It’s now just over a week until the NBA’s long nightmare is concluded and we all get to find out where Carmelo Anthony calls home, at least for the next few months. But maybe Anthony is a better player than we imagined, as he’s beating teams he’s not even playing against, the latest being his dream Knicks.
It was amusing to hear last week Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni asking home fans not to chant for Carmelo Anthony because it was upsetting his seedlings. And there was Ray Felton saying the Knicks’ slump was because too many people were talking about the projected Anthony trade. Sounds like a tough minded group Anthony would join.
The Knicks are 5-8 since New Jersey sort of dropped out of the Anthony trade talks so the Nets could concentrate on losing most of their games, though not all. Hey, the Nets have won seven of their last 14. Maybe in comparison, Anthony would see a better chance to get to the playoffs with the Nets. Though what the heck is with Devin Harris, averaging about 12 points the last two months? Maybe no one told him the Nets got out, though no one fully believes that yet.
So, everyone is on edge in New York—no news there—and Anthony is unique in one sense because no one ever really wants to go to New York to play for the Knicks. The Yankees, sure, as when there is no salary cap you can make a case being paid so much more. But with top salaries equal in the NBA, living and playing in New York generally ruins your life and makes your working life miserable. Because in New York they always are about the next thing. So the media and fans chant for Anthony. Amar��e who? The likelihood, meanwhile, of the Knicks getting Anthony this month seems to be decreasing as talk in Denver is the Nuggets want at minimum a top five player or near that at one position in the deal. Other than Stoudemire, the Knicks don’t have a top 10 player at any position. Hard to see them making a trade, also given they don’t have draft picks to surrender.
Though the talks around the NBA are increasing, as you’ll begin to hear about dozens of scenarios involving the likes of Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, O.J. Mayo and Zach Randolph, Jamal Crawford, Carl Landry, Shane Battier, Stephen Jackson, Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler’s contract, and perhaps Jeff Green. Meanwhile, there has been some interesting talk involving the Nuggets, and perhaps it could include Anthony. Or not. Perhaps a trade with Golden State involving Monta Ellis, which would give Denver that top five type player. It’s preliminary stuff. Ellis and Andris Biedrins go to Denver for Nene and some other pieces. Perhaps Golden State also takes Anthony for a rental with the idea of losing him, anyway, and getting the cap and payroll savings, though there might be too many players involved for that. Maybe the Warriors get Ty Lawson as they’d like to make Stephen Curry a shooting guard, and Arron Afflalo also goes to the Warriors. Denver gets a center with some years on his deal compared with Nene and a potential star guard. Seems to make some sense for both teams, which usually means it never happens.
How will Williams do running the show in Utah?
-- And so the career of Deron Williams, All-Star player/coach/general manager begins, and we’ll see how that works in Utah. He didn’t mention any names, but it seemed obvious whom Karl Malone was talking about when he came to Utah for the first game post-Jerry Sloan and told reporters, “They changed the floor back to old school. They changed the uniform back to old school (Jazz going back to old equipment). Somebody tell the damn players to start playing like old school. I’m just calling it like I see it. You’re a professional. You don’t need for me to break a film down for you (one of Williams alleged complaints to management about Sloan). If you want to stop the guy you’re playing, they pay you millions of dollars. You get you a TV and break the player down yourself.” Classic stuff.
Look, this also is nothing new in the NBA, though to set the record straight, Michael Jordan never sought Doug Collins’ firing. In fact, when managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf called Jordan beforehand to tell him he was doing it, Jordan said there was no way Reinsdorf would have the guts to do so. Likewise, though Magic Johnson was blamed for Paul Westhead’s firing (and we aren’t talking about Hall of Fame legends here), owner Jerry Buss had long planned to fire Westhead as among other issues Westhead supposedly was having his bosses contact his p.r. firm to talk to him. The Lakers had decided to hire Jerry Tarkanian, but that blew up, holding up the firing. Magic knew all along and then stupidly blurted it out and got blamed.
But if Williams performs, and he is a terrific talent, and the team wins, it all will fade. Though I still get an uncomfortable feeling about Williams, whom guys around the NBA say has changed since associating with the USA team and other All-Star situations and beginning to look down more on others. Williams clearly was taken aback by the booing for him at home, and told Salt Lake City media: “I don’t like being in the spotlight. It puts a lot of tension on me, and I don’t like it. I'm a little drained. God does everything for a reason." Williams also added in saying he never pushed out Sloan that, “God knows what happened.”
