With an assist from my good buddies over at ESPN Stats & Info, here are some numbers of note as the NBA prepares to open its 67th season Tuesday evening:
26: No team has made it to a fourth straight NBA Finals, as Miami is trying to do, in 26 seasons. The Boston Celtics (1984-87) are the last team to achieve the feat.
3: Only three franchises have previously won back-to-back-to-back championships. The Heat will be trying to join an exclusive club that includes just the Lakers (2000/2001/2002 as well as 1952/1953/1954), Bulls (1991/1992/1993 as well as 1996/1997/1998) and Celtics (eight straight titles from 1959 through 1966).
2: LeBron James is trying to become just the second player in league history to win both the regular-season MVP and NBA Finals MVP trophy in three straight seasons. Bill Russell did it with Boston in 1960-61, 1961-62 and 1962-63.
3: LeBron is also seeking to join Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Larry Bird as the only players in NBA annals to win three consecutive MVP awards. All four of LeBron's previous MVP awards have come in the past five seasons; no player has ever won five in a span of six seasons. The list of players to win five MVP awards in their careers only goes three deep: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six), Michael Jordan (five) and Russell (five).
13: There were a record 13 coaching changes in the league since last season. Nine of those coaches will be making their NBA debuts this week: Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer, Brooklyn's Jason Kidd, Boston's Brad Stevens, Charlotte's Steve Clifford, Denver's Brian Shaw, Memphis' Dave Joerger, Philadelphia's Brett Brown, Phoenix's Jeff Hornacek and Sacramento's Mike Malone.
676: Kobe Bryant is just 676 points shy of passing Jordan for third place on the league’s all-time scoring list.
18 Starting his 18th season in the NBA, all with the Lakers, Bryant is also just one season short of tying Utah's John Stockton for the longest career with one franchise. Bryant is tied for second all-time with Utah’s Karl Malone and Indiana’s Reggie Miller.
10: Brooklyn’s Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are first duo in NBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to play on two different teams together after having each been selected to play in at least 10 All-Star Games.
82: Since 1966, when the territorial draft was abolished, Greg Oden's 82 career games represent the lowest total for a No. 1 overall pick through his first six seasons since being drafted. Oden will likely be adding to that total with the Heat this season after last appearing in a regular-season game on Dec. 5, 2009.
30: David Stern’s 30-year run as NBA commissioner will end Feb. 1, 2014, tying him with the NFL's Pete Rozelle as the longest-tenured commissioner in the history of North American major team sports. (Former Major League Baseball commissioner Kenesaw Landis, with a 24-year tenure, is third.) The first big change under incoming commissioner Adam Silver is a return to a 2-2-1-1-1 format in the NBA Finals -- in which the team with the better record will host Game 1, 2, 5 and 7 -- for the first time since 1985.
Impossible as it is to try to project where Durant's contentment, accomplishments, loyalty, wanderlust and free-agent options will intersect three summers from now, Durant surely gets it. Like it or not, Oklahoma City's season is going to be all about how Durant feels about where the Thunder are and where they're headed ... and about us media pests raising and re-raising those questions.
Unless the three-time scoring champ and new agent Jay-Z decide to pursue an extension at some stage, that's the uncomfortable but unavoidable truth about Durant's situation as he enters his seventh season.
Whether it's Russell Westbrook's problematic knee or the fact that the Thunder have to this point only replaced James Harden with the unproven Jeremy Lamb, rookie big man Steven Adams and a trade exception created via Kevin Martin's free-agent departure, Oklahoma City is fighting the perception/fear that it has fallen farther away from title contention since losing to Miami in the 2012 Finals when it's supposed to be closing the gap.
Also: This, fair or not, is just what we do with the game's greatest one-man corporations ... especially those found outside of the league's glamour markets. The frenzy surrounding LeBron James' first foray into free agency in 2010 started bubbling up regularly in 2008. Durant, as the NBA's undisputed second-best player, has to know he's going to get us all frothing on a similar timeline.
The good news for the Thunder is that Durant isn't just starting to fill out physically. Judging by the calm responses he gave after catching Rose's video chat with Grantland founder Bill Simmons, KD gives the impression that he can shoulder the added burden of endless speculation about his future. Even this far out.
