Trade talk as the NBA hits the halfway point of the season
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The NBA hits the halfway point of the regular season this week with the All-Star starters being announced Thursday. It’s been a somewhat predictable first half with the Lakers leading the West and the Celtics and Cavs leading the East, though the Magic has stumbled of late and fallen behind the Hawks.
The stories of the first half have been off the court as much as on, with Gilbert Arenas’ plea to a gun felony, Allen Iverson’s short stay in Memphis and return to Philadelphia and season-ending injuries again to Greg Oden and now to No. 1 pick Blake Griffin.
There’s been the Tracy McGrady saga as he awaits a possible trade, the firings of Lawrence Frank with a record 0-18 start in New Jersey and Byron Scott in New Orleans. There’s been the rise of the Grizzlies, the Thunder and the Suns, though the latter is in decline now, and the fall of the Pistons with injuries throughout the roster, the Wizards and the 76ers.
The second half of the season promises to be more interesting with the Feb. 18 trading deadline.
The big question is whether any of the top free agents will be traded, and it seems unlikely regarding Chris Bosh or Joe Johnson. There have been questions about Amar’e Stoudemire for more than a year and now with the Suns stumbling, it may be possible. The larger issue is whether Stoudemire will commit to go where he is traded and whether the Suns can get much. They couldn’t last February and Stoudemire isn’t having a great season and clearly not the same in explosiveness. The odds are he isn’t traded.
McGrady is the big name, and the last I heard the Rockets believe the 76ers in falling out of it and 29th in attendance (Memphis is last) might break up their team and trade them Andre Iguodala. The general consensus, however, is the Rockets won’t get a big name and may cash in just before the trading deadline.
One GM I was talking to said he believes Houston will hang onto McGrady’s expiring deal and save the money and then extend Yao’s contract at a lower salary next season (Yao can opt out or make $16.38 million next season) and give him extra years. That way Houston would be far enough under the cap to go for a major free agent like the Texas native Bosh.
Most GMs say the most active team trying to deal has been the Cavs in offering Zydrunas Ilgauskas’ expiring contract of $11.5 million in trying to get another scorer to give them a chance to make the Finals and hang onto James. The Cavs have long had eyes for Washington’s Antawn Jamison. The Arenas imbroglio has left many believing the Wizards will break up their team and trade their stars, Jamison and Caron Butler.
But there’s an interesting angle to this. Several teams with big time free agents have questioned the league about Washington’s ability to void Arenas’ contract. Because if the Wizards can void it, they suddenly become a player in 2010 free agency and another team that can steal a free agent by getting well under the salary cap. In that case, you figure they’d keep their two best players and not risk going all the way to the bottom.
Here’s some of the names you hear coming up for potential deal:
Ray Allen: The Celtics may try to get younger and have a better transition.
Jose Calderon: Losing out at point guard as he’s been a reserve since returning from injury.
Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert: They’re trying to unload salaries without losing their young players.
Devin Harris’ name has been rumored, though I heard only if the Nets can get expected No. 1 pick John Wall.
Kirk Hinrich or John Salmons: The Bulls are considering whether to risk a setback this season to assure being far enough under the cap to pursue a max free agent next in the summer.
Andre Miller: The latest suggestion I heard was the Trail Blazers unhappy point guard for Miami’s Udonis Haslem. The Trail Blazers need size with their injuries, but having gotten Rafer Alston it seems unlikely and Miami has been telling teams calling they’re not giving up any cap space even though they should have enough for a max free agent and another player to pay almost half that.
Al Jefferson’s name has been rumored, and Minnesota has been out actively scouting players for trade. But the belief is they keep Jefferson and Kevin Love and trade one at draft time.
Kevin Martin is back playing and the Kings are losing, though on the road. Martin’s contract makes him likely to be traded and if you’d take Nocioni, I’d assume you could have him easily. Martin’s return is squeezing Omri Casspi, which probably is not worth it for the building Kings.
Marcus Camby’s expiring contract has huge appeal, and it depends on whether the Clippers are ready to punt on this season with Blake Griffin’s injury.
Corey Maggette is averaging 28 points the last seven games and the Warriors still cannot get any takers given Maggette’s contract.
Josh Howard’s name comes up as the Mavs always are talking. GMs say they’re like fantasy players, always coming up with wild combination deals for various teams without mentioning their guys much. The other assumption, as always, is Erick Dampier is available and some GM’s are saying the Mavs believe they’ll move one because they see the West more open again.
