T-Mac takes his spot on theNBA trading block

Sam Smith at Bulls.com

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Tracy McGrady

The Rockets, initially, have been telling teams they are looking for expiring contracts and a young player who projects as a possible top player in the future. It’s probably too much to ask as the Rockets presumably would have to take back some longer term contracts, if not as much as McGrady’s deal pays.

( Larry W. Smith/NBAE/Getty Images)

I thought I knew where Tracy McGrady was headed last week. I thought I had it figured out given the Rockets’ parameters. They seem to want most a potentially unexplored talent underutilized where he is. I am fairly confident from talking to some general managers that nothing much is going on yet regarding McGrady, whom the Rockets conceded last week they are prepared to trade as he left the team to return to Chicago to train.

My guess then was he would end up with the Washington Wizards for a package of players that included some expiring contacts to get the Rockets below the luxury tax and little used JaVale McGee, who has star potential.

Perhaps it’s still possible, though who knows anymore with last week’s gun incident with Gilbert Arenas (of course) and Javaris Crittenton. I’ve since heard the Wizards are on the verge of a deal that could be completed in the next day or so. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not the latest speculated deal involving Kirk Hinrich (happy 29th birthday already, Kirk on Saturday) and Jerome James for Caron Butler and Mike James. I’ve heard the Bulls have had some talks with the Wizards, but none involving Butler.

And I’d doubt the Bulls are looking to do much now, playing their best of the season and the teams like Miami, especially, right in front of them beginning to fray. Of course, this can change quickly, as we know, but I’d think the Bulls would be patient until they find out whether big names like Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and Carlos Boozer become available next month.

The reason I liked the deal a week ago for the Wizards was they were clearly in decline with a group that didn’t fit together. Duh, who didn’t see that with what many have said for a few years were too many perimeter shooters for one ball and Agent Moron. Yes, that’s what they called Arenas around the NBA, even before his locker room weapons incident.

The belief around the league was they’d finally come to the realization they wouldn’t defend and they weren’t going to be above the luxury tax anymore following the death of owner Abe Pollin, who had a soft spot for Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison. With an ownership change coming, finances would again be an issue.

So the thought was the Rockets might take on some expiring deals, a big part of any package for McGrady, like Mike Miller and Mike James and perhaps Washington could pawn off a longer term deal like that of DeShawn Stevenson’s and include McGee as the sweetner Houston was seeking for McGrady’s expiring $22.48 million. One issue would be roster because the Rockets roster is at 15. So it still was unclear.

Now as it’s been widely speculated most assume you can get anyone from the Wizards, which brings me to Arenas. It seems inconceivable he won’t be out of the NBA for an extended period, if not on trial. And certainly off the roster of the Wizards.

I see no other recourse for the team, if it stands for anything related to its late, esteemed owner, to suspend Arenas with pay pending league and legal action.

It probably would be better for the Wizards on the court as well as Arenas is no longer as explosive as he once was after multiple surgeries. Plus, he’s a ball hogging point guard leading the team in shots and perhaps one of the league’s most indifferent defenders. Though the Wizards collapsed with multiple injuries last season, most forget how well they played without Arenas the year before.

There’s no question the Wizards would love now to void Arenas’ contract on moral and criminal grounds as averaging $20 million the next four seasons it’s the league’s greatest Albatross.

But that’s the minor part. It would make a mockery of the gun tragedies all over the country—Columbine, Northern Illinois, Virginia Tech—to allow Arenas to walk away from this. It’s pretty clear he had guns in the team locker room, a major NBA and District of Columbia violation. I still haven’t heard whether they were loaded. When it was first reported about Arenas bringing his guns, I bought the explanation as perhaps reasonable given he wanted them out of the home away from kids and gave them to team security. But he didn’t. That was Lie No. 1. He had access to them, and ammunition is easy to come by.

Yes, this is the franchise that came up with what still seems like the stupid idea to change its name from Bullets to Wizards because of Pollin’s relationship with slain Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin. OK, Pollin wanted to make a point. But if that franchise of all franchises doesn’t react to this it’s as if the family is demeaning the legacy of its patriarch.

