Posts Tagged ‘Bryan Colangelo’

Executive of the Year: Ryan McDonough

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: McDonough answers questions from fans

Architects and general contractors hear all the oohs and aahs. Demolition crews just try to get in and get out, completing their gnarly but necessary work without soiling the carpet.

Phoenix’s Ryan McDonough figured to be one of the latter, doing a lot more tear-down than build-up in his first full year as the Suns’ general manager. Only he axed and crowbarred his way to something pretty impressive, winding up as the choice here at Hang Time HQ as the NBA’s 2013-14 Executive of the Year.

Technically, none of us in the media votes for the EOY — that’s done by executives from the 30 teams. But McDonough would get points from anywhere for helping turn the Suns into one of the league’s happiest stories from start nearly to end. Don’t put too much stock in that flameout in the final week. The Suns nearly doubled last season’s victory total (they won only 25 then) and became only the second team to win 48 and miss the postseason since the NBA went to its 16-team format. Their record would have tied for third in the East.

This is a tale of the Suns rising in the West and the role McDonough played. In this year of (cough) “tanking” — more accurately described as avowed rebuilding — Phoenix was supposed to be bottom and center. McDonough made moves to clear the roster, open up salary-cap space and stockpile draft picks, rounding up a coaching staff fresh and upbeat enough to endure the losing without fraying.

Double their victories? Bah. Las Vegas oddsmakers pegged the Suns’ over/under at 21.5, a swoon from last season.

It didn’t take long for Phoenix to make the experts look silly. They won five of their first seven and were 17-10 by Christmas. They topped last year’s victory total before the end of January and were in sixth place a day after the All-Star break.

How did this all come together? Let us count the ways in which McDonough transformed-not-tanked:

  • He hired Jeff Hornacek as a rookie head coach, getting someone who, true, faced no pressure to win and brought a temperament suited to taking the expected lumps. But the former NBA shooting guard had played for and learned from some of the game’s most-innovative coaches – Jerry Sloan in Utah, John MacLeod and Cotton Fitzsimmons in Phoenix, Doug Moe in Philadelphia — synthesizing a strategy from them. Hornacek didn’t need to hitch himself to a franchise/superstar player, getting plenty of whole from the sum of Suns parts. His players feel ownership in the surprising results, while he hasn’t had to wrangle any massive egos.
  • Trading for Eric Bledsoe, though, was a big-time move, worthy of the most ambitious contender. McDonough liked Bledsoe’s rookie contract, sure, but he also liked the prospect of sticking him alongside Goran Dragic in the backcourt. That gave Phoenix maximum playmaking options and the tandem clicked — the Suns were 23-11 when the two started together.
  • Acquiring Bledsoe brought along veteran forward Caron Butler, who was so leery of suffering through a dreary season that he lobbied for and got a trade to … Milwaukee? Worked out OK for Butler eventually (he ended up in Oklahoma City), worked out better for the Suns, who got back backup guard Ish Smith. Smith has been a valuable and speedy reserve.
  • Let’s not forget the future first-round draft pick McDonough got for veteran Luis Scola, another fellow who preferred a backup role on a good team to a starting job with a projected loser. But wait, there was more: the Pacers also sent Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee to Phoenix. Plumlee has been a helpful big, but Green has been reborn — or sold his soul to ol’ Lucifer. The much-traveled wing with the rarely harnessed skills is a top contender to be voted 2013-14′s Most Improved Player.
  • Gifting center Marcin Gortat to Washington, along with Kendall Marshall, Shannon Brown and Malcolm Lee for injured Wizards big man Emeka Okafor and a future first-rounder. Everyone knew the prognosis for Okafor — out all season with a herniated disc in his neck — so nothing screamed “tank!” more than McDonough swapping healthy for hurt a few days before Opening Night. Washington has been thrilled with Gortat but you’d have to say he’s been valued there more than he’s been missed in Phoenix. Plumlee has plugged in fine and Gortat’s erasure — along with Jared Dudley‘s, a disappointment with the Clippers — has enabled the Suns to play faster.

