1. Melodrama FAQ, Part II
The NBA's Melodrama has reached the point that even Nuggets coach George Karl calls it Melodrama on first reference.
It has reached the point that Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri publicly acknowledged to the Denver Post's Woody Paige, of "Around The Horn" fame, that he's for the first time "listening aggressively" to other teams' offers for Carmelo Anthony, which is the strongest public signal to date that Anthony will be dealt before the Feb. 24 trading deadline.
It has reached the point, after the Melo-chasing New Jersey Nets made a bold trade this week to try to increase their odds of winning the Melo Sweepstakes, that we need to answer another where-are-we-now round of questions about Anthony's future.
Hopefully eight will be enough to get you through the weekend:
Are the Nets realistically any closer to acquiring Melo after the three-team trade they swung earlier this week with the Rockets and Lakers to pick up two extra first-round picks?
Realistically? Without question.
For all the understandable pessimism surrounding Anthony's willingness to sign an extension in New Jersey -- since even the Nets privately concede that Melo's overwhelming preference is to wind up with the Knicks -- there's likewise no dispute that no team out there has assembled more pieces that interest the Nuggets than New Jersey.
The Nets now possess four first-round picks they can include in a trade, highlighted by their own 2011 pick and Golden State's 1-to-7 protected 2012 first-rounder, along with prized rookie power forward Derrick Favors and Troy Murphy's expiring contract. With Devin Harris and the two additional firsts that the Nets landed in this week's deal, they also still have the assets to recruit other teams to help facilitate a deal similar to the four-teamer with Charlotte and Utah that collapsed just before the start of training camp.
When the Nuggets finally concede that they have to trade Anthony -- and Ujiri basically confirmed to Paige that Nuggets management has reached that point Thursday night when Ujiri said he's "listening aggressively" to Melo offers -- New Jersey will rightfully be the team commanding much of Denver's attention. The Nets' bigger challenge was, is and will always be selling Melo on the deal.
How will they sell Melo? When will they sell him?
If the Nets and Nuggets come to terms on a trade, according to one source briefed on the teams' discussions to date, Nets officials will request (and be granted) permission to have a face-to-face meeting with Anthony.
Melo would then get a pitch from Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, minority owner Jay-Z and coach Avery Johnson similar to the presentation LeBron James received from the Nets in July at the start of his free-agent recruiting summit, which will undoubtedly be focused heavily on convincing Melo that the Nets will be playing in Brooklyn in time for the 2012-13 season.
You have to figure that the Brooklyn-born Anthony is going to listen to everything they say.
The pitch, though, won't merely be location, location, location. Bank on the Nets, just as the Nuggets have been trying to tell Melo for months, to explain how he can become a true hero if he signs with them. A savior, even. Which is to say that the Nets will point out how the Knicks, on top of all the questions in circulation about how he truly fits on a Knicks team that already scores plenty while lacking shut-down defenders and rebounders, already have a savior named Amare Stoudemire.
They will ask Anthony if he wants to be the face of their franchise in a shiny new arena in Brooklyn ... or at best Amare's co-star on Broadway.
Isn't the Nets' willingness to give up a quality young prospect like Terrence Williams and take on Sasha Vujacic's contract to get those two extra first-rounders proof that they're secretly optimistic about their Melo chances?
Don't go that far.
The trade with Houston and L.A. was as much about exiling Williams -- whose array of in-house transgressions just since the season started left him little chance of ever winning over Johnson -- and getting two quality trade assets for the general pursuit of top talent as it was about Anthony.
The Nets know that major hurdles remain to actually win the Melo Sweepstakes. They know that the buzz Amare's Knicks are generating at Madison Square Garden made an undeniably seductive impression on Anthony when the Nuggets lost to New York at MSG last Sunday. They know, furthermore, that Stoudemire will be lobbying his Team USA pal hard to seize this opportunity to join forces, with Amare reminding Melo louder than anyone that championship contention in the NBA generally requires multiple players at their level.
The Nets also know that Ujiri just put the whole league on alert, inviting calls from every team in circulation when he also told Paige: "Carmelo is still with us and we're doing our due diligence every day."
