1. Nation's Capital Big Enough For Wall, Arenas?
When John Wall became the NBA's youngest player in 25 years to ring up at least 25 points, 10 assists and eight steals in the same game, guess who Wall bumped to second-youngest?
Yup: Gilbert Arenas.
Just can't pry these two apart.
Gil was 22 years and 71 days old when he stuffed a box score so thoroughly for the Golden State Warriors back in the 2003-04 season. Wall was 20 years and 57 days old when he rumbled for 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals Tuesday night in that overtime thriller against Philadelphia.
On Friday night in New York, provided that the asbestos levels are livable and Arenas isn't a last-minute scratch at Madison Square Garden, Wall and Gil will play together for real for the first time, essentially because the Washington Wizards have no alternative.
As much as the Wizards would love to separate the former face of the franchise from his freshly drafted heir apparent, they can't. Not now. Not unless they paid a ridiculous amount of money -- something close to this season's $57.6 million payroll is a safe first estimate -- for Arenas to go away in a buyout.
Which is clearly not under consideration.
And yet it's been stressed to me, even if the Wizards will never admit this publicly, that breakout performances like the one Wall uncorked in Philly only increase the organization's desire to ship Arenas elsewhere. It's not because the Wizards are fearful Arenas is going to lead young Wall astray. The kid is too strong-willed for that. It's more about the Wizards doing everything they can to preserve the atmosphere around their precious commodity, giving Wall every opportunity to reach his full potential.
Maybe no one's cracking asbestos jokes about the Verizon Center these days, but surely you understand. There can't be a true clean-slate, starting-over air in that building as long as Arenas is still there. Not after last season's unprecedented mayhem.
The Wiz, though, are realistic. They, too, understand. They knew that moving Arenas before the February trading deadline was going to be incredibly difficult thanks to the three years and $60 million-plus left on Arenas' contract after this season's $17.7 million and those three surgeries on his left knee. And now they know it'll be even harder after Gil's messy October, which raised fresh flags about the 28-year-old's mindset, decision-making and health. At this point? Talking about trades is pointless until Arenas makes a successful and sustained on-court comeback.
Groin and ankle issues have kept him sidelined since an Oct. 14 exhibition game, prompting Wizards coach Flip Saunders to hint that Arenas will likely start his comeback as a member of Washington's second unit. Yet Arenas seemingly did more damage to his dwindling trade value by announcing after his preseason debut alongside Wall that he "lost all feeling a long time ago," referring to the Wizards as "they" and speaking at length in a somber tone about his inevitable exile from the organization now that Wall has arrived as its savior ... and then causing a national stir just days later by fabricating a story about pain in his left knee.
Arenas was ultimately fined $50,000 after admitting that he lied to Saunders about his knee in hopes of creating more playing time for teammate Nick Young. I've since heard theories about other motivations Arenas might have had in hatching that plan -- like the one about Arenas wanting to ensure, in Washington's first exhibition at the VC, that he wouldn't be booed in his first home game since last season's 50-game suspension for bringing guns into Washington's locker room -- but what he really did is leave the widespread impression that the gun suspension taught him precious little.
Another problem he's facing: Now Arenas has to deal with self-inflicted suspicion and skepticism every time he's hurt. The ankle issues that sidelined him for the Wizards' first three regular-season games? Tell me it didn't cross your mind that this might be the start of some sort of holdout or protest.
And another problem: Arenas will likely have to make it through this whole season providing something resembling reliability, playing off the ball next to Wall, to attract serious outside interest after the preseason we just witnessed.
The Orlando Magic always figure to be intrigued by the idea on some level as long as Otis Smith is their general manager, given Smith's longstanding friendship with Arenas dating to their days together in Golden State. But NBA front-office sources maintain that the Magic have cooled on the notion of a Vince Carter-for-Arenas exchange, both by the heavy cost involved and Gil's, uh, unpredictability.
The health issues that have limited Arenas to 47 games over the past three seasons are yet another deterrent. Start doing the math on all of the above and it becomes quite clear why there was so little Arenas buzz during what many regard as the wildest offseason in league history.