The Thunder, though, would be wise not to relax. The odd hints from the 25-year-old over the past few months that suggest he's starting to get antsy about winning his first ring -- be it Durant announcing on media day that he's "starting to get up there" or the uncharacteristic way he abruptly ended an interview in July when asked about OKC's summer -- have to make his bosses wonder in moments of weakness.
Rest assured that the next three years, without a championship or a new Durant deal, will be the longest for them.
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsAfter coaching the Philadelphia 76ers for three seasons, Doug Collins is joining ESPN as a TV analyst.
For the last three decades, Doug Collins has essentially had two careers.
So it was inevitable, when Collins left the coaching business in the spring, that he’d be returning to his broadcasting seat in the fall.
ESPN made it official Tuesday when it announced that Collins has been signed to a multiyear deal to join Magic Johnson, Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons on the “NBA Countdown” team. In addition to Collins' work on ABC’s and ESPN’s NBA pregame show, Collins will serve in his more familiar role as a game analyst on a handful of ESPN broadcasts.
To discuss the new venture and his past three seasons on the bench of the Philadelphia 76ers, Collins went one-on-one to five with ESPN.com:
Q: Your return to TV will be primarily in a studio role this time as opposed to working games courtside. What are the challenges that poses for you?
A: In talking with ESPN and John Wildhack, they have such great game analysts. Jeff [Van Gundy] has really become one of the premier analysts in the game, and you have Hubie [Brown] and Jon Barry and Doris [Burke]. So they tried to carve out a spot that would be beneficial for both parties. I’m going to do 10 ESPN Wednesday night games and then I’m going to do 10 ESPN Friday night studio shows and then I’ll do all nine national games [in the] ABC studio during the regular season. Then come playoff time I’ll do all studio. And then I’m going to do the draft and the World Championships.
Most of my work has been done as an analyst, but I have done some studio work in the past. I think the big thing is just getting everybody together and creating a chemistry with one another on the set. I think the one thing we want is for the show to have more of a national perspective rather than [focus on] the particular game that night. Obviously, we will talk about the game that night, but I think we’d like to get the national view of things. I’m looking forward to some spirited debate with Bill, Jalen and Magic. You’ve got three guys that I’m stepping into the studio with who are incredibly knowledgeable about the NBA. Hopefully the one thing I can bring to the discussion is the coaching side. The fact that I’ve coached these last three years, going up against the likes of Miami and Chicago in the playoffs, I know these teams.
Q: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to do TV?
A: I actually sort of fell into it. When I got hurt in Philly, I had five years left on my deal. And when I signed my second deal, I had a clause in my contract saying they could use me in three different ways if there was an injury that happened and I couldn’t play. One of 'em was GM, one of 'em was assistant coach, and one of them was broadcasting.
You always talk about how things happen. I actually started out doing radio with Steve Fredericks. I did the home radio games and I was a volunteer assistant at the University of Pennsylvania with Bob Weinhauer. Then, halfway through the season, Chuck Daly was Billy Cunningham’s assistant and left to go to Cleveland to be the head coach. Matty Guokas, who was doing TV with Andy Musser, became the assistant coach, so I stepped over and started doing TV for Matty. That’s how all that came about and I really enjoyed it.
CBS watched some of my games that season and then had me do a few playoff games with Brent Musburger. And it just sort of went from there.
Q: Two trips to the playoffs and obviously a lost season last season ... how do you reflect on your time coaching the Sixers?
A: I loved it. I absolutely loved it. To go back there, it was a circle-of-life thing for me. I went there as a player when the team was 9-73. And then to be in the NBA Finals in 1977, I got to play with some great players and some great coaches. So to go back the second time as a coach, going back to so many established friendships in the city and the fans and getting back into the playoffs, I just love the place. I’ve always loved the passion of the fans and just how much they love their teams in Philadelphia.
We swung for the fences [when] we added Andrew Bynum. We had to give up a lot of young pieces; Andrew was hurt and it didn’t work out. But I give a lot of credit to Josh [Harris] and the ownership because they didn’t want to be mediocre. They wanted to have a chance at being a championship team.
