TRADE WINDS: Knicks, Nets Fire Shots in Battle for N.Y.

February 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Features, NBA, Rumours

MADISON SQUARES
The Trade:
DENVER sends Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, Anthony Carter, Sheldon Williams and Renaldo Balkman to New York. They also land and send Minnesota Timberwolves guard Corey Brewer to New York. NEW YORK sends Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Raymond Felton and cash to Denver along with two second-round draft picks as well as a 2014 first-rounder. They also send Anthony Randolph, Eddy Curry and cash to Minnesota. MINNESOTA sends Brewer (who is moved on to New York) and Kosta Koufos to Denver for a future second-rounder.

The long-awaited pairing of Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony in New York came at a hefty price for the Knicks but they will be fine. They are better even without Felton, Chandler, Gallinari and Mozgov who now end up in Denver as part of the big question mark hanging only a little less brightly over that franchise. The Knicks will have cash to make another superstar free agent run in 2012 if required (when Billups is off the books), likely for New Orleans Hornets free agent to-be Chris Paul. Hanging on to rookie Landry Fields was nice and Brewer is a serviceable reserve that can do well in head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. The Knicks are the winners here because they got the best player in the deal with Anthony.

So the Melodrama is over but has claimed its share of victims. How could it not? Felton was hurt if not surprised by the trade. His own resurgence coincided with the Knicks’ and with Ty Lawson billed as the future in Denver Felton has once again been left to fight for his respect. Knicks owner James Dolan was so bent on completing this pact he reportedly consulted heavily with friend, ex-Knicks GM and current NCAA coach Isiah Thomas during negotiations. Thomas has refused to confirm this but given the surly nature behind team president Donnie Walsh’s response when he was asked about Thomas’ influence.

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“I could care less,” Walsh told the press during his presser on Tuesday. He added that he had not considered his own future though there is a team option that must be activated by April 30 if the team wishes to retain his services, a self-described consulting gig. Denver should recover from the circus it became during the Melodrama but that has always been the vibe in media mafia New York and though it has been churning at an eclipsing pace during the drawn out negotiations that is nothing compared to what’s to come. Seven months of premature hype has elevated this pairing to Miami Heat-like proportions, which it is not.

If Thomas has indeed been allowed a voice in this process then it will serve as minor justification for Dolan bringing him back, probably around the time the Knicks get very good. Make no mistake, Thomas is only brought back in some capacity – as he almost was last summer when the Knicks began their superstar searches – if the deal is working out extremely well. Then he will be reintroduced as one of the architects of the modern Knicks’ success, which even in the present has got to irk Walsh, who once hired and fired Thomas as head coach of his Indiana Pacers, a team he ran for over 20 years.

Alas, the nature of the beast in N.Y. is to build and destroy and the media and fans will ride the fence that divides them until the championship or bust identity once again prevails with the club. Acquiring Anthony and Stoudemire in the same year has made that a certainty, just as it has Walsh’s impending exit.

PROKHOROV’S PROMISE
The Trades:
1. NEW JERSEY sends Derrick Favors, Devin Harris to Utah along with two first-round draft picks and cash. UTAH sends Deron Williams to New Jersey Nets.

2. NEW JERSEY sends Troy Murphy to the Golden State Warriors. WARRIORS send Dan Gadzuric and Brandon Wright to Nets.

After a year of gearing up, pitching, bowing out and teasing then ultimately abandoning his pursuit for the tunnel-visioned Carmelo Anthony New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov shocked and awed the basketball world by working out a deal that landed him arguably the best point guard in the NBA. Deron Williams, who was virtually a lock to leave the Utah Jazz after this season, has been traded to the Nets just a week after taking the brunt of the blame for the exit of legendary head coach Jerry Sloan. Having lost his running mate Carlos Boozer to the Chicago Bulls last summer Williams would have been hard to sell on the future of the Jazz who will undergo their first change of culture since the late 1980’s.

Sloan loomed that high over basketball in Utah. Williams was supposed to take his place. The organization essentially chose Williams over Sloan even after giving the coach an extension a week before he walked out and more than a year before they could offer Williams an extension. The Nets will take on that headache now, a headache the Jazz did not want after seeing how the Carmelo Anthony situation unfolded, which still paled in comparison to the LeBron James/Chris Bosh drama of last summer. Many fans who believed that Williams was mostly responsible for Sloan’s retirement have tuned on him and there was never going to be a smooth transition between eras. It appears as though the conservative Jazz shied away from that task too.

By landing Williams on the day Anthony was to hold a press conference in New York celebrating his arrival Prokhorov, who last summer rented a massive Manhattan advertising spot across from Madison Square Gardens that featured his face along with New York rapper and minority owner Jay-Z, continues to declare war on the Knicks. From the day he took over the Nets franchise last May Prokhorov has worn no disguise in challenging the Knicks’ supremacy over basketball in the region. The Nets are scheduled to move to Brooklyn inside of two years and his lead up battle will turn into a quick rivalry once his on-court product improves. The addition of Williams has jump-started that effort.

It also means that Prokhorov has delivered on his promise of securing a superstar talent to build around. With his both his interest and hopes waned in the Anthony situation, credit Prokhorov and GM Billy King – whose friendship with Jazz GM Kevin O’Connor was critical to the deal – for moving on quickly and securing a player just as good as the one that got away. Nets fans both present and future should rejoice in the fact that they appear to have the richest single owner in the NBA willing to spend and deliver on promises. They can only hope he promises and delivers to ink Williams to an extension after next season. His other promise, the one that has the Nets winning an NBA title in the next four years, depends on it.

EASTERN CONFERENCE BOOST
Forget that the entire Eastern Conference got a competitive boost this February with trades the brought Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams to New York State. More specifically the Atlantic Division has powered up. With Anthony finally traded from the Denver Nuggets – signed and sealed to pair with last summer’s biggest Western Conference defect Amar’e Stoudemire – and the Williams’ trade from the Utah Jazz to couple with Brook Lopez and owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s deep pockets in New Jersey now official, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers (whose window reopened slightly with a surprise 27-29 record) are forced to play more urgent basketball. The only team in the division truly treading water today is the Toronto Raptors who are banking huge on reluctant team leader Andrea Bargnani and improved sophomore DeMar DeRozan to right the ship. The Raptors are one of only four teams in the east without a maximum contract guy on board or a bonafide future ace in the hole (you’re not counting max-ish guys Rip Hamilton and Antawn Jamison still are you?). The others? The Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons and Charlotte Bobcats. Only the Bobcats are playing out of the bottom five in the east and they escaped only after firing head coach Larry Brown as their major move.

