Posted Dec 14 2009 1:50PM
While there were signs of life this week along the NBA's I-95 corridor (four in a row for the Knicks? A road win for the Nets? A sellout crowd in Philadelphia?), the seven days seemed more to solidify the Lakers and Celtics as head and shoulders above the rest, and made me kinda wish we could fast-forward to June and get the Finals started already. But then I watched Kentucky-Connecticut Tuesday night, and ... wow.
The anticipated showdown in the Garden at the Jimmy V Classic featured about a half-dozen future pros, but one stood above them all.
Kentucky's freshman point guard is an electric presence, one that had my Twitter feeds and Blackberry buzzing as people tuned in. My non-professional observations of Wall's incredible speed with the ball, sound passing skills, solid shooting touch and wondrous ability to take over a close game in the closing minutes were verified in the next 48 hours by the people who evaluate talent for a living. I can't find anyone who doesn't have this kid as the first pick of the 2010 draft in that very same Garden complex next June.
"Right now, I would say he's the best player," says a veteran talent bulldog. "He's the number one pick unless something drastic happens."
And this, I think, should make the Utah Jazz very happy -- and, perhaps, be able to remake their team in a way no other already-good team has been able to do since 1993 -- when Orlando, which had gotten the top pick the year before and taken Shaquille O'Neal, struck it rich again, winning the Lottery a second straight time. The Magic took Chris Webber, but traded his rights to Golden State in exchange for the rights to Penny Hardaway -- and was in its first NBA Finals two years later.
At the least, Utah could well control next year's draft the same way the Timberwolves controlled this past year's draft, moving picks here and there until they had four first-rounders.
Utah has the keys to the catbird's seat because the Jazz has New York's unprotected first-round pick next year. Utah got it from Phoenix as part of a Feb. 19, 2004 deal that sent Keon Clark to the Suns and Tom Gugliotta to the Jazz. Phoenix got the pick from New York as part of the deal that sent Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway to the Knicks for Howard Eisley, Antonio McDyess and Charlie Ward. So, if the Knicks wind up with the league's worst record and "win" the Lottery, that means the Jazz would have the first pick in the draft. Which will, barring meteors hitting the earth, be John Wall. New York isn't cooperating, though, with this four-game win streak that leaves the Knicks six games "behind" 2-21 New Jersey for the worst record in the Association.
At worst, though, Utah is sitting on a top 10 pick. That is a potent weapon to own.
But Utah also will control what happens with Carlos Boozer.
The free-agent-to-be forward is having an All-Star season in his walk year. Do you remember all the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth last summer, when it was suggested that Boozer couldn't possibly go back to the SLC after intimating he'd like to be traded to either Chicago or Miami? Um, looks like everything's working out, wouldn't you say? Boozer's averaging 20 points and 11 boards so far, shooting 55 percent from the floor. Yet it's still unlikely that a) Boozer will re-sign with the Jazz, and b) the Jazz want to re-sign Boozer at the price he's going to be seeking, with Paul Milsap ready to take over at power forward. And that means Boozer will probably not be in Utah next season.
Allowing the Jazz to execute a sign-and-trade deal for him would get Boozer an extra year's salary, as opposed to just signing elsewhere next summer as a free agent.
And that gives the Jazz a second significant chip to use next offseason. Here's where it gets good.
What if Utah combines the two?
What if the Jazz lets it be known that it will do a sign-and-trade for Boozer and put the first-round pick in the deal?
Is there any team, outside of Kobe's Lakers and LeBron's Cavaliers, that wouldn't have to seriously consider such an offer? Wouldn't Washington, which is rapidly coming to the conclusion that no one from a 7-14 team is untradeable, have to think about giving Utah it's pick of, say, Caron Butler, Andray Blatche, Javale McGee and its own first-rounder? (I'm assuming there would be no interest in Gilbert Arenas on Utah's part.) Wouldn't Chicago have to open up the vault to all non-Derrick Rose personnel, from Luol Deng and rookie Taj Gibson to Kirk Hinrich and John Salmons?