If you look at the pieces we had, with [Mo] Harkless and [Nikola] Vucevic and Jrue [Holiday] and Dre [Andre Iguodala] and Thad [Young] and Evan [Turner] and Spencer [Hawes], there were a lot of good young pieces. It’s a shame the Andrew Bynum thing didn’t work out. It was nobody’s fault. It just didn’t work out. But I knew where the franchise was going. I knew they realized they were probably going to have to rebuild, and I was at the stage of my career where I just didn’t feel like I was the right coach for them at that time. At age 62 to take 60 losses ... I wanted to coach a good team for three, four more years and then move on.
Q: What do you think of the approach Philly has taken since you left?
A: Josh and I have such a great relationship, so when we sat down and talked, I told him: “I know where you’re heading. I know you’re going to be hiring a new GM -- that would have been my fourth GM in four years -- so I just feel like at this point in time there would be a better coach for you than me.” I didn’t know they were going to trade Jrue, but I knew they were going to try to accumulate a lot of draft pieces to try to rebuild their team. So I decided to step away.
But I’m going to be watching them very closely. Rebuilding is very tough; everything has to go right. It’s going to be a long, arduous process. But I’m a 76er. That’s where I was drafted. That’s where I gave my heart and soul. I walk around with an artificial knee and two artificial hips I gave Philly when I played. And I walk out of there having given them my heart and soul.
When I go back to Philly now, it’s great. In the airport or walking down the street, fans are so appreciative because we were relevant again. That was what we tried to do ... get the team relevant again. Now they’re going to try to start over and build a championship team [a different way] and I’m gonna be for 'em.
Q: Anytime a coach works in television, you immediately start to wonder how long it’ll be before he’s back on a bench. So what are the chances we see you taking one more coaching job somewhere?
A: No, I’m through coaching. I said it when I went to Philly. That was my last spot. Like I said, it was a circle of life for me.
I was at a coaching clinic the other day at Illinois State talking about how difficult coaching has become. There’s so much criticism and you’re always under the microscope. It’s a tough, tough thing. There’s so much money involved because these franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars -- and the coach, whether it’s right or wrong, has to be in the spotlight all the time. That’s just the way the situation is.
But I knew when [son] Chris got a head-coaching job, I knew I’d want to be there to watch him grow as a coach. He’s got a great spot at Northwestern now and I don’t want to miss it. When I got fired in Chicago, I took seven years off so I could watch all of Chris’ and [daughter] Kelly’s high school games. I saw Chris up until his senior year at Duke and my daughter until her senior year of high school when I went to Detroit. That’s time you can’t get back. And I’ve got five incredible grandchildren now that I don’t want to miss out on.
Coaching is 24/7. You know it’s going to be on your mind all the time. But I feel like I never coached a team that underachieved and I feel very good about that. The respect that you look for is the respect of your peers, and hopefully I have that. I always felt our teams were prepared and I feel like we had young players get better wherever I was. There’s certain things in coaching you can’t control, but I’m proud of what I’ve done as a coach and I’m excited about this part of my life.
The notion of Roy Hibbert securing permission from FIBA to represent the United States in international competition is no longer seen by interested observers as an outright impossibility.
Yet the consistent word in USA Basketball circles remains that Hibbert is a long shot to ultimately receive the needed clearance to make him eligible for the Team USA squad that will compete in the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain or the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
And here's why:
Turns out there is a little-known FIBA bylaw that allows for Hibbert, through USA Basketball, to apply for permission to play for Team USA after appearing in one game for Jamaica in 2010 ... despite the fact that it's been drilled into us all for years that players who represent one country at senior level internationally do so knowing they are essentially ineligible to switch allegiances and play for another country later.
The little-known rule states that a player who has represented one country after the age of 17 may "exceptionally request" that FIBA allow him to play for another country's national team if that national team is "of the player's country of origin" and if the request is deemed to be "in the interest of the development of basketball in that country."
While Hibbert satisfies half of those requirements, having been born a New Yorker, I'm told USAB's pessimism stems from the fact that it would be a gargantuan stretch to convince FIBA that adding the Indiana Pacers' All-Star center to Mike Krzyzewski's roster would have even a sliver of impact on the state of the game in this country.
