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Buyouts could provide an opportunity for the Bulls

Until March 1, teams can pick up a player if he has agreed to a buyout with his team and he’d still be eligible for the playoffs. The Bulls appear to be one of the teams prepared for such a situation given they remain about $1.3 million below the salary cap.
There has been talk the Pistons could deal Prince this week for another expiring contract, like that of the injured Caron Butler, and perhaps get a draft pick and as much money from a team like Dallas. If not, he may be a buyout candidate. (Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images)

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.

Sam Smith Mailbag

The NBA trading deadline is Thursday afternoon, but it’s not over then. And if I’m the Bulls—well, maybe I am, in a way—I’m not done looking around.

We’re talking buyouts.

The Bulls have been cautious and smart in not wasting their money on backup D-League players or reserves, and they might now be in good position to make a more major move in the next week or so. That’s because up until March 1, teams can pick up a player if he has agreed to a buyout with his team and he’d still be eligible for the playoffs. The Bulls appear to be one of the teams prepared for such a situation given they remain about $1.3 million below the salary cap.

That means they can pay a player more than $1 million who has negotiated a buyout instead of the prorated NBA minimum of a few hundred thousand dollars. Thus, the player can make back perhaps all he has given up to get his buyout.

It is widely expected that power forward Troy Murphy, who is said to be waiting to be part of a potential Carmelo Anthony deal if the Nets are involved, is the prime candidate for a buyout. League executives generally believe he’ll end up in Orlando, which got weaker on the front line after moving Marcin Gortat. “That’s what I think Otis (Smith) is waiting for,” said one general manager. The Spurs also have been mentioned as a possibility for Murphy.

Basically, the buyout candidates are those players in the final year of their contracts, like Eddy Curry of the Knicks as well. If he’s not part of the Anthony deal, he’ll likely be bought out or more likely released. Who knows if he can play or even wants to. Maybe it’s worth a look for someone for a few months.

The most intriguing player to me is Detroit’s Tayshaun Prince. This business about Richard Hamilton being bought out seems ludicrous unless he were to give up $10 million. Detroit owes $25 million for the next two seasons after this. He’s likely not giving that up and they aren’t about to pay him and let him walk away for a few million dollars.

But Prince is in his final season making $11.1 million. You say the Pistons are in the fringe of the playoffs race, so why would they give him up? They’re not going anywhere and he’s leaving. They have a half dozen wing players and Jonas Jerebko returning next season. They have to get Austin Daye more playing time. With the team losing money and about to be sold, why wouldn’t they take back maybe $1.5 million for a player they’re not keeping? Prince could make it right back with a team like the Bulls, where he could play some shooting guard and be another scorer and defender who also can create off the wing, seemingly to me a far better prospect that many of the shooting guard targets who have been speculated about.

There has been talk, though, the Pistons could deal Prince this week for another expiring contract, like that of the injured Caron Butler, and perhaps get a draft pick and as much money from a team like Dallas.

So who else might take this route? It obviously has to be players whose teams aren’t going anywhere, unlike a player like Jamal Crawford.

Perhaps an Anthony Parker, though the Cavs seem to want to keep him. J.R. Smith, most likely if Anthony is traded, and maybe Kenyon Martin, as the Nuggets will be looking to save some money if Anthony is gone, as expected. One of the holdups in the talks supposedly has been the Nuggets wanting to save money right now and not after the season.

Jared Jeffries in Houston supposedly is a name mentioned about returning to the Knicks.

Perhaps T.J. Ford is he can find a place where someone would want him for short term. You’d say Michael Redd, though it’s questionable whether he can play. He is expected to return to try with the Bucks this week.

Maybe Morris Peterson and always Marcus Banks, wherever he is now. It’s not a big field to choose from, but sometimes one guy can make a difference, like P.J. Brown for the Celtics a few years back. And in the Bulls case they may finally have become one of those teams with their surge of late that players in that situation would want to come.

Melo closure coming with Thursday’s trade deadline

-- What a fuss over a player who never is going to help you win a championship. Probably. After all, Carmelo Anthony at his best never was past the first round of the playoffs until getting a Finals MVP to play with in Chauncey Billups. Yes, Anthony is a fine scorer and an All-Star talent. And, yes, he’s worth having. So it is a bit of the play on the old newspaper saying of, “Don’t mess up on a slow news day.”

