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Posted on: July 1, 2010 3:16 pm
Edited on: July 2, 2010 1:25 am
 

Free-Agent Buzz (UPDATE)


After meeting for more than two hours with LeBron James in Cleveland Thursday, with a van-full of presentation gear to show for it, the Knicks' contingent headed to Chicago for meetings with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But not before trying to make a last-minute pitch to keep Joe Johnson from signing with the Hawks, a person familiar with the strategy said.

At the precise moment when coach Mike D'Antoni, president Donnie Walsh, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan and others emerged from a Cleveland office tower Thursday, Johnson was hunkered down in a meeting with his agent, Arn Tellem, and Hawks officials in Los Angeles. It was the second sit-down for Johnson and the team he's played with for five seasons, and it wasn't clear what more needed to be discussed regarding Atlanta's six-year, $120 million offer -- which neither the Knicks nor any other suitor can match under NBA salary rules.

But the Knicks, trying to use Johnson as an enticement to lure James to New York, jumped back into the fray with a call to Tellem after meeting with LeBron. The Knicks are "swinging away," the source said, and "need some luck."

While it seems unlikely that Johnson would turn down the Hawks' offer, Johnson was still in play as of late Thursday afternoon, when Tellem told CBSSports.com there was not yet an agreement with Atlanta. A person familiar with the discussions said there would be "no decision" Thursday from Johnson on the Hawks' offer, which is 100 percent guaranteed, according to a source.

The Knicks will meet in Chicago Friday with the other two top free agents, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

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Another Tellem client in demand is small forward Mike Miller, a 10-year veteran who shot 50 percent from the field for Washington last season. The Knicks met with him in Los Angeles Wednesday night along with Johnson, and the Lakers opened discussions with him Thursday. Discussions with the Lakers did not advance to the offer stage.

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Discussions between the Suns and Amar'e Stoudemire remain unresolved, with the issue being Suns chairman Robert Sarver's unwillingness to increase his offer from four years to five years. Stoudemire doesn't yet have an offer from the Knicks, but plans to meet with New York officials Saturday or Monday. Meanwhile, Channing Frye will be staying in Phoenix, where he intended to stay all along. The unrestricted free agent agreed to a five-year, $30 million deal, according to Yahoo! Sports.
 
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With the signing of 2008 second-round pick Nikola Pekovic to a four-year, $13 million deal and Darko Milicic to a four-year, $20 million deal, the Timberwolves are proceeding under the assumption that Al Jefferson will be traded, a person with knowledge of the team's strategy said. But with no takers yet, it is possible that the situation could drag into August, when better offers for the injury-prone power forward might be extracted.

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Anticipating the loss of Chris Bosh in free agency, the Raptors agreed to terms with unrestricted free agent Amir Johnson on a five-year, $34 million deal, a person familiar with the situation said. Johnson, a 6-9 forward who was the 56th pick by the Pistons in the 2005 draft, averaged 12.7 points and 9.8 rebounds coming off the bench last season for Toronto.

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Rudy Gay has agreed to a five-year, $82 million deal with Memphis, a move that takes the restricted free agent off the market, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed to CBSSports.com.

Gay had been contacted by Minnesota and was receiving significant interest from the Knicks, Nets, Bulls, Heat and Clippers -- teams flush with cap space who viewed Gay as a consolation prize if they missed out on LeBron James. Those teams could have forced Memphis' hand with a front-loaded offer sheet the Grizzlies would've had trouble matching due to luxury-tax implications. But there's no need for that after Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace's pre-emptive strike to keep him.

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Point guard Raymond Felton has been contacted by seven teams, including the three with the most cap money who also happen to be the three he's interested in: the Knicks, Heat and Nets, CBSSports.com has learned.

Felton expects to have a decision in 2-3 days, with the understanding that the teams pursuing him have to first resolve their pursuit of top-tier free agents like James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Felton, who averaged 12.1 points and 5.6 assists for the Bobcats last season, probably won't return to Charlotte because re-signing him would push the Bobcats over the luxury tax.