(The inverse, incidentally, is true in the case of New York Knicks forward Amar'e Stoudemire, who has been wooed by the heavyweight likes of former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres to join Israel's national team after Amar'e unexpectedly applied for Israeli citizenship over the summer and with his USA Basketball career clearly over. Stoudemire could undoubtedly satisfy the second of the above requirements, since he'd surely spark tons of fresh interest in basketball in Israel if he made that move, but there's no getting around the fact that Amar'e was born in Florida.)
As for Hibbert ...
The real shame here is that the Jamaican Basketball Association appears to now support Hibbert's hopes of swaying FIBA, which the Indy big man addressed this week in an interview with Pacers.com . In two late-July tweets, one Jamaican official said that his federation -- grateful Hibbert played for them in one major tournament at Centro Basket in 2010 -- has "always been willing to let Roy go" and "will never hinder his desires."
Yet it appears that Hibbert's only shot, in a process FIBA says must be initiated by USA Basketball, is convincing the sport's international governing body that the prospect of switching from Team Jamaica to Team USA would have some sort of far-reaching domestic impact beyond merely making Coach K's talent pool deeper. Hibbert told Pacers.com that "there has been some dialogue" and that "international lawyers" are working on his behalf, but the vibe still emanating from USAB -- as it was in July when Coach K had nearly 30 of Hibbert's peers convened in Las Vegas for a mini-camp -- continues to be pessimistic when it comes to ever seeing Hibbert in red, white and blue.
The solace for Krzyzewski and Team USA chief Jerry Colangelo is that, with or without Hibbert, they should have many more big men to choose from for the next two major events, after Tyson Chandler ranked as the only recognized center on Team USA's roster for the 2012 Olympics in London following the injury withdrawals of Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh.
Monday is media day for 23 teams in the NBA, but there are lots of familiar names who will miss out on the festivities.
ESPN.com has compiled a handy list if you're curious: 32 players who ended last season on an NBA roster and have yet to find a new team.
The 32 players in question -- headlined by big man Jason Collins, three-time All-Star Richard Hamilton and two-time NBA champion Lamar Odom -- are included here because they've neither signed with a team overseas nor announced their retirement.
Atlanta: DeShawn Stevenson (waived)
Boston: Shavlik Randolph (waived), Chris Wilcox, Terrence Williams (waived)
Brooklyn: Jerry Stackshouse
Charlotte: DeSagana Diop, Tyrus Thomas (amnesty)
Chicago: Daequan Cook, Richard Hamilton (waived), Vladimir Radmanovic, Malcolm Thomas (waived)
Cleveland: Daniel Gibson, Kevin Jones (waived), Chris Quinn (waived), Luke Walton
Dallas: Rodrigue Beaubois
L.A. Clippers: Lamar Odom
L.A. Lakers: Chris Duhon (waived)
Memphis: Keyon Dooling
Milwaukee: Marquis Daniels, Drew Gooden (amnesty), Joel Przybilla
Oklahoma City: DeAndre Liggins (waived)
Portland: Terrel Harris (waived), Sasha Pavlovic (waived)
Toronto: Mickael Pietrus, Quentin Richardson (waived), Sebastian Telfair
Utah: Jamaal Tinsley
Washington: Leandro Barbosa, Jason Collins, Cartier Martin
After two seasons in Turkey, former Lakers and Nets guard Sasha Vujacic is determined to force his way back into the NBA.
Sources briefed on the Slovenian's thinking told ESPN.com that Vujacic is working out feverishly in L.A. in hopes of landing an NBA roster spot following his stint with Anadolu Efes that began during the 2011-12 lockout.
Word is Vujacic, now 29, has been playing well in L.A. pickup games and plans to stay stateside in pursuit of an NBA deal as opposed to returning to Europe.
"He's in the best shape of his life," one source offered, "which is saying something because Sasha has always taken care of himself."
Vujacic last played in the NBA with New Jersey in 2010-11.
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesPaul George has been linked with the Lakers, but the Pacers forward may not make it to free agency.
