1. How Are Early Trade Winds Blowing?
You've been subjected to countless ruminations already this season about the likelihood of a Carmelo Anthony deal before the NBA's Feb. 24 trading deadline.
You've likewise seen and heard stories in recent days and weeks about the starry likes of Atlanta's Josh Smith, Minnesota's Kevin Love, Memphis' Zach Randolph, Golden State's Monta Ellis and even the Phoenix Suns' Steve Nash switching teams via trade ... even though numerous sources both within and outside their various teams insist that none of those luminaries have actually been made available by their current clubs. Ditto for the Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Kaman and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala.
It's certainly conceivable that some of those stars might wind up being shopped before the last Thursday in February, likely starting with Iguodala. But it hasn't happened yet.
So who is available at this pre-Thanksgiving juncture?
Trade chatter is expected to pick up leaguewide after Dec. 15, when free agents who found new teams in the offseason become eligible to be added to deals, but there are a few intriguing names in circulation if you know where to look.
There are a few former All-Stars, for starters, whose availability is well-established. Gilbert Arenas in Washington, as you surely realize by now, for example. The Clippers' Baron Davis, too, along with Philadelphia's Elton Brand. Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince in Detroit. The undefeated New Orleans Hornets, meanwhile, hope to be aggressive in peddling Peja Stojakovic's $14.2 million expiring contract between now and the deadline, as my ESPN The Magazine colleague Chris Broussard detailed earlier this week.
The goal here, however, is introducing a few fresher names to the conversation. Players who aren't just legitimately in play as we speak but also are less difficult to move contractually as the likes of Arenas (who's owed more than $60 million and three years left after this season) or Davis (two years and nearly $29 million left).
And here are five:
Stephen Jackson, Bobcats
The enigmatic swingman's future with the Bobcats is a tricky read. For multiple reasons.
Besides the two years and $19.3 million left on his contract after this season, which some teams would balk at, Jackson is said to be a favorite of new majority owner Michael Jordan after arriving last November from Golden State and teaming with Gerald Wallace to power the Bobcats into the postseason for the first time in franchise history.
But Larry Brown's fondness for Jackson, by contrast, has been in question since opening night, when the Bobcats' 70-year-old coach stunningly benched his co-captain for the entire fourth quarter of a game in Dallas that was still as close as nine points inside the final six minutes. Jackson fumed at Brown after Charlotte's eventual 101-86 defeat -- and there haven't been any repeat benchings -- but one rival GM said Thursday night that he believes the 32-year-old is "gettable" largely because these two strong wills are bound to keep clashing.
Sources told ESPN.com that San Antonio flirted with reacquiring the playoff-tested Jackson during the offseason ... and that Brown didn't oppose Jackson's departure. If that's not a sufficient hint, multiple sources consulted this week told ESPN.com that Wallace is regarded as Charlotte's only untouchable.
J.R. Smith, Nuggets
Smith's ability to frustrate his coach with his famously loose play is one of the league's worst-kept secrets. George Karl has spoken about it openly in recent weeks.
The reality, furthermore, is that Smith's name could have easily appeared with the Arenas-Baron-Brand group of players that have been, uh, highly gettable for some time.
Yet we're listing Smith here just to slam home the notion that the Nuggets, successful as they've been in slowing/calming the trade frenzy that engulfed the whole league just days before training camp opened when Melo was nearly sent to New Jersey, remain determined to find a taker for the unpredictable guard. As soon as possible.
Team officials have been pleasantly surprised by the team's chemistry, especially considering the potential damage they feared as a result of the constant Melo speculation and the potential despair stemming from the knee injuries that will keep big men Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen out until December at the earliest. Yet the claim that continues to emanate from Denver's inner sanctum is that Smith's uneven play has been the only real threat to the chemistry so far.
Marcus Thornton, Hornets
You wouldn't have expected to see Thornton's name on this list. Not after the second-rounder averaged 14.5 points per game last season as one of the league's breakout rookies.
But Thornton is averaging just 14.8 minutes under new Hornets coach Monty Williams. He's not playing poorly, mind you, but playing time continues to be scarce thanks to three recent additions to the Hornets' backcourt: Marco Belinelli, Willie Green and Jerryd Bayless. Thornton, it appears, is the odd man out.
The Hornets aren't eager to part with the 23-year-old, but I've been assured word is they are prepared to do so if a suitable offer materializes. One problem, though, is that Thornton on his own can't bring much back in return since he's making only $762,195 this season. The flip side: Thornton will undoubtedly appeal to several teams because he produced like a starter as a rook and costs so little.
