1. Players Who Could Be On The Move
Hanukkah began Friday night, Christmas is two weeks away and trading season in the NBA is about to get more bountiful.
Tuesday is the first day on the 2009-10 hoops calendar that more than 70 of last summer's free agents are eligible to be incorporated into deals.
It's an influx of potential trade assets that naturally increases everyone's options and historically starts to stir more serious trade discussions, with teams having a better feel for their rosters after completing a fourth of the season and with the league's annual trading deadline in February just two months away.The full list of 72 players who will soon be trade-eligible can be found below in Box 8, but we've narrowed it down for starters to the five most recognizable names most likely to be made available by their new teams ... since many of the most desirable names on this list (such as Lamar Odom, Ben Gordon and Jason Kidd) won't be made available.
1. Andre Miller, Portland Trail Blazers
Miller would have occupied the No. 1 slot here even if the Blazers weren't in the market for a competent big man and/or wing player after losing Nicolas Batum (shoulder), Travis Outlaw (foot) and now Greg Oden to the second season-ending knee injury of his young career.
Reason being: Most of general manager Kevin Pritchard's peers around the league have believed for months that Pritchard mostly signed Miller -- after failed free-agent runs at Hedo Turkoglu and Paul Millsap -- to ensure that Portland at least came away with a tradable asset last summer. Which is projected to be the last summer for a while that Portland has salary-cap space after contract extensions were handed to Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge.
And for all the ongoing skepticism about how the ball-dominating Miller fits as a backcourt partner with Brandon Roy, there's no doubt that the 33-year-old is movable in the first year of a three-year, $21 million deal that is guaranteed for only the first two years. Quite movable.
As covered in this cyberspace last week when we surveyed advance scouts about the opening quarter of the season and again by Professor Hollinger in this post-injury analysis of the Oden-less Blazers, Miller might actually find it easier to operate in Portland's offense with Oden off the floor and less of an emphasis on throwing the ball inside. Harsh as that sounds, given Oden's unquestioned likability and hideous luck, Miller and Roy appeared to be the main sufferers from the lack of offensive flow that has plagued Portland this season as Oden's role expanded. If the Blazers open things up a bit more with Oden sidelined, as Roy envisions, that could really help Miller.
Yet the reality remains that Miller and Roy are an iffy tag team because both need to see so much of the ball to be effective, which explains why Miller has started only nine games. There's this, too: While NBA front-office sources say there is considerable outside interest in young (and mostly forgotten) Portland guard Jerryd Bayless, Miller's more substantial salary -- $6.7 million to Bayless' $2.1 million -- would probably bring a bigger talent payoff in a trade.
"They need a Mo Williams-type to play with Brandon Roy," said one rival team executive in the West. "They need a shooter to play off him."
2. Nate Robinson, New York Knicks
The Knicks are 4-1 in December and enter Friday's visit to New Orleans on a three-game win streak that has featured precisely zero minutes for li'l Nate.
So you can safely conclude that, yes, Robinson will soon be eminently available to interested trade parties, which is why we have him so high despite the fact that his eligible-to-be-traded date is actually one week later (Dec. 22) than the rest because he signed later this offseason.
Just don't forget two more important disclaimers.
A. New York will take back only expiring contracts for Robinson, who could squeeze only a one-year deal worth $4 million out of the Knicks last summer in spite of his unrivaled popularity at Madison Square Garden. The Knicks' understandable determination to preserve every ounce of their projected summer of 2010 cap space cuts down severely on potential trade options.
B. Robinson cannot be traded without his consent as a player on a one-year deal who will possess full Larry Bird rights with his current team at season's end. And I'm reliably told that Nate won't waive his veto power to go just anywhere, even if it means more minutes and shots.
As one Western Conference exec suggested, New York is bound to try to package Robinson with Eddy Curry or Jared Jeffries -- players whom the Knicks are truly eager to move -- as opposed to just shopping Robinson on his own.
The safest conclusion, though, is that dealing Robinson is not as easy as it would seem, even if you're prepared to assume that the Knicks' recent mini-revival will rule Robinson out of the rotation permanently and that they'll ultimately be fine with trading him independently of what happens with Curry or Jeffries.
3. Marcin Gortat, Orlando Magic
Gortat is listed here because he so badly wants to be on this list. It's common knowledge leaguewide that the 7-footer was deeply disappointed when Orlando matched the Dallas Mavericks' five-year, $34 million offer sheet in the summer, leaving Gortat to hope that the passing of Dec. 15 will trigger serious trade discussions that will land him somewhere he'll get to play regularly.
Magic general manager Otis Smith is adamant that he won't move Gortat. At least not in the short term.
It was widely assumed in July when Orlando retained Gortat from Poland amid a flurry of pricey offseason maneuverings that Smith had a deal in place to dispatch him after Dec. 15. You don't hear that theory much anymore.
