1. Latest NBA Trade Chatter
The interminable Melo Drama has gummed up trade business in cities all over the NBA map. Or ...
Teams that have inched into playoff races that were once eager to deal, such as Philadelphia with Andre Iguodala, are no longer looking to clean house. Or ...
Growing fears about how restrictive the NBA's next collective bargaining agreement will be have prompted numerous clubs to fold their cards and swear off taking on anything but short-term contracts, thereby preserving maximum flexibility in case they really do get stuck with a hard salary cap.
There's no shortage of theories in circulation to explain why the amount of trade buzz you're hearing, less than two weeks away from the Feb. 24 trading deadline, isn't as robust as many teams expected by this point. Serious trade rumblings were a virtual daily staple from mid-September through January -- largely thanks to New Jersey's pursuit of Carmelo Anthony -- but one Eastern Conference executive sounded an ominous tone this week when he said: "I think there's less talk out there than you think."
Yet we've decided to take our cue from another East exec who's convinced things "will pick up" and proceed with a fresh helping of pertinent chatter from various team officials, coaches, players and agents plugged into the NBA grapevine.
Leaguewide respect for the Utah Jazz and the unparalleled longevity of Jerry Sloan is such that there will almost certainly be a grace period before teams start lobbing calls into the Jazz about Deron Williams' availability.
And the sense I get is that no one out there, even when the calls start, really expects the Jazz to seriously entertain the idea of trading their franchise player in the next two weeks. Doing something that drastic so soon after Sloan's departure would be an unfathomably seismic shake-up for a franchise not exactly known for shake-ups.
Fan reaction to Williams' perceived role in Sloan's exit would have to be off-the-charts harsh for the Jazz to change that stance ... and even then such a push would probably have to come from Williams' side. Both scenarios sound pretty far-fetched.
It's true that Williams has been as frustrated by management's scaling back over the past year, starting with the luxury-tax-motivated giveaways of Eric Maynor and Ronnie Brewer, as he was with any of Sloan's stubborn ways. But the far safer expectation is that Utah spends the rest of the season trying to sell Williams on the belief that it can successfully reload around him. Key to that strategy, of course, is hoping Williams clicks with new coach Ty Corbin, who will obviously be far more flexible, collaborative and, well, modern than Sloan was.
The Jazz also figure to be motivated to wait to see what happens in the next labor agreement before rushing into any rash D-Will decisions, with so many small-market teams like Utah praying for an NFL-style Franchise Tag or some sort of new mechanism that enhances their odds of hanging onto marquee free agents.
Said one Eastern Conference executive: "As soon as we know when next season is [after a lockout], we'll be talking about D-Will like we've been doing this whole season with Melo ... D-Will, CP3 [Chris Paul] and Dwight [Howard]."
Last week's Weekend Dime laid out the various factors to explain why the Suns are determined to keep Steve Nash, no matter how many Nash fans plead with Phoenix to trade the 37-year-old to a contender before he runs out of a time to make one last push for that elusive championship.
Yet there's at least one guy closely connected to what's happening in the desert who believes -- firm as team president Lon Babby was in stating that Suns management isn't at all excited by the prospect of blowing things up and trying to rebuild with youth -- that the Suns do intend to explore how much they can get for Nash in the offseason.
Whenever the NBA has another offseason after labor negotiations.
"Steve is a Phoenix Sun and I don't think it's an exaggeration to say he's the face of that franchise," Bill Duffy, Nash's longtime agent, told ESPN.com this week. "But logic dictates that it would be prudent for the Suns to start looking at their long-term future in the summer, so we would expect that they may entertain moving him during the summer. We are ready for that and we anticipate a very respectful process if they decide to look at starting over with a younger core."
Minnesota was one of the teams identified in last week's story -- along with Atlanta, Orlando, Portland, Toronto and Nash's old friends in Dallas -- as a determined suitor for the 37-year-old.
The Wolves, sources say, have called for Nash as much as anyone, even though they're well aware Nash has only one year left on his contract after this season and have to presume he'd have little interest in a long-term stay in Minnesota.
That they couldn't count on having Nash for more than one season, as we've noted, is why the Wolves can't afford to build an offer for Nash around Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio. For all of his struggles with Barcelona this season, Rubio remains too prized a commodity for the Wolves to give him up for Nash and then watch Nash walk away a season later.