We tend to try to stay away from religion in sports, though that separation really is not in the Constitution. But I can’t recall hearing much of this kind of talk from Williams before. I don’t deny anyone their faith and beliefs, and I can respect a guy like John Salmons who from the first time I talked with him almost a decade ago I heard him crediting everything to God and Jesus Christ. If anything, I feel a little guilty over not using all the references to God he’s made over the years as I decided to edit it out. But I can’t say I’ve ever heard much of this from Williams until recently. Anyone can have a conversion or epiphany at any time and maybe he did. I accept that. Maybe he did. Good for him, then. But it reminds me some of my favorite story of this sort. It was when players were doing these post game prayer huddles after games, mostly started by Charlie Ward and Allan Houston with the Knicks. Anthony Mason, of all guys given his long record of arrests, was leading one and called out and invited Alvin Gentry, then Pistons coach walking off the floor after a loss. Gentry was distracted and said, “Er, well, not now.” Mason responded: “Then (the heck with) you, coach.”
Who would you rather have taking your last shot?
-- How about LeBron missing a key free throw to lose to Boston Sunday? Yes, it happens to the best of them, though we know James doesn’t like to drive late for just that reason and usually passes. And he would again in the end. This time it was Mike Miller with the last shot. What is with that team? Boring, isolation play, little imagination. Hard to be worried about them. Or even interested. Anyway, Derrick Rose missed that last free throw against the Clippers earlier this season, and though few remember, it was Michael Jordan gagging up a pair of free throws that cost the Bulls Game 4 in the first round series in 1989 with the Cavs before Jordan hit his shot to win the series.
Two things were apparent watching that Celtics/Heat game. It’s hard to see that the Bulls with Joakim Noah back can’t beat either of those offensively challenged teams as long as you don’t let them get in transition. Especially with a slight tweak at shooting guard. Also, Rose seemingly has almost no chance to be MVP because of the ESPN/ABC effect. Jeff Van Gundy made a convincing case during the game for Rose or Dwight Howard being the MVPs, and then he said he’d vote for James, who plays with two All-Stars, one a starter. ESPN has an awful lot invested in James going back to their years of promotion, televising his high school games all the way to his “Decision” TV show last summer. They’ve hired several reporters from around the country to just cover James and have regular updates about him on their various programs and web sites. They also have a disproportionate number of MVP votes in their far flung media operations. Sure, you say I write for the Bulls site so I have to favor Rose. OK, even if I do, it’s one vote. I’m not saying every ESPN reporter would see it that way. I don’t know. But you hear them make cases for others and then always come back to James. Who would you rather have taking your last shot? LeBron James or Derrick Rose?
Collins getting the most out of his Sixers
-- Doug Collins is doing something just about every game with the 76ers to make it a three-way coach of the year race with Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau. In fact, you might say what the 76ers have done is the biggest surprise. When the 76ers beat the Spurs the other night, Spurs players admitted the 76ers caught them by surprise with Jrue Holiday’s aggressive play. “We didn't talk about him much in the pregame," admitted Tony Parker. And suffering no letdown going into Minnesota the next night, Collins sprung Thaddeus Young on Kevin Love and shut down Love in the second half as the 76ers made it a blowout as Love panicked. "I needed to get over myself tonight," said Love, yet to make any impact on winning. "I felt, from a maturation standpoint, I took a step back. I needed to calm the guys down, have us regain our focus and start playing well." Also, credit Collins, and Elton Brand as well, for Brand’s resurgence when the league had pretty much given up on him, Brand working to condition himself and Collins being one of the best at putting players in position to succeed. Brand is averaging 17.9 and 9.6 this month and 15.3 and 8.7 for the season.