Even though Gortat is averaging a measly 6.8 minutes per game in December playing behind Dwight Howard, Smith regards him as indispensable Howard insurance.
The updated assumption in GM circles, then, is that Gortat won't be made available in trades until the summer, after the Magic see how far this high-dollar, all-in approach takes them.
Gortat, meanwhile, regards himself as "kind of like a ticking time bomb." That was his description when we chatted in the visitors' locker room in Dallas in early October, when the schedule teasingly put him in the building he thought would be his new home court for Orlando's exhibition opener.
"It's weird now, because I was always dreaming about signing this contract and [having] this mental release that I'm going to be on the [same] team for five years," Gortat said that night. "Now I've just got to wait and see what's going to happen.
"I don't think I'm going to go in and ask [management] what they're [planning for] me. I believe that, if I'm going to go somewhere else, I'm going to go to a team where I'm going to play. I don't think I'm just going to be traded to sit on the bench.
" Obviously my [personal] situation could look maybe a little bit better if I was in Dallas. But I'm still on a great team, great organization, playing with Dwight Howard, working with Stan [Van Gundy]. It's a huge opportunity for me, and I wish Dallas good luck for the whole season. I hope our teams will meet in the Finals."
4. Brandon Bass, Orlando Magic
Smith insisted earlier this week when asked by the Orlando Sentinel about Gortat and Bass that he has no plans to trade either one.
But Bass is finding it increasingly harder than Gortat to score regular playing time and is bound to attract suitors no matter what Smith says publicly. The clear vibe in circulation is that Bass, who landed a four-year deal worth $16 million from the Magic, is the more gettable of the two. Gortat, remember, has the right to veto any trade through July 13, 2010, since he was a restricted free agent last July when he signed an offer sheet with Dallas that the Magic matched.
But feelers for Bass are likely forthcoming whether the Magic want them or not. So give this one time to develop.
Rival teams say it's not Orlando's style anyway to initiate a lot of trade chatter. The Magic apparently often prefer, as one personnel man put it, to "entertain what other people propose."
So give this one time to develop.
5. Ramon Sessions, Minnesota Timberwolves
New Wolves personnel boss David Kahn doesn't give many hints to nosy scribes, even though he's a former sportswriter, but more than one team we've consulted continues to believe that Sessions -- if you allow us to employ the proper GM-speak -- was signed by Minnesota with the intent to "flip" him.
I do wonder if it's too soon for such flipping, since Minnesota can't even try to convince Ricky Rubio to come to the States before the 2011-12 season because of Rubio's new contract with perennial Spanish club power Barcelona. It's also unclear what sort of market Sessions could generate after a slow start with the Wolves and when he's just one season into a four-year, $16.4 million deal.
Yet I've also heard a couple of GMs say they do expect Sessions to be made available and that his contract is not so prohibitive. We'll see.
2. Western Conference
Contending teams all want an extra big man, no matter how good they think their small-ball team is, because you'll eventually have to deal with the Lakers' array of 7-footers if you have any title aspirations.
That's why the Los Angeles Clippers continue to get calls with offers for veteran center Marcus Camby.
But the Clips, sources say, continue to tell those callers that Camby is off limits.
That stance unexpectedly appeared to loosen up at last February's trading deadline, when the Clips and San Antonio Spurs discussed a Camby deal, but the message we got this week from two well-placed sources is that L.A. is not willing to listen to proposals for Camby, who's in the final year of his contract at $9.2 million.
Not with Blake Griffin out until after Jan. 1. Perhaps the Clips' position changes if Griffin makes a healthy return.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
6: Utah's six points in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's road loss to the Lakers accounted for the worst fourth quarter in franchise history and the team's second-worst quarter ever. The Jazz managed just five points in the second quarter on Dec. 1, 1981 also against the Lakers.
17: Golden State's 105-89 victory Wednesday in New Jersey halted the Warriors' unwanted run of allowing at least 100 points in 17 consecutive road games dating to last season. The last team to be so porous on the road? Boston also allowed triple digits in 17 straight road games in 1997.
1: Zach Randolph became the first player in Grizzlies history to record at least 30 points, 10 boards and 4 steals in one game with 32, 14 and four steals in Tuesday's stunning OT win over Cleveland.
21: Channing Frye's 0-for-4 showing from 3-point range in Tuesday's loss at Dallas was the first game this season that the Suns' new big man failed to sink at one least one triple. With his run of 21 consecutive games with at least one 3-pointer, Frye became only the third player listed 6-foot-11 or taller with a 3 in at least 20 straight games in one season, joining Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki (30 games in a row in 2002-03) and Indiana's Troy Murphy (29 games in a row last season).
