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Sam Smith: 2010 free agency economy’s latest victim

Any free agent who doesn't extend this summer could be taking a risk of losing tens of millions of dollars. Why? Start reading and let Sam, who also shares his power rankings with about 20 games to go, explain it all.
Sam Smith at Bulls.com

Sam Smith: 2010 free agency economy's latest victim


The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

The latest victim of the faltering economy: NBA free agency 2010.

Because of the changing economic landscape with the salary cap expected to decline substantially after this season and the possibility, raised at the All-Star game by union chief Billy Hunter and NBA commissioner David Stern, that the Collective Bargaining Agreement could be re-opened, some agents are starting to consider urging their big name clients to seek a contract extension this summer rather than opting for free agency in such uncertain times.

The growing likelihood now, say a growing number of NBA observers, is the big time free agents slated for 2010 are more likely to re-sign with their teams this summer than risk waiting and perhaps facing potentially massively reduced contract amounts and contract lengths.

It also suggests that the Bulls current plan may be the most prudent—one of stocking expiring contracts in case any big time player comes on the market from a team looking to shed salaries—while also remaining competitive. It raises the idea of the Bulls pursuing postseason trades rather than trying to get under the cap in 2010, like perhaps going for the highly likely available Chris Kamen.

"I'd think every prudent representative would be sitting down his guys and explaining there could be a lockout, a new CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and there's always the injury component," said former agent and Chicago based attorney George Andrews. "That maybe it's time to lock in security now. I don't see the CBA going up in any shape or form. You are unlikely to get more years than you can now and there's a pretty good chance the maximum salary would go down in a new CBA. You might even (with an extension this summer) get some language so you'd get paid if there is a lockout, something of a tradeoff for extending now. And from a team standpoint, you could tie up your best guy and he would not be any more difficult to trade if you wanted to go that way."

In fact, it makes almost no sense now for the big time free agents of 2010 like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to wait for 2010 and not extend after this season.

Consider this scenario, which is certainly possible: The players' association sees a looming lockout. I've heard some owners say they'd lose less money in a lockout than they are losing now, especially if season ticket renewals and sponsorships decline, which is expected. So the players want to make a new deal. The owners want a reduced ceiling on maximum contracts and shorter terms.

So now James or Wade goes to 2010, and instead of being able to add on five or six years to their deals which conclude after the 2010-11 season, they now are limited to, say, three years contracts with a lower maximum. Instead of the $17 million they'll now make in 2010-11 and be able to build up by 10 percent a year after that for six years it's a lower total and fewer years.

You'd say if they have any idea of the world around them, they'll jump at extensions this summer.

Andrews also is a former general counsel of the Vancouver Grizzlies, but in the high flying 1980s of the NBA was one of the so called super agents who help revolutionize the sport's economics. He represented Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas, Mark Aguirre and Doc Rivers, among others, and negotiated the groundbreaking $25 million deal for Magic which led to Michael Jordan's $25 million deal with the Bulls a few years later.

"If you can get the current (contract) rates and increases allowed, and then maybe you get a trade kicker, which might not be in a new CBA," offers Andrews. "The way things were going everyone thought the cap would be in the $60 million (range). Now maybe it's in the mid or low 50's. It will make it harder for teams to get cap room and sign (a second) guy because you won't (being under the salary cap) have your mid level exception. You'd be cannibalizing your team (to sign a big free agent).

"And then if you are (as a player) going somewhere, you have to ask yourself, 'Is it better there than it is here?'" Andrews said. "You might be able to retool after a year or two, but how does that help a guy's legacy to go somewhere and not be able to compete. The next step for someone like LeBron for more endorsements is to win a championship. Then he'd be even more valuable. How would going somewhere and being mediocre for two years while you try to build around him help?

"From a security standpoint and everything else, it makes a lot of sense to extend now," said Andrews. "You don't know what will happen if there's a new CBA. It wouldn't shock me to see Billy Hunter enter into something next season as he sees how bad things can get, maybe make a new deal before things bottom out. And his concern has to be not five or six guys, but the players as a whole. Who knows? Maybe the owners will want to get rid of the mid level and he can get a jump on that by giving them relief a year earlier and save some things.

"The maximum is correlated to the cap," Andrews noted. "And the cap is going down. Stern already has said that. How in the world would you expect to get more money with the cap going down, the numbers of years (likely) curtailed? Nobody could have anticipated this."

