Plenty new around the NBA lately
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The great players in the game set the trends. It’s always been that way, from style of play to dress to philosophy. Once, the ethic was you accepted the fate of the draft and took your team to a title. It was so for Bill Russell on through Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan, the biggest winners in league history.
But things began to change in the 1990’s, first with Shaquille O’Neal and then Grant Hill, though it didn’t work for him, and then onto LeBron James, now universally regarded as the game’s best. If it was good enough for LeBron to pick a place that suited his ambitions better, it became the norm.
So last week the story was Carmelo Anthony. James can be a free agent again after this season along with teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They aren’t discussing it. But Anthony is, and he said he’d love to remain with the Knicks except if he doesn’t. Anthony, 29, who forced a trade out of Denver, where he eschewed the chance for free agency when players like James and Wade waited for opt outs, says he wants to experience free agency and will opt out. “I’m in New York,” he told New York media. “At the end of the day, I don’t want to go anywhere. I don’t plan on going anywhere. But when that time comes, I’ll deal with that situation.”
Then Anthony, who owns a home in Los Angeles where his wife works as an actress, hinted broadly about being recruited by the Lakers. “What other team would they say?” Anthony asked. “If you look at situations, that’s the only team that they probably would say.” The Lakers will have salary cap space after this season. But to recruit Anthony they’d have to renounce or resign free agent Kobe Bryant at a lower figure. Similarly with Pau Gasol, which seems unlikely. And then Anthony would have to accept far less money to sign with the Lakers. It all seems very unlikely.
But the Lakers’ hopes and future always is an NBA story, much like the Yankees’ is in baseball. After this season, the Lakers’ only contract of significance will be that of Steve Nash for one season at $9.7 million. So they will be shopping in your team’s store. After all, everyone knows success in the NBA is governed by the star you have. And the Lakers have made a habit of poaching them, from Wilt to Shaq. And really Kobe as well since the rookie scared the Nets out of drafting him and the Hornets out of keeping him so he could go to L.A.
Much speculation has been about LeBron going to the Lakers, which most doubt given their lack of a team foundation and having to replace or play with Kobe, neither a realistic option. And, yes, Dwight Howard passed.
Which makes one wonder as the Bulls head to Kansas later this week for an exhibition game with the Oklahoma City Thunder. A few years ago, the Thunder was the model for everyone. But they traded All-Star Harden for financial reasons and now Russell Westbrook is out after knee surgery. Westbrook will return, and the Thunder still will be a contender, though not really a favorite anymore after a step back in the playoffs last season when Westbrook was hurt.
If you are the Lakers you may be looking at the summer of 2016, and not for the next presidential election. That’s when Kevin Durant’s contract expires. Durant has given no hint he intends to leave Oklahoma City and has been the model player. But, like with LeBron, if things don’t work out, well, this is a different NBA era.
“It has changed,” Knicks coach Mike Woodson said when asked about Anthony. “Players are always looking for something better. That’s just signs of the times.”
You’d say it’s a long time to wait for the Lakers. But not really as you aren’t going anywhere building with Rudy Gay, Evan Turner and Greg Monroe, who are some of the top non-LeBron free agents after this season. L.A. is about stars; winning in the NBA is about stars. Durant’s the next really big one who’ll come up. Both the Bulls’ Derrick Rose and Westbrook are signed through the 2016-17 seasons. So you bring back Kobe for a season or two to please the fans and for old times sake with an eye on putting together a core you can sell to a very big star in the next few years. Great dynasties usually get a break of a few years, anyway. After all, who’s giving up their Lakers tickets?
Obviously, nothing is imminent and there’ll be much speculation regarding the Lakers. But the pressure will be starting to build on the Thunder soon to have a breakthrough much as it did with the Cavs. This is Durant’s seventh season coming up with the Thunder organization and the pressure increases on stars when their teams begin to take backward steps.
Thunder looking for that missing shooter
-- You think the Thunder’s game is pretty predictable? Not that it’s easy to stop. But rookie Steven Adams’ double-double in a loss to New Orleans last week was the team’s second double-double by a center since before last season. The Thunder had one last season, from Hasheem Thabeet. With James Harden and Kevin Martin gone, the Thunder is having trouble finding that missing shooter as Jeremy Lamb from the Harden trade is 17 percent on threes, heir apparent Reggie Jackson was nine percent on threes before hitting three Sunday, Derek Fisher is about 20 percent and Thabo Sefolosha 30 percent. Lamb has been the disappointment, shooting about 30 percent overall.
