Tag:Berger's Post-Ups
Posted on: December 8, 2010 7:51 pm
Edited on: December 8, 2010 11:03 pm
 

Post-Ups: Nuggets ready to move Melo

After weeks of speculation and despite a strong start by the Nuggets, Carmelo Anthony's last days in Denver may finally have arrived.

The Nuggets have all but decided to trade Anthony if he does not sign an extension with the team by the trade deadline, and Denver's management team believes Anthony is fully prepared to play out the season and become a free agent, multiple sources told CBSSports.com.

The Nuggets’ strong start, coupled with George Karl’s inspirational return from cancer treatment and positive discussions about a contract extension for the soon-to-be-1,000-win coach, have the organization feeling they've done everything possible to persuade Anthony to stay. But according to people with knowledge of the team’s strategy, if Anthony doesn’t agree to sign the three-year, $65 million extension by the Feb. 24 trade deadline, the wheels are all but certain to be put in motion to part ways with the three-time All-Star rather than lose him as a free agent and get nothing in return.

According to people in contact with the Nuggets’ management team, there is far more clarity today about what the team is seeking in a potential Anthony trade than there was in September, when new GM Masai Ujiri was thrust into the tempest in his initial days and weeks on the job. Executives believe the Nuggets have decided they would like to receive the best possible package of young players and are not interested in stopgap options that would hamper their flexibility. Acquiring a high-priced veteran player -- such as Andre Iguodala, whose talent the Nuggets value but not his contract -- would only hurt the team’s ability to build around youth while maintaining payroll flexibility into the uncertainty of a new collective bargaining agreement.

The Nets’ package of 2010 No. 3 pick Derrick Favors, guard Devin Harris, the expiring contract of Kris Humphries and two first-round picks remains the most attractive option to the Nuggets, sources say. Additional trade partners such as Charlotte and Utah are not eager to get involved in the discussions again, but wouldn’t necessarily be needed this time.

The wild card remains Anthony’s desire to sign an extension with the Nets, who obviously would not be willing to offer the same package without such a guarantee. While rival executives continue to doubt that Anthony would be willing to spend the next season-and-a-half in Newark, N.J., sources who have been in close contact with the power brokers in Anthony’s camp -- William Wesley and Leon Rose -- say the Nets remain an option for Anthony.

Anthony and the Nuggets will play Sunday at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks, which remain his top choice via a trade or free agency -- even though the latter option could cost him millions depending on how successful owners are at imposing salary reductions in the new collective bargaining agreement. Sources say Anthony is so fixated on winding up with the Knicks that Denver management has become convinced that he will tempt fate and the new CBA by playing out the entire season in Denver and signing with the Knicks as a free agent on July 1 – or after the lockout. The only way that scenario could be positive for Denver would be in a sign-and-trade deal. But such an arrangement – like the pennies-on-the-dollar deals that sent LeBron James and Chris Bosh to Miami – would not be nearly as beneficial as what the Nets are offering now.

The Knicks, playing their best basketball in years with free-agent acquisition Amar’e Stoudemire, have believed that their best chance of landing Melo was for the process to play out slowly – and they’ve gotten their wish so far. But the Nuggets, sources say, are not sold on the young players New York could offer such as Anthony Randolph, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Point guard Raymond Felton -- who has been on an offensive tear since gaining chemistry with Stoudemire and who becomes trade-eligible on Dec. 15 -- also does not interest the Nuggets, who view him as a halfcourt player who wouldn't fit their style.

Nuggets officials are said to be coming around to the idea that Harris could play in the backcourt with Chauncey Billups, who often played shooting guard this past summer with Team USA. But if Anthony is traded, sources say management also wants to show Billups -- who came to the Nuggets not just to come home, but to win -- the proper respect by engaging him in conversations about whether he'd prefer to be traded.

Other than hoping to persuade Anthony to sign the extension and stay in Denver, the biggest variable for the Nuggets is the sliding scale of quality on the Nets’ own first-round pick they’d convey in the trade. (They also would include Golden State’s protected 2012 first-rounder). The sooner the Nuggets trade Melo to New Jersey, the better the Nets get and the worse the pick gets. But that is a matter of timing and patience. As far as willingness to deal, it appears that the Nuggets are finally open for business.

And so are we in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups:

• With the Trail Blazers' obvious struggles and the health challenges (that's putting it mildly) of Greg Oden and Brandon Roy, two people with knowledge of the team's strategy told CBSSports.com that Portland management is contemplating trading older players and going young. The obvious targets for such a purge would be Marcus Camby (36), Andre Miller (34), and Joel Przybilla (31). Roy isn’t old, but his knees are -- though one of the sources said Portland would find no takers for the five years and $82.3 million remaining on Roy's contract, given the state of his meniscus-less knees. Przybilla ($7.4 million expiring contract) and Miller (whose $7.8 million salary in 2011-12 is fully non-guaranteed) are eminently moveable. Another candidate to be dealt, though not because of age or health, is Rudy Fernandez, who has wanted out of Portland for some time. Sources caution that the Blazers have engaged in only internal conversations about this strategy, and it is contingent upon the team (10-11) continuing to struggle. But the writing certainly is on the wall for major changes in Portland.

• Multiple NBA team executives told CBSSports.com this week they believe a significant number of college underclassmen will stay in school rather than risk losing a year of development (and pay) in a lockout. College coaches making the pitch to underclassman to stay in school will have more leverage than ever before. “They’ll have the hammer,” one exec said. “To lose a year of development at that stage of your career, that’s huge.” This could have a dramatic impact on a team like No. 4 Kansas, which in an ordinary year would have as many as three first-round picks: freshman Josh Selby (serving a nine-game NCAA suspension for accepting improper benefits); and juniors Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor. Sophomore Thomas Robinson also impressed NBA execs scouting the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.

• Speaking of Madison Square Garden, rival execs agree that New York would be a logical landing spot for Andre Iguodala, and they believe the Sixers will be more than open to discussing trades for the dynamic but high-priced swingman as the Feb. 24 deadline approaches. The Knicks, one of the few teams in a position to absorb salary in the uncertain labor environment, also would be looking for an attractive piece to pair with Stoudemire in the event the Nuggets follow through with an Anthony trade prior to the deadline. Team president Donnie Walsh would have to decide if, short of Anthony, Iguodala is the best option that will be available to him between now and 2011 free agency -- if and when that happens. And also, if Iguodala is worth giving up the cap flexibility he's toiled three years to create. Pricetag notwithstanding -- the 26-year-old is due $56.5 million over the next four years -- Iguodala would be an excellent fit for Mike D'Antoni's high-octane offense and would instantly become the best defender on the roster by a mile.

• With details of the National Basketball Players Association's July proposal finally becoming fully public Wednesday, the question of how prepared the union is for a lockout is naturally going to come up. According to sources familiar with the union's financial documents, the NBPA currently has just shy of $100 million in liquid assets in its war chest in the event of a lockout. The funds have been accumulated largely through players agreeing to put aside licensing money they receive from the league -- something they are doing again this season to the tune of about $30 million. If you add non-liquid assets, such as property, the union will have about $175 million on hand. This is a lot of money to you and me, but not to 450 NBA players. Consider that the players' salaries (without benefits) last season totaled about $2.3 billion -- with a "b." Now consider that players are paid 12 times during the season -- twice a month for six months. That means the NBPA's total war chest is enough to cover the players' first paychecks during a lockout in the 2011-12 season.

