Posted by Sekou Smith
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — In this corner we have the NBA draft, itching for a Thursday night fight and promising all the drama basketball fans could ever want.
And in the other corner there’s world’s most speculative free agent frenzy of all time, starring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh (above) Amar’e Stouedmire, Joe Johnson and many more.
Normally, you’ve had to choose between the two and decide how you want to spend your quality time.
But not around here.
We’ve got news, notes, quotes and even an opinion or two about what’s going on:
HOME SWEET HOME FOR THE LEBRON
The Northeast Ohio roots run deep for LeBron James. Folks in and around his hometown of Akron hope that the king of this summer’s free agent frenzy won’t forget that as he finalizes his future plans. In fact, they are counting on home sweet home being the trump card that allows them to recruit James to stick around another five or six years.
Bud Shaw of the Plain Dealer: Deep down, LeBron James knows he isn’t wired like Kobe Bryant.
He doesn’t take losing as personally. Winning is important to him. It’s just not an obsession. Inside the locker room where championships are forged, James prefers the role of good cop almost exclusively.
(Don’t tell me what we saw in the playoffs was all about his elbow. Something of significance changed the team dynamics during the Boston series. Whatever it was drove James underground instead of driving him to the bully pulpit.)
Jeff Van Gundy’s take on Bryant during the NBA Finals was instructive for fans of James as well.
“Your best player can’t be your best-liked player,” Van Gundy said, meaning being Kobe has often meant getting in teammates’ faces during practices and games.
In seven years, there’s been precious little not to like about James as a player and a teammate. So he hasn’t heard much criticism from outside and especially from within.
With 10 days remaining before NBA free agency — did you hear, by the way, that James is going to be a free agent? — the comfort zone James enjoys here is still the No. 1 reason to expect him to re-sign with the Cavaliers after all his suitors get to pitch their woo.
I don’t see him taking on great and immediate expectations somewhere else. He hasn’t shown he’s ready for it. Maybe in three years when he’ll still be only 28. Just not right now.
Not when he can continue to strive here at his own pace in front of friends and family with hardly any condemnation for falling short. Not when his reaction to questions about bad games in the Boston series was to say he’d spoiled people. Not when he says that losing makes him feel badly for himself.
He can’t be that oblivious. So let’s call it immaturity. At any rate, how do you think that would’ve gone over in New York? James must know there are strings attached to all the adulation coming his way from big-market dreamers in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
No offense, but people here have been settling for less than a championship for so many years that it’s become second nature. We’re easy.
WHO YOU CALLING A SIDEKICK?
We almost forgot about Bosh’s preseason declaration that he’s wired to be the “Man” and not some throw in during free agency. After yet another playoff-free season with the Raptors, Bosh is still thumping his chest about being the centerpiece for some team looking for a free agent savior. That’s tough talk from a guy that experienced the postseason the same way we did this year … as a spectator.
My main man Art Garcia of NBA.com breaks it down. “I don’t want to be mentioned as an addition to a team,” Bosh said prior to the season. “I want to be mentioned as the guy that people want to center their team around.”
Bosh hasn’t changed that stance, adding recently that he’s making his decision separate from LeBron James or anyone else. Bosh is frequently mentioned as the bronze medal in the Free Agency Olympics headlined by LeBron and Dwyane Wade. Bidders can do a lot worse than bronze. While the pairing of Bosh with one of his former Team USA teammates could form the foundation of a title contender, the 26-year-old power forward could just as easily strike out on his own.
Bosh’s independent streak is a significant variable in a marketplace that so many assume will be dictated by LeBron. Bosh could be the first domino to fall if he decides to leave Toronto when free agency begins July 1, causing a ripple effect among the teams with significant cap space and those angling for a premier free agent through a sign-and-trade.
Unlike the situation facing James in Cleveland, Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo acknowledged that he would be agreeable to a sign-and-trade if a new deal isn’t worked out with Bosh. Toronto’s first priority is to re-sign its five-time All-Star and career scoring leader. The Raptors can offer a max contract of six years and $130 million.