Outside of Orlando's flirtations, I can only claim to have heard what are best described as "rumbles of curiosity" from the suddenly starless Toronto Raptors. Wouldn't describe it as anything more serious than that, especially when the $14.5 million salary-cap exception that the Raptors created in a sign-and-trade with Miami when Chris Bosh bolted isn't big enough to absorb Arenas' salary-cap number this season. Or when Canada's strict gun laws could well make acquiring Arenas, after a felony conviction, rather complicated even if the Raps were game.
The resulting choices, then, are pretty much forced on all sides.
The Wizards, I'm told, will not initiate buyout talks with Arenas because they know he has little incentive to give money back with so much cash left on his contract. Putting him in exile while pursuing trades -- as we've seen in recent seasons with the likes of Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury and Jamaal Tinsley -- is also an unworkable measure to the Wiz because no trade is close and since playing is Arenas' only road back to tradeability.
Arenas, meanwhile, surely realizes deep down that no one is going to trade for him until he gets back on the floor and stays there, meaning he's going to have to successfully blend his floor-spacing shotmaking with Wall's speed and rim-attacking relentlessness if he wants to eventually score the fresh start he needs as much as the Wizards do.
"We need people to root for us," Arenas told the Washington Post's Michael Lee last month, while also insisting that he can't remember a situation "where you have two good guards and it doesn't work out."
"Don't go against us," Arenas told the Post. "Root for us."
We will, Gil. Have to.
No other options.
2. Western Conference
You can add Hornets guard Chris Paul to that list, too.
Paul recently told ESPN.com that he wanted to play on the team that won the World Championships in Turkey over the summer but couldn't because he was still recovering from the knee injury that, along with ankle and finger ailments, limited him to 45 games last season.
"I want to be on that [USA] team in 2012," Paul said. "I'm going to keep playing and hopefully they have a spot for me."
USA Basketball faces some fun choices (not) when it's time to assemble the London roster. Chicago's Derrick Rose and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook were primary members of Kevin Durant's supporting cast in Turkey. Boston's Rajon Rondo -- who's only averaging 16.4 assists per game entering Friday -- lost out in final cuts to Denver's Chauncey Billups and Golden State's Stephen Curry. Wedging Paul and Utah's Deron Williams back in, as you can see, might not be as automatic as it sounds.
Then again ...
It's ludicrous to suggest that there's any doubt when Paul is playing like this. After a somewhat tentative preseason, CP3 has been otherwordly since the games started counting, establishing the unbeaten Hornets as the league's early surprise team by averaging 21.3 points, 9.0 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.75 steals .. all while shooting 51.9 percent from the floor and committing just five turnovers in the first four games. Of perhaps greater importance, Paul has aggressively embraced rookie coach Monty Williams' system -- in the face of the constant speculation about his questionable long-term future in New Orleans -- which has led to teamwide buy-in under Williams. And you see the results.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
12: The Clippers' home rout Wednesday of Oklahoma City, after an 0-4 start, came just in time for Blake Griffin. One more loss would have made him the first No. 1 overall pick to begin his career at 0-5 since LeBron James with Cleveland in 2003-04. The record for the most consecutive losses for a No. 1 overall pick is a dozen: Michael Olowokandi's Clippers opened at 0-12 in the lockout-shortened 1999 season.
17: The Lakers' Kobe Bryant now has 17 career triple-doubles after his 30 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in Wednesday's win at Sacramento. That places Kobe fourth among active players behind Dallas' Jason Kidd (105), Phoenix's Grant Hill (29) and Miami's LeBron James (28). Boston's Kevin Garnett is fifth with 16.
3: Paul Millsap's 30 points and 16 rebounds in last Sunday's win at Oklahoma City marked his first career 30-and-15 game. He thus became only the third member of the Jazz since Karl Malone's departure to hit those plateaus in a single game, joining Carlos Boozer (11) and Mehmet Okur (one). The Mailman, by contrast, had 69 such games in his Jazz career.
1: Did the Grizzlies get carried away by Mike Conley's good start when they awarded him a five-year contract extension Monday worth at least $40 million? Highly possible. Conley is the first player in Grizz history to register 60 points and 30 assists in the team's first four games of a season.