So stockpiling assets, in case they lose out on Anthony and need to chase a fallback star, is a smart strategy for the Nets no matter what happens with Melo.
If Melo will only sign an extension with the Knicks, as ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan reported last Sunday, can't the Knicks just wait for free agency to sign him so they don't have to surrender assets like Landry Fields and Danilo Gallinari and severely weaken the roster Melo would be joining?
Way too risky.
Do the Knicks really want to risk seeing Anthony go to the aforementioned meeting, suddenly realize how much guaranteed money he's potentially costing himself if he squashes the trade and suddenly commit to the Nets on the spot?
Even if the Nuggets wind up trading Melo somewhere other than New Jersey before the Feb. 24 deadline -- and sources with knowledge of the Nuggets' thinking insist they're open to all approaches now and will definitely pull the trigger on a trade barring Anthony's sudden reversal on months of resistance to Denver's three-year, $65 million extension on the table -- Melo's new team will have until June 30 to sign him to an extension.
And that leaves too much time for Melo to change his mind and decide that he'd rather not go to free agency and take a huge pay cut to sign with a Knicks team that so many folks (like ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy in the New York Times) have noted this week isn't a slam-dunk fit in terms of Xs and Os.
Contract values are sure to be lower in the next labor agreement struck between the league and its players. So if he's willing to sacrifice millions to get himself to New York, Melo really does have all the leverage and will wind up a Knick next to his buddy Stoudemire.
Yet one big reason this drama has consumed more than six months already is the fact that Melo, deep down, isn't sure he can afford to leave that extension on the table. That had kept the Nuggets' hopes of convincing him to stay in Denver aflame until Ujiri's apparent concession speech Thursday night and will continue to force the Knicks to make plans to acquire the draft picks they'd need to assemble a worthy trade offer.
Is there any scenario in which the Nets would be willing to trade for Melo without him agreeing to an extension?
Hard to see it.
There are still a handful of gambling teams out there, as detailed in a recent Weekend Dime, that would do a deal for Melo without his signature on an extension. Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, perhaps even Orlando ... such teams continue to believe A) Melo could be convinced to commit long-term once he sampled life in their respective cities and B) that those fears about squandering millions by passing on the extension would eventually sway him more than anything.
The Nets, though, aren't on that list. They aren't prepared to surrender a prospect like rookie power forward Derrick Favors or even multiple first-round draft picks for a maybe.
Have the Nets amassed enough asset-wise to put forward a trade offer for Melo that doesn't include a prospect like Favors?
Another no. I've been advised in the strongest terms that the Nets are well aware that Favors is the piece Denver covets most.
Are the Nuggets really going to let this thing drag out all the way to the trade deadline?
The prevailing wisdom around the league has been that this saga would inevitably drag into February once the four-team deal collapsed in September, partly because the Nuggets were determined to give themselves every chance of trying to salvage a relationship with Melo that team officials do believe has reached a better-than-ever stage during the first three months of the season.
Since the summer, when things looked their bleakest, Nuggets owner-in-waiting Josh Kroenke and Ujiri clung to hope that there was still time for Anthony to conclude that he could become basketball's answer to John Elway if he just decides to stay in Denver.
Two sources close to the situation insisted Friday that the trade will come sooner than the masses think. And Ujiri did nothing to dispel that notion with his "listening aggressively" proclamation, which would seem to confirm that the Nuggets have grown weary of the limbo that has enveloped the franchise and its fans for months, after team officials believed as far back as June that Anthony was close to signing the extension.
"I would be surprised if it goes into February," one source said. "Very surprised. I expect things to start happening now. It's starting to be a big distraction for the Nuggets that's only going to get bigger."
Do the Nets really have the room in their game-night VIP room for Melo's wife Lala when they already have to make sure Jay-Z's wife Beyonce, Vujacic's fiancée Maria Sharapova and Kris Humphries' new girlfriend Kim Kardashian are being properly pampered?
Just tossing out in-jest hypothetical in an attempt to lighten the mood. Keeping up with this Melodrama, as it approaches Month 7, has taken a toll on all of us.
2. One-On-One ... To Five
Five questions with Blazers guard Brandon Roy:
Q: How are you holding up through all this stuff with your knees?
