Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION Being openly gay in the NBA
The NBA's answer to Super Bowl media day is only a week away.
All-Star Weekend in Sin City, like every All-Star Weekend of recent vintage that preceded it, starts in earnest next Friday at lunchtime with the most famous names in the game filing into a hotel ballroom to take an hour's worth of questions from the world's press.
You now get one guess to name what's bound to be the most popular topic.
There will be questions, certainly, about the growing Dwyane Wade-Dirk Nowitzki feud and Kevin Garnett's trade future in Minnesota and the annual MVP debate ... as well as plenty of reporters probing for hints about how decadent the NBA's three days in Las Vegas will really be.
Yet I'd say it's an off-the-board lock that the question every player gets over and over in Vegas will be John Amaechi-related. Or, more specifically: How would you handle an openly gay teammate?
It's a question, I believe, that can't be answered legitimately/conclusively until there actually is an openly gay NBA player.
There will naturally be plenty of tangible responses to record or scribble down, but this would be one of those subjects where pretty much everyone is speculating. Steve Nash said it pretty well Thursday when he offered to the Phoenix press: "It's a very difficult situation to envision at this point because we haven't faced it."
No less an expert than Amaechi voiced that uncertainty back in 2002, years before he dared to reveal anything. In a Scotland on Sunday interview, Amaechi said at the time: "It would be like an alien dropping down from space. There'd be fear, then panic. [The NBA] just wouldn't know how to handle it."
My suspicion is that, even though he was exaggerating some, Amaechi isn't far off, unless you believe something has changed in the five years since he made the argument.
I doubt it. Not inside NBA locker rooms.
This isn't the music universe or show business. Those are the open-minded wings of the entertainment community. After 14 seasons covering the NBA, I'm not exactly depending on highly placed sources when I remind you that locker-room thinking isn't nearly as progressive. For all the positive, PC reaction to Amaechi's declaration -- all the confidence expressed this week by various players and coaches that homosexuals could be welcomed in what has historically been the most unfriendly of settings -- you've undoubtedly heard some of the homophobic quotes in circulation this week. Not just from Philly backups Steven Hunter and Shavlik Randolph, either.
LeBron James was quoted in Cleveland saying, among other things: "I haven't been around a person like that, so I don't know how I'd react."
It's not just skeptical teammates, either. The first active player to openly reveal his homosexuality will have to deal with hecklers in the crowd, relentless hounding from the media and no guarantee of acceptance at the league-office level, either. This is a league, remember, where players are already forced to abide by an off-court dress code because David Stern or certain sponsors or whoever it is doesn't like their clothes.
You get the feeling that it'll have to be a really good player, someone so good that his peers and the public will force themselves to submerge their hang-ups, to make an Amaechi-like announcement before retirement.
Just look at the firestorm created by a guy who hasn't played in the league since 2004. Someone who doesn't even live in this country now.
Just wait until next week, when the book starts circulating . . . and when Amaechi hits the talk-show circuit . . . and when two dozen All-Stars are herded into the same room and forced to address the subject.
"I think the world of [Amaechi]," said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. "There was a point in time a few years back where we tried to get him [in free agency]. Had he come out before, we would have welcomed him.
"You can't be a professional athlete in this world and not deal with a lot of people with a lot of different personal orientations. I think it's a non-issue. If anything, the biggest mistake a player could make would not be coming out, but condemning the player who did come out.
"Guys are smart enough to recognize that if they made a big deal out of it, they would be the ones who take the financial hit and the headaches. If there were an active player who was gay and someone on their team made a big issue of it, the person who would feel the brunt of society wouldn't be the gay player. It would be the person trying to ostracize them and making a big deal out of it."
Cuban continued: "It's not so much a curiosity about John. It's a curiosity simply because people want to know how the NBA is going to respond, how people in the NBA are going to respond. I'm curious. But I walked through the locker room the other day and guys were talking about it and it was like, 'No big deal.'
"Everybody's got a little homophobia in them. Everybody's got a little prejudice in them. It's just natural. But I'm sure there are other [current] players who are gay as well. If they came out, maybe some people would have a little bit of trepidation, but I think it would pass pretty quickly. Those days [of intolerance] are gone."
You really want to believe that Cuban is right. You want to believe that a male athlete's sexual orientation, in the year 2007, is the non-issue Charles Barkley made it out to be on TNT when he sat beside Kenny Smith and said: "Kenny knows and I know we have played with gay guys before. It never comes up [in team settings]. It's not our business. We don't care."
