2013 Trade Deadline

Rockets’ Gamble on Robinson Worth Risk

HOUSTON — Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday and The Sundance Kid had nothing on Rockets G.M. Daryl Morey.

The itchiest trigger finger in the NBA got things rolling in the countdown to the trade deadline by shipping out two power forward candidates who hadn’t panned out and bringing back another with plenty of talent and still something to prove.

Officially, it was Patrick Patterson, Toney Douglas and Cole Aldrich going to the Kings for Thomas Robinson, Tyler Honeycutt and Francisco Garcia and Marcus Morris going to the Suns for a second round draft pick.

But the essence of the deal was the Rockets taking a shot at the 6-foot-10 Robinson, who was the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft and a bundle of raw ability that many evaluators thought was the No. 2 pick of the litter eight months ago.

In two seasons, Patterson never established himself as a low post player on offense and did not carry his weight as a rebounder. Morris, too, is a decent mid-range shooter who also does not make his presence felt on the glass.

While there were character issues that surrounded Robinson before the draft and he was labeled a problem early in Sacramento and did not bloom, it is a move that is certainly worth the gamble for the Rockets.

If Robinson gets his act together and plays up to his potential, they’ve got a 21-year-old power forward who could fit in nicely on a roster that will now give him all the minutes he needs. If not, he carries a manageable $3.5 million contract that is only guaranteed through next season and also more cap space for free agency next summer. The Rockets were a team that had room to sign a max level free agent and another significant player and now they’ve carved out more room.

It is not on the blockbuster level of Morey’s deal that landed James Harden four days before the season opener. But it’s the kind of shrewd, low-risk deal that could set the Rockets up for an even bigger bang down the line.

The Deadline View From The West


The Clippers and Lakers continued to send strong signals on the eve of the trade deadline that they will not make a major move and possibly any move before noon Thursday, despite speculation to the contrary.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, with no reason to make such a definitive statement if he didn’t mean it, has flat out said, more than once, that Dwight Howard will not be traded. The same goes for Pau Gasol.

Neither comment is a surprise. Dealing Gasol was always going to be tough with so many specific needs to make it work – matching money, upgrade at power forward, the other team being willing to part with a good player because L.A. was not going to dump Gasol by the side of the road – and Howard is the superstar the franchise is relying on to take it to the post-Kobe Bryant world. Beyond that, the Lakers didn’t have any assets to move who would bring a significant return.

The Clippers have backup point guard Eric Bledsoe as a nice trade chip. But, as NBA.com reported Sunday, every indication is that any deal is unlikely, certainly a major deal, and that appeared to still be the case as of Tuesday evening. They would have to see offers much better than what has come in so far.

Elsewhere in the West, the Jazz (expiring contracts, prospects, the likelihood of multiple first-round picks in the 2013 draft, an inconsistent season) appear to be the best trade partner.

The team that isn’t getting much attention the final full day before the deadline but has a good chance to at least get into serious talks?

The Trail Blazers.

League sources said Portland has been involved in some conversations, though nothing major, in hopes of improving its depth without surrendering any of the foundation for the future. Indications are that if any move does come Thursday, it would be on that smaller scale.

But as one general manager said in assessing the mood around the league on Wednesday evening: “Everyone with tradeable assets is overvaluing them and don’t have the leverage they think they do and are going to be stuck with them.” That is directed at the Magic with J.J. Redick, Bucks with Monta Ellis and the Hawks with Josh Smith.

Suns Exploring Trade Options?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Phoenix Suns center Marcin Gortat is in the second to last year of his contract, but that hasn’t stopped the big man from making his way into the trade deadline crosshairs this season.

Gortat’s name has surfaced in a report from Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic regarding the Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder. The rumored deal would have the Suns sending Gortat and P.J. Tucker to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb and a first round draft pick.

Coro came back later and clarified his earlier report, via Twitter:

But Gortat’s name keeps coming up for a reason. Plenty of teams would be interested in a productive big man, with a reasonable contract (one more year at $7.72 million), who can play in any system and play any style.

Toss in the $6.4 million in salary cap room the Suns can work with, and there’s a reason they’ve been mentioned as potential trade deadline players, even as perhaps the third team in a three-team deal.

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 20

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: The NBA got back to regular-season work after All-Star weekend in Houston and there were plenty of choice matchups to pick from. Bucks vs. Nets was a nice way to get things rolling, especially given Joe Johnson‘s display of clutch-itude in both the fourth quarter and OT. There was a great East vs. West matchup in the Mile High City as the Nuggets took on the Celtics, with Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson powering Denver to the win. But we’ll go with a good matchup between two teams scrambling to solidify their playoff footing: the Warriors visiting the Jazz. Multi-faceted forward Gordon Hawyard was back in the action after a 10-game absence due to a shoulder injury while Utah’s big men combo of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson shook off the trade rumors surrounding them to lead the Jazz to a win and move them into a tie with the Warriors for No. 6 in the West.


News of the morning

Rival GMs expect Celts to deal | Bucks’ Jennings ‘untouchable’ | Jazz bigs ignore trade talk | Bargnani back in Toronto’s plans? | Gortat-for-Perkins swap? | Hornets prepared to deal Gordon? | Speights could get dealt again | Sixers’ Turner not on block | Williams criticism puzzles CarlesimoFerry’s plan at heart of Hawks’ changesGallinari steps it up

Celtics expected to make some kind of dealCeltics boss Danny Ainge has steadfastly denied that he’s looking to tinker with Boston’s makeup or trade franchise stalwarts like Kevin GarnettRajon Rondo or Paul Pierce. But rival GMs are saying just the opposite (in what may be a smokescreen act) and think the Celtics are priming themselves for a deal of some kind. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald has more:

As Danny Ainge downplayed the possibility the Celtics will be involved in a transaction before tomorrow’s NBA trade deadline, general managers and personnel people around the league are saying quite the opposite.

They’ll be stunned if the Celts don’t make a deal of some sort.

“They’re too active,” said one. “They’ve been putting a lot of different things out there, and you’d have to think at least one of them is going to come through.”

If the Celtics do pull off a trade, it’s likely something beyond what’s already in the public domain, and many of those talks were dead on arrival.

For example, the Celts did have a brief discussion with the Lakers, but word is Mitch Kupchak said flatly they are not going to deal Dwight Howard, stating that he is part of their future. It’s possible that outlook could change, but with Rajon Rondo rehabbing from ACL surgery, the Celts wouldn’t have enough to get in on such talks.

The Clippers remain a good target, with Eric Bledsoe an intriguing talent.

“An awesome athlete, but not really a pure point guard,” said one personnel guy. “He could be a Russell Westbrook type if he keeps developing.”

The Hawks’ Josh Smith talk seems a bit of a mystery from the Celtics’ standpoint. To begin with, it would be hard to put together the right package to get him. And it’s even more doubtful they would be willing to part with the kind of things Atlanta is looking for.

Start with the fact Smith almost certainly won’t be signing a three-year extension right after a trade when he can wait until summer and get a longer deal as a free agent. So there’s no guarantee a team trading for him has him beyond the next few months. Then there are the questions of just how much Smith is worth relative to what he can contribute.

“If you could get him to just do the things he does really well and stick to that, I think he’d be one of the best players in this league,” said one ranking team official. “But you get the whole package with Josh. You can probably absorb most of that on a really good team, but is he the kind of guy you’re going to go to in your halfcourt offense in the fourth quarter of a Game 7? For the kind of money you’re going to be paying him, you have to think about that.”

Jennings ‘untouchable’ for nowJust six days ago, Bucks guard Brandon Jennings reportedly had expressed frustration with the front office and had “irreconcilable differences” with team brass. But Jennings quickly reversed field on that story and, although he didn’t commit to a long-term future with the Bucks, seemingly patched things up. Maybe that has led to the news reported by ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that Jennings has become ‘untouchable’. More details here:

The Milwaukee Bucks continue to discuss Josh Smith trade scenarios with the Atlanta Hawks in advance of Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.

But those discussions, sources say, also serve as a strong indication of the rising likelihood that Brandon Jennings will not be moved this week.

ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Monta Ellis is the primary player Atlanta is targeting in its discussion with Milwaukee. Sources say that the Hawks, furthermore, want Milwaukee to add at least one expiring contract to the equation with Ellis and possibly take on some salary.

ESPN The Magazine’s Chris Broussard, meanwhile, reported Wednesday morning on “SportsCenter” that Smith would be interested in playing with both Jennings and Ellis if he wound up in Milwaukee, leading the Bucks to try Wednesday to make the deal without surrendering Ellis.

Yet amid all of those talks, sources say, Jennings has moved alongside Larry Sanders and John Henson on the Bucks’ list of near-untouchables.

The Dallas Mavericks were at the forefront of the list of teams hoping that the Bucks would make Jennings available this week, but Milwaukee appears intent on taking its chances in the offseason, knowing that Jennings will be a restricted free agent and thus unable to leave town unless the Bucks decline to match an offer sheet he receives.