Any free agent who doesn't extend this summer could be taking a risk of losing tens of millions of dollars.

Yes, the best laid plans.

--It's little talked about, but a similar situation, though not so economically dire, really led to the Bulls post-Jordan downfall and the departure of then general manager Jerry Krause. Krause's plan wasn't wrong. He unloaded contracts to go well below the salary cap. And given the Bulls situation with almost no players, the Bulls could top anyone in offering a contract. And then the NBA changed the rules.

That was to end the lockout of 1998-99. The new agreement put a ceiling on salaries, so the greatest players in the game couldn't exceed a certain amount, about $15 million then. Extant contracts were honored in their amounts. It led to Stephon Marbury's famous departure from Minnesota because he could not be paid more than Kevin Garnett, who made more than $20 million under grandfathering rules then put in to try to entice Michael Jordan to return to the league (old contracts could be increased by five percent per season). Kobe Bryant, confidently predicting his worth then, was the lone player to vote against the deal. Little noted was how it killed the Bulls free agency. The Bulls were in position to beat anyone's offer since they were by far the most below the salary cap and had the resources of the Bulls coming off six championships. The roster was a mess and they had an overmatched coach. But $5 million a year more always talks. But when the Bulls suddenly could not beat anyone else's best offer. Tracy McGrady went to Orlando with Grant Hill and Eddie Jones decided on Miami. Had the rules not changed, the Bulls would almost certainly have gotten one of those stars with the bigger contract. All things being equal, who wanted to play for Tim Floyd and with Dragan Tarlac? So the Bulls had to settle for Ron Mercer and Brad Miller. No offense, Brad.

Power rankings down the stretch run

--That's right, "Here they come..."

It's the final quarter stretch run of the NBA regular season, and I'm afraid it's like the early 1960s again. I was a Knicks' fan then, and it means now what it did then: Losing. For seven straight seasons until Willis Reed came along, the Knicks finished last in the East, and in the regular, expected beatings all we really came to care about was whether someone could beat those haughty Celtics. There seemed hope. First there was Wilt, which was, in part, why I became such a big fan. Then there was Oscar, loser of a seven gamer in '63, and then I thought with Lucas that was it when they were up 2-1 on Boston in a opening five-gamer in '66, and the Celts won again. That was the year Auerbach announced he'd retire and typically said this was everyone's last chance to knock him off. Though we didn't call it trash talk. And then West and Baylor went down again in the seventh game in the Finals that year, this time by a basket. So here we are again, and when the season opened I thought it was the Lakers. And while they've beaten the Celtics twice, they still look frail and mostly defenseless. I thought maybe the Cavs the way LeBron was playing, but, c'mon, Delonte West and Mo Williams? Then the Magic went West and beat everyone and maybe, but, nah. Maybe Hedo will post up a guard some day. So, as we head down the stretch, sigh, I cannot find anyone who is going to beat the Celtics, once Garnett returns, of course. Here's how it looks to me with about 20 games remaining:

1. Celtics: They've even won eight of 11 after Sunday's loss without Garnett, including over the Cavs. Paul Pierce finally has made a believer of me, though it took KG. The depth of their defense is the difference.

2. Lakers: Lamar Odom is back to questioning himself and they'll have to work Bynum back again. Pau is still Gasol. Though it's enough to get to the Finals.

3. Cavs: I guess. There seems a major drop off in talent from the top two. James has been the MVP, but he still misses those pesky free throws at the end of games and you still wonder if he wants to go to the basket as a result. They're 1-5 against the team with the other top three records.

4. Spurs: There may never have been a West positioning race like this with four games separating two through eight. But they've hung in well without Manu and you get the feeling Popovich understands best about building a defense toward the playoffs. Drew Gooden is a nice addition.

5. Jazz: Terrific job of staying in there with major injuries. Boozer is back, but Deron Williams is playing like a major superstar with the effects of a season long ankle problem seemingly gone. He quietly averaged more than 20 and 10 in January and February. They may be on the most anonymous 11-game win streak ever.

6. Hornets: Tyson Chander for MVP? Maybe the Thunder's doctor as Hornets MVP. They are 11-11 without Chandler and 28-11 with him. Chris Paul's fast break through Jason Terry's legs may have been the season highlight. Paul and Williams are one of the best shows in the league. I'm rooting for a Jazz-Hornets series.

7. Magic: Would it have made a difference with Jameer Nelson? Probably not. Just a few too many threes and not enough D. If only they had the spirit of their coach. Though maybe they're right; they seem to have more fun than most teams.