The Knicks' pursuit of Felton is a strong indication of a backup plan the team is ready to carry out if it doesn't land James. Sources say team president Donnie Walsh and coach Mike D'Antoni would then try to get a quick commitment from Felton and use a legit point guard as an enticement to one of the other free agents -- Bosh or Amar'e Stoudemire. Then, the Knicks could try to add one more piece -- such as small forward Mike Miller -- before going over the cap to retain Lee, assuming they didn't have to renounce his rights to do it. If they did, the Knicks would probably have to forego one of the signings in order to fit Lee into their $34.1 million of salary-cap space.

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Minnesota's surprising four-year, $20 million commitment to Darko Milicic took them out of the Gay sweepstakes, but that didn't matter after the Grizzlies retained him with a five-year, $82 million deal Thursday. The signing of Milicic also likely removed the T-Wolves from the running for Lee, who had scheduled a visit with the Timberwolves over the weekend.

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The Magic are quietly exploring sign-and-trade scenarios that would rid the team of Vince Carter and his $17.3 million contract for next season, sources say. Short of that, team officials have indicated that they're willing to further explore more playing time for power forward Brandon Bass, who languished on the bench much of last season. The move would involve moving Rashard Lewis back to his natural small-forward. In addition to elite point guard Chris Paul, who tops his offseason wish list, Dwight Howard has told management he wants the team to pursue a post-up scorer at the power forward position. If GM Otis Smith is unable to acquire Howard's choice for that role, Carlos Boozer, the Magic could counter by utilizing Bass more than they did last season.

There are "no legs" to reports that Bass could be sent to Utah in a sign-and-trade for Boozer, a person with knowledge of Orlando's strategy said. But given Howard's preference for Boozer, it's too early to completely dismiss the scenario.

 








Posted on: June 30, 2010 2:01 am
 

Free-Agent Buzz

If you’re all LeBron-ed out … if you don’t care whether there was a free-agent summit or not … you’ve come to the right place. Here’s some free-agent news that has nothing to do with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, or Chris Bosh:

While those elite free agents prepare for an unmitigated frenzy set to begin at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, a certain gentle giant who’s a couple years away from any such courtship is quietly beginning to formulate a plan that he’d like management to execute. And it turns out that Dwight Howard, the most physically gifted big man in basketball, wants to team up with the most physical gifted little guy in basketball: Chris Paul.

On the eve of the most anticipated free-agent signing period since 1996, when Howard was 10 years old, the Magic center has formulated a short list of players he’d like GM Otis Smith to pursue this summer. No. 1 on the list, according to a person with close ties to Orlando management, is Hornets point guard Chris Paul.

Reports in the past week have noted that Orlando was one of several teams to inquire about Paul’s availability – mostly after CP3 was quoted as saying he’d be open to a trade if New Orleans wasn’t committed to investing in a championship-caliber roster. It turns out Smith was either prescient or had a pretty good idea of what acquisition would please Howard the most.

The idea of Paul tossing alley-oop passes to Howard is tantalizing, to say the least. But is it realistic? George Shinn, the Hornets’ lame-duck owner, issued a joint statement last week with prospective buyer Gary Chouest that reaffirmed the team’s commitment to building around Paul but didn’t rule out any avenues to improve the team. Whoever winds up owning the Hornets would prefer not to move Paul, a franchise cornerstone in every sense of the word. But financial and competitive realities – the Hornets won 37 games last season and are due to be a tax-paying team again in 2010-11 – have conspired to put all options on the table. Even trading Paul.

