HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — We apologize in advance for the conflicting reports you’re going to hear in the days and weeks ahead about basically any and every NBA player, free agent or not, being pursued by this team or that team.
Hey, it’s that time of year, just a few months later than normal.
The avalanche of rumors kicked off in earnest Tuesday afternoon, before the news broke that NBA facilities would be reopening for players Thursday and that team officials and agents could begin their free agent dance this morning, though no deals could be agreed to until Dec. 9.
If it seems like a shock to the system, it should. The lockout lasted 149 days, depriving us of the ritual of our usual free agent-palooza we swim in every summer, among other things. The fact is, we haven’t been immersed in this sort of rumor crush since the lockout began July 1. And now that the union is being reformed and both sides are on the road to polishing the details of the new collective bargaining agreement, it’s time to get your game face on and get back into the regular flow of things.
Of course, with a condensed free agency period/training camp all rolled into one, things are going to be a little wilder and crazier than usual. So again, be prepared to hear any and everything and just remember that until at least Dec. 9, it’s all talk …
PACERS CHASING RONDO?
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: As Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge aggressively pursues possible deals for Rajon Rondo, the Indiana Pacers have emerged as an intriguing suitor for the point guard, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. For the past few days, Pacers officials – and third-party surrogates – have been making calls and gathering information and insight into Rondo’s reputation as a teammate and leader, sources said. The Pacers and Celtics have discussed the preliminary framework of a deal, but two sources said Indiana would need a third team to provide Boston with the talent it wants to do a deal. The Celtics are likely trying to gather the necessary pieces to make a bid for Ainge’s ultimate target: New Orleans point guard Chris Paul, sources said. It was unclear if the Pacers had begun to reach out to broaden discussions, but there was an expectation they would do so. The Celtics have been gauging Rondo’s trade value for more than a year, and have held discussions with teams about him across the past few trade deadlines and NBA drafts. There have long been divides within Boston’s front office, coaching staff and locker room about Rondo. He can be moody, difficult and stubborn, and several league sources were dubious if the Pacers’ young coach, Frank Vogel, would have the stature to deal with Rondo.
NETS READYING OFFER FOR DWIGHT HOWARD
Marc Stein and Chad Ford of ESPN.com: The New Jersey Nets are prepared to offer a trade package featuring Brook Lopez and two future first-round picks to acquire Dwight Howard before the Orlando Magic center becomes a free agent in July 2012, according to sources close to the situation. Sources told ESPN.com this week that, to sweeten the proposal, New Jersey would likewise offer to take back the contract of Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu, who has three seasons left on his contract worth just under $35 million. Absorbing Turkoglu’s remaining salary would become financially feasible for the Nets after the expected release of swingman Travis Outlaw through the amnesty clause that will be included in the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement and by including another smaller contract or two in the deal. No trade deadline for the 2011-12 season has been set in stone yet by the league office, but many team executives believe it will fall in March. Once the league officially re-opens for business, Howard’s future in Orlando is sure to be one of the season’s dominant story lines, along with Chris Paul’s future in New Orleans and the Nets’ attempts to secure a long-term commitment from star guard Deron Williams. It’s been an open secret around the league that the Nets’ dream scenario is pairing Howard with Williams, after they followed up their failed pursuit of Carmelo Anthony last season by trading for Williams just before the February trade deadline. It remains to be seen whether Howard will regard the Nets as a prime destination on par with the New York Knicks, even after they move out of New Jersey, but sources say that Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov has long believed that teaming them up would convince both Team USA stars to commit their long-term future to the Brooklyn-bound Nets.
MAGIC KNOW HOWARD IS ON THE HOT LIST
Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: New Jersey’s interest in Howard has been obvious. The Nets are just as desperate to hang on to 2012 free-agent-to-be Deron Williams as the Magic are to retain Howard. What’s also obvious — but rarely said — is that the Magic would jump at the opportunity to acquire a superstar point guard to pair with Howard and, therefore, increase the chances of Howard remaining in Orlando for years to come. So, it’s probable that [Magic GM Otis] Smith would make a counteroffer to the Nets in attempt to acquire Williams — even though the Nets probably would reject it outright. Aside from Howard, Orlando lacks enough desirable trade chips to make a deal happen. Smith almost certainly will be inundated with trade offers for Howard, a perennial All-NBA player who is on track to become the most decorated defensive player in league history. The Nets’ reported willingness to take on Turkoglu would enable the Magic to get far under the salary cap if Orlando also decides to use the amnesty provision in the tentative labor deal on Gilbert Arenas. Divesting itself of Turkoglu’s and Arenas’ deals would give Orlando a chance to rebuild its team via free agency. Howard is sick of all the speculation. Late Tuesday, a fan asked Howard over Twitter whether he’s ready for the “media circus” over where Howard wants to play. Howard responded, “imma cut my ears off so I can’t hear them.”
