Monday, May 18, 2009
Latest word on futures of Nash, Kidd
By Marc Stein ESPN.com
After a season that saw Phoenix pulled in two directions, Steve Nash's Suns are back in the fast lane.
Some fresh pours of chatter from the NBA grapevine, culled from various plugged-in sources around the league:Steve Nash is one of the many desirable names on the long, intoxicating list of 2010 free agents.
Yet it's looking increasingly probable that this summer will be the offseason that brings clarity to Nash's future, via one of two outcomes:
1. He will sign the multiyear contract extension that the Suns have been preparing for him.
2. The possibility that the Suns get a trade offer for Nash too good to resist.
Phoenix is expected to make Amare Stoudemire and Shaquille O'Neal available in trades this offseason, just as it did before the February trading deadline, but NBA front-office sources say that the Suns will soon be getting trade pitches for Nash, ready or not.
Portland, Golden State, Toronto, New York and Houston are five teams we know of that are either readying or contemplating bids for Nash, with the Blazers listed first not only because of their interest in a push-the-pace veteran leader but because they could furnish Phoenix with multiple youngsters -- Jerryd Bayless and Travis Outlaw, just to name two for starters -- if the Suns decide they want to start over.
Let's be clear, though: Phoenix has no such desire at present, no matter how much more the two-time MVP might fetch than its other trade assets. Rebuilding without Nash is not something Suns president Steve Kerr is ready to contemplate.
"I have no interest in trading him," Kerr said Monday. "I've said many times that our interest is re-signing him. Steve is the face of our franchise. I think everybody knows that we would love to be able to extend his contract so that he retires a Sun."
Before he left for an overseas soccer-watching trip to hang out with pals Alessandro Del Piero, Kaka and Thierry Henry, Nash expressed the same hope, reiterating what he's also been saying for weeks about how he hopes he "can still make it work in Phoenix."
Yet it's likewise believed that Nash -- after missing the playoffs for the first time since the 1999-2000 season with Dallas -- wants to see what sort of roster maneuvering the Suns can do before he commits to signing an extension ... since Phoenix can't expect a whole lot from Tuesday's lottery with a mere 0.5 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and the right to draft Blake Griffin after going 46-36.
The urgency, though, isn't felt solely by Kerr and Suns managing partner Robert Sarver. Even if Phoenix can't do a lot to change its on-the-floor look before next season, Nash would be taking an undeniable risk, at 35, to pass on a two- or three-year extension.
Nash's only other alternatives, if the sides reach the fall with no extension agreed upon, are to play out the final season of his contract at $13.2 million -- something neither side would want because of all the uncertainties attached -- or take the uncomfortable step of requesting a trade. (Don't forget that the Suns have already made one change largely for Nash's benefit by firing Terry Porter in the first year of a three-year coaching contract and replacing Porter with Alvin Gentry.)
"I'd imagine the odds are that I'll be back," Nash told The Arizona Republic's Paul Coro in April. "That's what I'm hoping for. I think that's what the front office is hoping for. If I had a bet on it, that would be the best odds."
The odds are good that we'll know a lot about the remaining three seasons Nash still wants to play by the time training camp hits.
The Dallas Mavericks, another prominent entity frequently linked to the expected bonanza in 2010, actually figure to be in the news a lot during the coming offseason.
That's because Mavs owner Mark Cuban thinks he has a better shot at getting his team back into the West's elite if it can add to its current core -- after Dallas became the first team in league history to win 50 games after losing seven of its first nine -- as opposed to starting the teardown so many outsiders are calling for.
Adding to the core, of course, means first making sure that in-house free agents Jason Kidd and Brandon Bass don't leave. Those two probably rank as Dirk Nowitzki's two closest friends on the roster, but folks in the organization are openly concerned about finding a way to re-sign Kidd, who is determined to hold out for a multiyear deal.
"I'm sure," Nowitzki says, "all the good teams want him."