All of this is predicated on my belief that Utah wouldn't take Wall even if it gets the first pick; Deron Williams is a top-five point guard that's just entering his prime, who plays the way Jerry Sloan likes and is a fan favorite in Salt Lake City. And the Jazz has a solid backup for Williams in rookie Eric Maynor.
But there are a lot of other teams that would move heaven and earth for the chance to grab the next D-Wil or Chris Paul, especially in a league that has seen an explosion in talented points in the last few years -- Williams, Paul, Rajon Rondo, Devin Harris, Jameer Nelson, Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Russell Westbrook and Rose have all entered the league since 2004, and this year's class of Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Brandon Jennings and Ty Lawson only adds to the mix. It could give Utah, potentially, incredible leverage.
Now this kind of arrangement isn't technically ... what's the word here ... oh, yes. Legal.
Utah couldn't agree to a sign-and-trade on draft night because Boozer would still be under contract to the Jazz, not a free agent. Under the rules, they couldn't start negotiating with his representatives on a new deal until July 1, 2010, when everyone else would also be allowed to talk to him. Now, I wouldn't suggest that teams have never had "understandings" with their players about what a new deal would involve. Heavens, no! Why, the very idea that there would be that sort of chicanery ... where is my fainting couch?
But if the Jazz did get the first pick, they could take Wall, then, on July 1, trade his rights, along with a freshly, legally-signed Boozer, to a team that, let's say, had expressed its desire for a young, franchise-level point guard in such a manner that Utah was aware of said team's desire.
I'm just sayin'.
Tuesday is a significant day on the NBA calendar. Under Collective Bargaining Agreement rules, players who signed as free agents this summer cannot be traded from their current teams either for three months after they signed their contract, or until Dec. 15, whichever is later (and some can't be traded then, depending on the day they officially signed). It's a subset of a subset; the Celtics aren't going to trade Rasheed Wallace; Detroit's not moving Ben Gordon, and the Mavs aren't going to deal Shawn Marion. Most teams are willing to wait to see if their investments were worth it. But there are a few guys that may well wind up in new uniforms, for one reason or another, before the season's out.
Here are some possibilities:
Andre Miller, Portland: The Blazers may not want to move Miller, but long-term injuries to Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw and Rudy Fernandez have left Portland with a gaping hole at small forward. Miller's three-year contract is only guaranteed for another year and a half, making him a reasonable acquisition. A source says Portland has at least broached the subject of Miller with Houston, hoping to pull Shane Battier from the Rockets' grasp. Good luck with that.
Marcin Gortat, Orlando: Dallas dropped a five-year, $34 million offer sheet on him this summer, figuring the Magic wouldn't extend that deep into the luxury tax for a backup center whose minutes behind Dwight Howard were limited. The Mavericks were wrong last summer when Orlando matched the sheet, but now that the 15th is upon us anyone could re-test Orlando's resolve. Orlando GM Otis Smith has been adamant that the Magic will not trade Gortat, but he's the same guy that insisted the Magic wouldn't match the offer sheet in the first place.
Nate Robinson, G, New York: Because he signed a one-year deal in the summer, Robinson would have the right to veto any potential trade the Knicks came up with. But since he appears to be waist-deep in Mike D'Antoni's doghouse at the moment, Robinson may welcome a change of scenery. (Since he didn't officially re-up with the Knicks until Sept. 22, he can't actually be dealt until Dec. 22, three months later. Knicks forward David Lee, who also signed a one-year deal on Sept. 22, is under similar trade restrictions.)
Other players that would garner some interest around the league include Warriors guard C.J. Watson, Miami guard Carlos Arroyo, Detroit guard Chucky Atkins and Toronto center Rasho Nesterovic. Watson got some attention from Orlando and Philadelphia before re-signing in Golden State. Watson and Nesterovic would have veto power over deals after signing one-year deals, and Watson, though frustrated with not getting as much playing time as he'd like, isn't looking to leave.