The Raptors seem like the biggest losers today or it might just be the city of Toronto itself. The NHL’s Maple Leafs suck and the Blue Jays of Major League baseball have been stuck in a no-win situation for years trying to keep up with the free-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox in the AL’s East Division. Without an NFL football team to ride that league’s “any given Sunday” mantra the Raptors were the real competitive hope. Teams will flock to Jersey and Boston as long as young All-Star point guards Williams and Rajon Rondo reside and the Big Apple is enough of an attraction itself, never mind the presence of an all-star combo. Philadelphia’s winning history plays a part and their young supporting cast is ahead of the Raptors rebuild.

A lot of pressure will be on general manager/team president Bryan Colangelo to figure out a new winning formula in the T-dot. When speaking with the media Wednesday night he said the Raptors would continue to “grow organically” meaning in-house development and draft prowess must improve. He did swing a deal with the Chicago Bulls Wednesday for small forward James Johnson who will get an honest look with the squad. Still, with the team still reeling from the departure of Chris Bosh and a 16-year history of striking out big on the free agent market the philosophy will be a tall, tall order to fill and execute in time to be competitive in the near future. Word around Raptorland last week was that extension talk was hanging in the air for Colangelo, who called the topic “unresolved”. If the offer materializes and he signs it patience won’t be as readily available as it was last season when he allowed Bosh to slip through his fingers, teaching the Nuggets and Jazz a lesson they clearly learned quite well from.

NBA TAKE 5: Yao Ready or Not?

July 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Rumours

OPEN ENDED – With the Matt Barnes deal teetering the Toronto Raptors have had a string of premature leakage of information from their involved parties. While many media had gotten wind of the Barnes to Toronto deal early yesterday – even before Barnes tweeted that he was indeed coming to Toronto – the deal has hit a salary cap snag that the two sides are committed to working out. In order for Barnes to secure a reported 2-year $9-$10M deal for the Raptors he would first have to sign with the Magic who would then trade him to Toronto for a portion of Toronto’s traded player exemption and perhaps player fodder. Problem there is that the Magic are a luxury tax paying team and simply don’t have the spare change to do a deal for Barnes. Also, such a deal would need to be at least three-years in length and while only the first year needs to be guaranteed, it still leaves a lot of numbers crunching and cap flexing to make something work. If you recall it was early July when Charlotte Bobcats center Tyson Chandler told media that he had been traded to the Raptors, only for his general manager Michael Jordan to back out of the deal a day later, sending him to the Dallas Mavericks in a separate deal shortly after. Barnes was also courted by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. With the Heat having little left to spend the Cavs and Lakers are the two teams on the front burner should the Raptors deal die. Neither offer will be as sweet financially and only one – Los Angeles – puts him in a title-run situation. That Barnes was willing to forgo another shot at a title to take the payday in Toronto speaks to where his mind is. The Raptors had the biggest offer for Barnes by a wide margin and at 30 years of age with a history of playing for cheap the 7-year (and seven-team) veteran is look to make up for lost wages.

BUCKSHOTS – SWAY Sports handed out its “Balls of the Year” award early this season, like right after the Bucks signed/acquired Corey Maggette, Chris-Douglas Roberts and Drew Gooden to add to their surprisingly successful core group of 2010. With center Andrew Bogut on the mend in Australia and Brandon Jennings expected to build on a great rookie season the team added some quality role players to surround their on-the-cusp-of-stardom duo. Grizzled head coach Scott Skiles has his fingerprints all over the new additions but there are some in-house blessings as well. Swingman Carlos Delfino had a deceptively successful season in Milwaukee and resigning guard John Salmons to a long-term contract gives them a shot at creating an All-Star caliber backcourt. Of course that may or may not include Michael Redd who will be trying to comeback from yet another knee injury that cost him most of last season. At the very least he is an ending contract that can be parlayed into a quality piece mid-season should the Bucks do the expected and vault themselves into eastern conference contention. Draft pick Larry Sanders out of Virginia Commonwealth had a good summer league showing and along with Luc Mbah a Moute represents young hustle in the frontcourt. There are risks with this bunch however, and most of it is mental. Can Maggette shake the horror of being a focal part of so many losing teams after eight seasons Los Angeles with the Clippers and another two with the Golden State Warriors? A single playoff appearance in 11 years? Some in the New Jersey Nets organization considered Douglas-Roberts a locker room cancer while others have praised his competitiveness. Douglas took the losing and criticism hard last season in Jersey and will need to wipe his own slate clean. Gooden has long been a mystifying force during his 11-team, 8-year NBA career. Over that span he has recorded 11.9 points, 7.9 rebounds and 47% field goal shooting over 580 regular season games but the impact of those numbers is sometimes lost behind his tendency to disappear for key stretches. If the newbies can exercise some of their demons with Skiles’ help, don’t count on the Bucks doing too much of that next season.

‘MELO AND MANHATTEN– Time for our semi-regular rant about the future of the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Net. So now, apparently new Knicks hope Amar’e Stoudemire has been in the ear of New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul and Denver Nuggets franchise guy Carmelo Anthony about joining him in the Zoo sometime, ANYTIME, soon. If you’ve been listening to this right here you would know that the idea has not been scoffed at in these parts, especially the ditty about Anthony, though I’m not as sold as him going to the Knicks over the Nets. I do hear (repeatedly) that Anthony is eventually New York bound, under contract with the Nuggets or not, and that an eventual push for a move/trade by his camp is inevitable. The thinking here is that it will lean more towards Brooklyn and their new beginning, which should coincide with Anthony’s own Denver ending when he realizes how old his team suddenly got and bolts. With both the Knicks and Nets coming out of the biggest free agent period of all-time without one of the household names they were aiming for, Anthony is – and always has been – a risky plan B. He is a seriously talented and marketable star that played his lone college season out of Syracuse University in New York, not unlike their second-round draft pick this past June Andy Rautins. Nothing is a given in this big bad NBA world with player/team/organization situations changing almost daily, but if you were asking for a call to be made from the cheap seats, this would be it.

DIESEL RUNNING LOW – Once upon a time Shaquille O’Neal was the biggest commodity in the NBA. A few years ago there weren’t many GM’s who would have passed on a chance to employ the hall of fame big man. Today O’Neal has become a gun for hire, and will be suiting up for his fourth team in four years whenever he decides on a destination, still said to be the interested Atlanta Hawks. In a perfect world O’Neal is hoping his final year in the NBA will be with his hometown Nets. Seeing has how he wants to play for three more seasons and the Nets should be in their new Brooklyn digs by then, playing in Jersey might not be the actual priority. Having Shaq help usher in the Brooklyn Nets in 2012 might be. After squeezing out one final All-Star appearance two seasons ago with the Phoenix Suns O’Neal’s superstar days truly seem behind him now, his contributions reduced to that of back up centre, mentor and media punch-liner. His ever-changing address is a reality check that doesn’t seem lost on the Big Journeyman either. Instead, O’Neal seems intent on playing the part with never before seen gusto and the opinion at this newsstand is that despite the declining skill and influence. the big fella represents everything good about basketball, and has the tricks, trades and experience to improve any team’s chances in the win/loss column. Of course in most people’s eyes that isn’t worth the $5.8M mid-level O’Neal is seeking which would have to include a sign-and-trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Without it O’Neal shouldn’t expect much more than a $2M per year offer from a limited pool of teams. Just over a year ago O’Neal was coming of a contract that paid him $21M in the last year of the deal.