• With trade discussions typically heating up around the 20-game mark -- and also around Dec. 15, when summer free agents become trade-eligible -- execs league-wide are curious to learn what sort of trade climate will exist in light of the labor uncertainty. Many predict that teams that have typically been willing to take on salary between December and the trade deadline (Feb. 24) will be less willing (or unwilling) to do so in this environment. Similarly, teams performing below management's internal expectations (Houston, the Clippers, the Blazers) have a tough decision to make. They could try to fix their problems now, but without knowing what the rules will be under the new agreement, they don't know what conditions they’re planning for. Of the aforementioned teams, the Blazers are in the best position to dump salary because of the attractiveness of the contracts they'd be moving. Plus, Miller's value is not only in his contract, but in his ability to push a contending team in need of a steadying point-guard presence over the top. Full disclosure: this is my idea, not anybody else's, but Orlando would be the perfect landing spot for Miller depending on what the Magic would be willing to send back.


Posted on: December 1, 2010 2:53 pm
 

Post-Ups

When LeBron James struts to the scorer's table in Cleveland Thursday night and tosses his customary talc in the air -- to a vicious chorus of boos or derisive laughter -- all eyes will be on how the prodigal son responds to being a pariah on the court he used to own.

That's fine. It's a story -- a big one by NBA regular season standards -- and one that will be examined ad nauseum during the relentless news cycle that follows.

I happen to have some context when it comes to Cleveland sports misery, and also boiling Cleveland sports bile. As a writer for the Associated Press, I sat in the press box at then-Jacobs Field for former Indians hero Albert Belle's return after signing a free-agent contract with the White Sox. The atmosphere was venomous, to say the least. I was also on hand for a much sadder, more poignant moment when the contents of doomed Municipal Stadium were auctioned to teary-eyed fans after Art Modell hijacked the beloved Browns and schlepped them to Baltimore. Among the items up for bidding that day, appropriately enough, was the commode from Modell's office.

Not to bore you with my life story, but I was also in the press box in Miami when Jose Mesa vomited away what would've been Cleveland's first pro sports championship in four decades in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Visions of Edgar Renteria and Craig Counsell dance in my head to this day.

I don't come from Cleveland; I only lived there for two of the best years of my life as a sports writer. But I think I can safely speak for the good people of Northeast Ohio when I say that James leaving the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat was worse than all of the above.

There is vibrant debate in the LeBron-o-sphere about how Cleveland fans should treat him Thursday night. Gregg Doyel, a proud Ohioan, pleads for Clevelanders to comport themselves with dignity and not make LeBron the victim. Point well-taken. Others say screw that ; give the traitor all the venom that he's got coming to him. Knowing how much sports heartache that city has endured over the decades, I can understand that point, too.

There's a movement afoot to have 20,000 people laugh hysterically at LeBron when he's introduced, and various chants have been scripted for when he touches the ball, checks into the game, or steps to the foul line. Kudos for creativity on those. But here's what I'd like to see. Here's what I think would be the appropriate response: When the Heat are introduced, and specifically when LeBron is introduced, turn your backs on the court and don't make a sound. Not even a whisper. The silent treatment and reverse ovation will be spookier than any alternative, and would haunt your former hero for at least 48 minutes and maybe months. Then, turn around and enjoy the game. Even in a place that has, um, witnessed its share of disappointments, it is still just a game, after all.

And with that, we move on to the rest of this week's Post-Ups:

* Lost in all the hysteria over LeBump and LeCoup attempt on coach Erik Spoelstra this week is the question of what Spoelstra can do with his lineups to improve Miami's performance on the floor. With help from adjusted plus-minus guru Wayne Winston , I dug into the lineups Spoelstra has used this season and came to some interesting conclusions.

The problem doesn't appear to be LeBron and Wade playing together; it's who's on the floor with them that makes a difference. In lineups with both LeBron and Wade, the Heat have outscored the opponent by 61 points. With LeBron only, they're plus-38, and with Wade only they're plus-21. (They're minus-14 with neither, for what it's worth.)

Spoelstra's most frequently used lineup -- the starting lineup of Wade, James, Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony and Carlos Arroyo-- has outscored the opponent by 36 points over 133 minutes. According to Winston, that lineup plays 14.55 points better than average. In other words, those five players would beat an average NBA lineup by 14 points over 48 minutes.

When Spoelstra subs Zydrunas Ilgauskas for Anthony in his second-most used lineup, that number goes down to 2.65 points better than average and Miami is plus-6. What happens when the Heat play without a point guard proves the point I've been harping on all along: Whether he likes it or not, LeBron needs to be the point guard on this team.

By far, Miami's best lineup with James and Wade (and with at least 30 appearances) is one without a true point guard. The Supertwins plus Bosh, Udonis Haslem (currently injured), and James Jones is 44.19 points better than average and outscoring opponents by 29 points in 43 minutes. If anything, Spoelstra should have been using that lineup more often; despite the assumption that Jones' suspect defense is an issue, that lineup is comparable defensively to the starting unit featuring Arroyo and Anthony instead of Jones and Haslem.

Without Haslem, Spoelstra still has an effective option with James and Wade and no true point guard on the floor. But to this point, he's only used this combination 13 times for a total of 17 minutes: James, Wade, Bosh, Ilgauskas and Jones are 45.81 points better than average and plus-15.

The point-guard problem is underscored when Spoelstra uses another point guard other than Arroyo. For example, of the four lineups Spoelstra has used with James, Wade and Eddie House, three of them are awful -- the worst being a lineup of James, Wade, Haslem, Ilgauskas and House, which is 46.99 points worse than average and minus-8.

The bottom line: Aside from using LeBron as a point guard more frequently, you can't really argue too much with the combinations Spoelstra has used most often. LeBron is the one player capable of tailoring his game to the needs of the team, and if he does, that will help Wade emerge from his funk and get the Heat playing like a Super Team instead of a Blooper Team.

* Brendan Haywood's agent, Andy Miller, told CBSSports.com that his client's one-game suspension enforced Friday against the Spurs was for "an isolated incident. ... It's over, and we're moving forward." One person familiar with the situation called it a "flare-up" and a "misunderstanding" between Haywood and coach Rick Carlisle that did not involve minutes or playing time. The relationship between Haywood and Carlisle is not in need of being addressed further, the source said. Haywood logged only 7:58 against Miami in his return Saturday night, but got more than 21 minutes Monday night against Houston -- the Mavericks' sixth straight win.

* As we touched on during preseason , Magic GM Otis Smith was presented a trade proposal involving Gilbert Arenas and Vince Carter this past summer, and despite Smith's close relationship with Arenas, he turned it down. Sources have continued to believe that the Wizards would only be able to trade Arenas if and when he proved he was healthy and in a positive place emotionally after the ruinous 50-game suspension he incurred last season. To the Wizards' delight, that has finally happened. Since being reinserted into the starting lineup eight games ago, Arenas has been consistently exceeding 30 minutes a night and has scored at least 20 points in five of those games. While the Magic have let it be known that they're willing to make a big deal if it involves trading anyone except Dwight Howard, sources say there has been no movement on the Arenas front since the aforementioned discussions fell apart.

* The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Tuesday that an attendance clause believed to have lapsed in the team's arena lease with the state actually still exists . That means the Hornets, currently 25th in the NBA in attendance despite their 12-5 start, would be permitted to start the relocation wheels spinning by breaking their lease unless they average at least 14,213 for the next 13 games. Team president Hugh Weber reaffirmed the team's commitment to New Orleans in the article, but stopped short of unequivocally stating that the team would not use the clause to break the lease. One reason: It would cost the team $10 million. Another: New ownership would be wise to consider such a move. If the Hornets are struggling now, with inspired play from Chris Paul and a giant-killer mentality instilled by new coach Monty Williams, just imagine how bad the attendance would be if the team was forced to trade Paul after a lockout.

