Sam Smith: Bulls fans want a trade for Christmas… but not yet
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I know. I know. All you want for Christmas is a Bulls trade.
It's probably not going to happen very soon though, simply because only the truly desperate make trades around the holidays. Though it will happen.
The general feeling is unless you badly need to shake things up, teams tend to wait until closer to the trading deadline to make deals, figuring they can get more and there is a wider field to deal with because more teams realize either they are out of it or maybe need one more piece to make a run and might overpay. I know of one general manager who recently offered a high level near All-Star starter for two players not in a rotation with a good team, and the good team said it was giving up too much and declined the offer.
That will change in a few weeks. But now good teams feel a bit smug about themselves and bad teams' players look worse than they are. The two sides become closer before too long.
Though there is one truly desperate team these days and it will be interesting to watch what the Toronto Raptors do.
After firing coach Sam Mitchell at 8-9, they have lost eight of 10 and appear to have about given up. Star Chris Bosh, the target of several teams making space for 2010 free agency, has been cranky. Bosh, in not a good sign for Raptors' management, declared: "If I wanted to get booed, I'd go on the road."
In a loss to Oklahoma City last week, Bosh was caught yelling at teammate Roko Ukic to give him the expletive ball and at teammate Jamario Moon for an ill-advised foul. Then late in the game, the listless defense allowed Jeff Green to get to the basket for a key score without any resistance. And now GM's Bryan Colangelo is feeling the heat with one local writer noting Colangelo's teams have failed to advance past the first round in 12 of 14 seasons.
"Bryan's in a panic," said one general manager. Toronto is said to be talking about various options, some of which could include the Bulls. One GM said he's first been trying to unload the expiring deal of Anthony Parker, though that won't yield much. Another GM says he's now hearing the Raptors want to move Jermaine O'Neal. Good luck, I say, with O'Neal making $23 million next season. But here's the thinking: O'Neal for Stephon Marbury, which is perhaps one reason the Knicks continue to hold onto Marbury.
I personally doubted this. My response when I heard this was, "Yeah, right, after Donnie Walsh spent two years trying to unload O'Neal."
But this is the way it was explained to me: The Knicks get something for Marbury and O'Neal comes off, anyway, after next season, so it doesn't affect the Knicks' 2010 free agency plans. Here's the big enchilada in it: Eddy Curry. The Raptors take Eddy, assuming he can play, which means it's certainly another month to see if he's healed and in condition. The Knicks get Eddy's two years after this off the books, which is key for them, and if Eddy can play, the Raptors get a real big man to get the defense off Bosh. For three quarters anyway, as we know in Chicago.
Maybe the Knicks throw in a sweetener like David Lee, whom they may not be able to resign. The Knicks get Parker and maybe a draft pick and the rights to Jorge Garbojosa, who might want to play for Mike D'Antoni. Of course, the other side is if it makes the Knicks look too inviting, Bosh could go there. I personally don't see it.
Where the Bulls come in is Colangelo loves Thabo Sefolosha. The Suns tried desperately to get Sefolosha for a few years and Toronto desperately needs a shooting guard and small forward. Andrea Bargnani's name has come up with several teams, and I still have my doubts anyway. I'm not sure Sefolosha isn't better. But Colangelo is said to be holding off including Bargnani to anyone for the way it would look to have whiffed on the first overall pick in the draft that produced Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Speaking of Portland, look for them to be active, as well, before too long. They just have too many young players who don't fit and the talk for some time has been they'll move either or both of Channing Frye and Ike Diogu.
I found interesting both speculation coming out of Sacramento of the Bulls’ possible interest in Brad Miller and GM Geoff Petrie pointing out how valuable Miller would be to a team with undersized big men. I wonder whom that would be? "My sense is that he's probably one of the best passing centers in the league," Petrie told the Sacramento Bee. "He's skillful. He can facilitate offense. How many of those kinds of guys are there? You look around right now and there are at least three or four teams who are playing with 6-8 centers."
I've heard the Bulls have no interest in Miller, and if you think about it, he basically makes no sense for where the team is now. The Bulls aren't playing for a championship this season or next. So what's the point of picking up a 32-year-old center on the decline for one or more of their young players? To win three more games this season? Maybe. If the Bulls are going to make any deals, and I believe they will before the deadline, I'd look for young players who can be part of team moving forward over the next few years. Not some stopgap veterans.
If you want to give up Drew Gooden's expiring deal, go for someone like the Knicks' Lee and agree to take on someone with a longer deal like Jared Jeffries. For the Bulls, all deals should be about getting a useable piece as part of a larger deal.