• For Tom Penn, his involvement with St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is a simple concept.
"It's a big time, change-the-world place. And so it's really more of a privilege to be associated with it," said Penn, the Blazers' vice president of basketball operations. He has has served on the hospital's Board of Governors since 2002, when he was in Memphis, as the Grizzlies' assistant general manager, and became aware of the work the local hospital was doing for children facing cancer and other catastrophic diseases.
The brainchild of the late actor and producer Danny Thomas, St. Jude's treats children who come there for all illnesses regardless of the family's ability to pay, and has become one of the world's leading research centers for studying potential cures for pediatric cancers. Since it opened in 1962, according to the hospital's Web site, five-year survival rates for Hodgkin's Disease have improved from 50 percent to 90 percent; for non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, the rates have increased from seven percent to 85 percent. Five-year rates for acute lymphoblastic leukemia have increased from four percent to 94 percent. St. Jude's hasn't done all the work in improving those numbers, but the hospital has been front and center in working on new treatments.
Now in Portland, Penn is trying to grow his singular passion into a league-wide connection.
Mainly through word of mouth, he organized dinners in Las Vegas the last two years during the NBA Summer League (full disclosure: I was honored to emcee last year's get-together). An auction of 60 signed rookie jerseys organized by Timberwolves forward Kevin Love raised more than $26,000 in 2008, and St. Jude's is now the official charity of the Vegas Summer League.
This season, six players -- Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, Lakers forward Pau Gasol, Pacers forward Danny Granger, Rockets forward Shane Battier, Blazers guard Steve Blake and Love -- and Nuggets coach George Karl, have each committed to donate $20,000 to St. Jude's, as part of the Hoops for St. Jude's program. In addition, autographed items from Kevin Durant, Mike Bibby, Jeff Green, Greg Oden and other NBA players are available for fundraising bid on eBay all year at the Hoops for St. Jude website.
"To be in Memphis, and see those kids day in and day out, how they're suffering, you have to give back," said Gay, who's visited St. Jude's several times since coming to the Grizzlies in 2006. "If you look at their faces, you see that they're suffering, what they go through. They don't care about the circumstances; they're just glad to see you."
Another initiative will take place from March 1-7, when St. Jude's hopes to line up players from every team in the league to donate for every point they score that week. At the same time, kids in schools around the country will also be doing fundraisers for the hospital, which had more than $528 million in expenses for fiscal year 2008, according to a Better Business Bureau review of the hospital's charity and fundraising arm.
"What I'm really excited about here is that so much of the NBA family has embraced it, starting with the dinners in Las Vegas," Penn said. "That's really exciting, to have professional players oln the court at the same time, on the same day, at the same time fifth graders are doing it in PE class. For the athletes, it's just phenomenal to have them in a leadership role on this. Because they're involved, others will get involved."
(last week's ranking in brackets)
1) Boston  (19-4): Allowed 93.4 points/game during 10-game win streak.
2) L.A. Lakers  (18-4): Trying to work Gasol back into the offense.
3) Atlanta  (17-6): Getting quality wins over +.500 opponents.
4) Orlando  (17-6): Consecutive losses for the first time this season.
5) Dallas  (17-7): Josh Howard finally back in the lineup.
6) Denver  (17-7): Nuggets winning, but not playing much D.
7) Cleveland  (17-7): Have become dominant against Western Conference foes.
8) Phoenix  (16-8): Still unbeaten at home.
9) Utah  (14-9): Back-to-back wins over Orlando, Lakers.
10) Portland  (14-11): Injuries, injuries, injuries.
11) Houston  (13-10): No one averaging more than 18 per game.
12) Oklahoma City  (12-10): Unbeaten (10-0) when it scores 100 or more.
13) San Antonio  (12-9): Turnovers rising at alarming rate.
14) Milwaukee (11-11): Jennings, Ridnour playing through injuries.
15) New Orleans [NR] (10-12): New Orleans 3-1 since Paul's return.