HOLY COW, YAO! – Reports suggest that Yao Ming’s injured foot may not be ready for October training camp. The Houston Rockets were rebuffed by their list of preferable free agents and the uncertainty surrounding Yao’s return seems to have played a part. Kevin Martin, Louis Scola, Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza represent a good core but without Yao Ming they might as well be the supporting cast of the Cosby show; not much of anything without its star. Funny thing about this story is that before the free agency process began Rockets GM Daryl Morey and his crew used Yao’s ‘confirmed’ return as a selling point to would-be free agents they were chasing this summer, including top target Chris Bosh. Morey has since denied a story first published in the Racine Journal-Times suggesting Yao could miss as much as two months to start the 2010-11 season. Because of their limited salary cap space the Rockets could not offer a maximum contract outright to any of the big names but Yao’s presence was being depended on to make up some of the difference. Because of Yao many of his teammates have entered into lucrative endorsement deals in China due to the popularity of the Rockets in that country. With his immediate future in jeopardy so too are those spoils for potential free agents, which may explain why the Rockets have spent much of this summer resigning their own guys, with special attention to the frontcourt, rather than making a big splash on the free agent front. The bruising Scola is newly minted with a 5-year, $47M pact and the club just announced the signing of veteran center Brad Miller to a 3-year, $15M agreement. Guard Kyle Lowry had signed an offer sheet with the Cavaliers for $23M but the Rockets matched it shortly after. Yes, the added beef is insurance for Yao’s reconstructed left foot and the injury is part of the reason he decided not to opt out of the final year of his 5-year contract that pays him over $17M for the 2010-11 season. Clearly the Rockets free agency advances seem to have been hurt by the doubt surrounding the rehabilitation of Yao’s foot.

Turkoglu Out As Raps Remodel

July 12, 2010 by  
Filed under Rumours

It may not qualify as a complete blow-up but in the aftermath of Chris Bosh’s departure the Toronto Raptors have been one of the most active teams in the NBA. After finally accomplishing a sign and trade scenario for Bosh this past weekend – ensuring that they received solid return for their former star – general manager Bryan Colangelo jumped out of that complicated deal and into another.

Reports have surfaced detailing an intricate three-team deal the Raptors have on the go. The first peg is the long awaited removal of forward Hedo Turkoglu who is on his way to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for point guard Leandro Barbosa and young forward Dwyane Jones. The deal comes to light one night after the Raptors summer league entry smoked the Suns 103-69 in Las Vegas on Saturday.

The second part of that trade is said to include the Charlotte Bobcats and would send point guard Jose Calderon and forward Reggie Evans (who said goodbye to Toronto via twitter) to the Bobcats in exchange for swingman Boris Diaw and center Tyson Chandler. Initially, reports had part of the Raptors’ $14.5M traded player exception acquired (TPE) in the Bosh-to-Miami transaction headed to the Bobcats as well but as of early Monday afternoon that could not be confirmed. A three-team transaction as opposed to a two-teamer would make the inclusion of a TPE less likely.

Trading Turkoglu became a must after he spouted off in his native Turkey last month. In a television interview he stated that he preferred not return to the Raptors after injuries, personal issues and fatigue marred his 2009-10 season. He showed up to training camp out of shape in October and his game never really lifted off after the team gave him permission sit out the first few sessions. Turkoglu averaged a disappointing 11.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists over the course of 74 games but really drew the ire of fans and management during a mid-season fiasco. After checking himself at the halftime mark a game versus the Utah Jazz due to a stomach virus then missing the following game – a home loss to the Denver Nuggets – Turkoglu was spotted on the town at a local club and restaurant. Subsequently he was fined and benched by the team and never seemed comfortable with the organization after that.

Despite his knack for taking care of the ball and hitting record free throws, nothing else about Calderon’s game seemed to fit with the team’s desire for creativity and dynamic punch from the backcourt. Since winning the starting job three seasons ago from the gone-and-forgotten T.J. Ford, Calderon’s game has plateaued. With concerns about his defense mounting and with the league’s point guards getting stronger and faster Calderon’s role wasn’t always clearly defined. He has had some debilitating injuries over the past two seasons, including a nagging hamstring issue, but far too often the team had to rely on his back ups to perform. Two years ago it was the disastrous Roko Ukic and last season Jarrett Jack ate up huge minutes as quarterback, even carrying the starting role for a large stretch of the season.

Combined Turkoglu and Calderon were owed $61 142 978 over the next three seasons with Turkoglu owning a player option for just over $12M in 2013, the final year of his pact.

If the deal follows as expected Colangelo will have put in some quality work here by getting back Barbosa’s $14M owed over the next two seasons (including a player option in 2011). Diaw is owed $18M over the last two years of his current deal while Chandler is entering the final year of his contract at $12.75M wage in 2010-11. Even if the additions don’t represent a huge upgrade in talent it leaves the team with some continued flexibility while moving through the post-Bosh era without pause and rids the company of two wholly unwanted contracts in return.

Barbosa has fallen out of favor in Phoenix for different reasons. Over the past four seasons his production and impact has been on the decline as he battled with injuries and the addition of competing talent, namely Goran Dragic. Dragic’s performance this season and his contributions in the playoffs this past June left him as the clear back up for starting point guard Steve Nash. Former Suns utility man Diaw is another Colangelo favorite who has experienced some slippage in his game after concerns about his conditioning arose prior to last season. Still, Diaw remains a versatile defender with a nice touch when scoring and distributing. Along with Chandler he represents a noticeable upgrade in defense (on paper) and both are a viable option for offense around the basket. Chandler has had an injury-plagued career and has never played an entire season in the NBA. Over the past two campaigns spent with the Bobcats and New Orleans Hornets he has played in a total of 96 games. In 2007-08 the straight-outta-high-school big man averaged 11.8 points and 11.7 rebounds a contest for the Hornets in 79 games played and started.

With an offer-sheet signed by Denver Nuggets restricted free agent Linus Kleiza unmatched as yet, the five-year $32M deal awarded to Amir Johnson and Monday’s collection of role players beginning to fill out the early signs point to the Raptors improving despite the loss of Bosh and the absence of true star power. Of course, Colangelo has spent much of the last two summers performing the same act with little to show in terms of wins. Now the next decision comes with how to spend their $14.5 TPE, which is valid for one year. There are no big names left on the free agent market but plenty available through trade should the team look to land a star. Minnesota Center Al Jefferson could be had while Cleveland forward Antawn Jamison and Philadelphia guard Andre Iguodala are also believed to be on the market. With Colangelo facing another tough year and a re-sell of yet another new roster to fans, expect the ever-moving GM to make a splash with the cash.