* As we close in on Dec. 15, when numerous free agents signed over the summer become trade-eligible, rival executives have privately started wondering if the Heat would consider parting with one of their Big Three if it meant fielding a more complete team. The face-saving option to trade and the most easily obtainable, executives say, would be Chris Bosh. In fact, one executive speaking on condition of anonymity wondered how it would alter Denver's reluctance to trade Carmelo Anthony if the Heat offered a package centered around Bosh. The Nuggets, according to the executive, might prefer an established star in the low post as opposed to Derrick Favors, an unproven rookie. It's fun speculation, but highly unlikely. Aside from the embarrassment associated with breaking up the ballyhooed Big Three in Miami, the rub would be cost; executives continue to believe that if Denver deals Anthony and/or Chauncey Billups before the February deadline, it will be in a major cost-cutting deal.

* Meanwhile, as the Melo turns, executives are becoming more convinced that Anthony would not agree to an extension with the Nets -- a stance that could kill New Jersey's months-long bid for the superstar once and for all. Having attended a recent Nets game in Newark, which might as well be Russia as far as native New Yorker Anthony is concerned, I concur. Melo is interested in starring in a Broadway show -- or a nearby, off-Broadway equivalent. Had the Nets' move to Brooklyn not been sabotaged by lawsuits and New York City government paralysis, that would've made a huge difference. But Newark is Newark, and I believe Melo is headed elsewhere.
Posted on: November 17, 2010 1:14 pm
 

Post-Ups

Their three-game winning streak and 22-gun salute from the 3-point line against the Lakers notwithstanding, these are delicate times for the Phoenix Suns. So delicate, in fact, that a speculative riff on an NBA writer’s podcast last week sparked a flurry of trade rumors surrounding Steve Nash.

Such is life in the NBA blogosmear, but there’s an element of truth to the speculation. Watching Nash play without Amar’e Stoudemire, and Stoudemire without Nash, is a classic lesson in being careful what you wish for. The Suns, like many NBA teams, were hesitant to lavish five guaranteed years on Stoudemire given the uninsurable state of his knees. The Knicks, boxed out of the LeBron James and Dwyane Wade sweepstakes, were in the rare position of being open to Stoudemire’s in-person overtures back in July. It was a match made in Desperadoville.

The Knicks were in Denver Tuesday night to face the Nuggets and the latest apple of their eyes, Carmelo Anthony. They arrived in a tailspin, having lost five in a row, and left with a 120-118 loss, a six-game losing streak, and much of the hopelessness inspired by Knicks teams of the past decade. No fewer than 15 power forwards playing at least 25 minutes per game are ahead of Stoudemire in efficiency rating, according to Hoopdata.com. Among them are Michael Beasley, Charlie Villanueva and Hakim Warrick – who replaced Stoudemire in Phoenix. You don’t need data to see that Stoudemire is struggling in his new home. Watching him search in vain for someone who knows how to run a pick-and-roll is evidence enough.

Despite Warrick’s statistical accomplishments, things aren’t much better for Nash and the Suns. Lost in the Suns’ unconscious shooting exploits in a 121-116 victory over the Lakers Sunday night was the ongoing horror show of watching Nash dribble around desperately in search of someone to set a capable screen and roll to the basket. Both Nash and Stoudemire have lost something irreplaceable in each other.

While the Knicks plan to do their due diligence and inquire as to Nash’s availability, the Suns haven’t gotten to the point of entertaining offers, according to an executive familiar with their strategy. Coach Alvin Gentry already has made it clear publicly that the Suns aren’t trading Nash, and the executive familiar with the team’s posture characterized the flurry of rumors as “random” and “not factual.” But in Phoenix, as with many revenue-challenged NBA cities, basketball sense doesn’t always align with financial reality.

Without Stoudemire – and assuming they can’t make 20-plus 3-pointers a night for the rest of the season – the Suns will be struggling to get a whiff of the eighth seed come April. They’re the worst rebounding team in the league in terms of defensive rebounding rate and offensive rebounding differential, and the loss of center Robin Lopez to a sprained knee certainly won’t help.

“We’ve got to be a little bit more scrappy than we’ve been in the past,” said Jared Dudley, a key member of the superior bench that made the Suns such a threat to the Lakers in the conference finals last spring.

But Suns owner Robert Sarver, whose non-basketball businesses in the banking and real estate sectors have been hammered by the recession, isn’t paying $63 million for a scrappy, barely .500 team. The Suns are comfortably below the $70.3 million luxury-tax threshold, so there’s no urgency there. However, Sarver has been one of the most vocal in a new wave of owners in the collective bargaining fight, and rival executives believe he’ll be on a rampage at the trade deadline if the Suns are out of the playoff hunt. That’s an eventuality the Suns hope to prevent, and despite their current upswing, it will prove to be a difficult fight.

“Hopefully we can get a couple of wins in a row so we can get those rumors away,” Dudley said of the Nash speculation. “You don’t want your franchise player to go. He makes everybody better here and he’s the face of Phoenix. If you think the transition is big with Amar’e, I can only imagine. It would be a journey having [Nash] leave.”

Which brings us to the next step in our journey, to the rest of the Post-Ups:

• With Jermaine O’Neal out several weeks with a sore left knee, you and I both know what name comes to mind as a free-agent replacement: Rasheed Wallace. While ‘Sheed’s agent, Bill Strickland, wouldn’t completely rule it out, it doesn’t sound like Wallace is even contemplating the possibility of coming out of retirement – for the Celtics or anybody else. “I have not talked to Danny [Ainge, the Celtics’ president] or Rasheed about that, but I think Rasheed is through,” Strickland said. Wallace, 36, isn’t believed to be working out on the court in any capacity in the event a team might be interested in his services. And while it’s hard to imagine Wallace coming back with the NBA’s tech-happy mandate to the referees, it’s more of a physical issue. As far back as when Wallace was still with the Pistons, he was known to sometimes leave his shoes on between games in order to keep playing. If he’d removed them, his ankles would’ve swelled up so badly that he wouldn’t have been able to get them back on.

• Leave it to the Zen Master to decode the mystery of Utah’s amazing string of double-digit road comebacks last week. Lakers coach Phil Jackson pointed out that Jazz coach Jerry Sloan is perhaps the only NBA coach who elects to have his team play offense in front of his bench in the second half. Most coaches prefer to have their team in front of them on defense down the stretch of road games. Lo and behold, the Jazz reeled off double-digit road comebacks against Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte by pouring on the offense in the second half. Visiting coaches choose which basket to defend in which half. “You can generate a lot of points in front of your bench,” Jackson said. “Defensively, a lot of coaches like their team to be in front of the bench in the second half on the road, because you can call stuff and give eyes to the players with their back to the basket. They’re the only team in the NBA that does it the other way.”

Brandon Roy’s future with bone-on-bone in both knees bears watching, given that his game is based on getting to the basket and he’s only 26 – with a lot of mileage theoretically ahead of him. But Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons and former consultant to the Philadelphia 76ers, said it depends on the extent of the damage and where it is. After his latest bout with knee swelling and pain last week, Roy learned that surgery was not an option because he has no meniscus left in either knee. DiNubile said Roy’s fate will be determined by whether he lacks cartilage, too. “It would be extremely unlikely at that age to have no meniscus and no cartilage,” DiNubile said. Whether the bone-on-bone condition is occurring in the actual knee joint (bad) or under the kneecap (still bad, but better) also is important. If the bone-on-bone situation is where the tibia meets the femur, “You’re kind of doomed,” DiNubile said. “That’s not compatible with up-and-down playing. If he were to have bone-on-bone in the main part of his knee, his career’s going to be limited one way or the other.” If the condition exists in the kneecap, DiNubile said athletes “can do surprisingly well.”

