Several big names could be on the move this season
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The 2009-10 NBA season was overshadowed by the free agency of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. So who had them all ending up in the same place? Not me, I know. So when the 2010-11 NBA season opens Tuesday, the first game will be the Wade/James/Bosh Miami Heat visiting the defending East champion Boston Celtics.
Oh, yeah, the Lakers get their second straight championship rings playing later that night. Ho, hum.
The fate and future of that Miami team is making for a compelling season. But the story of the season could once again become what big star is going where. But it's not so much a question of free agency this time because of the collective bargaining agreement expiring after the season with talk of a potential lockout and vastly reduced compensation.
So stars like Carmelo Anthony, whose contract expires after this season, are not so much making the LeBron/Wade/Bosh recruiting tour like last season as being talked about in trade, as Anthony has now been for several weeks.
Whereas Miami will be the subject of endless debate on the court, there will be considerable off the court debate as well as perhaps a half dozen major stars could be traded during the season.
Here's a look at the most likely big name All-Stars and veterans who probably won't finish the season with their teams.
Carmelo Anthony: No way they get through very long with him. I know the Nuggets aren't in any rush now, and they have more leverage than media or fans would like to believe in that contract extension, which could cost Anthony $25 million or more if he doesn't sign. But it's a fragile makeup in Denver and they need to begin moving on. In the end, they'll come up with something that lands Anthony in New Jersey, where with Brook Lopez and Devin Harris and coach Avery Johnson they'll have something to begin building.
Chris Paul: He's all in for now, but that's not a very good team even though they are trying and made a nice pickup with Jerryd Bayless. Paul's contract expires after next season, so there is not any urgency. But the Hornets made a mistake dealing Darren Collison. They should have seen this Paul issue coming. One reason former GM Jeff Bower was offloaded was that he was entertaining offers for Paul, understanding well that this was coming. Like a lot of workers in this era, right doesn't get you a paycheck. Paul is going to begin driving this once things turn bad. After a 1-7 preseason, David West assured everyone, "We're not in panic mode." Nice for October. Everyone can't go to New York, as if anyone really wants to but Carmelo. There'll be plenty of good packages. I'd say Orlando can put together something impressive as you'd like to go forward with Howard and Paul and that would make a heck of a future rivalry.
Steve Nash: Before they could hire new management, owner Robert Sarver paid Hakim Warrick, Josh Childress and Channing Frye and took on Hedo Turkoglu's contract. It was a disaster for the Suns' future and basically sentenced the franchise to a decade of mediocrity. It was the greatest explanation for why teams need professional management and owners should stick with their big foam fingers, at least that one. It's going to occur to Nash pretty quickly that it's over in Phoenix. He's never been to a Finals and has a few good years left. The Knicks, where he has a summer home, and Toronto, where he has a lifetime of admiration, would be interested. Again, Orlando would be an intriguing shot. Maybe Oklahoma City and move Russell Westbrook to shooting guard and steal Jeff Green and begin to retool.
Kevin Martin: Yes, they traded a nice piece for him in Carl Landry last season with the idea that Yao is back. Well, they signed Trevor Ariza, too, and where is he now? They love to churn things, and why not as they have no idea what will become of Yao. They're still looking for a big name hit and Martin isn't quite that. And he makes a lot of money. They picked up Courtney Lee, who does a lot of the same stuff and doesn't make much money. At some point, Cleveland or Toronto may use that salary cap exception for a shooter. Oh, yeah. Martin was complaining in preseason about not finishing games.
Jamal Crawford: Which also is how Crawford may be gone. He doesn't have as much role anymore with Joe Johnson back — he was Joe Johnson loss insurance last season — and rookie Jordan Crawford looking good. No way the Hawks come up with a big extension on his $10 million salary as he's in his final season, and he'll be a topic of conversation before mid-season.
