1. Trade Season Begins: Who's In Play?
Saturday is regarded in most NBA outposts as the opening day of trade season because Saturday is Dec. 15.
And Dec. 15 is the first day players who signed new contracts in July can be dealt, which in this case will unlock 108 previously off-limits names for liberal use on ESPN's irresistible Trade Machine.
In real life, it must be said, trade talk leaguewide is just starting to simmer, with no Carmelo Anthonys or Dwight Howards for teams to chase. Yet there are a few rather recognizable vets of quality in play, with the flood of Dec. 15ers giving deal-minded teams more chips to plug in to satisfy salary-cap demands.
A five-deep update on the biggest of those names, some 70 days away from the Feb. 21 trade deadline, follows here:
Talking about the prospect of a Pau Gasol deal has become a Weekend Dime staple, despite the fact that the Lakers have managed to convince the league at large that they're not going to seriously consider moving him until after Steve Nash returns. And only then if Gasol continues to struggle.
The reality, though, is that trade speculation is going to be an inescapable part of Gasol's life for the rest of his days as a Laker, largely because L.A. has already traded him once. (I'm guessing you haven't forgotten how NBA commissioner David Stern canceled the firstChris Paul blockbuster deal assembled by the Hornets, who were owned by the league at the time, thus making Stern their de facto owner.)
Yet nothing much has actually changed from what we wrote about Pau in last week's Weekend Dime. There's realistically room to accommodate only one center in Mike D'Antoni's spread-the-floor offense and trading Gasol, furthermore, is clearly the best option available to the Lakers to bring in a floor-stretching big man and the bench reinforcements that would make them more than a four- or five-man team.
The Lakers, though, would naturally prefer to avoid making another blockbuster change to the operation after all the upheaval they've already endured the past two months. They're likewise aware that getting good value in return for a 32-year old -- who also happens to be coping with achy knees and is owed nearly $20 million next season -- is bound to be even tougher than finding enough sweet-spot touches in the D'Antoni system to satiate Gasol, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.
Minnesota continues to make the most sense as a landing spot for Gasol, since he'd slot in so nicely alongside countryman Ricky Rubio and a cranky Kevin Love, but the Wolves don't have the proven big man with deep range to clinch a one-to-one deal with L.A. If Nash comes back and Pau looks as lost as he did before knee tendinitis shelved him for the past six games, finally convincing L.A. to end the Gasol guessing games once and for all, perhaps there's a multiteam scenario down the road to fill in the gaps for the Wolves and Lakers.
Numerous front-office sources describe the Raptors as the team, more than any other on the NBA map, most motivated to make a deal. Which isn't terribly surprisingly when you consider that the Raps began the season with dreams of challenging for the last playoff spot in the East and entered the weekend at 4-19.
There are some legit alibis for Toronto's struggles, once you add up all of the injuries and scroll through its road-heavy early schedule, but the Raptors have new problems. Sources have maintained for weeks that former No. 1 overall pick Bargnani is available in tandem with the expiring contract of veteran point guard Calderon, but Bargnani is suddenly dealing with an elbow injury that is expected to sideline him at least three weeks.
Combine that with the fact that Bargnani hasn't played well all season -- as well as the contractual issues detailed in this cyberspace last week that would presumably turn off the Lakers in particular -- and you struggle to see how the Raps could find a taker for the Italian. The growing sentiment around the league, as a result, is that the Raptors might be forced to move Calderon on his own or as the headliner in a deal to initiate the shakeup they appear to badly need.
Sources say the Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks would love to import Calderon, but neither has the spare assets to easily swing a trade for a player making $10.6 million this season with a 10 percent trade kicker in his contract.
We shared with you in a recent Weekend Dime how one Eastern Conference team official routinely refers to Varejao's run of double-doubles this season as the Brazilian's "Get Me Out of Cleveland" tour.
Various teams have chimed in since to say that Varejao is highly available, as he has been for the past few seasons, but likewise expressed a good amount of skepticism about Andy V. actually moving before the trade buzzer in February because the Cavs' perpetually high asking price has only gone up.