Carlos Boozer has long been the object of speculation and he’s hoping to get to Miami, though the Jazz continue to rebuff offers for him.
Otherwise, the Lakers are looking to get off some salary with luxury tax issues, the Nuggets are looking for a big man, the Spurs have talked about moving Roger Mason, the Magic seems likely to deal Brandon Bass and perhaps Marcin Gortat, the Pistons would love to move Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, the Pacers can’t get rid of T.J. Ford and the Knicks will move anyone for cap space because they believe if they have room for two they will get James and Dwyane Wade or James and Bosh.
So as everyone hits their 41st game this week or already is there, here’s a look at how well they’ve played thus far:
- Cavs: They've fooled me, though James is that good. The strength of schedule test is road wins against home losses. The Cavs are the league's best with the Lakers and Spurs having played the softest schedules, each 15 road games, 10 fewer than the Cavs.
- Lakers: Kobe Bryant has been an iron man with a series of injuries and never taking off, sort of the anti-Pau, who has played half the season. And Ron Artest actually has real head problems after a concussion, suffered how no one is quite sure. The bench is poor and they seem a bit fragile.
- Celtics: Everyone said the window would be limited, and the time may be approaching with Garnett and Pierce both missing time, Garnett with knee issues again. They look like they have one more run left, and they did get a title, so it was worth it. But do they short circuit and deal Ray Allen for the future? I wouldn't.
- Spurs: With an asterisk because they are breaking down as well with Duncan not even playing back to backs, Parker with foot problems and Ginoboli, El Contucion, as Brant Barry named him, feeling the effects. You'd say based on the first half there are just three teams with a chance to win the title and they are No. 4.
- Nuggets: Perhaps the best home court edge in the league with their offensive game. Nobody attacks the basket better. They know they're one big guy short, but have been a frugal organization. And they've got a star and a half with Melo and Billups.
- Magic: We assume they'll get it figured out as they have too many weapons, but Vince Carter just kills teams with his bad shot selection and tendency to stop all movement. Someone tell Rashard Lewis his suspension ended in November. You start to wonder if they're starting to tune out Stan Van Gundy. He's a very good coach. It's happened to others.
- Hawks: You hate to be that dependent on Josh Smith, but they are for defense. And when he is engaged they are pretty good. They take a lot of games off, but as the Celtics have found out in three losses they can be very good. The financial future is the question and whether they can keep Joe Johnson.
- Mavericks: If they can cash in Howard for someone who knows. They're just good enough to not be title threats, sort of the Nowitzki story, the not quite great enough superstar. With Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd they cannot have a long window. They are smart and finish games well, which carries them.
- Grizzlies: Wake up! They've won 20 of 30 since they got over the Iverson horror show. They really can score and pound the glass. They're good. Really good up front. They figure to lose Rudy Gay in free agency, so they have to make some sort of run now.
- Trail Blazers: They've sustained remarkably well after losing everyone over six feet on their team. Or so it seems. Maybe they move Miller for some size and make a bit of a run, and they are starting to get some of their forwards back.
- Thunder: We just didn't want to accept them coming so fast. But when you've got someone like Durant big things are possible. They lose too many tough games now, but have the talent to turn it on and make a run well into playoff position.
- Jazz: Does having a lame duck Carlos Boozer affect the team? Nah, everyone's a mercenary potentially. The Boozer deal possibility will hang over them until the deadline as they cashed in their first round pick to save money. So the backcourt remains a problem, but Kyle Korver's return should help.
- Suns: Yes, last playoff spot in the West. It figures to come down to them, the Thunder, who are probably a year too soon, the Rockets and the Hornets. The Clippers would have been there with Blake Griffin. You go with Steve Nash for the tiebreaker. But heading only toward eight they could cash in Amar'e Stoudemire before it's too late, which changes everything.
- Rockets: We're always underestimating them, and why not? Their front line looks like it would have trouble at the Venice Beach courts. They compete all the time, and Aaron Brooks is becoming All Star-esque. Never count them out.
- Bobcats: This is the value of great coaching, and Larry Brown is a great one. His teams get better as the season goes on because they get tired of him yelling at them, so they finally give in. They came on last year a bit too late, but have started sooner this year with Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace a curious, hard to handle one-two punch. They probably can't spend for the extra power forward they need. Perhaps if Tyson Chandler recovers.