How about NFL Giants receiver Plaxico Burress in prison for two years for carrying an unlicensed gun that went off in a public place, though no one was hurt? Perhaps it was a stiff sentence, but the point is there’s so much gun violence now that society has to take an exceptionally strong stand and send a message. You bring a gun to work I’m sure you’re fired. And arrested. So you have a gun at work and you—whether teasing or not—are threatening a fellow worker at a time after it was clear the two of you had a dispute. It’s setting the stage for serious violence. It can’t happen here? Ask the soldiers at Ft. Hood.

Every time I walk into an NBA arena a guard searches my bag for weapons. If I only knew you just needed to get them in the locker room. What a joke.

Maybe you forgot this interview Arenas did with Yahoo Sports a few weeks back when he said about becoming more aggressive, "My mind is not in killer mode. I haven't thought killer in two years. It's like I've been laid off. It's like getting an assassin, putting him in a box and making him watch TV. He can't go back to straight killing. Now he has a conscience. Before, I didn't.” I’m not even sure what it all meant, though it wasn’t terrific imagery.

The Wizards for some incredible reason are allowing Arenas still to play. Shame on them. You can make jokes, like the NBA now is really Where Amazing Happens. But this is no laughing matter.

If you’ve read Arenas’ comments on this and his ridiculous Twitter offers, you see he isn’t taking this all that seriously. Though someone finally told him to show some remorse in a comment. There’s likely loads of black males in prison for weapons violations in Washington. Let the court system decide. But if Arenas isn’t charged with a felony for brandishing/displaying/having weapons in the workplace it makes a parody of gun laws. It places celebrities above the law. Haven’t we seen enough innocent children dying? New York took Burress’ violation seriously and as a warning. Washington, D.C. owes the public the same.

Arenas has demonstrated callous disregard for his franchise and human life. And this in the city where James Brady, inspiration for the Brady gun laws, was shot down as an assassin targetted President Ronald Reagan. Brady was his press secretary and paralyzed. When you make a joke of handgun use you send a message and set an example. Arenas has with his insane behavior. It’s long past time for the Wizards and the NBA to respond. Arenas said, in effect, gun use is fun and when you have a handgun in the work place you are just kidding around and there’s no harm and no big deal. I would hope the NBA doesn’t condone that message.

The NBA Cares. OK, show us.

Trading block and T-Mac

-- Meanwhile, back to the trading block and McGrady. The Rockets believe they have a valuable asset and they might given teams that want to dump contracts to take a shot at the 2010 free agents or drop contracts to stabilize their bottom line given the league’s declining economics.

The Rockets, initially, have been telling teams they are looking for expiring contracts and a young player who projects as a possible top player in the future. It’s probably too much to ask as the Rockets presumably would have to take back some longer term contracts, if not as much as McGrady’s deal pays.

The thinking is the better deals will come closer to the Feb. 18 trading deadline as teams fall out of the race and look to save money and more teams might get involved.

Since McGrady has left the team to stay in shape, there’s no urgency to trade him since he won’t be a distraction.

Of course, I’ve received dozens of emails from Bulls fans about trading for McGrady. Though no one should think he’s THAT Tracy McGrady. Look, the Rockets want to trade him, but even they are saying after serious knee surgery a history of back problems and not playing for a year he’s nowhere near what he was.

"The thing people want to write about is who he was two years ago," coach Rick Adelman told the Houston Chronicle. "He isn't that right now. We have a whole team. It's not just about what he wants or what he was going to want. It was about what can he do to help us win. He's coming back from major surgery and rehabilitating, and who knows when he's going to get there? Right now, he wasn't there. The explosiveness definitely wasn't there. That's to be expected."

Yes, and this is the team that wants people to offer a lot for him.

So can the Bulls make a deal, which would be designed toward insuring they have enough salary cap space next summer to offer a maximum contract? They don’t now if everything stays the same and John Salmons doesn’t opt out of his contract, worth $5.8 million next season. And that’s not counting Tyrus Thomas.