Detroit (3-0): The Pistons had every excuse to fold up and call it a day when injuries took out Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince for weeks, and Ben Gordon and Will Bynum for stretches. Instead, Charlie Villaneuva, Rodney Stuckey, rookie Jonas Jerebko and 931-year-old Ben Wallace have each picked up the slack at different stretches, and the Pistons have won five straight. Hamilton returned to the lineup Saturday, just in time for a three-game road trip this week at Houston, New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
Chicago (1-3): After getting crushed this month by Cleveland, Toronto and Atlanta, and losing at home to the Nets this week, coach Vinny Del Negro is officially on the hot seat. A lot of people around the league had heard the Bulls were about to make a change last week, and replace Del Negro with veteran assistant Bernie Bickerstaff, but on Thursday, GM Gar Forman on Thursday flatly denied it to me. Of course, it's not his call; chairman Jerry Reinsdorf will be making that decision. Beating Golden State in overtime on Friday stanched the bleeding for now.
Does anybody still watch this? It's like Steve Canyon and Apartment 3G in the comic strips; is anyone under 90 still reading those? My soap opera days started and ended when I was in the ninth grade. For some reason, I got hooked on The Edge of Night for a couple of months; I remember someone named Raven and someone named Nola were on the show. My EON jones disappeared as quickly as it came, never to return. Back in the day, ballers used to put their feet up after shootaround and get their General Hospital on, but I can't imagine, in an age where players are Tweeting and texting, and take their Playstation 3 gear with them and have NBA Live 10 in their carryons, that too many guys are still watching Luke and Laura. (They're still on, right? Did I just date myself horribly?)
• The Iverson love is not universal. From Mike McDaniel:
Just read your piece about A.I., and I wanted to give you a little perspective. I am from Caruthersville, MO, and I drive down to Memphis for Grizzlies games periodically.
The only time I got to see A.I was at our preseason game with Detroit, his former team. There he was sitting on our bench. When the third period started, I looked, and he was no where to be found. A person near me commented about it out loud where others could hear him.
A.I. talks about past mistakes and how he is a better man. Have you read the reports of what he said in the locker room following his first game as a Grizzlie or what he said about his coach on the team bus? I wonder if OJ (Mayo) still looks up to him now?...You talked about closure. We don't have any, really. We don't have an explanation from him, and we don't have an apology from him either. I feel he owes us an apology....know this...to many Memphis fans, AI is now known by these names: QUITTER, WHINER, CRY-BABY.
Mike, that is a fair and justifiable reaction from a Memphis fan who feels Iverson cheated the team and the city. He did. No question. But I think you'd acknowledge that things have worked out for the better since he's left, wouldn't you?
• After this comes the "Troy Murphy Decade" contingent. From someone named "Tough Question":
I respect you and you've always been good at what you do in my eyes.
However, I heavily disagree with your insinuation that there is or there was no Kobe era in the history of the NBA. Look, we are living in it. To merely dismiss Kobe Bryant, the best player since Michael Jordan by saying, and I quote, that "the guy with the tats and the braids and the crossover, who got this league from the Jordan Era to the LeBron Era, all 160 pounds of him." makes it seem like Kobe is merely just an above average player as opposed to the tremendous legend that he is. Kobe led his team to the championship last year and you and I know he will do so again this year. Nevermind the three championships he co-authored with Shaq.
Tough, no slight of Kobe intended. He's the best player in the league and I've written and said that many times. But you acknowledge that he "co-authored" the 2000-03 titles with the Diesel. And I'm not just talking about basketball when I speak of eras; I'm talking cultural impact, the ability to move ancillary product (like tickets), etc. Kobe has certainly impacted his era, no question; his jerseys and shoes sell in the millions. I just think Iverson has had a larger impact on more people, especially the young kids influenced by the hip-hop culture that view him as an icon. On the court, I'm not sure you can call this the "Kobe Era" when he's won one title as the unquestioned leader of the Lakers (just as Shaq won one in Miami in '06). The past few years have been dominated by Tim Duncan's Spurs more than any other team.