The Cavs, sources say, want multiple young assets in return for the 30-year-old, who is averaging 14.3 points and 14.8 rebounds and possesses a very manageable contract that calls for Varejao to receive $9.1 million next season with a $9.8 million team option in 2014-15. The Thunder are the rare title contender also blessed with the sort of youth/stashed draft picks to appeal to Cleveland, but sources say OKC has shown little interest to date.
We repeat: Varejao certainly hasn't been campaigning for a trade and has established an undeniable on-court connection with Cavs franchise Kyrie Irving. Keeping him wouldn't be the worst outcome, would it? As with Gasol, though, Varejao trade scenarios will continue to circulate -- and not just thanks to media scoundrels like me -- until the day he finally leaves Cleveland.
It's a working assumption in front offices all over the league that the Jazz will trade Jefferson or Millsap for a front-line point guard at some point in the next 10 weeks. For two reasons.
1. Jefferson and Millsap will be free agents in July, meaning Utah risks losing both without compensation if they're still on the roster beyond Feb. 21.
2. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are the undeniable power players of the future in Utah, even though Jefferson is one of only six players this season averaging 17 and 10 -- along with Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, David Lee, Kevin Love and Zach Randolph -- and despite Millsap's status as the most productive forward from the 2006 draft not named LaMarcus Aldridge.
The challenge is trying to determine which of the two is most likely to move unless you expect the Jazz to surprise us again and ship out both.
The handful of teams consulted by ESPN.com this week were split. Some nominate Millsap because he's not at Jefferson's All-Star level. Some nominate Jefferson because Millsap's skill set theoretically meshes better with Favors and Kanter.
Our conclusion? No surprise that there's no consensus given how hard Utah has always been to read, as most famously seen in February 2011 when the Jazz shocked everyone by abruptly trading Deron Williams to the Nets mere days after Jerry Sloan's shocking resignation. Our best advice: Stay tuned.
Other names that dribbled out this week as likely candidates to be dealt this trade season include Milwaukee's expiring-contract backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, based on the premise that the Bucks, if they start drifting out of playoff contention, won't want to risk losing their smallish scorers for nothing in free agency. Also mentioned frequently is the Minnesota trio of Derrick Williams, Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea, given that Wolves coach Rick Adelman appears to have no use for Williams and with the Wolves now boasting a surplus of point guards and with Ricky Rubio back from his knee tear.
In terms of those 108 offseason signees who become trade-eligible Saturday, at least three names are coming up repeatedly on the personnel grapevine: Indiana's D.J. Augustin, Phoenix's Michael Beasley and Boston's Courtney Lee. There's a reason for that, though: All three are seriously struggling.
2. Marc's Quote
"Just the jokes."
By exactly one day, Thomas is the oldest player in the league, just ahead of the Clippers' Grant Hill. Thomas was born Oct. 4, 1972; Hill on Oct. 5.
The Knicks, as we've repeatedly covered in Weekend Dimedom, actually have four of the NBA's six oldest players on their roster, but Thomas says he takes the brunt of the locker-room abuse from the likes of Jason Kidd, Rasheed Wallace and Marcus Camby.
"Lotta one-liners around here," Thomas said.
It's easy, of course, for teammates to bust on each other when things are going so well. The Knicks haven't sported the best record in the East this late in the season since 1993-94 ... two seasons before Thomas broke in. They score 34.9 percent of their points from 3-point range and average 12 3s per game, which would net two NBA records if those figures can be maintained for the whole season. They're also a tidy 20-1 at home in regular-season games under Mike Woodson after surviving the loss of Carmelo Anthony and a sketchy second half Thursday night to plunge the Lakers deeper into crisis mode.
And while Thomas has played sparingly this season, he's one of those vets -- along with Kidd, Wallace, Camby and chatty center Tyson Chandler -- who handle much of the tone-setting for the Knicks. Which allows Melo to keep his focus on what he does best: Filling it up.