Millsap, Jefferson shrug off trade chatterAs our own Fran Blinebury pointed out yesterday in this space, Jazz GM Dennis Lindsay could end up being active on trade deadline day … especially considering Utah’s bevy of big men. Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson are the names most teams would want to acquire and that duo is used to hearing their names bandied about in trade talks over the years. While no solid suitor has emerged (we’ve seen talk of Jefferson-to-San Antonio here and there), the Jazz’s veteran big man duo isn’t letting the talk affect their game. Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News has more:

When asked about trade rumors after returning from the All-Star break, Jazz players and coach Tyrone Corbin all shrugged off any talk about the subject.

“I’ve been in this league a long time. This is my ninth year and Paul’s seventh. We’re used to this,’’ said Jefferson.

“You don’t react. You just let it go,’’ added Millsap. “You can’t do anything about it because you don’t really know for sure. If it don’t come from (the Jazz’s) mouths it’s probably not true.’’

Millsap’s name has come up in trade rumors for years, and the Jazz forward says he’s used to it by now, saying he takes it as a compliment that he’s a wanted player. One of the latest rumors has him going to the L.A. Clippers for point guard Eric Bledsoe and others.That trade would potentially affect Mo Williams, the team’s current starting point guard, who has been sitting out with an injured thumb for more than a month.

Corbin was blunt in talking about trade speculation.

“It’s rumors and we don’t deal with rumors,’’ he said. “We are who we are and everybody here is part of our family. We’ll continue progressing in the way that we have and we expect everybody to respond accordingly.’’

Jefferson has been traded twice in his career, but he knows if the Jazz are involved, it’s unlikely anyone will know about it in advance.

“The one thing about the Utah Jazz is they’re a very professional team,’’ he said. “When a trade comes nobody’s going to know until it actually happens. They’ve been consistent with that. They’re just rumors.’’

Colangelo downplaying Bargnani dealRaptors GM Bryan Colangelo already pulled off one significant remodel of his team this season by sending Ed Davis to Memphis and Jose  Calderon to Detroit as part of the three-team trade that put Rudy Gay in Raptors red. The next name expected to be on the trade block is former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, but Colangelo may be cooling on the prospect of trading the outside-shooting big man. Sam Amick of USA Today caught up with Colangelo and talked with him about Bargnani, Colangelo’s future in Toronto and more:

Colangelo, who came to Toronto from Phoenix in 2006 and has been attempting a massive rebuilding effort ever since Chris Bosh left for Miami in the summer of 2010, is in the final year of his contract. In an interview with USA TODAY Sports on Tuesday, Colangelo said he has no discussions with ownership about his updated status and remains hopeful that he’ll be around past this summer. The Raptors – who are 5-2 since Gay came on board and 21-32 overall after their horrific 4-19 start – play at Washington Tuesday and have a reunion game with the Grizzlies in Toronto on Wednesday night.

While Colangelo could make more moves before the Thursday trade deadline to help his team and improve his case even more, he downplayed the once-widely-held notion that center Andrea Bargnani would be traded before then. He called that situation “fluid” and said “there just may not have been enough runway prior to the deadline to get something” because Bargnani recently came back from injury.

On Bargnani, how he’s fitting in better now with Gay and the likelihood that he could be traded…

“We began this year with Bargnani as our No. 1 scoring option. He’s now No. 3 because Rudy has arrived and DeMar (DeRozan) has emerged. Now Bargnani is No. 3. There’s talk about possibly moving him – and again we’ve talked about it, not for talent reasons but because maybe sometimes a change of scenery is the best thing for somebody. But sometimes a change of scenery can happen just by redecorating the room.

“All of a sudden the outlook and the presence of a guy like Andrea is entirely different now. He’s not relied on as a No. 1 guy. He has never been paid like a No. 1 option, but people wanted to criticize that he couldn’t handle that role. I’ve always felt like he’s been slotted in salary-wise as a No. 2 or No. 3. Maybe he’s kind of fitting in nicely now.

“If a trade doesn’t occur before the deadline, or even this summer, maybe it’s because we figured out that with the evolution of the team he is the right guy to be a part of this team. He’s been through the hard part. This may be the easiest part ahead of him.

On his future in Toronto …

“There’s been no discussion (about his future since the trade). I certainly haven’t brought it up. I think that we’re, right now, transitioning with an ownership change of our own.

“I’ve proven that, despite all the things that have been happening with the rebuilding of this team simultaneous to the uncertainty with my contract, I always made the right long-term strategic decision with respect to the transactions that were being made or draft picks that were being made. Case in point was drafting (Jonas) Valanciunas (fifth overall in 2011) knowing that he was not going to be here for a year, and that when he did arrive that he’d be 20 and would still be considered a project. But you have to carry out your job with integrity and do the right thing for the organization. That’s what I’ve been hired to do and that’s what I’m doing. Whether or not that pays off for me long-term, with an extension or just even my option year being picked up (for the 2013-14 season), time will tell. But you can’t lose sight of what the job is.” (more…)

Hawks’ Smith Headlines Trade Deadline Rumblings

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Josh Smith‘s days of playing before an ambivalent crowd at Philips Arena are numbered. If we’re reading the trade deadline tea leaves correctly, he might even be down to his final 48 minutes there on Wednesday night when the Hawks host the Heat.

The Hawks’ attempts to convince Smith to stick around until the summer, when he’d be a free agent, have not slowed a number of teams pursuing the versatile power forward.

In fact, the list of teams with reported interest in Smith seems to grow with every tick of the trade deadline clock. The Hawks have let it be known that they are willing to move the Atlanta native by Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET deadline. And a player with his unique arsenal of skills can fit in any system.

The Brooklyn Nets, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers are all either in full-blown pursuit or monitoring the situation closely in the hopes of landing Smith via trade … or perhaps later via free agency. That leaves the Hawks in the position of being very selective with their decision, while also needing to act now. There will be fewer potential trade partners to work with in July, courtesy of the particulars of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The max-deal conversation that has raged for weeks was, like many things in the Twitter era, not fully understood by most of the people. They were simply repeating the stories of Smith and the Hawks agreeing to disagree about his value to the team that drafted him with the 17th pick overall in the 2004 Draft.

Smith never said he demanded a max deal or else from the Hawks. A source close to Smith confirmed that the conversation between the two sides never ventured into that realm. Smith simply answered a question the way you’d expect any competitive NBA player to answer it when presented with the premise of “Do you think you are worth max money?”

The funny thing is the Hawks, spanning two different front office regimes, have never really made clear what monetary value they have assigned to Smith. His current deal — he’s in the final year of a five-year, $58 million contract — was one the Hawks had to match after the Memphis Grizzlies made a play for him as a restricted free agent in 2008. It’s a bargain for a player who has been as productive as he has during that time.

Since basically his first season, Smith has been on the proverbial trade market every February. And the Hawks have drafted player after player (Marvin Williams, Shelden Williams, Al Horford) who were supposed to supplant Smith as the team’s best option at his position. Yet Smith has been steady. For every knock on his game — the ill-advised jump shots no one wants him to take, the spotty decision-making and the well-publicized dust-ups with coaches Mike Woodson and Larry Drew — there are things Smith and only a handful of other players can do on a given night.

Two players in the entire league average better than 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Reigning league MVP LeBron James is one of them and Smith is the other. Smith is the only player averaging better than 17, 8, 4 and one block (he actually averages 2.1).

When the Hawks traded six-time All-Star Joe Johnson to the Nets last summer, the playoff forecast for the franchise changed dramatically. Smith and Horford were left to lead a team of good role players that few people expected to be among the Eastern Conference’s best teams early this season.

There is a high probability that Hawks fans who have grown disenchanted with Smith’s game over the nearly nine years he’s played before hometown crowds. That throng will get their wish and see him move on. It’s up to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry to sort through the mess and find the right deal (with the most assets — players, draft picks, etc. — they can get for their best player).

And all indications are that’s exactly what he’ll do by Thursday’s deadline. (more…)

What’s Next For Season’s Stretch Run?

Do either of these star-less teams have a chance to win big? (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE)

Do either of these star-less teams have a chance to win big? (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Calling these “second-half storylines” would be both misleading and bad math, because All-Star Weekend didn’t exactly split the 2012-13 with Solomon-like equanimity. So we’ll go with “home-stretch storylines,” situations and people that NBA fans should keep their eyes on over the final two months of regular-season play. By dealing with trade-deadline drama separately on this site, we can limit this list to the five most compelling things to watch between now and the best-of-sevens:

1. Can the Lakers avoid making the wrong kind of franchise history?

It happened once in the “aught’s,” once in the 1990s, twice in the ’70s and then, continuing backwards, you’ve got to go back to their Minneapolis roots to find an NBA season that wasn’t followed immediately by a postseason for the Lakers. But math is beginning to loom large as a course this team will not pass in 2012-13.