• Providing protection for their painted players. From Michael Orlando:
Thank you Mr. Aldridge for the wonderful article on the Blazers rallying around Greg Oden. The people of Portland are doing just that.
It has been fairly devastating to many of my fellow fans here in Portland, but I assure you we are not talking Sam Bowie or Kevin Durant around here. We are disappointed, but understand it's a rough sport and injuries are part of the equation.
I don't like kicking people when they're down, Michael. I just think that Greg's a good kid and doesn't deserve scorn or ridicule right now because his body is having trouble holding up.
(week of 12/7/09-12/13/09)
1) LeBron James (36.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 6.5 apg, .505 FG, .816 FT): Season-high 44 points at Oklahoma City Sunday. Once again, Cleveland's best lineup, it says here, is with Anderson Varejao at center and James at power forward. That combination took over in the second half of the Cavaliers' win against Portland Wednesday and against the Thunder.
2) Kobe Bryant (21 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 6 apg, .410 FG): You really didn't think a broken finger (Friday) and had a stomach ailment (Saturday) were going to keep him out of the lineup, did you?
3) Dwight Howard (17.7 ppg, 13 rpg, 3 bpg, .636 FG, .641 FT): Teams made Superman earn it from the line this week; he only attempted 22 field goals in three games, including just one in 41 minutes Friday at Orlando, but shot 39 free throws.
4) Carmelo Anthony (30 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2 apg, .458 FG, .879 FT): His streak of games scoring 20 or more points ended Monday, when he scored just 14 in the Nuggets' win over Philly, spoiling Allen Iverson's return to the 76ers.
5) Kevin Garnett (18 ppg, 8 rpg, 1.3 apg, .657 FG): KG makes his MVPW debut; the lynchpin to Boston's unbeaten streak continues to provide an intensity spark that's unmatched anywhere in the league. You won't see Garnett dancing on the Celtics' bench.
Dropped out: Dwyane Wade
886 -- Consecutive games in which Toronto has made at least one 3-pointer, a streak that has now run more than 10 years, dating back to Feb. 24, 1999, when the Raptors missed all six of their 3-point attempts against Indiana.
281,545 -- All-Star votes for Houston's Tracy McGrady, who has yet to play a minute this season while recovering from microfracture knee surgery. He's second among guards in Western Conference voting to Kobe Bryant.
$607,000,000 -- Estimated value of the Lakers by Forbes Magazine, which would be number one in the league, according to the mag's figures, overtaking the Knicks ($586 million).
1) Mr. Wall. Ohmigod ohmighod ohmigod.
2) Kendrick Perkins's improvement. The Celtics' center has made himself into a top-10 pivotman, a worthy target at the offensive end and a defensive force in the paint.
3) Mike Conley's end-of-game excellence Tuesday. Great hesitation move in the final seconds of overtime to get around Mt. St. Shaq on the pick-and-roll and drive for the game-winner against Cleveland. The Grizz brought in Jamaal Tinsley to challenge you for your starting job. You play like that, you'll keep it.
4) Wesley Matthews, Jr., the latest find for the Jazz. Doug Collins pointed out on Thursday's TNT telecast how dominated Utah's roster is with second-round picks (Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver, Kyrylo Fesenko, C.J. Miles, Mehmet Okur, Paul Milsap). Matthews wasn't drafted out of Marquette, but Utah's coaches fell in love with his toughness and defensive ability, pressing to keep him on the roster even though he didn't have a great Summer League at Utah's Rocky Mountain Review. He doesn't make many mistakes and he's not afraid.
5) Green Bay's Civic Pride. Love the traditions of the Packers, from the players giving kids rides on bikes during training camp, to this. Cool.
6) Iguodala, in defeat. The Sixers stink, but Andre Iguodala is having an All-Star-worthy year.