The name for the Bulls that will come up is Kirk Hinrich. It hasn't yet because he isn't playing—out of sight, out of mind. Even for NBA GM's. Look, most aren't that much smarter than you. Did you watch the presidential debates? Tell me you didn't sit there going, "Hey, I'm smarter than that guy!"
The Warriors truly are a mess with Jamal Crawford getting 50 the other night for his third team. He's the fourth player to do so. The other three were Wilt Chamberlain (Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers), Bernard King (Warriors, Knicks and Washington Bullets) and Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 76ers and Bullets). When I met Jamal, who is one of the nicest people in the NBA, if someone told me he'd be in the same sentence with them I'd have said it would be something about Jamal buying their basketball cards. I expect Jamal to own the record and eventually have 50 for three more teams.
In any case, it's pure Nellie now in Golden State and you've got to love the guy's relentless chutzpah. I'm using Yiddish more during Chanukah. Nelson is clearly in his latest exit strategy, which is textbook. He's dumping on players, supposedly calling out Stephen Jackson, who denied it and now is out with a sore hand, saying rookie Anthony Randolph would be better off traded, which Nellie denied, and declining to play Brandon Wright. And there was Al Harrington earlier run out and prospering in New York. The word now is the Warriors also are trying to deal Jackson despite giving him an extension. Nelson named Keith Smart and Sidney Moncrief his defensive coordinators with Smart running huddles. Who knew Nellie's teams needed someone to coach defense? Us, defense? Nelson did this in Dallas with Avery Johnson and then left. There's only one revival per Nellie stay. The Warriors had theirs. The thought is either Nellie moves upstairs to GM or back to Maui, and with all the coaching openings somewhere else next season. The Warriors' imbalance would be a good way to steal a young player like Randolph or Wright, athletic big men for the future. The Warriors still don't have a point guard and have expressed interest in Hinrich many times. It will be something to watch when he returns, which could be in just a few more weeks, earlier than expected.
Then there's another possibility that could revive a Chris Kaman deal for the Bulls. There was preliminary talk of a multi-team deal last fall that might have landed the Bulls Kaman. He's still out as well, but seeing the Clippers in the East this week you know something big has to change. The Mike Dunleavy/Baron Davis dynamic is unsalvageable. You could see in the game against the Bulls Davis just standing around aimlessly lobbing the ball inside. It's as if he's saying, "OK, you want me to throw it into the post every time? Fine. I'll do it. But I'm not doing much else."
Insiders say he continues to clash with Dunleavy. There's a possibility Dunleavy moves upstairs to GM. But if he stays as coach, there's no way Davis can stay. And seeing them play, there doesn't seem room for Kaman with Zach Randolph and Marcus Camby. I assume Dunleavy would love a defense oriented point guard like Hinrich, and despite Davis' big contract, several teams would love to have a point guard of his abilities, which could yield the Clippers several backup pieces for their weak bench. There seems to be possibilities there, and a young big man like Kaman makes sense for the direction the Bulls are heading.
It's nothing to put under the tree or beside the Menorah this week, but maybe a nice Valentine's Day gift.
-- As an e-mailer wrote last week in my Ask Sam letters, said to be the best mailbag on the internet. Of course, I only asked me. Anyway, he pointed out if you want to deal it's a good place to start with the teams that dumped coaches, and we have plenty of those. Teams rarely improve under such circumstances, but it doesn't stop GM's. Here's what it looks like:
P.J. Carlesimo: Fired at 1-12. Scott Brooks is 2-13 since, though they have been somewhat more competitive.
Eddie Jordan: Fired at 1-10. Ed Tapscott has been 3-11 since and blown out four of the last six games.
Sam Mitchell: Fired at 8-9. Jay Triano has gone 2-8.
Randy Wittman: Fired at 4-15. They've gone 0-7 under Kevin McHale.
Mo Cheeks: Fired at 10-14. Tony DiLeo is 2-1.
Reggie Theus: Fired at 6-18. Kenny Natt is 1-3
The guys fired at 20-78 had a better winning percentage than the interims, who are a combined 10-43.
To paraphrase Bill Clinton, "It's the players, stupid."
