Tag:Magic
Posted on: July 23, 2010 1:10 pm
 

Monty wants to hear directly from Paul

The next step in the drama surrounding All-Star point guard Chris Paul will happen Monday, when he will meet with New Orleans officials and decide whether to push his angst to the next level by formally -- and in person -- requesting to be traded.

Hornets coach Monty Williams, for one, wants to hear those words straight from his point guard's mouth before drawing any conclusions about their future together.

"We'll sit down with Chris on Monday and see what happens," Williams told CBSSports.com by phone Friday. "I'm as eager as anybody to see where this goes."

It is a critical time for Williams, who is only in his second month on the job yet already is facing a crisis that could affect the franchise for years. His key ally in Monday's sitdown with Paul, new GM Dell Demps, has only been on the job for 48 hours. Their goal will be to talk Paul out of his desire to be traded, which was first reported Wednesday by CBSSports.com .

"This has become a national story, and it's not a story," Williams said. "Nothing has happened yet."

On Monday, it will -- one way or another. As CBSSports.com reported Wednesday, Paul has decided he wants to be traded and has asked his new agent, Leon Rose, to inform New Orleans management that he prefers to be dealt to the Knicks, Magic or Lakers. Other teams have joined the mix since then, with sources saying that the Mavericks and Trail Blazers have been the most aggressive in their pursuit.

"Other teams are jockeying to get in the mix," said one person familiar with the league-wide pursuit of one of the most gifted point guards in the league.

Paul's desire, according to a person familiar with his strategy, is to follow in LeBron James' footsteps by joining forces with one or more elite players. While the Lakers are viewed as a long-shot scenario, the Magic and Knicks both present tantalizing possibilities. In Orlando, Paul would team with Dwight Howard, who already has informed Magic management that he wants to play with Paul. In New York, Paul would play the role of a younger, higher-octane Steve Nash by pairing with Amar'e Stoudemire in Mike D'Antoni's offense, which was invented for a point guard of Paul's exquisite gifts.

For starters, any team hoping to land Paul would have to take Emeka Okafor and his onerous contract, which pays him $53.2 million over the next four years. If New Orleans decided to entertain offers for Paul, the team also likely would insist on including James Posey, owed $13.4 million over the next two years. The Magic could offer Vince Carter, who has only $4 million of his $18.3 million guaranteed for the 2011-12 season, as well as draft picks. The Knicks don't have draft picks to offer, but since they're approximately $3 million under the cap, they could take back $3 million more salary than they send out in the deal -- a significant cost savings for the Hornets in addition to the $3 million cash the Knicks wouldn't think twice about adding to the deal. By acquiring Anthony Randolph and Kelenna Azubuike from Golden State in a sign-and-trade for David Lee, the Knicks also have young assets to pair with Danilo Gallinari and/or Wilson Chandler in a credible proposal for Paul.

Of course, if Paul escalates the trade request that has been made through intermediaries into a formal request Monday, the Hornets would be under no obligation to oblige him -- much less trade him to the team of his choice. Williams said the team's strategy for dealing with such a situation wouldn't be devised until after Monday's meeting.

Williams is putting up a brave front, and is genuinely looking forward to the chance to sell Paul on his vision for the team. But he and Demps, having stepped into a situation that was not their doing, also face the responsibility of reconciling the past year of turmoil in a way that makes Paul reconsider.

Those attending Monday's meeting for the Hornets will be Demps, Williams and team president Hugh Weber. It is not clear whether Paul will be joined by his new agent, Rose, who has not responded to calls from CBSSports.com to determine whether he is officially representing Paul after a 15-day waiting period following the end of his relationship with Octagon.

But one thing is clear: The job of selling Paul on the basketball reasons to stay will fall on the shoulders of Demps and Williams, who are dealing with a situation of this magnitude for the first time -- at least as the top decision-makers on an NBA team. The firing last week of experienced GM Jeff Bower -- and further, subsequent housecleaning in the front office -- have only made the organization more vulnerable at a time when Paul's impatience with the team's direction is at an all-time high.

After Bower was let go, the Hornets fired director of basketball administration Andy Loomis. Director of scouting Brian Hagen has survived the purge, but doesn't have a contract for next season, sources say.

As for Paul, Williams said he's texted back and forth with his point guard in advance of Monday's meeting. The Hornets' new coach sees the writing on the wall, but doesn't want to read what Paul or his representatives have to say -- he wants to hear it from him.

"All of this stuff has come out with no quotes from Chris and no quotes from us," Williams said. "... I just wish all this had been handled behind closed doors. This is not the way I like to operate, and I know this isn't the way that Chris likes to operate. We've communicated by text just to try to figure out where this stuff is coming from."

