Spurs could target Jefferson with trade deadline looming

“There are plenty of reasons for trades: Economics to get out of the luxury tax and the opportunity to add a young player or draft pick for your future,” writes Sam Smith. “Though the most intriguing always has been the one to perhaps put you over the top

I know the Pope resigned last week, though you wonder if he would have if he’d realized Michael Jordan’s birthday was coming up. After all, the Pope is a successor for the teachings of the Catholic church. And Larry Bird famously said after Jordan’s 63-point playoff game in 1986 Jordan was “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” Ah, but I digress.

There is another important date coming up this week, at least for the future of NBA teams. It’s the NBA trading deadline Thursday, and it’s in the view of many, the final day for many teams’ to make that last effort in the chase for basketball’s holy grail, the NBA title.

We’ve heard a season’s worth of speculation, much of it involving the Lakers and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Of course, there already were major trades involving stars like James Harden and Rudy Gay. The latest big name talk has focused on Atlanta’s Josh Smith and Utah’s Paul Millsap. There’s been mention once Rajon Rondo was injured of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and lately Ben Gordon, Andrea Bargnani and Brandon Jennings.

There are plenty of reasons for trades: Economics to get out of the luxury tax and the opportunity to add a young player or draft pick for your future. Though the most intriguing always has been the one to perhaps put you over the top for a title.

The name of Al Jefferson of the Utah Jazz, a free agent after this season, has been speculated about as well. And it would seem to me he’s the big name to watch. And where I’d watch would be the San Antonio Spurs because this may be their last and best chance to win a championship.

It seems unlikely barring any major injury anyone can upset Miami in the East. But with the Harden and Gay trades and the Lakers’ issues, the West seems wide open now for the Spurs. They’re the most stable team and have the best depth along with the Clippers. The Clippers are just coming together, but the Spurs may have the shortest window with the ages of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili a free agent. This may well be their now or never year, and with the Harden trade perhaps the open window before the Thunder recover.

The chance for a great short-term rental to buttress their chances for this season seems there with Jefferson, who is unlikely to resign with the Jazz given Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings and Utah’s desperate need for a point guard. Add a distributor and they have the nucleus to begin to make a run in the West. The Spurs happen to have that guy hanging around in rookie Nando De Colo, who could fit in nicely. The Spurs add Stephen Jackson and perhaps one low paid player to make the money workout and Jefferson gives the Spurs great insurance and front court depth with Duncan and Tiago Splitter. It’s a heck of a team to go into the playoffs with considering the Spurs’ depth, shooting and overall strength. When you have a chance to go for a title, you have to take it. Especially with a team like the Spurs which once Duncan leaves may not get many chances for years to come.

Here’s a look at the rest of the NBA at the trade deadline and what may be possible:

Bulls: There’s been rumors about Carlos Boozer, but there appears nothing to them. They’re more likely to add someone after teams release and buyout players next week for playoff eligibility.

Atlanta: They could be a big player. Smith’s name is most prominent, and they could make a last run at Howard knowing he’s said he’d like to play with Smith. Although GM Danny Ferry is said to be concerned about the risk of being left out in a poor free agent summer trying to add players with all his cap room in July, the only big contract he has left is that of Al Horford. Would he risk trading Horford and then telling Howard if he comes back home he can assemble his own team, which is basically how Miami got LeBron James?

Boston: There have been rumors lately of Rondo for Howard, which is outdated. The Celtics were quietly considering dealing Rondo before he was hurt as GM Danny Ainge believes in the big hit move. Rondo could bring the most. Kevin Garnett has said it would take a lot for him to drop his no trade, which would seem only if they can trade Paul Pierce and his $15 million for next season. Which they probably can’t.

Brooklyn: No matter what they say, they’d jump at a Howard package in a second for Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. Kris Humphries’ name comes up a lot, but at $12 million for next season there’s little interest. They’ll make uneven deals given they are willing to lose money but don’t have much to offer.

Charlotte: Well, it seems clear Ben Gordon wants to be traded with that rare defiance with the coach last week. He’s owed $13.2 million next season, so good luck. Though if someone would take Tyrus Thomas the Bobcats probably would take back anyone.

Cleveland: They’ve got cap room and basically have been waiting for someone to offload a contract. So they listen. With the repeater luxury tax and other penalties coming up they could add someone.

Dallas: Mark Cuban said the bank is open whatever that means. They’ve basically got a team filled with expiring contracts and they still have visions of chasing Howard. So it’s hard to see how they’d take on salary. And nobody wants Shawn Marion’s $9.3 million for next season.

Denver: Their issue remains how to get a true star. They have a lot of very good players, but they can’t seem to find someone like Harden. They could offload free agent Timofey Mozgov if someone will give them a draft pick. They’d probably also like to move oft injured Wilson Chandler with three years and $20 million. Not happening.

