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Tag:Vince Carter
Posted on: January 7, 2011 8:41 am
 

'In the Moment' with Grant Hill: No regrets

PHOENIX -- It was a reflective Grant Hill who sat down with me at the U.S. Airways Center recently in the midst of momentous change for the team he chose to stay with two summers ago, the Phoenix Suns

As a second-tier free agent in 2009 -- seemingly a lifetime removed from the hype that saw Hill and Tracy McGrady join the Orlando Magic as free agents nine years earlier -- Hill chose to stay with Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire rather than write a new chapter of his remarkable career in Boston or New York. As Hill knows all too well after having his high-flying career derailed by serious ankle injuries that caused him to miss hundreds of games, plenty can change in two minutes in the NBA, much less two years. 

The Celtics were back in the Finals last June and appear hell bent on going back there again, and Stoudemire is now in New York, leading a basketball revival at Madison Square Garden. Hill and Nash have been left behind on a Suns team that is quite obviously at a crossroads after a major trade that sent Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark to Hill's former team, the Magic, for Marcin Gortat, Mickael Pietrus and Vince Carter. Hill, who at age 38 is having his most productive year since he left Orlando in 2007, said he has no regrets about the decision. 

"First of all, it's flattering that former coaches of mine -- Mike D'Antoni, Doc Rivers, and obviously Alvin Gentry here in Phoenix -- were really kind of coming after me hard," Hill said in an interview for CBSSports.com's "In the Moment" series. "It could be worse. They could not want you, I guess. 

"It was a fun process. I'm glad I signed back here in Phoenix .We had a great run last year, a great experience. I like the team here. I like the situation, the organization, and I'm happy with the move. Obviously those two other places would've been wonderful and adventurous -- Boston made it to the Finals last year against the Lakers -- but I like what we did last year and I like the challenge that's ahead of us for this year's team." 


And quite a challenge it is. The Suns have lost six out of seven since the new players arrived in the trade, and they're in crisis mode as they face a revitalized Knicks team and Stoudemire Friday night at home. Sources familiar with the organization's plan continue to say that GM Lon Babby and assistant GM Lance Blanks do not envision trading Nash and want to give the new group a chance to turn it around before making a final determination on such a drastic teardown move. But if the struggles continue, everyone knows that owner Robert Sarver will not tolerate a playoff payroll on a lottery team. 

But for Hill, the challenge of getting the new-look Suns to play better is nothing compared to the personal struggle he's endured. Ankle injuries, multiple surgeries, and a staph infection that nearly killed him -- Hill admitted those challenges nearly broke him. Watch the interview, and at one point you can see him gesture to the heavens as he apologizes for admitting that he almost gave up. 

"It has been an amazing journey," Hill said. "I think I've endured a lot because I love the game. I love to play. That's why I almost died at one point after a staph infection. And there was a point -- forgive me -- but there've been some times where I was very low and questioned whether it was all worth it. But as you start to get healthy, as you start to show signs of improvement, then you start to have that goal and that purpose. And that goal is what gets you through those dark moments and makes you ultimately continue to fight." 

After all these years and all the hurdles, Hill said, "I still feel like I'm fighting, still trying to prove myself, still trying to overcome. In a lot of ways it was the best thing that ever happened to me." 

It's almost as though the Hill we see now -- cunningly picking his spots and doing the dirty work on defense and around the basket -- is a different person than the one who soared into the NBA out of Duke in 1994 and was touted as "The Next Jordan." 

"Sometimes you've got to go through those really dark moments in order to really grow," Hill said. "... I wouldn't change it one bit."
Posted on: December 26, 2010 7:22 pm
 

Gentry: Griffin is 'best athlete in the league'

LOS ANGELES – The best game of the weekend at Staples Center wasn’t on Christmas Day, but the day after. And it didn’t involve Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or Dwyane Wade, but rather a budding superstar whom one of the top coaches in the NBA called “the best athlete in the league” on Sunday. 

His name, of course, is Blake Griffin. And he does things like this

In front of a rare sellout crowd at Staples – for a Clippers game, that is – Griffin stole the holiday weekend show with his 18th consecutive double-double as L.A. beat the Suns 108-103. Griffin had 28 points and 12 rebounds, but that wasn’t the miracle. The miracle was that the Clippers figured out how to close out a tight game with Griffin sitting on the bench after fouling out with 2:52 left. 