5: To clear up any confusion from earlier in the week, Phoenix's Jared Dudley received a five-year extension from the Suns worth $21.3 million. It's a five-year deal -- not a four-year deal as indicated in some initial reports -- that pays an even $4.25 million annually starting with the 2011-12 season and includes a player option for Dudley in Year 5. Very attainable bonuses in the contract, furthermore, should take the overall worth of the deal to $22.5 million.
NBA front-office sources say that the five-year, $40 million deal Mike Conley received -- still stunning every time you see the numbers even after a few days for the contract to sink in -- includes $1 million in deferred salary in each of those five seasons. Which can't/won't change the opinion held here (and countless other outposts on the NBA map) that an extension for Conley is lunacy when A) we don't know how restrictive the next collective bargaining agreement will be for an owner (Michael Heisley) who always says his franchise needs more revenue-sharing help from big-market franchises and B) securing big man Marc Gasol or (dare we say it) last season's team MVP Zach Randolph for the long term was already complicated. ... We repeat: $8 million annually for Mike Conley in this climate is too much. Or even $7 million annually if you want to dress it up by subtracting Conley's deferred money. ... One line stood out from the interview my ESPN.com colleague J.A. Adande snagged with Kobe Bryant for NBA Coast To Coast on Tuesday night as much as anything anyone has said all season: "I feel healthier now than I did last year at any point," Bryant said.
3. Eastern Conference
You'll recall that Detroit's John Kuester was identified last week in this section as the coach with the warmest seat in the league.
Since then his authority has been publicly challenged by Pistons mainstay Tayshaun Prince and young guard Rodney Stuckey amid a dreadful 0-5 start, which should certainly invite questions about both players -- especially Stuckey after refused to acknowledge his coach's attempt to insert him in Wednesday night's loss in Atlanta -- but will instead inevitably heap more pressure on the little-known Kuester.
It's undeniably true that limited finances, with the franchise about to be put up for sale, restricted Dumars' options after the ouster of Michael Curry in the summer of 2009, when Dumars spoke seriously with Doug Collins and Avery Johnson and wound up hiring Kuester. It's also true that the Pistons have roster issues no coach could be reasonably expected to fix, tied largely to Detroit's obvious lack of dependable size and two big free-agent signings from the summer of '09 -- Ben Gordon and a certain Charlie Villanueva who's been in the news this week -- that simply haven't delivered. It's true, furthermore, that Prince is candidate to be traded at any time (thanks to his $11.1 million expiring contract) and that the Pistons continue to shop Rip Hamilton in hopes of finally importing some size or at least scoring some payroll relief.
But now that Detroit has quickly descended into disarray, none of the above is going to soften Kuester's reality. He's destined to stay pinned under scrutiny no matter how many stories to temporarily divert the spotlight (like Villanueva versus Kevin Garnett) crop up or how many injury alibis (starting with the loss of young energy guy Jonas Jerebko) pile up.
Initial indications were that the looming sale of the Pistons to Red Wings and Tigers owner Mike Ilitch was the trigger that put Kuester in immediate danger. Yet it's natural to wonder now if he'll last long enough to see the ownership change, given how tense things are in that locker room and how changing coaches is typically seen as the quickest way to shake things up.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
20: Boston's Paul Pierce became just the 20th player in league history to score 20,000 points for one team. At 20,005 points entering the weekend, Pierce trails only John Havlicek (26,395) and Larry Bird (21,791) on the Celtics' all-time scoring list.
4: The Celts, thanks to Pierce, also just became the first team in NBA history to field four 20,000-point scorers. They are: Shaquille O'Neal (fifth all-time with 28,281 points), Kevin Garnett (No. 22 with 22,345) points, Ray Allen (No. 28 with 21,048 points) and Pierce (No. 36 with those 20,005 points).
5: Chicago's Derrick Rose entered Thursday's play averaging 27.7 points and 8.7 assists. Early as it might be to even suggest such things, Rose would become just the fifth player in history to average 27 points and eight dimes for an entire season if he can sustain that production, joining Oscar Robertson (eight times), Tiny Archibald (twice), Michael Jordan (1988-89) and LeBron James (2009-10).