NBA TAKE 5: Agents of Destiny

July 8, 2010 by  
Filed under Rumours

1. LEBRON JAMES
The Akron Don

So it was believed for some time that nothing would truly get underway in this free agency period until LeBron James made up his mind. Wrong. Teams have moved ahead with the suitors for LBJ’s services narrowed to the usual suspects – Cleveland, Chicago, New Jersey and Miami. The running is probably in that order today, though Miami presents a real nightmare for Cleveland who would benefit little from a sign-and-trade with the Heat. Chicago does have pieces to move and has provided a little extra oomph in their pitch, even adding a soft talk from President Barack Obama. Chicagoan Obama is a basketball fan and can only help James in his bid to take over the world, which is exactly what he’s done in the NBA… optically anyway.

Meanwhile LeBron has stayed close to his headquarters in Akron, Ohio. The Cavs still have the inside edge and when people talk about where LeBron is going it should be held in the context of “if” he leaves Cleveland. After all, this time and through all the rumors and speculation and web of mixed messages the real question still remains as unclear as it’s been for two years. Will he? James, in keeping with his summer circus act, has planned a one-hour ESPN special on Thursday to announce his decision. Would he dump his beloved city on live TV?

It is an even bet these days and he has stated it won’t take him too long to confirm his intentions after July 8 when free agents officially sign their pacts. Cap-spending NBA teams are looking to pick up two big names and now that Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are signed players like Richard Jefferson, Josh Howard, and Mike Miller – guys taking pay cuts from their last deals – will be circling. The Heat has the jump on any LeBron destination with their new duo in tact, though word is they will still wait to see if James joins them in Florida. Doubtful. The New York Knicks with their addition of Amar’e Stoudemire and money to burn are intriguing again, and if James isn’t in a Miami/New York state of mind the New Jersey Nets and his good friend Jay-Z are also a viable option.

Waiting on James has its price though, with many of the names already finding homes (Steve Blake was a great Lakers pick up – would have helped any team). Still, there will be enough guys that can be persuaded to do the Marquis Daniels and take less to sign on with a favorite but Cleveland, for all its past efforts, haven’t been able to get enough of those guys before. What will change if James stays? With a new GM and a new head coach and a newly constructed roster? Unlikely, meaning James is likely New York, New Jersey or Miami bound.

It is important to remember however, that most of the big deals that have been signed so far this summer – John Salmons, Rudy Gay, Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Kevin Durant to name a few- have all been from players resigning or extending with their old teams. There hasn’t been the mass exodus many expected, particularly with a looming league lockout, and guys looking for quick security going forward. Who would have thought that at this point, it would be LeBron James, the biggest name in free agency, still stuck between a lone-star rebuild in Cleveland and a new beginning of his choosing… anywhere.

2. MIAMI HEAT
Team Wade

So the NBA’s version of the mad hatter, Heat GM Pat Riley is set to made his decadent run at a championship. Lakers in the 80’s, New York in the 90’s, Miami in the 00’s and now Miami again in the 10’s. Kinda makes you wish he were doing this in Texas so he could have all the time zones covered, but we digress. Wouldn’t want to do that with Riley playing with a ton of cap space and likely to fly down from his GM’s office and coach the party. That selling point means current head coach Eric Spoelstra is out, a must if Riley wanted a shot at landing LeBron James, Chris Bosh or both.

For now Bosh has been secured with Riley even convincing the 6-10 power forward to take a five-year deal and sign with the Heat outright as opposed to working in a sixth year through a sign-and-trade deal with the Toronto Raptors. The point is that with both Dwyane Wade and Bosh on board as max players, the Heat will need all the money they can to put together a quality supporting staff. Leaving the Toronto Raptors with nothing in return won’t make Bosh any new friends in the T-dot but what’s the trade off?

Clearly Bosh was unimpressed by Raptors management who are a far cry from the team upstairs in Miami. After Phil Jackson Riley might be the next best thing going along with Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. That is huge for a player that has worked for three different regimes and three head coaches during his seven seasons in T.O. Stability.

Riley’s grand plan most certainly have to include another team or two, quite possibly the Cleveland Cavaliers should James bolt but the Raptors weren’t overly receptive to any Miami deal. In the end it didn’t matter and if the Heat do in fact hold on to Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers a solid base exists to work from.

In the end, the key to this whole process has been Wade, who has been in the air of Bosh and to a lesser extent James since his Heat took a slide during his injury plagued season of two years ago. Wade has what the others have never; a tried and tested GM/coach in the wings in Riley and a championship ring to prove that the game plan works. His recruitment of Bosh has been steady and his influence over other NBA players should not be ignored. If you are looking for the most powerful player in this special free agent season, he’s the one that had his homework done a long time ago, and it showed.

3. NEW JERSEY NETS
The Legend and the Billionaire

The Nets aren’t just out to play the “only way is up” card after registering just 12 wins last season. Instead they’ve been busy throwing, er… trading out the supporting cast they had around building blocks Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. Gone are Yi Jianlian and the bad wrap bear Chris Douglas-Roberts. Expect others to follow as the Nets position themselves to go after everybody from A-list on down, and after LeBron James and the Miami Heat wield their power (separately I suspect), and the Chicago Bulls get at least a sniff of star power, the Nets will be the most attractive destination on the market.

Armed with a new billionaire owner in Mikhail Prokhorov and an increased company profile for rap mogul Jay-Z, the Nets also have their impending move to Brooklyn and its new mega development that figures to reinvigorate the Borough as selling points. Playing for New York without the Knicks baggage and a state of the art future not far away?

Who would say no to that?

If it’s not James it will be Carmelo Anthony next summer (yes, I’m convinced he’s New York bound). Prokhorov has been open about how he plans to spend – lavishly. With that kind of push from all sides of the business die a franchise player would be well served as a Brooklyn Net, and now the organization has an owner, partner and a team of planners and engineers that know it, believe it and spit it.

By all accounts the Nets have been super-impressive in their “come-to-Jesus” recruiting but it did not prevent Prokhorov from stating publicly that he believes that Wade and Bosh will play together in Miami this upcoming season. Dead on. With the big names resigning with old squads and the Wade/Bosh deal all but official it seems like the Nets are losing ground though. Chicago recently agreed to terms with Carlos Boozer as a five-year, $75M consolation prize. Boozer’s top choice was the Heat but New Jersey was thought to be a close second. Ouch! With all the good coming the Nets way in two years it still leaves two seasons of playing in Jersey. It may not be the Meadowlands but it will still be sparse crowds and low lights. As good as the future sounds, most players seem intent on seeing to believe.