Latest Knicks dysfunctional season should be a blast
-- 76ers coach Brett Brown will need to be more psychologist this season as his team lost by 30 to the Nets playing without Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko and Kevin Garnett playing fewer than 15 minutes. ... There are plenty of injuries to go around as the Knicks, for example, have Iman Shumpert, J.R. Smith. Kenyon Martin, Ron Artest Pablo Prigioni and Amar’e Stoudemire with various injuries and Ray Felton adding a hamstring problem Saturday. ... This is the new athlete: Shumpert cut his distinctive high top fade, but declined to discuss it with reporters because he said he’s releasing a video on the cut. Shumpert said he’s protecting his brand, which seems headed to a backup role behind Smith this season as Smith says he should start. This latest Knicks dysfunctional season should be a blast. ... Deron Williams also remains out with ankle problems that now have bothered him for more than a year and which may hold him out of the start of the season. ... In Portland, starters LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicholas Batum and Wesley Matthews all have been out with injuries at various times in the preseason while rookie C.J. McCollum was out with a broken foot. See, it’s everywhere. ... Some old friends still looking for jobs include Stephen Jackson, Richard Hamilton, Lamar Odom, Mickael Pietrus, Daequen Cook, Chris Duhon, Leandro Barbosa, Marquis Daniels and Tyrus Thomas.
League officials with new points of emphasis
-- LeBron James took a nice shot at Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce last week, marveling at their seeming hypocrisy for criticizing Ray Allen for leaving Boston. Added Dwyane Wade: “We all know how it works. People say things about people when they decide to do something. But then people do the same thing. It’s about putting yourself in the best situation. It’s about doing what’s best for your family.” In other words, don’t believe what I say because I soon may be saying something else, the athlete’s mantra in this era. Garnett then set a moving screen. ... By the way, league referees have been going around to brief players and media the last few weeks of the new points of emphasis in officiating. If you’ve been watching you’ve seen several changes with more delay of game calls as players cannot touch the ball after it goes through the net at all, more travels as players must put the ball down before moving their pivot foot and more palming if the hand is under the ball. We’ll see how long the calls last. There’s also the unofficial Carlos Boozer rule as players other than the shooter cannot touch the ball when free throws are shot and the Garnett rule for any movement at all with legs, arm or body when setting a screen. This would make every screen Garnett ever set illegal. There’s also the Bruce Bowen rule as finally players will be called for not letting a jump shooter land, and the Reggie Miller/Kobe rule for sticking your foot out when shooting as an offensive foul. ... I received a good suggestion from a legendary NBA veteran when we were talking about the death last week of Joe C. Meriweather, who played 10 NBA seasons for five teams out of Southern Illinois University There were a few brief media reports, but it would be appropriate to see the NBA chronicle these deaths in an official way as the NBA is a very exclusive club and membership should never be taken for granted, especially by the NBA. The lanky big man finished his career with the Kansas City Kings being described by rookie broadcaster Neil Funk.
NBA news and notes
-- Watch out for: The Clippers’ Darren Collison. The backup to Chris Paul has been one of the best offseason additions with the Clippers deal of Eric Bledsoe. Collison is averaging 16.7 points and shooting 50 percent on threes after scoring 27 off the bench in the Clippers overtime win over Denver Saturday. Collison was a rookie in New Orleans with Paul in 2009 and Paul said he loves playing with him and the two will play together often. Paul, by the way, played 42 minutes and scored 40 points with 11 assists Saturday as many teams are playing regulars big minutes with the season a week away. ... Also Bradley Beal as the Wizards shooting guard had 30 and 29-point games the last week and is averaging 21.4 per game and looks like one of the best pure young shooters in the game. The Wizards are also getting nice production with offseason pickup Al Harrington, who has a history of knee issues, averaging 10 points in 16 minutes. ... Off to a strong shooting start with his new team is former Bull Marco Bellinelli hitting 57 percent on threes for the Spurs. ... For the 6-0 Pelicans, Eric Gordon has played two games and scored liberally, averaging 18.5 points in about 22 minutes per game. ... And, uh oh. Dwyane Wade with LeBron James sitting out against the Spurs had 25 points in 27 minutes in borrowing from Mark Twain about reports of the premature death of Wade’s high scoring career. And watch out for those Clippers. That bench with Collison, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, J.J. Redick, Antawn Jamison, Byron Mullens and Ryan Hollins is loaded. Which would seem to give them every right to cover up those Lakers’ banners when it is their turn. And it may well be their turn for some time to come.
-- Greg Oden had a setback — heard that one before? — with swelling in his knee after some hard workouts with the Heat. It makes sense they’re taking a decent gamble like they did with Eddy Curry with basically the playoffs in mind. ... The Omer Asik trade machine goes into high gear after Monday as the Rockets playing the Mavericks intend to start Asik and Dwight Howard together for the first time. ... Still another curious personnel move by beleaguered Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin, starting Richard Jefferson in preseason, which pushes guard Alec Burks to the bench. ... Were the Bulls the dullest team in the NBA last season? Maybe second. A computation from Deadspin.com listed the Bulls 29th in the league the last two seasons in alley-oop dunks. The Spurs, predictably, were 30th. The Clippers, Nuggets, Lakers and Knicks had the most. It should change some for the Bulls with Jimmy Butler now a regular. ... The world’s smartest businessman could be Andrew Bogut, who has the Warriors discussing a contract extension. Bogut the last five seasons has missed 180 games, or just under 50 percent of all his team’s games. He’s made about $14 million per season and the Warriors appear poised to pay him close to that. Bay area media reports mentioned a “bargain” deal of $13 million annually. “Bring us your tired, your wretched refuse of centers...”