5: Larry Drew is the fifth coach in NBA history to begin his bench career with five straight victories. And Drew, at 52, is also 10 years older than any other coach who started 5-0; Kurt Rambis is next in line with a 9-0 start in the lockout-shortened 1999 season with the Lakers at age 41. This is the first 5-0 start for any rookie coach since Lawrence Frank won his first 13 games coaching the Nets in 2004. (New Orleans' Monty Williams, mind you, can match Drew's start if the Hornets beat Miami at home Friday night.)
5: Chicago's Luol Deng became the fifth Duke player from the Mike Krzyzewski era to score at least 40 points in an NBA game with his 40 in Monday's home win over Portland. Deng joins Gene Banks, Grant Hill, Elton Brand and Bulls teammate Carlos Boozer.
4. Bullish On Flexibility
The Bulls' apparent intention now is to maintain maximum roster flexibility for potential trades. Chicago and Utah are the only two teams at present with just 13 players on their roster.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that a trade sending James Johnson to Charlotte has emerged as one option, but it remains to be seen if such talks get serious or what else would have to be involved ... or if Johnson remains as available as he was in the offseason after seizing a rotation spot under new coach Tom Thibodeau.
Click here to read the full TrueHoop entry.
5. Marc's Quote
"We're gonna stay quiet, man. We're gonna stay quiet. We want to stay under the radar. Last year we were on the radar and everybody got hurt."
Blazers guard Brandon Roy, refusing repeated invitations to shout about Portland's 4-1 start, even though four of the five games were on the road and despite the fact that centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla are still recovering from the knee injuries suffered last season.
But it's not because Roy was anticipating Thursday's nationally televised home defeat in overtime to their division rivals from Oklahoma City, which interrupted the Blazers' best start 1999-2000, when Portland opened 10-1 and went to the brink of the NBA Finals before an unforgettable fourth-quarter Game 7 collapse in L.A. against the Lakers.
It's all because Roy refuses to forget about the unyielding run of health calamities that cost him 17 games (hamstring and knee issues) in 2009-10, sidelined six teammates longer than that and even inflicted a torn Achilles' tendon upon coach Nate McMillan.
Those unfortunate six in case you've forgotten: Oden and Przybilla missed 61 and 52 games, respectively; Nicolas Batum lost 45 games to a shoulder injury; followed by Travis Outlaw's 44 games lost to a foot ailment, Jeff Pendergraph's 43 (hip) and Rudy Fernandez's 17 (leg).
Sadly, though, B-Roy's understandably conservative approach might not work, either. In the lead-up to tipoff against the Thunder -- with the franchise and the entire city still reeling from Sunday's death of Blazers legend Maurice Lucas -- Portland was forced to announce the retirement of fill-in big man Fabricio Oberto (because of Oberto's longstanding heart condition) and the loss of first-round pick Elliot Williams to a season-ending knee injury.
6. Paul Power
Hornets point guard Chris Paul doesn't need to shout. His return to Team USA-worthy form is obvious to the whole league thanks to New Orleans' surprising 4-0 start. (See Box 2.)
7. Wall Charts
Are we overhyping one game against a team that started 0-4?
Are we getting carried away because this guy was our Rookie of the Year pick?
Or are we rewinding Tuesday night's historic breakout from John Wall to such a detailed degree because ESPN Research and Elias Sports Bureau make it so easy?
Yet none of those admissions are reason to spike this telling compilation of data that slams home just how special and unique Wall was Tuesday night with his 29 points, 13 assists and nine steals in a one-point OT win over Philly with 21 points, seven assists and eight steals coming after halftime.
Focus on the debatable merits of his 30-second "Dougie" dance during intros if you want. Or the eight turnovers that Wall promptly (and admirably) chided himself for in the post-game interview. I prefer to scroll through the following names and numbers:
MOST ASSISTS FIRST 3 CAREER GAMES
60 POINTS AND 20 ASSISTS FIRST 3 NBA GAMES
MOST STEALS IN GAME BY ROOKIE
|(Note: Steals didn't become official NBA stat until 1973-74 season)|
20 POINTS, 10 ASSISTS FIRST NBA HOME GAME
MOST POINTS HOME DEBUT NO. 1 OVERALL PICK
8. D-League McCants' Best Option?
Texas Legends officials remain optimistic that exposure, as much as anything, will ultimately convince Rashad McCants to join them. They're privately convinced he doesn't have a more appealing option and are pitching the notion that a strong stint in Frisco -- in a league generally regarded as the most scouted league in the world -- could start to repair a reputation damaged by concerns about McCants' attitude when it comes to team ball as well as some past injuries.
