First phase of the NBA trading season

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Tyrus Thomas

Presumably trade discussions will be held in Chicago over the coming weeks, where the Bulls have been one of the early season disappointments. The assumption is the Bulls wait until the return of starting forward Tyrus Thomas to see what they have.

The first phase of the NBA trading season gets underway this week as players who were signed this summer can now be put in deals. Most deals usually don’t come until closer to the February deadline, but this juncture expands the possibilities.

Some of the names who could come up (some a week later) include Brandon Bass, Paul Millsap, David Lee, Nate Robinson, Hedo Turkoglu, Antonio McDyess, Earl Watson, Mike Bibby, Chris Wilcox, C.J. Watson, Ramon Sessions, Rodney Carney, Andre Miller, Rasho Nesterovic and Marcin Gortat.

Of course, I’m here to help everyone and it would seem the early needs are with the Trail Blazers with Greg Oden out and Toronto with Jose Calderon uncertain with hip problems which could be serious. Anyone say Andre Miller? We know he hasn’t fit well in Portland, and they have Jerryd Bayless, though Bayless’ moaning about his playing time has upset some in the organization. Portland could use some size. So maybe they go for Rasho Nesterovic, who has an expiring deal and take Marcus Banks, who has one fewer season than Miller. Maybe Amir Johnson instead, though it depends most likely on what the Raptors want to do regarding Chris Bosh as they are up and down with a nice win Sunday to go to 11-15. So they try to make a push to keep Bosh or look for a major midseason deal? Lots of discussions certainly are to come there and elsewhere as well.

Presumably they will also be held in Chicago, where the Bulls have joined the Raptors as one of the early season disappointments. The assumption is the Bulls wait until the return of starting forward Tyrus Thomas to see what they have.

But would they consider some alterations in their plan to remain patient for the free agents in the summer of 2010? Because there’s a big ‘if’ to that. If John Salmons doesn’t exercise his opt out and chooses to remain with the team, as Carlos Boozer surprisingly did with the Jazz last summer when Detroit dropped its interest, the Bulls won’t have enough money to go after a maximum salaried free agent at the estimated $53 million to $54 million salary cap level unless they can make a deal for an expiring contract.

So here goes. The Bulls clearly are desperate for scoring. So what about the Pistons Richard Hamilton? The Pistons are likely anxious to unload some contracts with the economic decline in the area hitting the franchise combined with the lack of a championship contender. Hamilton just returned from injury, but the team is loaded with guards with Rodney Stuckey and big free agent Ben Gordon. Maybe something like Salmons, with a short team and possible opt out, and Jerome James? That would eat into the Bulls’ chances for a max free agent next summer, but they might not have that anyway if Salmons stays. So then maybe you look at it as getting a legitimate shooting guard with size and defensive ability, which is how you justify replacing Gordon with Hamilton, and still have enough money next summer to sign a mid-level free agent below the top tier players.

Don’t like that one? Then you’d might still want to take a look at the Hornets. I did with the recent Forbes team valuation report, which I know isn’t perfect. But it appears the Hornets are carrying a heavy amount of debt at a time their fortunes appear headed down. It would seem to make some sense now to deal David West, who could pass nicely as your free agent for next summer if you were a team like the Bulls.

How about Tyrus Thomas, who is from LSU and may actually fit better with Chris Paul given Thomas’ ability to take the lob dunk pass which Tyson Chandler did so well and Emeka Okafor does. Then Okafor plays more the West role and Tyrus runs with Paul. Then you give the Hornets James’ expiring deal and sweeten it with some cash as the Hornets are taking more salary back for this season.