There’s no inkling that such a sign-and-trade agreement exists between James and the Cavaliers, a franchise currently without a coach and with a new general manager. Bosh’s willingness to negotiate with several of the nine teams that have significant cap space (more than $14 million) and those putting together attractive sign-and-trade packages could create a feeding frenzy more dynamic than what LeBron is heading into.
The list of realistic suitors for LeBron appears to be more exclusive, led by Cleveland, Chicago and New York, with several long shots such as New Jersey, Dallas and the Los Angeles Clippers possibly in the mix. While those squads focus their energy on James and most assume Wade is staying in Miami, the rest of the league looking to upgrade could zero in on Bosh as its most practical superstar alternative.
You remember Lance Stephenson, right? The heir to LeBron’s throne and the upstart that was going to make us all forget about O.J. Mayo and others like him. Well, it never happened. And now it appears that the former Brooklyn schoolboy legend is going to have to sweat out his position in the draft.
Dan Tomasino of the New York Post: Lance Stephenson has no idea when he will be selected in Thursday’s NBA Draft. The shooting guard from Coney Island has dropped steadily on mock draft boards over the last several months, and is projected to go anywhere from the middle of the first round to early in the second.
“Right now, everybody is just nervous,” Stephenson said. “Trying to see where I’m gonna go.”
Stephenson was viewed as a potential lottery pick when he began his freshman year at Cincinnati last fall. He won the Big East Rookie of the Year award by averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists for the Bearcats, whom he led to two wins in the Big East Tournament. But his stock slipped so much by the end of the season, most NBA observers were shocked that he signed with an agent instead of returning to school for another year. Still, a draft position of 15-20 seemed realistic. That now appears to be a longshot.
“It don’t matter where I get picked,” said Stephenson, who will gather his family for dinner in Manhattan on draft night. “I’m not worried about that. It’s just the opportunity to get into the NBA and show everybody I’m ready for the next step. Since I was a little kid I wanted to play in the NBA. So if they call my name, I’ll be so happy.”
Stephenson doesn’t lack for confidence, the result of a high school career that was the most successful in New York history. At the same time, he recognizes his weaknesses. Stephenson chose Cincinnati over St. John’s because he realized the pressure in his hometown could thwart his development.
“I learned how to be a better leader by going to Cincinnati,” Stephenson said. “I think I grew as a person.”
CENTER OF THE THUNDER’S ATTENTION
Apparently getting B.J. Mullens last year was not the answer at the center position the Oklahoma City had in mind. Because there they are chasing a big man in the draft again. from all indications, Mullens is working hard, but he was a long-term project when he was drafted and remains a long-term project right now. That means the Thunder could be big man hunting come Thursday night.
John Rohde of the Oklahoman: The Thunder needs a center, but exactly what type of center?
– A bulky center, someone at 270-plus pounds?
– An athletic center, someone who can run and jump?
– Someone tall, a 7-footer with a ridiculous wingspan and reach?
– Perhaps an international flavor, someone more adept at shooting and drawing defenses away from the basket?
The Thunder won 50 games last season starting an international center in 7-foot, 240-pound Nenad Krstic. Reviews were mixed, but mostly favorable. He averaged 8.4 points and 5.0 rebounds in 22.9 minutes.
Off the bench came veteran Nick Collison, a 6-foot-10, 255-pound power forward with an ability to stand his ground against those bigger in stature.
Then along came 20-year-old surging rookie Serge Ibaka, an athletic, 6-foot-10, 235-pound forward who carries a center’s presence with his length and leaping ability.
Farther down the bench was 21-year-old rookie Byron Mullens, a 7-foot, 275-pounder who has developed nicely and had flashes when given a chance to play.
To recap, the Thunder has an international center, a physical center, an athletic center and a project. Depending on your viewpoint, this means the Thunder either has four centers or none.
FANS WANT ANSWERS FROM DUMARS IN DETROIT
The Detroit Pistons have fallen so far off from their dominant ways in the Eastern Conference earlier in the decade that even the once stubbornly loyal fans of the team are questioning the direction of the franchise. They want answers and they want them now, particularly from Pistons boss Joe Dumars (how quickly they forget Joe). And the Detroit Free Press is happy to provide a forum for readers and fans to vent their frustrations.