Have to applaud Minnesota for its ambition, though. I've likewise heard, despite all the factors listed here that make you question why the Wolves would even bother chasing Nash, they have not offered Rubio to the Suns for a different reason. In the Wolves' Nash fantasy, I'm told, they dream of constructing a multi-team deal that brings Nash to Sota as a mentor for Rubio.
At least one prominent member of the Wolves' organization, meanwhile, thinks we're going to start hearing more about Rubio, who turns 21 in October and has the Wolves convinced that his playmaking wizardry will play much better in the NBA than it has in the Spanish League once he's surrounded by elite athletes and operating in an environment that isn't as rigid.
"One big factor in our future is Ricky Rubio," Wolves newly minted All-Star forward Kevin Love wrote in a recent entry to his regular blog for GQ. "He's either going to come play for us and have a real impact on our team, or he's going to have a lot of [trade] value around the league. One way or another, he's a vital piece hanging out there. And for us to move 100 percent forward, something needs to happen with him soon."
The Wolves, at last check, remain hot for New York's Anthony Randolphand hopeful of acquiring him before the Feb. 24 deadline, even if that means dealing directly with the Knicks as opposed to collaborating on a three-way deal with Denver that lands Anthony at Madison Square Garden. The primary cost to the Wolves, in a direct deal with the Knicks, would be a future first-rounder.
Count Antawn Jamison among those convinced that he'll still be with the Cavs after the deadline, largely because of the salaries Cleveland would have to take back to move him with a full season at $15.1 million left on his deal.
"We have to figure nobody's coming in and nobody's going to change things up," Jamison said.
The Cavs would ideally want a first-round pick from a contender interested in pilfering swingman Anthony Parker and his $2.9 million expiring contract for the rest of the season, but word is a second-round pick might get it done. Chicago remains a prime suitor for Parker.
As for the $14.5 million trade exception Cleveland possesses as its main shred of compensation from the free-agent defection of LeBron James, it's not too early to start wondering what happens if the Cavs, as expected, opt for payroll flexibility heading into the NBA's new financial frontier and decide not to make use of the exception before this trade deadline.
The risk there is that the exception might be gone forever if the Cavs don't use it in the next two weeks.
Although the exception isn't scheduled to expire until July 11 -- which is the NBA's first business day one year removed from James' departure -- Cleveland can't just assume it will just transfer to the first 10 (or so) days of the NBA's eventual next offseason should this summer's business get frozen by a lockout. As numerous execs like to say these days in response to such hard-to-answer questions: What if trade exceptions don't exist in the NBA after a new collective bargaining agreement takes hold? Another good example of the sort of frustrating unknowns teams are pondering these days.
I know of at least one former Michael Jordan teammate who's convinced that Jordan wants to make an NBA comeback at age 50.
If that's true, His Airness has two years to find a buyer for the Charlotte Bobcats so he's eligible to play again.
Jordan practiced Thursday with the Bobcats -- one week before his 48th birthday -- and looked quite good according to co-captain Stephen Jackson.
"We should sign him," Jackson told me, adding that Jordan dunked "without any effort" and citing a sweet lefty finish on a post-up move as MJ's most memorable contribution to the workout.
Don't forget, though, that league rules preclude NBA owners from playing for their own teams without selling off their shares. Don't forget, furthermore, that Jordan (with the Wizards in 2001) and Magic Johnson (with the Lakers in 1996 and with yours truly as a first-year Lakers beat writer) were mere minority owners when they made their comebacks from the executive suite, making it a lot easier to find someone to buy them out.
You figure it would take Jordan at least two years to find someone willing to assume majority control of the Bobcats, given how long it took His Airness to assemble a deal to take over from founding owner Bob Johnson.
2. Latest Melo Drama
Hearing Melo publicly say for the first time that staying in Denver is still an option he's considering doesn't exactly encourage Nuggets officials.
It's far more likely to frustrate them.
They've had an extension on the table for Anthony for about eight months. The Nuggets believed that Anthony was close to signing the extension right around the time of the draft last June, only for Anthony's handlers to deliver numerous warnings since August that Melo wants out.
In the event he isn't traded and offers to sign the extension, Denver is well aware that Anthony would purely be doing so because he wants to secure the richest possible contract under the current collective bargaining agreement. Not because he's had a true change of heart.
And that's not how Denver officials, according to sources familiar with their thinking, want to rebuild their team, knowing that Anthony could well sign for an additional three years and $65 million and still be disgruntled. Or, worse, try to force a trade next season.