Caron Butler, Mavericks
It would be a misrepresentation to suggest that the Mavericks are actively shopping Butler, who's off to a slow start anyway as a 39.1 percent shooter from the field.
Yet it's likewise well-known that the Mavs, after their inability to make the splashy offseason acquisition they were hoping for, remain eager to find an elite shot-creator to complement Dirk Nowitzki.
Pretty much everyone in Dallas thus knows that the Mavs, to do so, would almost certainly have to build a deal around Butler's $10.6 million expiring contract, DeShawn Stevenson's $4.2 million expiring deal and perhaps even second-year speedster Roddy Beaubois.
What the Mavs don't want to do -- which was billed as an option back when they got him in July -- is surrender center Tyson Chandler if they're fortunate enough to make an impact acquisition before the deadline. Although he also possesses an attractive expiring deal worth $12.6 million, Chandler beat out Brendan Haywood for a spot in the starting lineup and has emerged as the anchor and chief energy source for a defense that, if you believe what we're seeing at this early stage, has noticeably improved.
Jason Thompson, Kings
It wasn't long ago that Thompson, selected with the No. 12 overall pick in the 2008 draft, and Spencer Hawes were being touted as the Kings' frontcourt tandem of the future.
Thompson is averaging just 15.4 minutes per game off the bench and has been shopped by the Kings, who according to one source with knowledge of the talks offered the 6-11, 250-pounder to Atlanta in a deal featuring young point guard Jeff Teague. The Hawks declined.
2. Chatter Clarifications
A few footnotes about some of those established players mentioned in Box 1 who, contrary to recent speculation, are not being shopped. (The reality, just 18 days into the season, is that it's probably still too soon for such heavy trade talk to percolate.)
• You're undoubtedly aware by now of Suns coach Alvin Gentry's vociferous denials in response to suggestions that faltering Phoenix might soon decide to fully engage in the rebuilding process by trading away Nash, who at 36 still undeniably ranks as their most valuable deal-making asset. Yet Nash is hardly alone in Club Off-Limits.
• Sources say that inquiring teams -- and there have been plenty calling already even at this early stage -- have been shot down sternly when it comes to pursuing Love in Minnesota, Smith in Atlanta and Ellis in Golden State. That's despite Love's ongoing struggles to score star-type minutes from Wolves coach Kurt Rambis.
• The Grizzlies have been similarly curt with Zach Randolph callers. There's a better chance that Randolph, according to one source close to the situation, will land a contract extension from Griz owner Michael Heisley than be traded after Z-Bo emerged last season as an All-Star for the first time and as Memphis' (wait for it) Mr. Dependable.
• Several executives believe the Sixers will eventually relent on Iguodala and put him on the open market to create more daylight for No. 2 overall draft pick Evan Turner. Portland's Rudy Fernandez, though, might have to stick with the Blazers longer than he ever imagined thanks to the worsening condition of Brandon Roy's knees.
3. Western Conference
Worrisome murmurs this week emanating from Sacramento, where giving up 42 points to Michael Beasley and losing at home to a Wolves team that pretty much never wins on the road apparently aren't the Kings' biggest issues.
Word is that handling rookie forward DeMarcus Cousins is proving to be an even bigger job for coach Paul Westphal and his staff than expected, even after the Kings hired Cousins' high school coach (Otis Hughley) in hopes of keeping the 20-year-old -- freshly relegated to a bench role -- plugged in.
One source close to the situation told ESPN.com that Cousins was fined recently for clashing with members of Westphal's staff. I've also been advised that it's not one-and-done as far as such clashes go, which has created a level of tension that -- anticipated or not -- obviously isn't what the Kings need when they're already operating at such an experience deficit on top of their serious defensive frailties.
No one doubts the potential possessed by the Kings' precocious tag team of Cousins and Tyreke Evans. But as one veteran scout warned me during summer league in Las Vegas, when tales and hints of Cousins' volatility and immaturity spread quickly: "It's always risky to have two young divas on the same team."
Didn't take long for the Kings to find out.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
193: Yao Ming, believe it or not, played in the first 193 games of his career and 266 of his first possible 268 games through Dec. 17, 2005. Since then? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Yao has played in only 56 percent of Houston's regular-season games (220 of a possible 395). The Rockets, in that span, have a .623 winning percentage (137-83) when Yao plays and .520 (91-84) when he doesn't.