Kirk Winther for the Detroit Free Press: After spending the last three months in Hawaii, I’ve had time to ponder over the Pistons. Now that I have returned for the summer, I am amazed that people here are still giving Joe Dumars a free pass.
Yes, he built the roster that won the 2004 NBA championship, but that was mostly by default. The Lakers were dysfunctional and the Pistons came out of a poor conference. Ben Wallace fell into Detroit’s lap after the team traded Grant Hill and without Larry Brown (only great coaching hire), Chauncey Billups doesn’t become a true point guard. In the middle of that season, the Pistons acquired Rasheed Wallace and all he had to do was hang out at the three-point line and let Ben Wallace doing the dirty work.
But let’s be real, Dumars’ drafting, free-agents signings and coaching changes (mostly to appease the players) have bordered on Matt Millen-esque. Dumars has had four picks in the top 15 in first 10 seasons as general manager and that has yielded Mateen Cleaves, Rodney White, Darko Milicic and Rodney Stuckey. The first three guys obviously didn’t work out and Stuckey is playing a bit out of position but the Pistons have too many shooting guards.
So why does Dumars get an enduring pass? Because he is a Hall of Famer? Well, would he have been without Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson? I doubt it.
The Pistons need to find someone who can assess talent and build through the draft the right way instead of depending on retreads and draft picks without NBA-caliber talent. I’ll give Dumars this year and if he doesn’t draft a star at No. 7 in the first round, if Austin Daye doesn’t turn into a productive player and if the Pistons don’t trade away their has-beens for some new blood, I will wash my hands on this team and take up watching surfing.
MONROE LOOKS GOOD TO WARRIORS AT SIX?
Georgetown center Greg Monroe reminded Warriors officials why he’s so highly regarded in this draft. Monroe is the type of versatile, long and athletic big man Warriors coach Don Nelson always seems to covet. But he’s young and relatively inexperienced in addition to a few pounds away from being able to dominate anyone at his position on the pro level. Sound like the profile of anyone else you know with the Warriors (Brandan Wright, Anthony Randolph)?
Marcus Thompson II of the Oakland Tribune: Georgetown center Greg Monroe, the biggest name player to come through the Warriors’ facility this draft season, worked out Sunday and made his case for why the Warriors should select him with the No. 6 pick.
Matched up against Saint Mary’s College big man Omar Samhan in a three-on-three workout at the team’s downtown facility, Monroe’s skills drew praise from Warriors coach Don Nelson.
“The one thing we can use that he does extremely well, probably better than any other big man in the country, is pass the ball,” Nelson said. “And (he’s) young enough yet that he can still develop.”
Monroe is one of the leading candidates to be the Warriors’ top pick. Nelson said Monroe’s experience in Georgetown’s Princeton-style offense — which is centered on cutting, passing and ball movement — is a plus because it gave him opportunities at various spots on the court. The Warriors like big men with perimeter skills.
Many consider Monroe the third-best big man in the draft, behind Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors and Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins.
Warriors general manager Larry Riley said he expected the players many regard as the five best — a quintet that includes Cousins and Favors — to be off the board by the time the Warriors pick.
If that’s the case, Monroe figures to be a heavy favorite to become a Warrior given the team’s perpetual need for a big man.
“I’m a versatile big man,” Monroe said. “I’m
mobile. I can get up and down the court. Being able to make plays, quick plays, off the pass, off the dribble, I think I can help this team.”
The concern with Monroe is whether he’s athletic enough and has the low-post offensive skills the Warriors need.
Nelson said Sunday that the Warriors need a rebounding, low-post scoring big man more than a high-post passer.
But it might come down to Monroe or a power forwards such as Wake Forest’s Al-Faroq Aminu or Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh.”
JAZZ STAR GAZING ON DRAFT NIGHT
Lottery picks are a rarity in Salt Lake City, where the Jazz have made it a point to win games consistently enough to avoid the top of the draft. But fate (and the New York Knicks) smiled on the Jazz this year. And with this opportunity, the Jazz can’t afford to come away with anything other than a future star.