Monta Ellis: He's right, he's right, he's right. He and Stephen Curry aren't a backcourt. They both want to shoot, and though Ellis is quite the scorer you wonder whether he ever does much for anyone else. So far he's turned Curry into a turnover machine. Curry averaged almost six per game in the preseason, though I loved his comment of the month when he said he was doing so in order for the defensively deprived Warriors a chance to practice transition defense. "I'm trying to put our team in tough situations so we can get better at fighting through them," Curry said. They're not going anywhere with Ellis taking all those shots, anyway, so if they can get a point guard and maybe a pick. Chris Paul? Curry would be something with him.
Zach Randolph: Not trading Zach would be the classic falling in love with your guy thing. Yes, he had a terrific season, a career revival, if you will. Now he's in his final contract season and wants an extension. Who doesn't? He's probably never been more valuable given a consecutive season streak of about two of good behavior. One of the surprises of the preseason has been the development of power forward Darrell Arthur in Memphis. With O.J. Mayo also coming up for a payday, there's no way they can pay them all in their last season before contraction. Hey, they are a small market franchise with an owner trying to sell and nobody buying. But that threat from David Stern last week sounded like too much posturing. The Grizzlies have the look of a playoff team, so maybe they hang in another season, but you could probably get something decent from the Cavs.
Andre Iguodala: He's a two, he's a three. And he still can't shoot. The 76ers are in the beginning of a makeover and just have too many wing players. He's the best of them, though perhaps not the best fit. He is owed a bunch of money, but he's a guy a lot of teams have liked and he had a nice run with USA Basketball, where he didn't have to shoot. You'd figure things are going to begin changing with a new coach and team president.
Stephen Jackson: There's nothing special to point toward. Just that second seasons with struggling teams don't work well with Jack. You know Larry Brown will be impatient before too long with that stripped down roster and you know Michael Jordan wouldn't mind moving that $19.3 million left over two years. I've never been a huge fan, but he is a heck of a two guard and I think now given the professional group the Bulls have it would be worth a shot. It would have to wait until the summer signed guys could be traded. You'd assume Charlotte would love to have back its pick from the Tyrus deal.
Tayshaun Prince: Now in his final contract season, it seems hard to believe he'll make it through the season given they have so many guards and wing players without the minutes. He makes an awful lot for a match, but maybe the Pistons take on a longer contract as no more free agents are going there. Magic Johnson says he hasn't talked to anyone about buying in and becoming team president, though you could easily see that scenario back in Michigan. With the sale and massive turnover in the organizations, change is inevitable.
And I haven't even mentioned Luol Deng. After he blitzed the Pacers in the Bulls' final preseason game in playing better than only Derrick Rose in the preseason, he said it was just a start and he knew if he had one bad game I'd come up with a trade of him. Things change, I said. It would be two games.
Sam's preseason award predictions
-- I'm going to get to my season team picks for Tuesday when the season begins and the media will decide right after the Heat/Celtics game who will win the championship because of that game... eight months before the last game of the Finals.
But we celebrate in the NBA just like in Hollywood and the only David I'm truly sure about (What! They don't name the awards after Stern?) is Pat Riley for executive of the year. No matter what you may feel about what happened last summer, it was probably the best executive coup in the history of the NBA. Yes, sorry Boston, even better than stealing Bill Russell from St. Louis. Miami isn't going to win as many titles, but they didn't want Russell in St. Louis, anyway, since he was, you know, black, and St. Louis wasn't exactly the most hospitable atmosphere. Remember, when Jackie Robinson broke into baseball it was the Cardinals who wanted to boycott the season. Though their punishment should have been keeping the Hawks all these years. Again, I digress.
Most Valuable Player: LeBron James. I know. I wrote him off as a new age Oscar Robertson going to Miami and everyone anointed Kevin Durant. But I can see the Thunder resting a bit with everyone saying they are the next big thing, and LeBron is going to look at every defender as the guy who Twittered him insulting comments. Plus, Wade looks good for about 60 games with injuries and LeBron is just going to go nuts and show us. Now playoffs, that's another story.