With no other major player in trade or free agency talks this season, Anthony has become the only game in town coming up to Thursday’s trade deadline. It’s supposed to be settled any hour now and we who follow the NBA know the story: Knicks and Nets want him, though Nets really more than the Knicks. There’s a strong contingent among the Knicks, mainly only their basketball staff, who feels he doesn’t fit that great with Amar’e Stoudemire and isn’t worth giving up so much for. Sure, after the season as a free agent for just money. But why give up starters? Of all things, the latest holdup Sunday night was over the Knicks reported refusal to part with Timofey Mozgov, a center from Russia whom coach Mike D’Antoni barely has played all season until recently. The deal supposedly includes Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Ray Felton.

And Carmelo was mad at the Bulls for not giving up Joakim Noah. One story I heard was Anthony crossed the Bulls off his list as an insult when they wouldn’t trade Noah for him. Now the team he wants to play for won’t trade someone no one heard of four months ago?

The Nets are just looking for one All-Star. Anthony, as we know, wants to play for the Knicks, as many of us have been writing for two years. He hasn’t exactly kept this a secret. And there’s the Nuggets, who fear keeping him and losing him for nothing but don’t care as much for what the Knicks have to trade. But Anthony apparently is threatening he won’t sign an extension and will leave the Nets. If I’m the Nets I take the chance. Denver gets its better package, so they’d presumably do it.

And what’s the worst that happens to me if I’m the Nets? Anthony leaves. I’m crap anyway without him. But I’ve off loaded players I don’t care for, anyway, like Devin Harris, and some salary. Now, I’m way, way under the salary cap coming out of collective bargaining and perhaps a lockout with a move to Brooklyn now close.

I’m basically protected once I move for a year or two by the new building. A team in Brooklyn for the first time since the Dodgers will fill the building for two years no matter who is playing with whatever record. You can’t get Knicks tickets, so when the Nets open in Brooklyn, you’ll take a look without having to go to New Jersey.

Sure, I’m giving up probably too many draft picks if I’m New Jersey. But with a few bad years coming up I’ve got time to recoup some. The general consensus around the NBA is the high payroll teams will have to either drop players or not sign some players coming up to reach new salary ceilings. Teams like the Nets and in a big city with a wealthy owner would be in great position to reload almost instantly. And if things don’t work and you panic maybe you still can trade him before June 30. There’s really not that much risk if you are a real oligarch.

Likely more for Anthony. The new rules could have a franchise tag that—horrors—could bind him to the Nuggets. Don’t want that! And the team he wants to go to, the Knicks, might be too close to the threshold to offer him more than, say $12 million, annually, perhaps half what he’d get with an extension if he is traded.

So is it worth giving up more than $10 million a year to be with a non championship team in New York City compared with a non championship team in Brooklyn? And Anthony is from Brooklyn and has family still living there. Really, with Anthony are the Knicks either better than the roster of the Heat? The Bulls? The Magic with Dwight Howard?

Anthony is not a bad guy. You get him if you are New Jersey and you begin the romance. You have with the Russian owner the resources to open up a whole new world to him. Jay-Z, an icon to many players because of his music industry connections, is an owner and involved. Avery Johnson is a top coach. If you’re going to do something big, you’ve got to take a chance. After all, where are the Nets ever going with the roster they have? If you believe in yourself you take chances. If you don’t, you’ve got no chance, anyway.

Suns’ Hill one of the NBA’s top defenders at 38 years old

-- It’s not much mentioned, and it’s hardly his style to do so, but one of the great ongoing stories in the NBA is Grant Hill, the 38-year-old going on 29 forward for the Phoenix Suns, who has become as the third oldest player in the NBA—just a day younger than Kurt Thomas—one of the NBA’s top defensive players.

If Hill isn’t an all-defensive player this season, the coaches aren’t watching. No one, including LeBron James, on a regular basis defends the opponents’ best player more than Hill, who last week spent one night holding the high scoring lightning quick Monta Ellis to 21 points he had to get in 17 shots.

“We had a week where he guarded Tony Parker, Ginobili, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant,” said Suns coach Alvin Gentry. “No one in the league is asked to guard from Tony Parker to Blake Griffin. And Amar’e. He started on Amar’e. I say, ‘You’ve got Amar’e tonight,’ and he just says, ‘OK,’” said Gentry. “He just guards ‘em. And he does a great job. To me, overall, we may not be a good defensive team. The stats don’t say that. He individually has done a great job. If anyone deserves to be all-defense, it’s him. No one asks anyone in the league to do what we ask him to do, especially a 38-year old.”

It is one of the more amazing stories in the NBA, and it gets brought up occasionally why Hill at his age doesn’t take a shot at a title, get himself traded to a contender while he’s still playing at a significant level. He’s averaging 13.9 for the season and shooting almost 50 percent, and about 40 percent the last two seasons on threes.