Gordon Monson of the Salt Lake Tribune: The NBA Draft rolls toward the Utah Jazz this week, and, based on their track record over the past 10 years and beyond, they had best be ready to jump aboard and make the most of it.
More specifically, mixed metaphors be damned, they need a home run here. Not a safe selection. Not a nice, productive player. Not a take-it-as-it comes, laissez-faire, lah-dee-dah, do-the-best-you-can-with-what-you’ve-got-and-be-sort-of-satisfied kind of effort. They need something extraordinary. They need to be extraordinary, in acumen and vision and luck, in this important, particular case. They need to find a star.
The Jazz rarely get a single-digit pick, so they have to take advantage of their place at No. 9. Add in that they normally are about as active and agile in the trading mix as one of the thousands of cement blocks in the foundation of EnergySolutions Arena, and it puts even more pressure on Kevin and the Gang to nail this opportunity.
Let’s say it the way it is: The Jazz aren’t going to sign any real difference-makers in the free-agent period. So, if they won’t use trades to improve themselves, and they can’t or won’t land a big-time free agent, then the draft is their only ticket to pairing up Deron Williams with another star, the star he needs, that they need, to edge toward competing for a title. If they don’t land that star, they might, in time, lose Williams, too. Anybody not think he’ll be a hot free agent when his deal is done here? Anybody not think, if the Jazz aren’t authentic contenders, that he’ll bolt in a couple of seasons to a team that is?
Everyone remembers five years back, when O’Connor used the aforementioned strategy to reel in Williams. After a singularly lousy, 26-win season, the Jazz were jobbed by bad fortune, getting stuck with the sixth pick. The front office took an aggressive stance, trading to move up three notches, and hauled in the point guard of their future.
That’s what they need to do now to keep their point guard. Even if they could find a way to sign a marquee free agent this offseason, they would suffer in paying that player, on account of their salary-cap pile-up. A drafted star, in erstwhile embryonic form, would cost them a lot less, and possibly do them a lot more — especially if he grew alongside Williams, breathing new enthusiasm into a club and its leader that have bashed their heads against the wall trying to progress in the playoffs over the past few years.
WOLVES HAVE OPTIONS IN RETOOLING
Three first round picks, plenty of salary cap space and tradeable assets make the Minnesota Timberwolves a major player this week (hey, you spend 82 games on the fringes of relevancy and for one week you’re the center of attention, it’s not that bad a tradeoff, right?) at home and around the league. Now all they have to do it get it right.
Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune: Nearly three years after they started over by trading Kevin Garnett, the Timberwolves arrive at Thursday night’s NBA draft ready to add as many as three first-round picks to a nucleus of players who have never, or barely ever, worn their uniforms.
A team that accumulated Al Jefferson, Kevin Love, Jonny Flynn and Ryan Gomes, among others, either through that July 2007 trade or the ensuing two drafts now sure looks determined to rebuild again with a foundation based on Spanish guard Ricky Rubio, unsigned center Darko Milicic and possibly European prospect Nikola Pekovic.
Rubio, a singlet-wearing rock star in Europe, won’t arrive in the NBA until 2011 at the earliest and although Wolves boss David Kahn says he’s confident Rubio will be here then, there’s no guarantee the teenager who might be the Wolves’ only untouchable commodity will ever play a game for them.
Milicic is the former No. 2 overall pick who never found a home with four other teams in his first seven seasons until he landed in Minnesota at February’s trading deadline in a deal that barely registered a blip on the league’s landscape.
Kahn and coach Kurt Rambis watched a team that tied a franchise record for fewest victories in a season and concluded it lacks a game-saving star as well as the length and athleticism needed to win big, playing in a league where the Los Angeles Lakers — Rambis’ home for most of the past three decades — just won their second consecutive title because of their superior collective wingspan.
Thursday begins what could be — maybe better be — a transformational summer in which the Wolves own the draft’s fourth, 16th and 23rd overall picks, a sizable salary cap and enough other assets to remake their roster once again by trading either Jefferson or Love.