A: It's tough, it's tough. Just tryin' to deal with it the best I can. There's nothing that can really help it [except for] rest in between games. So it's frustrating. Me and Coach [Nate McMillan] have talked about maybe, with back-to-backs coming up, play one [of the games] and try to get a little bit more extra [rest] time in there. It's just that I'm dragging. I'm thinking about it. So it's tough.
Q: I saw you early in the season in New York and everything seemed fine. Were you actually feeling it then?
A: I felt it [earlier in the season], but it wasn't [as severe]. Then about seven or eight games in, I was like, "Dang, this is bothering me." And then I rested for about two weeks. I came back, felt good again, but then it's like, "OK, the wear is starting to build up again."
It's tough. I don't know any other way to explain it. It's difficult because [doing] certain things, I'm limited out there. And it's not really a secret anymore now. Even teams have kind of adjusted to how I do things now. It's tough. It's tough being out there. Especially in games where we're losing, close ones, and I know I could be a little bit of a difference maker out there.
Q: Is it a situation where you now regret coming back for the playoffs last season after you got hurt?
A: No. It was actually the other knee [in April]. But I think that surgery, [after] tearing my meniscus, this [right knee] was my good knee. This was the leg that I would rely on and now this [right] one has somewhat lost some. That's the biggest thing. This [left] leg's been bothering me, but I've been dealing with it for so long.
But then that surgery before the playoffs, I came back to play Phoenix and I noticed that some things were a little bit different about my game. I thought I would get it back over the summer, and I did, but once [the knees] wear down a little they get a little sore.
This [left] one's always kind of been a problem for me, but I've been able to rely on this [right] one. Now it's no secret that this [right] one's bone-on-one with this [left] one now. So it's difficult. ...
I still can make plays. It's just when the games mount ...
I think I can [adapt eventually]. Hopefully this is something I'll be able to put behind me. I think I can find that niche, but it's just tough for me going through it right now. Once I get through it, I think we'll be able to move on from it.
Q: Just talking to you, all things considered, you're handling this about as well as anyone could.
A: Oh, man. I'm trying to, man. I'm trying to. There are times I'm sitting in my [hotel] room; I'm talking with my wife or my agent, and they just try to keep me calm. But it's tough. Other players come up to me [during games and say], "I can tell."
Q: I'm guessing that's something you probably don't want to hear.
A: Nah. "Oh, you can tell?" You don't want that. ... It's tough. It's tough.
I'm just trying to be positive. These guys do a good job of trying to pick my spirits up. We've got good guys here. ... I'm trying to make sure I stay around the guys and not focus on me.
3. No. 1 Yet Again
I was surprised by the initial surprise that greeted the Lakers' willingness to participate in the three-way trade that landed Terrence Williams in Houston and armed New Jersey with two more future first-round picks for its trade pursuit of Carmelo Anthony. The champs, frankly, had lots of good reasons for joining in.
The top three?
1. Joe Smith is a veteran big man who -- unlike the outgoing Sasha Vujacic -- has generally been revered by teammates, even though he's never produced at the level expected when Golden State made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft. Lakers coach Phil Jackson has been openly fretful about the early-season load Pau Gasol has been shouldering with Andrew Bynum (knee) sidelined until this week and with Theo Ratliff (knee) out. Add it up and L.A. has a clear need for someone like Smith, who as a bonus can probably tell them more about the Celtics' Kevin Garnett (his close friend from their 'Sota days) than just about anyone.
The complete breakdown for peripatetic No. 1 overall picks:
|Joe Smith||1995||12 (Warriors, Sixers, Wolves, Pistons, Bucks, Nuggets, Bulls, Cavaliers, Thunder, Hawks, Nets, Lakers)|
|Danny Manning||1988||7 (Clippers, Hawks, Suns, Bucks, Jazz, Mavericks, Pistons)|
|Shaquille O'Neal||1992||6 (Magic, Lakers, Heat, Suns, Cavaliers, Celtics)|
|John Lucas||1976||6 (Rockets, Warriors, Bullets, Spurs, Bucks, Sonics)|
|Bob Boozer||1959||6 (Cincinnati Royals, Knicks, Lakers, Bulls, Sonics, Bucks)|
2. With a salary-cap number of $854,389, Smith costs $4.6 million less than Vujacic in payroll terms this season. That means his arrival reduces the Lakers' luxury-tax bill by that same $4.6 million.