8. Rockets: It's truly the Americanization of Yao. He complains about a lack of foul calls all the time. They're relying on Ron Artest's offense, which is amusing. Though Ron seems to be getting it as well as he can.

9. Trail Blazers: They coulda been a contender. Having the most pieces to deal and standing pat at the trading deadline will be fatal for this season. And it's becoming clear they have to have a Plan B beyond Greg Oden.

10. Nuggets: Another first round and out, but at least no longer in the luxury tax to do so. As Phil Jackson so wonderfully said about Chauncey Billups, "They finally have a brain on those athletes." But still too many knuckleheads. They're again in their late season collapse.

11. Mavericks: It was amusing to hear Mark Cuban blasting the team he put together dumping Steve Nash to sign Erick Dampier and trading Devin Harris and two first for Jason Kidd. And labeling Josh Howard untouchable. Their window has slammed shut as well.

12. Suns: And they're not even going to make the playoffs. They're the latest victim of geography, though the conferences are somewhat equal now with so many lousy West teams. The problem is where you go with the declining Shaq and Nash. Right, to the lottery.

13. Heat: I gasp watching Dwyane Wade this season. He's putting together the best individual season maybe in 20 years since a guy named Jordan looked around and said, "Pass to him?"

14. Hawks: If you're looking for your next coach to be fired, try Mike Woodson after a first round exit. Yes, they've had some injuries. But their talent should be a lot better in the East.

15. Bobcats: How 'bout that Larry Brown. Are they playing the right way? Who knows. But they give you a tough game and the last quarter is all about who is playing the best, and they're believing they can.

16. Bulls: With the trades, they've got some good, veteran additions who should be enough to make a playoff team. The mystery will be what becomes of Luol Deng. Ben Gordon figures to be on a heck of a contract run. They still have a good chance for sixth.

17. Pistons: How long can they get Allen Iverson to stay out? It won't get much better if he comes back as a reserve as the team oriented Pistons are the worst kind of team for his individual play.

18. Bucks: If they had Bogut, they'd be with the Heat and Hawks in the middle of the playoff race. Though Scott Skiles doesn't know Bogut and Redd are out.

19. Nets: Still best in New York, at least. So why is New York always crowing about its teams? This is supposed to be the mecca of basketball?

20. Thunder: They should have taken the chance on Chandler, if it was a chance. But they've got a wonderful young core and Durant is going to be very special.

21. 76ers: They're fading fast. Remember, no Elton Brand and no shooters. Ben Gordon would be their answer. If anyone takes a big fall, it could be them as they also have a five-game Western trip starting next week.

22. Pacers: Who knew you could still get something out of Troy Murphy? They've been doing it with mirrors with injuries and somehow have beaten the Lakers, Celtics, Magic and Cavs.

23. Knicks: This 2010 dream is going to be fun to watch as they carry this miserable roster there and basically no one wants to come and they're in last for the next decade.

24. Raptors: Hardly anyone ever has made a bigger mess of a roster with an Olympian in Bosh and a near All-Star in Calderon. They are the flop of the season.

25. Clippers: Unless the Clippers are the flop of the season. Injuries, yes. But Baron Davis has been a disaster and they've got moves to make with Kaman and perhaps Davis.

26. Grizzlies: There are some interesting pieces, but Mayo clearly can't play with Gay, and they're still in money saving mode for another few years of draft picks.

27. Timberwolves: Al Jefferson's injury was a season ender for the team. But Kevin McHale has found a job. He can coach, and I think he can be a good one.

28. Wizards: They're in trouble, and it may get worse. They'll get Gilbert Arenas back. Imagine his defense after not playing for two years. And he's got two years worth of bad shots to take.

29. Warriors: Don Nelson is in his self destruct, team destruct mode and until they let him go and pay him off they are doomed.

30. Kings: They are blowing it up, but it's a long fuse and will take some time. It's interesting to see the most hands on owners, Cuban, Sarver, Heisley and the Maloofs with the most depressed franchises. Must be a coincidence.