46: Paul Millsap's 46 points Tuesday night in Miami were the most for any Jazz player since Karl Malone's 56 against Golden State on April 7, 1998.
12: Have to try to offer some balance to all of the pro-John Wall data spit out in the past two Weekend Dimes, so please take in some Blake Griffin love. Averaging 16.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, Griffin has put himself on pace to become the first rookie to average at least 18 and 10 in the pase 12 seasons, dating to Elton Brand's 20.1 points and 10.0 boards per game for Chicago in 1999-2000.
41: With 20,749 career points, Tim Duncan is only 41 shy of David Robinson's 20,790 for the most in Spurs history. George "The Iceman" Gervin is third all-time among Spurs scorers with 19,383.
18: Pains me deeply to write this sentence, but facts is facts: San Antonio's 18 consecutive victories over the Clippers account for the longest drought in franchise history against any one team since my beloved Buffalo Braves lost their first 22 games to the Celtics from 1970-74.
After clearing waivers Monday, Garrett Temple's earnings through the first seven games of San Antonio's season will count for just over $105,000 on the Spurs' payroll, leaving them $875,720 under the luxury-tax threshold. Which leaves sufficient room beneath the tax line for a minimum-salaried replacement if the Spurs elect to bring in another player after rookie swingman James Anderson was lost for up to two months with a stress fracture in his right foot. ... One of the clinchers that convinced highly sought assistant Tim Grgurich to join Dallas' staff was an allowance from team management for Grgurich to pick and choose the games and practices he attends. The Mavs have also encouraged the popular skills coach known simply as "Gurg" -- long regarded as one of the league's best one-to-one teachers -- to mix in some scouting assignments and even work occasionally with players from Dallas' D-League affiliate in nearby Frisco as opposed to obliging him to sit behind the Mavs' bench for every game. That flexibility enabled Grgurich to quietly bow out of both of Dallas' recent games against Denver, sparing Grgurich from the uncomfortable prospect of coaching against his dear friend George Karl after Gurg left Karl's Nuggets during the summer amid the tumult in the organization stemming from Carmelo Anthony's uncertain future as well as the recent dismissal of Nuggets executive and longtime Grgurich associate Mark Warkentien.
4. Marc's Quote
"In Phoenix, we had Steve. That speaks for itself. But here we have two guys that, at any time, can make any and every pass."
For all of the Heat's well-chronicled struggles to get Chris Bosh going as a No. 3 option and the renewed concerns about their toughness after Thursday night's home schooling from Boston, they have figured out something offensively. Miami is getting the most we've ever seen out of Jones, who at 30 is flirting with a double-figure scoring average (9.6 ppg) for the first time in his career.
Jones, in fact, had made more 3s (24) than anyone in the league through Wednesday's play except for Heat alumnus and Golden State guard Dorell Wright (26) in Golden State ... and all of them off the bench. Jones had hit at least two triples in each of Miami's eight games entering the Boston showdown, largely overshadowing his defensive deficiencies and establishing him one of the season's early surprises as the primary fill-in for the injured Mike Miller.
But don't get it twisted. No one is daring to suggest James and Wade are better setup men than Nash. It's the overwhelming amount of attention those two draw, Jones says, along with their respective abilities to dish that has made the looks so good.
The flip side, though, is that the pressure attached to every launch is greater with the Heat, not only because of the immense scrutiny Miami is under but also the team's more conservative overall approach.
In Phoenix? Shooters like Jones were instructed to run to the corners to keep the middle free for Nash and Amare Stoudemire ... but also were encouraged to fire away more guilt-free. The Suns also had more 3-point threats along with Jones to support the approach.
"It's totally different here," Jones said. "In Phoenix, we shot [with] such volume. If I got seven looks, two or three were wide open and four or five I was just shooting no matter what."
"Here all the looks are in rhythm and in step," Jones said. "But coach [Erik Spoelstra] told me, Eddie [House], Carlos [Arroyo], with Mike being out, we have to take 'em and we have to make 'em."
5. Sunshine State Double Dips
Can't do much better, on the road, than winning in Miami and Orlando in the space of two nights. Especially if those 48 hours contain the erasing of a 22-point deficit to the Heat to win in overtime, followed by the climb out of an 18-point hole in the second half against the Magic.
It makes you wonder: Have we already seen the best performance in a back-to-back situation, courtesy of the Utah Jazz, that we're going to see from any team all season?