Raptors’ inconsistency could lead to Bosh trade

-- The Toronto Raptors have been up and down with good wins and horrible losses and are still below .500. The speculation is growing in Toronto that ownership is getting shy about wanting to pay Bosh a maximum salary given two years of sub-.500 play. And now with point guard Jose Calderon out, the chances of a big season and recovery seem remote. So the thinking is, like Amar’e Stoudemire was last February, Bosh will become the hot topic of the February trading deadline. I get asked a lot about the Bulls making a deal, though I cannot see where it would make sense as Joakim Noah, at minimum, would have to be involved, along with perhaps Luol Deng and expiring contracts, leaving the Bulls with Bosh and less talent than the Raptors along with no chance for another max free agent, hardly a recipe for success. It would seem if the Raptors want to deal the Warriors have the best assets. Perhaps Miami with Michael Beasley and Jermaine O’Neal’s and Udonis Haslem’s expiring deals and the ability to take salary from the Raptors. Miami will be another to watch come February as the strain clearly seems to be getting to Dwyane Wade carrying the team and might force the Heat into doing something before next summer to acquire Bosh, believed to be their targeted free agent. Carlos Boozer, however, is believed still to be hoping he can land with the Heat. Meanwhile, there was another interview in the Canadian press this weekend with Bosh saying how much he’s come to love Canada. "Usually, when I was younger, I'd come here and I couldn't wait to go back home (to Texas),” Bosh said. “I'd go home and sit there and do nothing. Now? It's like, we're going to T.O.! When you going back to Dallas? Pfft, I don't know — whenever. I just feel comfortable here."

Knicks on the rise

-- Greatest arena? Sophisticated fans? Sure. Knicks fans were chanting “We want Nate” despite goofball Robinson’s benching sending the Knicks streaking with impressive wins over the Suns and Trail Blazers and in Atlanta and New Orleans. They’re poised to pass the Bulls in the standings this week Thursday in Chicago and talking playoffs. Coach Mike D’Antoni has gone to a short rotation with veterans like Larry Hughes and Chris Duhon excelling. I know. That can’t last long. … T.J. Ford has been under siege from Indiana fans and you’d think he’d be another point guard available in trade. … ESPN’s True Hoop blog and Peter Vecsey in the New York Post, the latter no great fan of the NBA office, have concluded in analyses the claims of disgraced referee Tim Donaghy to be bogus regarding influencing NBA games. What I tell anyone when they bring it up is what Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says. If the games are manipulated as Donaghy suggests, Popovich said he wouldn’t be involved in the NBA. And I’d say if you believe Donaghy, don’t watch and enjoy the accuracy of NFL holding calls and the strike zone in baseball

Same old Iverson?

-- It was routinely overlooked by reporters in their excitement of Allen Iverson’s orchestrated return to Philadelphia last week. But in his first game back after breaking down given how emotional he was and grateful for this second chance, Iverson was the last player to arrive at the arena despite excellent weather conditions, showing up 25 minutes after the reporting deadline and just about an hour before tipoff. Coming that late is routinely a fine on every team, but more so with Iverson it was a message that he’s going to be Allen Iverson, show up when he feels like and he doesn’t care what you think. Eddie Jordan’s read and react Princeton offense? That’s the biggest waste of a coaching salary this season as Jordan doesn’t get to coach at all now. Andre Iguodala, AI2, as he’s called in Philly, has been in a snit about wanting to be introduced last as the team’s top scorer. They’ve yet to deal with the future return of point guard Lou Williams, their hoped for star of the future, and attendance fell in half after the first game as the 76ers lost three straight with Iverson to make him 0-6 with Memphis and Philadelphia this season. Looking good so far.

Another issue that has troubled the 76ers is one that has hurt several teams, including the Bulls. It’s changing a player’s position. With Elton Brand out last season, the 76ers used Thaddeus Young at four and Iguodala at three where they could use their speed and push the game. With Brand back, Iguodala has gone back to shooting guard and Young to three where they don’t have so much advantage. So with Samuel Dalembert in the middle it’s a slower team with no shooting range, and now Iverson unable to beat anyone off the dribble.