But Hill is comfortable where he is and what he is doing, and when you consider his college and pro careers, his battles back from horrible injuries and level of play 17 years into his career, you can make a compelling case for Hill as a Hall of Famer.

“I would be shocked if he’s not a Hall of Fame guy,” says Gentry. “You take his college career with the championships and the first seven years on the NBA (multiple leading All-Star vote getter), that alone merits the Hall of Fame. I know people say he didn’t have the wear and tear on his body. But this is a guy who is in every practice, every drill, every scrimmage unless I sit him down. I’ll look out and say, ‘Grant, what are you doing out there? Get out.’ That’s the only way I’ll get him out of a practice.”

And for his part, Hill says he’s just loving it.

“Early in my career (six years averaging more than 20 points and perhaps the closest to a triple double since maybe Oscar at 20.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 1996), I was asked to do so much on the offensive end I wasn’t looked at as a defensive stopper,” said Hill. “With the injuries (missing almost four seasons in Orlando), my role changed. I’m enjoying the new role. It became more defined last year when we made our playoff run and I was on Ginobili and (Andre) Miller. Also having to contain Kobe. It’s been a challenge.”

Hill still is a remarkable athlete at 38, but he’s also so smart that watching him is like reading a textbook on defense: Use your offense to try to get them in foul trouble. Just make things difficult as guys cannot truly be stopped. Know the opponent plays and beat them to the spot or the screen. Know their tendencies and where they like to catch the ball and which way is their strong hand. Try to deny and push them out farther. They’re all great players, so they’ll make shots. Don’t get frustrated and be consistent. It’s a long game.

So says Hill: Durant likes to catch with space, so crowd him. Give Ginobili some space because of his quickness, but use your length. Stay off Andre Miller as he wants to get into the paint and use your size. Stay disciplined on the pump fakes. Don’t let Griffin make athletic plays; make him make basketball plays. Don’t give Ray Allen room and be disciplined on the weak side because he’s always moving.

“Being around long enough you’ve seen about everything and play against everybody,” says Hill. “Just try to take away what they want to do.

“Early in my career, I thought I’d be the primary offensive weapon until I was done. So I’ve had to figure out how I can be effective. It’s fun. Guys will look and you can tell they are thinking, ‘This 38-year-old is guarding me?’ I would have done that, too. So it’s fun, but it certainly isn’t easy. Hey, I’m asked to guard the other team’s best player. Who’d have thought that 10 years ago?”

Hill said he had a chance to leave when he was a free agent two years ago but decided to stay in Phoenix. He agrees it’s been tough this year with the changes and Stoudemire gone.

“I like it here,” Hill says. “I want to get us into the playoffs and back to being respectable. It’s about winning. But I always think we can. I remember I used to give Joe Dumars a hard time when he was 33, 34 and still playing and I was saying, ‘That won’t be me.’ Now I’m 38 and feel my body can hold up for at least two more years. I’m still having fun and enjoying myself.

“I had a chance to play in Boston,” Hill says. “I have great respect for Doc and that team, but I want to guard Paul Pierce. I want to compete against those guys. I don’t want to relieve them for 15 minutes. I missed out on so much (when injured). I hate sitting out practice. It’s about competing against the best and playing.”

Not so fast on writing off the Lakers

-- This can’t be a good sign for the Lakers, but Ron Artest wrote on Twitter last week: “I just got a call from jesus he says you are the worst player in the history of the game but I love you thanks jesus.” Other than the All-Star weekend, the basketball story in Los Angeles has been the public and media hysteria over the decline of the Lakers. The Los Angeles Times was filled with readers’ letters Saturday from firing Phil Jackson to trading every player. Local reporters generally are dismissing the team with snarky remarks of how they’d finish third in Texas. I still have them in the Finals. Yes, Artest has given them his one year, like he did the Pacers before he destroyed that franchise. But the Lakers soon will get back Matt Barnes, who can take most of Artest’s minutes and lend some athletic ability and toughness. I recall those third championship years twice with the Bulls and how much of a struggle it was for the team to remain at that high level every game. In 1993, they finished behind the Knicks in the East. So the Lakers have got time and despite the Spurs start not exactly that formidable competition. Though one curiosity about all this local angst is how they’ve ignored the biggest story of the season: Who’ll replace Phil Jackson. Phil is leaving after this season, and the Lakers’ way is to go the star route. The locals mention Brian Shaw, but I’d be surprised if the Lakers continue with a Phil assistant, especially with some big time coaches finishing up contracts this season. Doc Rivers will be available and so will Nate McMillan. George Karl has yet to sign an extension and neither has Rick Adelman. That’s going to be a big story when they recover from the daily concern over the Lakers.