Given what the Rockets are talking about, they’d likely take Thomas, Jerome James and Brad Miller, which would match salaries. But what would that do to the Bulls’ competitiveness? If you were considering a deal for Tyrus, you might if it involved someone like Chris Bosh or David West. But to get back just more cap space for the chance to get a free agent but no guarantee could kill this season and then whatever appeal the franchise might have.

And then there’s that Houston roster issue of being at 15. The problem with dealing for McGrady, given the Bulls limited roster in trying to get below the salary cap, is you’d lose productive players. And then even if you have the money for a maximum deal, your record might be so bad you’d have trouble getting a free agent interested. Plus, now the Bulls seem to have a decent chance if players remain healthy to make a solid move in the East. Isn’t it more important to have that kind of winning momentum? How attracted could big free agents be to a losing team?

It seems unlikely given their criterion and the likelihood of better offers the Rockets would take Brad Miller and John Salmons or Miller and Kirk Hinrich. Hinrich likely has too many years left for them and after investing in Trevor Ariza would have little use for Salmons, especially the way they play as a fast breaking team. I don’t see a deal with the Bulls.

So what else makes sense?

I wonder about the Jazz as they could maybe get the Rockets to take Andrei Kirilenko and throw in Carlos Boozer. Though that doesn’t fit the Rockets’ desires for now.

The Jazz seem at a crossroads barely in the playoff race in the west after a Saturday home loss to Denver without Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. They are well into the luxury tax with a team going nowhere.

Chief executive Greg Miller paused for a substantial period after the Saturday Denver loss when asked by a Salt Lake Tribune reporter about breaking up the team. Said Miller: “I haven't lost faith in these guys yet."

Boozer has an expiring deal and seems playing for his numbers now. The Jazz just traded Eric Maynor to save money and I’d guess you could get Mehmet Okur if you were interested.

New York is always mentioned because they don’t have the money for two free agents without getting rid of Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries. The Knicks’ plan has been to get enough money for two guys so you can tell one to bring his best friend along. LeBron and Wade? The Knicks maybe get it done with Houston by including Wilson Chandler with Cutino Mobley’s insurance paid expiring deal. Yes, that contract limit of 15 again is an issue.

The Clippers have been mentioned as a LeBron James longshot and they have Marcus Camby’s expiring deal and some young talents.

How about the Nets and Yi Jianlian? The Rockets expect Yao back next season, and the Nets are another looking to find room for two free agents. They’ve got the expiring deals, though probably not enough big ones to make it work.

Would the Rockets take someone like Elton Brand from the 76ers? They hint no. The Hornets have given the most hints of dumping salaries and could make a deal with David West and Peja Stojakovic if Houston would take Peja’s deal.

The Kings have been mentioned because of Kevin Martin’s deal and the team doing well in his absence. I’d guess the Rockets would love to have that shooter, but the Kings seem intent on trying him out first when he gets back from injury. But perhaps if Houston also took the deal of Andres Nocioni.

Maybe the Suns in putting together enough to resign Amar’e Stoudemire give up Jason Richardson, though Houston seems not to want to take on long term contracts. At least not yet.

And there’s Miami, not only with a matching deal of Jermaine O’Neal’s, but perhaps more. Maybe if Houston were to take some salary, like James Jones and maybe Miami throws in Michael Beasley if that would enable the Heat to bring in two free agents. Miami looks in decline now and about to wear out Dwyane Wade to the point even South Beach may not look so comfortable Again, you’ve got to balance that Houston roster.

It won’t be easy, but it should be interesting.

KG and Pierce beginning to break down?

-- I have to credit Doc Rivers for one of the more clever moves I’ve seen of late. With a crucial inbounds to defend, he put Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins on the inbounder against Golden State. The Warriors were confused, though they eventually got the ball in and won. But you had to like the innovation. Meanwhile, if you live in Boston, January is a nice time for a vacation. Though that doesn’t seem what Garnett and Paul Pierce are up to, both out perhaps another two weeks or more with knee problems. Just about all the great non-centers in NBA history began to break down between 30,000 and 40,000 minutes. Some went over 40,000, like Garnett is now, but their careers were in great decline, like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Pierce, having played more than 33,000 minutes including playoffs, just had a second arthroscopy when the first didn’t go right. Garnett has knee issues again and is working on about 43,000 minutes with playoffs. Both have been relative ironmen in this era. Though they likely can see the end from where they are standing.