Fade to Bulls. We all thought it would work, but it didn’t. John Salmons can’t play shooting guard. He’s shot poorly, but the issue more is quickness. The twos are faster and Salmons can’t keep up or produce from that spot. He loses the edge he had at three. The Bulls, in a desperate situation, have to commit to speed now given that’s the main edge they have. Salmons has to move back to three and Luol Deng to four with Rose and Hinrich in the backcourt and Noah at center. The NBA has become a guard oriented, perimeter league with less contact allowed above the free throw line and fewer true postup players. Forget trying to fight there and let teams match to your strength. You see it elsewhere. Shawn Marion isn’t as effective now moving to three where he sees guys as quick. At four he was a walking mismatch. It’s why Jordan in Philly has been so anxious to bench Brand, though it looks bad for management and it hasn’t happened. The Bulls’ last real chance now is to downsize and play like the 76ers did last season and when they were better with Salmons at three. After all, it’s not like they were throwing it in the post to Karl Malone clone Tyrus Thomas.

LeBron takes charge in Cleveland

-- Speaking of coaches being bystanders, the Cavs Mike Brown had to love Shaquille O’Neal telling ESPN the Magazine LeBron James is such a smart basketball player he should be a coach. The joke, of course, is LeBron coaches the Cavs now, and perhaps it was no coincidence Brown was thrown out for a tirade early in the next game. I’ve been tough on Brown at times for his unimaginative offense, but you have to feel for the guy having to live under James’ thumb like that.

And how about Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins telling Memphis reporters after the Grizzlies beat the Cavaliers with Mike Conley beating O’Neal on a pick and roll with Marc Gasol for the game winner: "I was hoping [O'Neal] would still be in the game so we could use him in the pick-and-roll." Wow! Perhaps when Shaq got poked in the eye and has missed a few games it was the Cavs trying to take him out. Though I wouldn’t want to be around Hollins when Shaq gets his deputy badge after he retires. Shaq also was dominated defensively by Houston’s 6-6 (maybe) Chuck Hayes on that trip. It’s tough when the legends hang on and still have the name and not the game.

Skiles gets effort out of Bucks

-- One of the early surprises has continued to be the Bucks, hanging around .500 despite major injuries. You had to love Scott Skiles when asked about whether he liked the team’s defense: "Not really, no," he told Milwaukee reporters. Skiles can be tough on players, as we know, but they play. He was berating Ersan Ilyasova earlier this season for defense and rebounding, and the European import, previously a three-point bomber, has now been leading the team in rebounding. Before the Cavs played the Bucks, former Buck Mo Williams noted the difference with reporters: "Obviously since Scott Skiles has been in command, it doesn't matter what personnel is going to be on the floor, they're going to play hard. That's one thing we didn't do when I was here. We didn't play hard.” Uh, well, why. Isn’t that the easy part? "I don't know," said Williams. "That's a good question. Skiles is the reason they're playing hard. They've brought coaches in here to try and do it and it didn't work."… Pretty amazing stat with Dallas now with 11 straight regular season wins over Miami. And then there were those four straight losses in the 2006 Finals when coach Avery Johnson melted down, blasting reporters, changing the team’s hotel and generally losing it. Though I assume Mark Cuban was in there somewhere. … Averaging barely more than Michael Finley last season at small forward, Richard Jefferson has been a disappointment for the Spurs this season, though he did have a 23-point game and first alley-oop dunk of the season last week. The Spurs have been one of the early mysteries, though it’s been obvious coach Gregg Popovich in using numerous new lineups can’t get the team playing up tempo enough to utilize Jefferson, who’s not a half court player. And with the Spurs barely hanging onto a bottom playoff spot and Manu Ginobili a free agent, the whispers in San Antonio are maybe it’s time to break up the team and try to rebuild sooner rather than later and risk that inevitable catastrophic fall which can be fatal for a small market team. One example is Sacramento, which went from the sellout streak record to last in the league in attendance and rumors of moving after the Chris Webber group faded out. The Spurs went deep into the luxury tax this season and it doesn’t appear to be paying off as yet for a franchise regarded as one of the least capitalized.

