1. NBA Trading Deadline: Everybody's A Winner
So many teams got exactly what they were looking for that it feels less like an NBA trading market and more like a Saturday youth soccer league. Certificates for everyone!
About the only way to lose was if you didn't participate, which is what happened to a Phoenix Suns team that couldn't find a way to move Amare Stoudemire and now risks losing him for zip-zero in return as an unrestricted free agent, or watching him stick them with a $17.7 million tab if he exercises the option for the final year of his contract.
According to one source, the Rockets tried to make a last-hour run at Stoudemire, offering Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Brian Cook, a Rockets draft pick and one of the picks the Rockets acquired from the New York Knicks. Because of the lateness of the hour the Suns wanted to waive the physical examinations for the players involved. The Rockets didn't want to do that for Stoudemire, who has had two major knee surgeries, so the proposal died and the Suns didn't make the long list of satisfied customers.
The Cavaliers got their sought-after "stretch 4" and held onto J.J. Hickson. The Wizards satisfied their search for financial relief, young talent and a draft pick as they began the tear-down phase of their overhaul. The Boston Celtics got a boost for their bench in Nate Robinson. The Knicks got the coveted cap space to make a run at two max free agents, which is what they've promised their fans over the past two seasons of mediocrity. The Kings moved the heavy contract of Kevin Martin, who became the scoring threat the Rockets craved. The Trail Blazers got Marcus Camby to replace their two injured centers. The Bucks got shooting guard John Salmons to fill in for the latest knee blowout of Michael Redd. The Bobcats bolstered their front line with Tyrus Thomas. The Grizzlies added to their undermanned bench by securing Ronnie Brewer. The Clippers and the Bulls got the cap space to enter the summer free-agent sweepstakes.
That's more than one-third of the league meriting kudos. Congrats. Enjoy it for a little while. Bask in the euphoria.
Then brace for the harsh reality that this will be the most heartbreaking summer in NBA history. Six teams have cleared sufficient salary-cap room to offer a maximum contract to free agents this summer: the Knicks, Bulls, Heat, Nets, Clippers and Wizards. And it's possible none of them ends up with LeBron James. Or else he does go somewhere, disappoints the other five suitors and absolutely devastates the city of Cleveland.
And yes, I realize there are other free agents. That's exactly what they are -- others. As one general manager put it, there's LeBron and then there's the rest. He is the only one who can single-handedly elevate a team into contender status. Sure, Dwyane Wade has shown he can lead a team to a championship. He also couldn't get the Heat past the first round of the 2009 playoffs coming off the best season of his career.
There are plenty of perfectly fine players among the group of Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson who figure to command big salaries. But how many can sell tickets and boost TV ratings? How many are puppet-campaign-worthy?
Anyone who gets them will improve their team. They'll also be settling for the consolation prize. And some teams will get shut out entirely. Six teams with max slots and only five players worthy of that kind of money. This is going to be the world's most expensive game of musical chairs.
The real story is finding a throne for King James. And I think those of us who aren't in Cleveland can't understand just how much is at stake. One of the most depressing sentences I've ever read in sports came in Bud Shaw's Plain Dealer column this week.
"Not winning a title with James would waste a Heaven-sent stroke of good fortune in a city struggling to keep its chin up everywhere except inside The Q," Shaw wrote.
So LeBron is the only thing the city has going for it? That means it only takes one man signing his name to a contract that doesn't have "Cleveland Cavaliers" in the letterhead and the city is done.
It would take a strike of Broadway actors, a fire that razes Central Park and a vermin infestation that shuts down every restaurant in town to make New York sour. Miami and L.A. will stop being attractive destinations when the sun burns out, and by then the rest of the planet won't be too appealing, either. No need to worry about the fate of either metropolis. Besides, Miami fans took their time getting to the arena the last time James came to visit. Not sure they'd really appreciate the opportunity to watch him on a nightly basis. And Lakers fans still have the option to go see Kobe if LeBron doesn't join the Clippers.