So you can expect the Nuggets to keep searching for a deal to trump New York's underwhelming proposals until they run out of time to do so. They are by no means done exploring their options ... and definitely not just because Anthony has tossed out a new maybe about staying.
The Nuggets certainly don't want to trade him just for the sake of trading him. They'd rather keep Anthony than do a bad deal with the Knicks and cross their fingers that the league's next labor pact -- through a franchise tag or some other unknown mechanism -- offers some sort of protection/compensation to teams that lose their stars in free agency, should Anthony indeed have the guts to opt out of his contract so he can sign with New York outright.
This much is a lock: Denver won't stop looking until there's no time left to look. That's especially true because teams willing to trade for Anthony without the promise of an extension can only be encouraged by Melo's increasing public fretting about missing out on the extension money. The strategy of teams such as Houston and Dallas has always been to get Anthony first and then worry about convincing him to stay -- no matter much he longs to be in New York -- with the hope that he eventually caves on signing an extension as the June 30 deadline draws closer.
• To read the full TrueHoop entry, click here »
3. Cavs' Long-Term Strategy
The toughest stuff, if Antawn Jamison were prone to confessions, would surely be the growing likelihood that he'll have to spend the rest of the season with the Cavs. NBA front-office sources say that few teams have been as active as Cleveland in recent weeks in trying to swing a trade or two before the Feb. 24 deadline, with Jamison high on its list of movable assets. But increasing apprehension about how restrictive the next labor agreement will be has prompted several teams to back off on dealmaking.
Sources say New Orleans, for example, has a level of interest in Jamison but also express skepticism that a suitable deal can be assembled before the deadline to send the 35-year-old anywhere. It's true that Jamison has only one year left on his contract after this season, but that one season is valued at a meaty $15.1 million, which means Cleveland would almost certainly have to take back multiple players to make the salary-cap math work.
The Cavs' apparent preference, like many teams out there unsure about what the future holds for the NBA's financial landscape, is preserving flexibility and accumulating young assets to take into the league's new frontier, unless a trade delivers a certain talent upgrade. Cleveland also still possesses a $14.5 million trade exception created in the sign-and-trade transaction that officially dispatched LeBron to South Beach, but importing more pricey vets like the Cavs did so often in vain during the LeBron era -- in hopes of convincing King James to stay in Cleveland -- doesn't sound too appealing now.
With word reaching us this week that the Cavs also see little benefit to buying out Jamison (one of their few coveted assets) if no trade materializes in the next two-plus weeks, odds start to increase that Jamison will be brought back with Cavs coach Byron Scott for the new season -- whenever that might be post-lockout -- given how admirably those two have been coping with what's happened since Cleveland's forgotten 7-9 start. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert might never be a sympathetic figure after the way he reacted to LeBron's departure, but it's hard not to root for the likes of Jamison and Scott, who are suffering in their own way like the long-tortured Clevelanders that James left behind.
"I'm not a loser," Scott said. "I'm not used to this. I'm very used to winning. But I never say, 'Woe is me.' I've just never been that type of guy. ... It's going to take us a little time, but we're going to get back to it."
• To read the full story on the Cavs, click here »
4. NBA Video Channel
5. One-On-One ... To Five
Five questions with Hawks guard Joe Johnson:
Q: How did you get back so fast after elbow surgery [in December]?
A: I'm doing all right. I'm feelin' good. The elbow's great.
From game to game [before the surgery] the pain varied. Sometimes I could just kind of shake it and it would kind of go away. But a lot of times there was a little click in there, and I didn't know what it was.
It was hard to be sitting over there watching. Then when Jamal [Crawford] went down, with me and him being the two primary scorers, I just took it on myself to get back as soon as possible.
Q: How have the fans embraced you in Atlanta after all the tension in the playoffs last season?
A: It's been cool. No problems. I'm just doing whatever I'm asked to do. The fans have been great. When we go home and play, they've been great and making it a hostile environment.
Q: But aren't you worried that you've lost ground in the East with all the moves teams like Miami, Boston and Orlando have made while you guys basically have the same team?
A: I don't think we've lost ground. I think we're OK. We haven't made moves, but we've got guys who are definitely getting better every year and coming into their own.
Q: You got a bigger contract than anyone last summer. Does that give you a huge sense of security? Or is it big pressure?
A: Nah. It's no pressure. Doesn't matter whether it's out of the way or the amount it was.
I fly under the radar, man. I make it a point to do that. I like that.
Q: And you still feel under the radar even after getting the big contract?
A: Definitely. Definitely. Definitely.
