Westbrook for Rondo could benefit Thunder and Celtics
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Tiring of Dwight Howard’s travel plans for the moment, the story of the week was Russell Westbrook’s fit of pique in the game with Memphis.
Westbrook, shooting 0-13 that evening, was seen looking off Kevin Durant and James Harden to hoist up his last miss and was reported to be in a shouting match with Durant on the bench. But coach, they all felt good leaving my hand, as Tim Hardaway once famously said after such an 0-fer.
Meanwhile, Westbrook’s patience and maturity was something everyone was watching for after similar questions arose in last season’s playoffs with the Thunder and the viability of the Durant/Westbrook pairing even as they are off to a hot start. It all was pooh poohed around the Thunder, though it produced a new round of destinations for Westbrook.
I chimed in last month with a trade for Chris Paul, as Westbrook has star potential and Durant perhaps most needs a true point guard. But it seems to me the ideal trade is still out there, Westbrook for Rajon Rondo.
It hasn’t fully occurred to the Celtics, or maybe it has with rumors they tried to trade Rondo for Paul, but it’s over for them and time to blow it up. Who are they beating in the East with that front court lack of size? Danny Ainge knows you need a star to start, and Westbrook could be it. The hope is former teammate Jeff Green can return from heart surgery next season, and you are on your way. The Celts made this mistake in the late 80’s hanging onto Kevin McHale. OK, you can keep Paul Pierce. But they should move Ray Allen to get something, though Kevin Garnett’s salary is too large. They should have learned their lesson from the 90’s. Free agents don’t want to go to Boston, either.
It’s also a perfect deal for developing Oklahoma City. You get a defensive oriented point guard. So now you can put Harden in the starting lineup, the classic shooter to play off Durant and a clear pecking order of talent. Now Thabo Sefolosha moves where he belongs, but can play with Rondo at times in a defensive backcourt. Rondo’s contract is reasonable for an All-Star, and the Thunder have enough pieces to make the deal.
And that more reasonable contract could be a huge factor. After the first two seasons of the new labor agreement, a more penal luxury tax kicks in with a multiplier up to almost four times for teams going over the luxury tax.
NBA commissioner David Stern, appearing in Dallas for the opener, suggested it will come to reporters for those saying the new deal didn’t provide enough balance. “It does have a bite if you have any team that's well assembled and you want to keep it together," Stern said. "So if you have the Thunder over here and the Heat over there, they're both going to have to deal with luxury tax issues."
Westbrook will be eligible for that Derrick Rose rule 30 percent, and the Thunder may not be able to accommodate two such contracts. And Oklahoma City doesn’t exactly have the local TV contract ability, of say, the Lakers with perhaps $150 million annually to pay a punitive tax. I doubt you’ll see many tax paying teams when that extra tax kicks in for 2013-14.
D’Antoni on the hot seat in New York City
-- The New York sports media, predictably, is engaging in its regular sport of picking at the carcass of a coach in the final season of his contract, this time the Knicks’ Mike D’Antoni. The irony here, of course, is D’Antoni, assuming he goes out after this season given it’s hard to see how he has any chance with this roster, has to play as far from the way he wants to play and did with the Suns. In Carmelo Anthony, he has the ultimate ball stopper in a system that once was only about movement. D’Antoni always preached the ball finds activity. Then there’s Amar’e Stoudemire, another ball stopper and big man who likes to shoot jumpers and whom D’Antoni in Phoenix privately called the worst defender he’d ever coached. So now they await Baron Davis to run the team, the aching back general headache player who has more coach notches on his sneakers than Wyatt Earp had notches in his pistol. Good luck, Mike. … Could Steve Nash save him? “Nash can’t do anything for that team anymore,” one executive said about the Suns’ bereft roster as they try for free agency in the summer of 2012. The Knicks have nothing to exchange for Nash, who is a free agent whom the Knicks hope to add next summer for an exception. For now, Suns insiders say Nash prefers to stay in Phoenix after his divorce, but it could get ugly very quickly and perhaps he’ll be angling to finish somewhere he can be in the playoffs with that expiring deal. The Suns are saying privately Nash has earned the right with them to choose, but if they can get a young player and a pick from a team looking to dump a salary the Suns might ask him to help out. D’Antoni after the loss in L.A.: “The Lakers are good and we’re awful.’’ The previous game he inserted “Warriors” in that sentence. Tyson Chandler can only carry so many teams to championships, after all. … How irrelevant is Deron Williams going to become playing with this Nets team? If they cannot get Dwight Howard, it’s difficult to see him staying. Players who know Williams say he doesn’t want to be the main guy and take the responsibility on his own, but needs a top player to complement. “We’re getting down 20 early, in every game,” Williams told New Jersey media. “That’s not really something you want to see happen on a night-to-night basis.” You think?
