafted Arenas – remains one of Agent Zero’s closest friends in the NBA.

There are other things going on in the NBA besides Arenas, which brings us to the rest of the Weekly Post-Ups:

• The parade of 2010 free agents passing through Madison Square Garden and being peppered with questions about playing for the Knicks continued last week, with Chris Bosh assuming the position in the corner locker of MSG’s cramped visiting dressing room. Bosh’s most interesting answer came when he was asked (by yours truly) if he’d like to see an extension offer from the Raptors before the clock strikes midnight on July 1. “Everything is just procedure,” Bosh said. “It’s just business. All that stuff, it really doesn’t matter. I just want to concentrate on playing basketball and address everything else when it’s time to address it. Right now, we’re trying to get above .500. We have enough challenges as a team, so I don’t really want to take on any extra baggage right now because my plate is full.” That would seem to be a no. Unlike the Cavs and Heat, who immediately offered the proverbial extension to LeBron James and Dwyane Wade last summer, the Raptors decided not to go through with the charade. Well aware that Bosh wanted to see where the team was headed before making a long-term commitment, management knew that a premature offer would only prompt an automatic, “No.” GM Bryan Colangelo has the ability to extend an offer at any time, but all parties seem content to wait it out. The Raptors fully intend to keep Bosh, but they won’t be forced into a corner by the possibility of losing him with no compensation. Colangelo is not actively seeking to trade Bosh, but he’s bracing for an avalanche of offers between now and the trade deadline. If it becomes apparent that Bosh is intent upon leaving, Colangelo can maintain control by brokering a sign-and-trade next summer, which would be a win-win because it would bring back assets in return and get Bosh an extra year and more money on his deal.

Trail Blazers executives remain in wait-and-see mode as they closely monitor the team’s performance with 6-9 Juwan Howard – drafted the same year as assistant coach Monty Williams – starting at center after the loss of Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla. GM Kevin Pritchard and assistant GM Tom Penn are traveling with the team on its current East Coast trip, and rival execs expect the Blazers’ brain trust to soon make a recommendation to ownership about whether to trade for a big man or ride it out with Howard. The Wizards’ Haywood, whose $6 million contract expires after the season, would be a major upgrade. Haywood also would be a close match in a deal that included point guard Andre Miller. But as noted above, any move by the Wizards to acquire a point guard is hamstrung by the uncertainty surrounding Arenas’ suspension and criminal sentence.

• It has not been a good month for NBA headlines – from Arenas, to Jayson Williams, to Shawne Williams (the forward traded from the Mavs to the Nets and then arrested in Memphis on drug charges). Now, Kings rookie Tyreke Evans has been named in a wrongful death civil lawsuit. Evans’ cousin, Jamar Evans, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and weapons charges after fatally shooting a man from the passenger’s seat of an SUV driven by Tyreke Evans in 2007. No criminal charges were filed against Tyreke Evans, who fully informed NBA teams of the incident prior to the 2009 draft. The family of the deceased, Marcus Reason, is seeking a judgment of at least $50,000.

• All-Star starters will be announced Thursday night, and barring a change, the NBA could have an untenable situation on its hands. Online and wireless voting ended Monday, and as of the last time returns were announced on Jan. 7, Tracy McGrady held a 2,375-vote lead over Steve Nash for the second starting backcourt spot in the Western Conference behind Kobe Bryant. If Nash or Chris Paul fails to catch McGrady, the league will have to seriously consider instituting a rule whereby Commissioner David Stern can overrule fan voting if an injured or inactive player is voted into the starting lineup. Better yet, McGrady could solve the problem himself by politely declining the All-Star invitation, seeing as he’s not currently suiting up for the Rockets and has played only six games all season. The other curious starter would be Allen Iverson, but I have less of a problem with that. Iverson certainly deserves it based on his career accomplishments, and at least he’s currently playing.

• Here is the best evidence I’ve seen as to why Stephon Marbury’s decision to sign with Shanxi Zhongyu of the Chinese League won’t end well. Jason Rabedeaux, who has coached in China since 2008, told HoopsHype: “If you are looking to be pampered, spoiled or subject to superstar treatment, you might want to miss that connection to Shanghai.”
Category: NBA
Posted on: January 10, 2010 8:51 pm
 

Weekly Post-Ups

The firearms fiasco in Washington remains in the hands of the legal authorities and David Stern. What happens next could include a grand jury indictment of Arenas and the arrest of Javaris Crittenton, if eyewitness accounts of his involvement given to people close to the two players in recent days are true.