If by "stuff" he means smoke, then it's coming from the fire smoldering within Paul. On Monday, Williams will get a chance to put it out.



 




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: June 28, 2010 1:11 am
Edited on: June 28, 2010 12:39 pm
 

Howard chooses Fegan as new agent (UPDATE)

Two months after parting ways with his agent, Dwight Howard has chosen a new one – Dan Fegan, who also landed No. 1 pick John Wall this summer.

Howard, 24, is at a crossroads in his career as the Magic try to surround him with the right kind of talent to begin winning championships. He also won’t be a free agent until after a new – and likely owner-friendly – collective bargaining agreement is adopted. Fegan’s second significant score of the summer solidified him as “one of the most powerful agents out there,” one team executive said upon hearing of the Howard addition Sunday. Fegan also is a well-versed participant in the ongoing CBA negotiations that could dramatically affect Howard’s on-court earning potential. Unlike this summer’s crop of free agents, who can land one more massive pay day under the current CBA, Howard and other young stars face uncertainty as owners aim to take a substantial bite out of the salaries paid to the highest-earning players.

“Dwight wanted to be represented in the CBA talks,” a person close to the Magic center said.

But what Howard was really looking for was an out-of-the-box, full-service and long-term approach to on- and off-court marketing, according to a one of Howard’s close advisors. Fegan also is now backed by the international clout and deep pockets of the French media giant Lagardere, which recently bought Fegan’s powerful BEST agency and renamed it Lagardere Unlimited.

“Dwight is an iconic superstar with an authentic brand and global appeal,” Fegan told CBSSports.com. “Of course, our team is ecstatic that he chose us.”

Howard parted ways in April with agent Aaron Goodwin, who had represented the All-Star center since he was selected No. 1 overall by the Magic in 2004. While Howard has been criticized for failing to develop his offensive game and for lacking the killer instinct to lead his team to titles, there is no doubting his marketability. In fact, one person with close ties to Howard said he was swayed by Fegan’s vision for following a strategy similar to agent Lon Rosen’s long-range plan for Magic Johnson when he played for the Lakers. A significant portion of Johnson’s career earnings have come from business relationships that Rosen helped him establish in the prime of his career, and they continue to pay off to this day. Rosen, also at Lagardere, will be part of the team representing Howard.

“I just felt that the marketing and agent team at Lagardere Unlimited was a great fit for executing my overall business plan,” Howard said in a statement to CBSSports.com.


Posted on: June 5, 2010 5:23 pm
 

Source: Thibodeau accepts Bulls' offer


LOS ANGELES -- Tom Thibodeau has accepted an offer to become head coach of the Bulls, a person with close ties to the Celtics assistant confirmed to CBSSports.com Saturday.

The news, first reported by the Chicago Tribune, comes as Thibodeau is preparing for Game 2 of the NBA Finals with Boston trailing the Lakers 1-0.

Thibodeau, 50, architect of the Celtics defense that contained Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwight Howard during Boston's unexpected return to the Finals for the second time in three years, is not permitted to speak with the media due to team policy that muzzles assistant coaches. But the person with knowledge of the agreement called his decision to leave the Celtics for the opportunity to be the head coach in Chicago -- a marquee franchise with a solid roster and cap space to add a max free agent -- "a no-brainer."

No official announcement will come from either team during the Finals.


 

Posted on: May 24, 2010 6:44 pm
 

Kobe: Celtics' success no surprise

PHOENIX -- For the Lakers, talking about the Celtics is taboo, to say the least. Andrew Bynum tried it, and Phil Jackson accused him of a brain -- um -- malfunction. Lakers fans chanted, "We want Boston!" during Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, and Kobe Bryant chided them for being "disrespectful to the team that we're playing."

But discussing the Celtics' surprising blitz though the postseason -- evicting LeBron James from the second round and getting his coach fired, and now breezing to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals? That's fair game.

So Bryant was asked on the practice floor Monday how much Boston's ruthless dismantling of the Magic has surprised him.

"Honestly? Zero," Bryant said.

And the Cavs?

"I just thought it was great defense," Bryant said. "I just wasn’t surprised by it. You give them a series to prepare, and they're going to be prepared like you wouldn't believe. They're going to home in on things that you do and take those things away from you. And if you can't make adjustments ... throughout a series, you’re going to have problems."

Yes, even when the Celtics were struggling with a .500 record after Christmas, Bryant saw this coming.