PAUL CAN’T TAKE THE LEBRON/’MELO WAY OUT
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: There they were all in a gym together, the three men whose actions largely precipitated the lockout, along with a sidekick who must deal with the consequences. Chris Paul sat shoulder-to-shoulder with Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James Tuesday for a good cause: feeding about 800 families in a partnership of Anthony’s charitable foundation and Feed the Children. On a rainy day at the Boys & Girls Club of Brooklyn, four of the biggest stars in basketball were back to talking about the game. But it’s so often not about the game when it comes to the superstars of the NBA, and so it will be with Paul over the next however many months it takes him to get where he wants to go. James made it to Miami with Wade, getting the maximum length, dollars, team and teammates he wanted. Anthony got out of Denver with the same max extension he would’ve gotten had he stayed there. Under the new collective bargaining agreement that has been tentatively agreed to and will be ratified in the coming weeks, neither is permitted. This is where the tangled web woven by James, Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami and Anthony in New York intersects with Paul and his desires to join Melo and Amar’e Stoudemire with the Knicks. The power and control that James and Anthony enjoyed are largely gone. In other words, what happened in the old CBA stays in the old CBA.
PAUL-TO-KNICKS REMAINS A FANTASY
Howard Beck of The New York Times: From the moment the lockout ended early Saturday morning, Paul’s future has been the N.B.A.’s top (speculative) story. “I try not to pay attention to all of that different type stuff,” Paul said Tuesday at an event to distribute food to needy families. “My heart is in New Orleans. And right now, the reason I’m here in New York is like what Melo just said — it’s for him.” Anthony asked. Paul came. If only N.B.A. transactions were so simple. The Knicks are as far from acquiring Paul as they are from contending with the Heat. … The Knicks could clear $5.2 million by declining Douglas’s option and letting Shumpert and Renaldo Balkman go for nothing. But that would leave them with three superstars and no teammates, no cap room and few draft picks. So the trade route remains the preferred option. Except the Knicks have nothing to entice the Hornets, unless they are willing to trade Anthony or Stoudemire. Their next best player, Chauncey Billups, is 35. They have already traded first-round picks in 2012, 2014 and 2016 and under league rules must keep their picks in 2013, 2015 and 2017. Of course, the Hornets have no intention of trading their franchise cornerstone. If they do, they will easily find better offers from the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Orlando Magic or any number of other suitors. The wedding toast was cute. The scene in Brooklyn on Tuesday was collegial. But Paul’s big dream is nothing more than a fantasy.
CELTICS SERIOUS ABOUT PAUL, TOO
Sam Amick of Sports Illustrated: While ESPN reports that New York tops Paul’s wish list because of the chance to form a Big Three with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony, Paul would have a chance to take the Big Four — joining Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen — to a new level in Beantown. Without Paul agreeing to an extension, however, the sources say Ainge will not do the deal. Intriguing as the Celtics possibility might be, the challenge for Ainge would be selling the 26-year-old Paul on the idea of joining a group of future Hall of Famers with an average age of 35. While Pierce is under contract through 2014, Garnett’s and Allen’s deals end after this season. What’s more, Boston is merely one of the many teams who will be making a serious attempt to land Paul this season. Paul, who will make $16.4 million this season and has a $17.8 million player option in 2012-13, is widely expected to turn down a forthcoming extension offer from New Orleans. If and when that occurs, it is believed that the Hornets — who have just five players under contract currently and hardly look like the sort of championship contender Paul wants to be a part of — will trade him at some point in order to avoid losing him for nothing in return next summer. The Hornets add a unique element on their own as well: They are owned by the NBA, which has led to the question of whether it would prefer Paul stays put. The league bought the team for $310 million last December and the franchise value would almost certainly take a hit if the popular Paul departs. He has long been hailed as a local hero, a classy member of the community and more than capable athlete who arrived at the toughest of times in New Orleans.