The Hornets have a point-guard-in-waiting, Darren Collison, who would mitigate the loss of Paul on the court, if not at the ticket office. Any team in the mix for Paul would have to agree to take back Emeka Okafor, scheduled to make $11.8 million next season and $53.2 million over the next for season. The last three seasons will come under a new collective bargaining agreement, in which owners are seeking to dramatically slash salaries. So the full magnitude of taking on such a contract is unknown at this point – but certainly not pleasant.

But one Western Conference executive called the scenario “plausible,” if nothing else because the Magic have shown themselves to have “deep, deep pockets,” the executive said.

To soften the blow from losing Paul, New Orleans would likely insist – and the Magic would agree – on the inclusion of Jameer Nelson in any such trade. Nelson was exposed as a liability in the Magic’s conference finals loss to the Celtics, but could bridge the gap to Collison with a cap-friendly contract that pays him $8.1 million in each of the next three seasons. The Magic have internally explored including Vince Carter in various trades they’re considering, sources say, but Carter’s $17.5 million salary next season might require a third team to get involved or force the Magic to explore another deal for him.

Another player on Howard’s short list, sources say, is Utah free agent Carlos Boozer, who would allow Howard to flourish as a defensive and rebounding force without having to handle the bulk of the scoring on the block, too. The capped-out Magic, of course, would have to acquire Boozer via a sign-and-trade arrangement. The Jazz might be enticed by Brandon Bass and free agent J.J. Redick, for starters.

As an aside, Howard and I obviously think alike. Some of you may recall the “Perfect Team” exercise I performed over several weeks during the 2009-10 season – putting together what I deemed to be the best possible roster that adhered to the $57.7 million salary cap. My center: Howard. My point guard: Paul. It’s not clear whether those two teaming up in Orlando would be perfection. But they would be formidable and fun to watch, for sure.

Here’s some more free-agent buzz with less than 24 hours to go before LeBron-a-Geddon:

• As the Knicks put the final touches on their pitch to James, unofficially scheduled for Thursday in Ohio, team president Donnie Walsh continues to ramp up efforts to trade Eddy Curry and his $11.3 million contract. The extra cap space that would be added to the Knicks’ $34.1 million would either facilitate the pursuit of three max free agents – a new wrinkle in the Knicks’ plan – or allow them to get two max players and retain unrestricted free agent David Lee. SI.com’s Ian Thomsen wrote that the Knicks plan to allow James to play fantasy GM on Thursday and choose his own sidekicks. The Knicks will suggest, SI.com reported, that James consider Atlanta free agent Joe Johnson as a better fit than Dwyane Wade, who like James is at his best when handling the ball the majority of the time. The problem with the plan, short of an unlikely salary dump of Curry’s contract, is all three free agents (James, another wing, and a power forward such as Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire) would have to accept significantly less than the max to fit into New York’s cap space. One rival executive described New York’s attempts to peddle Curry “a tough, tough sell,” and noted that the only way a team under the cap would be willing to absorb Curry is if Danilo Gallinari were included in the trade.

• While Miami completed the anticipated buyout of James Jones to creep closer to the space needed to combine two max free agents with Dwyane Wade, the Nets are on the verge of clearing more space with a buyout of forward Kris Humphries, sources say. If the Nets could trade Humphries’ $3.2 million contract to a team that’s under the cap, they’d achieve the coveted space to import two max free agents. But with no takers for Humphries so far, a mere buyout would require further housekeeping to secure the necessary space.

• There are strong indications that a decision could be coming by the end of the week from Doc Rivers on whether he’s stepping down as the Celtics coach or returning for another championship run – assuming Boston’s core will stay together. That’s an open question, and Rivers’ future and the potential return of free agents Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are as intertwined as they could be. Former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, who would be a strong candidate to replace Rivers if he steps down, had dinner with Donald Sterling Tuesday night to discuss the Clippers’ job for which he’s a finalist with former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey.

Lakers assistant Brian Shaw leaving Cleveland without a job offer from the Cavs – while Byron Scott’s agent, Brian McInerney, was publicly congratulating him – provided the latest strange twist in the Cavs’ offseason. A person with knowledge of the situation said Tuesday that Shaw and the Cavs were entering the negotiating phase, but it’s not clear how that’s done without a job offer.