McDonough didn’t have his fingerprints on all Phoenix improvements. Dragic is getting all-NBA attention, Markieff Morris earned himself a bunch of Sixth Man votes and Channing Frye might be Comeback Player of the Year if the league hadn’t replaced that with the MIP. All preceded McDonough in Phoenix.

But McDonough has served competing masters, positioning Phoenix well with picks and with money to woo free agents. Shouldn’t be long before our Exec of the Year puts down his crowbar and picks up a scalpel to tweak a team well past the tear-down stage.

The contenders:

Daryl Morey, Houston. Landing Dwight Howard, despite the once-glamorous Lakers’ advantages, was a biggie unto itself. But this darling of the analytics crowd has been wheeling and dealing creatively all along. The Rockets are a playoff handful for any opponent, any round, and might be set up best to take a real run at Carmelo Anthony should the Knicks scorer actually consider leaving New York.

Rod Higgins, Charlotte. Hiring Steve Clifford, another COY contender, was a move that smacked of the Bulls tapping Tom Thibodeau in 2010. Signing Al Jefferson proved to be a bigger win-win, dropping Big Al into the Bobcats’ culture to be a leader and an anchor, while eliciting the best performance of his career.

Neil Olshey, Portland. Did you know that Robin Lopez was going to have a breakthrough season? Or that Mo Williams would prove so effective off the bench behind Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews? The biggest benefit of those Olshey moves was calming LaMarcus Aldridge, the All-Star power forward who no longer makes noise about exiting.

Danny Ferry, Atlanta. Letting Josh Smith walk while opting instead for Paul Millsap, at a much better value (two years, $19 million vs. Smith’s four years, $54 million), was a heist for Ferry. So was the easy decision to match Jeff Teague‘s offer sheet from Milwaukee at a reasonable price — four years, $32 million — for a full-service point guard without most of Brandon Jennings‘ (three years, $24 million) flaws. Ferry also hired Mike Budenholzer, Gregg Popovich’s former right-hand man with the Spurs.

Masai Ujiri, Toronto. Sometimes it’s addition by subtraction, moving Rudy Gay to Sacramento to get the bump every team apparently does when unloading the skilled forward. And sometimes it’s the move you don’t make at all: Dwane Casey had one of those “expiring contracts” that don’t have much allure among coaches, and the guy who hired him (Bryan Colangelo) got deleted last summer. But Casey’s defensive bent and calm, mature approach were given enough time to pay off in the Atlantic Division crown.

 

Nets’ Anderson Makes It All Way Back

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — As vibrant as Toronto is as a sports market, as passionate as its fans are for whichever team is working that night, the feeling among some NBA players remains largely unchanged from what it was 18 years ago  when the Raptors joined the league via expansion.

It’s that place up there, with the funky money, the customs checkpoints and defence that’s almost as tricky to spell as it is to play.

But the Air Canada Centre is Madison Square Garden or Staples Center as far as Alan Anderson is concerned. He learned the hard way the difference between basketball outposts and basketball outposts.

“Well, you go to China and to Italy and Russia and all those places, and you’ll see Toronto as the NBA,” Anderson said in a phone interview this week, after taking his physical and wrapping up paperwork on his two-year contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

He didn’t mention Croatia or Israel, or Tulsa, Albuquerque or Canton for that matter. But he didn’t need to. This NBA dream of his, a dream that nearly died overseas or grinding through the D-League for four seasons and nearly five years that could have been his basketball prime, is alive and well.

What’s dead is any shred of entitlement or arrogance or even self-pity that Anderson might have had about deserving better than what he got from 2007, when the Charlotte Bobcats were done with him, to March 2011 when the Raptors finally called.

The 6-foot-6 wing player from Minneapolis didn’t need much more humility, mind you, after going undrafted out of Michigan State in 2005, landing with Charlotte for a year and a fraction, then getting his passport stamped like Jason Bourne for the next several seasons. But the harder he pressed, the farther away he seemed to get. How often did he doubt he’d get another shot?

“Always,” Anderson said. “Once I left, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, how long is it going to take me to get back? When am I getting back?’ And after a year goes by, two years go by…

“Actually, it was worse for me when I was thinking like that. That didn’t help me out at all. Once I started thinking about where I was at and winning a championship where I was at [in Croatia in 2009, in Spain in 2011], it started getting easier and I started seeing the NBA at the end of the tunnel.”