Raptors’ Wright a better bowler…
-- Those side trips like some coaches take teams on work basically if you have a good team. The Raptors went on a team bowling outing before playing the Bucks and then lost by 18. It’s curious that he can’t make shots, because Homewood-Flossmoor’s Julian Wright may be the league’s best bowler. He claims a 278 high game and bowled 225 during the team outing. He owns four bowling balls and the Toronto Star said he brought two on the trip, one for strikes and one for spares. So how come Wright is one of the league’s poorest shooters, under 60 percent on free throws in his career and 26 percent on threes? He’s below both averages this season. Maybe he should shoot a medicine ball. … Tracy McGrady has done a reasonable job scoring as a point guard, which isn’t completely the job, but McGrady says he’s just a one way player. He told Detroit media: "I definitely don't want to be a point guard on both ends of the basketball court, having to guard these Derrick Roses and Chris Pauls. It would be beneficial to me to have someone guard those guys." I know, yes, he really said that. … That’s the Roy Hibbert I thought could be most improved. He’s averaging 16.4 points and 7.9 rebounds since the coaching change, though no one knows yet who’s coaching the team. Frank somebody. Some guys just don’t do well being yelled at, which Hibbert admits he was a lot with Jim O’Brien. Actually, that’s a big issue with LeBron, which is what led to that early season criticism of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Michael and Scottie in the news
-- Stephen Jackson may have hit the biggest shot of the season Saturday in upsetting the mentally soft Hawks. That’s because the Bobcats, who will be in the United Center Tuesday with a 2-0 record against the Bulls, were raving last week about Michael Jordan’s shot and how ready he is after scrimmaging with the team. Jordan turns 48 Thursday. Hopefully, Jackson’s shots helped persuade Jordan there’s nothing more to prove and plenty of potential embarrassment remaining, Please, no Mike. … Orlando’s win over the Lakers Sunday was their first over a team with a winning record in more than a month. They’re back! … Scottie Pippen didn’t exactly say it that way, but it sounded like he has a new TV show for the Heat: “Two and a half men.” Said Pippen to Slam magazine, "I don't think Chris Bosh is half the player of LeBron James." Pippen, by the way, called Jeff Van Gundy a “jackass” for predicting the Heat would surpass the Bulls' 72-win season. Can I write “jackass?”… I’m not suggesting the league also has an interest in promoting the Heat, but Dahntay Jones was called for a rare five second inbounding violation with 8.9 seconds left last week as Miami held on to deny the Pacers a chance to tie the game at the end of regulation last week. How rare? Elias Sports said it’s been five years since a team was called for a five-second inbounding violation in the last 10 seconds. How great are these NBA players they never make that mistake? Sure. … I know how much Dwight Howard impacts Orlando and he is an MVP candidate. But when the Magic lost to the Hornets last week, coach Stan Van Gundy, though he conceded afterward it perhaps was a mistake, had his team avoid going to Howard down the stretch because Howard can’t make free throws. Sorry, then you just can’t be MVP.
NBA’s best in Chicago this week
-- The Hawks finally admitted what everyone else knew, that Marvin Williams was a mistake. Williams was benched in Saturday’s loss to Charlotte, coming in last off the bench and responding in Marvin style with one of seven for two points in 19 minutes. When the Hawks lost by 34 at home to the 76ers last week, it was the fifth home loss this season in the league by at least 30, though Al Horford was out and they have little toughness without him. The Hawks have two. The Hawks were also down 29 at home to the Bucks and 31 to Boston late in the fourth when both teams went with subs and the final margin was under 30. That’s probably the team you want in the first round. … The Bulls, by the way, had one of those 30-point disasters when they lost to Orlando in Carlos Boozer’s return. … The Bulls see the league’s best team Thursday on TNT. Yes, still the Spurs, and they still do it so simply, though with very colorful players who aren’t viewed that way because of the efficient way the team plays. They’re sixth in the league in scoring at almost 106 per game without a 20-point scorer. Eight different players have led the team in scoring in a game. They are as close in this era to the Knicks of the ‘70s, more successful though less famous because they aren’t from New York. Happier, I’d assume. I liked the way Houston coach Rick Adelman described the Spurs when they beat his team last week as they’re out on their two week rodeo road trip, which is like the Bulls circus trip. Except the Spurs always have had good players and win most of their games. Said Adelman: “They have three playmakers in (Tony) Parker, (Manu) Ginobili and (Tim) Duncan. They've played together a long time. They know what they're doing and they play to their strengths. They're pushing the ball a lot more. Everybody touches it. You used to have just Parker handling it. Now you have Parker, Ginobili and their (other) guards. They don't run things through Duncan as much. Game is on the line, you're going to see those three guys. That's when you see the same thing. The last few possessions it's going to be post-ups, pick-and-rolls. They're very good at taking what they're given. They don't push things. They don't force anything." And what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau also is espousing. Explained Richard Jefferson: “It’s about grinding away, imposing your will over a team for 48 minutes. We win a lot of games in that 48th minute because we continue to press on.” Boring. Hardly anyone dunks and Duncan guards the pick and roll like Shaq now. Ginobili is a wonder, and coach Gregg Popovich brought him off the bench the other day to give him some rest and what do you know no one took it as an insult or their manhood being challenged. Popovich is tough and demanding, yells a lot and plays no favorites. Amazing how the game hasn’t passed him by.