After some nervous moments down the stretch, including a shot-clock violation in the face of the Suns’ improved defense after last week’s trade, the Suns cut the Clippers’ lead on Mickael Pietrus’ corner 3-pointer with 22.5 seconds left. But Pietrus, who came from Orlando with Marcin Gortat and Vince Carter in the trade that sent Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Earl Clark to Orlando, still giveth and taketh away. His turnover, forced by Eric Gordon as the Suns were angling for a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, let the Clippers survive without their athletic and emotional leader. 

“He’s the best athlete in the league right now,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “As a big guy, if guys are going to throw lobs and stuff like that, there’s nobody that’s even remotely close right now. You have to make him into a basketball player. You have to make him make basketball plays, not athletic plays. In the first half we let him make all of these athletic plays. And with Grant [Hill] guarding him, we made him make basketball plays. I’m pretty sure if you look at the time Grant guarded him, I don’t think he got a basket.” 

The Clippers (9-22) are a .500 team over their last 10 games, and with Griffin’s talent and attitude, there is reason to believe this team is heading for better days. 

“They’ve got good young players and they’ve done a good job with them,” Gentry said. “I think you’ll continue to see them get better over time. They got off to a rough start, but it’s not so much that. Are you getting better? Are you building up? You can see that they’re getting better.” 

The driving force is Griffin, a freakish athlete who has an emotional edge to go with his talent. He refused to back down from Hill, a savvy, 38-year-old veteran who was a year away from his freshman season at Duke when Griffin was born. After absorbing a hard hip-check from Pietrus on his way to the basket in the fourth, Griffin stood over the bodies that had fallen in his wake like bowling pins and screamed. He ran to the defense of teammate Al-Farouq Aminu, who moments earlier had been pulled down by Pietrus on a transition layup attempt. 

Gentry is right about Griffin’s athleticism, and the rookie is something else the Clippers have lacked for too long: a superstar with attitude, and by that I mean a good attitude.
Posted on: December 18, 2010 2:57 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2010 5:32 pm
 

Magic getting Arenas, Turkoglu in blockbuster

In a blockbuster trade that changes the complexion of the Eastern Conference, the Magic are getting Hedo Turkoglu and Jason Richardson from the Suns and Gilbert Arenas from the Wizards, league sources confirmed to CBSSports.com.

The Suns send Turkoglu back to Orlando, where he thrived, along with Richardson and Earl Clark for Vince Carter, Marcin Gortat and Mickael Pietrus. Orlando also sends a 2011 first-round pick and cash to Phoenix and acquires Arenas from Washington for Rashard Lewis, the sources said.

It is a swing-for-the-fences for Orlando, which came under immense pressure to make a big trade while losing five of its last six games and taking an obvious back seat to Boston and Miami in the East. Turkoglu, who struggled in stints with Toronto and Phoenix, returns to Orlando -- where he was a key piece in Magic's run to the 2009 NBA Finals.

Arenas is the bigger name, but the key to the deal could be Richardson, a perimeter sniper who fits the Magic's style and gives them a clutch scorer and big-time shooter to further space the floor for Dwight Howard.

The Rockets tried to get into the mix for Gortat, whom they've coveted for several years, but wouldn't give up Kevin Martin, two people familiar with the situation said.

In addition to making Orlando a more potent offensive team -- and, once again, a matchup nightmare with Turkoglu back in the role that suits him best -- the second part of the deal gives a much needed fresh start to Arenas. The former All-Star gets an improbable chance to resurrect his career away from the place where his status as the face of the Wizards franchise crumbled amid persistent knee injuries and a 50-game suspension for bringing firearms to the Verizon Center locker room last season.

Aside from trying to reload in a way that justifies their $94 million payroll, the Magic also are taking bold steps to placate Howard and dissuade him from entering the 2012 free-agent class. Some members of the Magic organization, including Howard and coach Stan Van Gundy, have had serious reservations about bringing in Arenas since CBSSports.com first reported in October that a deal had been arranged for the mercurial superstar over the summer. That deal was built around Carter going to Washington.

Magic GM Otis Smith, who has a close relationship with Arenas from their days in Golden State, will consummate his months-long effort to extract Arenas from Washington. The Wizards, who have turned the franchise over to No. 1 pick John Wall, are all too willing to oblige -- especially given the $62 million Arenas is owed over the next three seasons.