"We were too old a couple of years ago, too," Chandler said of the championship team in Dallas he anchored defensively in 2011. "That worked out well."
3. Eastern Conference
Heard a fresh round of rumbles this week that former Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley, as covered here in early November, is already interested in buying back into the league and has the Milwaukee Bucks in his sights.
So that's one more intriguing variable to factor into Milwaukee's season of mystery.
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, don't forget, are in the final season of their respective contracts. Ditto for coach Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond. Why not throw a potential ownership transfer into the Brew Stew?
Heisley is based in Chicago and, based on what's been circulating, sees the Bucks as a natural team to pursue to keep him close to home.
Some numbers of note in the East this week:
15: Toronto trade bait Jose Calderon posted the 20th game of his career with at least 15 assists in Wednesday night's home loss to Brooklyn. The good news: Calderon has more 15-assist games than all other players in Raptors history combined. The bad news: Toronto is just 10-10 in those games.
28: Cleveland's C.J. Miles has scored 28 points in back-to-back games ... after scoring that many points in only two games in his first seven NBA seasons.
3.6: Boston's Rajon Rondo is the only player in the NBA averaging double figures in assists and averages 3.6 more assists per game than his nearest pursuer. The Clippers' Chris Paul ranks second in the league at 9.3 assists per game compared with Rondo's 12.9. You have to go back to the 1978-79 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, to find a larger disparity between No. 1 in the league (Kevin Porter back then at 13.4 apg) and No. 2 (John Lucas at 9.3).
10: Want more Rondo? The Celtics' QB is trying to post just the 10th season in league history in which a point guard has averaged at least 12.9 assists per game. John Stockton did it five times, Magic Johnson did it twice and Isiah Thomas and Kevin Porter each hit those heights once.
23: Thanks to the best first quarter of his career, Carmelo Anthony finished with 30 points in 23 minutes in Thursday night's rout of the Lakers before leaving with a sprained ankle. Melo's 22 points in the opening quarter helped him become the NBA's first starter to reach the 30-point mark in 23 or fewer minutes since David Robinson back in 1995. ESPN's Jalen Rose had 31 points in 23 minutes off the bench for Toronto against New York in 2006. Elias says no Knick had achieved the feat since Johnny Green scored 33 points in 22 minutes in a neutral-site game against the San Francisco Warriors in Philadelphia on Dec. 30, 1964.
4. Three Dozen
I'm man enough to admit it.
I inexplicably got as swept up in this 12/12/12 stuff as anyone.
Can't really explain it, either, since I'm normally much more of an odd-numbers guy. But I found myself thinking in twelves all week as the following compilation of a half-dozen related NBA factoids confirms:
• When Michael Jordan's jersey was stolen from the Bulls' locker room on Feb. 14, 1990, what number did he masquerade in for one night? No. 12, of course. Sporting those traditional QB digits, MJ rumbled for 49 points but couldn't prevent Chicago from an overtime loss at Orlando.
• Four NBA teams have retired No. 12: New York (Dick Barnett), Sacramento (Maurice Stokes), San Antonio (Bruce Bowen) and Utah (John Stockton). (Only five NFL teams have retired their No. 12s, but I'll have to consult Clayton, Mort or Schefter to confirm my suspicions that it's a number too sought after by quarterbacks for the majority of franchises to take it out of circulation.)
• Thirteen players in today's NBA wear No. 12: LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland), Leandro Barbosa (Boston), Eric Bledsoe (L.A. Clippers), Andrew Bogut (Golden State), Will Bynum (Detroit), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago), Dwight Howard (L.A. Lakers), John Jenkins (Atlanta), Kendall Marshall (Phoenix), Luc Mbah a Moute (Milwaukee), A.J. Price (Washington), Tyrus Thomas (Charlotte) and Evan Turner (Philadelphia).
• The most notable Dec. 12 in NBA history, before this one, was Dec. 12, 1971. The Lakers beat Atlanta to establish a new NBA record with 21 consecutive wins before ultimately stretching that streak to what is widely presumed to be an unbreakable 33 Ws in a row. "We did our celebrating when we won No. 21," Wilt Chamberlain said at the time. "That was the big one."