3. The parameters of the three-team swap also created a $5.5 million trade exception for the Lakers, which they aren't likely to use between now and the Feb. 24 trade deadline but is sure nice to have if circumstances change and a roster need arises. (We'll have to see how valuable such trade exceptions are -- or if they even exist -- in the next labor agreement.)
The payoff for us, meanwhile, is the opportunity to update one of my favorite NBA trivia subjects now that Smith is changing uniforms again. Once he steps onto the floor with Kobe and Co., Smith will be playing for his 12th team, which ties Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson and Tony Massenburg for the record.
Whether Smith, 35, plans to stick around long enough to break that four-way tie -- and finally gives us one name to make synonymous with moving around a lot like we have in coaching with Larry Brown -- remains to be seen. What we do know for sure, though, is that the 16-year vet is a runaway leader in jersey collection for guys who've been drafted No. 1 overall, with nearly twice as many teams on his resume as the No. 2 in this category: Our old friend Danny Manning.
4. Marc's Quote
"Yeah. I shoot with my left hand."
Bucks center Andrew Bogut, when asked if there's any way he can compensate for the pain that still lingers in his right arm after that gruesome landing last April against Phoenix that mangled his elbow.
The affable Aussie was in a loose and quippy mood when we crossed paths Monday night, having just helped Milwaukee rally from 20 points down for a win in Dallas that halted the Mavericks' 12-game win streak.
But Bogut was quick to point to the preventative ice all over the elbow and his free throw woes on the stat sheet -- 1-for-6 against the Mavs -- when someone suggested that he's almost back to his pre-April best.
That was an easy conclusion to reach after another near-flawless outing in Big D. Bogut shot 13-for-14 from the floor in his lone visit to the American Airlines Center last season and followed it up with a 10-for-12 display in Monday's return.
The reality, though, is that Bogut -- while determined to gut through all the elbow pain along with the various back and migraine issues that have plagued him lately -- could be playing hurt for the remainder of the season. The rest time he needs to heal fully isn't available until the summertime. (He's honestly one of those guys, reprehensible as it is to say out loud, who would probably benefit from a work stoppage that forces him to stop playing for awhile.)
In the interim, though, Milwaukee is fortunate that Bogut has a feathery touch around the basket with that left hand and seems to have little discernable trouble with many of his specialties (rebounding, passing and blocking shots) despite the post-surgery limitations.
The Bucks are finally starting to look like the Bucks so many of us know-it-alls were expecting coming into the season. They finally generated some elite-level offensive execution and shotmaking to go with their shutdown D in the comeback in Dallas before losing a certifiable heartbreaker Wednesday night in San Antonio on a Manu Ginobili buzzer-beater that should have been waved off for a clear traveling violation.
Not that Bogut was in a celebratory mood after ending the Mavs' streak. He's a demanding, play-the-right-way dude, so it's killing him to know that his free throws (38-for-83 for the season for a success rate of just 45.8 percent) have become an undeniable issue.
And to concede that shooting them lefty isn't an option.
PS -- A little trivia from the Elias Sports Bureau on Ginobili's buzzer-beating jumper that, we repeat, should not have counted: Manu had never before won an NBA game with a shot at the horn and was 6-for-33 lifetime on shots in the final 24 seconds of a one-possession game prior to Wednesday.
5. Western Conference
With its season in tatters, Portland is indeed checking around to see what sort of trade possibilities exist, amid the mounting evidence to suggest that the three-man core of Brandon Roy, Greg Oden and LaMarcus Aldridge can never be salvaged because of the knee injuries that have plagued Roy and Oden.
One source close to the situation assures that new general manager Rich Cho is looking at "all options." Unclear, though, is how much latitude the well-regarded Cho has, as a first-year GM, to make sweeping changes, given that the Blazers' upper management ousted Kevin Pritchard in part to have closer control over basketball operations and amid the undeniable uncertainty about what the landscape will look like for small-market teams after labor negotiations in the summer.