"It was a challenging situation for Gilbert," Arenas' agent, Dan Fegan, told CBSSports.com. "Ted Leonsis gave him a clean slate and really worked to make this situation work. He did a very decent thing by brokering a trade to Orlando and giving Gilbert a second chance."

That is the price Orlando had to pay to make room for Turkoglu and Richardson, whose presence made Lewis -- whose production has significantly declined -- no longer necessary. While the Magic are taking on significant money with Arenas and Turkolgu, Richardson's $14.4 million contract expires after this season. And Turkoglu eases the burden because he accepted a reduction in guaranteed money in 2013-14, the final year of his contract, as part of the trade that sent him from Toronto to Phoenix.

The dual swaps presumably give Orlando a starting lineup of Howard at center, Brandon Bass at power forward, Turkoglu at small forward, Richardson at shooting guard and -- here's the big question -- either Arenas or Jameer Nelson at point guard. Van Gundy also has the flexibility to play Turkoglu at the four in smaller lineups that might feature Richardson at the three with Nelson and Arenas in the backcourt. While Smith could've waited until the 11th hour on the Feb. 24 trade deadline to complete the Lewis-for-Arenas portion, the upside is that Van Gundy gets more time to figure out how to fit all of these pieces together. With Boston having the most continuity among its stars in the East, and with Miami beginning to make its Big Three work on an 11-game winning streak, time is a valuable commodity to the Magic as they try to retool on the fly.

From the Phoenix perspective, the Suns get a much-needed big man in Gortat, a poor man's version of Richardson in Pietrus, and the essentially expiring contract of Carter, who has only $4 million guaranteed next season. But besides Gortat, the primary haul for Phoenix is a first-round pick and $3 million for cash-strapped owner Robert Sarver -- raising serious questions about whether Steve Nash will want to stay in Phoenix to rebuild.



Posted on: December 17, 2010 11:51 pm
Edited on: December 18, 2010 12:33 pm
 

Wizards, Magic in serious talks about Arenas

The Magic and Wizards are discussing a blockbuster trade that would send Gilbert Arenas to Orlando, a person with knowledge of the talks confirmed to CBSSports.com Friday. 

The person characterized the talks as “serious,” with definite interest on both sides to make the deal happen. 

UPDATE: League sources say a third team is involved, with the Suns possibly contributing Hedo Turkoglu to the equation. The Magic, trying to make a bold move to close the gap with Boston and Miami, would wind up with Arenas and Turkoglu, who would return to the team he led to the NBA Finals before a frustrating year in Toronto. Magic center Marcin Gortat is "100 percent involved," though it's unclear whether the Magic would be sending out Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, or both.

CBSSports.com reported in October that Orlando and Washington discussed an Arenas trade over the summer, but at the time, it was scuttled by financial concerns on the Magic’s part. Orlando has a league-high $94 million payroll, and Arenas -- owned $62 million over the next three seasons -- is coming off two injury-plagued seasons and a 50-game suspension for bringing firearms to the Wizards’ locker room last season. As previously noted, Magic GM Otis Smith has a strong relationship with Arenas and has always been the most likely executive in the league to take another chance on him.

But according to a person familiar with the situation, Smith faces two significant obstacles in bringing Arenas to Orlando. The first is Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who has told friends he is extremely reluctant to add Arenas to the roster. The second, and even more important impediment, is Orlando ownership, which has serious reservations about absorbing Arenas' contract. Arenas has one more year left than Lewis and two more than Carter -- essentially three more with Carter's partial guarantee in 2013-14. Turkoglu's contract could ease some of that pain, as the Turkish star agreed to accept a reduced guarantee in '13-'14 as part of his trade from Toronto to Phoenix.


In the first six weeks of the season, Arenas has quelled some doubts about his health and explosiveness while the Magic, according to sources, have concluded that they need to make a significant trade to justify their payroll. Orlando has lost five of its last six and is looking to significantly upgrade its backcourt. Yahoo! Sports first reported Friday that the Arenas-to-Orlando talks were reignited in recent days. 