LAS VEGAS -- Paul George is well aware of chatter back home in Los Angeles.
He knows that edgy Lakers fans, already suggesting moves their team should make in the summer of 2014 with fistfuls of salary-cap space in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure, are lobbying L.A. to throw a max offer at George when he becomes a restricted free agent on July 1, 2014.
Only two problems with that fantasy.
No. 1: George confirmed Monday after Team USA's first practice of the summer on the campus of UNLV that his representatives and the Pacers have already opened discussions on a contract extension that could well prevent Indiana's All-Star swingman from ever reaching free agency ... even the restricted variety.
No. 2: George might have grown up worshiping Kobe Bryant, but he sounds like he's working for the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce when someone brings up his future with the Pacers.
Asked Monday if he's been following all the lobbying in Lakerland, George told ESPN.com: "I'm happy, man. I'm happy in Indiana. It's overwhelming (to hear) that they would want a player like me to come play for their team. But right now I'm focused on Indiana. I'm happy to be in Indiana. Our future is bright in Indiana. I wouldn't want to leave something great."
The Laker chatter about George was inevitable after Howard bolted for Houston, given that the 23-year-old grew up in the Antelope Valley region of Southern California, recently purchased an offseason home in the San Fernando Valley and just had a breakout season with the Pacers that makes him one of the most likely participants in this week's 28-man Team USA minicamp to make it all the way onto Mike Krzyzewski's roster for the 2014 World Cup of Basketball in Spain.
But one source close to the process told ESPN.com this week that a max extension with the Pacers -- most likely before the Oct. 31 deadline for extensions for players from the 2010 draft class -- is a "foregone conclusion."
"It's no rush," George said Monday. "Me and the front office ... we're on the same page."
No surprise, then, that Pacers president Larry Bird and general manager Kevin Pritchard were in attendance Monday for the first minicamp practice in Vegas to watch George at work.
Proudly sporting a chain around his neck after practice with engraved confirmation of his All-Star breakthrough in 2013, George said of his hopes to make Coach K's Olympic roster for Brazil in 2016: "I give myself a high chance. I think I'm cut out for the international game."
It's not just the Dallas Mavericks who've nudged their way into the race for Greg Oden along with NBA Finals combatants Miami and San Antonio.
There are growing indications that the New Orleans Pelicans are going to be a factor in the Oden chase as well.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that the Pelicans have been booked for a Wednesday sitdown with Oden and will also get serious consideration from the former No. 1 overall pick as he decides where to relaunch his career after being sidelined since early in the 2009-10 season.
The Pelicans, sources said, are building their pitch around the fact that going to New Orleans would enable Oden to make his comeback far away from the media glare and with no immediate pressure to cope with as he tries again to bounce back from the knee issues that have limited the 25-year-old to just 82 career regular-season games since being drafted in 2007.
The presence of former Blazers assistant coach Monty Williams as the head man in New Orleans -- someone who already knows Oden well -- is seen as another element working in the Pelicans' favor along with the fact that their young core of players are all in Oden's age range.
As ESPN.com reported Monday, Oden is scheduled to have face-to-face meetings this week with the Sacramento Kings and Mavs in addition to the Pelicans. Sources say that the Kings, though, are long-shot contenders when it comes to actually signing Oden and are thus planning a hard push for free-agent center Timofey Mozgov if rebuffed by Oden.
The Mavericks, sources say, were scheduled to meet Monday with Oden and are still holding out hope of signing both him and Samuel Dalembert to fill their center void after missing out on top target Dwight Howard.
The Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs have been regarded as leading contenders for Oden's services from the outset of free agency. That's especially true in Miami's case after Heat president Pat Riley hosted Oden for a two-day visit earlier this year before Oden's comeback, through workouts back home in Indianapolis or at Ohio State, progressed to the serious stage it's in now.
Oden was the top overall pick in the '07 NBA draft out of Ohio State, selected one spot ahead of Kevin Durant. Yet thanks to his numerous knee injuries, Oden hasn't played in an NBA game since Dec. 5, 2009, and was forced to undergo his microfracture knee surgery in February 2012.