Four games under .500 and 3.5 games out of the final playoff berth in the West wouldn’t ordinarily seem like a failing grade. But there is another team, Portland, wedged between L.A. and Houston that doubles the leap-frog challenge — and no suggestion that any of the clubs above them are headed downward in the conference standings. Then there’s the schedule: More intra-conference games for everyone means that one or more of the Lakers’ chief competition will be winning on many nights. And given their 9-18 road schedule, March looks tortuous with 10 of 15 away from Staples Center.

Stir in all the issues – coach-talent disconnect, miserable defense, fractious locker room – that have been part of the league’s No. 1 storyline to this point and it doesn’t look fixable. The passing of Jerry Buss as Lakers owner seems, sadly, like a clear sign this is not their year.

2. Can the Spurs’ regular-season success translate for a change?

OK, the “for a change” part is a bit snarky, given San Antonio’s four NBA championships since 1999. Yet it’s going on six years since the last one and even in 2007, there was a sense that the club’s window of contention was closing, based on its marvelously constant but aging core.

Coach Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford have retooled in both precise and daring ways, shifting from the team’s old grinding defensive style to something sleeker, more offensive-minded and more democratic. Still, the Spurs’ three most important players are the same as a decade ago: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

All the controversial “resting” that Popovich practices and all the supposed advantages to old legs and big reputations that we see in the playoffs – no back-to-backs, slower pace, star whistles – haven’t paid off for San Antonio since before the Sonics left Seattle and Gilbert Arenas was a big NBA deal (for good reasons, that is). (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 19

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

News of the morning

KG open to move to Clips? | Hawks determined to move J-Smoove? | Buss kept Kobe from moving | Kings not likely to deal | Lin ‘thankful’ he wasn’t an All-Star | Sixers hope for Wall-like comeback for Bynum |

Celtics still open to moving Garnett?Just 10 days ago, Kevin Garnett was quite vocal in his displeasure of any trade talk and backed up his desire to remain with the Celtics during All-Star weekend, going as far as to say he’s going to “live and die in green.” ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports, though, that the Celtics are trying to possibly get their star forward to open up to a trade to the Clippers:

According to one theory in circulation on the personnel grapevine, Celtics officials could be moved this week to try to make the case to Garnett that waiving his no-trade provision to accept that long-rumored trade to the Los Angeles Clippers would be the best thing not only for himself but for the long-term health of the franchise. Combine that approach with the expected lobbying from the L.A. side by good buddy Chauncey Billups, as the theory goes, and maybe Garnett will ultimately relent and consent to a swap.

Have to add three follow-up caveats here, though:

1. After spending a solid 15 minutes in the same room with Garnett in Houston as part of ESPN Radio’s All-Star Weekend team, I became convinced that KG isn’t waiving that no-trade clause. For anyone or any team. My impression is that it’s going to take more lobbying than anyone out there can muster.

2. Broussard reported late Monday night on “SportsCenter” that Billups has already warned the Clippers that Garnett’s position appears to be firm … and that Garnett spelled out the exact same thing to Chris Paul last summer when Paul informed KG that the Clippers wanted to pursue him via trade.

3. Even if Garnett did wind up with the Clippers this week, after all the bluster against the idea, I still struggle to picture the Celtics telling Pierce that they’re going to send him to the Hawks for the good of Boston’s long-term health. The deal might make sense for Atlanta — since Pierce’s $5 million buyout for next season would extend the Hawks’ window of flexibility and create a new set of options — but it still looks like as an impossible sell in Boston.

I’ve always thought Rajon Rondo, not Pierce or Garnett, would be the first member of Boston’s star trio to be dealt. There simply might not be a shake-up move available to the Celtics at this deadline now that Rondo has been lost to a season-ending knee injury.

There’s more on that subject.

The Clippers, according one source close to the situation, would not be willing to surrender both Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan to Boston even if Garnett was willing to waive his no-trade clause.

Is that posturing? An absolute stance?

We’ll find out for sure between now and the deadline, but the source insisted that the Clippers feel that a Bledsoe-and-Jordan combo is too much to surrender for a 36-year-old who isn’t sure how much longer he’ll be playing.

Report: Hawks driven to deal Smith soonHawks star Josh Smith has seen his name in the trade rumors almost as much as his childhood friend, Dwight Howard. So far, we’ve had talks of Smith going to San Antonio, to Brooklyn, to Phoenix (though not as likely) and some other places, too. Add a couple more teams to the mix, as ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Chris Broussard report. The Nets and Suns are hot after Smith, but now the Bucks, Wizards and the Celtics are reportedly entering the fray, too, with some big names being tossed about to land the Hawks’ versatile forward:

The Atlanta Hawks have convinced numerous teams that they’re definitely trading Josh Smith this week, largely because they see the unpredictable lefty as a virtual lock to leave them in free agency this summer.

So …


One team close to the situation consulted Monday night predicted that the Nets would ultimately land Smith via a three-way trade after ESPN’s Chris Broussard reported Feb. 11 that Smith is a prime Brooklyn Nets trade target.

Another team pinpointed the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks as the strongest contenders to win the Smith sweepstakes. The big worry for both of those teams, though, is whether they could really risk trading for Smith when convincing him to re-sign for the long term is likely to be a serious challenge in either city. Especially with Smith said to be angling for a max deal … and with nobody confusing the Suns or the Bucks with Mikhail Prokohorov‘s Nets.

Broussard, furthermore, tweeted early Tuesday that the Washington Wizards have made anyone on the roster available for Smith, apart from John Wall, Bradley Beal or Nene.

Which brings us to the Boston Celtics.

NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com on Monday that the Boston Celtics have, indeed, registered their interest on the Smith front, with the caveat that they also remain highly interested in the Clippers’ Eric Bledsoe.

Yet a Boston deal for Smith, sources said, would almost certainly have to be built around Paul Pierce, because Kevin Garnett isn’t waiving his no-trade clause to go to the Atlanta Hawks if he’s not willing to waive it to go to the Clipperland. And the prospect of Celtics front-office chief Danny Ainge exiling Pierce to the Hawks for Smith, after everything Pierce has done to restore the Celtics to glory over the past half-decade, is still hard to imagine.

At least for me.

Buss’ legacy helped Kobe stick with LakersWith legendary Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss dying yesterday at 80, a dark cloud hangs over the NBA this morning (and likely will for several days) as the league mourns not only one of its most successful owners, but one who shaped the vision for several other franchises. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper has a great look at Buss and how he turned Los Angeles, which was not an NBA hotbed when Buss bought the team in 1979, into a hoops town. One of the hallmarks of Buss’ stint as an owner was his ability to build the Lakers into a contender two separate times — once with the Magic Johnson-led group of the 1980s and again in the 2000s with the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O’Neal-led group. But once O’Neal was dealt to the Miami Heat in 2004 and Bryant was left with a less-than-stellar team in L.A., Buss faced the challenge of not just building a new contender, but keeping Bryant from forcing his way out of L.A. As Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports, a near-trade for Bryant in 2007 helped Kobe realize just how good of an owner Buss was:

After all the anger and angst and fury of the immediate post-Shaq era had inspired Kobe Bryant to make a trade demand, Jerry Buss finally called his superstar guard to the owner’s home in the Los Angeles hills on an autumn evening in 2007.

The Los Angeles Lakers had found a trade for Bryant, but Buss warned him that it wasn’t to one of his selected destinations.

“Detroit,” Buss said.

The Lakers had agreed to a deal to send Bryant to the Pistons and needed Bryant’s approval to waive his no-trade clause. The package included a combination of Detroit’s core players and draft picks, sources say. Buss and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak needed an answer soon, because they refused to let the issue linger into training camp.

Looking back, Bryant isn’t sure it would’ve mattered whether it was Detroit or Chicago, Dallas or New York. In that moment, in Buss’ house in the hills, it washed over Bryant how much staying a Laker for life meant to him, how no matter how dire the state of the franchise seemed, that Buss had a history of restoring the Lakers to championship contention.

“It hit me that I didn’t really want to walk out on Dr. Buss,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports on Monday.

Months later, Kupchak honored Buss’ faith and made the trade for Pau Gasol. Soon, the Lakers were back in the NBA Finals three straight years and winning two more titles. Soon, Bryant was back to understanding the inevitable essence of Jerry Buss’ prowess: In the end, the old man was a force of nature.

Now, the Lakers understand that relying upon Bryant as the franchise player is coming to an end in the next couple of years, and Dwight Howard must be convinced to stay and be the cornerstone for the future.Buss had been seriously ill, less connected to the franchise in the past year, but you’d have to believe at a different time in his ownership that he would’ve forged a relationship with Howard that would’ve made it impossible for him to leave. Those days are done; Jim Buss isn’t Jerry. No one will ever be Jerry Buss again.

In that meeting in the fall of 2007, near the start of training camp, Buss presented Bryant with a scenario of Bryant’s own request: a trade out of Los Angeles, out of the franchise that drafted and groomed him and taught him to be a champion.