4. CHRIS BOSH
Where the Wind Blows

It’s all but inked – Chris Bosh will join Dwyane Wade in Miami this coming season, most likely on a five-year $90M deal that essentially leaves his former team out to dry. It isn’t that losing Bosh outright is the worst thing in the world for the Raptors but it does leave them without a trace of All-Star talent, devastating for a club that has been ripping apart their roster for the last two seasons trying to return to the playoffs. Ironically, that was the biggest reason Bosh bolted. A bunch of players under bad contracts that seemed more suffocating that freeing to Bosh’s All-Star game was a killer.

In Miami the opposite is true, with no bad contracts in place. Actually, outside of Bosh and Wade’s new maximum deals only Mario Chalmers and Michael Beasley’s rookie scale deals exist, meaning the ground-up building is just beginning. Alas, with the proven Pat Riley at the helm and a fascinating owner in place the process should give Bosh a lot more fun than he was having in Toronto. In the end Bosh essentially refused to deal with Raptors brass and GM Bryan Colangelo who can count losing Bosh for nothing as one of the greatest failures of his career if he is indeed left empty-handed.

The move was a good one for Bosh especially since, up until now, he has compared himself with the biggest names of his 2003 draft class. Problem there was that he had nothing on them. Wade, James and Anthony are all playoff tested, playoff winners and have played for cap-busting teams while Bosh did little with little. Now he has a chance to truly join the elite, where winning is the only ticket in.

5. RIPPLE EFFECT
American Muscle

No matter how the much-discussed free agent “summit” went down – through dinner, text, tweets or conference calls – it wasn’t likely to shed any new light for anybody. As complicated as the players and owners have tried to make this crazy free agent era the beef is really a simple cook.

Be the hunter or the hunted. The question that inspired this “summit” talk is more interesting. What if Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had gotten together when they were 25 years old? What if they had had the foresight to put away their egos and joined forces for ten years instead of five? What kind of legacy would they have left then, and how much more money could they have generated in the long term because of it?

Look at the combination of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest in Los Angeles. A team built to be champions for the next five years. Will a Cleveland Cavaliers team featuring LeBron James and a band of role players come close to that? Will Boston’s aging big three have a chance at dominance in the same way?

This is why the league’s superstars initially colluded, to avoid the strings of disappointment that haven’t even happened yet. When Garnett spoke loosely about the LeBron James free agency issue, speaking from experience when he stated that loyalty could be detrimental, he was talking to all the leagues stars and they noticed.

Hey, nobody made this much of a cry when Garnett, Pierce and Allen decided to team up because they had all “served” their sentences with a decade worth of flirtatious teams that could never get over the hump. Dues? Does living out your franchise player dreams for too long qualify as dues?

Call it evolution of the soul. The morphing of the modern athlete where just when ego and pride had seemed to hit an all-time high there was a scale back. A reality check that explained exactly why the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls and San Antonio Spurs have been so successful over the past 20 years. Abundant star-power. It’s the only way. and please, don’t cite me the Detroit Pistons of 2004 and the Houston Rockets of 1995. Sunshine and dog’s asses people…

NBA TAKE 5: The Jennings Effect

December 11, 2009 by  
Filed under NBA TAKE 5, Rumours

1. POISON IVEY?

Allen Iverson’s collision course with Philadelphia – again – was the one nobody saw coming – again. Now the only thing anybody knows is that this stay will be decidedly shorter. Just long enough to make the city of Philadelphia forget about what a bust Elton Brand has been and how this team, despite the presence of the serviceable Lou Williams, misses the days of Andre Miller already. Did they miss Iverson as much? All said, the obvious ploy here is the same as it was with the Memphis Grizzlies… A.I. is being brought in to sell tickets to the dwindling spectator numbers showing up to 76ers games. O.K., now that we are only the 43rd outlet to point out that fact we can move on to the other part of the equation which is that the 76ers, much like the Grizz, are not a very good team. The difference of course is that Philly still has a shot at being somewhat relevant in the eastern conference whereas Memphis looks to be on their annual course of becoming irrelevant in the west by December 15th. Don’t discount that as a big part of the reason Iverson never bothered to fulfill his obligations to the Grizz – it is much easier to come off the bench for a team with a predictor’s chance (don’t tell that to Detroit) than one synonymous with losing. Besides, the Grizzlies have their own version of A.I. in O.J. Mayo while the other A.I – as in Andre Iguadala – hasn’t exactly panned out in the franchise player department. Either has the power forward Iverson never had in Brand, who was already considered an off-center addition to the Sixers. Throw in Iverson and it’s a bag of tricks, one with no discernable payoff, unless you are including the bean counters in Philly who will be the biggest winners of this deal. Maybe Iverson wins too, able to avoid a Marbury-like fate and cherry-top it by bowing out in the town where it all started, the one where he is most loved. He played in 38 minutes in his Sixers debut after a month away from the game. Philly is the one place where he will always be given a hero’s welcome. That parade was supposed to come when he retired, when he entered the Hall of Fame as a Sixer or returned, through some other twist of fate, as a champion. Instead it comes at the tail end of a career that could only be prolonged by the city that made him famous. The real question is will they love the new Iverson in return? The proof will be in the ticket sales for a team that has relegated itself to second tier status on the big four sports scene in Philadelphia. Iverson may or may not be too involved in calling his own shots to truly see the motives of the organization but the most beautiful thing about him and, even with some of his speed and agility gone and some pride that is late in doing the same, what always shone through was his desire and ability to play basketball like it was life and death and especially when everything else seemed so uncertain.

2. BROWN DOING IT AGAIN

Don’t look now but the Charlotte Bobcats, in just their second season under project king Larry Brown, are for real. To those who follow L.B. his trademark is tackling nose-diving teams or those struggling to get to the next level. He is your over-the-top guy but his way comes with a lot of head banging and expectation. Check! Now for the result… The Bobcats currently sit in the seventh seed in the eastern conference, a position they are mostly unfamiliar with even in December. While they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league with an equally abysmal field goal percentage to boot, they only allow the opposition to score 90.6 a night, good for second best in the league. Their 43.7 field goal percentage allowed is good for fourth best in the L. They also outrebound opponents by 2.75 boards a contest, the fifth best differential among the 30 teams. Numbers don’t tell the whole story but for the Bobcats it represents entry into the next tier of competition after languishing at the bottom of the standings since their inception. The addition of Stephen Jackson adds another big playmaker to the distribution core of Raymond Felton, D.J. Augustin and Boris Diaw. With Jackson, Diaw, Gerald Wallace and Tyson Chandler together there is serious stopping power in Charlotte, and it is the biggest reason to believe that Brown is well on his way to pulling off another successful renovation. Add Flip Murray and suddenly the young bobbers are a group of seasoned veterans, and that’s half the battle isn’t it?