“They need to go make a deal,” a person familiar with the Magic’s plans told CBSSports.com. “They’re not in the same class as Boston or Miami With a $94 million payroll, they didn’t do that to get out of the first round. The window has closed up a bit.” 

The motivation is equally strong on the Wizards’ part. Injuries and a young roster built around No. 1 overall pick John Wall -- with Arenas uncomfortably lingering as the team’s former franchise player -- have conspired to produce a 6-18 start. Arenas is said to be eager for a fresh start, and a person familiar with the Wizards’ plans described the parting of Arenas and Wall as “inevitable.” 

“This is John’s team,” the person said. 

The specific pieces involved in the potential trade are still in flux, but it is likely to include the $17 million essentially expiring contract of Vince Carter, who has only $4 million guaranteed next season. If not, smaller contracts could be combined to make the deal work, starting with center Marcin Gortat, who has been the subject of trade talks between Orlando and other teams, including Portland. 

The Magic, according to a person familiar with their plans, are continuing to engage in trade talks with multiple teams with the goal of deciding if adding Arenas -- who, when healthy, would add the missing element of a perimeter player who can create his own shot -- is the best alternative.
Posted on: December 17, 2010 2:13 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2010 9:28 pm
 

Post-Ups (UPDATE)

Houston and Portland, we have problems. 

Two teams that have been tantalizingly close to championship contention in recent years are suddenly in turmoil due to injuries -- franchise-shaping injuries to their franchise players. 

Portland had no sooner come to grips with the loss of Greg Oden -- again -- when the gathering storm of controversy between ailing star Brandon Roy and veteran point guard Andre Miller popped up. The Rockets, struggling without point guard Aaron Brooks, now may have to completely rethink their style of play and strategy for the future with word that center Yao Ming could be out for the year with a stress fracture in his ankle. 

“They built around Yao and they’re going to have to change who they are and become a more transition-oriented team,” a rival executive said. * No one ever thought the Rockets would commit to Yao beyond this season until they learned whether he’d be able to return to the court and be productive. With the answer to that question now being no, it’s time to scrap the notion that Houston can rely on Yao to ever be the centerpiece of a title-contending team. 

Changes are needed in the short run, too. Once Brooks returns -- and that will be soon -- the Rockets will need to forget about Yao and push the pace in a way that fits the talent they have. Kevin Martin is a transition player, and Brooks certainly is. So is recently acquired Terrence Williams, who could be a key part of this new strategy if the change of scenery also changes his attitude. 

As for the Blazers, it would appear that their incredible aptitude for overcoming serious and numerous injuries has come to an end. In the past, winning masked the uncomfortable co-existence of Roy and Miller. Now that Portland is struggling, there’s no way to hide the fact that Roy and Miller aren’t a good fit in the backcourt together. Sources already have told CBSSports.com that Blazers officials are considering going young and moving some of their older pieces -- such as Miller, Marcus Camby and Joel Przybilla. Miller, with a fully non-guaranteed $7.8 million in 2011-12, has off-the-charts trade value -- especially for a contender in need of a steadying force at point guard. 
UPDATE: A person familiar with the situation told CBSSports.com Friday that Roy's recent comments about the difficulty he's having playing with Miller were no accident. "He's an unhappy camper," the person said. "A very unhappy camper. For Brandon to talk like that, he's got to be at his breaking point."
Sources continue to tell me that Orlando, which is concerned about not measuring up to Boston and Miami in the East, would be the perfect fit for Miller. The Magic are not going to accept carrying a $94 million payroll into the playoffs, only to lose in the conference semifinals -- which seems to be their fate as currently constructed. Rashard Lewis’ impact continues to diminish, Vince Carter is little more than a jump-shooter, and Jameer Nelson is too inconsistent to rely on as the floor general of a championship-contending team. 

Miller could be the elixir for Orlando. All he does is find open shots for his teammates, and Dwight Howard would be thrilled with Miller’s elite talent as a lob-passer. Howard, who will be part of a blockbuster free-agent class in 2012, has quickly grown frustrated with the Magic’s obvious limitations. 

The piece that could get it done is Marcin Gortat, who’s a starting center on any team but one that has Howard. Though Gortat’s contract goes out three more years, it’s at a reasonable rate for a starting center -- topping out at $7.7 million in 2013-14, when Gortat has an early-termination option. 