Terrence’s Tweeting trouble

-- I’ve never fully understood this Twitter phenomenon among players, especially with many of the same guys I see practically spit in the face of desperate fans waiting hours for them to get to sign something and then posting their eating habits for the world to see. Around draft time you always hear about some players from scouts of being a “problem.” Few ever really explain what that means, though the one I heard it most from last spring was about Louisville’s Terrence Williams. So it was hardly a shock when he tweeted (yes, he’s a twit, for sure, I guess) about how nice it would be to have been drafted elsewhere. And the genius mentioned Charlotte and Toronto. Perennial championship contenders? Williams, of course, then blamed reporters, saying, “What do you guys get out of asking me these questions? You guys get a better story? You guys feel better about yourselves asking me these?” And then there was the team’s best player, Devin Harris, according to the Newark Star Ledger, complaining to team president Rod Thorn about lack of direction in the huddle. So how’s that interim coach thing working about? At least the Bulls are not fighting among themselves. I guess it means something.

Suns' move pays off

-- A year later, the Suns deal of Boris Diaw and Raja Bell to Charlotte for Jason Richardson and Jared Dudley has looked better for the Suns with Bell since traded and injured and Diaw slumping. The surprise as been Dudley, among the league’s three point shooting leaders and a strong locker room presence to also finally give the Suns depth. Yes, it also helps to play with Steve Nash. Dudley is a loose teammate, often breaking into reporters’ clusters to ask teammates questions as if he’s a reporter. And actually asks good ones…Reggie Theus is on the bench with Kurt Rambis in Minnesota and getting the benefit of the doubt in Sacramento, where they’re finally accepting management and his staff undermined him in a season when he lost his top players through injury, suspension and trade, management declared the team better and then fired him, only to soon hit bottom. Said former Bulls All-Star Theus to the Sacramento Bee: "They (Kings co-owners Joe and Gavin Maloof and basketball president Geoff Petrie) had a vision of something about the team that wasn't there. They were thinking this team was almost a playoff team at one point. And the good thing is, for my reputation and my coaching (career), it was pretty obvious that the talent was not. I'm very happy about the direction they're going in (mentioning Evans and underrated rookies Omri Cassspi and Jon Brockman). They've switched the philosophy a little bit. It's not all pretty players. It's not all skilled guys who can dribble and shoot. We needed some guys who could do some of this (pounds his fist), and I talked about it the whole time I was there. Now they have a good mixture."

NBA news and notes

-- Too soon to talk about the draft? Kentucky’s John Wall, after a big game in a nationally televised win over Connecticut last week and LeBron James declaring Wall the No. 1 pick (it now cannot be overturned, according to ESPN and the NBA given James’ approval), the bad teams are taking a look. Those heading toward the best chance for No. 1 include the Nets with Devin Harris and the Timberwolves with Jonny Flynn, Ricky Rubio (in 2011) and Ramon Sessions, signed to a four-year contract. Oh, yeah. And the Bulls with Derrick Rose and the Wizards with Gilbert Arenas? And the 76ers with Allen Iverson? OK, that would work for them. … For whatever reason, Warriors fans have taken to singling out Chicago’s Corey Maggette for the team’s malaise and booing him every time he shoots. It wasn’t his idea to let Baron Davis, Al Harrington and Stephen Jackson go and sign him. … There are rumors of the Clippers’ Marcus Camby being traded, though with an expiring contract that would be surprising unless they could get a big time player. Being out so long, it would seem to take some time to get Blake Griffin back and going…the Kings have been trying 6-11 Donte Greene at shooting guard alongside big point guard Tyreke Evans. … Jerry Sloan loves Marquette’s Wesley Matthews: "He's not afraid to try to guard anybody," Sloan told the Salt Lake City Tribune. "It's really been pretty refreshing to us to have a guy that is a rookie and is not afraid to compete like he has.” Matthews recently played well against Ginobili, Brandon Roy and Danny Granger and then Kobe Bryant in Saturday’s win over the Lakers. Rookie Matthews outscored Bryant 19-16 as Bryant shot seven for 24, though he has an injured finger. Matthews father, Wes, played for two Lakers’ champions in the ‘80s after he was with the Bulls. … So you think the Bulls have troubles? Gilbert Arenas missed two free throws in the last seconds against both Boston and Indiana to cost the Wizards a chance to win both games as they fell to 7-14 and now go west for seven of their next eight games on the road.

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