The market for guard Nate Robinson is likely to expand as free agency approaches its third week, but the identity of at least one suitor for Robinson is clear.
Sources close to the situation said Saturday that the Denver Nuggets have registered their interest in Robinson, who ranks as one of the most attractive free agents still available after his playoff scoring binges for Chicago.
The prospect of a return to Chicago appears increasingly unlikely. Sources say that the reluctance of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to bring Robinson back -- with Derrick Rose returning -- is expected to lead Robinson elsewhere.
It is arguably the biggest remaining source of intrigue in NBA free agency outside of the Andrew Bynum saga:
This ever-evolving Point Guard Dance involving the Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks.
As ESPN.com has reported on more than one occasion this month, Milwaukee and Atlanta have explored a variety of sign-and-trade scenarios involving unrestricted free agent Monta Ellis and restricted free agents Brandon Jennings and Jeff Teague.
The only certainty in the process, sources close to the situation continue to say, is that the Bucks have Teague at the top of their wish list. Sources said Wednesday that Milwaukee is readying an offer sheet for Teague that Atlanta would have just three days to match if the point guard actually signs it.
The mere threat of an offer sheet, though, could also trigger ramped-up talks between the Hawks and Bucks on the sign-and-trade front. Predicting where it goes from there, though, is troublesome in the extreme, given the mixed signals emanating from Atlanta about how interested -- or not -- the Hawks are in Ellis or Jennings in a sign-and-trade scenario.
The Bucks would happily do a sign-and-trade for Teague with either one of them. Yet it's likewise possible that the Hawks will pass on both if the latest rumbles in circulation about Atlanta's interest in free-agent point guard Mo Williams have weight.
There are only 34 players in the entire NBA who are still at risk to be released via the amnesty provision when NBA teams get that opportunity starting Wednesday through July 16.
The list has been pared down slightly in recent weeks because the Charlotte Bobcats have committed to releasing Tyrus Thomas via amnesty to create the needed salary-cap space to sign free-agent center Al Jefferson. And two more players who had been amnesty-eligible -- Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani and Boston’s Paul Pierce -- are about to be traded to New York and Brooklyn, respectively, when the league’s annual moratorium on player business is lifted.
That leaves 34 players, on 13 different rosters, who are eligible to be set free this month via the one-time clause that enables teams to release a player and remove his name from the books for salary-cap and luxury-tax purposes while continuing to pay him in real life. Seventeen of the league’s 30 teams no long have use of their amnesty clause if you include Charlotte as well as the New Orleans Pelicans, who no longer employ anyone on their roster who meets amnesty requirements, which state that the player had to be under contract with the team doing the slashing the entire time since the lockout ended.
What follows, then, is a list of those 13 teams that can still make an amnesty move and the 34 players who are still playing on contracts that were in effect before the 2011-12 season began and continuously with the team listed:
Many of those names above -- starting with that LeBron guy -- are in zero amnesty danger. If we’re going to be realistic, there are probably no more than eight players left from the 34 listed facing legitimate amnesty risk during the next week. They are: Villanueva, World Peace, Miller, Gooden, Salmons, Kleiza ... and maybe Perkins and Boozer if we stretch it.
P.S.: Just to jog your memory, here are the 16 teams that have already used (or committed to use) their amnesty provision … with the year the player was offloaded in parentheses:
Andrew Bynum, to this point, has not canceled his scheduled recruiting visits this week in Atlanta and Dallas despite receiving a two-year offer from Cleveland worth an incentive-laden $12 million annually.
Which is to say that the Hawks and Mavs, for the moment, are still in the game.
Yet sources close to the process tell ESPN.com that the Cavs are mostly worried about Dallas in the Bynum chase and have thus tried to construct an offer that the Mavs can't touch while likewise doing no harm to their long-planned bid to try to bring LeBron James back to Ohio in free agency in the summer of 2014.
The Cavs would hold a team option in the second year of the proposed deal, which they feel would provide the needed flexibility to either keep Bynum if he bounces back in a big way or part ways with him if Bynum's famously shaky knees don't hold up.
