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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The doors are open. The players are back in gyms around the NBA. And so too are the rumors that make this time of year unlike any other on the calendar, even if it is a few months late.
Outside of the trade deadline, there is no better time to soak in the sort of drama we’re experiencing in these days leading up to the union being reformed, the new collective bargaining agreement being finalized and the start of training camp and free agency. All we need is a big top and a ringmaster to conduct the ceremony of this player or that player being sent here or there. This is the circus that is the NBA unleashed from its 149-day lockout.
Today’s version offers more theories on some of the players mentioned in this space yesterday and some interesting, high-profile additions to the list. The fun never stops …
CHANDLER HEADED ELSEWHERE?
Chris Broussard and Marc Stein of ESPN.com: In a surprise development on the first day that NBA teams and agents could start talking about new contracts, Tyson Chandler came away convinced that his time with the Dallas Mavericks is coming to an end. “I really think I’m going to be on a new team come training camp,” Chandler told ESPN.com in a telephone interview Wednesday night. “I’m really taking a hard look at all of my options, trying to see what best suits me.” Chandler’s doubts about the Mavericks’ willingness to re-sign him to a lucrative long-term deal are bound to be welcome news for the teams already courting him in these early stages of free agency. Chandler and Denver center Nene rank as the two most coveted unrestricted free agents in the 2011 class, but the overwhelming sentiment in many front offices has been that Chandler’s return to Dallas was essentially a lock after the 7-footer’s role in helping the Mavericks win their first championship. Chandler, though, insisted Wednesday that such assumptions are a misnomer and admitted for the first time that he’s disappointed by the club’s decision not to offer him a contract extension after he was widely credited — most notably by Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki — for changing the team’s defensive culture after three first-round exits in the previous four years.
TEAMS IN HOT PURSUIT OF NENE
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: The Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers were among the teams that reached out to Nene’s representatives Wednesday, the first day teams were allowed to contact agents to discuss potential deals. Once the offers arrive, it could take more than $13 million annually to sign Nene. While the market is still developing for him and the rest of a thin free-agent class, he’s clearly the focus for every team with cap space and the need for an inside presence. The Nuggets are pressed to keep him, and would likely have to pay significantly more than would’ve been necessary if they had worked a deal with him prior to his opting out this summer. The Nets could be the major threat for Nene because of their combination of salary-cap space and desire to surround point guard Deron Williams with as much talent as possible to convince him to sign an extension. Privately, Williams has made it clear that he’s far less inclined to re-sign a long-term deal with the Nets if they don’t immediately improve their roster. New Jersey can also gather assets and still stay in position to make trade offers to the Orlando Magic for Dwight Howard.
METTA WORLD PEACE AN AMNESTY CANDIDATE?
Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times: Achieving world peace comes with a hefty price tag. The Lakers might feel the same way about another form of World Peace, this one the goofy 6-foot-7 Lakers forward who flexes his biceps, makes the Staples Center crowd gasp every time he shoots and goes by the first name Metta. The Times’ Mike Bresnahan has reported that the Lakers might waive the player formerly known as Ron Artest via the league’s amnesty clause. Such a move could move somewhat risky considering that Artest’s defense remains strong and waiving World Peace would make it necessary for the Lakers acquire a defensive stalwart to replace him. But the thought process makes sense for basketball and monetary reasons. World Peace averaged a career-low 8.5 points last season and appears, at 32, to be on the decline in maintaining the lateral movement and quickness that have made him a top defender. By shedding World Peace’s three-year, $21.5-million contract, Bresnahan estimated that the Lakers could save as much as $27 millon in salary and taxes in 2013-14 under the new rules, should the Lakers remain between $10 million and $15 million over the tax threshold. That would prove more beneficial than even cutting forward Luke Walton (two years, $11.46 million). That’s why it’s important World Peace understands and embraces the need to temper his antics, ranging from his Twitter rants to his on-court goofiness and his name himself.