And of course this thing never works out for the Clippers. They flirted with Ray Allen once, only to settle for Cuttino Mobley. They snagged Baron Davis to go with Elton Brand -- except they lost the Brand part. Now they just cleared the cap space to go after LeBron by participating in the trade that brought Antawn Jamison to the Cavaliers and gave LeBron less of a reason to leave.
And the Nets? Do we really believe a premier free agent is going to join the remnants of a historically bad team to play out the final days of an outdated arena in the Jersey swamplands while the new Brooklyn digs are built?
Washington hoop fans are some of the savviest in the country and deserve so much better than what they have. Except the Wizards could possibly be trying to woo free agents at the same time they try to void Gilbert Arenas' contract. Not the way to create a player-friendly tone.
So cap space is just that -- an empty void. For now it can be filled by the imagination.
The reality is only 17 NBA franchises have ever won championships, the least diversity among the major pro leagues. And this summer's free agency, for all of its fanfare, doesn't figure to expand the pool of applicants.
Enjoy those certificates for participation.
J.A. Adande is a columnist for ESPN.com.Dimes past: Feb. 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 6-7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 16 | 17
2. Don't Count Out The Nuggets
Special to ESPN.com
CLEVELAND -- The Lakers are regarded as the heavy favorite to win the Western Conference, and the Utah Jazz are regarded as its hottest team at the moment. But the Nuggets served a reminder Thursday why no one should be discounting their chances to win the West or the whole thing this season.
Stepping into Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs had won 11 in a row and were riding a 13-game winning streak overall, the Nuggets defeated the NBA-best Cavs 118-116 in overtime. It was the second time since the new year the Nuggets have beaten the Cavs, who are a sizzling 28-5 over their past 33 games. The Nuggets have also won in Utah and in Los Angeles against the Lakers, another team they have beaten twice this season, since Jan. 1.
Denver did it despite absorbing a 43-point, 13-rebound, 15-assist game from LeBron James. The Cavs had been undefeated when shooting 50 percent or better from the field and had been 33-1 when scoring 100 points. Both of those trends fell by the wayside when Carmelo Anthony drained a 20-footer with 1.9 seconds left.
"It was a great win for us," said Chauncey Billups, who had 18 points. "This is an unbelievable way to start the second half of the season."
The Cavs are 4-1 against the Magic, Celtics and Hawks in the East. With the exception of the Nuggets, the Cavs are 10-2 against the top eight teams in the West. But the Nuggets have gotten them twice, both by two-point margins, to send a message.
Denver has had its share of bad losses -- home defeats to the 76ers and Timberwolves being at the top of the list -- but if the Nuggets somehow see the Cavs in the Finals, they may have a nice advantage.
The Cavs have one of the best big-man rotations in the league, led by Shaquille O'Neal. But the Cavs have trouble dealing with Kenyon Martin's quickness to the glass and Chris Andersen's activity. Martin had 19 points and 12 rebounds in the win in Denver and 18 points and 17 rebounds Thursday.
Billups, who knows the Cavs well from his Pistons days, has sliced up the Cavs in pick-and-roll offense, averaging 20.5 points in the two games.
"We seem to play with a little more pizzazz when we play the good teams," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "We talked about being able to turn up the seriousness and to tune up every game having a value."
Brian Windhorst covers the Cavs for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
3. Daily Dime Live Recap
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Thursday's games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
4. Questions Loom About Del Negro's Future
The atmosphere somehow just felt lighter at the Berto Center on Thursday. As did the Bulls' payroll.
By ridding the team of perpetual pouter Tyrus Thomas and unloading the contract of John Salmons and creating $20 million of cap room to play with this summer, Bulls general manager Gar Forman said the trades with Charlotte and Milwaukee, respectively, set up the Bulls for the future.
And indeed, the big picture looks a lot more promising for Chicago than it did Wednesday. But there is still the matter of the proverbial elephant in the room -- in this case the one with black hair parted in the middle who answers to the name "Vinny."
To read the entire Isaacson column, click here.
5. Extreme Behavior
Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets and LeBron James, Cavs: The two headliners didn't disappoint as Anthony tallied 40 points, seven rebounds and six assists and hit the game-winner with 1.9 seconds left in overtime. James posted 43 points, 13 boards and 15 assists, but the Cavaliers' 13-game winning streak was snapped.