6. Marc's Quote
"Is this 'Rachael Ray' or ESPN.com?"
Suns guard Steve Nash, mustering some faux outrage in response to the emphasis placed on his dietary choices in an interview for last week's lead item of the Weekend Dime.
7. Jerry Sloan By The Numbers
Reviewing the unparalleled coaching longevity of Jerry Sloan, who abruptly resigned Thursday after more than two continuous decades on Utah's bench:
26 seasons as an NBA head coach
1,221-803 career record with Chicago and Utah
2 Western Conference championships (Utah in 1996-97 and 1997-98)
1 losing season in a 23-season run with Utah, which means Sloan has six more winning seasons with the Jazz that Red Auerbach had with the Celtics. (Auerbach, of course, won nine championships in his 15 seasons as Celtics coach, compared to Sloan's zero titles.)
133 players coached by Sloan in Utah
8 All-Stars coached in Utah (Carlos Boozer, Mark Eaton, Jeff Hornacek, Andrei Kirilenko, Karl Malone, Mehmet Okur, John Stockton, and Deron Williams)
154 coaches, not counting Sloan, have coached at least one NBA game since Sloan took over the Jazz for Frank Layden, according to the Elias Sports Bureau
40 current NBA players, according to the Elias, had not yet born when Sloan's Jazz tenure began Dec. 9, 1988
The NBA is the third of four major professional team sports in North America to see its longest-tenured coach leave his post since October 2010.
Longtime Coaches Leaving Since October 2010
|NFL||Jeff Fisher||17||Fired by Tenn.|
Sloan took over as Jazz coach almost eight years before San Antonio's Gregg Popovich began coaching the Spurs. Here are the NBA's longest-tenured coaches now that Sloan has walked away:
Longest-Tenured Active NBA Coaches
Sloan indeed holds the NBA record for the longest consecutive coaching run for one team after taking over for Frank Layden early in the 1988-89 season. Here are the sport-by-sport leaders:
Most Consecutive Seasons With One Team
Four more categories from the record book in which Sloan figures prominently:
Most Regular Season Wins: NBA Coaches
Most NBA Seasons As Player or Coach
Most NBA Games Coached
Most NBA Games Coached No Title
-- Stats compiled by ESPN Stats & Info
8. Going Streaking
A home win Friday night over the Clippers meant the Cleveland Cavaliers' losing streak did not reach 27 games, which would have marked the longest winless run in the history of North America's four major team sports.
Longer than the 26 games in a row lost by Major League Baseball's Louisville Colonels in 1889.
Longer, too, than the 26 consecutive Ls racked up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1976 and 1977 before the first victory in franchise history.
Beating the Clips in OT also took some of the edge off Sunday's home showdown with Washington, with the Wiz shouldering all of the pressure thanks to their 0-25 record on the road this season.
Here are eight factoids -- one for every Cavs victory before Friday's slump-buster -- to file away from the Cavs' record-setting futility:
1. Before Friday's win, Cleveland's only win in a whopping stretch of 37 games? Dec. 18 at home against the Knicks. In overtime.
2. The Cavs have lost 26 consecutive road games after starting 3-1 on the road. They had also dropped 11 straight at home before Friday and 15 straight to sub-.500 teams.
3. The Cavs have used 19 starting lineups so far this season, most in the NBA.
4. Three of the eight teams Cleveland had beaten before Friday night were winning teams: Boston on Oct. 27, Memphis on Nov. 27 and the Knicks in December. All three of those wins came at home.
5. At an average of 1.00 point per possession, Cleveland has the league's second most inefficient offense behind Milwaukee's (0.99). The Cavs, meanwhile, play the league's worst 3-point defense and allow 1.11 points per possession, tied with Toronto for the NBA's least-efficient D.
6. The Cavs' win over the Clippers hiked their record to 1-22 this season without defensive anchor Anderson Varejao, who was ruled out for the rest of the season in January because of a longstanding ankle problem.
7. Mo Williams was shooting 26.6 percent this season from 3-point range entering Friday's play. That's the league's lowest percentage for any player with at least 100 attempts from deep.
8. And we repeat: No team in NBA history has gone from the league's best record to the worst in the space of one season as the Cavs are on course to do. Cleveland was tops in the NBA in 2009-10 at 61-21.
-- Stats compiled by ESPN Stats & Info
The Cavs' skid reached record proportions before ending Friday night ... Where do they go from here? (See Box 3.)
10. Chatter Box