TrueHoop: Chicago Bulls

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
10:00
AM ET
By D.J. Foster
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.


Atlanta Hawks


Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.


Charlotte Hornets


Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.


Chicago Bulls


Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.


Cleveland Cavaliers


Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.


Miami Heat


Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.


Milwaukee Bucks


Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.


New York Knicks


Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.


Philadelphia 76ers


Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.


Toronto Raptors


Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.


Washington Wizards


Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for ESPN.com, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

This time, Bulls keep it Melo in free agency

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
12:27
PM ET
By Jeremy Gordon
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Carmelo Anthony Bruce Bennett/Getty ImagesFour years after losing out on LeBron, cautious optimism reigns over the courting of Carmelo.
They’re loath to admit it now, but Bulls fans used to want LeBron James on their team. Back in summer 2010, the Chicago Bulls were one of James’ select few suitors for his free-agency sitdowns. Many considered the possibilities, how he’d mentor Derrick Rose and compete with Michael Jordan’s legacy; they fantasized wildly, as happens when it seems the best player of his generation could play for your team. In one dizzying scenario, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would join James in Chicago, launching a dynasty to last a thousand All-Star Games.

Then came unopposable reports that James was leaning toward Miami, followed by The Decision and the crushing feeling that the Bulls had come so close -- that now there was no point in competing, not with this super team loitering in the East.

But something beautiful happened: Rose matured into an MVP candidate; Tom Thibodeau barked his way toward becoming one of the league’s best coaches; Luol Deng and Joakim Noah became defensive and emotional anchors. Even consolation signee Carlos Boozer hit a shot here and there. Though the Bulls eventually lost to the Heat in the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, there was real faith that the groundwork was laid for a defining rivalry -- Heatles against the Bench Mob, South Beach glamour against Midwestern realism, ego-soaked King James with his prancing and chalk-clapping against D-Rose, the only “honest superstar” in the league.

We know what happened next. Rose blew out his knee the next season, and now it’s been almost four years since he played the Heat in a meaningful game. Much has changed: Noah is entering his 30s, Deng is a casualty of cap-space rejiggering, and every year there are rumors that Thibodeau is fed up with the front office and would bolt for New York. Without Rose, the Bulls are good for a playoff berth and two must-see home games against the Heat per season. What once seemed like an open window is now the glimmer at the end of a cave toward which they can only struggle.

Now, as 2014 free agency officially begins, Carmelo Anthony is set to meet the Bulls before any other team, and depending on which reports you believe, there’s a fair-to-excellent chance he’ll suit up in red and white next season. Bulls fans have rooted against Anthony and the smarmy, loathable Knicks for years, but they’d sign him without a second’s pause. They want Anthony, just as they once wanted James.

But the Bulls haven't gone as all-in with Anthony as they did with the James/Wade/Bosh trifecta in 2010. They have less cap space, and they haven’t shown any sign they’ll try to create much more before they know what’s going on. General manager Gar Forman wouldn’t admit it, but the Bulls lucked out in 2010: They had no way of knowing how good Rose would be, how Thibodeau would prove capable of lifting any player off the trash heap -- Marco Belinelli, Nate Robinson, D.J. Augustin -- and turning him into a real contributor. The Bulls are angling for Anthony, but they’re also planning for a world in which the only exciting news is that Derrick Rose is (maybe) back to being exciting.

This is a realer possibility than Chicago fans would like to admit, especially with the Knicks and Phil Jackson offering so much money. Despite a rabid fan base and large market, the Bulls have been famously unsuccessful at attracting marquee free agents. They failed to get James, and before him, they failed to get Tracy McGrady. There’s a sense that the cold and the specter of Jordan can't be that bad -- that for whatever reason, the Bulls have consistently put everything in place but been unable to go the extra step. They're a classic “what if?” franchise, as the Jordan experience left them with a negative balance in the karma bank. Jay Williams’ motorcycle accident, Eddy Curry’s heart palpitations, Rose’s ACL, summer 2010 -- something has always gone wrong.