The Blazers have no shortage of desirable veterans with cap-friendly contracts: Marcus Camby, Andre Miller and Joel Przybilla could all be dealt easily. Young assets would figure to be Portland's preferred target, but the Blazers have been known to make sneaky runs at the likes of Chris Paul and Steve Nash in recent weeks and months, no matter how many times they're told by the Hornets and Suns that those franchise point guards aren't available.
In a chat with ESPN.com earlier this week, amid a growing belief around the league that his backcourt partnership with Miller will indeed be dissolved before the Feb. 24 trading deadline, Roy professed to have no knowledge of specifics.
But he did say that a shakeup wouldn't surprise many in the Blazers' locker room at this point.
"We've heard [media members say] that if we that don't start winning then [the Blazers] are gonna make some changes," Roy said. "I think that's only normal. You gotta win. Everybody wants to win now, I don't know what's going to happen, but of course if we don't win we're probably going to have some changes around here."
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
244: Yao Ming played in 244 of his first 246 regular-season games.
5: Yao has played in five games this season and last season and has missed 193 regular-season games starting with the 2005-06 season.
18: Deron Williams entered his Friday night showdown with Paul in New Orleans having scored at least 30 points in each of his last three games. And D-Will's career total of 18 games with at least 30 points and 10 assists ties him with Pete Maravich for the franchise record.
.588: Golden State's undrafted Reggie Williams is the league's top 3-point shooter in December thus far (minimum 30 attempts) at 20-for-34, good for a success rate of 58.8 percent.
29: Good sign for those of you worried about Kobe Bryant's gas tank: L.A.'s go-to guy is averaging 29.0 points in the second game of the Lakers' five back-to-back sets this season.
6. Team Veto
You've been hearing it everywhere: Dec. 15 was a huge day on the NBA's trading calendar because that's when players who signed contracts last summer became eligible to be traded.
There are, however, some exceptions.
We happen to have tallied up around 20.
There are always a handful of players every season possessing a certain kind of one-year contract that prevents teams from trading them without consent.
Specifically, players who sign one-year contracts to return to their last team can't be dealt without granting permission. And that's because the Early Bird or Full Bird free-agent rights their teams would have at the end of those one-year deals are forfeited if the player is traded elsewhere.
Here, then, are 17 players, who signed one-year deals in the offseason to which this little-known rule applies, ensuring that none of them will be dealt before the Feb. 24 trading deadline unless they approve of the move:
Jason Collins (Atlanta)
Ray Allen (Boston)*
Marquis Daniels (Boston)
Jawad Williams (Cleveland)
Anthony Carter (Denver)
Rasual Butler (Los Angeles Clippers)
Craig Smith (Los Angeles Clippers)
Shannon Brown (Los Angeles Lakers)*
Carlos Arroyo (Miami)
James Jones (Miami)*
Jamaal Magloire (Miami)
Aaron Gray (New Orleans)*
Jason Williams (Orlando)
Patty Mills (Portland)
Kyrlyo Fesenko (Utah)
Josh Howard (Washington)
Cartier Martin (Washington)
* -- Allen actually signed a two-year deal with the Celtics, but the second year is a $10 million player option ... and options are not counted when applying the one-year consent rules. Similar circumstances apply for the Lakers' Shannon Brown, Miami's James Jones and New Orleans' Aaron Gray.
There are also, for the record, two more groups of players, in addition to this privileged and unique selection of one-year guys, with trade-blocking power. They are:
1. Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki with full no-trade clauses.
As discussed here before on numerous occasions, no-trade provisions in the NBA are extremely rare. Players not only must have at least eight seasons of service time and four seasons with the same team to be eligible, but they also can only get them in negotiations for a new contract because the NBA does not allow such clauses to be added to an existing contract or contract extension.
Nowitzki met all three criteria last summer when he re-signed with Dallas and was able to join Bryant -- who has possessed a no-trade clause since 2004 -- in what ranks as one of the league's most exclusive clubs.
Numerous NBA stars who would have the stature and/or leverage to request a no-trade clause often sign their first big-money deals well before their eighth pro season and frequently sign extensions to those big contracts, as opposed to going onto the open market. Many of them, as a result, are never even eligible for a no-trade clause, since they are not permissible in extensions.