Even now, Kobe Bryant still thinks about that time in his life when he was too impatient, when he failed to give Buss’ own history and greatness its proper due. Whatever the owner had told him that night about a trade – Detroit or Chicago, Dallas or wherever – it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

For all Bryant’s impatience, there was still such an immense part of him that was comforted in the company of the Los Angeles Lakers’ patriarch. True for Bryant, true for all of them.

No one walks away from the Lakers, from Buss, and does so without a deep, lingering regret. These were the Showtime Lakers, and they would be again with Bryant and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. In his 17th season, Bryant’s belief that he’ll never wear another uniform is unwavering.

Jerry Buss gave Bryant the gift of Jerry West trading for him on draft day in ’96, of Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson, of five NBA championships that perhaps wouldn’t have been available anywhere else.

All these years later, Kobe Bryant is blessed to know that he never walked out on Dr. Buss, that he’ll share something with the late, great owner forever: Lakers for life – and beyond.

Even more on Jerry Buss’ passingRather than detail every story around the web paying tribute to Buss, here’s a tidy roundup of some of the best we’ve seen that are worth your time:

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 11

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: The triple-OT classic between the streaking Nuggets and equally hot Celtics is pretty hard to pass up … as is the Lakers-Heat showdown in Miami that saw LeBron James showing off all his MVP-type skills. But we’ve got to go with the Clippers-Knicks game as our must-see today. It’s impressive to see what this fully stocked L.A. team can do. The boost that Grant Hill gave off the bench — particularly in the fourth quarter — was special. Chris Paul was back to his usual MVP-contending self, Blake Griffin was soaring in from here and there, the Raymond-Felton-to-Tyson-Chandler alley-oop was working … all around, a good one to rewatch.


News of the morning

Nets chasing Hawks’ Smith | Suns getting active in talks | Shumpert in trade rumors? | Redick thinks he’s staying put | Rockets, Harden have long-term view | Nets fall apart against Spurs | Miller questions ‘star-less’ system

Report: Nets in pursuit of Hawks’ SmithAs our man David Aldridge reported on Friday, the Hawks are open to trade offers for star forward Josh Smith. Obviously, trade talks for Smith have picked up over the weekend, with the Nets being the rumored frontrunners. ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard — who also had news of the Nets’ interest in Bobcats guard Ben Gordon over the weekend — has more on Brooklyn’s pursuit of Atlanta’s star:

The Brooklyn Nets are aggressively pursuing a trade for Atlanta Hawks star forward Josh Smith, league sources told ESPN.

The two teams are engaged in discussions, but one source said while “there has been lots of talk, nothing is close yet.”

As the NBA’s Feb. 21 trade deadline nears, Brooklyn is proving to be one of the most active teams in the league. As reported by ESPN.com on Friday, sources said the Nets also are talking with the Charlotte Bobcats about a Kris Humphries-for-Ben Gordon trade.

While the Nets certainly want Gordon, sources said acquiring Smith is their higher priority. A trade for Smith would seemingly kill a deal for Gordon, because Humphries is one of the players being discussed with Atlanta.

The Nets are willing to give up Humphries and second-year shooting guard MarShon Brooks for Smith. But it almost certainly will take more than a Humphries-Brooks combination to pry Smith away from Atlanta, and one source said the Hawks want Brooklyn’s first-round pick.

Some scenarios that have been discussed include the Hawks’ Anthony Morrow, who played the past two seasons with the Nets, returning to the club.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Saturday that the Hawks want a young center in return for Smith.

The Nets may have to get a third team involved to pull off a trade for Smith.

Smith will become a free agent this summer, and Atlanta is deciding whether to trade him before the deadline. One source close to the situation estimated there is a 60 percent chance the Hawks will move him.

Suns in midst of many trade talks?As we mention below, the Suns might be interested in working out a deal to acquire Knicks swingman Iman Shumpert, but that might not be the only deal on the table. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reports that Phoenix has also been linked to potential trades with Utah and its star big man, Al Jefferson:

The trade deadline is 11 days away, but the Suns already are linked to talks with New York and Utah. Multiple media outlets reported the Suns have ongoing interest in Iman Shumpert, a guard they considered drafting in 2011 when they took Markieff Morris and Shumpert went 17th to New York.

Swingman Jared Dudley is mentioned as a possible swap target, but the Suns would have to get more salary in return to satisfy trade rules because Dudley makes $4.25 million annually through 2014-15. The possibility of a pick going to New York also was reported, but the Suns covet their first-round picks, especially if the Lakers miss the playoffs and the Suns wind up with two lottery picks.

The Suns would have to be concerned with Shumpert’s left knee. He was out from late April to mid-January with a torn anterior-cruciate ligament. Shumpert, 22, was living up to billing as a perimeter defender with a 6-foot-5, 220-pound body to play both guard spots, but he has been a 39 percent shooter.

“Anytime you’re on a team that’s a losing team and they’ve got a lot of draft picks, it’s going to be up in discussions,” said Dudley, who had not heard from his agent. “In the NBA, 90 percent of the rumors don’t come true. It comes with territory and doesn’t faze me at all.”

Dudley said he takes the buzz about him to be a compliment, including the Suns’ interest in Rudy Gay.

“When my name came up before, I was a throw-in,” Dudley said. “Now, I think I’ve worked on my game where I could be a good piece or asset for the Suns or any team.”

The Suns also have shown interest in a bigger splash for Utah’s Al Jefferson or Gordon Hayward. Dudley could be a part of either of those deals with center Marcin Gortat likely needed to make one work for Jefferson, a 28-year-old power forward who makes $14 million and is averaging 17.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. Hayward, a 22-year-old swingman, is averaging 13.5 points in a reserve role.

“We all realize this is a business,” Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter said. “I was a player once, and I was traded a couple times. It’s nothing personal. It’s just business, and I think guys understand that now.”

Shumpert finds self in trade rumorsAfter a dozen games in New York’s lineup following an extensive rehab stint following ACL surgery, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian Bagley reports that the Knicks are listening to offers for Shumpert (one of which includes a swap of him for Phoenix’s Jared Dudley), but a move may not be likely. Still, this is the second season in Shumpert’s two-year NBA career that he is in the midst of trade rumors:

The New York Knicks are listening to trade offers for Iman Shumpert, but a team source said a deal that would send the second-year guard to the Phoenix Suns for Jared Dudley as part of a multiplayer package is “unlikely at this point.”

“I don’t really care,” Shumpert said following Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. “I’ve just got to play ball. I can’t control it anyway. There’s nothing to worry about — something I can’t control.”

Knicks coach Mike Woodson downplayed the situation when asked about it Sunday.

“Those are just trade rumors,” he said.

The Suns have shown interest in acquiring Shumpert, a league source confirmed.

The Suns’ interest in Shumpert and their willingness to include Dudley in a deal was first reported by Yahoo! Sports on Saturday night.

The Knicks have been monitoring the trade market for a shooter in recent weeks, but there is a faction in the organization opposed to giving up Shumpert, who is widely viewed as one of the top young perimeter defenders in the league.

One team source characterized the Knicks’ listening to the Suns’ offer as the team performing its due diligence as the trade deadline nears.

Still, the same team source said not everyone in the organization is convinced of Shumpert’s long-term value to the Knicks.

This is not the first time the Suns have shown interest in Shumpert. Phoenix requested the Knicks include him in a sign-and-trade package for then-Suns guard Steve Nash last summer.

The Knicks enter play Sunday in first place in the Atlantic Division, four games ahead of Brooklyn. They are 1½ games behind first-place Miami in the Eastern Conference.

The Knicks are the oldest team in the league, and coach Mike Woodson and general manager Glen Grunwald have said they are dealing with a finite window to compete for an NBA title.

Dudley could help them offensively. He is a career 40 percent 3-point shooter and is averaging 11.8 points in 29.8 minutes this season.

Redick doesn’t anticipate dealOrlando’s J.J. Redick isn’t just a longtime fan favorite there, but has also made the eighth-most 3-pointers in the NBA this season (115) and is shooting 40 percent or better from 3-point range for the second straight season. That makes him a valuable trade chip for Orlando — and for teams looking for 3-point shooting — but the ex-Duke star tells the Orlando Sentinel’s Brian Schmitz he isn’t worrying about being dealt:

Magic SG J.J. Redick told the Sentinel after Sunday’s win that the club has told him they “are not actively trying to move me.”

Various teams, however, are actively trying to land him.

A fan favorite, J.J. followers might see the fact that the Magic aren’t pushing Redick out the door as a good sign.

But the NBA trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 21, meaning other clubs have plenty of time to present a trade offer to the Magic.

If the Magic have decided they can’t afford to keep Redick – J.J. makes $6 million in the final year of his contract and starter Arron Afflalo will be over $7 mil the next three seasons — they need some kind of compensation. They might want a favorable draft choice or a young promising player.

Or they could demand that one of their bad contracts needs to be packaged in any Redick trade — a tough sell if the Magic are parting ways.