Whatever happens in the criminal investigation and in Stern’s Manhattan office won’t stop the Wizards’ efforts to move on from this scandal with sweeping changes. Make no mistake: This goes well beyond the P.R.-motivated removal of Arenas’ image from outside Verizon Center and from the team’s pre-game video show. The changes could be far more significant than that.

With $80 million left on his contract over the next four years, Arenas is an albatross. He’s impossible to trade until the length of his suspension is known, and even if Stern doesn’t ban him for the rest of the season, potential trade suitors are extremely wary of importing such colossal baggage – even given that Arenas, according to people who know him well, had no intentions of hurting or threatening anyone. Poor judgment, in this case, was enough to tip the scales severely against him.

There are no untouchables on the Wizards’ roster, with the possible exception of JaVale McGee. Several contenders, including the Cavs, are hoping the Wizards’ desire to break with the past will compel them to make Antawn Jamison available. Caron Butler, with $10.6 million due next season, has played all season like a guy who can’t wait to be traded. But the player who could be in the most demand is Brendan Haywood, whose defensive impact and effort on both ends have not waned through all the Wizards’ misery. Add the fact that he’s on a $6 million expiring contract, and contenders in search of a big man – i.e. Denver and Portland – would seem to be good fits.

Then there’s the ownership shift following the death of Abe Pollin, with strong indications that the next owner, Ted Leonsis, will look to clean house once he takes over.

With five weeks to go before the Feb. 18 trade deadline, there’s plenty more buzz in the Weekly Post-Ups:

• The Nuggets were close to a deal for a big man last week – so close that one scenario was on the verge of being presented to ownership for approval before it fell through. The deal, discussed at high levels of the organization’s hierarchy, would’ve been more than a minor deal, sources said. Denver is known to covet Jeff Foster, but hasn’t been able to agree on the particulars with Indiana. The Nuggets’ $3.2 million trade exception from the Chucky Atkins deal, which expired last week, wasn’t a factor since Foster makes $6.1 million. The Nuggets still have a $3.7 million exception from the Steven Hunter trade that expires next summer.

• Speaking of the Nuggets, front office officials aren’t overly concerned about J.R. Smith’s inconsistent play, pointing out that he’s historically been a slow starter. Smith is shooting 34 percent from the field since his 41-point outburst against Atlanta on Dec. 23.

• Expect more money-saving deals like the one that sent Eric Maynor and Matt Harpring from Utah to Oklahoma City, which got the Jazz started on what rival executives say is a commitment to getting under the luxury tax. (Join the club.) But executives aren’t convinced Utah GM Kevin O’Connor is resigned to the fact that he needs to deal Carlos Boozer and his $12.7 million expiring contract to accomplish that goal.

• After the Thunder used their space to acquire Maynor, whom they’ll groom to be their backup point guard, they came off the list of teams with real cap space that can be used as a home for salary-dump trades. Sacramento ($4.1 million), Memphis (about $2 million), and Portland ($1.25 million) are open for business as places where teams could send unwanted salary in exchange for draft picks, cash, or other assets.

• While the Blazers continue to mull whether they need to add a big man after losing Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla for the season, the key piece of the equation is Andre Miller. The veteran point guard’s uncomfortable tenure in Portland got worse last week when he had a 30-minute shouting match with coach Nate McMillan. GM Kevin Pritchard and McMillan have downplayed the incident, and a source indicated that Miller has snapped back into line after the blowup. But rival executives don’t believe Miller is long for Portland, and his three-year, $21 million deal is enticing because the third year isn’t guaranteed. The Blazers, who are getting excellent contributions from Jerryd Bayless and will get Steve Blake back soon from a bout with pneumonia, need a big man more than they need Miller’s drama.

• The countdown to the end of the Chris Bosh era in Toronto has officially begun. The Rockets, who have Tracy McGrady’s insurance-protected $23 million expiring deal, are believed to be interested, and sources believe there could be legs to a scenario that would send Bosh to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum. Bynum’s base-year compensation status complicates matters slightly, but sources believe a workable deal could be consummated. The next five weeks are critical for the Raptors, who at 19-19 are still very much in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. If they fall out of contention, the temptation to deal Bosh and get something in return rather than lose him as an unrestricted free agent summer and get nothing could rise to irresistible levels. A trade would give Bosh the option of signing an extension with his new team rather than opting out of his contract and signing a new deal after the season. That option also exists with the Raptors, but there’s been no movement in that direction.