• As more than an innocent bystander in the Carmelo Anthony saga, Nuggets coach George Karl is more than doing his part by using his considerable powers of persuasion to try to keep Melo in Denver. But it’s impossible to evaluate Karl’s efforts on that front without noting his own pursuit of a contract extension. Two people familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com that the Nuggets view Karl as part of their future, regardless of whether Anthony stays. Whether Karl wants to remain in Denver if he winds up with a rebuilding team post-Anthony – that’s another matter. But despite Karl’s disenchantment with the ouster of his friends Mark Warkentien and Tim Grgurich, the lines of communication between Karl, GM Masai Ujiri, executive Josh Kroenke, and team president Paul Andrews are very much open. And weighing on the matter more than Anthony’s future is Karl’s health. Karl, 59, has several more hurdles to clear in his heroic efforts to beat throat and neck cancer, and wants to be sure he remains cancer-free before asking the Nuggets to commit to him beyond this season. Everyone in the NBA, including the Denver front office, is rooting for him.

Tayshaun Prince’s repeated blowups, with coach John Kuester giving as good as he’s getting, aren’t expected to play a major role in the Pistons’ decision on whether to trade the swingman and his $11.1 million expiring contract. A person with knowledge of Prince’s thinking told CBSSports.com that his frustration isn’t fully directed at Kuester; losing, after his time as a member of the formerly contending Pistons, is a bigger issue. But the biggest issue in the decision on whether to move him is the impending ownership change in Detroit. Trading an expiring deal, by definition, involves taking on future money – which is difficult, at best, to do when a new owner is entering the picture.

Kevin Love’s 31-point, 31-rebound game – an incredible performance and the first of its kind since Moses Malone in 1982 – was a quiet victory for Timberwolves coach Kurt Rambis. Rambis had been trying to prove a point to Love by limiting his minutes: If you don’t play both ends of the floor, you’re not going to play. Rambis’ message finally got through, and the result was an example of what Love is capable of when he puts his mind to it. But this isn’t the end of the dysfunction in Minnesota, by any stretch. Just because Love performed in an historic way doesn’t mean he’s buying Rambis’ message long-term. And a person familiar with the Wolves’ locker room dynamics isn’t convinced it’s smooth sailing from here. “The team is a disaster,” the person said. Depending on who you ask, the issue is either lack of communication from Rambis, or an unwillingness to listen on the part of Love and others who are disenchanted with minutes. It’s going to take more time to sort it all out.
Posted on: November 10, 2010 9:19 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2010 2:46 pm
 

Post-Ups

It’s impossible to read body language over the phone, which means it’s time to start using Skype for phone interviews. Anyway, I can only guess at the expression on Monty Williams’ face when I asked him about keeping Chris Paul happy this week. But I can convey the words.

And the words were fairly powerful.

Williams, coaching the only undefeated team in the NBA not named the Lakers, has done a masterful job along with new GM Dell Demps defusing the potential train wreck that those summer trade requests by Paul’s representatives could have caused. Not only is Paul engaged, smiling, and at the top of his game, but the Hornets (7-0) are playing better basketball than almost anyone imagined.

So when I asked Williams how he’s been able to manage the CP3 situation, he said matter-of-factly, “To be honest with you, there was nothing for us to manage. Chris has never shown any signs, at least to me, of wanting to leave and being unhappy and all this other stuff. I came in with the mindset of doing my job and have held to that. And it’s going to be that way until I don’t have this job. All that stuff that happened this summer, it’s unfortunate that all this stuff was put out there like that. But it could’ve been a lot worse.”

At which point I posed the next logical question: What has to happen for the CP3 trade winds to remain in their current state of tranquility? (Well, I didn’t exactly phrase it like that. I’m not Walt Frazier. But sometimes the keyboard just goes off in a direction and I get out of the way.)

“I just think it’s a shot at him when we talk like that,” Williams said. “When people say we have to get off to a good start or he’s going to do X, Y, or Z; Chris is just not that kind of person. I just think he’s the salt of the Earth when it comes to many facets of life. I never see a guy like that tucking his tail and running when things get tough.”

The Hornets’ fast start, the revived play of Emeka Okafor, and the defensive commitment that was so often lacking last season, have all been decidedly positive for the Hornets and their efforts – admitted or otherwise – to keep their superstar happy. To what extent the Hornets sustain their early success, and how it affects Paul’s long-term view of his championship chances in New Orleans, remain open questions that are impossible to answer now.

What Paul wanted more than anything, sources say, was a vision and a plan. He is finally beginning to see a semblance of both from this new tandem of Demps and Williams. But that won’t be enough in the long run. Though happy with the way the team is playing and with the direction that Demps and Williams have chosen, those familiar with Paul’s long-term goals believe it will take more than that to appease him. That’s why the Hornets have joined the chorus of teams calling Philadelphia officials to inquire about the availability of Andre Iguodala. Would the Sixers’ star be enough to give Paul a taste of what it’s like to play with a top-tier talent, like his friends pulled off in Miami? Time will tell, but the fact that the Hornets are trying to get him more help even after a 7-0 start has to be taken as a good sign. (Those conversations, per sources, were dead on arrival in Philadelphia, where Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski aren’t ready to part ways with Iguodala. Yet.)

Which brings us to the rest of the tea leaf-reading in the Post-Ups:

• After getting off to a surprisingly good start, the Nuggets are entering the next phase of their campaign to win back Carmelo Anthony’s heart. A 144-113 loss to Indiana, in which the Pacers hit 20 of 21 from the field in a 54-point third quarter, could be a sign that a fragile, day-to-day situation could be ready to turn south. With trade-Melo hawk Bret Bearup out of the picture, Nuggets officials are digging in with their patient approach and are giving no clues to rival executives that they’re ready to move forward with serious trade talks unless they get bowled over by an offer. Most execs continue to believe Denver won’t get a better deal than the four-team scenario that had Melo going to New Jersey during the summer. But with the situation so fluid – the Nuggets, in the best of times, have always seemed to be one meltdown away from coming apart – one executive monitoring the Melodrama said he’s “still close to 100 percent” in his belief that Anthony will be traded by the February deadline. Another exec said all signs point to Anthony being “overwhelmingly New York-oriented” in terms of where he’d be willing to extend his contract.

• Amid the mystery that surrounds center Erick Dampier’s decision not to sign with the Rockets, the only thing clear is this: Miami, Toronto and Phoenix have expressed interest in reigniting conversations with the free-agent big man. The Suns, sources say, were the latest team to inquire on Wednesday. The Heat, who earlier backed away from committing to Dampier, appear to have a different view now that their lack of size has been exposed in recent games against New Orleans (Okafor) and Utah (Paul Millsap.)

Kevin Love’s breakout double-double (23 points and 24 rebounds Tuesday night against the Lakers) only underscored the bizarre dispute between the 22-year-old and coach Kurt Rambis over his minutes. Love has been walking a fine line between publicly grumbling and saying the right things of late, and other teams have taken note. One team that would be an ideal fit for Love, Houston, has explored the possibility to the point of presenting trade scenarios to the Wolves. Coach Rick Adelman lives in Love’s hometown, Lake Oswego, Ore. Adelman's son, Patrick, was a teammate of Love’s in high school. Those overtures, sources say, have been met with an icy response. Another team to keep an eye on with regard to Love is the Trail Blazers. No stranger to frontcourt injuries, Portland doesn’t want to get caught shorthanded again.

Steve Nash has been very up front about how much work the Suns have to do after Amar’e Stoudemire’s departure. Without his pick-and-roll partner, Nash has seen Phoenix struggle out of the gate – which inevitably has led to trade rumors surfacing. It’s too early now, but at some point the Suns will have to come to grips with the fact that they aren’t a lock for the playoffs and that Nash is 36 and has $22 million coming to him over the next two seasons. Disclaimer: I am not suggesting that this scenario has been discussed or is in any way imminent. But what a boost Nash would provide for the Orlando Magic, who need a dynamic point guard to feed Dwight Howard in the post and on the move. With a potent big man and 3-point shooters all around, Nash would feel right at home in Orlando. If Phoenix decides to take firm steps toward rebuilding and cost-cutting, Vince Carter would more than fit the bill with only $4 million guaranteed in 2011-12. The problem is, Carter makes more than Nash, and clearly isn’t worth more than Nash. So a third team may be required to even out money and value in such a scenario.