Thankfully, Derrick Rose joined the Bulls in wooing Anthony. He'd previously insisted he wouldn't, instead talking like it was only as easy as wanting to play with the Bulls. As many messy superstar courtships have shown us, playing in a league filled with brands and power-minded agents isn’t so simple. Anthony could easily want something sexier than the Bulls, who are only the best team with the most obvious need for his talents. He might fall for the undying dream of the Knicks, for all their perpetual malaise. He might hungrily grasp the chance to play with LeBron and Dwight Howard on the Houston Rockets after a career full of Feltons and J.R.s. He might just want to play with a superstar whose health is guaranteed, as it’s still unsure how good Rose will be on a healed leg.

For the Bulls, Anthony represents an exit strategy, a way to brush aside the disappointments of the past few years and immediately leap back into contention. Where LeBron was a blank slate onto which the Bulls could scribble any limitless possibility, Anthony’s proposed role is much clearer. We know that even with a completely rejuvenated Rose, these Bulls as built will likely struggle to score. We know there are only so many defensive grinds they can win against the top teams. They’d need Anthony to act as a pressure valve, unburdening Rose on off nights and saving us from Joakim Noah jumpers. In plainest terms, he’d be someone to take the ball in tense moments and score. The Bulls need a weapon; Anthony needs a defense and a coach he actually respects. If only it were that simple.

All the power, though, is in his hands. The Bulls are stuck waiting to see if Anthony will spurn them like LeBron did, leaving them a hypothetical dynasty like the Ralph Sampson Rockets and Chris Webber Kings, to be dreamily memorialized in oral histories a decade from now. Or maybe he’ll sign and immediately contend for the NBA championship whose absence has made him this generation’s foremost underachieving superstar.

All we know is that chances like these won't keep coming around for the Bulls -- and that once more, the fans could be left wondering what might've been.

Jeremy Gordon is a staff writer for Pitchfork, and contributes to the Wall Street Journal and Pacific Standard. He lives in Brooklyn. Follow him, @jeremypgordon.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
11:07
AM ET
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to ESPN.com
Archive
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.


Atlanta Hawks


The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.


Boston Celtics


The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.


Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.


Charlotte Hornets


The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.


Chicago Bulls


The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.


Cleveland Cavaliers


The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.


Dallas Mavericks


Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.


Denver Nuggets


The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.


Detroit Pistons


Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!


Golden State Warriors


The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.


Houston Rockets


The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?


Indiana Pacers


The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.


Los Angeles Clippers


The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.


Los Angeles Lakers


The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.


Memphis Grizzlies


The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.


Miami Heat


The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.


Milwaukee Bucks


The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.


New Orleans Pelicans


The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.


New York Knicks


The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?


Oklahoma City Thunder


The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.


Orlando Magic


The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.


Philadelphia 76ers


The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.


Phoenix Suns


The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.


Portland Trail Blazers


The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.


Sacramento Kings


The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.


San Antonio Spurs


Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.


Toronto Raptors


The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.


Utah Jazz


The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!


Washington Wizards


The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

What does Nene ejection mean for Wizards?

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
3:13
AM ET
By Kyle Weidie
Special to ESPN.com
Archive


For the Washington Wizards, it was one of those, "You can’t point to a single lost opportunity. You can probably point to them all" type of games.

There were controversial calls, plenty of missed free throws and 35 points from unexpected stage-stealer Mike Dunleavy. Just like in Games 1 and 2, the outcome could have easily gone the other way, but unlike those contests, the first playoff game in the nation’s capital since 2008 did feature that one potential series-altering moment.

The incident happened after Nene, the man whose status for the next game is now in the hands of the league, leaked out past the Chicago Bulls defense and scored on a layup. The basket closed Washington’s gap to 78-76 with over eight minutes left in the game and led to a Chicago timeout. As Nene turned to chug the other way -- players on the court not yet decompressed after the timeout whistle -- he gave Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler a hip nudge out of his path. Butler took exception and swatted Nene’s arm away and then put his other arm into the small of the big Brazilian’s back.

Had the scene ended there, it would’ve been innocuous -- perhaps not even worthy of double-technical fouls -- but cooler heads did not prevail.

Nene and Butler went brow to brow like boxers angling for alpha male at a Las Vegas weigh-in. Some are calling what happened next a head-butt, although a head didn’t exactly cock back and throw its force. Already in close proximity, Nene’s head further infiltrated Butler’s space. It was a next step up the stairs of aggression. Butler leaned his head forward to counter the leverage. Nene then took a swipe at Butler’s head.