Coach of the Year: Jerry Sloan. I rail against this award all the time, or at least the media voters. Everyone keeps wondering why all these coach of the year guys keep getting fired so soon. Hello! They are bad coaches. Because you misjudged their teams doesn't make them great coaches, yet that's how most media members vote. No wonder the public distrusts the media. Yes, in politics, too. Sloan never got the award, though he is in the Hall of Fame. Nice voting there, people. Once again he basically has to turn over his whole team and once again he'll be in contention despite nowhere near the talent of his peers. Everyone, wake up to real coaching!
Rookie of the Year: Blake Griffin. I've written about this already being a two-player race between Griffin, who was hurt all last season, and John Wall. I can see Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins putting up some decent numbers, though I see injury or fatigue in his future given his shape. That's right, possibly two rookies of the year for Vinny Del Negro in three years.
Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard. Because we always give it to him. And now he's serious. Howard still can't make a free throw, but he's one of the rare guys who changes the game on the defensive end. Rajon Rondo should get some votes along with Josh Smith when he's paying attention. But like LeBron, Dwight is mad this season and that counts for something.
Most Improved Player: This is generally the wildest vote of all given everyone has a different definition. I don't see voting for top draft picks who finally get a chance to play. Yes, they've improved, but because they finally played, which likely will be the case with Kevin Love this season. It's the toughest one to guess before the season, but I'll say Shaq because he can't be that bad again. No, just kidding, though I've seen worse votes. I saw Tim Duncan get some votes last year. Improved from when? I'll take a shot at Denver's Aaron Afflolo, scoring and shooting great this preseason, especially if Carmelo is traded. Maybe Ty Lawson as Chauncey Billups is fading. My darkhorse is the Pistons Austin Daye, who is looking like a surprise pick while making Charlie Villanueva look like even a worse signing. Also, Roy Hibbert is a surprise given I didn't think he could outplay Aaron Gray.
Sixth Man: James Harden. Assuming he doesn't start. They are itching to get him into the starting lineup, though it makes more sense to have their only real defender there, Thabo Sefolosha. But Harden should finish. He's a heck of a shooter and you could only imagine how light on his feet he really could be if he shaved that backwoodsman beard.
Rivers on the mend
-- Doc Rivers got good news with a throat procedure last week which turned out not to be cancerous. New assistant Lawrence Frank subbed for Rivers. Frank was one of the Bulls candidates to replace Vinny Del Negro before Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau was hired. With Frank coach for the day and replacing Thibodeau, there was some Celtics reminiscing about Thibodeau to the Boston media and comparisons with Frank. Said Paul Pierce: "Thibs is one of the great assistant coaches I've ever played for. He's helped me get better (and I am) 10 years into the game. You don't really see that a lot. But Frank's a little more loose, a little more laid back. He's going to joke with you a little more. I think that's the biggest difference. " ... Doug Collins also got quite a scare after several months of headaches from a fall last spring, but tests revealed vertigo. Fortunately, the headaches now will only come from a team mostly filled with wing players. Few are better than Collins at putting players in their right positions to help a team, but it's such a mismatched roster. It looks like they'll open with Spencer Hawes at five and Elton Brand at four with Evan Turner off the bench. ... Congratulations you are now an NBA starter, Jamario Moon. But you are the guy replacing LeBron James as Moon beat out Jawad Williams and Joey Graham. That must have been something to watch. Looks like Antawn Jamison will resume his sixth man job and with one season left after he might be a good risk for a contending team later in the season to add to my most likely to be traded list. "No one here ever said, 'OK, we've got to make up for LeBron,'" Moon, the former Harlem Globetrotter, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "We just want to come together, be a team, be happy, win games and have fun while we're doing it." Happy and fun? Could be. Win games? That should be the issue as coach Byron Scott called out power forward J.J. Hickson for not knowing the offense, though it seemed a bit petty as Scott said he's done all he can. "I'm not very confident that he'll have it down pat, but it won't be because of a lack of effort on our end," Scott said. ... Stat line of the preseason if not ever was Corey Maggette returning in an overtime loss to the Timberwolves getting 17 points on zero of two shooting. ... See it wasn't just us. This was the Charlotte Observer on Tyrus Thomas: "An advance scout I know all but laughed at me when I suggested Tyrus Thomas will make a huge difference for the Bobcats this season. This guy - really smart - said if you're counting on Thomas to be a grown-up, to control his emotions and reach all his potential and be a difference-maker, then you are playing a dangerous game." Didn't we say the same thing? Again last season.