You have to figure that only back-to-back blowouts in Florida (or maybe Texas) can top it.
Yet it must at least be noted that nine more teams will have the opportunity to do what the Jazz just did and dream of sweeping the two Florida teams in a back-to-back (Toronto and Milwaukee will each get two opportunities). Utah was the third team this season to try it after Minnesota and New Jersey failed; LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers were the only team to achieve that double last season.
The list of teams that have to play roadies against the Heat and Magic on consecutive evenings this season:
Timberwolves: Lost Nov. 2 at MIA; Lost Nov. 3 at ORL
Nets: Lost Nov. 6 at MIA; Lost Nov. 5 at ORL
Jazz: Won Nov. 9 at MIA; Won Nov. 10 at ORL
Raptors: Nov. 13 at MIA; Nov. 12 at ORL
Suns: Nov. 17 at MIA; Nov. 18 at ORL
Pistons: Dec. 1 at MIA; Nov. 30 at ORL
Mavericks: Dec. 20 at MIA; Dec. 21 at ORL
Bucks: Jan. 4 at MIA; Jan. 5 at ORL
Raptors: Jan. 22 at MIA; Jan. 21 at ORL
Cavaliers: Jan. 31 at MIA; Jan. 30 at ORL
Kings: Feb. 22 at MIA; Feb. 23 at ORL
Trail Blazers: March 8 at MIA; March 7 at ORL
Nuggets: March 19 at MIA; March 18 at ORL
Bucks: April 6 at MIA; April 5 at ORL
P.S. -- Utah's victories Tuesday and Wednesday in Miami and Orlando marked just the second time in team history that the Jazz have swept a Florida trip back-to-back. The only other time it happened was in December 1996, two months into the season that ultimately delivered the franchise's first-ever trip to the NBA Finals.
P.P.S. -- The two wins were doubly astonishing when you remember how awful Utah looked at home against the Los Angeles Clippers as recently as Saturday night, falling behind by 18 points before winning in overtime. The Jazz, then, have erased halftime deficits of at least 10 points to recover and win in each of their past three games, which is an NBA first in the shot-clock era that began in 1954-55.
6. Eastern Conference
Before the Heat's home game Saturday night against Toronto, Chris Bosh will receive the Professional Basketball Writers Association's annual Magic Johnson Award in recognition of his big numbers combined with above-and-beyond cooperation with the media in his farewell season with the Raps.
That's the same body of media, incidentally, absolutely crushing him now for his tepid start with the Heat.
Does Bosh deserve more leeway when the Heat's season isn't even 10 games deep? Probably. But this is the sort of scrutiny Bosh invited when he consented to team up with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James on one of the biggest bull's-eye teams of all time, perhaps without realizing how much of an adjustment it would be to play without the ball in his hands for the first time in years. He's got to live with it and do something about it. Fast.
Couldn't really argue with a certain excitable Sports Guy at ESPN.com who deemed Miami's Thursday night showdown with Boston to be the biggest game of Bosh's career, given the dearth of big moments in his Toronto time and the high-profile roasting he was sure to get from Charles Barkley -- and everyone else in the hoops universe who revels in every Heat setback -- after another tentative display. Also can't deny that FoxSports.com's Jason Whitlock gave us all something to ponder with a provocative column that questioned whether Bosh is going to be able replicate the sort of toughness that Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant and Charles Oakley regularly used to supply the Hall of Fame perimeter tandem of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who serve as the template for the LeBron/D-Wade partnership.
Yet I'm still willing to venture, even after that humbling dunk Rajon Rondo hammered down and the overall beatdown Boston inflicted, that Bosh will look like a different player once the Heat find some flow offensively. And their core guys are too talented not to find it, despite how lost and stagnant they all looked against the Celtics.
I can't shake the suspicion that what we're seeing now -- unacceptably low rebound numbers from Bosh (6.0 rpg through nine games) and a soft presence inside that New Orleans' defensive-minded Emeka Okafor and then Utah's Paul Millsap abused -- stems largely from the fact that he isn't getting as many touches as he's used to. He has never been the impact defender he should be, but Bosh's own complaints about lethargy and confusion at what's supposed to be the fun end leave me with the distinct feeling that he's one of the many players in this league whose success in other areas (like rebounding) is fueled largely by how he feels about himself offensively.
Bosh's life would certainly be easier if he had a bulkier sidekick on Miami's front line, and sources close to the situation say that the Heat are re-evaluating their earlier decision to pass on signing Erick Dampier, who is a free agent again after the collapse of his planned deal with Houston.