LAKERS INTERESTED IN HOWARD
Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: It’s no surprise to anyone that the Lakers will be one of the primary suitors in a possible trade for Howard, and a person with knowledge of the team’s strategy told CBSSports.com that executive Jim Buss finally has dropped his opposition to trading center Andrew Bynum “for the right deal.” That’s code for “a deal for Dwight Howard,” and it’s clear from those familiar with Howard’s thinking that he’d like to join the Lakers. Bynum may or may not be on the Magic’s list of suitable replacements for Howard in a potential deal that also would have to include young players on rookie contracts and draft picks. The Bucks’ Andrew Bogut may be a better fit, a notion that has conjured speculation in the agent community of a three-team deal that would land Bynum in Milwaukee, Bogut in Orlando and Howard in L.A. The Lakers’ arena mates at Staples Center, the Clippers, also are believed to be willing to do whatever it takes to get Howard. The Clips have both the cap space to land Howard next summer and plenty of assets to entice Orlando, including Eric Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu and a signed-and-traded DeAndre Jordan. Cap-space and asset-wise, few teams are in as good a shape as the Clippers over the next two years. If only they could use the amnesty provision on owner Donald Sterling.
CRAWFORD A HOT COMMODITY
Alex Kennedy of HOOPSWORLD: One player that came up often in conversations was Jamal Crawford. He’s arguably the best shooting guard in this year’s free agent class and one of the best pure scorers available. After averaging 14.2 points off of the Atlanta Hawks’ bench last season, Crawford is receiving plenty of interest around the league. A number of teams made calls to Crawford’s camp on Wednesday including the New Jersey Nets, New Orleans Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers, according to sources close to the situation. Because he has played a number of roles throughout his career, he is attracting interest from a wide spectrum of teams. Up-and-coming teams see him as a reliable starter who instantly improves their offense and contenders see him as the perfect sixth man, as he demonstrated during his stint with the Hawks. Crawford was recruited by a number of players during the offseason at charity games and training sites. LeBron James and LaMarcus Aldridge even made pitches on Twitter, which led to speculation that he could sign in Miami or Portland. With so many teams expressing interest, Crawford will have a number of options to choose from when free agency begins on December 9.
TRAIL BLAZERS: NO DECISION YET ON ROY
Mike Tokito of The Oregonian: The Trail Blazers have not made any decisions on using the amnesty provision to waive Brandon Roy. Team president Larry Miller, in a packed news conference at the Rose Garden on Wednesday, was adamant a that column by The Oregonian’s John Canzano — which quoted a source saying Portland had decided to waive Roy — was dead wrong. “We have not, and regardless of what’s been said by John Canzano and others out there, (made a) decision on amnesty as of yet,” Miller said. In addition to Canzano, KATU.com and at least one national website reported that the Blazers intended to use the amnesty clause to jettison Roy’s contract from the salary cap. Miller said interim general manager Chad Buchanan called Roy’s agent at 6 a.m. this morning — the earliest team officials could contact agents — to arrange a meeting with Roy. “With everything that Brandon has done for this organization, there’s no way we would make a decision like that without having conversation with him, without evaluating where he is,” Miller said.
HAWKS SHOULD OFFER ANY TWO FOR HOWARD
Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution: What a great time for the Hawks to push for the one move they could make that would grab everybody’s attention, fill Philips Arena and possibly move them closer to title contention: Trade for Dwight Howard. I realize this is a long shot. But Howard almost certainly is going to be traded some time over the next several months. He can opt out of his contract after this season and there’s no indication that he wants to stay in Orlando. Howard never has stated that he wants to come back home to Atlanta to play center for the Hawks. But let’s put the team’s potential sales pitch to him on hold for just a minute. Here’s the plan, after my high-level talks with Michael “Ice Man” Cunningham: Tell the Magic they can have any two players they want. At some point, Orlando will come to the realization that it can’t convince Howard to stay so management will go looking for the best deal. I can’t believe any other team in the league could offer as valuable a trade package as the Hawks can. Tell the Magic that they can take Joe Johnson and Al Horford. Or Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. Or Al Horford and Josh Smith. Regardless of which two players Orlando chooses, the Hawks would have the most dominant center in the game and the major marketing piece the franchise needs in this city. Their starting two pieces toward building an NBA title contender: Howard and Johnson (I can see the commercials now), Howard and Horford or Howard and Smith (reuniting the pre-school teammates).