The Legends' Nov. 18 season opener at reigning D-League champion Rio Grande will be televised nationally on Versus. And they do figure to attract as much exposure as any D-League franchise can count on with [Nancy] Lieberman as the first-ever female coach of any team under the NBA's umbrella, Spud Webb and Del Harris as team executives, Mavericks president of basketball Donnie Nelson as co-owner and Chinese businessman Sonny Xiao as another co-owner.
Another perk: Tim Grgurich, one of the game's foremost skills gurus and a recent addition to the Mavs' staff, will be made available to work with Legends players on occasion when his schedule permits.
Grgurich doesn't have a formal title with the Mavs beyond "consultant," but it was an undeniable coup for Dallas to secure Grgurich's services after his unexpected departure from George Karl's bench Denver in the summer.
"Gurg doesn't need a title," Nelson said. "Everybody knows what he does and they know he's incredible. There's a line at practice of guys who want to get on the court with him."
As for McCants, Nelson said: "I think this is an ideal situation for Rashad to prove to everyone in the NBA that he's got what it takes to be a star two-guard in this league. If there's any work that needs to be done in terms of the perception he has around the league, this is the perfect place for him to do that."
Click here to read the entire ESPNDallas.com entry.
9. Chatter Box
10. Three In A Corner
Three random mini-rants (and occasional raves) from our know-it-all perch at Stein Line HQ:
1. The relative indifference that greeted Allen Iverson 's press conference last Friday to formally announce his move to Turkey was shocking and sad enough, especially for those of us who -- because of AI's unfailing honesty -- still find him irresistible no matter how frustrating it was to watch AI stubbornly squander multiple opportunities to reinvent himself as a modern-day Bob McAdoo off the bench. But I'm equally stunned to see him choose Turkey over China. Stunned. Maybe the contract offer from the Turkish club Besiktas is slightly richer, at a reported $4 million for two years, than any of the Chinese deals Iverson was presented. But an NBA player of Iverson's stature would be downright worshipped in China, where there are also serious money-making endorsement opportunities off the floor. I'd have guessed that sort of adulation and additional compensation would make this very humbling transition that awaits Iverson slightly easier. The level of basketball will be higher with Besiktas, true, but that's not what NBA folks will be looking for if impressing people Stateside is truly Iverson's main motivation here. Sticking it out and showing some reliability overseas is what would impress NBA types. Yet the suspicion here is that Turkey is going to feel a lot farther away from home for Iverson than China would have.
2. Pat Riley should really be immune from second-guessing after the roster he's put together in Miami. (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh ... and a payroll nearly $4 million under the luxury-tax line?) But I can't shake the feeling that he's going to regret not adding Houston-bound Erick Dampier for the veteran's minimum. The Heat don't need Dampier right now and might not even need him to win the East. That's how good Miami looks already. But the bar is going to be a lot higher in a seven-game series against Lakers, if the two-time defending champs are healthy, than muscling past Orlando or Boston. Totally understand the rumbles about the Heat not wanting to take minutes away from LeBron's guy Zydrunas Ilgauskas when Big Z agreed to come to Miami for such a small salary ($1.35 million). Yet I suspect even LeBron will wish that the Heat had another veteran big with six fouls if they're fortunate enough to get all the way to the Finals in Year 1.
3. I was lucky enough to receive a fun little tidbit from ESPN Research on Thursday that I immediately passed along via Twitter: Blake Griffin and Andre Iguodala are tied for the early league lead in dunks with 11. Then I immediately received multiple versions of the same excellent question via Twitter that I sadly can't answer: Why aren't dunks tracked like other stats and made more readily available for public consumption? It's not as bad as the '90s -- when you had to wait for Harvey Pollack's awesome annual stat bible every year to get the previous season's dunk totals -- but shouldn't dunk stuff be easier to find in 2010? Anyone?