Blazers GM Rich Cho has liked Gortat since his days working as Sam Presti’s right-hand man in Oklahoma City, so such a deal would seem to make sense from all angles. Gortat would give Portland a reasonable insurance policy in case Oden never becomes worthy of his No. 1 overall selection in 2007, and Roy would have the ball in his hands more -- which is something he can’t have when playing alongside Miller. Whether Roy’s knees will hold up under those demands is a valid question, but one Portland may very well need answered one way or another. 

UPDATE: According to one source, Roy’s contract is insured against injuries to either knee. There is an outside, secondary policy, the person with knowledge of the policy said, and it also covers one of his ankles. Another person familiar with the details pointed out there are restrictions tied to the length of disability and stipulations related to the timing of a particular injury. Either way, that’s an insurance policy the Blazers never want to have to dust off. Better to put the ball in their franchise player’s hands and see what happens. What have they got to lose? 

Nothing, which is the opposite of what we have in the rest of this week’s Post-Ups: 

* Executives working the phones during these early days of trade inquiry say the teams that appear most determined to make deals before the Feb. 24 deadline are Portland, Detroit, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte. But while execs have seen the usual volume of calls, the urgency to clear cap space and/or dump salary isn’t nearly as high as it was last summer. Leading up to the 2010 deadline, multiple teams were hellbent on clearing cap space for a robust free-agent class. Not only will this summer’s free-agent class pale in comparison, teams also are unsure of how and when free agency will take shape due to labor uncertainty. 

* Amid commissioner David Stern’s latest CBA rhetoric, sources say there won’t be any bargaining meetings the rest of the year due to scheduling conflicts and the holidays. As of now, the goal is to gather key participants for a smaller negotiating session in January leading up to an all-important full bargaining session during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles. Union officials will be most disturbed by Stern’s assertion during a trip to Memphis this week that the NBA needs to transition to a hard salary cap in order to restore competitive balance. The players view this as a smokescreen, believing that the league wants a hard cap simply as a mechanism to reduce salaries. Meanwhile, Stern dismissed aspects of the NBPA’s proposal that were geared toward improving competitive balance, saying those changes actually would cost owners more money than the current system. So that’s where we are: nowhere. 

* One aspect of the players’ proposal, complete details of which were reported for the first time last week, has gone largely overlooked. The NBPA proposed a broad outline for redistributing draft picks as a way to respond to the owners’ desire to enhance competitive balance. The precise method would be subject to negotiation, but the union envisioned taking draft picks away from the top-tier teams and giving extra picks to the bottom feeders. For example, the top three or top five teams in the draft order would see their first-round picks go to the bottom three or five. So using last year’s lottery order and redistributing the top five teams’ picks, the Wizards would’ve selected first and 26, the Sixers second and 27th, the Nets third and 28th, etc. Not a bad idea, although I wonder if some of those teams would simply be inclined to sell the second of their first-round picks. Either way, it would give struggling teams more assets in their quest to return to playoff contention. 

* As the Nuggets continue to weigh their options with Carmelo Anthony, rival GMs and high-profile agents are divided on whether Anthony would even be a good fit for the Knicks if New Jersey wasn’t able to get him to agree to an extension. There’s no doubting the star power Anthony would bring to New York. Would he make the Knicks better? Clearly, he’d give them the closing perimeter scorer they lack, and in that way he’d be a perfect complement to Amar’e Stoudemire. But would Anthony make the Knicks that much better than a defensive- and transition-oriented wing, such as Gerald Wallace or Andre Iguodala? “I don’t think the Knicks win any more or less games if it’s Gerald Wallace vs. Carmelo,” a rival GM said. “They’re already scoring 120 points a game. I think they have enough offense.” Others point out that Anthony is a low-efficiency shooter and a ball-stopper; coach Mike D’Antoni could live with the former but detests the latter. But my point is, if the ball stops with Anthony and its next stop is in the basket, so be it. In some ways, the inside-outside combination of Stoudemire and Anthony -- with a capable point guard, Raymond Felton, divvying up the shots -- would be more dangerous than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. But here’s what the Melo-doesn’t-fit crowd will tell you, and I concede this point: The Knicks controlled the pace of Wednesday night’s game against Boston for 47-plus minutes. At the end, when they needed someone to stop Paul Pierce, they had nowhere to turn. Anthony is capable of playing better defense than he’s been asked to in Denver; he showed it in Beijing with Team USA. But it’s worth wondering if a player like Wallace or Iguodala would get you just as much scoring in transition and as the second option on Felton-Stoudemire pick-and-rolls and be capable of defending the other team’s closer on the last possession. Other than the fact that Donnie Walsh never panics, this line of thinking could have a lot to do with why he isn’t crushed by the Nets’ all-out pursuit of Melo. “The Knicks are in a pretty good position to sit back and see where the cap falls,” another executive said. “I don’t think Knicks will give up much to get [Anthony], and I don’t think they have much to give up to begin with.”
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: July 1, 2010 3:16 pm
Edited on: July 2, 2010 1:25 am
 