• On Wednesday night, also known as 12/12/12, Boston's Paul Pierce became -- you guessed it -- the 12th player in NBA history to reach the 23,000-point plateau with the same team for which he made his NBA debut. Joining Pierce in that illustrious dozen: Elgin Baylor, Kobe Bryant, Patrick Ewing, John Havlicek, Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Hakeem Olajuwon, Jerry West and Dominique Wilkins. San Antonio's Tim Duncan is on course to make it a baker's dozen well before 2012 is out as he takes 22,952 career regular-season points into the weekend.
• For the record: I celebrated the "holiday" this week by ordering six new Bowen cards I found on eBay from a previously unseen (by me) Upper Deck set in 2010 that pictured the slender swingman who puts the "bow" in bow tie in his Cal State Fullerton orange. So how could I resist?
5. One-On-One ... To Five
Five questions with Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo:
Q: Describe this groove you're in right now.
A: It feels good because I've been working hard. Even my years in Memphis on the bench, I understood that one day I'd get the time and moment to be able to show what I can do.
[But] I told Coach [Rick] Carlisle when I came here: "Stay on top of me, please, even when I have a good game, make me a better player." I just want to prove that I can win. Playing good like this, you still have to win games. That's most important.
Q: When I watched you [in Tuesday's home rout of Sacramento], you looked as confident as I've ever seen you letting the ball go. It just looked like you released it with a look on your face like there was no way in the world you could miss. Is that what's going through your mind when you're shooting the ball these days?
A: It comes from knowing where your shots are going to come from on a night-in, night-out basis. I practice those shots at night, before practice, during practice, after practice. So when you get in the game the game is moving pretty slow to me right now.
Q: How upset were you in the summer that you basically came out of free agency with a one-year deal? (Editor's note: Mayo's contract includes a $4.2 million player option for the 2013-14 season.
A: Yeah, I was pretty disappointed. But at the end of the day, it's a business. People say that's how the market was, whatever that means. It's all good, man. I'm happy that I got the opportunity to talk to Dallas and come to Dallas. I just wanted to come here, give my all and play well here. And hopefully stay here.
Q: What do you say to the people around town who've suggested that you won't be able to score like this when Dirk [Nowitzki] comes back and you're not the No. 1 option?
A: I think it's going to be easier. [Defenses] pay a lot of attention to Dirk. He's a great player. You saw JET [Jason Terry], Mike Finley off guards [who played] well off of him. The thing about it is, I can shoot, too. So playing off of him, he can make plays for me and I can make plays for him.
It's not like I'm trying to dominate the ball. Working together, man. I've been a starter. I've come off the bench. I understand what it takes to have every guy working together.
Q: The 3-ball is obviously working better than ever for you. How often do you take a peek at the stats to see where you are?
A: I try not to.
6. Western Conference
The vote of confidence Suns owner Robert Sarver gave his coach this week, through our own Chris Broussard, shouldn't be dismissed as the dreaded variety. This appears to be one you really can bank on.
Although Alvin Gentry is indeed in the final season of his contract in Phoenix, with no assurances beyond that, team insiders maintain that Sarver likes Gentry too much personally to make an in-season change even if the Suns -- who ended a seven-game losing streak with a big win Wednesday night over mighty Memphis -- hit another lengthy skid or two.
Which is how it should be given the realistic state of the Suns' roster. Even with point guard Goran Dragic comfortably living up to his four-year, $30 million contract, Gentry would be a Coach of the Year favorite if he could take this group to the playoffs. Unless you count more front-line players on this page than we do.
Some numbers of note in the West this week:
5: Golden State's David Lee has reeled off five straight 20-point, 10-rebound games to coincide with the Warriors' 5-0 start to a seven-game trip. The only other player in the league this season to post five consecutive 20-and-10 games is Miami's LeBron James.