NBA news and notes

-- Not a great endorsement for Lawrence Frank’s coaching from Yi Jianlian, who has played the best in his career of late. Said Yi to the Newark Star Ledger: "I mean, with Lawrence, he tried to call the offense every time, try to control the players.” Many names have come up in the wake of talk about Vinny Del Negro’s status, though Del Negro looks solid these days. If you look at the players the Bulls have, up-tempo types with a point guard who needs to attack, it would be suicide to bring in control oriented guys like Frank, Avery Johnson or Jeff Van Gundy if you were making a change. These are the biggest names I always hear from fans. C’mon, think about what you are saying. Take a look at Philadelphia, which brought in a coach with a read-and-react system for open court players not exactly suited to the so-called Princeton style. … The Bulls Monday get a look at the game’s hottest new star, Kevin Durant, coming off a franchise record seven games with at least 30 points. Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe likened Durant to George Gervin, though Gervin didn’t shoot the deep ball and was maybe 6-6 or 6-7. Like with LeBron James, there aren’t many players ever to compare to a 6-10 guy who can shoot like that and run the floor. … Del Negro got a lot of criticism for the Bulls losing that 35-point lead to the Kings. But I watched in amazement Friday as the Hawks let the Knicks’ Nate Robinson, after 14 games sitting out because he’s been basically a goofball, make every shot down the stretch and overtime to score 41 and overtake a 15-point fourth quarter lead. Robinson basically on isolations was beating everyone on the Hawks and coach Mike Woodson didn’t send help or double a guy who rarely ever passes. The point is there’s questionable coaching—and with better teams—going on everywhere. You’re just not watching. With Robinson’s return, Larry Hughes is now out of the rotation and not playing, joining Eddy Curry, who only seems to even come to practice occasionally now. Hughes, no big surprise, didn’t take it too well, complaining like he did with the Bulls last season to New York writers after the big Sunday win: "There’s an unwritten rule in our league, you never lose your spot coming
back from injury…going back and forth. This is my second time now, it's getting old." Hughes, too. Anyone say buyout? … This week is guarantee day for contracts and it looks like Allen Iverson will stick. I give Iverson this. He isn’t chasing a title. He said he’d rather just play. Of course, that also may be an indictment on the 76ers and where they are going. Coach Eddie Jordan’s mentor, Pete Carill, exponent of the Princeton offense, said it will work with this 76ers group if they only had a point guard. The 76ers are said to be interested in Hinrich, though are offering only longer term big contracts that make little sense to the Bulls.

-- I know the Bulls are no big fans of the D-League as they like their players in their own practices. But it’s helpful and nothing to be ashamed of. Watching rookie James Johnson it’s clear he has talent, but his confidence seems shot. He needs a boost and I’d like to see him get some game action and get in better shape there for a few weeks by playing. Johnson makes a good play and then runs into two or three bad ones, taking time away from Tyrus Thomas for now. The roster seems big enough now to spare him. I can see Johnson going to the D-League and dominating and coming back a different guy, who’d be a welcome addition for the stretch run. … Former Illini Luther Head, starting his second straight game, scored 21 points for the Pacers Saturday as they snapped an eight-game losing streak. T.J. Ford is now out of the rotation and certainly available. Head led the Pacers Sunday with 18, though they lost to the Knicks by 43. Ouch. The Knicks have won 11 of 17 since Dec. 1. … You don’t want to go to Vegas with team broadcasters. Or Hawks broadcaster Bob Rathbun. You’ll recall Bulls broadcaster Chuck Swirsky was so sure the Bulls wouldn’t lose that Kings lead he said he’d walk to New York. He ended up making a nice charitable gift to the Bulls foundation. Rathbun said he’d walk to Cleveland if Jamal Crawford, an 84 percent free thrower, missed both. Crawford did and though Rathbun went on the team charter, like Swirsky, he donated the cost of the flight to the Hawks’ charity. … They still don’t play much defense, but one of the big surprises has to be the Memphis Grizzlies, written off with that 1-8 Iverson-mired start. But kudos to Zach Randolph, who quietly is putting up All-Star numbers as the Grizzlies lead the league in points in the paint and offensive rebounds. They are a team that can score, so they have a chance to win games in this NBA. And credit coach Lionel Hollins in his second stint with hanging in there with Iverson blasting him. "People who said we couldn't play together don't know what kind of person I am," Rudy Gay told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "They don't know Juice (O.J. Mayo) or Z-Bo (Randolph). We've been deferring to each other all year. We know we all need each other, and Marc's (Gasol) stepped up to give us another option. As long as we're moving the ball around, we're virtually unstoppable." They don’t stop anyone, either, but let’s not get too picky. They’ve become an entertaining and competitive team. The question is retaining Gay, who’ll be in big demand as a restricted free agent after the season.