• Amar’e Stoudemire and his agent, Happy Walters, sat down with Suns owner Robert Sarver and coach Alvin Gentry in Los Angeles Tuesday in what sources described as a productive meeting aimed at keeping Stoudemire from opting out of his contract and hitting the free-agent market. It wasn’t clear if Sarver, who has taken on the role of conducting basketball business with GMs and agents after GM Steve Kerr and assistant David Griffin left the front office, increased his contract offer to the maximum. Either way, sources with knowledge of Stoudemire’s situation believe there’s a strong possibility that not even a max offer would keep him from opting out and testing the market with teams that have cap space, such as the Knicks, Nets, Bulls and Heat.
Posted on: May 20, 2010 5:42 pm
 

Old and slow? Maybe, but Fisher can still defend

LOS ANGELES – For three playoff series, Derek Fisher has heard about how he’s the weak link in the Lakers’ title defense. There was no way he could keep up with Russell Westbrook’s quickness, hold up against Deron Williams’ size, or stifle Steve Nash’s creativity.

“They say he’s old and slow,” noted philosopher and defensive guru Ron Artest said. “I just don’t see it.”

Nobody else does, either. And no, your eyes have not deceived you. Here are the Lakers, two wins away from a third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals – and they’ve gotten here not despite Fisher, but in large part because of him.

“I guess I’m smart enough to know that if we win, it doesn’t really matter,” Fisher said. “I guess for some guys it’s harder to not take things personally and try to be who they aren’t when the goal is really to help your team advance. And when you do that, the individual things kind of mean less. I’ve said it before: I’ve never seen anything on the side of any one of my rings that says anything about points per game, percentages per game, who had the most assists, who had the most steals. It’s just a ring. It has your name on it and the team and the organization and that’s it. That’s pretty much all that matters to me.”

No, Fisher, 35, hasn’t done it all by himself against the murderer’s row of point guards the Lakers are toppling on their way to the Finals. After Westbrook sliced through the Lakers’ defense in victories at Oklahoma City in Games 3 and 4 of the first round, Kobe Bryant raised his hand after a video session and said, “I’ll take him.” Bryant slowed Westbrook down, and the Lakers haven’t lost a game since – eight in a row heading into Game 3 of the conference finals Sunday in Phoenix.

But Fisher didn’t need much help against the Williams, arguably the best point guard in the league, as the Lakers swept past the Jazz. Nash, the gold standard for modern-day point guards – or point guards of any era, really – hasn’t been able to find the kind of space and freedom he’s accustomed to with Fisher digging in and using his underrated combination of strength, quick hands and good old fashioned guile.

“He can guard all the point guards,” TNT analyst Hubie Brown told me. “Fisher, in my opinion, is one of the feistiest defensive point guards that we have in the league. He’s very cerebral. He understands the defensive game plan. You can never fall asleep with the basketball because he’s got quick reflexes and quick reactions, plus he gets a lot of deflections. Then off of his man, OK, he’s one of the best point guards that we have in the league in double-teaming and also playing the passing lane on any type of a ball reversal back to his man.”

(Note to reader: At this point in my conversation with Brown the other day, I prayed that the Lakers’ practice court would open up and swallow me. In 30 seconds, Brown had said more intelligent things about basketball than I’ve ever written. And there was more to come.)

“This guy, you don’t hide this guy,” Brown said. “Also, if you break down his game, if he’s running in transition, you never have to worry about a guy getting a clear layup because he’s going to take a charge. And in this league, that’s very difficult for guys to do no matter what size they are – to take the full contact while people are moving. So to me, he’s the total package.”

