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Let the early NBA trade talk begin...

There’ll be plenty of big names coming up, like Josh Smith, Brook Lopez (only for Dwight Howard), Ben Gordon, Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon, Luis Scola, Andrea Bargnani and Nene, writes Sam Smith. But those are just names. The teams to watch are the ones who believe they have a chance to win or who need to create one.

"Gay averages more than $18 million in salary the next two seasons, so if the new ownership doesn’t give this group one chance to see how far they can go when healthy and is doing a salary dump, well, Memphis you have a problem," writes Sam Smith.
(Joe Murphy/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

It’s the start of trading season around the NBA, which generally means that being January, no one is doing anything, but lots of players are having to answer whether this is bothering them.

The biggest rumored name of the last week was Rudy Gay, which is a curiosity. Gay isn’t quite the talent many believe he should be. But the Grizzlies are having their best season while Gay and Zach Randolph seem finally to be playing together. And given injuries, they haven’t even had a chance to play together in the playoffs the last two seasons. Gay averages more than $18 million in salary the next two seasons, so if the new ownership doesn’t give this group one chance to see how far they can go when healthy and is doing a salary dump, well, Memphis you have a problem.

There’s been plenty of Lakers speculation regarding Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, though Lakers’ chief Jim Buss went on local radio last week to say this group will make a title run and no one is panicking or trading anyone. For now, it’s their story and they’re sticking to it.

For the Jazz, most speculate Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap will go, though just because they are free agents and they have young backups who need to play. But the Jazz do their business quietly and it the talk seems mostly media guesswork for now.

While the Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins and just about everyone else comes up in Sacramento, it seems inhumane now with reports back and forth the team may move to Seattle.

Which brings me to the Boston Celtics. I’ll admit I had them with their bench additions second in the East, but not good enough to beat Miami. Well, Miami has looked vulnerable, though it could be boredom. But with the return of Avery Bradley, who apparently is a defensive cross among Sidney Moncrief, Michael Cooper and Bruce Bowen, the Celtics have won five straight with solid wins over Indiana, Atlanta and Houston. But they’re small like Miami and hardly more talented.

So if you can’t win, what’s the point? Maybe give them one more chance. But GM Danny Ainge always has made it clear he was around for the breakup of the 1980s Celtics when the management let everyone basically retire without getting anything. Ainge said that won’t happen again. But if you are going to get value for Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, it better be now. Would Boston trade one? Do they want to go forward as Rajon Rondo, suspended only about twice a season lately, as their leader? They are a team to watch.

As well as Miami. The conventional wisdom is the Heat is not pushed by the lack of serious rivals in the East, so they are coasting. But when they try against better teams it doesn’t come so easily. It reminds me a bit of the 1994-95 Rockets. They were defending champs, but sensed they weren’t good enough. They ended up trading for Clyde Drexler for the scoring boost they lacked and won again. So is it time to trade Chris Bosh? He’s always been the scapegoat whether deserved or not. Chris Bosh for Omer Asik and some youth or speed.

The Rockets made the deal of 2012 by getting James Harden, and he’s been great. But GM Daryl Morey always has chased stars. He’s said the Rockets need another. It’s not that widely talked about, but even after the Rockets got Asik away from the Bulls last summer, they then had talks about moving him on again in package deals for higher level players. Asik has been terrific this season though his numbers have fallen some of late. He’d probably be perfect in Miami as the big the Heat lacks. Bosh is an All-Star level player. But Miami has plenty of shooting. They need size and rebounds. Would they make a move with a title team like Houston did when they sensed they needed to get better? Or do they owe it to all those guys to give them a chance to defend their title?

Bosh, by the way, told the Miami Herald recently after losses to the Pacers and Bulls that the Heat was “kidding ourselves” if they thought they could win a playoff series playing small and the team was suffering from style. Asked about being traded, Bosh said: “No. Defend the title baby. That’s what it’s all about. Hell no, I’m not going nowhere. You’re not going to get rid of me that easy.”

There’ll be plenty of big names coming up, like Josh Smith, Brook Lopez (only for Dwight Howard), Ben Gordon, Monta Ellis, Eric Gordon, Luis Scola, Andrea Bargnani and Nene. But those are just names. The teams to watch are the ones who believe they have a chance to win or who need to create one.