6-6: Our irrepressible pals at the Elias Sports Bureau say Houston's Chuck Hayes, listed at 6-6, is the shortest center to start at least 20 games since the NBA/ABA merger in 1976-77.
Two housekeeping footnotes on the Blazers relating to the Andre Miller discussion in Box 1:
• Whoever has Miller on their books in 2010-11 must waive him on or before June 29, 2011. Or else Miller's $7.8 million salary for the 2011-12 season becomes guaranteed.
• Greg Oden has sadly become just the second No. 1 overall pick since 1966 -- the first year the NBA did not feature territorial draft picks -- to play just 82 games in his first three seasons.
San Antonio's David Robinson also played in only 82 games in his first three seasons after being taken No. 1 overall by the Spurs in 1987 but you'll surely recall that Robinson sat out his first two NBA seasons to fulfill his Navy obligations before playing in all 82 games as a rookie in 1989-90.
Oden will have played just 82 of a possible 246 regular-season games by the end of the 2009-10 season.
3. One-on-One To Five
Q: How do you grade yourself after the first 20 games or so?
A: I think my first 20 games have been pretty successful for the most part, coming back from that [eye] surgery, not playing basketball for seven months, longest [time] without playing basketball ever in my life. Not too bad, not too bad
I feel like the rust is pretty much gone. I'm good to go, feel great, body's healthy. Mentally out there on the basketball court I really don't [think about the eye]. I just go out there and play.
Q: No one expected this team to start out 14-3. How did you guys do it?
A: I think, one, we've got guys just really great [at] playing their roles. For the most part we started off our training camp, implemented our offensive schemes and really got into it and guys bought into it. And, you know, Stoudemire's healthy. I think that helps a lot, with me being back on the basketball court and being injury-free. That all factors into it.
Q: Are you aware that people on the outside were questioning your health or doubting your ability to make another comeback?A: I think [it was] rightfully so from the start of the season. There was a little rust that everyone saw. But I think now you're starting to see my old self out there on the basketball court. But more mature. [I'm] older now.
Q: Is that why you're going with the beard now? Tell me the story.
A: Just want to give a fierce defensive look out there. I just go with the beard to see how it goes. So far I'm diggin' it. I don't know about everybody else, but it's not bothering me at all. Got a new-look Stoudemire out there.
Q: You know I can't let you out of here without asking a 2010 question, so tell me where things stand with your future right now.
A: It's going to be an exciting offseason. I try not to think about it as much during the season. I would rather, me personally, I want to deal with [free agency] after the season. I don't want any distractions. We're off to a great start and have to keep it going. No distractions. So I prefer to wait.
I think we're still humble. We still understand that we're a work in progress. Our goal is, again, making the postseason and then thinking about taking it further than that.
Bulls officials are expected to continue huddling this weekend as they weigh whether to stick with under-fire coach Vinny Del Negro in the wake of a 1-9 stretch that began on Chicago's annually nightmarish circus road trip but which also includes seven heavy defeats.
As Del Negro himself noted Thursday in a session with Chicago-based reporters, his first season with the Bulls "ended up pretty well" in an unforgettable seven-game first-round playoff series with Boston after early struggles. But the increasingly lopsided nature of the losses -- even with Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas unavailable for most of that stretch and a thin roster to start with -- has put Del Negro under undeniable pressure, with questions growing louder about the Bulls' nightly effort and the players' willingness to hear Del Negro's message.
After former assistant Del Harris' offseason departure, Bulls assistant coach Bernie Bickerstaff -- a four-time NBA head coach -- stands out as the most natural interim replacement should Chicago decide to continue a tradition of Christmas-season coaching changes that previously claimed Tim Floyd and Scott Skiles. But NBA coaching sources told ESPN.com that one name already on the Bulls' radar is New Jersey's just-dismissed Lawrence Frank.
Yet money is bound to be an issue, as it is everywhere in the NBA. Del Negro's contract is guaranteed through next season and Chicago's appetite for spending on a new coach when it's also still paying off some of Skiles' deal remains to be seen.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
1: Interesting footnote to the Nets' slump-busting win over the Bobcats last Friday: It was the first time Charlotte's Larry Brown had ever coached an NBA game against someone he coached in college. New Jersey's Kiki Vandeweghe played one season for Brown at UCLA and is only the second former college player under Brown to become an NBA head coach, joining Portland's Kevin Pritchard. Before he became the Blazers' full-time general manager, Pritchard coached them for the final 27 games of the 2004-05 season.
400: Miami's Dwyane Wade recorded his 400th career swat last Friday by blocking Pau Gasol's shot, joining Dennis Johnson (675 blocks in 1,110 games) and David Thompson (407 blocks in 509 games) as the only players in history listed 6-4 or shorter to crack 400 rejections. The NBA began recording blocked shots starting with the 1973-74 season; Wade needed only 413 regular-season games to get there.