In the Lakers’ 124-112 victory over the Suns in Game 2 Wednesday night, Fisher’s numbers didn’t measure up to Nash’s – but his impact on the game far exceeded his counterpart’s. Fisher had seven points on 2-for-8 shooting with five assists, two steals and two turnovers. Nash had 11 points and 15 assists, but shot only 4-for-8 from the field with five turnovers. At key sequences in the game – when the Lakers were building an early lead and then pulling away in the fourth quarter after the Suns had tied it at 90-90 – Fisher wound up on the superior end of the action.

Late in the first quarter, Fisher intercepted a post pass from Nash as the Suns were trying to find their offensive rhythm. Late in the second quarter, Fisher hurt the Suns with his offense – finding Andrew Bynum for a dunk, hitting a corner 3-pointer and making a driving layup to give the Lakers a 65-56 halftime lead. Midway through the fourth, Fisher forced Nash into consecutive turnovers, the first leading to a corner 3-pointer by Jordan Farmar on which Nash failed to close out defensively. In 67 seconds, the Lakers stretched a six-point lead to 11 and the rout was on.

“Steve can hurt you without scoring, whereas some of the other guys at the point guard position need to score for their team to win,” Fisher said. “Overall it’s exactly the same. You want to limit penetration. You want to keep the guy in front of you. You want to make him shoot the ball over the top instead of letting him get to the rim and make plays for himself or other people. You want to make him work as hard as possible. You’re not going to stop him, but you can’t allow him to do whatever he wants to do out there. And sometimes that means sacrificing yourself, your game, your body and that means picking up some fouls to do it. Just do what it takes.”

Next up, presumably, will be the Celtics' Rajon Rondo, who has been the single most influential point guard in the postseason -- better than Williams, Nash, Jason Kidd, all of them. Once again, it will seem to be an impossible task for Fisher to hold up against Rondo's length, speed, quickness and guile. And once again, Fisher will have to find a way.

That’s what he does: whatever it takes, and more than everybody expects.


Posted on: May 9, 2010 12:40 pm
 

O'Connor: Jazz prepared to pay tax again


With another playoff rout at the hands of the Lakers looming on Monday, the Utah Jazz find themselves in a familiar position. No organization has enjoyed more stability or embraced the same style of play for as long as the Jazz have under Jerry Sloan. And perhaps no top-tier team has fallen short in the postseason as much, either. 

Utah has endured only one losing season in Sloan’s 21 years on the Jazz bench and has earned a spot in the draft lottery only twice. Contrary to late owner Larry Miller’s past assertions that his team would never pay the NBA luxury tax, the Jazz made that commitment last summer when they matched Portland’s offer for restricted free agent Paul Millsap. The commitment was renewed when Sloan persuaded ownership not to trade Carlos Boozer on the last year of his contract at $12.7 million this season. 

Despite another playoff disappointment, GM Kevin O’Connor told CBSSports.com recently that the Jazz are prepared to be a tax-paying team next season, too. Whether that entails keeping Boozer, an unrestricted free agent, remains to be seen. But what’s clear is that the Jazz are at a unique crossroads for any franchise – venturing into the second round of the playoffs with a team that has won 50-plus game three of the past four seasons, and owning a lottery pick in the upcoming draft. 

By virtue of a trade with Phoenix, the Jazz own the Knicks’ first-round pick, which was conveyed to the Suns as part of Isiah Thomas’ ill-fated trade for Stephon Marbury in 2004. The Marbury trade continues to be the gift that keeps on giving in two proud Western Conference cities. The Suns used the resulting cap space to sign Steve Nash, who has led Phoenix to within one win of the conference finals. By virtue of the Knicks’ 29-53 record this season, the Jazz are slotted ninth in the lottery order with a 1.7 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick. 