Detroit: They’ve shaved off a lot of money for the summer and they’d move Rodney Stuckey, though it’s hard to see paying him that $8.5 million next season for how little he does.

Golden State: They seem satisfied to have taken a step, but you can see them having interest in someone like Evan Turner as they need a front court player to help make plays with two scoring guards.

Houston: They’d also take a shot with Howard, though the Lakers likely wouldn’t deal him in the conference. They’ve also got cap room for the summer and likely will hold that unless they can make a score now.

Indiana: With Danny Granger returning this week, they enhance their depth. Though they could still look for some point guard help.

Clippers: They’ve been mentioned regarding Garnett with the notion they need one more big guy, preferably skilled. Eric Bledsoe’s name comes up, but it seems unlikely he’d be traded until they have free agent Chris Paul resigned.

Lakers: Howard said he was told he wasn’t being traded. But that was yesterday. And not to say anyone is misleading him, but I'm always reminded of the famous boxing promoter Bob arum line about, “Today I’m telling the truth.” You get the sense if Gasol were traded he might get healthier more quickly.

Memphis: Not sure who else they can trade. I guess they felt they might not otherwise be able to trade. But their prior trade which included a No.1 pick got them under the luxury tax. So it was curious.

Miami: They’re rolling, and there’s little reason to upset a roll.

Milwaukee: Most GMs expect them to be active, though they do want to be a playoff team this season. Jennings is mentioned along with Monta Ellis and Samuel Dalembert, all free agents. Given it’s tough to attract players to Milwaukee, you could see them going for someone with a contract.

Minnesota: Ravaged by injuries, it’s never clear who even is on the roster. They’d like to move Derrick Williams. If the Spurs don’t bite on Jefferson, with Ricky Rubio back now you can see Luke Ridnour being the backup choice for the Jazz.

New Orleans: Eric Gordon’s name is mentioned often, especially since he declared his dislike for New Orleans as soon as they matched his offer sheet. And then went back in hiding injured. The way he also backed out on Illinois in college you have to wonder how much you ever could trust or rely on him with his constant and mysterious injuries as well. And he’s owed $45 million after this season.

New York: Anyone want Ronnie Brewer? He’s available.

Oklahoma City: They seem locked in after the Harden deal, though you figure they’d let someone have Eric Maynor.

Orlando: J.J. Redick’s been mentioned a lot, but he is a free agent. The issue is they want picks or young players, which is tough to give up for rentals. You have to say they came out pretty good considering in the Howard deal.

Philadelphia: With Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson out after losing Andre Iguodala, Maurice Harkless and Nikola Vucevic in the Bynum deal there’s not much movement to be seen. Perhaps Turner given Jrue Holiday has the ball.

Phoenix: They probably have the most late season sales. You pretty much probably could have about anyone, though no one seems to know their philosophy about how and where they intend to go. Luis Scola is unavailable until summer for technical reasons.

Portland: They’re falling out of the playoffs, as expected. They need permission to move J.J. Hickson. Would they entertain offers for LaMarcus Aldridge, who has said he’s not for any rebuilding? It’s been no so far.

Sacramento: The store is closed until they figure who is the owner.

San Antonio: The Jefferson trade seems to make the most sense. They could move DeJuan Blair or Patty Mills otherwise.

Toronto: Anyone want a Bargnani? That’s been the for sale sign out and rumors about Carlos Boozer and Ben Gordon have generally been considered a common practice of trying to build up the value of your player by pretending someone else is interested. It doesn’t appear anyone really is.

Utah: Jefferson and Millsap are free agents, and one figures to go if they can get anything. They’re hanging onto a playoff spot, which seems of little value given the chance to enhance their core. They seem most likely to do something.

Washington: They’d like to get something for Jordan Crawford.

One take on LeBron in the greatest ever discussion

-- It may just be because no one has film anymore. But Hall of Famer and former Wilt Chamberlain teammate Chet Walker said he was listening to his car radio the other day when he heard a discussion about how LeBron James could be the greatest player ever. Good thing Chet is in good health or he’d have lost control. “When was the last time anyone in this generation had to play against anyone like Wilt or Russell or Kareem or Nate Thurmond?” Walker asked about the greatest centers in the game’s history. “Nobody today can protect the rim the way Russell and Chamberlain and Thurmond did. It’s so easy to get to the basket now.” And that doesn’t even include the likes of Hall of Famers like Walt Bellamy and Willis Reed. If only someone kept the video.