Redick can ultimately control his destiny and destination after if he’s dealt. He can be rented for the rest of the season, but he can become a free agent this summer.

Some teams trading for him, such as the Milwaukee Bucks – who have been linked in rumors to Redick – likely will see if they can afford to sign him  longterm first.

Along with the Bucks, the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics have reportedly shown interest.

Redick has heard the scuttlebutt. He prefers to stay in Orlando and didn’t seem too concerned when I spoke with him after the club’s win over Portland.

Rockets, Harden taking the long viewBehind first-time All-Star guard James Harden, the Rockets find themselves this morning at No. 8 in the West, 1/2 game behind Utah for No. 7. That puts Houston squarely in the playoff picture, mostly thanks to Harden’s breakout campaign. Now Houston is hoping that Harden’s play, combined with a decent playoff showing, will help entice some marquee free agents to look their way come the offseason, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

The Rockets considered landing Harden, 23, the most significant step in their rebuilding but far from the final move necessary to build a contender.

His success in his first season as a go-to scorer and offensive focal point has been key to their 28-24 record and will bring him his first All-Star Game appearance Feb. 17.

The Rockets hope his play will just be the start of his contributions, to be followed by a role as a compelling draw for their next star.

It is a job he welcomes as much as handling the ball in pick-and-roll.

“I hope so,” Harden said. “I’ve built some friendships these last couple years, this summer and throughout the time playing. They know what kind of person I am, how hard-working I am, knowing I want to win. I hope that becomes a factor of wanting to come to Houston and trying to win championships.”

When it comes to discussing his recruiting efforts, he was considerably more reticent.

James Harden might have the All-Star power to attract a complement or two, but the Rockets would have to show the willingness to make the deal.

Asked if he had begun making his sales pitch, or at least laying the groundwork for next summer, he said he has chatted with “a couple guys.”

Asked who has received his initial recruiting attention, Harden smiled broadly and said, “A couple guys.”

The Rockets can create enough salary-cap room to sign Dwight Howard or another max-contract player (Chris Paul will be a free agent, but even more likely to remain in Los Angeles) and with that in mind expect to be cautious about using cap space at the trade deadline than they have ever been with Morey as general manager.

Several players who could become free agents could be moved at the deadline, but Morey is more likely to wait for summer free agency when Howard, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala and David West could hit the market.

“I think it’s pretty well established to win a title you need great players and need more than one,” Morey said. “Having a great player like James and with him showing what he can do, puts us in a good light in our situation in Houston.”Not only has he been on big stages early in his career … he’s been around the other great players.”

Less than two weeks before the trade deadline, Morey reiterated he will be more cautious this season. Though he would make a short-term move such as last season’s acquisition of Marcus Camby, he said he would not do it at the cost of long-term options unless it also suits that goal.

“Except if something unexpected comes along, someone signed that is very good and wants to be moved, we plan to keep our flexibility as an available destination for whatever free agent is available in July,” Morey said.

Nets hear it from home crowdLosing to the Spurs with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is an almost understandable defeat for most any team in the league. Losing to that squad when Duncan and Ginobili rest is a little tougher to swallow. Such was the case for the Nets on Sunday as the Parker-led Spurs demolished the fully stocked Nets by 25 points and Brooklyn’s crew drew the ire of the hometown crowd, writes Howard Beck of the New York Times:

The fade was gradual and then instant — a few harmless missteps, followed by a sudden, spectacular free fall. Tony Parker charged. The Nets stumbled and wheezed. And the Barclays Center soundtrack morphed from the warm, familiar “Brook-lyn” chant to something more wrathful: “Booooo.”

The Nets have had an extended honeymoon in this maiden season in Brooklyn, but the fans finally lost their patience Sunday night, screaming their displeasure as the San Antonio Spurs, playing without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, drilled the home team, 111-86.

As the Spurs completed a dominating second half, outscoring the Nets, 60-29, the angry voices began to boom.

“Deserved,” the Nets’ Deron Williams said. “These people pay money to come see us play, and play better than that.”

They were the first sustained boos the Nets had heard since arriving in Brooklyn. But then, this was as listless and demoralizing as any loss the Nets have had. They failed to take advantage of the Spurs’ depleted lineup, failed to hold an 8-point lead in the third quarter and utterly failed to contain Parker, who carved up their defense for 29 points and 11 assists.

The Spurs pushed their league-best record to 40-12, while the Nets continued to fade, slipping to 29-22. The Nets have lost six of their last nine games, all but one by double digits, and their psyche has never looked more fragile.

There have been more Nets trade rumors — including Ben Gordon and Josh Smith — in recent days than Nets victories.

From Coach P. J. Carlesimo to every starter, the Nets bemoaned an inability to fight through trouble, to keep their heads, to respond constructively and to play with a singular purpose. In the aftermath, there were hints of a fractured locker room.

“We got to understand that this is a team game,” Gerald Wallace said. He added: “You’re allowed to get mad. But instead of going your own individual way, we got to pull together as a team, buckle down. And that’s when we got to tighten up our defense a little bit more, instead of going into five different guys out on the court.”

The Nets have enough fight, “but the fight right now is in the wrong direction,” Wallace said. “Everybody is wanting to fight individually, instead of pulling together as a team. And that’s fighting as the Brooklyn Nets.”

Nuggets’ Miller questions star-less systemWe didn’t address Andre Miller in this space on Friday, but he might mentioning now. On the heels of Denver’s rout of Chicago at home on Friday, the Nuggets’ veteran guard voiced that he’s looking for more minutes than what he’s getting with Denver. After last night’s triple-OT defeat in Boston, Miller was talking again — although this time taking issue with the Nuggets’ overall roster gameplan than with his own minutes. Coach George Karl has spent the entire season preaching how his team can win without a bona fide superstar, but Miller doesn’t seem to agree with that philosophy, as Christopher Dempsey of the Denver Post reports:

Last May, Nuggets guard Andre Miller said this in an interview with The Denver Post on the subject of whether any team could win big in the NBA without a superstar.

“The question is, can you win without a superstar? This is a superstar’s league, and you can’t win without a superstar.”

Miller recently repeated those words in another report. It’s what he’s always believed, and why not? The NBA hasn’t shown him, or anyone else, anything different.

But coach George Karl believes it can be done, and he’s out to prove it this season with the Nuggets, who don’t have a superstar or even an all-star.

Miller’s comments got back to Karl, who was asked what he thought about them. Karl shook his head.

“Andre and I got to have a talk in Toronto,” said Karl, a mini-chuckle present at the end of the sentence. “The only thing it comes down to is 10 or 15 superstars. I think (Andre) Iguodala and Ty (Lawson) and Gallo (Danilo Gallinari) and Andre Miller and Kenneth Faried are in the next 40 players on that list.

“As I said, the best team is who wins the NBA championship 90 percent of the time, it’s not who has the most talented team.”

But throughout January and into February, the Nuggets, if not yet counted as serious contenders in the Western Conference, have at the very least moved into the category of dangerous — the team you don’t want to face come playoff time.

That was underscored by Boston coach Doc Rivers.

“They run. They play together,” Rivers said of the Nuggets. “I love watching them. I tell George that all the time.

“They’re agenda-less when you watch them play. Nobody cares. They have six guys (scoring) in double figures. That’s what you see when you watch them play.

“They’re a very difficult team to load on. We load on a couple guys a game. (With the Nuggets) you’re sitting there picking which guy we do that to. It’s just hard with them.”

ICYMI of the night: We love some nice big man passing around these parts and, surprisingly, some of the best dimes of the night were found in the Blazers-Magic game. First, we had Nicolas Batum going five-hole on Andrew Nicholson to get the ball to J.J. Hickson for a dunk. But the winner of the night was this pretty behind-the-back number from Gustavo Ayon to Nicholson:

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 8

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Most of Thursday night was filled with the release of the participants in the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, the Sears Shooting Stars and, last but not least, the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge draft that featured Team Shaq and Team Chuck filling out their rosters. Whew!

After that, we had just two games on the schedule and both of ’em were blowouts. That makes our job a little tougher around here, but we’ll go with the Bulls-Nuggets game because the highlights in this one were, in a word, Manimal-tastic. Kenneth Faried said he wanted to make a statement on national TV and did he ever, going for 21 points, 12 rebounds and two steals while throwing down a boatload of memorable dunks as Denver won its eighth straight game.


News of the morning

Bulls, Raptors looking at second deal? | Uneasy partnership in L.A. | K.G. blasts trade talk | Is Iggy worth the max?

Bulls, Raptors could swap point guards, tooWord broke last night of the Raptors and Bulls opening up discussions on a deal that would send Chicago’s Carlos Boozer to Toronto for oft-maligned Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein broke the story and says several factors are key in any move, including whether or not the Raptors could afford Boozer’s salary as well as that of newly acquired swingman Rudy Gay. Toronto, like most teams in the new NBA economy, is weary of paying the luxury tax and that could scare it from the trade.

The Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson reports that two other players, the Bulls’ Nate Robinson and the Raptors’ John Lucas III, could be involved in a swap, too:

The Bulls and Raptors engaged in trade talks centered on Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani over a week ago, according to two league sources.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein first reported the talks, which a source told the Tribune were initiated by the Bulls and initially dismissed because of the Raptors’ desire to land the Lakers’ Pau Gasol. Though talks are not currently active, a source said the Raptors know the trade is available and could expand to include Nate Robinson and John Lucas III. Another source suggested it’s unlikely the Raptors would take on Boozer’s contract, which has $9.1 million more than Bargnani’s over the next two seasons.

The Raptors recently added Rudy Gay’s long-term contract via trade.

Boozer makes $5 million more than Bargnani this season. Coach Tom Thibodeau long has been an advocate of Lucas III, who is playing sparingly for the Raptors.

Despite the talks, there are no plans to use the amnesty provision on Boozer this summer. Boozer is having a strong season, but shedding his salary could improve the Bulls’ long-term financial picture.

Uneasy Dwight-Kobe partnership rearing its head?After Kobe Bryant took to the media yesterday to say how ‘urgent’ it is that Dwight Howard try to play through the pain of his torn labrum, everything blew up all over again in Lakerland. After Bryant’s comments, Howard had his say and Bryant came back and said he hadn’t tried to push Howard to play again … well, you can read it all here.

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski takes the long view on this Bryant-Howard partnership in L.A. and dissects in a way that only he can. From news about Lakers (and former Knicks) coach Mike D’Antoni shooting down a trade for Howard to delving into why Bryand and Howard likely won’t ever get on the same page, Wojnarowski has a cutting review of what’s gone wrong so far in L.A.:

Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard had always been a reluctant partnership, two stars long suspecting what turned out to be the indisputable truth: They were destined to be terrible teammates.

When Bryant and Howard hung up on a pre-trade deadline call a year ago, the suspicions of a toxic mix were confirmed with a most uncomfortable conversation. They had different visions on the way Howard would fit into the Lakers, which promised to compound the gulf between them as people. They were going to win with the Lakers and tolerate each other; or lose and develop a deep disdain.

On his way out of the Garden, out of a humiliating 116-95 loss to the Boston Celtics, Bryant returned a clichéd question – “Are Dwight and you on the same page?” – without a clichéd response.

With a bemused face and a shrug, Bryant told Yahoo! Sports: “What page is there to be on? Defend. Rebound…”

He shrugged again.

“I mean, what else is on the page?”

Nevertheless, Bryant reached out to Howard early on Thursday to diffuse the drama, he told Yahoo! Sports. He fired off a text to message to insist that a part of his interview with the great Boston sportswriter, Jackie MacMullan, had been misconstrued in the public eye. Bryant swore he wasn’t calling out Howard about sitting three straight games with a shoulder injury, that he wasn’t questioning his toughness.

“Listen, I really think people ran in the wrong direction with those quotes,” Bryant told Y! Sports. “And I think that put Dwight on the defense, put him a little on edge. But that wasn’t the intention, nor the purpose.

“I didn’t say anything earth-shattering. I didn’t say anything I haven’t been saying all year.

“Honestly, I didn’t take a run at him.”

Part of the problem of Howard’s clowning act is that people don’t take him seriously in times of crisis. It’s easier to doubt his toughness, tenacity, when they’re watching him grab the microphone to do impressions on team charters or booming farts in the locker room. Bryant never wanted Howard’s disposition to rule the day in the Lakers’ locker room, never wanted his own culture of seriousness and duty to be undermined with the frivolity that comes with Howard.

This was Bryant’s concern before the trade this summer, and after it. Rest assured, there was a reason the Lakers were third behind the Brooklyn Nets and Dallas Mavericks on Howard’s preferred list of trade partners. First of all, there were doubts about the depth of talent to win a championship – and those turned out to be legitimate. What’s more, he knew the partnership with Bryant would be troublesome for him. And when Bryant and Steve Nash were enthusiastic about the arrival of Mike D’Antoni as coach, Howard badly wanted to play for Phil Jackson.

D’Antoni had no use for Howard with Team USA, nor the New York Knicks when his name was raised in possible trade discussions. D’Antoni made sure to tell everyone Howard had been medically cleared to play in each of the three games he missed recently, and he sounded minimally sympathetic toward Howard’s endurance of pain on Thursday night.

Gasol’s gone, Howard is searching and these Lakers simply aren’t constructed to resurrect themselves in the playoff chase. For the future, the Lakers’ play hasn’t changed, nor will it. They have to give Dwight Howard a chance to recuperate his back, his shoulder, and understand that he can eventually still be a franchise center.

And yet, as Bryant told MacMullan, “We don’t have time for [Howard’s shoulder] to heal. We need some urgency.” Bryant has been around a long time to be too surprised his words were construed as a call to arms for Howard. Make no mistake: That interview practically promised Howard would be in the lineup on Thursday night, that he would push through the pain and redirect the narrative on himself.

Nevertheless, Howard still seemed bothered with Bryant, and, well, Bryant seemed unbothered with it. He shot Howard his text, let him know he wasn’t making a run at him. Whatever. From the start, this partnership promised to be an uneasy proposition, and it’s been something of a self-perpetuating prophecy. Kobe and Dwight always knew the deal here. With winning, perhaps they could tolerate each other. With losing, a deep disdain.

“We communicate,” Bryant told Y! Sports. “We do often.” This doesn’t mean they have a relationship, or trust, and that’s part of the reason Bryant is a minimalist when it comes to the sharing of the basketball season’s page. All along, they were destined to be terrible teammates. They knew it, but could do nothing to stop an inevitable consolidation of their talents. In the end, Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard need each other, and that’s still the best chance for the salvation of these Los Angeles Lakers. Someday soon, they’ll need to go far deeper on that page together. Someday soon, the future of the franchise depends upon it.

K.G. doesn’t want to go anywhere; Ainge likely to obligeThe Kevin Garnett trade rumors have been bubbling up since early this week, with the Clippers being mentioned most as the destination for the current All-Star starter and future Hall of Famer. Garnett has been mostly quiet on the rumors, but had some comments after last night’s win over the Lakers where he didn’t mince words about his future. As well, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge says he doesn’t see himself dealing Garnett (or star Paul Pierce) and is for the most part happy with Boston’s roster. The Boston Globe’s Gary Dzen and ESPNBoston.com’s have the reports from both camps:

K.G. on staying put:

Kevin Garnett ended his postgame press conference Thursday night with an unprompted message to reporters that he’d like to stay in Boston.

“I just want to say that I love my situation here,” said Garnett. “I don’t know what all your sources are, or whoever’s making up this [expletive] articles about me getting traded to Denver and all these other places.

“But I bleed green, and I will continue to do that. And if it’s up to me I’m going to retire a Celtic.”

Garnett scored his 25,000th NBA point in the second quarter of Thursday night’s game. He said his daughter was in attendance (“Thank you for snow days”), a rare occasion, and he thanked every coach and teammate who had helped him along the way. While in a reflective mood, Garnett went back to a familiar metaphor — cooking — to explain why the Celtics might be playing better in the absence of Rajon Rondo.

“Rondo does so many different great things for this team,” said Garnett. “You can kind of get lackadaisical. It’s very similar to when you have someone cooking for you, and you’re expecting that every day. But as soon as you start to feed yourself, all of a sudden you start making these gourmet dishes. You start having more people to the house. And you never know you really possessed that. It’s kind of like that.”

Ainge on keeping the stars together:

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Thursday that despite rumors to the contrary, he doesn’t expect to trade Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

“Yeah, I think that’s by far the most likely thing. Sure,” he said when asked whether he was comfortable saying the two stars will remain in Boston.

“I’ll just repeat what I always tell you guys — the things that are out there are the things that aren’t true and the things that are happening are not being reported,” he said regarding trade rumors.

“I can’t give you much juice other than it’s this time every year. There’s a lot of conversation, and usually at this time of the year, the conversation isn’t as serious. As it gets closer to the deadline, it gets a little bit more serious. You get a little bit better offers. It’s still most people trying to make one-sided deals, as opposed to doing what’s best for both teams. Which is — a trade like a Rudy Gay trade is fairly unusual this time, this early before the deadline.”

Ainge said he will be patient moving forward and that he doesn’t expect any wholesale changes to his roster this season.

“I want to see how our team plays over the next little while before the trade deadline, too,” he said. “But I don’t think we’ve had a true test of exactly what team we are yet. And I think that, because I’ve been doing this for 10 years now, but with this group of guys for the last couple of years, I don’t see that much changing. There aren’t a lot of teams that are trying to pursue players of KG and Paul’s age, and I just think that we value them more than other teams value them.

“There’s so many teams that are trying to get younger, so many teams that are trying to rebuild, so many teams are trying to get high draft picks already. I think that where we value them as players is just much greater than the rest of the league, which I think is common among players of their age.”