Utah is 1-for-2 in its two most recent forays into the lottery. Coming off a 42-win season in 2003-04,O’Connor held out hope that he’d be able to land No. 1 pick Dwight Howard. He wound up with 14th pick Kris Humphries instead. After a 26-win season in ’04-’05, Utah got the third pick and drafted franchise centerpiece Deron Williams

“I think with the fact that we’ve only had one year with a losing season and were fortunate enough to get Deron Williams has really helped,” O’Connor said. 

With a playoff-ready roster, a lottery pick, and a commitment to capitalize on both by paying luxury tax again, O’Connor hopes he’ll be able to parlay that flexibility into a series of moves that finally will push the Jazz past the second round for the only the second time since Michael Jordan put a dagger in them in back-to-back NBA Finals more than a decade ago. 

“Larry had said at one point he’d never pay [luxury tax,” O’Connor said. “He said it a couple of times. But then he said, if we know that we’re going to have a very good team and it’s not for a long period of time, he certainly would expect to do that. I think it’s a commitment going forward. I don’t think it’s a commitment that we’ve broached yet. We need to see what the numbers are going to be and everything else. But I think we’ve proven already that we’re willing to pay it and I think the results have justified us paying it.” 

Portland’s offer sheet for Millsap was heavily front-loaded with a poison pill designed to force the Jazz to choke on the luxury-tax implications. Utah matched anyway, and Millsap’s salary declines from $10.3 million to $6.2 million next season. Boozer’s $12.7 million salary comes off the books, and there has been only one publicized discussion between O’Connor and Boozer’s agent, Rob Pelinka, about re-signing with Utah. The situation gives O’Connor the flexibility to explore sign-and-trade scenarios, and sources say you can expect high-level discussions with Miami on a Boozer trade at the February deadline to be rekindled. 

The point is, as bleak as things look for the Jazz now – and as much as this resembles a seemingly endless replay of postseason heartache – the franchise is positioned better than it has been in years to finally take the next step. At a time of year when coaches are getting fired and teams are enduring front-office turmoil, the Jazz just keep sticking with the status quo because the status quo has worked. 

“I think the stability has come from the fact that we’ve consistently won,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think you have stability without that.” 

I know this is getting old, but maybe this is the year it finally pays off.
Posted on: February 1, 2010 4:34 pm
Edited on: February 1, 2010 4:37 pm
 

Best and worst contenders in January

January is the month when NBA teams start figuring out what they are. The feeling-out period of November and December gives way a time when night-to-night performance dictates the tweaks that are needed at the trade deadline.

Based on the standings as we sit here on Feb. 1, there are nine teams legitimately in the Eastern Conference playoff picture (the line is drawn at the Knicks, who enter the month six games out of the eighth spot). In the West, 11 teams are strong playoff contenders (drawing the line at the Clippers, who are six games out of eighth). Of those 20 teams, which ones performed the best and the worst in the month of January, and why?

The “who” is easy. For the “why,” we need some statistical analysis. And for that, we turn to adjusted plus/minus expert Wayne Winston. In his blog, Winston opines on all 30 teams and why they performed the way they did in the month of January. Let’s break out Winston’s analysis of the playoff contenders with the five best and five worst records last month:

(To review, adjusted plus/minus tells you how many points better or worse a team would perform if a given player were paired with four average players against five average players. For example, LeBron James’ was plus-21 in January, meaning his team was 21 points better than average when adjusted for whom LeBron was playing with and against.)

Five Best

1. Cleveland (12-3): It’s all about Shaquille O’Neal, whose adjusted plus/minus through December was minus-4 but in January was plus-4.
1. (t)Denver (12-3): Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups are overrated, according to Winston. Nene and Chris “Birdman” Andersen each had a plus-23 rating in January.
3. Charlotte (12-4): The Bobcats’ success can be attributed to Gerald Wallace (plus-15), Flip Murray (plus-11), and Stephen Jackson (plus-8).
4. Utah (10-4): Deron Williams registered a plus-17, but Andre Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, and Kyle Korver all were plus-10 or better, too.
5. New Orleans (12-5): Chris Paul (plus-8) and Marcus Thornton (plus-9) combined to form an effective starting backcourt – a plan that will have to be adjusted with Paul out indefinitely due to a left knee injury requiring surgery. Darren Collison, you’re up ...
5. (t) Lakers (12-5): Winston says Ron Artest (minus-1) has been fading steadily since his Christmas night fall and unrelated foot ailments. Remarkably, his system credits Sasha Vujacic with a plus-16 – same as Kobe.