-- The Hornets’ plan to continue to give away players to save money was stunted again, like with Tyson Chandler last season. Though the Thunder is thanking their doctor with Chandler still out in Charlotte. Devin Brown, however, declined to modify a trade kicker as a deal with Minnesota fell through as the Hornets had to take back still another player they tried to trade. Brown has been a regular and has kept Mo Peterson on the bench since late November. Now the Hornets want to move Chicagoan Julian Wright. Chris Paul seems into it about every other game and the question is when he explodes. One NBA coach who is a friend said he counsels Paul regularly not to say anything publicly, though how long can he watch what goes on there? … We’ve seen plenty of Kobe Bryant highlights the last few weeks of game winners, which seems to be covering up a suspect bench as Bryant has been Jordan-like willing the Lakers to wins and now leads the NBA in scoring. "(Bryant) is right there with Michael (Jordan) in that kind of breath (among clutch players)," said Phil Jackson. The larger question with the Lakers of late involves center Andrew Bynum, who blew into the season with Pau Gasol out, averaging about 20 and 11 until Gasol returned. Bynum was down to 11 and 6 last month and hasn’t had a double/double since Nov. 17. Gasol missed Sunday’s blowout win over the Mavericks. … After playing his first full 82-game season last season, Grant Hill just finished up his first ever calendar year as a pro without missing a game. … Steve Nash told the Arizona Republic he’s rejuvenated after going to a Scottsdale naturalist and giving up refined sugar, which he called “complete crap. I haven't had a bag of M&M's all season," Nash said. "It's been about 10 months now, and I've never felt better. I recover and feel good almost every night. We keep stuffing it in our bodies in great abundance almost habitually, without even thinking about it anymore. There's an immediate sensation with these foods, but 20 minutes later, the sensation isn't so great. And once you cut them out, it becomes a lot easier to live without them.” Yes, it’s all about removing that bloated feeling, which one can also say about getting Shaquille O’Neal out of the lane. … Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, a noted sesquipedalian, at least in his view, gave his players vocabulary calendars among holiday gifts. "Some of the guys will raise their hands during my talks and will ask what a word means," he told the Ft. Lauderdale Sun. "This is an opportunity to slowly increase their vocabulary one day at a time." I wonder if that calendar includes the words Phil sometimes makes up.

-- Forgotten in all the Arenas gun stuff last week was how badly the Wizards, the season’s major disappointment, had been playing. It was so bad that normally mild mannered coach Flip Saunders (his biggest critics say he stays away from controversy and criticism too much) blasted the team after a loss to the Thunder when Oklahoma City shot 72 percent in the fourth quarter. Saunders said he could get any five guys from the playground and beat the Wizards and he in his 50’s could out defend them. "This team needs a mindset change,” Saunders told Washington reporters. “This team for the last five years has been known as one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Until our guys decide that it hurts when teams score on you, we've got no chance. We're kidding ourselves." Then Saunders last Tuesday added this bit of prescience: "Don't ever think it can't get any worse, because it can. It can." And then Arenas went for his six shooter. Hey, I liked old westerns. Probably was a 44 shooter.

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