It initially seemed as though Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers and/or LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers were the only suitors for Dallas to worry about, given their status as championship contenders and Kidd's ongoing pursuit of an NBA ring. But I've been advised that Portland -- with a decent amount of cap space to burn and its interest in veteran floor leadership established above when we got into Nash -- has to be on the list of potential Kidd suitors as well. New York is another team he'd likely consider. New York is another team that he'd likely consider if the Knicks show interest, purely because of his comfort level with Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni and familiarity with the area after his time with New Jersey.
The Mavs, though, can outbid anyone for the 36-year-old, who quietly had a much better season than advertised and who figures to have a far bigger impact if he is surrounded by at least three consistent producers. With Josh Howard plagued by ankle trouble all season, Dallas had only two of those: Nowitzki and Sixth Man Award winner Jason Terry. And that number was down to one in the Mavs' second-round series with Denver, when the Nuggets' length and aggressive trapping on pick-and-rolls smothered Terry.
The combination of Nowitzki's rise to an MVP level, its successful scramble to acquire Terry and the presence of Devin Harris enabled Dallas to weather Nash's free-agent departure in the summer of 2004. Kidd's exiting in July, with Nowitzki soon to be 31 and a supporting cast no longer feared in the new West, would probably force Dallas to launch that teardown, since all Cuban would have left from the Harris trade then would be Antoine Wright and the memories of a first-round win over the Manu Ginobili-less San Antonio Spurs.
"If we lose him now, it'll be tough," Nowitzki said last week after the Mavs were ousted by Denver in five games.
"Kidd and myself, I think we're pretty tight. ... He knows how I feel about him and he knows we would love to keep him here."
At least one club insider, for what it's worth, says he thinks Kidd will either stay in Dallas -- where he's genuinely comfortable as Nowitzki's sidekick and likes the idea of finishing his career with the team that drafted him -- or work with the Mavs on a sign-and-trade as opposed to just bolting without compensation.
Apart from the Mavs he wants to re-sign, Cuban continues to say that he's prepared to be on the short list of owners willing to take on long-term salary commitments in the trade market, knowing that waiting for the summer of 2010 -- with no guarantee that Dallas would have any shot at a difference-making free agent -- would likely only burn another season of Nowitzki's prime.
And Dallas does have three fairly significant trade chips to make a trade splash with between now and October for one more run with the current group. Jerry Stackhouse is entering the final year of his contract at $7 million, but only $2 million is guaranteed if Stackhouse is traded and let go by his new team before Aug. 10. Erick Dampier is essentially entering the final year of his deal, at $12.1 million, because he has roughly zero shot to log the 2,100 minutes required in 2009-10 to make his $13 million salary in 2010-11 guaranteed. Then there's Howard, who ranks as another expiring contract because his $11.8 million salary in 2010-11 is a team option.
"The plan is to be opportunistic ... and see what happens financially with all these teams," Cuban said, hoping that the global economic crunch will lead to more giveaways of high-salaried talent, as seen over the past year-plus when the likes of Pau Gasol and Marcus Camby were sold off almost purely to create financial flexibility.
The problem? The Mavs' list of needs is long even if Kidd and Bass are back. More perimeter shooting, more speed, more dependable length and strength at the rim, someone besides Nowitzki to create his own shot and/or slash ... Dallas could use all of that.
"We would love to get some athleticism around Kidd so he can actually throw some lobs on the break and stuff like that," Nowitzki said.
Cuban's ambitious target, in his words, is a "young perennial All-Star." That probably translates to pressing Toronto about its willingness to part with Dallas native Chris Bosh, but since the Raps continue to say they have no interest in moving Bosh, I could see the Mavs' sniffing around Atlanta to see if Josh Smith will be made available. Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson and Michael Redd are all likely to be available, but the Mavs know they need to get younger.
From the veterans' committee, as stated here previously, Rasheed Wallace is said to have interest in both Dallas and San Antonio as a free-agent destination.