7) Jonathan Bender, back in the league. Knicks President Donnie Walsh, who has had a soft spot for Bender ever since taking the then-teenager with the fifth pick overall in 1999 for the Pacers, signed him on Sunday for New York. Bender, now 28, had retired in 2006 after a chronic knee injury had robbed him of the quickness that made him an intriguing seven-foot small forward. Bender went back home to his native New Orleans and tried to help in post-Katrina efforts, helping to build affordable housing for displaced families, but still wanted to give the NBA one more chance.
"He has been working for a year, but mainly during the summer up to now," Walsh said Sunday via text. "He said he wanted to be 120 percent sure when he tried to come back."
8) The Saints' chances to go unbeaten. Their fans were scared about playing the Falcons on the road -- division game, rival, all that. Now comes Armageddon II, next Saturday night, at the Superdome against allergic-to-December Dallas, then Tampa at home and Carolina on the road. At this point, if you're coach Sean Payton, don't you have to think about it? And tell your team it's okay to think about it?
9) Me, slump-buster. Rudy Gay had called on Sunday afternoon, on his way to the American Airlines Arena for an afternoon game with Miami, and we talked about how the Grizz were playing much better the last two weeks. "Yeah, we're trying to turn it around," he said, "but me, personally, I'm in a little bit of a slump. I've just got to keep playing." I told him things would be fine.
Gay's line Sunday against the Heat:
You're welcome, Rudy.
1) All-Star voting outrage. Let me say this again: it is an exhibition game. It is not a real game. Therefore, why would you care who fans want to see in it? If that's Tracy McGrady, then so be it. I have argued for years that the NBA could eliminate all controversy about who makes it and who doesn't by expanding the All-Star rosters to 15 players. (Trust me, Kevin Garnett will not mind not playing.) But I've always felt the league likes the barbershop arguments. Keeps the L in the news.
2) Rashard Lewis, sitting down. Lewis can rationalize not going back into Orlando's game against Phoenix on Friday when Stan Van motioned for him because Ryan Anderson was playing well, but it never is a good thing when one of your team leaders begs out. Obviously, if his coach told Lewis to go back in, it's because he thought Lewis could help the Magic more at that point than Anderson.
3) Gilbert, on the foul line, late. Okay, you're getting $110 mil. Make your free throws.
4) Miami, losing by 28 to the Grizzlies on Sunday. Okay, Memphis is playing better, but that's a weak effort at home, Heat.
5) New Jersey's defense under interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe. Nets are allowing 109.8 points per since winning their first game 10 days ago. No one expects the Nets to win much this year, but minimum resistance would be nice.
pls tell him to keep it low. Let's not relive the 90s.
--Grant Hill's wife, Tamia (@realtamiaworld), 2:45 p.m., Thursday, asking fans to pick a normal low cut haircut after her husband left it up to fans to decide whether he should go for the regular cut or the "high fade" style Hill (@RealGranthill33) wore when he first came out of Duke into the NBA.
"This promotion was clearly ill-conceived."
-- NBA Development League President Dan Reed, apologizing for a Utah Flash promotional stunt cooked up by owner Brandt Andersen. Andersen, who had tried to arrange a one-on-one game between for Michael Jordan and former Jazz player Bryon Russell after Russell had challenged Jordan, sent a Jordan look-a-like around Orem -- where the Flash plays -- last Monday, hinting that Jordan had agreed to play Russell at halftime of the Flash's game that evening. Angry fans who bought tickets left once it became clear the real Jordan wasn't coming. Andersen apologized on his blog, and the team has offered refunds to anyone who came to the game.
"KG's like the stock market right now. He's growing and growing every month."
--Celtics forward Paul Pierce, in my Insider Report (available later this week on NBA.com), on the gradual improvements of Kevin Garnett from his knee injury last year.
"Talent wise, I think we're right up there with (the contenders). The difference is the outside distractions, and guys worrying about this, and I need my shots, and contracts ... you've got to put all that aside. You've got to go out there and compete."
-- Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, trying to explain why Washington has gotten off to such a poor start. The problem is, every major Wizard except center Brendan Haywood has a long-term contract -- and Haywood is having the best season of his career.
Longtime NBA reporter and columnist David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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