• League executives are wondering if the Nets’ recent rumblings – buying out Rafer Alston, acquiring Chris Quinn from Miami, agreeing to send Eduardo Najera to Dallas, and attempting to deal Josh Boone or buy out several other bench players – means the team is no longer encumbered from making trades by the pending ownership change. In recent weeks, all New Jersey transactions essentially have been on hold, but the flurry of activity indicates that moratorium has been lifted. Team president Rod Thorn won’t jeopardize 2010 cap space in any deals, but he’s on the prowl for short-term upgrades that could help New Jersey (3-32) avoid eclipsing the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, whose 9-73 record was the worst in NBA history.
Category: NBA
Posted on: December 29, 2009 9:31 am
 

Weekly Post-Ups

Let’s not overreact. OK, let’s. Are the Lakers falling apart? There’s some startling evidence beginning to mount, and appropriately enough, it starts in the post. Thus, our lead item in the Weekly Post-Ups:

Andrew Bynum has been in single-digits in points and rebounds in two of the last three games and three of the last six. His numbers have steadily declined since Pau Gasol returned to the lineup, but that’s not the only reason. Coach Phil Jackson revealed Monday night that, in addition to an upper respiratory infection, Bynum has been battling some discomfort in his right knee. Nothing raises a red flag for the Lakers like an issue with one of Bynum’s knees. One take on it is that Bynum is becoming more mature and aware of knee pain and is being proactive in alerting the trainers and getting treatment. But nothing short of a long-term injury to Kobe Bryant would hinder the Lakers’ repeat plans more than losing Bynum again.

• Speaking of Bryant, he’s continuing to battle through an avulsion fracture in the index finger of his shooting hand. This is a particularly difficult injury to play with, because every defender in the league is swiping at that finger dozens of times a game. Every time the finger gets stronger, it seems, Bryant takes a shot to it and suffers a setback. Bryant also injured his right elbow against Sacramento on Saturday night and wore a heavy brace in Monday night’s loss to the Suns.

• As team broadcaster John Ireland points out in his blog, the Lakers are 6-6 against teams with winning records this season – and the average margin of defeat in the six losses has been 15 points. Ouch.

• Finally, the Lakers are hopeful that Ron Artest will return Tuesday night against Golden State. Even by Lakers standards, the tale of Artest falling down a flight of stairs on Christmas night and injuring his head and elbow was hard to believe. Whatever happened, Artest is hoping to shake off the dizziness and restore the defensive backbone that has been sorely missed in his absence.

As reported here, Tracy McGrady’s representatives have taken the obligatory step of asking the Rockets to trade him. It remains to be seen whether this solves McGrady’s problem, but I’m certain it solves the Rockets’. By leaving the team and requesting a trade over playing time issues with coach Rick Adelman, McGrady has done Houston’s front office a favor. It’s clear the Rockets don’t want or need McGrady around, and this way, he won’t be anywhere near the team.

• Side note on McGrady: If logic holds, he won’t face a fine from the NBA for requesting a trade because it wasn’t done publicly. Nate Robinson was hit with a $25,000 fine this week after his agent, Aaron Goodwin, publicly requested a trade.

• Strange times in Chicago with Vinny Del Negro, who is the only one in the Bulls’ hierarchy saying publicly that he won’t be fired. Thus far, the silence from GM Gar Forman and VP John Paxson has been deafening. Forman declined to speak with Chicago reporters Monday and also decided not to discuss Del Negro’s status with this reporter. The Bulls should not be proud that they’re following the blueprint of another paranoid organization when it comes to how you fire a coach. This is exactly how it worked at Madison Square Garden with Isiah Thomas two seasons ago. Aside from organizational silence leaving the coach twisting in the wind, there’s another key similarity. Del Negro continues to insist he has daily communication with both Forman and Del Negro. This is important. As long as the lines of communication are open, the coach is usually safe – at least temporarily. This is just a hunch, but Del Negro seems to be on a very Isiah-like path here. Remember that when the Knicks finally did dispense with Isiah, they didn’t fire him outright. They retained him as a consultant in Donnie Walsh’s new regime.