Best of the best? It's D-Wade

--The best player in the NBA? Since the Olympics it's probably Dwyane Wade, who was the best player on that Olympic team even as a reserve and hasn't stopped. He looks quicker than ever with more explosion than I remember. He's exploded ahead of LeBron James and seems certain to lead the league in scoring. Wade's season reminds me so much of Michael Jordan's in 1986-87, the season he returned after missing most of the previous season with injury, like Wade. Jordan led the league at 37.1 per game that season with an offense that couldn't score when he wasn't on the court. Just like Miami's now. Charles Oakley was second in scoring to Jordan, trailing him by 22.6 per game. Reserve Michael Beasley is second to Wade, 16 per game behind him. MVP? Wade spoke about it to the Ft. Lauderdale Sun last week and said: "I'm not taking anything from Kobe last year. I thought he was unbelievable. I thought he should have won MVPs in previous years. But I thought Chris Paul was the most valuable player to his team last year, from the way he played and what he meant to that team.?You've got to take a guy off a team and say, 'If he wasn't on there, how would this team be?' and see everything he brings to his team. That's my interpretation of what a most valuable player is. But everyone has their different takes." In 1987, Jordan finished second to Magic Johnson in MVP voting, and said this after the vote when he won a computer award as the league's best: "I'm not saying they (the media) don't know how to decide, but I don't think anyone knows what credentials should be used. I wish I knew what they were. I guess it goes back to history. The MVP has always gone to the winning team." Jordan that season became the only player other than Wilt to score more than 3,000 points in a season, and Wilt was second to Bill Russell in MVP voting the season Wilt averaged 50.4 per game. "The scoring title makes you proud," Jordan said, "but it also brings you what it brought me, a stereotype as an offensive player. I don't want to be remembered as just a scorer."

Another Ron Artest story...

--I heard a great story about Ron Artest recently, the new/old Artest. He's definitely gotten himself in a better state, and we even saw that at the end of the Bulls win over the Rockets last week when Ron got upset and went toward the referees. Yes, his teammates interceded, though that hasn't mattered much before. He left the court agreeing that it was better not to make it an issue. Good for him, because Artest really is trying. And he really is a decent guy. He's involved with animal rights after being cited when he was in Sacramento because a caretaker failed to feed his dogs. I probably have been as tough on him in print as anyone over the years, so when I saw him before that Bulls game I asked if he was still mad at me. "Nah," Artest said with a smile. "I'm not mad at anyone. I'm in a good place right now. My game, my career, my life. I'm having fun. I'm enjoying the game more than when I first came in. I was only three years removed from the projects. I played basketball like I was always in the projects. We lost a lot of games here (Chicago). It didn't sit well with me. Now, I lose a game I soldier on. I go to the gym and work harder. Before I'd be at the coach, the players, mad at myself, stressed out, frustrated and that didn't work. This is the first year where I let the story happen instead of me being the story. I've been able to go out and play ball and not worry about how people look at me after a suspension or I just got in trouble yesterday. It's an adjustment, a good adjustment. I got older. You get a lot of second chances. That's the good thing about living in America. You get a lot of second chances. I had five chances. I have more lives than a cat. I'm a different type of animal. But I don't want to use them all. They've (Bulls) got a chance to do some really good things. They made some good pickups. My teammates like me, the organization likes me. I can see myself being a Rocket a long time." Oh yeah, the story. It's a routine in the NBA on many teams in game preparation for players to be quizzed on who'll they'll be playing. They're asked to talk about the players, his moves, strengths and what he does. So Artest was about to play LeBron James and he's saying James can shoot the ball, goes strong to the basket with either hand, passes well and so on. And finally Artest, always serious, says, "If he can do those things against me, then he's really good." And he wasn't joking. You can't help but enjoy the guy despite everything that has gone on.

Shaq attack?

--Though you hate to agree with Shaq, he is right, at least about the unequal treatment he gets in foul calls because of his size. And he has an ally in Yao Ming, who experiences the same thing. No one in the league gets hammered without calls the way they do. But no one ever has felt sorry for the giant. Yes, fact of life. "It was put to me by a top NBA guy that they won't take care of two people and have 268 complain, because obviously if there's 268 people complaining about two 7-foot, 300-pound guys they're going to give them a little extra," O'Neal said. "'I can't guard you. I'm just going to fall down and cry to the refs.' Most of the time, the ref believes it. It's always David and Goliath. The little man always gets it. Their thing is, 'You're big and strong, you can take it.' But my point is a pinch feels the same to me as it feels to you." Said Yao: "Honestly, I agree. (They feel) the player who is above 300 pounds should handle any hammer, any pressure, any foul, any anything."