3. THE JENNINGS EFFECT

So now that Brandon Jennings has successfully circumvented the NBA’s ban on drafting players straight out of high school, will his chosen path be hailed as a viable alternative or the exception to the massive risk he took? Maybe it wasn’t a risk at all. Maybe Jennings just knew he was ready and bided his time in Europe and got paid and gained man-league experience that helped him make a seamless transition into the NBA. Maybe, no, be assured there will be others. And why not? While completely understanding the NBA’s stand on too-cool-for-school drafting – in which mostly unprepared teens are tempted early by the riches by the media, family, friends, agents, coaches, scouts, etc… when the reality is that 85 percent of them would be better off with some college burn – we are also down with anybody positioning themselves career-wise at any age to enter any job they are qualified to perform (dare we say that there are some among us better suited to entering the workforce than an institute of higher learning?). Basketball is a job and the straight-outta-high-school hopefuls are more aware of that fact than you probably think. That said, count on their being a healthy exodus of high school grads to Italy and Spain and Argentina and anywhere else that is less discriminatory than the NBA in regards to age. There will be pressure stifle it; with colleges just beginning to get back some talent after the NBA ended high school eligibility. The NBA itself won’t like to feel as though it’s been back-doored and the growing relationship between North American and European basketball bodies could be scarred in the process should the overseas leagues, desperate to bolster their product, promote and encourage the defections of America’s young basketball prodigies. Virtus Roma of the Italian League and its head coach Jasmin Repesa share credit in developing the explosive lefty guard and Jennings’ people were comfortable with the professional tutelage is there to be had in Europe. Tapping into that resource is now on every agent’s option list and it softens the blow to any teenager bent on bypassing college or going undrafted out of school. Does this re-inflate the balloon of dilution, miseducation and underdevelopment the NBA cited as justification to implement the age restriction in the first place? How could they ever justify penalizing straight-outta-high-school players for putting in their one-and-done work overseas instead and getting real paper for it? Jennings worked a deal that gave him a cool $1M over three years with a player out option after each season. The kid even signed an endorsement deal with Under Armour while he was there, putting himself on the radar as a talent to market. In a world shrinking under the network of an ever-expanding communication jungle, professional North American players begun their slow-trickle of a journey to overseas options long ago. Now that the door has been swung wide open for the kids, Jennings and his dealmaker Sonny Vaccaro can be charged with seriously changing the game.

4. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO…?

When Rodney Rogers, the respectable ex-Denver Nugget, was paralyzed in a dirt bike accident last winter there was an outpouring of affection and prayers and shock. There is an extra kick when an athlete takes a hit like this, a robbery of many of the faculties that make them famous and rich and adored by faithful fans of sport and culture. Rogers was harder to forget because even being financially set he continued to work in North Carolina for the public works department, simply because he loved to operate the heavy machinery. In fact, many of his co-workers didn’t even know just how well off Rogers was, or that he worked simply because it was his in his upbringing to contribute. To not stand still. Now at 37 he is paralyzed from the shoulders down after breaking his neck in the fall. The diagnosis of paralysis isn’t final and Rogers holds out hope that he will walk again and while there are many part of him that remain broke, his spirit isn’t one of them. Rogers played for seven NBA teams over 12 years after being drafted out of Wake Forest (where he was ACC player of the year) and captured a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2000.

5.THE ODEN DAYS

Greg Oden’s season-ending knee injury is a tragedy. Going down (or up) hard versus the Houston Rockets last week sealed it and all the players – Blazers and Rockets alike – stood up as he was wheeled away on a stretcher. Both teams shouted encouraging words, touches on the shoulders and bowed heads in remorse. Such was the impact of seeing one of the nicest kids in the NBA continue the only streak he’s managed to put together in the NBA; absences. Word up. Or down. Or across. From the day Oden appeared on basketball radars all across America much was made of his most obvious trait – his size. A man-child at 6-9 then 6-10 then 7 feet… his density, his rawness, his awkwardness, his limp, his back misalignment, his knees… You see that? The talk eventually got (and always gets) around to Oden’s physicality and its possible limitations, Oden even looks aged beyond his years, face hardened like an experienced cowboy, only he is just 21. He has been compared as much to Dwight Howard as he has to Benjamin Button. None of it ever stopped the Portland Trailblazer from dominating high school and college and it seemed this year, in his second official pro season, Oden was finally taking steps to doing the same in the NBA. Then another knee injury, another surgery, another season-ending nightmare. Alas, the only thing that has been able to stop Oden is a body that continues to betray him. In his lone season at Ohio State he suffered a s wrist injury that bit into his effectiveness, though he was still the Blazers’ first overall pick the following draft. Before playing a single game for the organization he blew out his knee and missed the entire 2007-08 schedule. His return in 2008 was watched by the basketball world with great anticipation. While Oden did good in averaging 8.9 points and seven rebounds over 61 games in helping lead the Blazers back to the playoffs, it was clear his development had been stalled, especially since he missed an additional 21 games that season. And now just a quarter way through the 2009-10 campaign Oden is out again with a broken kneecap and he will not be back for an entire year. Another 300 days or so until he might possibly be NBA fit when we will witness the third reset on a career that shows less promise with each restart. Not only does he follow in a long line of Blazers injury riddled including centers like Bill Walton and Sam Bowie, he has also come to live out what many unreasonably predicted at the outset of his NBA journey. Oden may not be built to last after all and given the glimpses of defensive prowess and commanding big man presence we’ve seen, the entire basketball nation is at a loss.

NBA TAKE 5 – West Looms as Distraction for Cavs

October 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Columns, NBA TAKE 5, Rumours

1. OUT WEST: Is the Delonte West mess in Cleveland going to be a distraction as the Cavaliers head into their all or nothing season? With Shaquille O’Neal, Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon brought in to go championship or bust the concern is real. West was one of the Cavs’ best players in the regular season and playoffs last year when he registered career-high numbers. After getting pinched with a guitar case of guns strapped to his back while riding his motorbike El Mariachi was an unexcused no-show during the first few days of training camp, returned and since then has taken yet another absence from the team. Not good.

 

West’s’ mood issues are well documented but he always seemed able to separate his off-court troubles from his on-court performance. The Cavaliers want to make sure that focus is still there and seem to be taking a kid gloves approach to the situation. West is a two-way player who handled the shooting guard spot nicely as the Cavs reached the 2009 NBA Final. In the summer the team brought in Parker, a savvy veteran guard with who could fill in for West as a starter if that’s what it comes to but if that happens, things will have gone wrong. As e showed in Toronto with the Raptors last season, Parker is no longer a big minute starter and was meant to be more of a compliment to West and a leader off the bench.

 

Officials expect West to rejoin the team with enough time to practice and open the season but nothing is for sure. With two years and nearly $9M remaining on his contract West could either become the sound investment he played like last season or a long-term albatross for a Cavaliers team as desperate to retain LeBron James beyond next summer as it is to win a championship, maybe more. It is unlikely the West situation drastically impacts the James mission but O’Neal and Ilgauskas are both likely gone next season, especially if the Cavs quest for a ring ends in disappointment. That means a forthcoming frontcourt overhaul that must be done well enough to compete with quality eastern frontcourts like the ones in Orlando, Boston, Toronto and even Chicago in the immediate future.