• Speaking of Walsh, his job of turning around the Knicks, which he’s already told confidants is harder than he thought it would be, isn’t getting any easier. Of the three players Walsh needs to trade, two of them are buried at the end of the bench. With project Jonathan Bender getting backup minutes in the frontcourt, Eddy Curry has been inactive for five straight games and has little chance of cracking Mike D’Antoni’s tight rotation. Nate Robinson, who has taken Stephon Marbury’s spot in D’Antoni’s doghouse, got his 12th straight DNP-CD Sunday night against San Antonio. Trading Robinson is less critical since he’s on a one-year, $4 million contract, and teams know what they’re getting with him. (That’s also part of the problem.) The only must-trade guy who’s playing is Jared Jeffries, who over the past couple of weeks finally has emerged as a useful and dependable defender.

• Not only have the Oklahoma City Thunder (15-14) managed to hover around .500 despite a brutal early season schedule, but they keep making savvy moves to position themselves to join the Western Conference elite in the next two years. An example: Needing a backup point guard they can develop in their system, the Thunder grabbed 2009 first-round pick Eric Maynor from the Jazz for the price of taking on Matt Harpring’s $6.5 million expiring contract. Since Harpring is disabled, Oklahoma City is on the hook for only about $1.5 million; insurance pays the rest. Plus, they can use the full contract as a trade chip between now and the February deadline. And since they were under the cap when they acquired Harpring, they can aggregate his contract with another player to facilitate a deal. All win-wins – and we haven’t even gotten to Maynor yet. GM Sam Presti liked Maynor in the draft, and saw him fill in more than capably for Utah when Deron Williams was hurt. So he gets a known quantity his coaches can develop, rather than make a deal later for a 2010 pick to address the point guard position with an unknown.

• In addition to signing team president Geoff Petrie to a three-year extension, the Kings shuffled some front-office furniture around. Mike Petrie has been promoted from regional scout to assistant VP of basketball operations. Wayne Cooper is expected to be named general manager. Jason Levien is the team’s assistant GM/team counsel. All of this is well deserved. The Kings (14-16) already have as many home wins (11) as they managed all of last season after beating the Nuggets Monday night without Tyreke Evans.

• With at least 30 points in five of the past six games, Monta Ellis is putting together an unassailable All-Star resume. With consecutive victories over Boston and Phoenix, and big men Andris Biedrins and Ronny Turiaf back in the rotation, it’s a good time to begin evaluating whether Golden State can take the step from freak show to competitive NBA team.

• The Hawks continue to thrive with the fifth best record in the league behind the Big 4 (Lakers, Celtics, Cavs, and Magic), and the city of Atlanta barely notices. Philips Arena remains half-full on most nights; for the Memphis game on Dec. 16, the actual attendance figure was under 10,000, according to a source. So I wonder, as I have on several occasions, what would’ve happened if Philips Arena had been built in the Atlanta suburbs instead of downtown. Atlanta is a sprawling, suburb-dominated city where folks who don’t have to venture downtown have been conditioned against doing so. Traffic is abysmal, public transportation is insufficient, and the last thing people want to do on their average weeknight is sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-285 to see the Hawks play. (Especially after spending a good part of their day in traffic while commuting to and from work.) Would the team draw better if the arena had been built in the suburbs, a la the Palace of Auburn Hills? It turns out, this discussion was had years ago before Philips was built. The Hawks paid $250,000 to a consulting firm to study the best place to put the arena. The recommendation was to build it on the city’s perimeter. Ted Turner, who owned the Hawks then, said thanks for the recommendation, and then decided to build downtown, next to the old Omni. Thus, the fate of a second-class NBA franchise was sealed.
Category: NBA
Posted on: December 21, 2009 9:04 pm
Edited on: December 21, 2009 11:46 pm
 

Weekly Post-Ups (UPDATE)

When do you throw the ball into the post to a 5-9 guard? What do Nate Robinson and Stephon Marbury have in common? You’ve come to the right place, the Weekly Post-Ups:

Robinson is the diminutive, insanely popular Knicks guard who is short no matter how you look at him, but perhaps more popular than he should be based on his role as one of the few people worth cheering in Madison Square Garden in recent years. You know the story: Nate hasn’t budged from Mike D’Antoni’s bench in nine games, and the Knicks are 6-3. It appears that the Knicks City Dancers are assured of logging more minutes than N8 the Gr8 for the foreseeable future. D’Antoni, you will recall, did the same thing to Marbury last season, refusing to play the former All-Star. But the similarities end there. This decision was basketball-related; the Knicks simply play better without Robinson, which comes as no surprise to those who understand how Robinson’s folk-hero, slam-dunk champ persona are much better for the box office than they are for the pick-and-roll. Marbury – that was a whole different case, a story for another day.