1: With 22 points, 21 boards and six blocked shots in a loss at Utah on Wednesday, Tim Duncan became the first player 35 or older to post a 20-20-5 game since former Spurs teammate David Robinson in 2001.
4: By recording his first career triple-double in his 826th regular-season game in Monday's overtime win over Houston, Tony Parker joined Karl Malone (860th career game), Patrick Ewing (834) and Cedric Maxwell (824) as the only four players in league history to have played more than 800 games before their first career triple-double.
3: Kobe Bryant has three 40-point games this season, but the Lakers are 0-3 in those games. The rest of the NBA has combined for four 40-point games, courtesy of New York's Carmelo Anthony, Houston's James Harden, Miami's Chris Bosh and Dallas' O.J. Mayo. Those teams are 4-0 in those games.
11: Buffalo Braves alert! You know we're always looking for any excuse to bring up the Braves and this is a great one. The Clippers, riding an eight-game win streak into Saturday's game at Milwaukee, need three more Ws to match the Braves' franchise record of 11 consecutive victories in the 1974-75 season.
Smart move by the Clips to hire PR maven Dennis Rogers away from the Hornets. Rogers was one of Chris Paul's closest friends in the organization when CP3 was a Hornet and certainly can't hurt L.A.'s cause when it comes to trying to keep the best point guard in the game. Sources with knowledge of the Grizzlies' thinking insist that this week's hires of ESPN's John Hollinger and veteran agent Stu Lash don't change the status of Grizz general manager Chris Wallace. All three will report to Grizz CEO/managing partner Jason Levien, who has the final say on basketball matters in Memphis under new controlling owner Robert Pera. Yet sources likewise insist that Hollinger will indeed have a prominent voice in personnel matters beyond merely supplying statistical analysis to support decisions. Word is that the sponsorship deal landed this week by the Texas Legends (D-League affiliate of the Dallas Mavericks) with the state of Veracruz, Mexico, is worth in the $750,000 range annually. It's believed that the multiyear agreement makes Veracruz the first non-team city to have its name and slogan prominently featured on the jersey of a North American professional sports team. Legends coach Eduardo Najera, Mexico's first-ever player to be drafted into the NBA, was said to be instrumental in brokering the unique arrangement.
7. Moving Forward(s)?
8. Chatter Box
NBA on ESPN Radio Audio
Mike D'Antoni's rough start, stopgap options for the Lakers at point guard while Steve Nash heals and the quality of the Knicks' supporting cast around Carmelo Anthony are the main topics on the table when Marc Stein makes his weekly visit to the NBA on ESPN Radio show with Marc Kestecher.
9. Film Session
Marc Stein joins Cary Chow to discuss the early NBA All-Star voting results released this week.
10. Corner 3
Three quick slams and dunks from the deepest recesses of Weekend Dimedom:
2. I realize I'm not the first one to ask this, but my next question surely bears repeating: Won't Steve Nash have to be a top contender for a third MVP trophy if his return to the Lakers makes them the elite team all of us know-it-alls envisioned? Something tells me this won't surprise you, but, yes, I'm still firmly in the camp contending Nash will have a dramatic impact not only on L.A.'s offense but also in dramatically lifting the spirits and confidence of multiple Lakers, most notably Dwight Howard. Which is going to have a positive impact on L.A.'s defense no matter what Nash's shortcomings are on that side of the ball.
3. Operating on the assumption that you don't want to read three straight takes on the Lakers, nothing else we've seen this week moved us more than Jeremy Lin's 38-point eruption Monday night against San Antonio. Happy for the kid, for starters, because he's had a pretty rough ride in his recent struggles to produce anything resembling Linsanity. Yet I find myself thinking more about how the Rockets, in the big picture, are going to play it from here, since it's so clear that Lin still has lots to offer if he actually has the ball in his hands. Would moving him to a sixth-man role to maximize his playing time away from James Harden be enough? Or are the Rockets, after unexpectedly acquiring Harden, actually better off abandoning the idea of trying to play them together and trying to trade Lin because they don't need two ball dominators? Questions, questions, questions.