NBA news and notes

-- And then there’s the Denver Nuggets. With the return of Wilson Chandler Sunday with 14 points and having a strong game in a win over soon-to-be-fading Golden State, the Nuggets probably have the deepest team in the league. They’ve got 10 players who could start on maybe half the teams in the league. But they don’t have a single player who’d likely be top two on any serious contender. So can you put together a package to get at least one star? Someone maybe like Rudy Gay, who probably is a No. 2, though, at best? … While former Bull Ronnie Brewer has been seeing his role diminish with the Knicks, C.J. Watson has been finishing some games and increasing minutes as the Nets have won eight of nine and six straight. … Carmelo Anthony told the New York Post when he had his engagement with Kevin Garnett that netted a suspension and the poor start against the Bulls he was in the midst of a long fast of sorts for two weeks, but has returned to eating meat. “Competing at a high level, the body feels depleted,” Anthony said. You’ve got to give it to the Knicks with at least two starters on the all-complainers team with coming up with a new excuse. … After his fast start, Omer Asik is cooling off a bit, averaging 7.4 points and 8.0 rebounds in the last five as the Rockets have lost three straight and are tied with Portland for the last playoff spot, five games ahead of the Lakers.

-- I’m not quite sure this is praise for Chicago. But after his incident with Carmelo Anthony in which Anthony was suspended and wouldn’t back off claims Garnett described Anthony’s wife in cheap, ugly street talk, Garnett said he learned to be that way the senior year he spent attending high school in Chicago. “You realize that northern people are a lot more aggressive than southern people,” Garnett told Boston reporters. “One of the lessons I learned living in Chicago is that no one is going to give you anything. You have to take it. I carried that mentality into the league with me. You stand your ground.” Added Doc Rivers from Maywood: “We were talking about that the last time we were there,” said Rivers. “He said, ‘Man this city changed me.’ I was asking him why, and he said the basketball was different than anywhere I’ve ever played. It’s mano-a-mano even though it’s five-on-five at the parks. He said it’s amazing how many times you get knocked down, and no one even reacts to it. He said, ‘I didn’t grow up that way and it took me a year to realize they didn’t care who you were on the floor.’ It’s the rule in Chicago. If you lose you have to sit. I don’t care if you’re the NBA MVP. I was telling him a Michael (Jordan) story. Michael lost in a pickup game and he left. That’s just the rule.” Michael? … No one’s going to mistake him for Rodman on the boards, but the Nets’ Brook Lopez is averaging 18.5 and 7.2 rebounds for the surging Nets and seventh in the league in blocks, just ahead of Joakim Noah. With the Knicks’ Tyson Chandler sixth in the league in rebounding, it appears it’s going to be a tough call for coaches to add a big man to the All-Star roster. … The Nets are 8-1 under P.J. Carlesimo since the firing of Avery Johnson. Deron Williams after sitting out “injured” the game before Johnson was fired is averaging 19 points and 8.2 assists this month. It’s reminiscent of when Jason Kidd got Byron Scott fired in New Jersey and then had to play hard. The Nets then won 13 straight under interim Lawrence Frank, who earned the job with that streak. The general rule among players is once you get your first coach you’ve got to start playing hard. So imagine once you get your second.

-- Eric Maynor is pretty much out of the rotation in Oklahoma City and could make someone a nice backup point guard or even starter. … One of the risky moves that was looking awfully good was the Nets’ picking up (perhaps that’s not the most appropriate description) Andray Blatche for a minimum. In addition to issues with playing with the Wizards, Blatche previously has been shot in the chest during a carjacking attempt, charged with soliciting sex from an undercover police officer and arrested for driving with a suspended license for a third time. Wrong place, wrong time? Now it’s a sexual assault claim that Blatche says he wasn’t involved in, and apparently he’s not being charged. But he should probably stay inside more. … Nick Young has been playing less with the 76ers and got a DNP-CD when they broke a five-game losing streak Saturday against Houston. Though his name doesn’t come up in trade rumors, you have to wonder about Evan Turner. Coach Doug Collins agrees Turner needs to play handling the ball, but the 76ers basically have point guard Jrue Holiday directing all offense. … The Pistons play the Knicks later this week in England, which is a heck of road trip. But your average NBA players isn’t much of a tourist, especially the Chicago guys, like Will Bynum from Crane Tech who told Detroit media: "I don't want to see nothing in London, man. I'm fine right over here. We could've played the game in Chicago. I don't really care." Bynum, though, is bringing his mother, who did want to play tourist. Good for him. … Paul George is emerging as the franchise type of player many have seen in him. Said George to Indianapolis media: “This is definitely the best team I've been around my three years here. Before we had a lot of guys going at each other. Everybody had an ego to them in the past. This year, it's all one big ego, and that's putting the team first." Must be just coincidence Danny Granger isn’t playing. The Pacers probably would love to move him, but it seems unlikely he’d be back from injury long enough to interest anyone. … The Magic broke a 10-game losing streak beating the Clippers Saturday, making them 1-10 since Glen Davis was hurt. They’d won five of six before that. Who figured? … The Wizards are 2-2 against Miami and Oklahoma City and 4-26 against the rest of the league, though 1-0 with John Wall. … Hey, whatever did happen to Gilbert Arenas?