Now that Robinson’s agent, Aaron Goodwin, has publicly requested a trade, Robinson’s days in New York are numbered – even though Nate says he wants to remain a Knick. (Read that: He wants to remain a Knicks and play for them, too.) It’s only a matter of the exit strategy: trade, buyout, or 55 more uncomfortable games with Robinson sitting on the bench doing nothing. Goodwin and Walsh spoke on the phone Monday, and it is believed that Goodwin made clear that option three is not an acceptable option.

The scenarios are severely complicated by the fact that Robinson, on a one-year, $4 million deal he signed as a restricted free agent last summer, has veto power over any trade. Trade scenarios are further muddled by the fact that Robinson is a base-year compensation player, meaning the Knicks would be forced to take back about half as much as Robinson’s $4 million salary in a trade – unless he’s packaged in a bigger deal. In this economy, the list of teams willing to take back double the salary they send out in a trade that yields them somebody else’s problem is exceedingly short.

This begs the question: Why did the Knicks give Robinson a $4 million deal to begin with, when all they were required to do under the collective bargaining agreement was tender him a $2.9 million qualifying offer? Perhaps team president Donnie Walsh was trying to be fair to Robinson and give him more than the qualifier, as he did with David Lee. But the Knicks are on the hook for double the difference due to the luxury tax, and now they have an unhappy $4 million player who needs to be either bought out or traded. By the end of December, Robinson will have already pocketed $1.33 million. If he gets a buyout – a tactic Walsh historically has been against – the standard formula is 80 percent of the balance. Expect Walsh to drive a much harder bargain than that if Robinson wants his freedom. There was a time not so long ago when buyouts were a way of life at the Garden. But given Walsh’s aversion to them, he’s likely to view that as a last resort.

One Western Conference executive said the market for Robinson is virtually non-existent, and that even teams with a need for bench scoring are concerned about Robinson's downside -- i.e., he shoots too much, dribbles too much, and hasn't learned to take the game seriously. “The value of Nate Robinson is that his contract expires,” the executive said. “It’s not that teams are saying we need to pick him up.” Not surprising; once a situations gets contentious like Robinson’s, trading partners sense weakness.

The Knicks’ dream scenario? Package Robinson as part of a bigger deal that also includes Eddy Curry and Jared Jeffries. But again, who’s lining up to take the Knicks’ problems, not to mention contracts that extend beyond 2010? So short of a buyout, which Walsh likely will only agree to once he’s patiently exhausted every other scenario, what’s the end game? There isn’t one. The former slam dunk champion’s escape from New York is no slam dunk. It’ll take some time -- a lot longer than it will take me to post the rest of this week's Post-Ups:

* A person familiar with the Bulls’ situation said the team appears to be “close to wit’s end” with coach Vinny Del Negro, but is in no hurry to make a decision. There’s no upside to dumping Del Negro this early and installing top assistant Bernie Bickerstaff to the interim post for the rest of the season. The players would see that as a surrender flag. Instead, the person said, GM Gar Forman and advisor John Paxson would rather get into January and have a better sense of whether there’s a chance the team could find a spark, as it did for its playoff run last season. If there’s no progress with a more extensive body of work, that’s when a move is likely to come.

UPDATE: It will be exceedingly difficult for the Bulls to stick to that plan after Del Negro's team blew a 35-point third-quarter lead and lost to the Kings 102-98 Monday night. The surrender flag alluded to above? The one that my source indicated the players would see if Del Negro were canned prematurely? That flag, evidently, already is flying. The Bulls were outscored 54-17 over the final 16 minutes. Seriously. The Bulls have lost 14 of 20 under Del Negro and head to New York for the second night of a back-to-back Tuesday night -- having played only seven players in a game they led by 35 points. Del Negro's horizon just went from January to Christmas.