NBA news and notes
--The Rockets already are 0-1 in the must win three-game homestand leading up to the All-Star break that Adelman told the Houston Chronicle is “make or break for his team’s season. If we win some of these games at home against the better teams, we can get back in (the playoff race). If we don't, we're going to be separated from everybody." Which would suggest the Rockets may look to deal before the trading deadline. The Bulls have had interest in their Courtney Lee, who is likely to be dealt somewhere with Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin set and the team having traded for Terrence Williams. But Houston is fishing around primarily for a young center. Can the Bulls persuade them they can get one after the season with the Bulls extra draft picks? I cannot see the Bulls trying to go into the playoffs down a big man, namely Omer Asik, against the likes of Boston to add a shooting guard. … The Magic got that needed win over the Lakers Sunday, though I only see one problem with Orlando now: They’re not very good. Closer examination, after all, shows an unathletic, small team with players who can’t beat anyone off the dribble anymore. Hedo Turkoglu’s averages have diminished since he came from Phoenix and this month is averaging 9.1 points and shooting 41.7 percent. Gilbert Arenas’ numbers have declined every month (who’s actually buying that stuff about playing better in warm weather? Though he can tell when it’s going to rain) He is averaging 6.6 and shooting 28 percent this month with no real first step and jumping ability.
-- It’s a curious NBA season in that a week before the All-Star break, just about all the division races are settled. The only division races that are not really settled are the Southeast with Miami five games over Orlando and, frankly, the way Miami has played the Magic have no chance. In the Northwest, Oklahoma City leads Denver and Utah by four, but both the Nuggets with possibly losing Anthony and the Jazz in the wake of the Sloan departure are in some disarray. The Spurs lead Dallas by seven and everyone else has a double digit game lead. … Dallas center Brendan Haywood sat out two of the last four games, wins over Cleveland and Houston, in falling behind fellow backup center Ian Mahinmi in the rotation. No big deal, but it may be. With Jason Kidd’s contract up after next season, the Mavs are rumored to be the most likely destination for 2012 free agent Deron Williams, a Dallas native who already is making noise about Dallas. But with Haywood on the books averaging more than $9 million through 2016, it’s difficult to see where the Mavs even with Kidd and Jason Terry going off the payroll in 2012 will have the cap room if they intend to keep free agent Tyson Chandler. … The biggest decisions next week before the trade deadline quietly have to be with Memphis as much as Denver. There seems almost no way with Marc Gasol also up for a new deal the Grizzlies will resign Zach Randolph. Trade him now? The Magic reportedly would be ready to make a huge offer of players and picks. But then maybe the Grizzlies don’t make the playoffs, which the owner has guaranteed as Randolph is leading the team at 20.2 points and 13.2 rebounds. Phil Jackson on Randolph: "He's clever, and he's got a game which he's adapted to. He's actually 6-11, but because God chose not to give him a neck. He measures only about 6-9, 6-8 1/2 .” … I’ve always thought Sam Young could play. I always ask scouts why he fell to the second round and get no good answers. With O.J. Mayo out suspended is averaging 15 points and almost four rebounds and it hardly seems there’s any chance the Grizzlies will look to keep Mayo now. The question is how much they’d want. They had been talking a big and a draft pick. He makes $4.5 million, so you’d have to match salaries, though the Bulls have some cap space left. Maybe they take a flier on James Johnson just back from an impressive D-League stint? Though Mayo will look good to a lot of teams.
-- We’ve gotten all kinds of fictional scenarios regarding Carmelo Anthony trades, the latest last week with talks with the Lakers which, as it turned out, never happened. It was a good story, though. When a story lingers like this there are all sorts of reports and speculation, and I liked one I was hearing recently. There’s obviously been a fair amount of leaked reports, fictional and not. New Denver GM Masai Ujiri is noted for his discretion and low profile. So the thinking goes George Karl, who has a long NBA history of agenda and creative leaking, has been leaking rumors, whether accurate or not, to stir the pot and perhaps prevent the Nuggets from dealing Anthony and extending the chance the Nuggets have to resign him. Karl was most close to Brent Bearup and Mark Warkentien, who both were let go by the Nuggets for Ujiri, and several around the NBA who know Karl say it’s not beyond the clever coach to have something of his own going on to try to will his way with the Nuggets. Next story: Nuggets to buy out Anthony so he can sign minimum deal with Miami and accomplish his dream of finally playing with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and learning to pronounce his name.