Nocioni odd man out in Sixers’ rotation
-- I caught up last week with Bulls’ old buddy Andres Nocioni, who is the 11th man in a 10-player 76ers rotation in the last year of his contract. But he remains the true pro. Said Nocioni, who hasn’t played this season: “I don’t exactly know my situation here. So I try to work hard and show the young kids you need to work hard. That’s it. I don’t think I’ll see a lot of minutes on the court. But you’ve got to prepare yourself to be in shape. You never know in the NBA. You need to be ready when the opportunity comes. It’s a crazy season, short, too many games. Just be patient and see what happens. It’s the last year of my contract. I’ll wait for an opportunity. If not, I can do whatever I want.”
Nocioni said he wants to keep playing, preferably in the NBA, but, if not, in Europe where Nocioni said he’s always loved playing. He said he’s looking forward to the 2012 Olympics in London when he said his champion Argentinian team will be making its final run with Manu Ginobili, Carlos Delfino and Luis Scola. “We’re going to be an old team, average age 32. But I think we can do it. We played well together last summer. I think we can do it.
“I want to find a spot where I can play some minutes and help on the court. Sometimes it is difficult when you are almost 33. Now I am here in Philadelphia and want to help this team improve outside and inside the court. It is tough for me. I have always played a lot. But it is a young team going a different direction than me. No problem. I understand. I am a professional basketball player and will do my best for everyone here. I don’t annoy people and complain about situations. Right now I try to keep in shape. It is harder when you don’t play, so I have to extra work. Some people might not like it, but I like it fine.” Meanwhile, not dealing with as well on the 76ers is Marreese Speights, who has been in frequent trade talk as he’s also yet to play this season.
NBA news and notes
-- How ‘bout that Celtics’ D? Their first three opponents shot a combined 50 percent and they were giving up an average of more than 40 per game in the paint. Hard to say that’s because of the absence of defense stopper Paul “Hey, who’s got my man?” Pierce. The Hornets had 12 blocks against mostly Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal, whom observers almost saw jump. They did hold the Wizards to 41 percent Sunday, but that team might not shoot 50 percent alone in an empty gym. … Rookie Brandon Knight has come off the bench impressively for the woeful Pistons and it seems just a matter of time before Lawrence’s Frank’s first crisis as he he’ll have to move out Rodney Stuckey, who is no point guard and not as good a shooter as Ben Gordon. Stuckey was one of the lead mutineers last season against former coach (so and so). The Bulls open their next road trip this week in Detroit, and it should be interesting by then. … Ricky Davis also is on the D-League comeback trail with Greg Ostertag (now that Shaq is gone it’s safe to come out). Yes, that home with the family stuff can get a bit boring after awhile. Antoine Walker also is back in the D-League for another try. … The Ft. Lauderdale Sun Sentinel caught these exchanges with Doc Rivers and the officials. Can Crawford to Doc: "Doc, you're doing too much refereeing right now." Doc to Dick Bavetta: "Please Dick, can we play, too?" … Now that the Heat is a serious title contender, will they ever take down the Michael Jordan jersey hanging in the rafters? This isn’t exactly Jackie Robinson. It’s always been curious why the Heat retired Jordan’s jersey, though it is now in an unlit area after the team put up a banner for the Eastern Conference champions. … Atlanta owner Michael Gearon told the Atlanta Constitution he’s not cheap: "What's frustrating… is how we've been viewed regardless of the success we've had. I look at things where people say, ‘Well, the Hawks’ owners are cheap.' That's something I hear constantly, whether it's written or radio guys. Yet, when you look at the facts… this year we will probably have one of the top five payrolls in the NBA. It will be right around $70 million." Going into the season with the new marketing slogan, “We’re not cheap” may not exactly turn around Hawks’ attendance woes. Gearon said the team is not for sale after still another sale effort fell through last summer. Presumably, at least, until someone else wants to take on that payroll with long term contracts and little chance to compete for a title. … How could the Magic pass on this? Ryan