CELTICS DEBATING TRADING/KEEPING RONDO
Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: The distinction may be subtle to some, but it’s important to keep in mind when wading through the Rajon Rondo trade rumors. Are the Celtics actively seeing what Rondo is worth on the market? Yes. Are they trying to get rid of Rondo? No. It should also be noted that a good deal of the “trade talk” involving Rondo is being generated from outside the team. Other clubs read the papers, and we’re pretty sure all of them have access to this newfangled Internet thing. So they hear Rondo might be available and they call. And it is also true that team president Danny Ainge has always been willing to discuss every player in his employ. For his part, Ainge said, “I don’t make any comments on trade rumors. I’m just not commenting on any of it. Everybody knows how valuable Rondo is to our team. I’ll talk to Rondo, but I don’t want to talk about it publicly.” That being said, one can safely infer that the Celtics do not believe Rondo is the NBA’s uber point guard, the most perfect representation of the species. If the Celtics did not have questions, they wouldn’t be willing to think about losing someone who’s locked in for four more years at reasonable money. Four years at an average of around $11.5 million is an utter bargain for an All-Star point guard. So now that we’ve established that they would, the question becomes whether they should. The Celtics should trade Rajon Rondo if they can get in return a major talent they believe they can better build around following this season. They should trade Rondo if doing so opens the door to more than one key player. In the NBA, a dollar is worth more than four quarters — that is, a player actually worth $16 million is more valuable than two guys who make $8 million. But the Celts have to start thinking about how they’ll be able to remake their roster.
WARRIORS STILL CONTEMPLATING WHAT TO DO WITH ELLIS
Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News: With the Warriors, it’s still the same basic story: The Warriors want to make dramatic improvements but keep running into the same wall–can they do this with Monta Ellis on the roster? They love Ellis’ scoring and heart and love that Warriors fans love Ellis. Yes, the Warriors could get worse for a while without Ellis scoring at such a high rate. But they aren’t a playoff team as constructed around Ellis, or if everything works out, they top out as a No. 8 seed, and that’s not enough. Yes, Mark Jackson desperately wants to coach Ellis. Jackson has made a point of reaching out to tell Ellis that the Warriors aren’t trading him. And Lacob doesn’t want to move Ellis unless he gets a killer deal–for matching or superior talent and lesser dollars. But those great deals are almost impossible to pull off, especially with a small shooting guard as the centerpiece of the talks. And yet… To get much better, the GSWs will probably have to tear apart some of the aspects most beloved by their owner and front office, and that means dispatching either ultra-beloved David Lee or mostly-beloved Ellis.
GRIZZLIES AREN’T LETTING GO OF GASOL
Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal: Griz owner Michael Heisley reiterated that the Griz will exercise their right to match any offer sheet [Marc] Gasol might sign with another team. “Obviously, we want to sit down and try to make a deal with Marc,” Heisley said. “I’m committed to keeping him. I’m committed to winning a championship.” Gasol likely will command a starting salary ranging from $10-14 million. Just like under the rules of the league’s last CBA, the Griz can offer Gasol a contract with more years and higher raises than any potential suitor. “I don’t know when people are going to stop doubting Mr. Heisley. He’s 3-for-3,” [Grizzlies GM Chris] Wallace said, referring to speculation that the Griz might balk at paying Gasol’s market value after having agreed to contract extensions with Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph. People close to Gasol are convinced that his desire is to remain in Memphis. People close to Gasol are convinced that his desire is to remain in Memphis. “This has been a pretty good spot for Marc,” Wallace said. “He came in and started from Day 1. And Marc has seen the fortunes of the franchise rise in accordance with his. He’s been a big part of what we’ve done. He’s gone from a player of curiosity to a guy who thrives in Spain, and then comes over here and emerges as one of the better centers in the league. That’s all happened in Memphis and we intend to keep him.”