"They started the season off the right way," he said. "Once they stepped back and let [Rajon] Rondo do what he does, that team started taking off. They're a great defensive team -- defense, rebounding, that’s how they punch their ticket. That’s how they go about doing it."

Just don't ask him about playing the Celtics. Not yet. And no more "We want Boston!" chants until this series is over.

"It makes no sense," Bryant said. "No sense."

That must be how the Suns feel trying to defend Bryant. In Game 1, they limited his supporting cast by not double-teaming him, and Bryant scored 40 points. In Game 2, they pressured him when he had the ball and Bryant dished out 13 assists. In Game 3, they played zone on nearly every possession in the second half, and Bryant hurt them both ways -- scoring 36 points and handing out 11 assists.

"You know Kobe’s going to score, there’s no doubt about that," Jason Richardson said. "He’s going to get his 30-plus points or whatever it is. But when he’s doing that, you don’t want him to have 10 or 11 assists because that means he’s getting people involved. We've got to figure out a way. Are we going to let him score or are we going to let him be a distributor? We've got to pick our poison, which one we want. Because you know that any given time he can score, so I don’t think we want him to be a distributor, too."

Suns coach Alvin Gentry has wrestled with how to defend Bryant and also how to combat the Lakers' size advantage. Bryant is going to do what he does, but the best strategy by far that the Suns have employed against L.A.'s front court was Amar'e Stoudemire's aggressiveness in taking the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line in Game 3. Did it work because he was able to get Bynum and Lamar Odom in foul trouble? Or did he get them in foul trouble because the strategy was working? That will be the next stylistic adjustment in a series that could still take a few more strategic twists and turns.

That, and how much zone the Suns want to play. It worked in the second half Sunday night because Bynum and Odom were limited by fouls and the Lakers weren't hitting from the perimeter; they uncharacteristically launched 32 attempts from 3-point range, making only nine.

"I like seeing it a lot when they don’t go in," Gentry said of the Lakers' trigger-happy night beyond the arc. "The zone is good when the shots are not going in. ... It also gave us an opportunity to win, and that’s the only thing that concerns me. I'll do anything. We’ll play any way if it helps us win."

That's one of many reasons why too much Boston talk from the Lakers wouldn't be a wise idea. There are still a few things for the defending champs to figure out between now and then.



Posted on: May 24, 2010 6:44 pm
 

Kobe: Celtics' success no surprise

PHOENIX -- For the Lakers, talking about the Celtics is taboo, to say the least. Andrew Bynum tried it, and Phil Jackson accused him of a brain -- um -- malfunction. Lakers fans chanted, "We want Boston!" during Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, and Kobe Bryant chided them for being "disrespectful to the team that we're playing."

But discussing the Celtics' surprising blitz though the postseason -- evicting LeBron James from the second round and getting his coach fired, and now breezing to a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals? That's fair game.

So Bryant was asked on the practice floor Monday how much Boston's ruthless dismantling of the Magic has surprised him.

"Honestly? Zero," Bryant said.

And the Cavs?

"I just thought it was great defense," Bryant said. "I just wasn’t surprised by it. You give them a series to prepare, and they're going to be prepared like you wouldn't believe. They're going to home in on things that you do and take those things away from you. And if you can't make adjustments ... throughout a series, you’re going to have problems."

Yes, even when the Celtics were struggling with a .500 record after Christmas, Bryant saw this coming.

"They started the season off the right way," he said. "Once they stepped back and let [Rajon] Rondo do what he does, that team started taking off. They're a great defensive team -- defense, rebounding, that’s how they punch their ticket. That’s how they go about doing it."

Just don't ask him about playing the Celtics. Not yet. And no more "We want Boston!" chants until this series is over.

"It makes no sense," Bryant said. "No sense."

That must be how the Suns feel trying to defend Bryant. In Game 1, they limited his supporting cast by not double-teaming him, and Bryant scored 40 points. In Game 2, they pressured him when he had the ball and Bryant dished out 13 assists. In Game 3, they played zone on nearly every possession in the second half, and Bryant hurt them both ways -- scoring 36 points and handing out 11 assists.

"You know Kobe’s going to score, there’s no doubt about that," Jason Richardson said. "He’s going to get his 30-plus points or whatever it is. But when he’s doing that, you don’t want him to have 10 or 11 assists because that means he’s getting people involved. We've got to figure out a way. Are we going to let him score or are we going to let him be a distributor? We've got to pick our poison, which one we want. Because you know that any given time he can score, so I don’t think we want him to be a distributor, too."