Anderson told the Orlando Sentinel presumed eventual Magic Brook Lopez is a big Disney fan: “We actually haven’t discussed it but I know Brook loves it here. Everybody knows how big of a Disney guy he is and comic guy. I actually saw him this summer for a bit down here. That was good. We went out to Epcot. The guy loves it here but we never discussed any trade things because for me it’s kind of pointless to talk about because who knows what’s going to happen? A million different trades could happen.” … Could one be with the Bulls? It seems unlikely as Howard still cannot find Chicago on a map. But I wonder about Howard being represented by top agent Dan Fegan. Fegan is one of those agents who likes to try to build teams as David Falk did a generation ago. His agency represents Vinny Del Negro, so you assume he doesn’t hear great things about the Bulls. He was brought in by Joakim Noah’s agents to help in Noah’s contract deal with the Bulls. It went smoothly, so I doubt Fegan holds any particular animosity. But agents like to place their clients in certain situations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Fegan is putting down Chicago to Howard to make sure his other client, Noah, remains in a good situation for him with the Bulls. From what we’ve seen and heard, it doesn’t seem like Howard is a particularly decisive person about his future. Howard did address the Orlando fans at the home opener, saying, "We're going to have another great season. Let's go, baby!" The last part apparently wasn’t directed toward his girl friend about getting packed.
-- Someone get this guy some glasses. Channing Frye, now being guarded as the Suns have basically no one to draw doubles with a less threatening Steve Nash who is hurting once again, is shooting 19 percent on six for 31. With the two preseason games, Frye is seven for 45 and two for 24 on threes. … With the Knicks bringing in assistant Mike Woodson for Mike D’Antoni and the Suns bringing in Elston Turner for Alvin Gentry, both supposedly defensive assistants, it opens the door to coaching speculation already. Also, murmurings already about Paul Westphal in Sacramento after DeMarcus Cousins—who else?—asked after Saturday’s loss, “What offense?” to the Sacramento Bee. That apparently was the final nail as the team issued a statement saying Cousins asked to be traded and they told him to stay home. Hey, the Magic could need a center. Maybe Dwight wants to play in Sacramento. But the Kings have other issues as well with no one on the team averaging three assists and the most assists per minute from rookie shooting guard Jimmer Fredette. Point guard Tyreke Evans really is a shooting guard yet to have more than three assists in a game with shooting guard Marcus Thornton with two assists in his last 80 minutes. And we know John Salmons isn’t giving it up. … It won’t be confused with Showtime. After making the Cavs with LeBron James one of the league’s most boring teams, Mike Brown is at it with the Lakers. Said Derek Fisher after a 92-89 win over Denver Saturday: “It's not just an identity change from Phil Jackson to Mike Brown in terms of the style, the triangle to more traditional NBA sets. But it really, truly is a complete change in culture where we have to be physical, we have to be scrappy and we have to be able to win these games in the 80s. That will have to symbolize who we are." The Lakers are averaging 93 and giving up 86. "We play hard-nosed basketball around here," said Kobe Bryant. "It's going to get ugly sometimes."… Spencer Hawes has three double/doubles in the first four games. With some size, the 76ers could be tough, assuming they get more from Andre Iguodala, who was so ineffective again late in their loss to Jazz coach Doug Collins has gone to Lou Williams, a sixth man, as his closer. I don’t hear many Iguodala for Luol Deng suggestions from Bulls fans anymore. … Plenty of relieved smiles around the NBA Sunday as with the lockout it became the season’s first payday. Wonder if that will reduce the national unemployment level. … Orlando’s Ryan Anderson is averaging 20 and leading the league in threes. Glen Davis can come off the bench. Plus, there’s Jason Richardson. You wonder about these guys like Carmelo Anthony and now Howard who wants to be traded, which so diminishes the team they are going to they likely cannot compete for a title. Oh, right. It’s not about titles despite what they say. … The Bulls might want to bring friends when they are in Detroit Wednesday as there doesn’t appear to be an emptier arena this season.