Of course, as our ABC/ESPN colleague Mike Wilbon sagely pointed out in Friday's Washington Post, you'd also like to think that media coverage leading up to the Super Bowl wouldn't be dominated by the fact that both coaches were black.
But reality intervenes sometimes.
The Clippers have been on edge all season, as covered below, but they opted to sign Doug (and Jackie) Christie anyway.
The biggest trade exception in the league expires Tuesday, but the latest signals from Houston indicate that the Rockets aren't terribly optimistic about their ability to use it.
Houston's $4.2 million trade exception was created in February 2006 when the Rockets convinced the Hornets to take on Moochie Norris for Maciej Lampe in a salary dump. Yet as we learned during the interminable Al Harrington saga over the summer, trade exceptions don't equal salary-cap space and can't be added to player salaries or other exceptions to make trades easier to complete. In other words, Houston can't add the trade exception to, say, Juwan Howard's $6.4 million salary and trade for a $10-$11 million player.
To try to simplify this as much as possible, trade exceptions pretty much only help teams acquire players who earn up to or less than the amount of the exception. Yet what makes trade exceptions attractive, especially to teams that face a luxury-tax bill, is the ability to send Houston a player earning in the $4.2 million range without having to take any salary back.
PURELY HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLE: Dallas could send Anthony Johnson (and his $2.6 million salary) to the Rockets (who would love a veteran point guard to back up Rafer Alston) for a future draft pick if the Mavs simply wanted to shed some cap dollars. Dallas would never help an in-state rival in this manner, of course, but you get the idea. As long as such a deal is closed by Tuesday, Houston's trade exception allows it to take in up to $4.2 million (plus $100,000) more in salary than it ships out.
A few other HYPOTHETICAL examples of players who could work in such a trade, with their current teams taking back nothing but draft considerations: Atlanta's Tyronn Lue ($3.5 million), Memphis' Chucky Atkins ($3 million) and Philadelphia's Kevin Ollie ($3.2 million).
The Rockets, though, appear to be finding that teams aren't as motivated as Houston is to deal now because the exception expires more than a week before the Feb. 22 trading deadline.
The Rockets can also still be players in a small deal before the deadline without the exception, since the injured Bobby Sura's contract (with only $1 million guaranteed next season) is essentially a $3.8 million expiring contract. But Houston likely wouldn't take back any contract richer than $3.6 million this season in any deal because then it would become a tax-paying team.
If the Rockets' exception goes unused, like Minnesota's $4.2 million exception did last month, New Jersey would have the largest trade exception in the league: $3.8 million good through Jan. 3, 2008, as created by dealing Jeff McInnis to Charlotte.
Doug and Jackie Christie didn't have to haggle to convince the Clippers to let Jackie travel on the team plane after her husband signed a 10-day contract on Jan. 31. The Clips are among a handful of NBA clubs that allow immediate family members to fly with the team.
Just don't ask us to explain how the Christies convinced the Clips to offer a job in the first place. The potential for a fresh source of locker-room tension would seem to be the last thing L.A. needs in their season-long struggle just to get over .500, especially with Christie's questionable upside at 36 and with Corey Maggette suddenly complaining louder than ever about reduced minutes from coach Mike Dunleavy.
Dallas, remember, didn't merely release Christie because of injury after he played in just seven games last season. The Mavs decided that the behind-the-scenes discord caused by Christie and his wife didn't merit keeping an offensive liability who no longer plays the adhesive D he was known for in Sacramento.
The latest indications from Clipperland suggest that Maggette, in spite of what happened this week, remains more likely to stay than go between now and the Feb. 22 trade deadline. It's more difficult for me to forecast Christie's NBA future, short term or long term, because I honestly didn't think he still had one after his Dallas exile and his foray into television and book-writing with Mrs. Christie.
If for some unknown reason you're surprised that David Stern selected Denver's Carmelo Anthony as one of the two All-Star injury replacements in the West, you really shouldn't be.
And not just because you were told this would happen a week ago.
It would have made no sense for Stern to summon Anthony to New York for a sitdown just before the end of Melo's 15-game suspension to talk about moving forward together -- with the league and USA Basketball already counting on him to be a cornerstone of the U.S. national team -- and then decide that the league's leading scorer would have to serve an additional punishment by sitting out the All-Star Game.