* Don’t be surprised if some teams lacking the cap space to sign a max free agent next summer decide on a pre-emptive strike before the trade deadline, essentially making their big acquisition now as opposed to waiting. One such team could be Sacramento, which entered Monday night’s game in Chicago with a surprising 12-14 record. The Kings have Kenny Thomas’ coveted expiring contract, which they had every intention of keeping until it fell off the books July 1. But with the team only two games off the pace for the eighth spot in the West, GM Geoff Petrie might be willing to move Thomas, who makes $8.6 million, if a deal presented itself that would give the team a better chance at making the postseason. It’s too early to get a read on Petrie’s attitude toward such things, partly because Sacramento has benefited from one of the easiest schedules in the league thus far.

* With Jameer Nelson returning for the Magic Monday night after missing a month with a left knee injury, it’s worth floating my theory that only Dwight Howard is more important to the Magic’s title hopes than Nelson. No disrespect to Rafer Alston, but the Finals would’ve been far more competitive with a healthy Nelson running the point all the way through. At his best, Nelson is better than what the Lakers and Cavs have to offer at point guard, and it can be argued that only Boston’s Rajon Rondo and Denver’s Chauncey Billups among the truly elite teams would have a difference-making advantage over Nelson. (If Dallas or Phoenix make it to the NBA Finals, I reserve the right to update this post.) Like a true point guard, Nelson was one of the first people to call Vince Carter when the news broke that he’d been traded from the Nets to Orlando. “He knows how to make this engine go,” Carter said. “He’s very underrated.”

* With Don Nelson back on the Golden State bench after a bout with pneumonia, word is that Monta Ellis will let the New Year come and go before re-evaluating his future. Nelson and Ellis were seriously at odds early in the season, at one point engaging in a heated exchange after a practice in New York. Things settled down just in time for Nelson to go on a five-game sick leave, with assistant Keith Smart taking over on an interim basis. The Warriors were 2-3 under Smart, and are 1-8 since Nelson returned – which really isn’t the point. Ellis has emerged this season as Golden State’s best player, and as the Warriors get into the teeth of the 82-game schedule, it will have to be decided whether he can co-exist with Nelson. A person with knowledge of the situation said Ellis is inclined to let the holidays come and go before plotting his next move. One thing is certain: Ellis has logged at least 47 minutes on seven occasions for the injury-ravaged Warriors, a trend that has people close to Ellis concerned. Six of those occasions came with Nelson on the bench, as did three other 46-minute outings.
Category: NBA
Posted on: December 14, 2009 8:02 pm
 

Weekly Post-Ups

Will the NBA trade winds pick up now that more than 70 players are set to become trade-eligible on Tuesday? Do the Weekly Post-Ups appear every week? Naturally. Time to throw it down low and break down the possibilities:

• Free agents who signed contracts this summer can’t be traded until three months from the date the contract was signed, or Dec. 15 – whichever is later. There’s a long list of players whose trade-eligible status is merely a formality. Trevor Ariza, Ron Artest, Mike Bibby, and Ben Gordon aren’t going anywhere. But there are enough intriguing names that, for various reasons, could be on the move. Here are my top five players with the most compelling cases to go from trade-eligible to traded:

1) Andre Miller, Trail Blazers: Given the need to extend stars Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers had to use their cap space this past summer or lose it. Once he was spurned by Hedo Turkoglu, GM Kevin Pritchard went to plan B – Miller, a seemingly much-needed veteran, play-making point guard. But with Steve Blake still playing at a high level and not eager to give up floor time, it’s been a bad fit from the start. Miller has been frustrated both by not starting and not finishing games, and Portland seems to play more cohesively with Blake running the offense. Miller isn’t a good enough shooter or defender to justify major minutes off the ball, so teams that don’t possess such play-making riches will be exploring Pritchard’s willingness to cut his losses with Miller.

2) Brandon Bass, Magic: As with Marcin Gortat (see No. 3), Orlando GM Otis Smith says he’s not looking to trade the rugged power forward plucked from the Mavs last summer. But Bass is young (24), has a reasonable contract (three years and $12 million after this season), and is having a difficult time carving out meaningful minutes and production in the Magic’s rotation. As such, Smith won’t have to try very hard; the deals will come to him.