It was unclear whether Nene was throwing a roundabout, open-handed right paw or, as he also attempted to cusp Butler’s head with his left hand, if he was simply acting like a papa bear marking his territory against a cub. It was at that point, as the interlocked players moved across the court, when referees and teammates stepped into the fray to make peace. Washington’s Trevor Booker grabbed Butler to remove him from the scrum. Chicago’s Joakim Noah stepped in the path of Nene and eventually raised his arms as if to say to the man who has bested him in the series to date, "Dude, what are you thinking?"

“I’m not the one to talk. I’ve been in those situations," Noah said. "But it definitely was a bonus for us to have him out the game."

Upon further review by the officials, a double technical was assessed to each player and Nene was ejected from the contest. Whether he lost his cool or was trying to show Butler who holds the keys to the house, Nene escalated the situation, and, at one point, he appeared to raise a clenched fist in the air.

The Wizards were strategically mum on the situation in front of the media, seemingly filled with angst (which ironically might move them past the pain of the loss) over whether they would have their Nene in a critical Game 4 on Sunday. Players like Booker, a first responder, and Marcin Gortat, suspected by some to have left the bench during the mayhem, weren’t necessarily around to comment on what happened.

"I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any of it," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "I didn’t see anything, so I can’t comment."

Wittman did, however, address whether he thought any of this players left the bench. "I don’t think so. It’s a timeout, anyway. You can leave the bench on a timeout."

"My back was turned as it all went down," said Bradley Beal, who was on the court and headed toward the bench.

"It’s over, it’s over, it’s over," said Nene, wanting to move past the incident while it still grated him.

"If you want to talk fair, it’s supposed to be both sides," he said. "Things don’t go well. Things don’t go fair for both sides, so you need to move [forward]. That’s what I’m going to [do]."

The Wizards forward was 5-for-15 from the field before getting ejected. He was often frustrated by the defense of Noah and selectively conservative whistles from the referees. Noah had picked up his second foul at the 3:49 mark of the first and then saw 24 minutes of physical court time until he picked up his third foul at the 9:20 mark of the fourth quarter. The Wizards, through Nene, had been making their best attempts to pound it into the paint even more against Noah and Carlos Boozer, who had also picked up two early fouls.

Now, speculation will run rampant until the league makes a ruling. What constitutes a head-butt? Will commissioner Adam Silver be more pragmatic than predecessor David Stern? Was an ejection, which undoubtedly contributed to the loss, be punishment enough, or must harsher lessons be learned?

"There’s been skirmishes in all three games, but you got to be able to maintain so you don’t lose your cool, or you’ll get thrown out," Wittman said. "That’s the main thing we got the learn from this."

Washington was able to survive a 21-game stretch from late February to early April without Nene (due to a sprained MCL) with a 12-9 record, but against this Bulls squad in these playoffs, he's a critical component, particularly from an offensive standpoint. The defeat brought an abrupt end to the Wizards’ playoff honeymoon, but a Game 4 without Nene could slap Washington with the cold reality of an even series and the return of home-court advantage to Chicago.

Asked if he thought he would be playing on Sunday, the spiritual Nene said, "I don’t know. You know the rule, huh? So, I’ll see."

But for this particular occasion, the NBA will be Nene’s judge and jury, determining in a day whether he will be in uniform, or simply wearing his Sunday best.

In defense of the Bulls

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
2:46
PM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Was the media wrong in picking Bulls over Wizards? Amin Elhassan is here to defend those who picked Chicago.

Joakim Noah for MVP?

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
1:45
PM ET
Elhassan By Amin Elhassan
ESPN.com
Archive
Who is in third in the race for MVP? According to Ethan Sherwood Strauss, it's most certainly not Bulls big man Joakim Noah.

Unbroken Bull

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
12:26
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Joakim Noah says losing Derrick Rose to injury and Luol Deng to trade has been a challenge, but he still believes Chicago is on the path to a title.

video

The NBA's "global money machine"

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
1:49
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
In Forbes' 2014 ranking of team values, the NBA is said to have become a "global money machine," with almost every team making money and franchises like the Knicks, Lakers and Bulls worth more than a billion dollars each. Editor Kurt Badenhausen explains.
video

Tank or try?