• Ben Golliver pretty well summed it up in his piece about the colliding eras in Detroit: The Pistons are a mess. Though Rip Hamilton’s contract, with $21.5 guaranteed over the next two seasons heading into CBA uncertainty, will be exceedingly difficult to move. But Tayshaun Prince, with an $11.1 million expiring deal, already is generating interest among teams looking to get their payrolls in order. Sources say the Pistons are expected to make their interest known in participating in the Carmelo Anthony talks as a third team, with Prince satisfying part of what Denver is looking for as a wing player on an expiring deal.

• For John Wall, the adjustment to the NBA game has been nothing compared to the adjustment of playing alongside a deposed superstar. The Wizards’ first two games with Gilbert Arenas healthy and available resulted in losses to the Knicks and Cavs. Not coincidentally, Wall had 15 turnovers in the two games. Though Arenas continued to say all the right things about not wanting to get in Wall’s way, it’s going to be hard not to. When the Wizards needed buckets against the Knicks on Friday night, teammates turned to Arenas, who had 18 points and expressed surprise that his teammates “still trusted my talent.” The fallout from Arenas’ return was coach Flip Saunders walking out of practice, and then saying Wednesday that Arenas has a long way to go before he regains the leg strength and conditioning to play back-to-backs. Arenas spent long stretches on the bench Wednesday night against the Rockets, and Wall was on his way to one of his more complete games. The tip-toeing around Arenas is going to continue for Wall until A) they figure out how to play together, or B) Arenas fuels what little trade interest there might be out there by proving to suitors that he can still get to the basket and score. Early returns on both: It’s going to take some time.

• The NBA projected a 2.5 percent to 5 percent drop in revenues last season, and it never materialized. In fact, revenues went up to the highest level in league history. Now, sources tell CBSSports.com that the league’s number-crunches are projecting a significantly rosier 2010-11, with current projections calling for a 3 to 3.5 percent rise in basketball-related income (BRI). That would amount to a second consecutive season of record revenues for owners who are insisting they’ll lose another $370 million this season – a figure they cite as the reason they are seeking a decrease in payroll of between $750 million and $800 million annually, including rollbacks on existing contracts. It seems farcical. But with bargaining entering a crucial phase leading up to the February All-Star break, league negotiators have been trying to impress on the players in recent bargaining sessions that it costs about 75 cents for the league to generate each additional dollar in revenues. Here’s the model league negotiators have been peddling to the players, according to sources: If revenues went up 3 percent this season, that would be an increase of $120 million. Under the current labor deal, which guarantees players 57 percent of BRI, roughly $68 million of that would go to the players. That would leave $52 million for the owners, but not really. League negotiators say it costs about $20 million in non-player expenses – staff, marketing, sponsorship activation, etc. – to generate that $120 million in revenues. So after all the extra season tickets, walk-up sales, and sponsorship renewals generated by the cosmic shift in talent and interest this season, the owners say they’d actually wind up with only $32 million – a little more than a million per team. Now, it isn’t the players’ fault that it costs that much to do basketball business; commissioner David Stern’s talk, for instance, of creating a European division should be shelved until after the labor talks are resolved. It only draws attention to more unnecessary expenses. The sticking point is that the players don’t believe they should bear the brunt of those costs – and rightfully so. But this is the dance they’ll be dancing right down to the June 30, 2011 deadline to strike a new labor accord. In a business of billions, it all boils down to dollars and cents.
Category: NBA
Posted on: November 1, 2010 8:54 pm
Edited on: November 2, 2010 12:45 am
 

Post-Ups (UPDATE)

By not completing a trade for Carmelo Anthony before the start of the season, the Nets knew they were faced with a calculated risk. What could’ve been a coup for them – the Nuggets being awful out of the gate and Anthony making the situation untenable for coach George Karl – hasn’t happened. But something else has gone the Nets’ way as they’ve continued to keep the trade talks alive.

Derrick Favors, the centerpiece of a four-team deal sending Melo to New Jersey that fell apart last month, has shaken off a poor preseason and made important strides toward proving that he’s worthy of inclusion in a franchise-shaping transaction like the one Denver is considering. It’s only three games, but the No. 4 overall pick is shooting 58 percent from the field while averaging 10.3 points, 10 rebounds and only one turnover per game. His talent is raw, and his defensive instincts are nonexistent. But at the very least, Favors hasn’t done anything in this ridiculously small sample size to infect the Denver front office with any serious doubts.

One executive who has watched Favors went so far as to say, “His stock as skyrocketed,” which is true any way you look at it. (After the up-and-down preseason Favors had, one way to look at it is this: There was nowhere to go but up.) The Nuggets, according to sources, are still in wait-and-see mode. And they’ll be seeing plenty before the key date in this saga, Dec. 15, when summer free agents become trade-eligible.

One of the aspects of this decision that GM Masai Ujiri is evaluating is how competitive his team will be with Melo on board. The next two weeks will be telling, with five games against teams that made the playoffs in the West last season – Dallas (twice), the Lakers, Suns and Trail Blazers. Rival executives have speculated that in some ways, Ujiri’s job becomes more difficult if the Nuggets get off to a strong start. If that happens, it will be exponentially more difficult to sell an Anthony trade to the paying customers. Given that Anthony left no doubt that he’s leaving Denver one way or another when he told Yahoo! Sports last week, “It’s time for a change,” a catastrophic start to the season would’ve been a far easier environment in which to justify trading him.

Until then, the Nuggets, Nets and Knicks – Anthony’s preferred destination – are in limbo until more tradable assets flood the market in six weeks. Which gives us a chance to flood the market with the rest of this week’s Post-Ups:

• As interesting as it will be to watch the first head-to-head matchup between John Wall and Evan Turner, the top two picks in the 2010 draft, the more intriguing figure in the Wizards’ backcourt hasn’t played a minute yet this season: Gilbert Arenas. The artist formerly known as Agent Zero is likely a no-go against the Sixers Tuesday night as he prepares to undergo further tests on his injured right ankle. He’s already seen foot-and-ankle specialist Mark Myerson in Baltimore. While the Wizards hold out hope of making a Wall-Arenas backcourt work, the scant hope that Arenas and the $80 million he’s owed can be moved before the trade deadline requires Arenas to return to the court, be productive, show signs that his All-Star talent remains intact, and prove that he’s no longer a locker-room risk. None of that can happen until teams see a significant sample size of Arenas on the court.

• A person with knowledge of the situation confirmed Denver’s interest in Portland swingman Nicolas Batum in a potential Anthony trade, but those overtures have fallen on deaf ears among the Trail Blazers’ brass. Portland isn’t about to include the talented, versatile Batum in a deal unless they’re getting Melo, which isn’t happening. Having said that, the Blazers have a tremendous asset in Batum if and when they get involved in any trade discussions as the deadline nears. Batum is not only affordable – he’s still on his rookie contract – but his value is much greater to faster-paced teams. With their grind-it-out style, the Blazers understand that they don’t take full advantage of Batum’s open-court abilities.

• Commissioner David Stern went easy on the Knicks over the Isiah Thomas fiasco, allowing Thomas and then the Knicks to announce the death of their failed attempt at a reunion via a blatantly illegal consulting arrangement. Stern could’ve really embarrassed Garden chairman James Dolan on that one, but elected to allow the Knicks and Thomas to clean up the mess themselves and then say there was no need for the league office to take action. Pending the outcome of a league investigation of alleged illegal workouts with draft prospects – some perpetrated under the Thomas regime as team president, according to Yahoo! Sports – the NBA office is not likely to be so kind this time around. While there is no precedent for forfeited draft picks for such violations, those alleged to have been committed by the Knicks in the Yahoo! report would be the most extensive and persistent on record. The league has hired outside counsel to investigate the allegations, and the Knicks plan to cooperate fully. All of this was simply another lesson that re-hiring Thomas in any capacity was a bad idea whether it was against NBA rules or not.