Why are the Cavs, as reported here Sunday night, willing to extend themselves to such a degree for a player who didn't play a single second in Philadelphia last season and couldn't have been abandoned faster by the Sixers? Word is Cleveland sees this as a unique opportunity, given how rarely former All-Star centers become available -- especially at age 25 -- as well as gettable for a franchise not exactly known for its free-agent pull.
Sources: Brandon Jennings for Jeff Teague?
By Marc Stein | July 8, 2:52 a.m. ET
Word began to circulate late Sunday that the Denver Nuggets were closing in on a verbal agreement with free-agent shooting guard Randy Foye.
And that initially seemed to signal that the Atlanta Hawks' lead in the race to sign Monta Ellis, as detailed here late Saturday, has only widened.
An alternate scenario began to make the rounds as Sunday bled into Monday suggesting that a far wilder set of moves could soon follow and involve Atlanta as well as Milwaukee, Sacramento and possibly Cleveland.
Sources briefed on the situation told ESPN.com that the Hawks and Bucks have in recent days discussed a sign-and-trade deal to land Brandon Jennings in Atlanta and send fellow restricted free agent Jeff Teague to Milwaukee to reunite with former Hawks coach Larry Drew. ESPN.com reported early in free agency that the Bucks, at Drew's behest, had interest.
If those sign-and-trade talks progress to the serious stage, sources said, Atlanta would inevitably have to rescind its long-standing interest in Ellis, knowing he and Jennings realistically couldn't play together again given how poorly they functioned as a backcourt duo in Milwaukee last season.
Sources say that the Kings, meanwhile, have been shopping the likes of Jimmer Fredette and Chuck Hayes to the Cavaliers to create the requisite salary-cap room to try to sign Ellis comfortably. Hard to see Cleveland wanting Hayes, whose contract runs through 2014-15 and thus potentially would cut into Cleveland's reserves earmarked for a free-agent run at LeBron James next summer. Fredette's $2.4 million salary is a virtual expiring deal.
Yet the closest thing to a lock regarding all of the above, as Week 2 of NBA free agency begins, is that Foye coming to terms with Denver would essentially take the Nuggets out of the Ellis hunt. If the Nuggets strike a deal with Foye, that's essentially an admission that Ellis is out of their price range.
The Atlanta Hawks wanted to trade for Monta Ellis on deadline day in February.
They haven't lost interest, either.
The Hawks, according to NBA front-office sources, have emerged as a serious suitor for Ellis in free agency on top of the deals Atlanta has already struck with former Utah Jazz forward Paul Millsap and returning sharpshooter Kyle Korver.
With the future of restricted free agent point guard Jeff Teague still uncertain, Atlanta has roughly $10 million in available salary-cap space to potentially use on Ellis. Sources say that the Hawks have also given center Andrew Bynum some thought, but all the latest signals suggest that Ellis is the Hawks' top current target.
In the event Atlanta proposes another short-term deal -- as seen with Millsap's two-year, $19 million pact -- its available cap space allows the Hawks to at least offer a healthy annual salary that other teams interested in Ellis would struggle to match. The Denver Nuggets are another team known to covet Ellis, for example, but Denver is said to be shopping veteran guard Andre Miller to try to create enough financial flexibility to make Ellis a competitive offer.
The Dallas Mavericks were another prime suitor for Ellis, but Dallas' decision to bring Hawks free agent Devin Harris back to Big D on a three-year deal worth in excess of $9 million realistically takes the Mavs out of the Ellis hunt. Bynum continues to the Mavs' focus after their deals with Harris and Jose Calderon.
The Milwaukee Bucks will actually have to renounce their rights to Ellis on Wednesday if he hasn't found a new home by the first day teams are officially allowed to execute signings and trades after the lifting of the league's annual moratorium on player business. If Ellis doesn't have a new team by then, Milwaukee would not have the salary-cap space necessary to formally sign O.J. Mayo ($24 million over three years) and Zaza Pachulia ($16 million over three years) without surrendering its rights to Ellis, who opted out of next season's $11 million to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Hawks' trade talks with Milwaukee on deadline day headlined by Josh Smith broke down when the Bucks refused to part with Ellis in the proposed deal.