-- The Celtics won their 18th straight Sunday to go to 26-2, matching the 1970 Knicks and 1967 76ers for best starts with two losses. I like to catch up with former Bull Chet Walker on occasion. The Jet—the real one, not Jason Terry—is still writing screenplays in L.A. and averaged 19.3 per game for that great 76ers' team led by Wilt Chamberlain which some regard as the best ever. "I see the Celtics are going to get our mark," Walker said by telephone. "We were different types of teams. We had so much movement, guys moving all the time without the ball it seemed easy." Walker isn't taking anything away from the Celtics, but laughs at comparisons. "There are 15 teams under .500 now. You can win 10 in a row without playing anyone. We had 10 teams in the league," Walker noted. Which meant they'd play Russell's Celtics nine or 10 times a season. And how about playing regularly against this group, who were the league's top scorers: Rick Barry, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, John Havlicek, Willis Reed, Dave Bing, Sam Jones, Walt Bellamy and Gus Johnson. Every one of the top 15 scorers in the league that season is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Which meant just about every game you were going up against a team led by at least one future Hall of Famer and probably more. "No way, man," Walker said about matching teams. "No way."
-- So this is the guy you wanted running the Cubs? Though Mark Cuban's biggest blind spot may be point guards. The owner, like Jerry Jones, who runs his team, gave up on Steve Nash before Nash won two MVP awards and in New Jersey last week was serenaded by Nets fans chanting, "Thank you, Cuban! Thank you, Cuban!" That was as Devin Harris had 41 points in a blowout of the Mavs and Jason Kidd, the principals in that Cuban-inspired deal which also got the Nets two No. 1 draft picks and salary cap space. There's really no problem to mess with Texas. Cuban's response: "I guess when you don't care about your own team you talk about someone on the other team, right? I guess that's what Nets fans are all about." Yes, apparently he is a bit sensitive on that one. It seems everyone's feeling a bit uneasy in Dallas. Jason Terry, who pronounced himself an All-Star last week, said when asked about former teammate Harris: "If he doesn't get 30 or 40 points, that team doesn't win, period. They can't beat nobody." Other than the Mavs, maybe.
-- I hope the 76ers hang onto Mo Cheeks, maybe the classiest guy in sports. Here was his response after being fired prematurely: "Things don't always work out the way you'd like them to. Again, I can't express my appreciation as much as I'd like. Deep down inside, it's there. No one understands, once you get fired, once you get let go, the feelings that are inside you. It's not an easy thing to deal with. The way I feel about the city, the way I feel about the organization is second to none. I'm here. If the opportunity is there for me to be in the organization, I'm more than happy to do that." As for holding a press conference when none of the other fired coaches have, Cheeks said: "I think it would have been selfish for me to just pick up and leave and go and not show my appreciation to the people that have supported me. I pretty much grew up in this town.'' Even Philly won't boo Mo Cheeks.
-- It's been interesting to hear the 76ers talking excitedly after a win over Washington about playing faster with Elton Brand out a month with a shoulder injury. "The fourth quarter was some of the best basketball we've played all year," Thaddeus Young told Philadelphia media. "The difference is, we played with a low-post presence most of the season. Tonight, we didn't have that. We ran and ran and ran, looked to get out in transition, and we executed our halfcourt plays. That got us the game." It's not unlike the tug of war that went on in Phoenix with Shaquille O'Neal, who finally challenged his teammates to run if they wanted and stop blaming him. The Suns have upped their tempo again, and it continues to raise questions if you force a center post presence on a team with talent not fit for it. Perhaps like the Bulls as well?
-- Doc Rivers told Boston media the Celtics were interested in Dikembe Mutombo, though Rivers speculated Mutombo would go back to Houston. Some thinking in Boston has been they'd go for Marbury if he is cut loose with the idea the Bulls used with Dennis Rodman that a strong team could absorb one problem player and release him if necessary. It would be an ironic reunion with Kevin Garnett, whom Marbury left in Minnesota because Marbury told management he resented Garnett—or anyone—for making more money. It seems doubtful, though, they'd bring back the popular Antoine Walker, who got a buyout from the Grizzlies. Friends say Walker is in great shape and ready to go … The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted LeBron James saying he could re-sign with the Cavs after this season, which is a good way of trying to take away the incessant questioning of his potential 2010 free agency. No one expects James to re-up this summer, and why would he when he could resign with the Cavs anytime. There's no harm in being recruited. And it's fun. Taking James off the table, which I don't believe will happen, would only put players like Bosh, Amaré Stoudemire and Dwyane Wade in more demand, and there is going to be a lot of money to spend in 2010. But you could be left with that year's version of Ron Mercer if too many guys re-sign with their own teams.