• I am justifiably puzzled by the Heat’s apparent pursuit of a point guard to get Miami’s offense running more smoothly until floor-spacer Mike Miller returns from injury. I could see the usefulness of a Derek Fisher-type in that role, but short of that, the Heat’s offense would run just fine with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James acting as interchangeable wings initiating the offense. Coach Erik Spoelstra could play that way now, if he wanted to, by benching Carlos Arroyo for James Jones – who would fill Miller’s role as the shooter until Miller returns. The problem with Jones is his lack of defense, but the rest of Miami’s defense is so smothering, I’m not sure Jones-for-Arroyo wouldn’t be worth examining. Something tells me the Heat will eventually realize that they don’t need a point guard, simply because they’ve already got two of them: Wade and LeBron. Besides, after signing the top three free agents on the market and turning the NBA upside-down this summer, it strikes me as gluttonous for the Heat to be out on the market pursuing more pieces. Dear Coach Riley: I think you’ve got enough.

UPDATED 12:45 a.m.

• Though most 2007 draft picks were not getting extensions by the midnight Tuesday ET deadline, the Suns agreed to a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Jared Dudley, said his agent, Mark Bartelstein. ESPN the Magazine reported that the Grizzlies signed Mike Conley to a five-year, $45 million deal. With hours to go before the deadline, only Kevin Durant, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Dudley and Conley had received extensions amid uncertainty over a new collective bargaining agreement that makes it difficult to assess such players’ value.

• It cannot be overstated that the public truce between the Blazers and Rudy Fernandez is no indication that the Spanish star is happy spending this season – and next, now that his fourth-year option has been picked up – in Portland. While sources say Fernandez is resigned to the fact that he’s a Blazer for the foreseeable future, efforts by Fernandez and his agent, Andy Miller, to tone down the rhetoric will go a long way toward making the situation more fertile for a trade. If nothing else, the fact that Fernandez now has two years left on his contract makes him far less of a flight risk if he’s traded. The Blazers remain steadfastly opposed to giving Fernandez his wish and releasing him from his contract so he can return to Spain. So for now, Fernandez appears content to accept his minutes and role while allowing trade inquiries from other teams to progress naturally.

Posted on: May 6, 2010 6:36 pm
 

Postups: Wall breaks ranks with LeBron

John Wall played at Kentucky for John Calipari, a key player in the nexus of basketball power that also includes William “Wes” Wesley, LeBron James and LeBron’s agent, Leon Rose. So it was a huge upset when Wall broke ranks with Rose’s Creative Artists Agency and signed this week with agent Dan Fegan.

Or was it? By spurning CAA, Wall became the third straight Calipari guard to break away from the agency that everyone assumed he would join. Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans both played for Calipari at Memphis, and both signed with Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group.

So much for the conspiracy theories that CAA would steer LeBron and Calipari to New Jersey (and then Brooklyn) if the Nets got the No. 1 pick, and thus, selected Wall. The best player available in the draft since LeBron himself will enter the NBA with a clean slate, and with no entanglements beyond those already entrenched within his inner circle of close advisors.

In effect, Wall won’t be riding LeBron’s – or anyone else’s – coattails.

Fegan’s BEST agency was among four finalists to represent Wall, along with CAA (Rose), Wasserman (Tellem) and Happy Walters, who represents Amar’e Stoudemire. BEST’s Kentucky connections didn’t hurt – its parent company, Blue Equity LLC, is based in Louisville, Ky., – but other factors entered into Wall’s decision.

One of those factors, sources say, was Wall’s desire to chart his own course to superstardom and marketing supremacy, rather than join LeBron’s sports marketing company, LRMR, which was formed by his childhood friends – most notably front man Maverick Carter.

“Why would you want to be LRMR when you could do it on your own?” said an industry expert who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss Wall’s business dealings.

What Wall does have in common with LeBron, however, is a desire to have his close circle of friends and advisors involved in his basketball and business dealings. To that end, sources say Dwon Clifton – the director of player development at Baylor and one of Wall’s former amateur coaches – is expected to become a certified agent and join BEST to advise Wall on a day-to-day basis. BEST also is in the process of setting up a multi-platform, collaborative marketing plan for Wall, the Sports Business Journal reported.

So just as Clifton’s presence at Baylor did not steer Wall to Waco, the Wesley-LeBron-Calipari triumvirate didn’t send him to the agency everyone expected. It was a coup for Fegan, whose stable of NBA players includes Shawn Marion, Anderson Varajeo, Jason Terry, Nene, Yi Jianlian ... and now, the player who has sent a strong message that he’s not simply trying to be the next LeBron.

And with that, here’s the rest of this postseason edition of Post-Ups:

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This is always a time of uncertainty in the coaching and front-office ranks. But turmoil in Portland and Denver has rival executives even more on edge than usual, sources say. One executive with another team expressed dismay that Trail Blazers GM Kevin Pritchard could be on the way out after he and former assistant GM Tom Penn – who was fired in March – built a team that won 50 games in the ultra-competitive Western Conference and won a road playoff without All-Star Brandon Roy. Two playoff starters were acquired in trades orchestrated by Pritchard – Andre Miller and Marcus Camby – that didn’t sacrifice future cap space. 

A popular slam against Pritchard – the selection of Greg Oden over Kevin Durant – falsely assumes that the then-Sonics wouldn’t have done the same thing. When Oden got hurt again this season, he was averaging 11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds, finally showing signs of being the defensive force everyone thought he would be. When Oden’s backup, Joel Pryzbilla, got hurt, the Blazers went 27 games with 37-year-old Juwan Howard as their starting center – and still won 50 games. 

All of this was accomplished with the lowest effective payroll in the league – even lower than Oklahoma City if you exclude the $9 million occupied by Darius Miles following his cameo with Memphis last season. 

“If Kevin’s in trouble,” the rival GM said, “what does that say about the rest of us?” 

Pritchard makes roughly 20 percent of Blazers coach Nate McMillan’s $4 million salary and has two years left on his contract, including an option for 2011-12. If the Blazers fire him, his colleagues don’t expect him to be out of work for long. (Even those who don’t like Pritchard personally admit he’s done a good job.) One suggested the Knicks as a logical landing spot. Team president Donnie Walsh, 69, is expected to begin searching for an heir apparent once the free-agent frenzy dies down this summer. 

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Another case in point is Denver’s Mark Warkentien, the 2008-09 executive of the year, who is muddling through a difficult offseason without a contract for next season. Sources say Denver planned to make a decision on whether to retain Warkentien within a week or two after the Nuggets’ season-ending first-round loss to the Jazz. But to date there has been no movement – and there appears to be no urgency on Denver’s part. The Nuggets don’t have a first- or second-round pick this year, and Warkentien’s contract is believed to expire Aug. 1. 

Other than the obvious – coach George Karl’s ongoing recovery from neck and throat cancer that caused him to miss Denver’s brief playoff appearance – the most pressing offseason matter for the Nuggets will be trying to negotiate an extension with All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony. Since Anthony is not a free agent this summer, the window for such discussions opened as soon as Denver’s season ended. Warkentien declined to comment on the status of negotiations.