- Raptors: They really can score, and they have a star, sort of, in Chris Bosh. If he's that good with the pieces they have they should be better. Still, everyone wants him. If they continue at a good pace, which seems likely, it's unlikely they trade Bosh and see if they can win a playoff round and persuade him to stay.
- Bulls: This would make them seventh in the East, which is where they were last season. Better than the Heat? You'd say no because of Wade, but the Heat can be a lazy team and give the Bulls this: They do play hard, or at least most of them. This Western trip should give them an idea of where they can be. If they can get three games they have a chance to make a good playoff run. If not, they could try to deal Hinrich, Salmons and Tyrus for cap space.
- Heat: They're hanging onto their cap space, but they also don't want to miss the playoffs. They have some wiggle room with a chance to make a deal and take on money and still have money for a max player. They've been all over the place with generally undependable regulars like Jermaine O'Neal and Michael Beasley. But Dwyane Wade covers a lot of mistakes.
- Hornets: They've been teetering all season with a decent core of Chris Paul, David West and Emeka Okafor and a woeful bench and support group. They have financial issues, a coach who has hardly ever coached and trade rumors hanging over them, which hardly breeds stability.
- Clippers: I'd have them in the playoffs had they not lost Griffin. Heck, some even speculated LeBron James would want to sign up. Nope! Chris Kaman has been terrific in the post and Marcus Camby is a rebounding machine, but if they fall out who knows what they do.
- Knicks: Playing their short rotation generally doesn't bode well down over a long season. They're even more than Miami the Expiring Contracts. Everyone plays for himself. But they have shooters who get hot and steal games that way, especially in the East.
- Bucks: Maybe Stackhouse will help. Maybe Joe Alexander becomes something. Scott Skiles has been doing a terrific job holding this roster together and getting more than anyone expected from rookie Brandon Jennings, who seems to be hitting not just any old wall. They won't quit playing, which makes them dangerous.
- Pacers: With Danny Granger back, they've been better. Would Cleveland take Murphy or Dunleavy out of desperation to add someone down the stretch? They're putting together a hustle group with Hansbrough and with Granger perhaps that goes somewhere.
- Kings: They've been a big surprise early, but have faded some. They have some roster thinning out to do and a big question mark with Kevin Martin. He seems not to fit with their future and shaky finances.
- Pistons: The mix looks awful as injured players return. Just too many guys seeking out shots. They're also anxious to deal, mostly Tayshaun Prince. Not a big market. Their free agency plan hasn't worked and you can see them making major changes.
- Wizards: When is that explosion coming? Everyone expects them to blow it up in the wake of the Arenas felony plea as they've got two All Stars in demand in Jamison and Butler. But they'll win games if they stay as is because Jamison is a leader. Everyone is watching.
- 76ers: It doesn't seem Iverson is quite the answer. They've played better and maybe this is too low for them, but there's an awful lot of grumbling all over that team from coach to player and player to coach and that never ends well.
- Golden State: Maybe Nellie doesn't get to that alltime coaching win record and ends up staying. Surprise! They're decimated with injuries, which matches the mismanagement. Gone from that wonderful '07 team that upset Dallas are Harrington, Baron, Richardson, Stephen Jackson, Matt Barnes and Pietrus. So they dump the GM who brought them in and reward the guy who ran them out?
- Timberwolves: Well, they said it would be a long season. Now about that Ricky Rubio? You'll hear plenty of moves from them, or at least rumors, as they're open for business given this is looking more like a long, long term plan.
- Nets: The Russian guy is buying them. What, to move them to a gulag? What a disaster of a franchise with nowhere seemingly to go and no one seemingly interested on the roster. Brook Lopez didn't need a Stanford degree to figure that out.
Saying goodbye to Thomas’ mother
-- Services are in Chicago Monday for one of the vital figures of the NBA, Mary Thomas, the mother of Hall of Fame guard Isiah Thomas.
“So many of these single mothers work two and three jobs so players can have food and buy gym shoes and shorts and jocks so they can go and develop their talent that leads to them becoming stars,” says former Bull and 76er star Chet Walker. “So many of these mothers are never given credit for that or the role they play for the men who become NBA superstars. They never are singled out for what they have done for 18 years. In many cases, this also keeps a lot of these guys from going in a different direction, and not a good one. That’s why I did the movie.”