NBA news and notes
-- Oh, yeah, Chris Duhon is with the Magic as well. For a guy who wasn't supposed to make it in the NBA, he's starting his seventh season with a legitimate title contender and with a coach who wants him to shoot. Yes, him! That's the career 30 percent three point shooter who shot 20 percent this preseason. "I think Chris has to really step up and shoot his open shots," Stan Van Gundy told the Orlando Sentinel. "He's so much of a pass-first guy, one of the problems, at times, is he's passing up shots. He's a very good shooter with range. He's just got to step up and shoot the ball when he's open." Stan may be taking this new, softer Stan thing a bit far. ... Now with Fran Vazquez talking about finally coming to the NBA, the Magic has a potentially amazing second unit. It helps if you have a nearly $100 million payroll, about double the Bulls and Heat. ... I've mentioned this could be a tough season for the Hawks, and new coach Larry Drew is getting a taste as he said one of his goals is to get Josh Smth to stop shooting all those bad jumpers when he has so much success inside. So Drew let Smith know the other night when Smith again began launching long jumpers. "He snarled at me a little bit early in the game yesterday, but I was fine with it," Drew told the Atlanta Constitution. Better get used to that. ... Also tough preseason for now Houston's Jordan Hill trying to gain back his role as Yao's backup. So much for the eighth pick in the 2009 draft. ... Born again fast break coach is the Spurs-of all people-Gregg Popovich, who said he expects the Spurs to be much more uptempo: "We're more built for it than we have been in the past," he said. "We're firing on all cylinders, so now's the time to do it." This could be one of those body snatching things, but I'm still checking. And then when Tim Duncan shot a free throw against the Thunder after a technical. Yes, that's how many they called in the preseason that the Spurs apparently ran out of guys to shoot them.
-- If you're looking for shooting guards, Minnesota is trying to work in four with Martell Webster, Waye Ellington, Wes Johnson and Corey Brewer, though Webster is out with a back injury. ... Doesn't look like it's going to be easy to get Rudy Fernandez with the Trail Blazers moving Jerryd Bayless. The Bulls have had interest in Bayless, but I don't see him that much of an upgrade over what they have, especially on three point shooting, to give up their No. 1. In New Orleans, they are saying Bayless can be their next (healthy) Jannero Pargo. ... Not that they had serious problems, but Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer never were particularly close and Williams told the Salt Lake Tribune he believe the chemistry will improve this season without outside, contract issues. Said Williams: "It (chemistry) wasn't great. We had stuff we were dealing with, with contract situations and things like that. I don't really want to get into it. But the chemistry wasn't as good as it could have been." With Chris Paul's injury issues, the league GMs named Williams their best point guard. ... Welcome to being 36. Suns forward Jared Dudley said Steve Nash now has to be really good. Said Dudley to the Arizona Republic: "Steve has to be a top-five player, MVP-wise, for us to be a top four or five seed. We've got to get some juice in those legs. He has to be someone who has to average 17 or 18 (points) and 11 or 12 (assists). He has to put so much pressure on teams." ... When the Suns closed the preseason against the Warriors last week, they held out a "tired" Hedo Turkoglu and started Hakim Warrick. And we thought Turkoglu rested last season. By the way, Channing Frye gets $30 million? He now must name all his children after Steve Nash.