-- Kirk Hinrich is rehabbing from his shoulder surgery hoping to return soon to the Hawks, whom the Bulls host this week. Meanwhile, a quarter of the Wizards roster is a result of Hinrich, whom the Bulls gave to Washington with draft pick Kevin Seraphin and $3 million so they could get cap room for free agency. Hinrich was then traded to the Hawks for Mike Bibby, who gave up $6.2 million to be released, Jordan Crawford, Maurice Evans and the draft pick Washington used for Chris Singleton. So that’s also $9 million saved for Washington, though it’s unclear yet whether Hinrich should brag about the results for the Wizards. Singleton, by the way, already has questioned the team’s desire as this era’s Rasheed Wallace, Andray Blatche, seemed to already blame the coaching staff for him not getting the ball more, to which Blatche used Twitter to tell everyone to ”shut up” because he was misinterpreted. John Wall at the home opener this season abandoned that funky dance he did last season for just running. Better not to bring notice to yourself playing for the Wizards now, I agree. In the offseason, coach Flip Saunders gave Blatche the book, “The 17 Essential Qualities of a Team Leader.” Perhaps a movie like “Dumb and Dumber” would have been more appropriate.
-- DeJuan Blair after getting 20 points to thwart Blake Griffin and the Clippers: “I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be regular old DeJuan, too fat to do anything good.” Those bad knees that knocked him well into the second round seem to be holding up well. … Former huge fan favorite Rudy Fernandez was booed on his return to Portland last week with Denver. … A lot of doubters are eating their words about Ricky Rubio. Not quite the superstar, but a unique player with a special feel who’ll do well in the NBA. A few years ago, Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings said Rubio was “all hype.” He has since taken it back, and Jennings did get 24 last week as the Bucks beat Minnesota. So Rubio won’t be all-defense. Not many point guards are. Timberwolves GM David Kahn, much maligned, has accumulated some good talent and a top coach, though now they could use some wins. And moving Michael Beasley, who continues to be mostly a selfish, volume scorer. He was benched the fourth quarter of the Friday last second loss to Miami and has 43 points on 46 shots in three games. … Rubio is one of several rookies along with Kyrie Irving, Enes Kanter, Brandon Knight, Norris Cole, Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette having a nice early season impact. It may suggest a lot of veterans aren’t quite physically ready for the season. Or better stay with the draft over free agency. … Rubio scored 12 of the Timberwolves’ 15 points during a critical five minute stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters as the team finally got its first win Sunday. He has played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter of all four games and has made 7 of 10 shots and scored 21 points with 14 assists and nine rebounds in those 48 minutes. He’s making a case for starting and a rookie of the year run. … Tough start for Tyrone Corbin, now 9-22 since replacing Jerry Sloan. He’s been juggling his lineup, getting a big game from Derrick Favors in for the injured Al Jefferson, who did play in a loss to the Lakers when the Jazz starters played almost 120 minutes with one free throw. Right afterward, Corbin put Paul Millsap back in the starting lineup. … Huge 29 and 13 first game return from suspension for Andrew Bynum in the Lakers Saturday win over Denver. The Lakers believe if Bynum stays healthy into the All-Star break, the Magic will take him in a package for Dwight Howard and Howard will reluctantly go along with the Nets likely to be about 5-37 by then. Deron Williams is shooting under 30 percent and perhaps wondering about the Dallas housing market as his Nets keep losing. … Mo Williams seems to still be sulking about his bench role, when Chauncey Billups returns, with the Clippers. But who is he better than? …The Bucks have second round pick Jon Leuer now in the starting lineup. Which makes the over/under on Drew Gooden this season maybe 18 games.