With so much attention on this summer’s free agent class loaded with some of Anthony’s closest friends and teammates from the 2008 Olympic team, it’s worth wondering if Anthony is ready to explore the marketplace next summer. For example, if the Knicks were to strike out in their bid to land two marquee free agents this July, they could preserve enough cap space to make a run at Anthony in 2011. Anthony has an early termination option after next season, and the ongoing battle over collective bargaining will play a significant role in his decision. By signing a three-year extension this summer, Anthony could lock himself in at the current max salaries, which almost certainly will be more favorable than under the new labor deal.

Are there any clues to be gleaned from Anthony’s last extension in 2006? Why, yes there are. Whereas contemporaries LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh opted for three-year extensions and the chance to become free agents in 2010, Anthony chose a four-year deal with an opt-out in the fifth year. He's faced this decision before, and chose money and security over free agency. But it’s worth noting that Melo was represented by BDA’s Calvin Andrews for that contract. Now, he’s with Leon Rose, under the same CAA umbrella that negotiated the three-year deals for James, Wade and Bosh. 

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The Hornets are in the process of scheduling an interview with former player and current broadcaster Mark Jackson for their vacant head coaching position, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. GM Jeff Bower, team president Hugh Weber and prospective new owner Gary Chouest are hoping to meet with Jackson in Boston this weekend when the former point guard is in town for commentating duties for the Cavaliers-Celtics series. The New Orleans brass already have interviewed Avery Johnson and Mike Fratello, and also are interested in speaking with Mavs assistant Dwane Casey, Jazz assistant Tyrone Corbin, Rockets assistant Elston Turner and Celtics associate head coach Tom Thibodeau. 

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Reports that Hall of Famer Doug Collins is “intrigued” by the Sixers’ head coaching job are accurate, according to a source who said Collins is “trying to get in there in the worst way.” The Sixers have interviewed Collins and Johnson, and are expected to meet with Blazers assistant Monty Williams next week, perhaps as early as Monday, sources say. Everything in Philly, including Ed Stefanski's team presidency, is up in the air while Larry Brown decides his next move.

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While the Bulls would be wise to investigate Kentucky coach John Calipari’s interest in coaching Derrick Rose, the Chicago front office is moving deliberately in the wake of Vinny Del Negro’s firing. Casey and Turner, both candidates when Del Negro was hired, are expected to get another shot. Also moving glacially in their search for a head coach are the Clippers, who sources say are holding out hope that Brown could be persuaded to move West. Brown is believed to be going to Philly if he’s going anywhere, but that wouldn’t stop him from using the Clippers for leverage, sources say.

Posted on: April 23, 2010 2:23 pm
Edited on: April 23, 2010 3:37 pm
 

Playoff Post-Ups

As the Heat-Celtics series moves to Miami this weekend for Games 3 and 4, the stakes are plenty high on the court. Can the Heat summon the kind of balance and confidence that saw them close the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the league? Can the Celtics do the kind of defensive job they did in Game 2 with Kevin Garnett back on the floor? 

But the big picture for both teams goes well beyond the outcome of the series. In two months, both teams will be bracing for what could be massive changes – regardless of which one advances beyond the first round. 

The Heat face the same storyline as always, with the added urgency: Can they make all the right moves to keep Dwyane Wade happy and persuade him that there are more championships to be won in South Beach? The Celtics, champions for the 17th time in franchise history only two years ago, could be looking at replacing two-thirds of the Big Three – and potentially, even coach Doc Rivers. 

There’s a lot riding on this contentious little get-together, which partly explains why tempers have been short and nerves fragile as the scene moves to Miami for Game 3 Friday night. 

Miami holds all the cards in the free-agent chase of 2010, especially with recent revelations that the 2010-11 cap could be as high as $56.1 million. If the Heat weren’t already in the driver’s seat in free agency, they are now. The extra cap room gives them the flexibility to re-sign Wade to a max deal, add a second max player, and have another $8 million to spend. It’s enough to make you wonder if Wade will be more inclined to forgive and forget a poor first-round showing, recognizing it as a price that had to be paid to surround him with true championship talent. 

Wade has been consistently vague about his intentions, saying only that his preference is to stay in Miami but that he’s determined to leave his options open. In his most recent comments on the subject, he told the Miami Herald this week that there are “not many organizations” he’d consider leaving Miami for, but made it clear that he intends to go through the recruiting process to see what’s out there. • Asked if he expected to have his mind made up by the time the week-long moratorium on free-agent signings is lifted on July 8, Wade said that struck him as “kind of soon.” 

The Celtics’ immediate future is expected to be known sooner than that. As he does every offseason, Rivers will weigh continuing to coach the Celtics against family commitments and decide whether it’s time to step down. But this time, there’s palpable momentum in the stepping down direction. Rivers’ oldest son, Jeremiah, will be a senior at Indiana. Another son, Austin, is one of the top high school point guards in the country and has committed to Florida, where sister Callie will be a senior volleyball player. 

The juggling wore on Rivers this season, when he struggled to get an aging Celtics team to play at its previous championship level. Now, with Ray Allen set to become an unrestricted free agent and with Paul Pierce holding an early termination option, the winds of change could be blowing hard through Beantown. 

And with that, here are the rest of the Playoff Post-Ups:

• The Cavs, whose pursuit of a ring for the King faces some high-stakes ramifications of its own, have been hit with their first dose of adversity with a 108-106 loss to the Bulls in Game 3. Now, let’s see if they can respond as championship caliber teams should. Two things happened for the Bulls in Game 3 that could pose problems the rest of the series if the Cavs fail to adjust: 1) Derrick Rose was given way too much space, showed the patience to wait out traps, and was dynamic with dribble-penetration and his mid-range game, and 2) Chicago’s defense turned LeBron James into a jump shooter. After getting killed by LeBron’s jumpers in Game 2, it was a bold strategy on the Bulls’ part to dare him to beat them from the perimeter again. If LeBron puts his head down and drives through traffic to get to the basket – or the foul line – he can quickly squash any notion that the Bulls will extend this series beyond five games.

• Speaking of the Bulls, it was nice for Byron Scott – from his cushy studio perch in Bristol, Conn., – to publicly lobby for Vinny Del Negro’s job when it isn’t vacant yet, don’t you think? Maybe Scott felt the need to promote himself for the job because he’s heard the same thing I’m hearing: That former Timberwolves coach Dwane Casey – a finalist for the job when Del Negro was hired instead – has the inside path to take over if and when Del Negro is fired.

• George Karl, out until at least the second round while he undergoes radiation and chemotherapy for throat and neck cancer, made an inspirational visit to the Nuggets’ practice Thursday – 36 hours before Game 3 at Utah with the series tied 1-1. Karl watched practice for about 15 minutes and didn’t say much; it’s difficult for him to speak due to the treatments. But seeing Karl was enough. “I get to see him every day, but it was good to see him in the gym,” Coby Karl said. “Just as much as he can start getting around the team, it will help the team and help him. It’s a starting point. He’ll probably judge how his body took it and go from there.”

• The Spurs looked like the Spurs of old in winning Game 2 in Dallas, with 25 points and 17 rebounds from Tim Duncan and a much-needed bounce-back game from Richard Jefferson (19 points, seven rebounds). With the series tied 1-1 heading into Game 3 Friday night in San Antonio, this promises to be the most compelling action out West this side of Kobe vs. Durant. The question for the Spurs is the same one that has haunted them all season: Can they sustain it? This is where the extra rest that’s built into a long playoff series could swing the momentum in their favor.

Joakim Noah having fun at the city of Cleveland’s expense struck me as a quotable agitator enjoying the playoff stage. There was no harm in that, and there were a few headlines, which are good for everybody. But there’s such a thing as going to the well too often, and that’s what the HawksJosh Smith did by poking fun at Milwaukee. “Everybody knows there ain’t nothing to do in Milwaukee,” Smith said with the Hawks leading the best-of-7 series 2-0. “Everybody knows that ... [even] the people that live there.” Hey, Josh: There isn’t supposed to be anything to do in Milwaukee other than win a couple of playoff games and get ready for the second round. So just concentrate on that, OK?