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
11:19
AM ET
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
ESPN.com
Archive
Which teams should keep at it? Who should pack it in? We play "Tank or try" with Amin Elhassan.

Andrew Bynum's clever deal

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
12:09
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum has been a so-so player at best, but in the new CBA his contract has special value -- because now even the richest teams feel financial pressure, and his deal offers relief.

 

10 Things To Know: Christmas games

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
4:36
PM ET
Verrier By Justin Verrier
ESPN.com
Archive
"I actually feel sorry for people who have nothing to do on Christmas Day other than watch an NBA game.” -- Stan Van Gundy

Despite concern among the mustachioed and unmustachioed alike, the NBA's Christmas Day lineup has become a holiday unto itself.

With football occupying a large portion of the viewing public's attention as the calendar year winds down, the first month-plus of the basketball season tends to be more of a warm-up for most. Christmas Day, then, has become something of an unofficial start to the season for late arrivals over the past few years, and the league has welcomed all with open arms by providing a smorgasbord of premier, nationally televised matchups.

To prepare for the full slate at hand, here are 10 things to know about the 10 teams hitting the NBA hardwood on Dec. 25.


1. The Kobe-LeBron rivalry is over before it began

The puppets are always the first to know.
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In 2009, just before LeBron James officially established his MVP bona fides and Kobe Bryant proved himself on a championship stage without Shaquille O’Neal, their clash over the same rarefied air space defined the NBA. James’ Cavaliers and Bryant’s Lakers were emerging as the league’s controlling elite, and with the two seeming predestined to meet in the NBA Finals at some point in the near future, if only because we deserved such a matchup from the basketball gods, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring plush likenesses of the All-Star wings sharing the same apartment to capitalize on the momentum.

But arguing over excess chalk dust on their Muppetized loveseat likely will be the only important postseason meeting between the two in their careers. What at one point seemed an unavoidable collision course turned into two highly accessorized ships passing in the night. Their seven-year gap between human and basketball years simply led to unparalleled peaks, and now what we’re left with to show from all the debating, hyping and hoping, besides the residual effects from the careless rearing of poor Lil’ Dez, are two Christmas Day blowouts in favor of James’ team, in 2009 and 2010.

The appetite from the league at large, though, remains unsatisfied. Why else would Heat-Lakers be plopped on the schedule this offseason right in the middle of Bryant’s recovery from an Achilles injury, instead of, say, Heat-Pacers? If market size does indeed matter so much, why not choose the Los Angeles team contending for a title?

Given James and the Heat's otherworldly production and Bryant and the Lakers' current struggles, both physically and personnel-wise, the rivalry that figured to end as an all-timer will never be the same, even if what we got never seemed enough.


2. The master

Twenty-eight is old in basketball years, but Chris Paul has probably seemed that way for some time now. LeBron James is 28, too, but his mass appeal keeps him at the forefront of the youth culture, even amid all that family-man branding. Blake Griffin (24) and DeAndre Jordan (25) feel like they’re decades apart from their point guard. In his own way, the reserved Kevin Durant (25) does, too. There’s always been an extreme poise emanating from Paul, whether it’s assuming control of the offense by sheer food-chain protocol or wrangling his chubby-cheeked son in the Clippers’ locker room. Even at his flashiest, knifing through lanes with precision dribbling, it’s all about seizing complete control.
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Indeed, Paul can dazzle, but he’d rather pull it back and process a situation. While centers stretch out to the arc and coaches push the pace to Ferrari-like speeds, Paul is content in his Volvo, getting exactly where he needs to go without any complications.

But with a roster built to get up and down more so than in his previous two seasons in Los Angeles, Paul has had to soup things up a bit. After playing at the 25th-fastest pace in his first season and the 19th-fastest in his next, Paul’s Clippers now rank eighth, among the Houstons and the Denvers. That plus the added slack taken on after the injuries to J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes have led to a hit in his shooting numbers, which surely nags him, but he’s never been more efficient as a Clipper, and most of his other stats are up (rebounds, assists) or near highs (points) for his stint in L.A., too.

The proliferation and growing public consumption of analytics only deepen the appreciation for the decidedly old-school game manager. The passing data from the SportVU tracking system is a virtual shrine to his mastery of the position: He leads all others in assists per game, total assists, secondary assists (tied), assist opportunities, points created by assists and points created by assists per 48 minutes. There’s only one other category, passes per game, in which he ranks second.