CHANDLER STAYING IN CHINA
Guan Weijia of Sherdianhoops.com: When the NBA’s nuclear winter ended, Wilson Chandler was sitting in his bed, playing video games by himself. He opened his Twitter account and saw someone tweeting “the lockout ended!” But he didn’t believe it at first, “because there were rumors every day about it, I thought it just another one.” A phone call from his agent Chris Luchey came in later, Luchey told Chandler, “This time it’s true, the lockout ended. The NBA season will begin on Christmas day.” Chandler was stunned, as were J.R. Smith and Aaron Brooks. As you know, there’s a big difference between contracts NBA players signed with teams in Europe and those signed by players in China. FIBA required deals with European teams to include opt-out clauses allowing players to return to the NBA upon the end of the lockout; the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) forbade them. Chandler, Kenyon Martin, Smith and Brooks, among others, signed contracts with Chinese teams, and now, some NBA teams have interest in bringing them back to America. The Denver Post reported that Martin will honor his contract, and Chandler is now saying the same thing. “What can I do? I have my contract with Chinese team, I won’t fly away, I can’t fly away. I’ll stay here in China,” Chandler said. Smith, Martin and Brooks will probably end up saying the same thing. “They have to play in China, and return to the NBA in March. The CBA season is much shorter, so J.R., Aaron and Wilson could take part in the playoffs. If play well, they can get a good contract next summer,” Luchey said.
NENE WANTS OUT OF DENVER
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: One of the surest bets of the soon-to-begin 2011 NBA free-agent period is that Nene wants out of Denver. Where he winds up, and how, will be among the most intriguing storylines when the floodgates open around Dec. 9. The Nuggets are operating under the firm belief that Nene will test the market as an unrestricted free agent, according to a person familiar with the team’s thinking. Six teams have registered interest, the source said: Golden State, New Jersey, Indiana, Miami, Dallas and Houston. Nene, the top unrestricted free agent on the market in the view of many team executives, will have a say over where he winds up — though not as much as free agents did under the previous system since free agents can no longer get max deals when leaving their teams via sign-and-trades. Nene, 29, has long coveted Miami and Dallas as landing spots, but would have to force his way to one of those teams via a sign-and-trade since both are well over the cap. And whereas LeBron James was able to get a max deal through a sign-and-trade when he went from Cleveland to Miami, Nene would have to settle for a four-year deal with 4.5 percent raises under the new system in such an arrangement. If the Golden State used the amnesty provision on Andris Biedrins, the Warriors would have enough room to sign Nene outright for close to the max — but again, that would be a four-year deal with non-Bird raises as opposed to the five-year deal with 7.5 percent raises he’d get by re-signing with Denver. There’s no incentive under the new rules for Nene to push for a sign-and-trade as opposed to an outright signing with another team, unless there was a clear preference for a team that didn’t have room to sign him.
FRESH START FOR THE SUNS?
Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic: When the NBA reopens its doors, the reception will be chilly. Here in Phoenix, it will be time for rebirth, a time to move forward. Can a bruised bandwagon town learn to forgive and forget? The collateral damage from a nasty work stoppage has negatively impacted the owner’s image, which wasn’t exactly glowing before the five-month lockout. Going forward, Robert Sarver must find the right blend of charm and restraint, reaffirming Phoenix as a destination city for future free agents. Every team must woo and coddle their angry fans, from group hugs to free autograph sessions. Yet for the Suns, everything that occurs in a proposed, condensed, 66-game season also must be geared toward impressing stars such as Dwight Howard, Deron Williams and Chris Paul, the jewels of the 2012 free-agent crop. Rehab and recruit. That’s the only way the Suns return to championship form in the near future. When free to speak, Sarver and President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby must communicate the basics: how mistakes have been made, how a championship window has closed, how Aaron Brooks might be stuck in China for a while, how Lance Blanks really knows what he’s doing, how preserving cap space for a big splash in 2012 is the best play available. But the new era must start with the testimony of Steve Nash, the star point guard. Nash compounded Sarver’s image problem with a damaging tweet during the lockout. He defused the situation by saying he was a Phoenix Sun “through and through,” and that he and Sarver will clear the air in the near future.