 

So every little bit counts in Cleveland, and while West has a legit health issue that he needs to deal with in his own unique way, basketball-wise the team will either be bolstered or blasted by the distraction. With James at the helm, don’t bet on the team being bristled and the added leadership of Shaq-Fu to help reserves like Parker, Moon and Anderson Varejao squeeze out an extra mile. Parker might have to as the coaching staff is reportedly pondering a move that would see West move to the bench and become a break-in-case-of-emergency starter should Parker not fill the bill.

 

2. YOU TWITS!: It isn’t like we didn’t see it coming. The new guidelines and restrictions regarding social networking sites and media for players in the NBA also extend to team officials and yes, your treasured media. We can still get at you during the games and in and around practice but our methods won’t be much different than they were before. The one thing these social media devices do well enough is make you accountable. Time stamps and proof-is-in-the-pudding real-time publishing means every word you say and when you say it is recorded, so really, the escape from accountability routes are the same as they have ever been for media with access. That is to say, there are none.

 

So the NBA dropped it like this. Players are banned from using cell phones, PDA’s and the like from 45 minutes before game time (when their time with the media ends) until 45 minutes after the game (usually when their time with the media is done). Teams like the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat are among the more proactive in enforcing their own additional rules regarding the social networking ban and many are expected to follow suit as the wall of communication between players and the public becomes thinner with each passing season. Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo was seen leaving his team’s practice court to use his blackberry this week (players and media must leave as well) and across the league personnel associated with NBA teams had to adjust to league and team guidelines.

 

So while we can still get at you with our latest and greatest there will be no more halftime tweets from Charlie Villanueva, who recently tweeted that he is in total agreement with the rules and that things had “gotten out of control”. No more immediate post-game updates from a player’s locker when the local media is at its busiest (which threatened to rob us from giving you the scoop first. Did you care?) but they are still able to interact through the Internet during the less-active pre-game media access period, so there is balance. That’s more forgiving than the recent NFL rule which puts a ban on social networking 90 minutes before game time until the end of media access following the game.

 

So what does it all mean? Not much, except to say that we “traditional” media have become just a little more relevant… again. That was fast!

 

3. LAST MEN STANDING: So you know like when the players on the bench stand up after a good play from a teammate out on the floor? Or when they stand until their team scores their first bucket of the game? Or even when they just take their time sitting down, talking to teammates, jawing referees or scoping pretty babes in the stands? Turns out the cats paying $1000 a pop for their 3-D courtside/bench side seats lodged enough complaints to the NBA that the natural reactions and habits of professional athletes was interfering with their game experience was enough to warrant a ban on excessive standing. Do you remember the days when fans weren’t allowed anywhere near the bench, let alone upside the huddle? Is there a ban on that fan to stay off of twitter lest he tweet the play coming out of the timeout?

 

Alas, at your friendly neighborhood NBA fans actually do have a say, well at least the ones spending $3000 for a night out at one of their venues. If they are ever again violated the offending player/stander can be fined. The main rule is no standing while the ball is in play, though there are minor exceptions. Players are permitted to stand to approach the scorer’s table and in reaction to a play on court but both actions must be followed by immediate declension into a seat of some sort. If there isn’t one immediately at hand the floor will do. No space? Here’s to hoping one bright player finds a seat on the lap of a big-spending courtside complainer. Including the spilled beer, it’ll be well worth the $1030 and then what’s there to complain about?

 

 

4. NO REFS(pect): The replacements officials in the NBA haven’t been getting a lot of love during the preseason and with talking heads and radio shows acting like they have a gag order on criticizing the officiating, it may seem like more of a non-issue to the casual eye. But these trained ones can tell you it didn’t take a lot of training to see that while the replacements have been good they are not great like their striking seniors. The proof is in the details and I’m should there are a thousand sites out there trying to offer up calculations and statistics comparing this preseason to last, to an average NBA game and so forth… not here. It doesn’t matter. The difference is palpable.

 

The NBA had the good sense to reserve a courtside seat for officials from the referee’s association to aid the scabs and act as a soundboard for questioning coaches. If Wednesday’s affair at the Air Canada Center was any indication, those courtside referees will have a busy time. Toronto Raptors head coach Jay Triano and Philadelphia 76ers bench boss Eddie Jordan constantly consulted with league director of officials Ronnie Nunn, who answered questions and concerns throughout the preseason match up. One referee was visibly upset at one point that the coaches had taken to reserving their questions of great concern to Nunn.

 

For whatever it is worth Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban loves the replacements, citing the welcomed absence of a star-system in relation to foul calling, a long-standing criticism of the NBA and its “Jordan-rules” stigma.

 

As long as the strike continues the coaches and players and referees will find a balance, and while most of these replacement situations usually yield one or two zebras that catch the eye and get promoted to the big leagues after the drama, in almost every other way the real professionals are missed. It’s been said here before and in many corners criticized, but you DO NOT want referees to call every game by the exact letter of the law. It sounds nice in theory but who wants a free throw contest to the finish line?

 

 

5. MISSING: MARBURY: Raise your hand if you miss Stephon Marbury? If you’ve even thought of him since his youtube meltdown this past summer when he declared that he was done with the NBA? We are curious as to what the show of hands would be for either/or in a 500-person room of diehard basketball fans.

 

By the end of this season the answer might be none. Zilch. Zero. Doughnut. Blanks. Because maybe the Boston Celtics get back to the NBA Final plus a healthy Kevin Garnett and less a reserve guard no longer sure of his place in the spotlight and struggling to relent his impressive but dusty high-powered game to something more subdued. Maybe the New York Knicks get back to the playoffs in Mike D’Antoni‘s second season as head coach. The same coach that pre-empted further Marbury drama by essentially banning the player from the team until he could be moved out of town. In fact, all of Marbury’s former teams are better off now than when he left them, save for the Minnesota Timberwolves and only because when Marbury left they still had Garnett and were poised for a long string of playoff appearances. If it means anything, the T’Wolves are probably a season away from doing it again. New Jersey and Phoenix? Both better without Marbury.

 

So is the NBA better without Marbury? Is it the same thing?

 

Remember that the beloved Allen Iverson nearly suffered the same fate this past summer, with little interest coming his way despite his special abilities to score the ball and defend. Make no mistake; he settled for the Memphis Grizzlies, which is more of a choice than Marbury ever had. Blackballed may be too strong of a word to describe Marbury’s status in the NBA but we dare you to find a GM willing to take a chance on the 32 year old from Coney Island. We couldn’t, even when reminding them how masterful Marbury’s science once was on the hardwood. How not too long ago, before the New York disaster took its toll on him, people were still speaking of him in terms of how good he could be if only…

 

In the end there were just too many ifs, and the kid who once said he would die for the game has gone out in a way he probably never imagined. As so often is the case with Marbury’s kind of genius, there is a thin line between riding the edge and spilling over into a deep, dark place. Hard to say where Marbury finds himself this morning… on the happy side of “freedom” or the sad side of remembering what was and could have been? There are five NBA teams over the last decade that have had to dig deep and ask themselves that very question in regards to Marbury. Now it’s his turn to ask himself.