This was the best of Shaq, though we saw and heard the worst of him last week in as he called it "The I hate Shaq tour" as the Suns played the Lakers, Magic and Heat, all former Shaq career stops. This was after the Suns were in Toronto and Shaq likened Chris Bosh to cross dresser RuPaul because Bosh complained about Shaq not getting called for three seconds in the lane. Bosh was upset, though he did say he loved Shaq's movie Kazaam, which I thought was a worse statement than what Shaq said. Then it was L.A. and Phil Jackson, whom Shaq previously labeled Benedict Arnold for siding with Kobe Bryant, but since has made up with (Shaq will eventually say again it was all an act for NBA entertainment). Then Shaq went to Orlando and had this amazing exchange with Stan Van Gundy, his former Miami coach who he ran out for Pat Riley and later lambasted Riley when he was traded to Phoenix. After Van Gundy said it was Shaq flopping Shaq unleashed a classic tirade against Van Gundy, saying all Van Gundy's players hate him and he'll flop and fail in the playoffs like he always does as a panicky, overmatched coach. He called Van Gundy a quitter and a bum as well. Kidding. Well, not yet. What was even more fun was that provoked an Orlando Sentinel columnist to call the magic "mollycoddlers" because they wouldn't respond in kind to Shaq and that was why they always lost to tough teams like the Pistons. And they make all that fuss in the NFL about Terrell Owens? Kids stuff. Then it was on to Miami, where few knew—and it isn't totally clear anyway—about the depth of dislike now between Shaq and Dwyane Wade. No, Shaq doesn't deal well with being upstaged. Big men do cry. It seems Shaq had been calling Wade in mocking fashion "wonder boy" and "slash" before leaving Miami and upon his return last week mentioned just about everyone on the championship team but Wade. Even fondly Gary Payton and Antoine Walker. O'Neal gave Wade a hard foul or two in the game, and Wade when asked, said cryptically, "My grandma always said, 'You forgive, but you don't forget.' I live by those words."

I even had my own adventure with Shaq this season. I've had a few over the years, but it does show again, as Van Gundy said, how sensitive the guy is. And I do like him. Anyway, I was on one of those NBA-TV interview shows and we were talking about the demise of the Suns. I said it was Shaq's fault. By that I meant he couldn't help being who he was, and demanded attention. Like with Allen Iverson. It's why you never sign an aging superstar. They can't be anything but the focus. Remember Michael Jordan in Washington. It ruins a team. Aging role players like Brad Miller are fine. Like with Terrell Owens in football. The spotlight guy will always be seeking the spotlight... and the ball. So I was explaining how the Suns had to change everything once Shaq arrived. His fault in a way, but their decision. So I'm standing innocently the Friday afternoon of All-Star weekend as the players are entering a ballroom for their one main media session of the weekend. Shaq walks over to me, leans down to whisper—yes, way down—and says, "How the (expletive) is it my fault?" What, he watches NBA-TV? I've never learned with him. The slightest slight is never slight.

Former Bulls find new homes

--Nice potential break for Drew Gooden, assuming he heals from his groin and hamstring problems. He told the San Antonio Express he hopes for a future with the Spurs: It was knowing there is want for me here," Gooden said. "Not just 'We're glad you're here.' It was more like, 'We need you here, and not just for this season.' Hearing that was something I was looking for. It wasn't just, 'Help us try to win a championship this year and then we'll see what happens in the summer.'" Gooden gave up roughly $1.8 million, plus this summer's Larry Bird free-agent rights, to secure his freedom, but said making up that lost money won't be as important as winning. "Opportunity is worth that ($1.8 million)," he said. "It's about playing and winning and helping this team." … It was another good win for the Thunder Sunday, this time over the 76ers. And now teammates not only are praising Thabo Sefolosha, they're looking to him as a leader. Malik Rose talked about Nened Krstic blocking shots and players taking charges and telling NBA-TV: "The key is Sefolosha. He's our defensive leader."… The surging Hornets are thanking the Oklahoma City team doctor for flunking Tyson Chandler on the physical and perhaps saving the Hornets' season. Said coach Byron Scott to New Orleans media: "I love Dr. (Carlan) Yates, he is a great guy. He did us a service by failing him and allowing him to come back. I was surprised that he flunked it, but I was happy. Since he's been back, that's the chip on his shoulder that he needed to kind of get him going because he wasn't playing well. He was having a down season, and injuries had a lot to do with that. But he's so much more than (8.8 points per game). That's what he was averaging before the trade. I think it has been evident since he's been back in double digits points-wise and rebounding. That's the Tyson we know." Also having a down season was Chicago's Julian Wright, the 2007 No. 1 pick for New Orleans, who had an amazing turnaround play in their Saturday win, getting a block and steal on the dame play as he blocked a fast break, then turned as the ball went to another opponent and stole the ball and passed back for a three. Wright also had a career high 20 starting for Peja Stojakovic. … Big game for Noce Sunday in the Kings win over the Nuggets as way over his head coach Kenny Natt finally decided to return Nocioni to big minutes and Nocioni had 23 points in 38 minutes after averaging 22 minutes the previous four games.