Long, steady decline for Brooklyn’s Williams

-- The long, steady decline for Deron Williams continued All-Star weekend when the New York Daily News quoted Jerry Colangelo saying Williams was out of shape for the Olympics, though he would play and average nine points. Colangelo later said he would clarify his remarks with Williams, who was said to be difficult to deal with on that team. The Nets won against Indiana and Denver last week after Williams took some time off to rest his ankle that bothered him in the Olympics with talk around the team the ball finally moved around more. ... I guess what else could Zach Randolph say about the Grizzlies being contenders without Rudy Gay. But Gay has revitalized the Raptors for now with a pair of game winners already, against Denver and Indiana. It’s tough to see how Memphis is better without their only perimeter go to scorer. And if they think Tayshaun Prince will defend, they haven’t seen Pistons’ film the last two years.

NBA news and notes

-- I could think of Ben Gordon doing a lot of things, but not going Tyrus as he apparently did in Charlotte last week challenging coach Mike Dunlap in practice when the coach asked him to stop bouncing a ball and Gordon supposedly told Dunlap to relax. Last season, fellow former Bull Tyrus Thomas got into a fist fight with coach Paul Silas with Tyrus’ face badly punishing Silas’ fist. Perhaps the grass is not greener. ... David Falk probably should apologize for a lot of things, but lately as a Wizards’ season ticket holder was telling the Washington Post what a bust John Wall is and how badly he should be traded because basically Wall is a goof who has no idea how to play. Doesn’t sound like Falk is trying to get him as a client. ... Hey, remember him. Dwyane Wade during All-Star break noted that he’s still here, which many do forget: “At one point, I was looked at as one of the top three players in the league, you know, with Kobe and LeBron. And now obviously, they don’t talk about me as a top three player in the league. For me, I just do anything I can to help my team win. I always say that when I retire maybe people will give me more credit. I did what I felt was right for my happiness, I did what I felt was needed for this team, for everyone to succeed. “I don’t think everyone can do that. Obviously I can score 30 points a night. I’ve been gifted with that ability. But that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to do something special, and we are in the midst of doing it. I do know now that I have this legacy.” LeBron James’ emergence has been tied to Wade stepping back, which has enhanced the Heat’s chances.

-- Good news for the NBA with Hedo Tyurkoglu’s suspension for performance enhancing drugs. If he’s using them, they don’t work. ... The Bulls finally get a look at Chicagoan Anthony Davis Tuesday when they open the post-All-Star season in New Orleans. Davis is coming off a big 21 points and 11 rebound in a rout of the Trail Blazers and LaMarcus Aldridge and isn’t giving up the rookie of the year chase ceded to Damian Lillard of Portland. "I wasn't thinking about the Rookie of the Year or anything other than playing well and helping my team win," said Davis after the Hornets blasted Lilliard and the Trail Blazers. Lillard is averaging 18.3 and Davis 12.5 after early ankle injuries. ... Kevin Durant is 2-9 all-time in regular season in games against LeBron James team after the big loss to Miami Thursday. ... Though the Suns are 4-8 under Lindsey Hunter, their interior defense has dropped dramatically since and they are headed to the worst record in franchise history since their 1968-69 expansion season under Johnny Kerr, the belief is Hunter is retained. ... One team really needing an All-Star breath was the Warriors with a five-game losing streak giving up 118 points per game and losing by almost 20 per game. Defense had been the difference for their fast start, so the test will be if they can retain that and hold onto a playoff spot as most try to figure who the Lakers could pass. It would seem the Jazz. ... Steve Nash needs nine assists to move past Magic Johnson on the all-time assists list.

-- One of the great events of All-Star weekend was a benefit game featuring former NBA players for the Rodney Rogers foundation that raises money to help people with spinal cord injuries. Rogers, who played 12 years in the NBA for seven teams and was a Sixth Man of the Year for the Suns out of Wake Forest, was paralyzed from the neck down in a dirt bike accident in 2008. It’s tough not only for a former great athlete, but for anyone. I have a close friend, Rich Pauley in Denver, who experienced the same situation in a bike accident at 50. It can obviously be devastating when your whole life changes in a second. “I remember I didn’t want to leave the house,” Rogers told the New York Post. “She (his wife, Faye) grabbed me and told me I had to make the best of it and get out the message of my life.” Rodney and his wife deliver a message of hope and help to those who have suffered the devastating injury with the courage so many like my buddy Rich have shown. “Rodney says there are times you think you can’t make it, there are times you want to die. You have to suppress those thoughts,” Faye said. “Rodney can tell them, ‘You will make it.’ Honestly, the first and second year, Rodney and I were both devastated. We were both depressed. (Eventually) I told him I’m not going to have any pity on you because there’s a lot of things you still can do. He can eat. He can travel. He can do whatever he wants to do. He just can’t do those things with his arms and legs.” Adds Rodney: “Bad things happen to good people, but I feel I’m blessed.”