DOES CHILDRESS FIT IN HAWKS’ FREE AGENT PLAN?
In addition to keeping Joe Johnson in the fold, the Hawks have to find a way to bolster their ranks this summer in free agency. They could go always go back to the days when they paraded players in and out of town on 10-day contracts, hoping to get lucky and find someone that could stick. Or someone in the organization could pick up a phone, call Josh Childress and see if he’s ready to come back home to Atlanta.
Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution: Three weeks ago, we told you there was a good chance Josh Childress might return to the NBA next season for the simple reason that his hair nearly caught on fire (well, it could have) after drunk and moronic Greek basketball fans shot off flares INDOORS at a basketball game.
Now, the possibility of Childress leaving Greece appears stronger than ever — and Olympiakos wouldn’t mind it a bit.
Tax laws apparently are changing in Greece. The new structure would make it more difficult for Olympiakos to pay the final year of Childress’ three-year, $20 million contract and could potentially double taxes for basketball players. It’s important to note that the $20 million in Childress’ contract is net, not gross. Current generous tax laws in Greece make it the equivalent to a $32.5 million deal.
Childress has until July 15 to opt out. Hawks general manager Rick Sund already has said that he will extend a $4.8 million qualifying offer to retain his NBA rights.
Here’s the question: Where do you see Childress fitting into the Hawks’ lineup? Is he a backup plan at shooting guard if Joe Johnson leaves in free agency? Is he a replacement for Marvin Williams at small forward? Should he still be considered primarily a great sixth man in the NBA — a spot currently filled on the Hawks by Jamal Crawford?
The assumption is Sund won’t make the call on Childress until he sees what happens with Johnson. But do you see Childress as part of the Hawks next season or should the team package him in a sign-and-trade?
SUNS SLASHING COSTS AT DRAFT TIME ONCE AGAIN
Steve Kerr‘s parting gift is a seat at the big table on draft night with nothing to do. At least they picked up the option on Alvin Gentry’s contract, because other than that, this week is basically an uneventful wash for an organization that is clearly moving into a new phase of existence (the one where price tags actually matter).
Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic: In July 2007, the Suns sent Kurt Thomas, a 2008 first-round pick that became Serge Ibaka and this year’s first-round pick to then-Seattle for a 2009 second-round pick, which the Suns sold to Cleveland. The Suns saved $16 million by moving Thomas’ $8 million salary and lowering their luxury-tax payment, but the basketball side of it turned grimmer this year when the Suns fell from the playoff picture in January.
The dealt pick was unprotected, leaving Oklahoma City salivating at the idea of a lottery pick until Phoenix’s 28-7 finish dropped the pick to 26th.
“I lost a lot of sleep over that trade for a long time because we went through the Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) year and the team struggling,” said Kerr, whose last draft will start with the No. 46 pick. “You’re thinking, ‘This could be a lottery pick.’ Fortunately, it worked out as best as it possibly could.”
In 2007, Kerr put a basketball spin on the move, saying, “This enhances our commitment to running.” Fans asked Kerr for reasoning, as if there was a basketball reason. Seattle had a trade exception from its Rashard Lewis deal to absorb Thomas’ salary without sending any back. Likewise, the Suns received an $8 million trade exception, but it expired unused a year later. “We were in a tough spot because we had to shed Kurt’s money,” Kerr said. “That was the only team with the room to do it. They basically held a gun to our heads.”
The Suns made another tax-saving deal 6 1/2 years ago that prevented them from having the No. 9 pick Thursday. In 2004, the Suns made an eight-player deal with New York that lowered payroll to set up the club’s sale and create salary-cap space, which later was used to sign Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson. Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway were the biggest contracts sent to New York, whose return package included its first-round pick with protection until 2010.
Forty-five days later, then-Suns GM Bryan Colangelo sent that Knicks pick, a 2004 first-rounder and $3 million to Utah so the Jazz would take Tom Gugliotta’s $11.6 million salary off his books. Utah had cap space, ceremoniously giving up two injured players (Ben Handlogten and Keon Clark) who never came to Phoenix.