--Coincidence? Memphis' Marko Jaric is four of 34 shooting since eloping during All-Star weekend to marry Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima. … After the Mavs lost to Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant and Jeff Green, owner Mark Cuban went on a rare rant ripping his team. It's usually the other 29 and the league. But coach Rick Carlisle went too far, saying, "To see the way we played the first three quarters, we should all be ashamed, everybody – coaches, players, trainers, PR people." C'mon, PR people? Though the media people usually give me trouble down there because Cuban doesn't like me. OK, PR people. I agree… … Times are bad everywhere. Deron Williams told the Salt Lake City Tribune he is selling his Harley Davidson edition Ford F-350 pickup on the internet. It's on a KSL.com classified with a link to Jay's American Car Care. He's asking $60,000 or best offer and the truck has 3,800 miles. Best offer does not include Anthony Quinn's undershirt.

--Peoria's hard luck Shaun Livingston is trying yet another comeback with the D-league's Tulsa 66ers. He said he's 85 to 90 percent back. He was the fourth Illinois Mr. Basketball to jump from high school to the NBA, joining Darius Miles, Kevin Garnett and Eddy Curry. … Good one from LeBron James as the Hawks plane was allowed to cut in ahead of the Cavs plane after a Cavs' one-point win over the Hawks when James got a questionable foul call with about a second left and coaxed in one of two free throws for the win. "They did (cut in). I guess we owed them one. That's home runway advantage." … With Manu Ginobili out, Tony Parker is averaging 25.6 since the All-Star break. … Shaq hasn't gone after his own coach yet, Alvin Gentry, who offered when watching some old Shaq footage before the Suns lost to the Spurs Sunday: "It looks like the new Shaq ate that Shaq."

--The speculation already is underway for the next superstar, and I use the term loosely, to come on the market, the Nuggets Carmelo Anthony. It likely will take an All-Star or near All-Star in return, and certainly a shorter contract (sorry, Luol Deng bashers). But after the Nuggets played with the idea of moving Anthony last summer, the latest Denver slide in the wake of an Anthony suspension for refusing to come out of a game—hey, at least he wants to play—seems all but certain to make Anthony a key rumor figure of the summer. It was Anthony's third suspension after a drunken driving arrest from last season and the big brawl with the Knicks in the 2006-07 season. The guessing is rampant the Nuggets have had enough, and aren't going anywhere with him... Like I told all those Golden State fans when I proposed that Monta Elis deal. They're going to trade him. Now it's coming out from Bay Area writers that Ellis remains angry with the team over continued threats to cancel his contract from his accident last summer and has left the team and basically been upset when around the team. Also, local media reported coach Don Nelson is telling Jamal Crawford he'll trade him (that's a threat?) if Crawford doesn't opt out of two years left at an average of almost $10 million. I've got news for Nelson. Crawford isn't opting out. The best news Crawford got is the evil Nellie will trade him. Hey, I thought Nelson said he had nothing to do with personnel... When the Kings lost to the Pacers last week, Sacramento's Spencer Hawes had his own version of that cool NBA commercial (no, not this years tired little guy on the bus thing). "No defense happened," Hawes said. "It's like those commercials: (ARCO) 'Where No Defense Happens.'" The Kings now are 0-24 against the East teams.

--Tough news for everyone around the NBA to hear last week following the deaths of Norm Van Lier and Johnny Kerr. Pistons Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly is battling pancreatic cancer back home in Florida. Daly is one of those guys like Kerr, seemingly without an enemy in basketball, and the suddenness is what's so shocking to many. Though 78, Daly has remained active and just last summer the avid golfer shot his age at the famed Oakland Hills course in Michigan, where he spends his summers. Daly's always been a winner and friends all over the NBA are rooting for one more big win for him.