Why hasn’t Iguodala become ‘the man’ in Denver? — When he was dealt to Denver as part of the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum deal, most folks around the NBA thought the Nuggets finally acquired their long-sought after go-to scorer in Andre Iguodala. Yet Iguodala, a free-agent this summer, is the Nuggets’ No. 3 scorer (behind Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson) while still delivering the consistent defense and all-around play that helped him become an All-Star as a member of the Sixers.

Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post delves into whether or not the Nuggets — as successful as they’ve been of late — should seriously give Iguodala a max-level contract next season, especially if he can’t even be the team’s top player scoring-average wise:

So here’s the key question for Denver coming down the stretch: Can the Nuggets afford to build a contender around Iguodala, given the constraints of the NBA salary cap and this franchise’s aversion to paying the luxury tax on talent?

Iguodala is a clamp-down defender, a true professional and a compelling interview.

But the NBA is not a spelling bee. You don’t get paid $15 million for giving intelligent sound bites or getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

For $15 million, was it too much to expect for the 29-year-old Iguodala to lead the Nuggets in scoring, be an all-league defender and stamp his personality on the locker room?

His defense has met expectations. The rest of the shiny package? Empty.

After 50 games with the Nuggets since arriving in trade, Iguodala is in danger of finishing with career lows for field-goal percentage, free-throw percentage and rebounds per game. But the real head-scratcher is why an Olympic gold medal winner from the Dream Team hasn’t been more forceful in establishing high standards for these young, often- inconsistent Nuggets.

“It’s a little bit of an adjustment. It’s hard to change habits, especially when you’re the new guy coming into a new situation,” Iguodala said Thursday. “There are some things guys have been accustomed to doing their whole careers, and when you come in here, you can’t just jump on them right away and say, ‘Change it.’ It’s a process.”

So was it too much to expect Iguodala to lead the Nuggets in scoring and shoot better than 60 percent from the foul line? Coach George Karl is never afraid to tell me I’m wrong, so I asked him.

“I’m not unhappy. That’s unrealistic. You thought he’d be our leading scorer? I never thought that,” Karl said. “He’s a good scorer for us, and we have other guys we plug in. The way we play, we don’t tilt the offense to one player until the end of the game. We just play basketball, go out, run and see who gets the touches.”

You can unearth basketball metrics that argue Iguodala is among the NBA’s premier defensive players. But there are also advanced stats that suggest the nine-year pro is struggling worse than at any time since his rookie season, despite Karl’s transition-friendly offense that seems ready-made for Iguodala’s skill set.Iguodala is the highest-paid player on Denver’s roster.

But is he really more valuable to the Nuggets’ future than Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari or Kenneth Faried? Given salary cap constraints, would it be wise for Denver to make Iguodala among the league’s 15 top-paid players?

ICYMI of the night: The best thing about this highlight from JaVale McGee (other than it won’t land him on Shaqtin’ A Fool)? Ty Lawson seeing the whole time that McGee is camped out just outside the key, pointing in the air for the alley-oop and Lawson delivers it perfectly:

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: A 13-game night means there’s a little bit of everything for any kind of fan: lottery team showdows (like Bobcats-Cavs or Suns-Hornets), playoff team scuffles (such as Grizz-Hawks) and elite teams in action (like Warriors-Thunder, Rockets-Heat and Spurs-Wolves). We’re not going to pick a lottery showdown and that Grizz-Hawks game ended up being a blowout, so it’s out. The elite teams (OKC, Miami and San Antonio) did what they wanted and there was little doubt they’d win. So our pick today is Bucks-Jazz. Although Utah won by 14 points, Milwaukee gave a good fight most of the night. Plus, we’re a fan of watching big men go to work, and what team in the league has a better stockpile of ’em than Utah with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter? It’s enough to make Karl Malone wish he could teach ’em all a few tricks (more on that below) … 


News of the morning

Kobe wants ‘urgency’ from Dwight | D-Will still in pain | Malone wants to re-join Jazz (on bench) | ‘Sheed looks back on D.C. days | Sixers’ Richardson done for season? | Carter a ‘long shot’ to be traded | Wall a franchise star?

Kobe pleads for ‘urgency’ from HowardThe Lakers got word Wednesday afternoon that an MRI revealed Pau Gasol has a tear in his foot and are awaiting word as to how much time he will miss. Meanwhile, center Dwight Howard has missed L.A.’s last three games to rest a torn labrum in his shoulder. Oh, and, the Lakers have virtually no backup big men after they lost forward Jordan Hill for the season in January to hip surgery. All that said, Lakers star Kobe Bryant knows that for L.A. to climb back into the playoff race and stay there, he’ll need help from Howard sooner rather than later. ESPNLosAngeles.com details what Bryant is feeling about Howard and his need to rest his injuries:

“We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal,” Bryant said Wednesday in an exclusive interview with ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan. “We need some urgency.”

The interview with MacMullan came one day after Bryant publicly challenged Howard, stating that playing through an injury is “something that you have to balance out and manage.”

Bryant also asserted that Howard is preoccupied with how he is perceived by fans and media.

“Dwight worries too much about what people think,” Bryant told MacMullan. “I told him, ‘You can’t worry about that. It’s holding you back.’ He says, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ but it’s always hovering around him.

“He just wants people to like him. He doesn’t want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing.”

Bryant also speculated that Howard, in his first season with Los Angeles, may not be accustomed to the Lakers’ standards.

“(Howard) has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is,” Bryant told MacMullan. “It’s win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That’s just how (the Lakers) do it. And that’s foreign to him.

“When you think about it, there aren’t many organizations that look at it that way. There are only two that can really honestly say that’s what they live by — Los Angeles and Boston.”

Howard preached patience in a recent interview with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, pointing to the fact that Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal needed three years before winning a championship with the Lakers.

But the 34-year-old Bryant, who is averaging 27.6 points per game in his 17th NBA season, is approaching this season with more desperation.

“We don’t have three years,” Kobe said. “We’ve got this year.”

Howard is listed as day to day, and his status is uncertain for Thursday’s game against the Boston Celtics.

The Lakers are hopeful Gasol’s injury will prompt Howard to return “sooner than later,” a team source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

D-Will still dealing with painDeron Williams has had a rough season, part of which can be attributed to various injuries which have hampered his effectiveness and made him less-than the All-Star guard he usually is. Last night against the Pistons was no different for Williams, who had a rough night stats-wise and was mostly ineffective against Detroit’s young guard combination of Brandon Knight, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

For Williams, it was another game with more pain. He came up limping and grimacing in the first quarter, with a knock that appeared to involve his knee or thigh. In the second quarter, he required attention from the trainer after grabbing his shoulder.

Williams walked it off, like he does with most of his aches and pains. And per usual, he never really recovered.

The point guard, who has been a shell of his former explosive self because of the injuries, had his moments in the fourth quarter, including a smooth crossover that led to an 18-foot jumper. But Williams was mostly ineffective, slow and hesitant, finishing with 12 points and nine assists — leaving him with averages of 11.8 and 6.5, respectively, in his last four games.
He also is missing his first All-Star game in three years.

“Right now I think he’s sore,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Williams, who has injured both ankles, his foot, his thigh and his wrist this season. “There’s no question. Someone like Deron who played all summer — we are beyond the halfway mark, so the guys that are playing big minutes are beat up. They are sore. In his case, his ankle and his wrist. He’s had trouble with that the whole year.”

Williams hasn’t dunked once this season, or hit a game-winner. So it was no surprise Lopez got the call down the stretch, with the game there for the taking thanks to Detroit’s fourth-quarter ineptitude (the Pistons shot 6-of-20 in the period).

Mailman wants back in with JazzFew players are as synonymous with a franchise as Karl Malone is with the Jazz. The Hall of Famer, former two-time MVP and the No. 2 all-time scorer in NBA history hasn’t suited up for Utah since the 2003 playoffs, but a statue of him resides out front of EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City and his No. 32 jersey hangs from the rafters in it. Malone currently serves as an the director of basketball promotions and assistant strength and conditioning coach for his alma mater, Louisiana Tech, but has also hosted a weekly radio show on ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City in the last year. He appeared with ESPN 700’s Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon and made his case to join Utah’s staff as an assistant coach:

Malone doesn’t want to replace any of Tyrone Corbin’s current full-time helpers, but he wouldn’t mind finding a spot next to Sidney Lowe, Jeff Hornacek, Michael Sanders and Brad Jones.

“All they’ve got to do is call me,” Malone said during an interview with ESPN 700’s Hans Olsen and James Rust on Wednesday afternoon. “I’ll work with the big men for free for a while until it work.”

This isn’t the first time Malone has offered his coaching services to the organization he helped turn into a powerhouse and a two-time NBA Finals squad during his 18 years in Utah.

“I’m saying it again. Ain’t nobody took me up on it,” Malone said. “Maybe they don’t want to hear me.”

Malone said he wouldn’t necessarily want a full-time gig and he has no desire to travel with the team every game.