Derek Fisher, Lakers: He capped a poor performance by badly missing the game-winning jumper at the end of regulation. The point guard went 1-for-9 from the field, finishing with just three points.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"It was nice to have other teams and players want me to join their teams, but I am happy to stay in Phoenix. I appreciated all the Suns fans across the country who reached out to me and showed the love and support. Everything happens for a reason."
-- Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire, who despite being mentioned in several trade possibilities, remained with the Suns.
6. Balanced Attack
7. NBA Video Channel
8. Allen's Inspired Play
It is no mystery that the Celtics tested the trade waters Thursday by shopping Ray Allen's giant expiring contract ($19.7 million). The uncertainty of the situation rested in how Allen would react to the rumors and the aftermath after remaining in a Boston uniform. The consummate professional did not disappoint.
Allen has always maintained his desire to remain with the team that brought him his first championship and only reiterated that sentiment with his performance against the Lakers. Despite dealing with the trade rumors and being in the midst of his worst shooting season since coming to Boston three seasons ago, Allen came out and attacked the Lakers with the type of fearless swagger that only comes from a seasoned sharpshooter.
If there was any question whether or not he arrived at the Staples Center with a chip on his shoulder, he quickly put the kibosh on it by coming out firing. Allen finished the game with 24 points, shooting 10-for-15 from the field and 4-for-6 from deep. However, nothing punctuated his performance more than his monster dunk in the second quarter.
Allen's offensive outpouring was impressive, but what it means in the larger context of the rest of the season remains to be seen. There has been a lot of talk around the league about player ages and windows closing. Despite the uncertainty of this season's Celtics team, it's safe to say that Allen still has the potential and the ability to bring it on any given night.
Allen wants to prove to a team, a city and a fan base that has not given up on him that he can still be a productive scorer -- the scorer the Celtics need if they plan on being around very long in June.
Getting the "Green Guarantee" on Thursday might have provided Allen the extra motivation to look for his own shot, but I doubt he needed it. Allen knows exactly what he can do on the basketball court, and only time will tell if this kind of production is what fans can expect from here on out.
To check out the Celtics Hub blog, click here.
9. Carmelo Getting It Done
The NBA pushed what it hoped would become a natural rivalry between Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James for a few seasons, but the matchup never was able to live up to the hype. The Nuggets usually won while LeBron typically outperformed Carmelo. There were no memorable one-on-one battles as LeBron became MVP while Carmelo became just another good player.
As the rivalry faded, so did Carmelo's star. Anthony has always strived to keep his name in the conversation with his friend LeBron, but he seemed to be the only one who continued to hold himself in such high esteem.
After his performance Thursday, Carmelo finally deserves to be back in that conversation. He has been building his case since the beginning of the 2009 playoffs. He has grown in every area. He is a more efficient scorer; he is a better passer; he is more composed during games; and most importantly, he has embraced the challenge of defending the best players in the league. In the past Carmelo has been happy to cover the LeBrons and Kobes of the league in the second quarter, but when it mattered most in crunch time, he was always guarding Wally Szczerbiak or Luke Walton.
For the first time in his career, Carmelo not only carried the burden on offense in the Nuggets' 118-116 overtime win in Cleveland, but also accepted the challenge of covering a superstar, none other than James, in the closing minutes and throughout overtime. He did not shut down LeBron -- no one player can -- but Melo worked hard play after play and deserves credit for "coaxing" LeBron into taking numerous jumpers instead of attacking the rim.
To top it all off, after fighting and clawing against the best player in the world, Carmelo dropped in his 40th point during his 48th minute on the court to win the game on a long jumper with LeBron just inches from his face.
For years Nuggets fans have seen players like LeBron, Kobe and Dwyane Wade score 30 points a night while still fulfilling their duties on the defensive end of the court. Carmelo finally put it all together, and while LeBron won the statistical battle, it was Carmelo and his team who won the war. As a result, Melo has forced his way back into the King's realm.
To check out the Roundball Mining Company blog, click here.