11: Allen Iverson scored 11 points in his first games this season with Memphis (in 18 minutes) and Philadelphia (38 minutes). Iverson's team lost both games.
85: New York's 93-84 victory Monday over Portland marked just the second time in Mike D'Antoni's tenure with the Knicks that they held the opposition below 85 points. Only three teams have done so fewer times than the Knicks since D'Antoni's arrival last season: Golden State (never), Phoenix (once) and Sacramento (never).
5. Moving Time For Miller?
This might end up being a quick trip to Portland for Andre Miller. (See Box 1.)
6.Mike and Michael in Miami?
If they could get Mike James without giving up Quentin Richardson, perhaps with the help of a third team, this deal would likely already be done. But [Quentin] Richardson's reviews in South Florida have mostly been positive after he was traded four times -- yes, four -- in the 2009 offseason.
Q-Rich, remember, went from New York to Memphis on draft day, from the Grizzlies to the Los Angeles Clippers in July in the Zach Randolph deal, from the Clippers to Minnesota in a deal headlined by Sebastian Telfair and Craig Smith and then from the Wolves to Miami in August for Mark Blount. If the Heat's growing need at guard becomes unbearable -- but if they also remain determined to spare Richardson his fifth trade in the span of about six months -- maybe either Miami or Washington will make a harder push to find a third-team facilitator.
The Heat would appear to have some bonus off-court motivation to reunite with James. ESPN.com has learned that James quietly hosted Miami's Michael Beasley in the private gym at his offseason home in Houston almost every night in August, when Beasley spent a month in town completing substance-abuse rehab. Miami officials got an up-close look at James when they went to Houston to check up on Beasley and saw firsthand that the two Mikes had struck a productive friendship.
7. Marc's Quote
Suns coach Alvin Gentry, responding with a crack of his own to some good-natured ribbing about the award he just won with a 14-3 record through November.
Gentry was referring to the growing notion of a COY curse, which is harder to scoff at than most supposed NBA curses because six of the past nine winners were either fired or resigned within two years of collecting their COY trophy.
Detroit's Rick Carlisle (2002), Dallas' Avery Johnson (2006), Toronto's Sam Mitchell (2007) and New Orleans' Byron Scott (2008) were all fired two years or less after being named COY. Philadelphia's Larry Brown (2001 winner) resigned one year removed from COY honors, and Memphis' Hubie Brown (2004) walked away two months into the following season.
The only winners this decade to last more than two years after claiming the COY trophy are Orlando's Doc Rivers (who made it to November of the 2003-04 season after winning in 2000), San Antonio's Gregg Popovich (2003 winner and just about the closest thing to bulletproof in this business) and Phoenix's Mike D'Antoni (who won in 2005 and bitterly walked away from the Suns in May 2008 to join the Knicks).
As for last season's COY, Cleveland's Mike Brown is still here. But he's also living with as much day-to-day pressure as any coach in the game thanks to LeBron James' forthcoming free agency.
8.The New Trade Pool
Free agents who sign contracts in the offseason can't be traded by their new team until Dec. 15 or three months from the day the contract is inked whichever date comes later. The following is the complete list of players from last summer's free-agent class who become eligible to be traded Tuesday:
• Charlotte Bobcats: None
• New Jersey Nets: None
• New York Knicks: None
9. Two Exceptions To (Above) Rule
There are a further 26 players who were signed as free agents after Sept. 15, meaning that Dec. 15 comes too soon and that they are not eligible to be traded until three months from the day they signed have elapsed. They are:
• Hawks: Othello Hunter (Dec. 28)
• Bulls: Aaron Gray (Dec. 22)
• Cavaliers: Coby Karl (Dec. 28)
• Nuggets: Joey Graham (Dec. 26)
• Pistons: Chucky Atkins (Dec. 28)
• Pacers: Luther Head (Dec. 17)
• Grizzlies: Jamaal Tinsley (Feb. 14)
• Suns: Jarron Collins (Dec. 28)
• Trail Blazers: Juwan Howard (Dec. 17)
• Kings: Ime Udoka (Feb. 4)
• Spurs: Keith Bogans (Dec. 23)
• Raptors: Pops Mensah-Bonsu (Dec. 17 after Toronto claimed him on waivers from Houston)
• Jazz: Wesley Matthews(Dec. 28)
• Wizards: Earl Boykins (Feb. 11)
P.S.: There's one more exception at play here. Any player signed after Nov. 18 cannot be traded during the 2009-10 season because the three-month wait extends past the league's Feb. 18 trading deadline. Players affected include Golden State's Chris Hunter, Oklahoma City's Mike Wilks and a Philadelphia 76er named Allen Iverson.