The movie was, “A Mother’s Courage: The Mary Thomas Story.” Walker was producer for the Emmy award-winning TV movie. It told the story of how Mary fiercely protected her kids and worked so they would have what she never could, and basketball prodigy Isiah went on to NBA fame.
“My mom, Regenia, did the same things,” recalled Walker, who found inspiration for the story from his own humble beginning in Benton Harbor, Michigan. “She struggled with a bunch of kids, kept the place right, worked two or three jobs so I could have food and buy gym shoes so I could develop the talent I had.
“Colleges and universities come down to the projects and recruit these guys and use their talent to make millions of dollars and these women never get recognition,” said Walker. “Mary Thomas was a prime example. She was a special person and I wanted to highlight how these women work so hard so these guys can have the lives they do. My mother cleaned people’s homes, worked the field, did whatever domestic work.
“I remember a few years ago (one of the universities) playing in the Final Four. The school paid for everybody to go, the office workers, secretaries,” said Walker. “They didn’t pay for the mothers. This was an extraordinary woman. She lost one of her sons (to the gangs) who was a better player than Isiah. She was determined not to let it happen to anyone else in the family. She was a special woman.”
NBA news and notes
-- Those kids. It seems someone impersonating Jordan Farmar’s Twitter account suckered the Bucks Brandon Jennings into a bitter exchange after the two played and Jennings had a poor shooting game, one of many of late. Jennings taunted that Farmar was losing his job to Shannon Brown until he found out it wasn’t Farmar but an imposter, who wrote back Tyreke Evans was Rookie of the Year easily. Jennings finally dropped his account. And you wonder why Scott Skiles is going bald. Oh, right, that was before. … Tough ending for the Clippers, whom the Bulls visit Wednesday, as they lost by a point to the Cavs Saturday. What was tougher was watching the Clippers run no offense the last several possessions as Baron Davis seemed to be coaching himself. … The Suns Channing Frye leads the league in increasing scoring from last season with Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry and Aaron Brooks next with the Rockets losing Yao, Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest. … Being great also is about being there. Kobe Bryant has had a series of injuries, yet hasn’t missed a game in more than three years.
-- In dealing Eduado Najera back to Dallas, the Nets got Kris Humphries and Shawne Williams, for former Memphis first rounder banished from the Mavs. In arriving, Williams told reporters: “I feel like I (haven’t) been in trouble in the last couple of years. I’m older now and I know how to act. I’m more mature, a professional now, so I’m not even worrying about that.” Two days later he was indicted on eight counts connected with possession and sale of drugs. … Hedo Turkoglu’s 13 points on about 42 percent shooting is on par with his career averages, though well down from his recent best years in Orlando, and hardly big time free agent stuff. The Raptors have been coming on, though not so much Turkoglu, who told the Toronto Star it’s not his fault: "I try to do my best, but I'm limited. I just run on the side and expect them to just pass it to me. When for the past three years I've been a point guard, too, leading the team and making decisions. I'm not happy how I play right now, but because of the situation, I'm limited." Maybe the Magic could use him as Rashard Lewis says it’s been difficult to run offense with Vince Carter going into isolations so much. “We don't have any resolve. We hang our heads and lay down,” charged J.J. Redick. Now how bad is that: Called out by J.J. Redick. Still, I can understand the Magic not wanting to give Turkoglu a five-year deal, especially given the huge contract Lewis has that averages about $21 million through 2012-13. Turkoglu also has been heavily condemned in Toronto for indifferent defense and had a cranky moment even teammates questioned when a fan in a night club took a picture of him and, according to the newspaper, Turkoglu in an angry confrontation took the camera and deleted the pictures. And we thought the international guys were supposed to be more mature…..There was speculation already of where Gilbert Arenas is going once his contract is voided. I’ve heard, by the way, the Bulls plan to try to trade for Derrick Rose’s first born. Anyway, the speculation about Arenas had to do with Magic GM Otis Smith saying he’s been in touch with Arenas during this ordeal (tampering?). Jameer Nelson probably enjoyed hearing that. Always good for team morale.
-- That Sundiata Gaines three pointer to beat the Cavs in Utah Thursday was a great story of the D-league call up, but the play of the week was Manu Ginobili’s full extension stretch to save his own deflected pass going out of bounds to save the win against the Thunder. It’s a play you have to see as it contains none of that false hustle we see so often of guys flying out of bounds after balls already are there, a tactic Dennis Rodman excelled at. … How great could Danny Granger be if he attacked the basket? Half of Granger’s shots this season are threes for a guy who virtually always has a mismatch. … Worth a try for the Bucks in losing Michael Redd, maybe gone for his career with a second major knee surgery, expected to pick up long unemployed and unused Jerry Stackhouse, who was doing a radio show on Sirius and was pretty good. Stackhouse long has been one of the more intelligent and interesting players to deal with and an idol of so many in the NBA for punching out Christian Laettner during a team flight. Yes, it was a dispute in a card game, but that was deemed a positive around the NBA. … As if it isn’t messed up enough in Washington, but Andray Blatche complained on his Facebook page about not getting any shots in a loss to the Hornets. It’s why I love the Bucks’ pickup of Stackhouse. Go for guys who don’t know what Facebook is. Blatche was suspended by the team for a game, though it supposedly was for other infractions. Which is why you may not want to rebuild around the youth the Wizards have. Observed Flip Saunders: “If you're 6-10, 6-11, you can get an offensive rebound.”
-- It’s not a great season to be going West with surprising depth that has 11 teams well over .500 (six in the East and two teams one game 0ver). “Everyone feels they have a legitimate shot to win,” said the Rockets’ Shane Battier. “It's tough to go to Memphis now and get a win. It's tough to go play the Clippers and get a win. It's tough to go to Oklahoma City and get a win, tough to go to New Orleans and get a win.” There’s going to be the usual demand about reseeding, perhaps more so after this season, with maybe two East teams in the playoffs below .500 and perhaps three from the West above .500 and out of the playoffs. Added Carlos Boozer: "I looked at the (East) standings and I saw something crazy like a team was like 16-20 or something and they're like in the sixth spot. I'm like, 'We're 21-17 and looking from the outside in.' You've got to think the Eastern Conference is great at the top and not so great at the bottom. Our conference is great from one to 10."… The Spurs’ DeJuan Blair has a lot of GMs answering questions with 28 points and 21 rebounds in a win over the Thunder last week. It was the first rookie 20/20 game since Tim Duncan in 1998. “The guy is like a stat machine,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “He's got no moves on the post. He's not a shooter. He just figures out a way to get it in the hole.” He won’t have those kinds of scoring games, but given the physical future with Blair’s knee issues, I’d still take Taj Gibson. But getting seven picks into the second round? … You do have to take chances sometimes, and the Bobcats’ on Stephen Jackson is working out impressively with Jackson giving them the scoring and toughness that makes them look like a fifth place team in the East. As for next season, who knows. Said Tony Parker to San Antonio media: “Sometimes, he'll lose his mind, but at the end of the day he wants to win. If you want to win, that's all I care about.”… Odd stuff always happens on bad teams and it was amusing to see Al Jefferson screaming at the bench “Give me the ball!” as he was having a big game, though they were losing in double overtime to Houston. It also was interesting to see Kevin Love not playing in the overtimes and down the stretch. … The Bulls open their Western Conference trip Monday in Golden State and hope there is a game. Friday, the refereeing crew, with lead ref Joey Crawford saying he didn’t have to use the rule in his 33 years in the league, had to employ the rule requiring five players be on the court because after a foul out the Warriors had four with all their injuries. Golden State was assessed a technical foul for the fifth player being allowed to stay in the game with six fouls because they were out of players. Now there’s a well run team. Anthony Randolph and Anthony Morrow now also are out for extended times, which probably puts Golden State out of much trade talk unless someone wants Corey Maggette. … Suns rookie Earl Clark, taken one spot ahead of James Johnson, has played 250 minutes all season and averaged three points. Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson, selected 12th, has played about 200 minutes and averages three points.
-- The Bulls are in Oklahoma City on this Western Conference trip and staying at the Skirvin Hotel, which Knicks players insists in haunted. Legend has it in the 1930s a woman jumped to her death holding a baby and now some guests report noises. "I definitely believe it, “Jared Jeffries told the New York Daily News. "The place is haunted. It's scary.” Eddy Curry claims he slept for only two hours because he thought of ghosts roaming the hotel. Curry said he was on the floor it supposedly happened and left to go to a teammate’s room. "Something is going on there,” Curry said. Eddy, by the way, remains inactive and was listed with a sore knee. Asked about it, coach Mike D’Antoni deadpanned that the injury probably developed from how hard Curry works.
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