NBA news and notes

-- Best wishes for a recovery to former Bulls GM Pat Williams, who is undergoing treatments for bone cancer. A renowned motivational speaker who is now saying, “Remission is the mission,” Williams is the author of more than 60 books, has adopted 16 children from around the world and run in more than 50 marathons.

-- Carmelo Anthony made it through All-Star weekend with the biggest media contingents and pretty much the same answer, that he doesn’t know anything. On his meetings with the Knicks and Nets, which Denver had to give approval for, Anthony said he basically just listened. Though his comments last week coming into Los Angeles was classic when he said, “"I think it takes a strong-willed person, a strong-minded person, to deal with the stuff that I deal with and still go out there and go to work every day and perform on a nightly basis. I take my hat off to myself for dealing with all this stuff that's going on and still be able to go out there and play at the high level that I can play at. I really don't think an average person can walk in my shoes.” Pretty expensive ones, by the way, with that $17 million annual salary. … The Timberwolves are supposed to get Anthony Randolph in that deal if Anthony goes to the Knicks and move Corey Brewer. You also figure Jonny Flynn will be moving on this summer…Deron Williams at All-Star break said he wished he had a better relationship with former coach Jerry Sloan, but insisted when he supposedly broke off a play that set in motion Sloan’s retirement it was just him choosing to run the same play but from the left side and not the right. … Grant Hill explaining the urgency with the Suns now for a playoff spot:"At this point, we don't have a cushion. We're not a team in the playoffs. We're on the outside looking in. I don't care if it's the Sacramento Kings or the Pittsburgh Pisces. we've got to win. Hill reference was to the movie starring Dr. J, "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh,” once the favorite basketball movie of NBA player, though few today ever have heard of it. … At the end of the Lakers’ road trip with the team stumbling, team broadcaster John Ireland predicted a win on the air before the Cavs game and said if the team lost he’d walk home. No word since.

-- There’s talk of Pistons coach John Kuester being fired, which Joe Dumars has denied. But you’d almost consider Kuester a candidate for coach of the year. With a virtual mutiny going on there with a badly mismatched roster as they wait out some contracts expiring, they’ve remained on the fringe of playoff competition and just under .500 the last two months. Give Kuester credit for holding together one of the worst situations in the league. … When the NBA fined Josh Smith for making an obscene gesture, Smith complained there was never a memo or anything saying that wasn’t permitted. So you really cannot be surprised the Hawks lead the league in 30-points plus home losses. Imagine how busy the league would be putting out memos on what things Josh should not do. … Derrick Rose was asked if he’d bring Joakim Noah a souvenir from the All-Star game like a jersey or ball. Rose laughed and said, “Jo probably won’t want that. Jo is a weird guy, very weird. He’d want something else, but he wouldn’t want that.” But Rose was asked several times about Noah’s return Wednesday and was absolutely gushing about the team’s prospects with Noah back: “It will make us a fast break team again. Kurt is good, but he’s a little old. We don’t get as many fast break points now. With Jo coming back we’ll be an up-tempo team again. Jo is a guy who can push the ball on the break. He brings passing, he can finish at the rim and he can make his shot. I’m excited.” … Northbrook’s Jon Scheyer is planning a comeback in the D-League with the Houston affiliate, Rio Grande. Scheyer suffered a serious eye injury in summer league with a torn retina which threatened his ability to play again. … I ran into Mack Calvin at the All-Star game. He was one of the great scoring guards of the ABA and is doing wonderful work now helping rebuild New Orleans. He was asked which ABA player who also played in the NBA should be in the Hall of Fame and isn’t. Without hesitation he said Artis Gilmore. The guys who had great ABA careers have had a tough time getting the Hall of Fame recognition with players like Roger Brown an Mel Daniels also deserving, but Gilmore at the top for most of the guys who know the ABA best. … Hall of Fame chairman Jerry Colangelo did speak positively of the veterans’ committee candidacy of former Bull Chet Walker when I mentioned Walker. … Zydrunas Ilgauskas on his Miami Heat: “Everywhere we go it’s a lot of hatred. It’s not only the arena. It’s the restaurants that you go to eat, the streets that you walk in a different city. I don’t know why. For some reason, this team has become like a garbage can. Every time somebody has some kind of garbage, they just throw it at us.” Welcome to Chicago this week.

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