• By beating the Suns on their home floor in Game 1, the Trail Blazers opened a lot of eyes – and unfortunately for them, they awakened the Suns, too. The Blazers, without Brandon Roy, are suddenly reeling after getting trounced 108-89 in Game 3 on their home floor. For two straight games, Portland has had no answer for Jason Richardson, who scored 71 points in the Suns’ two victories. Unless they find one soon, the Blazers will be embarking on an offseason of uncertainty. Even without Roy, the Blazers are too sound defensively to allow an opponent to shoot better than 50 percent twice in a playoff series. Or so we thought. A lot of things have to go better for Portland to get back into the series, but one of them could be as simple as relying more on Martell Webster on both ends of the floor. He has the mentality to dig in defensively against Richardson, and the aggressiveness that Rudy Fernandez has been lacking on the offensive end throughout the series.
Category: NBA
Posted on: April 19, 2010 11:41 am
 

Playoff Post-Ups

Ron Artest is nuts, Kevin Garnett is emotional, Jameer Nelson is back and the Trail Blazers are very much alive. These are just some of the things we learned from the opening weekend of the NBA playoffs. As we gear up for Game 2s, we examine all of it in a special playoff edition of Post-Ups:

• The Heat-Celtics series has lived up to the hype as the most intriguing Eastern Conference confrontation – in every sense of the word. With no Kevin Garnett for Game 2 Tuesday night due to an ill-advised elbow to Quentin Richardson’s chin, the pressure is on Boston to preserve home-court advantage without the most important member of the Big Four – at least on the defensive end. Something tells me it won’t be quite as easy to clog Dwyane Wade’s lanes to the basket when Garnett isn’t standing underneath it. But the BullsJoakim Noah weighing in from afar with his opinion that Garnett is a “dirty player” should remind us that winning without Garnett in the playoffs is nothing new to the Celtics. With tempers flaring already, this could quickly develop into the most contentious first-round series, especially if the Heat steal home court in Game 2.

• Watching the two Western Conference games Sunday night made it clear that I picked the wrong upset out there. It’s only one road game, and I saw enough encouraging things from the Spurs to conclude that we haven’t heard the last of them in this series. But the Mavs look like they have too much for San Antonio to handle. In Phoenix, what the Trail Blazers did Sunday night without Brandon Roy puts that series at the top of my radar out West. First, it was another inspiring coaching job by Nate McMillan, who has guided this team through a minefield of injuries all season. The Suns clearly don’t want to be involved in playoff games that barely hit triple digits on the scoreboard. But contrasting styles aside, the Blazers’ 105-100 victory brought one glaring omission from the Roy injury analysis to the forefront: The Blazers are embarrassingly deep. In Roy’s absence, Portland got significant contributions from Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster (those consecutive blocks were monstrous), Nicolas Batum and Jerryd Bayless. Which brings us to a very important subplot to this series: The future of the Blazers’ front office. To me, Game 1 was a testament to the job Kevin Pritchard and Tom Penn have done putting this team together. Now, inexplicably, the fired Penn is watching on TV and Pritchard is clinging to his job by a thread. If the Blazers win this series, something tells me people other than those who deserve the credit will be taking bows.

• Jameer Nelson reminded us that neither Dwight Howard nor Vince Carter is the most important piece of their quest for a title. With 32 points in Orlando’s series-opening victory over Charlotte, Nelson took a major step toward restoring his teammates trust that he’s a point guard capable of guiding them to a championship. After missing most of the playoffs last season, Nelson entered the 2009-10 season in less than ideal shape, then got hurt again and struggled with his confidence and consistency. The Magic aren’t going to play many postseason games in which they get a combined 17 points from Howard and Carter. But if Nelson can maintain anything close to the impact he exerted on Game 1, Orlando will be extremely difficult to beat.

• Was it Phil Jackson’s mind games or Ron Artest’s brute force that forced Kevin Durant into a miserable playoff debut? It hardly matters; Artest is the problem that Durant will have in front of him for at least three more games. Your initial impression may be that Artest’s spray-painted head was the most interesting development in Game 1. To prove otherwise, I take you back to a conversation I had with him in the visiting locker room in Oklahoma City after Durant scored 26 points on Artest in the Thunder’s 91-75 victory over the Lakers on March 26. Durant was 14-for-15 from the foul line that night, and the Lakers were thoroughly disinterested in the festivities. But the most interesting tidbit that emerged from that game was the following admission from Artest regarding what concerns him about defending Durant. “Nothing,” Artest said. “My whole mind frame is locked up. That’s all I’m worried about is how I’m gonna lock up, lock up, lock up, lock up, no matter what happens. And I don’t care what the other guy will do. I don’t really care what he can do. I don’t even study these guys. You know? I don’t even study them. I’ve got to worry about what I’m doing. Am I taking care of my body? And if I’m doing that, then I know that everything will be all right.” The most physical and feared defender in the playoffs doesn’t even study his opponent? Like much else that is revealed by conversations with Artest, you can take that for what it’s worth. But judging from Game 1 of the Lakers’ title defense, Artest is in rare form – exactly the form the Lakers expected when they signed him.

• I fail to see how the Bucks have enough size without Andrew Bogut to make a series of it with Atlanta. So Game 2 Tuesday night in Atlanta is all about the Hawks and whether their past playoff experience has taught them anything. As underdogs against the Celtics and Heat in the past two postseasons, the Hawks weren’t called upon to exert the kind of killer instinct that is required to put away an outmanned, demoralized opponent. That is what the Hawks must do in Game 2. The slightest hint of complacency could easily result in needlessly squandering home-court advantage and giving life to an opponent that otherwise would have none.

• Utah-Denver is a different story. Despite George Karl’s absence, the Nuggets are playoff-tested enough – and have enough leadership from Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony – to avoid a letdown in Game 2 Monday night against the injury-ravaged Jazz. With Carlos Boozer hurting, Andrei Kirilenko out and Mehmet Okur lost for the rest of the postseason with a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, the Jazz have reached the end of the road. It is up to the Nuggets to have the poise and ruthlessness to show them the way. If there’s a silver lining for Utah, it’s that several frontcourt combinations including Kyrylo Fesenko instead of Okur have performed surprisingly well. According to adjusted plus/minus guru Wayne Winston, a frontcourt of Paul Millsap, C.J. Miles and Fesenko performed 13 points better than average this season. With Boozer instead of Millsap, that combination was 26 points better than average. Regardless of who fills in for Okur, Utah’s fate in this series will be determined by whether Jerry Sloan can find a defender – or defenders – who can be physical enough with Anthony to get him out of his comfort zone. My honest guess: Nope.

• I don’t have much to say about Bulls-Cavs, other than 1) I agree with Joakim Noah that downtown Cleveland is a little on the, um sleepy side. (Cleveland is all about the suburbs.); and 2) Mike Brown and Danny Ferry have to be smiling at the playoff scores produced by the opening weekend. After the NBA’s highest-scoring regular season since 1994-95, the opening weekend of the playoffs fell back in line with what postseason basketball is all about – defense and halfcourt execution. Only two opening games – Utah-Denver and Portland-Phoenix – saw both teams hit the century mark. In three of the other six games, neither team scored 100. This trend bodes well for teams that favor a slower pace and thrive on holding opponents below 100 points. Teams that should be concerned: Phoenix, which allowed the most points per game among the 16 playoff teams (105.3), Denver (102.4), Dallas (99.3), and Utah (98.9).

• Check out CBSSports.com’s special NBA playoff blog for news, updates, video, links to playoff coverage around the country, and full-game simulations from NBA2K10.
Category: NBA
 
 
 
 
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