-- We’ve sort of gotten accustomed to taking the Spurs for granted. And though there’s often this notion they aren’t respected and are boring, Gregg Popovich is the reigning coach of the year, Tim Duncan is a 13-time All-Star and should make it again and Tony Parker gets in MVP talk. But Doug Collins had it right, as usual, in noting the seamless transition they’ve made which is rare in NBA history: “I remember when I was broadcasting. I talked to Pop as they were getting a little older, how their point differential was going down. He was sort of hinting at (that) it was going to be tough for them to be a team maybe that held their opponents to 40 percent shooting like they had in the past. So what have they done? They’re still a top 10 defensive team, but they’ve become the best offensive team. Which I think is a real credit to Pop and what he’s done. He’s understood that as Parker and Ginobili and Duncan, especially Duncan, have gotten a little older, maybe they’re not going to hold you to 90 points. So all of a sudden they score 105. So the point differential is still the same. It’s plus eight or plus nine. It’s just they’re beating you 105-97 instead of 97-(89).” The Celtics did it to some extent from when Bill Russell was playing and then as coach, and the Lakers when Magic Johnson was a rookie until they were a halfcourt team when the Bulls beat them in 1991. … It’s why Boris Diaw can frustrate his coaches, though he has a mature view of life. Diaw had his first dunk as a Spur last week. The 6-8 Diaw said that he recalled dunking once for Charlotte last season. … With Eric Gordon’s return and declining play, it’s been a rough go for lottery pick Austin Rivers, who basically is out of the rotation for the Hornets and has failed to score in five of the last eight games he’s played. Coach Monty Williams is close with father Doc since their playing days together in San Antonio. But Doc said it’s tough to distract his son from basketball: “Austin is too much basketball, and the reason he’s so up and down is because of that,” Doc said. “It’s a good learning point for him. Austin is the (Tom Thibodeau) of players. He is 100 percent basketball. I talked to him last night, and he’s talking about this game, other games, and I asked, ‘Did you do anything else?’ And he said, ‘I don’t want to do anything else. I just want to be in basketball.’” … Oh, no. Stephen Curry limping off with a bad ankle in a loss to the Nuggets Sunday night. He returned, but he’s had a career of ankle problems. … It’s been a nice story in Dallas for 27-year-old rookie Bernard James, who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as an Air Force sergeant and then attended Florida State. James hasn’t been a scorer, but the Mavs again credited his hustle play in their win over the Grizzlies Saturday. “I just tried to put a body on someone every time and make sure whoever I set a screen for got open,” said James.

-- There’s often much credit to the Suns training staff for keeping going veterans like Steve Nash, Grant Hill and Shaq. But what the heck are they doing in Oklahoma City. None of the starters has missed a game this season. Plus, Russell Westbrook hasn’t missed a game in his career, now in its fifth year while Kevin Durant has missed four games in the last four seasons. Plus, Serge Ibaka and James Harden hadn’t missed a game in the last two years there. … Kevin Durant has a new ad campaign with Nike titled, “I am not nice.” Nike is usually pretty good with this stuff and one—you’d hardly call it criticism—issue with Durant has been he’s too nice and his lack of anger at times hurts him in MVP voting. Durant denied the ads have anything to do with his behavior this season. But Durant already has a career high six technicals this season and his first ever ejection. He had seven total technicals his first four years in the NBA. … Since returning from ACL surgery, Ricky Rubio has had to sit out five of 14 games and is shooting 22 percent averaging 19 minutes per game. … With Miami’s record they’d be tied for fourth in the Western Conference with Memphis.

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