From the Stein Line e-mailbag:
Nuno (Lisbon, Portugal): Don't you agree now that this notion of a difficult adjustment back to the old leather ball was a little blown out of proportion? Here in Europe, soccer teams play with a different kind of ball in European competitions than they use in their domestic leagues. So they can be playing with one kind of ball on a Wednesday and another kind on a Saturday and I don't hear anybody complaining.
Stein: First of all, great question. Anyone who can marry the worlds of (proper) football and hoops, as you probably know by now, is immediately going to move to the front of the line here.
It's not the most valid comparison, Nuno. I know this because I asked a guy who has played football with Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane ... in addition to winning a couple MVP awards in the NBA.
The comparison doesn't work, according to Steve Nash, because his famous footballing friends "aren't playing with their bare feet."
Nash's point is that feel issues impact basketball players more than footballers because they're using their bare hands. Nash also maintains that the difference between the microfiber composite ball used at the start of this NBA season and the leather ball reintroduced Jan. 1 -- in terms of weight, friction, any measure of feel -- is massive.
That's not to say this is a non-issue in world football. There's an undeniable adjustment involved -- especially for goalkeepers but pretty much for anyone heavily involved in goalmouth action -- when a team in, say, England plays a mid-week Carling Cup match with a Mitre ball and then a weekend game in the Premiership with a super swervy Nike ball.
Yet my rush to dig into all the soccer stuff you've introduced to the discussion can't detract from your original premise, which happens to be dead on. The challenge of switching back to leather in midstream was indeed overblown. It's been an easy switch for the vast majority of players. So easy that you barely hear any discussion about the ball change any more.
I thought guys who actually liked the new ball would be at least half as vocal as the leather lovers who railed so loudly against the microfiber during the first two months of the regular season. I thought more players would echo Nash's complaint that an in-season equipment change of this magnitude was unprecedented in American sport and thus should have been delayed until next season. I thought I'd even hear complaints from players about the league unilaterally resurrecting the leather instead of polling every single player in a formal vote ... after so many complained that there was no vote in the offseason before they decided to do away with leather.
I thought wrong, apparently.
Kent Horner/Getty Images
John Amaechi experienced some lonely times during his NBA career while trying to keep his sexual orientation a secret.
The Bulls and Celtics are the two teams that still come up most in connection with a potential Pau Gasol swap, with NBA front-office sources continuing to describe Chicago as Memphis' preferred trade partner. By far.
Yet the prevailing sentiment in circulation also still suggests that there won't be a Pau deal before the Feb. 22 trading deadline. The following tidbit obviously doesn't rule out a buzzer-beating trade, but but I'm told Grizz president Jerry West recently sent a note to various GM counterparts around the league to let everyone know he'd be in Europe scouting for a couple weeks. Which didn't exactly make anything sound imminent.
One rival executive describes the Gasol situation as a big domino that could hold up other (smaller) deals around the league if doesn't happen until close to the deadline or if it drags into May or June. Another executive disagrees, saying that the limited number of teams (at least for now) in the Gasol hunt should ease any blockade effect. Yet another executive contends that West's off-to-Europe announcement was surely intended to confuse everyone.
The Sixers, as you surely remember, banished Iverson to the inactive list in response to his trade demand and vowed to keep him there until they could consummate a deal. Gasol is obviously still playing for the Grizz, which does expose them to uncomfortable daily questions about the Spaniard's future ... but overshadows other obvious uncomfortable questions about owner Michael Heisley's search for new buyers and West's potential retirement at season's end.
If this is indeed West's farewell season in Graceland, it would seem safe to assume he's not going to rush into a trade in the next 13 days that he doesn't feel comfortable with. Common sense also suggests that the Grizz (and several other teams) might prefer to wait until May to see how high they finish in the draft lottery. Maybe they'll want to keep Gasol to partner their draft pick if it's high enough. Or perhaps they'll be more motivated to swap with a Chicago or Boston when they know exactly where those teams are drafting.
Of course, it's no surprise that trading with the Bulls is West's preference, especially if the Celtics continue to bestow "untouchable" status on Al Jefferson as they did during the Iverson Sweepstakes. Chicago will have first crack at any All-Star talent who becomes available if it wants to be a bidder because of its deep reserve of young assets. Even if the Bulls hold firm on their refusal to part with more of the one from tag team of Ben Gordon or Luol Deng, they've got P.J. Brown's expiring contract to anchor a deal and desirable rookies in Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefalosha to round out any package.