The Nuggets were convinced for much of the season that they needed one more big man in case they found themselves in a playoff series with the Lakers.
The Nuggets were so convinced, sources say, that they were willing to part with forward Linas Kleiza and a very attractive first-round pick from Charlotte to Indiana in exchange for veteran forward Jeff Foster before the February trade deadline ... after months of failed bids to pry David Lee away from the Knicks.
Foster, though, is the closest thing there is these days in Indy to a Mr. Pacer since Reggie Miller's retirement. Even two good assets could not convince the Pacers to part with Foster, who received a two-year contract extension worth $12.7 million that kicks in starting next season.
I'm pretty sure Foster would have been reluctant to relocate to the Rocky Mountains, judging by what he told us back in November: "I love this franchise too much and this organization too much to have wanted to leave. I want to see this thing get back to where it was when I got here. ... It's a great franchise and we will rise again. It's just a matter of how long it takes."
Yet it'll be interesting to see if the Nuggets' premonitions were right ... or if they actually have enough in their frontcourt with Nene, Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and spot duty from Johan Petro should we see the same Andrew Bynum who had only a couple decent showings in the Houston series.
If Bynum continues to be that undependable -- and knowing that Gasol could struggle against the Nuggets' athleticism and physicality -- Denver might be fine without Foster.
If Bynum has a big series, Foster becomes another what-if for the Nuggets, who simply couldn't afford to keep Antonio McDyess against his will after Dice volunteered to surrender nearly $9 million in salary for the right to become a free agent and return to the Pistons after coming over in the Chauncey Billups/Allen Iverson swap.
(And, yes, I know exactly what Pistons fans don't want me to ask out loud: What if Detroit had drafted Carmelo Anthony instead of Darko Milicic and kept Billups and Dice?)
What's so good about that Charlotte pick?
It's going to be a lottery pick in the (fairly) near future.
Denver received the pick from Charlotte last June in exchange for the No. 20 overall selection used by the Bobcats to select Alexis Ajinca. The Bobcats will keep the pick for next month's draft, since it was 2009-protected through No. 14, but Charlotte's protection drops to 1-through-12 in the 2010 draft, 1-through-10 in 2011, 1-through 8 in 2012, 1-through-3 in 2013 and is fully unprotected in 2014.
As a bonus for you devotees of point differential, here's some fun info from our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau that tells how impressive Denver was in the first two rounds of the playoffs, no matter how you're tempted to discount the Nuggets' 8-2 record so far because of New Orleans' many injuries and Dallas' lack of weaponry around the deadly Nowitzki.
The following lists the highest per-game scoring margin, through 10 playoff games, in league history:
Won NBA title
Won NBA title
Won NBA title
Won NBA title
Lost in the conference finals
Won NBA title
I realize we're a couple rounds late on this one, but we've been meaning to pass along the official term to explain why veteran referee Steve Javie was able to change Ben Gordon's early bomb in Game 7 of the Chicago-Boston series from a 2-pointer to a 3-pointer three quarters later.
It's called "elastic power."
If Gordon's shot wasn't reviewed in the first quarter, changing it would not have been possible. Questions remain as to why the initial review didn't result in an immediate change -- one can only presume that Javie was shown the wrong replay courtside given how far behind the line Gordon was -- but the referees on duty that night (Javie, Monte McCutchen and Greg Willard) were well aware of the error by halftime.
After calls to NBA president Joel Litvin to confirm that the error could be fixed that far after the fact, Javie was free to invoke the elastic-power provision, which, according to the league's official rulebook, states: "The officials shall have the power to make decisions on any point not specifically covered in the rules. The Basketball and Referee Operations Department will be advised of all such decisions at the earliest possible moment.
Yet we repeat: Javie wouldn't have been able to add that ultimately meaningless point to Chicago's total if Gordon's shot hadn't been reviewed during the next timeout.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.