Free-Agent Buzz (UPDATE)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 








Posted on: March 24, 2010 10:57 pm
 

Hawks' Smith flushes doubts at buzzer

ATLANTA – As much as they wanted to downplay it, this meant something. The Atlanta Hawks didn’t want to go into the playoffs with a Can’t-Beat-The-Elite albatross following them every step of the way. 

“We know we can play with anybody,” said Josh Smith, who flushed a lot more than a game-winning putback dunk at the buzzer Wednesday night in an 86-84 victory over the Orlando Magic

It all came together for a team that no longer has to search so hard for respect. In front of a solid midweek crowd in attendance-challenged Philips Arena, the Hawks clinched a playoff berth and carried star-crossed teammate Jamal Crawford to the postseason for the first time in his nine-year career. 

They also took an important step, however reluctant they were to admit it. Despite a 4-0 season sweep of the Celtics, the Hawks’ resume was stained by an 0-6 record against the other elites – 0-1 against the Lakers, 0-2 against Cleveland, 0-3 against Orlando, with those three losses coming by an average of 22.3 points. That streak ended Wednesday night, when Joe Johnson’s jumper caromed off the rim and into the left hand of Smith, who soared through the lane and beat the buzzer with a dunk that sent a lot of doubts down with it. 

It was important, Smith was saying at his locker, “Just for our confidence, to know we can beat this team.” 

The deciding sequence came after Vince Carter’s 3-pointer tied it at 84-84 with 9.9 seconds left. As it turns out, it was better that the Hawks didn’t have any timeouts, because Smith said the matchup confusion resulted in nobody putting a body on him as Johnson’s 16-footer floated toward the rim. 

“Vince hit a great shot at the end, and Vince played great defense at the end to get the stop,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “On the weak side, we just stood and watched. We absolutely spectated. All we needed was one boxout and we’d be in overtime. But we didn’t get the boxout and we’re not in overtime. How you stand there and watch that play, I don’t know. The guys on the court were doing the same thing the guys on the bench were doing – standing there watching.” 

Down the hall, in the Hawks’ locker room, they were doing something else. Crawford, who’d spent his entire career on pathetic non-playoff teams in Chicago, New York and briefly in Golden State, proudly flashed a black T-shirt that read, “Clinched!” He hung it in his locker, saying he figured he’d let it stay there for a while. It’s been a long wait. 

“When you first come into the league, you think you’re supposed to be in the playoffs in year one or two,” Crawford said. “I don’t take it for granted. I’ve seen some tough situations, the worst of the worst.” 

And if the Hawks had lost to another elite team, they’d be wondering if they were ever going to take the next step. 

“It feels good,” Al Horford said. “There’s a lot of people that have been talking and questioning us against the bigger teams.” 

As the locker room was clearing out, the party was just starting in coach Mike Woodson’s office. Earlier in the day, after shootaround, roses and balloons had adorned his office signifying his 52nd birthday. Now, family and friends and adult beverages had joined them.

“That was a great game, a playoff game,” Woodson said. 

They will be playing those in Atlanta again this spring, the third straight year Woodson will lead the Hawks to the postseason. For five straight years, he’s won more games than he did the last. By beating Orlando, the Hawks clinched their ninth consecutive winning month – the third-longest streak in franchise history and second-longest since the team has been in Atlanta. 

Woodson is on the last year of his contract, Johnson is poised to join the star-studded free agent class, and all bets are off as to how that shakes out. For now, they should all take Crawford’s advice. 

“You have to appreciate it,” Crawford said, “because you never know when it’s going to happen again.”
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com