-- The Magic have been dominating Western Conference teams, coming back 4-1 on a Western swing and then beating the Spurs and Lakers at home in an unusual stretch of 12 straight against West teams. They've now won 17 of 20 and second to Boston in the NBA at 10-3 on the road and quietly a half game worse than the 70-win Lakers. Oh, right, forget that. So when a team is winning like that, you accept what they do, and Dwight Howard says his generally poor free throw shooting has been helped by singing Beyonce songs when he shoots. "I don't want to think about it too much. So sometimes I sing songs," Howard he told the Orlando Sentinel. "I don't know if this makes me a softie or not, but I've been singing Beyonce at the free-throw line. It worked." Who knew you didn't just look.
-- Formerly starting and drawing raves in Washington, JaVale McGee now rarely plays in the Wizards' grand collapse...no surprise that the vast majority of trade rumors come out of Charlotte with last week's being Ray Felton to the Warriors. It's classic Larry Brown, about whom it's been said loves the 360 NBA players other than the 12 he has. Though it is clear D.J. Augustin is their best point guard and just drafting him made Felton expendable. Brown is now trying to get some playing time for Adam Morrison, presumably to showcase him some ... The Mavs are 9-2 without Josh Howard and 6-9 with him, and after last season's embarrassments, despite the Mavs' denials, you'd think he could be very available come trading deadline, perhaps in a Jerry Stackhouse deal ... I like the new colorful Rick Carlisle, who picked up good 'ol fella Texan quickly, saying after a loss to Denver: "We couldn't hit a bull's butt with a bass fiddle."
-- The Lakers have to be wondering about Andrew Bynum, who was supposed to be the X-factor in this year's championship after missing much of last season and getting a huge extension. He's been whiny about Phil Jackson's rotation and in Lakers losses in Florida this week was held even in Miami by someone named Joel Anthony and run out by Dwight Howard. The NBA has a heavy schedule of terrific Christmas Day games, headlined by the Celtics-Lakers. But Boston has been far better and though the Lakers record is terrific, their guards have been weak on defense and allowing easy penetration and they remain unsettled at small forward and with Luke Walton going from little use to starting. Don't quite punch their ticket to the Finals yet … Thursday night on TNT in the NBA has become like Monday Night Football with most everyone watching, in part because of the entertaining halftime and postgame shows. So if you do something, you gain extra credit. Brandon Roy now has had a couple of these this season, a fabulous shootout to win in overtime over the Rockets last month and last week's 52 pointer against the Suns. Games like that on national TV with everyone watching get you in the MVP voting, though it will be a runaway for LeBron James this season. Roy is averaging 36.4 points and 13 free throw attempts the last five games.
-- Chauncey Billups only can perform so many miracles. Billups' acquisition overshadowed, for awhile, the Nuggets' small front line issues and Denver now has lost three straight after winning 16 of 20. Nene's scoring averages have fallen every month, now down to 11.8 in December as he's openly pleaded for big man help, though coach George Karl made it clear in interviews with local media last week that ownership said if they weren't a championship team they weren't spending, thus letting Marcus Camby go to save money. Karl doubted help would be on the way and has bemoaned the failure to sign Juwan Howard … Supposedly Kings players complained to management that Reggie Theus's offensive and defensive systems were too complex and interim Kenny Natt has said he knew things needed to be simplified. Heck, I thought that was a compliment for a guy who was known as a shooter in his playing career and more adept in defensive holding tactics on Rush Street.
-- There was much ado last week about Utah's Carlos Boozer telling ESPN.com he was opting out of his contract after this season, which is what has been expected because he needs to do so to become a free agent or get a new deals. Still, it prompted Jazz owner Larry Miller to declare in a radio appearance it "one of the top 10 stupidest things I've ever heard NBA player do in 24 years." Now that takes in a lot of ground. Though I thought more intriguing Miller's comment of Boozer missing some 80 games after he came to the Jazz with similar leg injuries he has now. Protecting himself for the financial score so not playing? Similar doubts were raised about Boozer then. "A lot of people are still suspicious about that, a lot of fans and stuff, and we've covered for him and protected him, justifiably," Miller said. It makes you wonder with the way Paul Millsap has played behind Boozer whether the Jazz would resign Boozer. My guess is they go the sign-and-trade route given the injuries and controversies.
-- Everyone talks about our Noce. Last week it was the Clippers screaming "flopper" and Saturday after the Bulls beat the Jazz, it was an amusing scene in the visitors' locker room with Millsap showing teammates how Nocioni drew a key offensive foul late in the game by holding Millsap, grabbing Millsap's arm and forcing it into his own (Nocioni's) head and then falling down because he was hit by Millsap. Oh, that wacky Chapu.
-- I was sure the Bulls were getting the better rookie, and just as sure they weren't getting the better quote as Michael Beasley explained his latest struggles to his coach this way: "I'm still trying to find my mojo. I'm still trying to get my swag back."