Among the interesting tidbits floating around the D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev., this week involved the possibility of the Rockets pairing Dwight Howard with Deron Williams in Houston -- an arrangement that now seems farfetched if not impossible.
Remember that the thrust of the Nets' multiple attempts to acquire Howard in a trade two seasons ago was to team him up with Williams, who the franchise was trying to re-sign. Both players were on board with teaming up, but the Nets were never able to satisfy Orlando's trade demands. Howard, of course, wound up getting dealt to the Lakers and famously bolted LA for the Rockets as a free agent this past summer.
But the subject of a Dwight-Deron duo was broached again in recent weeks, with the Rockets and Nets briefly delving into the particulars of a deal that would've sent Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin to the Nets for Williams. It made sense on many levels. The Nets would've gotten an insurance policy at center for the often-injured Brook Lopez (who has since been injured again and is out for the year). The Rockets would've solved their own center problem, as Asik doesn't want to remain in Houston. They've been trying to get off the Lin contract, and the Nets are one team that wouldn't mind his $15 million balloon payment next season. All the better to stick it to the Knicks.
But the the idea never gained any traction and was shelved. Now, it's probably dead for good with Williams undergoing multiple injections in his chronically bad ankles this week.
In other news gathered from executives, agents and other sources in Reno this week:
• Speaking of the Rockets, powerful agent Arn Tellem remains hard at work trying to get Asik out of Houston, but the Turkish center's contract -- including a $15 million cash payment next season -- is a serious impediment. Tellem also is trying to get 2011 first-round pick Donatas Motiejunas out of Houston as well.
• The Lakers are combing the trade market for an athletic power forward who fits Mike D'Antoni's system, though it isn't clear how high they're aiming. If LA is looking for a premium player in return for Pau Gasol, league sources say Gasol's trade value has plummeted to the point where such a deal is unrealistic. Also, rival executives are skeptical that the Lakers would be willing to cut into future cap space, especially with an Eastern Conference executive telling CBSSports.com this week that "everyone knows" 2015 free agent Kevin Love wants to sign with LA.
• We've been predicting the Spurs' last hurrah for years, but this time it might really be the end of the road. The Spurs have been unusually aggressive trying to upgrade their roster in the trade market, a signal to rival execs that Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford realize this might be the final shot at a title with the triumvirate of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Duncan, 37, has a $10.4 million player option for next season, and Parker's future also has to be addressed; only $3.5 million of his $12.5 million for next season is guaranteed.
• After the Bulls sent Luol Deng to Cleveland in their first step toward a rebuild, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Kirk Hinrich have generated plenty of trade interest, league sources say. The Warriors inquired about Hinrich, whose hard-nosed play and expiring contract make him very attractive to a team looking for a finishing piece in the West. The Rockets, looking for more outside shooting, have focused on Dunleavy. The problem for both teams is that the Bulls bolstered their leverage in future trade discussions by getting under the luxury-tax line with the Deng deal. There's no financial incentive for Chicago to part with either player without getting a significant asset in return.
• The Knicks have found zero trade market for J.R. Smith, who was benched or Thursday night's 102-92 victory over Miami. Smith becomes trade eligible on Wednesday, giving New York a few days to mop up the latest controversy with their mercurial guard, who was fined $50,000 by the NBA this week for ignoring a league warning about trying to untie opponents' shoes.
• The Nuggets' self-imposed 48-hour window to trade disgruntled point guard Andre Miller after his public argument with coach Brian Shaw came and went without a deal. Discussions with Sacramento about several possible scenarios -- including two deals that would've involved Marcus Thornton or Jimmer Fredette -- did not gain any traction.
• Team executives are encouraged by a growing perception that incoming commissioner Adam Silver will be more open minded than his predecessor, David Stern, who will hand the reins to Silver on Feb. 1. Though there's little consensus on an idea floated to replace the draft lottery with a "wheel" concept that would lock in the draft order regardless of record, executives view the proposal as a sign of Silver's flexibility and willingness to buck conventional wisdom.
Optimism about Silver's willingness to listen to ideas is so widespread that one longtime exec mentioned a bold idea that is starting to make the rounds in front-office circles: a midseason, single-elimination tournament involving the four teams with the best records at the All-Star break. The games wouldn't count in the regular season standings, but would serve as a much-needed entertainment boost as the league tries to ratchet up interest for the second half. The concept hasn't made it beyond casual conversation, nor has another idea that's gaining traction among front-office types: filling the 16-team playoff bracket with the best 16 teams regardless of conference. With every NBA team flying charter instead of commercial, the potential inconvenience of first-round series pitting Eastern vs. Western conference teams would be minimized. A new playoff format also would guard against this season's preponderance of playoff-worthy teams residing in the West. But even with a more open-minded commissioner, such drastic changes are a long way from becoming reality.