Five Worst

1. Houston (5-9): David Andersen (plus-7) has been helpful. Chuck Hayes (minus-9), not so much.
2. Boston (6-8): The main culprit, as you might expect, has been Kevin Garnett (minus-11), whose offensive rating was even worse than his overall adjusted plus/minus (minus-21). Glen “Don’t Call Me Big Baby” Davis also struggled (minus-14).
3. Phoenix (7-9): Channing Frye’s rating went from plus-13 through December to plus-2 in January. Amar’e Stoudemire, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Goran Dragic, and Louis Amundson all hovered between minus-9 and minus-11. Robin Lopez was plus-9.
4. Portland (7-8): Nicolas Batum (plus-16), Andre Miller (plus-13), Martell Webster (plus-13), and Jerryd Bayless (plus-10) kept the Blazers afloat. But they need a big man in the worst way, as Juwan Howard (minus-18) and Jeff Pendergraph (minus-14) killed them.
5. Miami (8-9): Rafer Alston (minus-14) hasn’t solved the Heat’s point guard woes. Dorell Wright (plus-11) was solid.

No single statistical method is the be-all, end-all for evaluating a team’s performance. Depending on which front office you’re talking to, you’ll get different accounts of which data are most meaningful. But these numbers shed some light on some common beliefs about what certain contenders need to add or subtract before the Feb. 18 trade deadline. In Denver’s case, the performance of Nene and Birdman seemed to debunk the notion that the Nuggets desperately need to acquire a big man. In Portland’s case, the data proves that the Blazers need an upgrade in the frontcourt.

The Celtics? They need Garnett to be as healthy and dominant as he was two years ago. (Don’t hold your breath.) Do the Jazz need to trade Boozer? If they want to get under the luxury tax they do, but not if they want to continue playing their best basketball of the season.

Which team that’s currently a long shot to make the playoffs had the best January? That would be the Bucks, who went 8-7 in January – better than six teams currently in the hunt. The Bucks are an aberration to Winston, as well, because all he could come up with to explain their success was Charlie Bell’s plus-10 rating in January. It’s an imperfect system that nonetheless provides some interesting stuff to think about as we close in on Feb. 18.



Posted on: October 27, 2009 7:59 am
Edited on: October 27, 2009 7:18 pm
 

No extension for Rondo (UPDATE)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted on: July 12, 2009 8:54 pm
Edited on: July 12, 2009 10:43 pm
 

The Boozer-Millsap dilemma (UPDATE)

LAS VEGAS -- With their four-year, $32 million offer sheet for restricted free agent Paul Millsap, the Trail Blazers have woven a web that has ensnared bonus money, luxury-tax considerations, and the future of Carlos Boozer. Based on conversations with NBA front office sources, here's an attempt at untangling it:

Utah is currently about $3 million over the luxury tax. If they match the offer sheet for Millsap, they'd be close to $12 million over. A person familiar with Utah's situation said the team has accepted the fact that it is going to be a tax-paying team, but nobody expects the Jazz to venture that far into the land of the taxpayers. So something has to give.

In order to keep Millsap and get under the tax threshold of $69.9 million, Utah would have to trade Boozer (due to make $12.7 million next season) and take virtually no salary back. The only way to do that is to recruit a third team that is under the cap -- one that is willing to take on salary for the price of draft picks and cash.