2. Players who, as restricted free agents in the previous offseason, signed offer sheets with another team that were subsequently matched by their original employer.
A team that exercises its right of first refusal to retain a restricted free agent cannot trade that player for one year without the player's permission. There are only two in the league at present -- Houston's Kyle Lowry and Orlando's J.J. Redick -- and they also can't be traded to the team that extended the offer sheet for one year.
Players With Matched Offer Sheets
|Name||Signed With||Veto Rights Expires|
|Kyle Lowry||Rockets||Cavs, July 15|
|J.J. Redick||Magic||Bulls, July 16|
7. Unhappy Trails
Blazers guard Brandon Roy, plagued by rising pain in both of his knees, speaks at length about the challenges of his health situation in a candid Q&A visit. (See Box 2)
8. Eastern Conference
The Raptors continue to explore possible trades for recently acquired Peja Stojakovic and his expiring $15 million salary, but sources close to the situation say with increasingly regularity that Stojakovic is far more likely to be bought out by Toronto than dealt again.
Financial flexibility to take into the NBA's new frontier of the next labor agreement would appear to appeal more to the Raps than taking on long-term salary.
Stojakovic has played in just two games since he was dealt to Toronto in the Jarrett Jack deal on Nov. 20, thanks largely to a troublesome knee, but he's sure to attract interest from multiple contenders if he does make it to the open market as expected.
As long as he's released by March 1, Stojakovic will be eligible to play in the playoffs for another team. It is generally assumed in front-office circles that the Raptors will work with the Serbian sharpshooter if they can't find a trade for him, since Stojakovic had to waive $437,470 of his $1.2 million trade kicker for the salary-cap math to work in the New Orleans/Toronto deal that enabled the Raps to shed the contracts of Jack and Marcus Banks.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
12: The Celtics are the third team this season to assemble a 12-game win streak -- joining San Antonio and Dallas -- and have five double-digit win streaks since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce starting with the 2007-08 season. No other NBA team has more than three double-digit win streaks in that span.
30: After his recent 38-point return to Cleveland in Miami colors, LeBron James has posted at least one 30-point game against every NBA team. The only other active players to do that, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, are Vince Carter, Antawn Jamison, Tracy McGrady and Shaquille O'Neal.
39: Amare Stoudemire's 39 points Wednesday night in the Knicks' crushing home loss to Boston marked the third-highest total recorded against the Celtics in the Garnett Era. Dwyane Wade had a 44-point game against the Celts last season and LeBron scored 42 against them. Derrick Rose (last season) and Caron Butler (with Washington in 2008-09) have also scored 39 against the KG-led Celts.
0: Indiana's Darren Collison, who averaged 18.8 points and 9.1 assists whenever he started in New Orleans last season in place of the injured Paul, is averaging just 13.5 points and 4.1 assists for the Pacers and has yet to record a double-digit assist game this season.
5: Kris Humphries' career year continues in New Jersey. Kim Kardashian's latest pro athlete boyfriend is up to five games with at least 15 rebounds for the Nets, which trails only Kevin Love (15), Blake Griffin (eight) and Joakim Noah (six) this season. After grabbing 17 boards in Thursday night's win over Washington, Humphries is tied in that category with Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut.
It's been a rather somber week in the NBA, thanks largely to Yao's latest potentially career-ending setback in Houston, Noah's thumb injury in Chicago and the deteriorating state of Roy's knees.
Even the lighthearted moments didn't quite pan out for me.
I've been waiting for some time to find out if Ersan Ilyasova was a fan of what I deem to be one of the league's wittiest nicknames: Turk Nowitzki.
That what Bucks fans have been calling him since last season, but Ilyasova tried to convince me Monday night that he doesn't exactly love it.
Not that he gets to choose his own nickname -- since we're not exactly talking Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant here -- but Ilyasova says he prefers Turkish Thunder.
9. NBA Video Channel
10. Chatter Box
Marc Stein, NBA
Chicago's ability to cope without the injured Joakim Noah, Houston's latest Yao Ming heartbreak, San Antonio's under-the-radar start and New Jersey's chances in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes are the prime topics in Marc Stein's weekly appearance on the NBA on ESPN Radio studio show with host Marc Kestecher.