Suns coach Alvin Gentry has wrestled with how to defend Bryant and also how to combat the Lakers' size advantage. Bryant is going to do what he does, but the best strategy by far that the Suns have employed against L.A.'s front court was Amar'e Stoudemire's aggressiveness in taking the ball to the basket and getting to the foul line in Game 3. Did it work because he was able to get Bynum and Lamar Odom in foul trouble? Or did he get them in foul trouble because the strategy was working? That will be the next stylistic adjustment in a series that could still take a few more strategic twists and turns.

That, and how much zone the Suns want to play. It worked in the second half Sunday night because Bynum and Odom were limited by fouls and the Lakers weren't hitting from the perimeter; they uncharacteristically launched 32 attempts from 3-point range, making only nine.

"I like seeing it a lot when they don’t go in," Gentry said of the Lakers' trigger-happy night beyond the arc. "The zone is good when the shots are not going in. ... It also gave us an opportunity to win, and that’s the only thing that concerns me. I'll do anything. We’ll play any way if it helps us win."

That's one of many reasons why too much Boston talk from the Lakers wouldn't be a wise idea. There are still a few things for the defending champs to figure out between now and then.



Posted on: May 24, 2010 2:40 am
Edited on: June 5, 2010 2:16 pm
 

Cavs fire Brown; next up, LeBron (UPDATE)

The unraveling of the Cavaliers’ season came to its inevitable conclusion early Monday with a source confirming to CBSSports.com that coach Mike Brown has been fired.

Back-to-back 60-win seasons couldn’t save Brown from the backlash of another premature playoff ouster after the Cavs, with the best record in the league, were eliminated from the playoffs in six games by the Boston Celtics.

By firing Brown, the 2008-09 NBA coach of the year, by Sunday at midnight, the Cavs avoided his $4.5 million salary for next season becoming fully guaranteed. Since he was let go before the deadline, only half of Brown’s salary is guaranteed.

Brown, a strong defensive coach groomed in the successful Spurs organization, will immediately become a candidate for head coaching openings in New Orleans and Atlanta and perhaps elsewhere.

According to a second source familiar with the Cavs' strategy, Brown's ouster was the first -- and most important -- piece of the puzzle that had to be solved before Cleveland could proceed with its plan to persuade LeBron James to return to the Cavs once the free-agent negotiating period begins July 1. Recent reports have indicated that James recused himself from the decision on Brown, but decision makers in the organization were well aware that he was not pleased with the way the team failed to adjust to its opponent's style of play for the second straight postseason. Last season, it was Orlando foiling the Cavs' simplistic defensive rotations. This time, it was Boston shredding the Cavs' defense with Rajon Rondo's dribble penetration and mismatches on the interior, with Kevin Garnett exposing Antawn Jamison for the entire six-game series.

In a telling dose of doom for Brown after the Cavs' ouster in Game 6 of the conference semis, James was noncommittal about Brown and declined to come to his defense publicly when asked. Despite Brown's regular season success, it was only a matter of time before the playoff losses caught up to him. And in Cleveland, where an entire city is bracing for James' anticipated foray into unrestricted free agency, the regular season doesn't matter. Playoffs and championships do.

So with everyone from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to President Obama urging LeBron to weigh his chances of winning a title in another city, the process of sucking up to James begins anew. What coach would persuade him to stay? Or better yet, what coach and supporting cast would persuade him not to leave?

Despite the Cavs' best efforts to placate him with roster additions that have not worked -- Mo Williams, Shaquille O'Neal, Jamison -- there is a growing belief among those familiar with the situation that James is more open than ever to the possibility that he would be able to find a better supporting cast in Chicago. Several factors independent of the Cavs' playoff collapse have enhanced the Bulls' position. The possibility of playing with Derrick Rose, and the fact that the Bulls have left their coaching job vacant -- with James' buddy, John Calipari, lurking in the wings and with Phil Jackson's contractual situation with the Lakers still unresolved -- have conspired to make the Cavs' job of keeping him even harder.

Step one was firing Brown, whether LeBron was directly involved in the decision or not. The next set of dominoes will begin tumbling almost immediately, with Cleveland engaging in a coaching search and LeBron getting some clarity as to what he'd be returning to if he stayed in Cleveland.

Whether Brown deserved to be fired is hardly the issue. Given the expectations, and what was at stake for James' future, it's hard to argue with the decision. Under those circumstances, you can't bring a team with the best record in the league into the playoffs and lose as thoroughly as the Cavs did and expect to keep your job. All we know for sure, though, is that one shoe has dropped. The big ones -- the franchise-shaping ones -- are coming next.




 
 
 
 
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