If Chicago decides to make a serious Pau push, Boston can only outbid the Grizz by packaging Jefferson with a future first-round pick and Theo Ratliff's contract, which expires after next season and which is mostly being covered by insurance payments this season. But the Celts have shown little inclination to even consider giving that much away for Gasol.
Every team in the East awoke Friday having played between 48 and 50 games.
Guess how many of those 15 teams were on 50-win paces?
Yup. Just one: Detroit is now on course to finish 51-31 thanks to its recent 9-3 uptick since newly acquired Chris Webber became a starter.
The East, entering Friday's play, is 119-168 against the West for a winning percentage of .415 in JV vs. Varsity play.
The Central Division has the two of the three teams with winning records against the West -- Cleveland at 11-7 and Detroit at 9-8; Orlando is the other at 10-9 -- and is 45-50 overall. The Southeast Division is 42-51 against the West, with the Atlantic Division at (ugh) 32-67.
To get his freedom from the Grizzlies so he could sign with Miami, Eddie Jones gave back $833,722 in his contract buyout with Memphis, according to official contract figures obtained by ESPN.com.
Jones' salary-cap number for the season has thus been adjusted from a 2006-07 salary of $15,697,500 to $14,863,778.
With the trade deadline less than two weeks away, Marc Stein joins ESPN.com Daily Dish host Chad Ford to talk about the immediate futures of Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko, among others.
Five questions with Bobcats forward Adam Morrison:
Q: How do you rate your rookie season so far?
A: It's going all right. A little up and down. The biggest thing for me personally is being more consistent and trying to make a positive contribution every night. I feel like I'm playing better defense. I know I'm not a stopper, but guys are not getting whatever they want [against] me.
Q: I'm guessing I'm not alone when I say I'm surprised to see you below 40 percent as a shooter. How concerned are you about your (.381) shooting percentage?
A: You think you can prepare for [the transition], but it's definitely different. Going in you think: "82 games, that's a cinch." But it's definitely a lot different than college. The level is obviously a lot higher and the speed of the game is a lot faster. But I think people understand this stuff comes with time. I'm getting better defensively and the other stuff will come.
Q: You've clearly received more criticism than any other rookie this season and you've been coming off the bench for about a month. Have those things been difficult to accept?
A: The coaches are happy with me, for the most part, and I'm happy with myself. A lot of it is how much attention I got last year and it's carrying over now. People are trying to find a way to bring about negative stuff, which is understandable at this level. It's a high-dollar, marquee league. You've got to be productive. Everyone is going to write their opinion and try to dissect you. I don't take offense to it.
Q: Who would you say is leading the Rookie of the Year race right now?
A: I think [Toronto's Andrea] Bargnani is starting to play well and Brandon [Portland's Brandon Roy] is playing really well. But I could have told you that from Day 1. He didn't have as much attention as I did last year, but I've known Brandon for quite some time, growing up in the same state, so I knew he was going to be good.
Q: And how do you fit into that race?
A: It would obviously be a great honor to win something like that. Hopefully I'm up there, but my goal is to just try to earn a solid, steady job in this league.
"Why do we still do all the blood stuff? Maybe this is one more indication that it's time to walk away from whatever they call it ... the infection-control thing."
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, suggesting that one way for the NBA to prove its open-mindedness in the wake of John Amaechi declaring his homosexuality would be outlawing the rule that forces the game to be stopped whenever a player is bleeding.
It's a rule, of course, that was instituted by the league in the wake of Magic Johnson's AIDS announcement in 1991.
It's one of the readers' favorites and we do it every week: Trot out five (or so) responses to the latest edition of my NBA Power Rankings to make sure you have your say.
Straight from the rankings mailbag:
Ken (Orlando): Seriously, Marc: Why do you hate the Magic? You didn't give them any credit when they got off to that great start and now that they've been hit with key injuries and struggling, you're ready to jump on them like you always have. How can you have a team that is above .500 below the BOBCATS in your rankings? I want to know the reason.
Committee's counter: Didn't we have the Magic up at No. 3 for a time during their 13-4 launch? Didn't we also vault the Magic into the top 10 late last season as a reward for their strong finish, even though they had run out of time to rally into a playoff spot? Doesn't sound like such a hateful committee, does it? If you're going to take the time to write in with accusations, let's make sure you do your research.
You also conveniently declined to mention how your Magic have been struggling for a long time now: 12-21 as of Friday morning since the big start. Sorry, Ken. Orlando has more than justified its plummet.