“But look. We can start off and see if it working,” Malone said. “If not, I’ll be the first one to say, ‘Guys, it ain’t working.’ And they don’t have to say nothing.”

Malone has no doubt if the Jazz’s former coach was still in charge — or is again elsewhere someday — he’d be in a gym teaching bigs how it’s done.”If coach (Jerry) Sloan ever got another coaching job, I would be with him sometime,” he said. “End of story.”

“I’m being dead serious about this,” Malone said. “I don’t want no cameras around. I would be more than willing to come.”One large factor Malone is interested: He’s a big fan of the Jazz bigs.

“Utah Jazz is one of my favorite teams. I still have them doing damage,” Malone said during the 25-minute interview. “Utah Jazz have a group of the best big men that’s in the league. Go through any team (and compare).”

“All in all guys, don’t start blowing up the team,” he said in the radio interview. “If you don’t have to get rid of a big guy, don’t get rid of a big guy. You don’t see a lot of them coming down the pike. But the fact of the matter is, we have talent on this team.”The sports talk-show hosts also asked Malone who he’d pick if he had to between Big Al and Malone’s fellow Louisiana Tech product, Millsap. Malone grumbled and laughed about being put on the spot but then — you guessed — gave his opinion.

“I love Paul Millsap and he’s going to play somewhere all he want to. If you’re making me choose between one or the other — and I’m Tech Nation, Paul MillsapAl Jefferson, to me, is a bigger guy that would do more damage at that position if you can’t bring but one of them back,” Malone said. “Try to bring both back. Whatever you do, do not get rid of these two young kids (Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter).

‘Sheed still remembers his Bullet daysLong before Rasheed Wallace was an All-Star performer as a Portland Trail Blazer and a key part of the Detroit Pistons’ championship team of 2004, he was the prized pick of the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) in 1995. Going No. 4 overall to Washington, Wallace garnered All-Rookie Second Team honors and was part of a young-but-developing squad that included Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Calbert Chaney and other young talent. But after his rookie season, ‘Sheed was sent to Portland for Rod Strickland and Harvey Grant as the Wizards tried to make a serious playoff push. Wallace talked with the Washington Post’s Michael Lee about his D.C. days and what could have been had he stuck around:

“Every time I’m back here, people say, ‘Man, why’d you leave?’ ” Wallace said, shaking his head, at Wednesday’s morning shootaround at Verizon Center. “It wasn’t up to me.”

Wallace still blames former Bullets General Manager John Nash for his exit after one season with the team, but Nash had resigned before Wes Unseld eventually shipped him to Portland for point guard Rod Strickland and forward Harvey Grant in one of those promising-big-for-fading-small deals that the franchise was so accustomed to making in the 1990s (ahem, Chris Webber for Mitch Richmond).

With a few more gray hairs peeking out of his scraggly beard and unkempt Afro, Wallace still looks back on his time as a Bullet as a classic could’ve-been.

“Man, I think about it a lot,” said Wallace, who averaged 10.1 points and 4.7 rebounds in his rookie season. “I understand it was all business and money, but we had a helluva squad here. I wish we could’ve stayed like two, three years together, just to be able to see what we could’ve done.”

The Bullets were stocked with front-court talent back then, with Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Gheorghe Muresan, Jim McIlvaine and Bob McCann and Wallace was often viewed as a luxury. Wallace started 51 games as a rookie, getting a lot of time at power forward as Webber recovered from a dislocated left shoulder, but he also dealt with troubles on and off the court in his short stint with the Bullets. He also didn’t need much time to establish a reputation for berating NBA officials, and had been mentioned in trade rumors since January of that season.

The Bullets reportedly offered Wallace to Philadelphia for the No. 1 overall pick, which turned out to be Allen Iverson.

Still, Wallace was stunned when he was seated in a barbershop in Philadelphia and got word that he was going to join the Portland Trail Blazers.

“My cousin called, and told me, ‘You just got traded to Portland.’ I was like: ‘Man, whatever. I didn’t get traded,’ ” Wallace said with a laugh. “About two seconds later, my agent [Bill Strickland] called and was like, ‘The rumors is true.’ I was like, ‘Aarghhhh!’ ”

The “what ifs” will never be resolved in Washington but the memories remain. When asked what he misses most about his days playing at the Capital Centre in Landover, Wallace said: “Just the enthusiasm of the crowd. The crowd felt the same things that we did. That it was a helluva team and we could’ve did some things. …I think we would’ve went far in the playoffs, because we were big. Unfortunately, I started those games that I did because Web went down. I hate to move into his starting slot like that. But man, we could’ve did a lot of things.”

Richardson facing season-ending surgeryThe Sixers have spent the season waiting for All-Star big man Andrew Bynum to get into the lineup so they can see exactly what kind of team they have. But while Bynum has been rehabbing and progressing, Philly has been waiting to get veteran guard Jason Richardson back, too. Richardson hasn’t played since Jan. 18 as he’s been dealing with a nagging knee issue that will now likely require surgery and six to nine months of recovery time, writes Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:

Philadelphia 76ers guard Jason Richardson learned Wednesday he will miss the rest of the season due to a left knee injury that requires surgery, a source told Yahoo! Sports.

The 12th-year veteran was told by a doctor in New York City that he has a cartilage tear the size of a quarter on the right side of his left kneecap. Richardson is expected to be out six to nine months following surgery that is expected to take place next week.

Richardson had missed the previous seven games after being diagnosed with synovitis in his left knee. He finishes the season averaging 10.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while starting in all 33 games he played in during his first season with Philadelphia. He is under contract through the 2014-15 season.

Carter a ‘long shot’ to be tradedOur own Jeff Caplan caught up with Mavs swingman Vince Carter, who has been hot lately for the Mavs, averaging 17.6 points on 49.0 percent field-goal shooting and 45.0 percent from 3-point range over his past eight games. Carter’s name has been bandied about in trade rumors, but the likelihood of him being shipped out of Dallas seems slim, and he seems to be enjoying his second season in Big D, too:

There’s no doubt that teams are and will inquire about Carter’s availability. Dallas reportedly didn’t get involved as a third team in the Memphis-Toronto trade that sent Rudy Gay to the Raptors because it wouldn’t part with Carter. Detroit took the role and acquired point guard Jose Calderon from Toronto.

A league source Wednesday characterized the odds of Dallas moving Carter by the Feb. 21 as a “long shot.”

Which Carter said suits him just fine, despite the Mavs needing a significant run just to get into playoff contention.

Carter signed a three-year contract with the Mavs prior to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season as part of the franchise’s retooling following the 2011 championship. His hopes of helping Dallas repeat didn’t materialize, but he had found a good fit. When the club decided to bring him back this season at $3.1 million, it fully guaranteed his final season next year at $3.2 million.

Carter’s contract is certainly attractive, but with Dallas uninterested in taking back salary and unlikely to net a major asset, there’s little reason to trade him when the club still believes it can make a push into playoff contention.

“There’s a reason he’s such an important guy to us,” Carlisle said following Wednesday’s win. “People key on his offensive stuff, but he’s just a big team guy. He’s one of our leaders.”

Two seasons ago with Phoenix, Carter’s career seemed to be closing quickly as his production continually dropped.

“Sometimes you get on a team where your talent isn’t needed, utilized,” Carter said. “This is a different type of offense here. I don’t know, I felt pretty good then and I will say I do feel even better. I put my work in after that summer because it kind of bothered me to even hear somebody think that or say it at that point in time because I still felt at that point physically able to contribute, to be effective for any team.”

Wall not a ‘franchise’ guy?Ex-Magic coach Stan Van Gundy got in a little hot water with folks in the D.C. area after appearing on ESPN 980′s The Sports Reporters in late December and saying that Wizards guard John Wall wasn’t a great decision-maker or a franchise cornerstone. Van Gundy recently talked to Ben Standig of CSNWashington.com and clarified his point a little bit, but Stan Van apparently isn’t a huge fan of Wall as the ONLY top-level talent on the Wizards: 

“I said this: John Wall is a talented guy, a very good player. I don’t think he’s good enough that you can build a franchise around him,” Van Gundy said after serving as television analyst for George Mason’s home game against Drexel last Thursday night. “I don’t think he can be your best player, certainly not clearly your best player. You need one guy better than him or a couple of guys at his talent level for them to win.

“To me that’s not a negative. I didn’t say it as a negative. I think some people took it that way. I just don’t see John Wall as a franchise player because – a lot like Rajon Rondo; I don’t see him as a franchise player even though he’s an All-Star – he’s not a good enough shooter yet and he’s not a reliable go-to scorer.

“In the NBA, your franchise guy has got to be a guy you can put the ball in his hands late in the game and he can get you a basket. I don’t see that from John Wall at this point in his career. Maybe it will develop, but I don’t see it.”

ICYMI of the night: Ricky Rubio likes setting Derrick Williams up for dunks, as we’ve seen before. But last night’s ultra-high alley-oop to Williams might have been one of their best connections yet …: