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Portland Trail Blazers may enter LeBron sweepstakes

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

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.

Brandon Roy and LeBron James

The talk is growing that Brandon Roy's Trail Blazers could become a real alternative for LeBron James and the Cavs in a sign-and-trade, perhaps Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors as well. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images)

So what’s the latest on the LeBron trackers? Is it Chicago with uncertainty about Tom Izzo as Cavs coach? New York? Wade and the Heat? There’s a big time team hiding in the weeds that might, in the end, have the most to offer—the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Trail Blazers, like about a third of the league, have been the focus of some speculation before regarding James, though they hardly are in the so-called big time market James is said to crave. But as it gets closer to July 1, one thing you hear regarding James is if he doesn’t stay with the Cavs, he wants the money, meaning a six-year maximum deal because of uncertainty about the salary ceilings in a new collective bargaining agreement due in the summer of 2011.

More than most any other team, the Trail Blazers have the pieces every team that could lose a free agents wants in a sign-and-trade, namely centers. Though Portland is a small market, it is home to Nike, all the athletes’ best friend, and owner Paul Allen is one of the world’s richest men.

There obviously are changes expected with the Trail Blazers with GM Kevin Pritchard on shaky ground, to put it charitably. And with Allen undergoing cancer treatments, though the prognosis is good, there has to be some urgency with a team that seems to have peaked. Look, Brandon Roy is terrific, but he’s not good enough to take you all the way.

Therefore, the talk is growing that Portland could become a real alternative for James and the Cavs, perhaps Chris Bosh and the Toronto Raptors as well.

The key is the big men, which the Trail Blazers have plenty of in Greg Oden, Joel Przybilla and Marcus Camby, the latter obtained in a clever late season deal. Plus, the Trail Blazers, who have declined to sell off their depth in recent years, have a load of attractive pieces to offer.

How about this if you are the Cavs and going to lose James: You have Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and Mo Williams. Maybe you get a package that includes Ohio State’s Odom, the overall No. 1 pick a few years back whom every franchise was chasing, Rudy Fernandez and Nicholas Batum as part of a sign-and-trade. Then maybe you can acquire underachieving Mike Conley, Oden’s buddy, from Memphis. I know Oden has been hurt a lot, but all accounts are he’s recovering and last season Portland insiders were saying he was the best player on the team before going out. It could go a long way to making the Cavs whole, exciting and maybe just as competitive with potentially a great young center. And maybe Oden responds better back in Ohio with less pressure, though following LeBron won’t be easy.

Likewise, the Raptors most want a center in a sign-and-trade for Bosh. Maybe Oden or Pryzbilla, the latter a good fit with former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, whom the team wants to build around. Portland has pieces to add.

If you are James and are about winning, as he keeps claiming, how good a chance would you have? You’ve got two centers in whomever among the three is left, a near All-Star power forward in LaMarcus Aldridge, Roy and then pieces left as well like Jerryd Bayless and Andre Miller and veterans like Juwan Howard who want to return. Or if you are Bosh, maybe the Trail Blazers keep Oden and deal Aldridge to Toronto as the Raptors certainly would feel that maybe they even got the better of the deal.

Of course, you come back to why those guys would want to go there. Well, you can win, it’s as loyal a fan base as anywhere, the home of one of the world’s most influential corporations and an owner who won’t hesitate to spend and has worldwide connections.

Free agency could be getting even more interesting that most imagined.

NBA officials making more calls

-- Although the foul extravaganza with the top players out long periods of the games in the first four games of the NBA Finals has eased a bit, the irony in all this is you can blame Mark Cuban. He will not get fined, though. This really all goes back to Cuban, whose NBA mission has basically centered around officiating and making changes. He actually has. When Cuban came into the league and started complaining, one of the questions he most asked was to get data on the best officials. The NBA didn’t really have a great grading system, and Cuban was influential in pushing the NBA in that direction. The result, and it’s anathema to officials, is that every call is analyzed along with every non call by spotters at every game. No one in the league gets the level of scrutiny of NBA officials, who have to justify every call or ones they don’t make. What’s happened is the NBA, for a variety of other reasons including limiting more physical play and an overreaction to the Tim Donaghy charges, has come down on the side of more calls. Talking to officials during the playoffs, the term they used was “putting air in the whistle.” In other words, when in doubt, call the foul. Referees say it becomes easier to justify a call than to justify not making a call, so they just make more calls. Coaches and general managers talk about being “robotic,” when asked about officiating now. But the officials, according to some coaches I’ve talked to, say they’d like to feel the pace and rhythm of the game, but the league won’t allow it anymore, in effect, by the way they have to justify calls. And like in the business world today, your bonus is keeping your job. NBA officials are well paid and you don’t find jobs like that, so they do what they are told, and what they are told is to keep blowing that whistle. So they do. And it gives the NBA an in depth grading system like it never had before. Can we blame Cuban? Sure, we’d like to for everything. But he had no idea it would lead to this. The NBA has the world’s best basketball officials. It’s time to let them call the games.

Expect Hinrich’s name to surface in draft trade talks

-- Has the big X-factor in the Finals been the potential for Kirk Hinrich? Derek Fisher had a big game and Nate Robinson did as well off the bench. But the Lakers’ weakness has been its bench and the Celtics aren’t quite sure they can trust Robinson, which is no big surprise. How good would Hinrich look with either, especially the Lakers? Both teams were the biggest pursuing the Bulls veteran guard at the trading deadline, and although the Lakers have a reputation for going all out to win they pulled back this time, although it’s not clear the Bulls truly would have done either deal. The Lakers were pushing right up to the headline, but the Bulls never were sure, like with the Celtics, whether they were serious. The Celtics were offering Ray Allen, who has been big at times for the Celtics and won Game 2 in L.A. with 32. I’m quite sure the Bulls would have done that with Allen’s expiring deal, but the Celtics never were truly serious about dealing Allen. They gave mixed signals, as did the Lakers, who offered expiring contracts, though then kept hesitating about taking on Hinrich’s contract beyond this season. In the end, the Bulls went with the Bucks offer for John Salmons and Hinrich stayed. Again, Hinrich’s name will come up in trade talks at the draft, but the odds remain he stays as if the Bulls deal him they’d want to for more cap space and that may be too difficult to do with other teams trying to same tactic coming into free agency.

NBA news and notes

-- We still don’t know what Tom Thibodeau will be like with the head job, but his defense continues to draw raves in the Finals from both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant, especially as the Celtics have no all-league defenders but Rajon Rondo. Kevin Garnett was next highest, finishing 20th in the voting. … It could be the end of the line for Proviso East’s Michael Finley, who has lost his minutes to the younger and quicker Nate Robinson in these Finals after presciently deciding to join Boston when he asked for his release from the Spurs. Finley has played just two minutes in the Finals and hasn’t scored since Game 3 of the second round. … Robinson can thank Celtics coach Doc Rivers for getting him a big contract as there is one constant from the Finals: If a role player has a big game they get overpaid. Consider the likes of Jud Buechler, Luc Longley and Scott Williams. But the reason they have success, like Trevor Ariza last year, is playing off better players and being in position. Then a team expects them to do it for them and they don’t have the talent or the stage and guys revert to who they are. Someone is going to be very disappointed they overpaid Nate Robinson. … Figure the Bobcats to revisit their attempt to acquire T.J. Ford at the trading deadline with the Pacers looking to unload Ford and the Bobcats uncertain about resigning Ray Felton, who turned down a $6 million annual extension last summer to become a free agent. Ooops.

-- Now we know why Avery Johnson kept suggesting in his ESPN TV gig that LeBron James would (and should) sign with the Nets. … The Newark Star Ledger was unable to reach Devin Harris about being reunited with Johnson, though the newspaper said Harris had his publicist return calls. Yes, that’s what it has come to. Devin Harris has a publicist. To publicize what? ... Johnson said he would have hired P.J. Carlesimo for his staff if he hadn’t gone to the Raptors. … I know it’s a big decision, but the lack of decisiveness by Tom Izzo with the Cavs has to be worrisome for Cleveland. I liked the way Thibodeau handled his search, telling the Nets and Hornets he wasn’t interested and would pursue the Bulls even though the Bulls gave him no promises. You have to like a guy who trusts himself and knows what he wants. … How about the report saying Tyson Chandler may give up $12.6 million next season to become a free agent? Sounds like that was put out by the Bobcats. … More rational, Atlanta’s Mo Evans opted in for his $2.5 million, showing that many of the reserve types are beginning to understand the money is going to the stars and they better get what they can. … The Suns ran ads for 2010-11 season tickets featuring Amar’e Stoudemire, who made pretty clear to the Arizona Republic as he said he deserves a maximum salary contract. … On his blog, Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant speculated: "As far as my take on where some players might end up, I think Wade is going to stay in Miami, I think Bosh will go join him in Miami and I think with LeBron . . . it's either Chicago or Cleveland. Just my guesses.”

-- ABC-TV hung out Phil Jackson in Sunday’s Finals Game 5 when they played audio from his huddle about the Celtics that, "This team loses more games in the fourth quarter than any team in the league. They know how to lose games, and they're showing us that now." The rules that were agreed to in order to allow TV into huddle was they’d edit out expletives and incendiary comments toward the opponent. You wonder if it was an ABC-TV payback as Jackson is not always as cooperative as Doc Rivers, a TV favorite. … The Lakers scoring again was an issue with Andrew Bynum limited and Lamar Odom still not out of dream world. Yes, the Celtics defense is good, and I don’t blame Kobe Bryant who watched all around him collapsing and took over after halftime. But if the Lakers lose, and even if they don’t, you figure they’ll be in that derby for LeBron James or Chris Bosh with a sign-and-trade next month to get another scorer as Pau Gasol still doesn’t take the initiative enough on offense.

-- The Golden State Warriors media department Sunday was named winner of the annual Brian McIntyre media award by the Professional Basketball Writers Association. Ray Ridder is director. McIntyre is the NBA’s Senior Vice President of Basketball Communications. He is a native Chicagoan who graduated from Loyola Academy, where he is in the athletic hall of fame, and Loyola U. and was Bulls marketing and media director from 1978 through 1981 before joining the NBA. McIntyre created numerous awards, including the Sixth Man Award, the Defensive Player of the Year and the Most Improved Player. The Suns, Raptors, Pacers and Trail Blazers were previous winners.