3) Nate Robinson, Knicks: Being on a one-year deal, Robinson comes with all the requisite impediments to a trade – not least of all is the fact that he’d have to waive his no-trade clause. But N8 the Gr8 has fallen out of Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, and the Knicks – 4-1 during his stretch of DNPs – are unlikely to forge a long-term relationship with the talented but headstrong former dunk champion next summer. Robinson could prove useful to a contender looking for energy and scoring off the bench. According to 82-games.com, Robinson was sixth in the league last season with 44.6 points per 48 minutes of clutch time.

4) Marcin Gortat, Magic: The Polish Hammer also is unhappy in the O, but the Magic would be ill-advised to peddle a 7-footer who is a capable backup to Dwight Howard – even if he hasn’t been as useful to this point in the season as both imagined. Any number of scenarios that will come up in the postseason will reinforce Gortat’s value: foul trouble for Howard, the need for a viable alternative if opponents employ a Hack-a-Howard strategy, and the need to play Howard and Gortat together against teams with size (i.e. the Lakers).
5) David Lee, Knicks: Like Robinson, Lee has veto power because he’s on a one-year deal with Bird rights pending after the season. But like Robinson, Lee’s long-term demands could be too rich for the Knicks, who are putting all their eggs in the 2010 free-agent basket. Would Lee waive his no-trade clause for new surroundings in, say, Chicago, as a facilitating piece to a Tyrus Thomas trade? Such an arrangement likely would have to come with an understanding that a long-term extension would be signed after the season. (Note: Both Lee and Robinson become trade eligible next week, as they signed their one-year deals in late September.)

• Speaking of Ariza: When Artest went to the Lakers and Ariza to the Rockets, what sort of odds could you have gotten on Ariza being the first one suspended by the league?

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, commissioner David Stern said legalized gambling on NBA games was a “possibility” that could be “a huge opportunity” for the league. To be clear, Stern said he’s not advocating such a change any time soon, and the issue most likely will be left for his eventual successor to navigate. But the comments represented another incremental step toward easing the long-held taboo about the widespread legalization of sports gambling. Is it bad timing that Stern would kick the door ajar for such sweeping changes at a time when the Tim Donaghy scandal is still very much in the news? Maybe so. But if Stern has proved anything during his quarter-century of commissionership, it’s that he’s a human version of the stock market – forward-looking. He knows that if and when betting on NBA games is legalized, Donaghy will be long forgotten and Stern himself will be retired. I know this: Strengthening sports leagues’ relationships with the gambling world will help – not hurt – their ability to monitor and stop point-shaving or game-fixing scandals. Bookmakers, oddsmakers, and sports gambling experts told me this over and over again when the Donaghy scandal first broke.

• The Allen Iverson experiment is working out nicely in Philadelphia, isn’t it? The Sixers were 0-3 with Iverson and on a 12-game losing streak heading into Monday night’s game against Golden State, and A.I. revealed that he recently had 55 CCs of fluid drained from his left knee. That’s what happens when a 165-pound body violates the speed limit in professional basketball for 13 years. Eventually, the body breaks down. Of more concern to the Sixers should be this: After selling out Iverson’s debut last Monday against Denver, the team drew only 12,136 for his second game against the Pistons, another former employer.

• When Stern was asked about the anomaly of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov trying to purchase the Nets, he responded that it wouldn’t be the last time an NBA team was sought by international investors. On Monday, it was revealed that the Cavaliers have reached an agreement to sell a minority stake to Chinese investor Albert Hung. When the possibility was broached a few months ago, it was viewed in some quarters as possible incentive for LeBron James to stay in Cleveland and use the connection to expand his influence in the NBA’s biggest market outside the United States. Although the Board of Governors hasn’t even voted on the deal yet, the impact was felt immediately. Also on Monday, the Cavs announced a marketing agreement that will make Tsingtao the exclusive Chinese beer of Quicken Loans Arena. I’ll give it a try after my next game there, but it’ll have to be something special to overtake Burning River Pale Ale as my favorite local brew in Cleveland.

Wizards center Brendan Haywood is “officially retiring from the blogging game,” he announced in his blog. Not that it’s his fault – Haywood has played great – but this seems like the best decision for everyone involved considering the Wizards’ ongoing struggles. No need for your team to be making more news blogging about Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren than it does on the basketball court.
Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
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