What’s old is new again, or maybe it’s the other way around. But the Clippers are looking forward again after some early hiccups, and Paul is again on track to finally capitalize on the window he has in his prime years, however long it may last.


3. A pair of aces
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Each cut to the rim, each stroke on his wizardly mane, each up-and-under move to draw a foul will probably always sting a little back in Oklahoma. There's no replacing a James Harden, even if the kiddies being groomed in the second unit are beginning to look like important pieces in the Thunder's championship quest. But the two dynamic superstars still lurking on the wings certainly haven't slowed down in their sixth season together.

According to our friends at ESPN Stats & Info, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are currently the highest-scoring duo in the NBA for the third consecutive season, with 49.7 points per game between them. Only four other duos in league history have accomplished that for three straight seasons or more, with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen the last to do so from 1989 to 1993 with an NBA-record four.


4. It’s gotta be the sleeves?

First, a few words from LeBron James on the shimmering, Y2K-influenced sleeved jersey each team will don for Wednesday’s five-game slate, via the Miami Herald’s Joe Goodman:
LeBron said in pregame that the Heat’s shooters “are already upset about” the Christmas jerseys.

LEBRON: "I can’t have my shooters out there worrying about some sleeves and not shooting the ball."

Shooters are a neurotic bunch. Ray Allen, the greatest long-range threat in history, is more programmed than any player at this point: He follows the same warm-up routine, eats the same pregame meal, shaves his head at the same time. He once told Jackie MacMullan that he has “borderline OCD.” Anything that alters that ritual could pose an issue, and imagined or not, those teeny compression sleeves present just enough foreign element to unravel what is largely a life of repetition for the modern pro basketball player.

The Warriors, then, would be among the teams most likely to feel such an effect. Golden State has built its brand around its deep shooting, and currently ranks second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage and among the league leaders in percentage of shots taken from 3.

But after serving as the lab rats for adidas’ grand sleeved experiment last season, the Warriors have sported white, home jerseys with the new look and shown no apparent ill effects from it. In the four games they’ve broken out the sleeves in 2013-14, the Warriors have shot 46.5 percent from the floor and 40.6 percent from 3, which is right on par with their season averages of 46.2 and 40.2 (and among the more ridiculous stats ever published).


5. An exercise in sadness, Part A

Brooklyn knew it was operating without a net. You don't hand out draft picks like grocery-store coupons without feeling the pressure, the doubt of it all, even with all those barrels of cash to wipe your brow. And somehow, that self-awareness only makes the crash landing of the Nets' championship hopes, all the way down to fourth from the bottom in the putrid Eastern Conference, that much more gruesome.

Here's a look at all the grim and grisly carnage thus far.







6. Behold: The Sultan of Swag

At this point, Kobe Bryant’s snarling underbite is a tradition that ranks right up there with the more menacing characters of Christmas-season story time. The 17-year veteran has played in more Christmas Day games (15) than anyone else in NBA history and has accumulated the most career Christmas points (383). Really, what use is a Christmas ham these days without a dozen contested midrange J's to go with it?
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This year, though, your yuletide bombardiering will come not from the itchy trigger finger of Bryant, who is expected to miss five more weeks with a knee fracture, but courtesy of the “Swag Mamba,” Nick Young, who in his first season with his hometown Lakers enters the Christmas spotlight for just the second time.

The cockatooed sixth-year swingman certainly lacks the gravitas Bryant brings these days, but any game that prominently features Young, a smiley SoCal native with the O’Doul's version of Kobe’s skill set, is something of an impromptu field day -- all fun, all the time.
And with Bryant again aching, there’s been more Swag Time than ever: Young, whose shot selection ethos befits an “If it fits, I sits” cat, leads the Lakers in attempts (16.3) and points (21.3) in three games sans Bryant, and has even been given spot duty at the 1 for the point guard-depleted Lakers despite one of the very worst assist ratios among small forwards.

So, another LeBron-Kobe clash may not be in the offing, but these modern-day Lakers are a special kind of “Showtime” with the blissfully oblivious Young as their guiding force. Expect enjoyment, if not fierce competition, to ensue.