At this point in the free-agent period, only two teams remain under the cap: Oklahoma City, which is getting plenty of calls from teams looking to recruit them as a trade partner, and Portland. The Blazers aren't interested in Boozer; they already have a starting power forward, LaMarcus Aldridge, and covet Millsap for his willingness to be a role player and contribute in ways that vary from the traditional post-up forward. Oklahoma City is the key.

UPDATE: The Thunder currently are about $11.5 million under the cap, but aren't eager to use that space by becoming a dumping ground for contracts shed in a Boozer deal, according to sources. Despite its acquisition of Zach Randolph, Memphis surprisingly has several million dollars in wiggle room -- and will get $5.2 million more on Friday, when their Dallas-assisted buyout of Jerry Stackhouse hits their books.

One interesting aspect of this tale is the fact that Utah is in better financial shape to match Millsap's signing bonus than was originally assumed. The maximum signing bonus that can be included in an offer sheet is 17.5 percent of the total contract -- in this case, $5.6 million. Many NBA teams would have trouble writing a check that big without borrowing the money, but Utah, according to NBA front office sources, isn't one of them. The team's only debt is a small amount owed on its arena, so paying Millsap a signing bonus would be "a non-event for them," according to one of the sources.

The signing bonus is prorated for the life of the deal for cap purposes to preserve the structure of year-to-year raises prescribed by the CBA. But Utah must front that money to Millsap in order to meet the exact requirements of matching the Portland offer.

UPDATE: If the Jazz decide to venture deep into tax territory by matching the Millsap offer, they would have a few months to find the best deal for Boozer. They wouldn't be locked into a tax level until the February trade deadline, when they might get better offers from teams eager to clear 2010-11 cap space by acquiring Boozer's expiring contract. But their leverage also might diminish because teams would know they were desperate to shed tax money. 

From the Blazers' standpoint, it's not clear what their options would be if Utah matched the offer sheet. Portland has between $7.7 million and $9 million in cap space, which was preserved when Hedo Turkoglu backed out of his verbal agreement and signed with the Raptors. If the Blazers don't use that money this season, it won't be available next summer because they will have to use it to sign Brandon Roy and Aldridge to extensions.

Confused? Hopefully less so than before you started reading.

Posted on: June 29, 2009 11:52 pm
 

Boozer's decision

A few months ago, Jazz forward Carlos Boozer was so convinced he would opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent that he proclaimed, "I'm opting out, no matter what. I'm going to get a raise regardless."

Things change.

Less than 18 hours before Tuesday's deadline for players with early termination clauses or player options to notify teams of their intentions, there has been no word from Boozer's camp on whether he will choose to hit the unrestricted free-agent market at midnight Wednesday. One sticking point could be the part about Boozer believing he would "get a raise regardless." Due to make $12.7 million next season in the final year of his deal, Boozer may be stuck in the wrong free-agent class.

He's a 2010 free agent trapped in a 2009 free agent's body.

Only a handful of teams have enough cap space to sign a max player, the Pistons being chief among them. According to sources, the Pistons are expected to reach out to Boozer, Hedo Turkoglu, and Ben Gordon when the negotiating period begins. Oklahoma City and Memphis also are flush with cap room, but neither team is expected to make a big splash this summer. So does Boozer want to walk away from $12.7 million based on one team making it worth his while?

An Eastern Conference executive said Monday night it's feasible that Boozer backtracks on his opt-out guarantee, picks up his player option for next season, and makes another run at free agency in 2010, when numerous teams will have money to spend.

"That wouldn't be the least bit surprising," the executive said.

Boozer's agent, Rob Pelinka, did not return a call seeking comment Monday. Pelinka has another, more famous client in the same position as Boozer: the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, who is widely expected to terminate his contract with the intention of re-upping with L.A. But Bryant's situation is more complicated -- isn't it always? -- because he can make the Lakers sweat while they try to re-sign free agents Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom and while Phil Jackson decides whether to return for the final year of his contract.
 

 
 
 
 
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