Yet even if Dampier winds up elsewhere elsewhere -- with Phoenix and Toronto also looking at him again -- waiting until at least midseason before declaring whether Bosh is a suitable third wheel seems fair. By that point LeBron and D-Wade and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra will have presumably figured out how to start getting the slender lefty more frequent and confidence-building touches.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
6: That $60 million extension for the next five seasons Chicago awarded Joakim Noah in October is looking a lot like the bargain extension Boston locked up with Rajon Rondo in October 2009 after Noah posted a double-double in each of Chicago's first six games. That's the longest such streak to open a season for any Bull since Artis Gilmore had a double-double in the first 11 games of the 1978-79 season. With a nightly average of 15 boards, Noah is also bidding to become just the second Bull to ever lead the league in rebounding. Dennis Rodman did it three times for Chicago in the 1990s.
18: New Jersey's win Wednesday night at Cleveland halted a run of 18 consecutive losses in November dating to last season. The November record for futility is 20 straight defeats for the then-Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995 and 1996, followed by 19 in a row for Dallas in 1980 and 1981.
3: David Lee's 28 points for Golden State on Wednesday night marked the third-highest total for an ex-Knick in his first game back at Madison Square Garden. Zach Randolph (33 points for the Clippers in March 2009) and Latrell Sprewell (31 for Minnesota in December 2003) are the only Knicks alumni who made noisier MSG returns.
2: Lee's 368 regular-season appearances for the Knicks without a playoff appearance, however, are No. 2 in team history behind Johnny Green's 472 games without a taste of the playoffs.
5: Rondo already has five games with at least 15 assists, just three shy of his own single-season franchise record set last season. Nate Archibald had six such games in 1979-80; Bob Cousy had five in 1959-60.
One ironic overlooked point about Indiana's ridiculous 54-point third quarter against Denver on Tuesday night: Jim O'Brien's team nearly toppled a record set by his father-in-law's Buffalo Braves early in the 1972-73 season. The Dr. Jack Ramsay-coached Braves scored 58 points in the fourth quarter of a 126-118 loss to Boston on Oct. 20, 1972. O'Brien married Ramsay's daughter, Sharon, in 1976. ... For the record: Miami's SuperFriends needed seven games together for all three of them to score at least 20 points in the same game. Our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau remind us that Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, by comparison, needed only three games together in Boston in 2007-08. Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West? Just two games together with the Lakers to do it in 1968. Charles Barkley, Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon, meanwhile, all reached the 20-point plateau in their very first game together in Houston in 1997. Looking for a famous trio that was slower than LeBron, D-Wade and Bosh? Try Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, who had to play 36 games together to get there in 1980-81. Remember, though, that McHale began his career as a sixth man, which is surely why it took the Celtics' original supersized three so long. ...The geek in me (all of me?) always gets more excited than I should when a new NBA book gets dropped on the porch, but I was particularly geeked to find out that Walt Frazier and Triumph Books are coming out with an updated version of Walt's 1970s classic "Rockin' Steady." At least now I have a manual for coolness.
7. King-Sized Challenge?
Sacramento rookie DeMarcus Cousins has been an even bigger handful for his coaches than the Kings expected. (See Box 3)
8. More Wall Charts
Only five guards in the past 35 years have been selected No. 1 overall in the NBA draft ... and two of them collide in Chicago this weekend for their first regular-season showdown.
Adding to the anticipation in this case, of course, is the fact that (A) Wall and Rose played only one season of college ball under John Calipari at separate schools and (B) Wall just uncorked his first career triple-double (19 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds) in Wednesday night's home over Washington.
Which leads us right into another round of Wall-related charts to make us smarter (from the Elias Sports Bureau):
YOUNGEST PLAYERS WITH TRIPLE-DOUBLE
TRIPLE-DOUBLE WITH FEWEST CAREER GAMES
MOST ASSISTS, FIRST SIX NBA GAMES
GUARDS PICKED NO. 1 OVERALL LAST 35 YEARS
|John Wall (Washington)||2010|
|Derrick Rose (Chicago)||2008|
|Allen Iverson (Philadelphia)||1996|
|Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)||1979|
|John Lucas (Houston)||1976|
9. Touchy Situation
Does Chris Bosh need a supersized sidekick in the post? Or can a few more in-game touches solve his early-season struggles. (See Box 6)