NBA RUMORS: Draft Madness

June 24, 2009 by  
Filed under NBA, Rumours

With the NBA Draft upon fresh news can’t come fast enough. Before you know it the details have changed and what you thought was happening really isn’t, and what you thought never could sometimes does. In between the game plays out and if you listen to general managers across the league they will tell you that this Draft Class season figures to be one of the more unpredictable in years and the fun has already begun.

 

 

WIZARDS/‘WOLVES DEAL RAISES STAKES FOR BOTH

Looks like the Washington Wizards are more interested in winning now than developing another young star for the future. The Minnesota Timberwolves are willing to press the reset button by giving up on some of their more established talent to start from ground zero under new GM David Kahn. Two teams with two opposite directions did business Tuesday night and it may have brought more questions than answers for both sides.

 

The future is now in Wash-city and ever-hopeful that guard Gilbert Arenas can return to form, the Wiz are expected to officially announce a deal that would send out big men Oleksly Pecherov, Etan Thomas and Darius Songalia to the rebuilding Timberwolves in exchange for guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller.

 

Wow.

 

And for all of you who are questioning the sanity of the Wolves for making such a deal… put a cork in it. Why? Because the Wizards have also included the fifth overall pick in this week’s NBA Draft, meaning the Wolves now own four first rounds selections – 5, 6, 18 and 28. Strong word is that they will try to package one or more of those picks with a player in order to move up in the draft, possibly to Memphis’ second position where they covet big man Hasheem Thabeet out of UConn. If not, they still plan to be extremely active this week. Memphis guard Tyreke Evans gets lots of love in Minny’s front office and is second on their wish list with Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn and Arizona’s James Harden rounding out their top four. Thabeet is viewed as a can’t-lose shot-blocking and defensive prospect but clearly the Wolves are in need of some point guard power. In that case Evans and Flynn would seem the most likely of lottery picks if the Wolves retain their fifth or sixth overall selection.

 

Look for Minnesota to be the most active team in the NBA this week.

 

For Washington the deal signals a serious go at the Eastern Conference crown though they are left with little depth in the frontcourt, a dangerous outlook given the beef residing in Orlando, Cleveland, Boston and Chicago. And even with the addition of three-point gunner Miller and the promising Foye much of Washington’s success still relies on the contributions of Arenas, who has played little meaningful basketball in two years. Foye and Miller could be viewed as possible insurance should Arenas not dominate as he did before a series of knee surgeries forced him to the sidelines. Both are on ending contracts meaning the upcoming Wizard’s season could be the beginning or the end of many of things in Washington if it doesn’t work out. As many as eight Wizards could be in the last year of their contracts (four have team options for the 2010-11 season, Foye is due a qualifying offer).

 

For Washington it is looking like do-or-die. For Minnesota it’s about building through the draft and with four first-rounders, there will be no excuses if they can’t uncover a star talent star to grow beside center Al Jefferson and power forward Kevin Love.

 

 

JEFFERSON SPURRED

A lot of heads did a double-take when the San Antonio managed to snag Richard Jefferson from the cash-strapped Milwaukee Bucks this week but if you have been following the Spurs over the last five seasons this is exactly the type of move they have made time and time again. It is the reason the Spurs seem to win the title almost every other year and Jefferson is a San Antonio kind of guy (read: no off-court issues).

 

So the Spurs get Jefferson and only had to give up Kurt Thomas and Bruce Bowen to make it work. The Spurs also sent Fabricio Oberto to the Detroit Pistons for Amir Johnson, who was then sent to the Bucks to complete a busy day for both teams.

 

The big winner here is the Spurs who have been racked by injuries over the past calendar year. In Jefferson they get a legitimate 20-point scorer who hasn’t missed a game in two seasons. That durability is much needed if the Spurs are going to compete with four-headed monster teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Orlando Magic in their chase for another championship ring. Jefferson also has strong postseason experience having reached back-to-back Finals with the New Jersey Nets earlier this decade.

 

R.C. Buford – the general manager and mastermind behind the model franchise – has quietly struck again. Moving out three players for one simplifies a roster that still has cost-effective youth like George Hill, Matt Bonner and Roger Mason Jr. to support what is now one of the most dominant looking six-man rotations in the NBA.

 

For the Bucks it means saving money, with Bowen and Thomas in the final years of their respective contracts. The deal figures to save them about $5M between now and next season with another $15M coming off their books in 2010-11. With re-signing frontcourt scorer Charlie Villanueva and guard Ramon Sessions impending priorities, Bucks GM John Hammond couldn’t resists the move to send out Jefferson and start planning for a more competitive future.

 

 

LUCKY #9 FOR COLANGELO?

Toronto Raptors general manager and president Bryan Colangelo isn’t shy about telling you about all the luck he has had with the ninth overall pick while serving as the GM in Phoenix. Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion are the trophies most often on display and no doubt B.C. is looking to add another to the mantle this year.

 

Ironically, Colangelo is in a bit of a bind in trying to resign Marion whom he acquired in a February deal last season. Without him on board the small forward spot is Toronto’s most pressing need. With him the concerns are at the back up point guard position and frontcourt depth. Chances are looking good that the Raptors will reacquire guard/forward Carlos Delfino his brief stint in Russia last season so some ball-handling and backcourt defensive concerns are addressed. Still, outside of Blake Griffin and Hasheem Thabeet there doesn’t seem to be enough lottery-worthy big men in the upcoming NBA Draft.

 

This is a draft deep in point guards and wings, the latter providing a wealth of options for Colangelo’s biggest hole after trading away Jason Kapono and the jury still out on the returns of Joey Graham and Pops Mensah-Bonsu.

 

Most believe that should the Raptors hold onto the ninth overall pick they will select the super-athletic Demar DeRozan of USC but the view from this corner sees Louisville’s Earl Clark as the more promising of the two. The knock on DeRozan is his tendency to follow the tempo and flow – not set it, though he was able to put those concerns to bed somewhat after going on a tear to end his college career. Clark’s knock is similar except he did little to dispel his reputation for riding his natural abilities too much rather than working to elevate his game against weaker competition in college. That’s usually a headache for an NBA coach to work out. Alas, if the time is made to do so Clark could be the best player outside of Blake Griffin and Ricky Rubio in the draft.

 

Bank on one of them being a Raptor after they select on Thursday night. DeRozan is the more obvious pick, Clark the more obvious risk. However,  if size, versatility and strong defensive potential are still high on the team’s checklist then Clark, at 6-10 a full three inches taller than DeRozan, could be the surprise choice and the latest score for Colangelo on the #9 train. He could also be the best option to immediately replace Marion should the veteran not return to the T-dot.