7. Welcome back, Dwight Howard

Anyone who has ever had to procure a postgame quote from Dwight Howard wouldn’t be surprised that the All-Star big man needed time to do anything, but 20 months and three teams after undergoing back surgery, the now-28-year-old center is beginning to look as close to his heyday as he may ever get.
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Smart people across the Interwebs have discussed the progressive tactics the Rockets’ offense has employed to great success, and amid the revolution, the back-to-the-basket big man Daryl Morey nabbed from the Lakers this past summer is having his best month offensively since April 2011, with 21.2 points on 62 percent shooting, 14.5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 60 percent free throw shooting (!) and 100 percent 3-point shooting (!!) in 35 minutes over 11 December games. The Rockets have five more games on the slate before the new year, but the only thing close to that since he wore out a FastPass at Disney World was a torrid eight-game April (20.9 points, 61.1 FG%, 10.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks) to push the Lakers into the playoffs.

Outside of PER, virtually all of his advanced numbers on the season are better than they have been since 2010-11, and while he’s no longer the pre-eminent rim protector in the league, he’s become a force again in the paint on both ends of the floor. It seems the four-out, one-in approach on which he thrived in Orlando and now is again (to a certain degree) in Houston is more to his liking than blowing off pick-and-rolls. A happy Dwight is indeed a productive Dwight.


8. An exercise in sadness, Part B

Need another downer while the yuletide joy is flowing?

Facing off against the Nets on Wednesday will be one of the few teams that can feel them in all their catatonic pain, the Chicago Bulls, who have wandered the earth aimlessly after losing Derrick Rose once again.






9. Melo has Durant’s number

It’s quite fitting, given this fever dream of a Knicks season, that Carmelo Anthony joins their Magna Carta-length list of question marks with a bum left ankle right before they need him most. The Knicks obviously rely on Anthony and his 26.3 points per game; his 28.9 usage rate is fourth-highest in the league; and he's one of the team's few major contributors with a plus/minus better than minus-1 on the season, per NBA.com/stats.
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But while Kevin Durant and the Thunder roll into Christmas Day as the most imposing challenge in the league right now, they present the Knicks with one of their best chances yet of obtaining a first big win of the season -- if Anthony is active.

Despite the Thunder’s dominance of late, in the 12 games Anthony has faced Durant over the past seven years, the elder Melo is 11-1, according to Elias, with the lone loss coming in double overtime when Anthony was still on the Nuggets and the Thunder didn’t yet exist. In those matchups, Anthony, currently the No. 2 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 30.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting, while Durant, currently the No. 1 scorer in the NBA, has averaged 26.8 points on 42.4 percent shooting. It should be noted, though, that Anthony has played Durant just once in the past two seasons.

Of course, all of that may not have mattered even if Melo were the pinnacle of physical health: The Knicks (9-18) are 0-8 against the Western Conference this season; the Thunder (22-5) are 7-1 against the Eastern Conference.


10. Pop or Scrooge?

Who said it: San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich or Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 rendition of “A Christmas Carol”?

A.) “I want some nasty.”

B.) “You’ll want the whole day off, I suppose.”

C.) “Happy? I don’t know how to judge happy.”

D.) “We didn’t send mariachi bands or birthday cards or breakfast in bed.”

E.) “It’s all humbug, I tell you, humbug.”

What happened to Lenny Cooke?

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
1:06
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
He was once ranked ahead of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but now he's off the NBA radar entirely. What happened to Lenny Cooke?video

Patching up the Bulls

November, 26, 2013
11/26/13
1:22
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
Amin Elhassan has ideas about how the Bulls might be able to acquire a stopgap replacement for Derrick Rose, like Isaiah Thomas or Goran Dragic. But with a great draft looming, is winning now even good strategy?

Bulls among the tankers?

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
2:16
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
Archive
The most successful tank job in NBA history came when an excellent Spurs team took advantage of David Robinson's injury to nab Tim Duncan. With Derrick Rose out, Chad Ford points out in his Tank Rank column that the Bulls have a similar opportunity.
What do the Bulls do now with Derrick Rose out for the season again? What should we make of Kobe's two-year extension with the Lakers? Join Kevin Arnovitz, Amin Elhassan, Tom Haberstroh and Ethan Sherwood Strauss at 3 p.m. ET as they discuss the news in Chicago and L.A.


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