Anderson is forever indebted to former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo and current head coach Dwane Casey for the call that finally came. In February 2011, he had come back from a completed season in China with hopes of a 10-day deal in Washington that never panned out. His agent Mark Bartelstein suggested that, beyond his individual workouts, Anderson head back to the D-League to keep his game sharp.

Shrewd move: He joined the Canton Charge, played eight games, averaged 21.5 points and shot 55 percent from the floor while helping them in a late playoff run and caught Toronto’s eye.

“He said to me, ‘Mark, just get me one more opportunity in the league. If you do, I’ll take advantage of it,’ “ Bartelstein said. “And that’s exactly what he did.”

Anderson stuck through two 10-day deals and the few days left in 2011-12 after that. He was back last season, averaging 10.7 points and 23 minutes off the bench, helping the Raptors to a 31-34 mark when he played [3-14 when he didn’t]. He scored 20 points or more eight times, including a 35-point performance against the Knicks on March 22, which might have been all the resume he needed to grab Brooklyn’s attention.

Now, Anderson is headed onto one of the league’s grandest stages, with the newly configured Nets battling the Knicks for New York and Atlantic Division supremacy. He’ll be a relatively anonymous role player on a roster now crammed with marquee names and proven veterans, eager to back up Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson as needed, flesh out a vastly improved Brooklyn bench and team with Kevin Garnett. Anderson first met Garnett back in Minnesota in 1997, when he was headed to De LaSalle High and Garnett was all of 21, working a summer camp.

“For someone growing up in the inner city, where I came from, we loved watching KG play and everything he brought,” said Anderson, who plays with a little on-court edge himself. “When I finally go to meet him, he was talking to me like we already knew each other as friends. That was big for me.”

So many years later, Anderson has a chance to help make Garnett’s twilight time special. He’s no kid himself –- Anderson will turn 31 in the preseason –- but his NBA miles are low and his adrenaline is spiking.

“I don’t think I do anything great, but I think I do everything pretty good,” said Anderson, whose minimum contract includes a player option for 2014-15. “I can spot-shoot, I can rebound, I defend, I can create, I can pass. Me being versatile, it can come down to me –- if we’re in a shooting slump or we need to get to the basket or need to get to the free-throw line, I think I’m capable of doing all of that.”

Anderson calls this gig a “blessing.” Bartelstein considers it a “wonderful story.”

“Alan’s a guy who just wanted desperately to get back to the NBA,” the agent said. “To be on a stage like he’s going to be on in Brooklyn, I’m so happy for the guy. A lot of people counted Alan out and thought his NBA career was over. So, to come back from playing internationally and rebuilding his career to levels that a lot of people didn’t think he could do, it speaks volumes about his perseverance and how hard he’s worked.”

Raptors’ GM Search Nudges Colangelo Aside

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No, this won’t be awkward. Not at all.

Bryan Colangelo is going to stick around as the Toronto Raptors president but will no longer hold the title of general manager. That job, hierarchically the lesser of Colangelo’s two roles over the past seven years, will go to a person still to be hired by Tim Leiweke, the new CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

A person who will have autonomy over basketball decisions and not be beholden to Colangelo, we are told, no matter how much he strains at the leash.

“It’s a unique situation for me to be in, but not an ideal one,” said Colangelo, whose roots and passion for NBA front office work have sprung from basketball operations, given his GM job with the Phoenix Suns for 11 seasons before signing on with the Raptors in February 2006.

In a teleconference call with reporters, Colangelo also said: “It’s being portrayed as a non-basketball job, but we’re in the basketball business.”

Well, there’s always the possibility that it could become a non-job.

Leiweke made that pretty clear when delineating the respective spheres of influence for the semi-defrocked Colangelo in his new role on the business side of the franchise and whoever it is — Denver’s newly minted Executive of the Year winner Masai Ujiri is reported to be a leading candidate, if the Nuggets allow Leiweke to woo him — winds up making the basketball calls.

After all, Colangelo, 47, has been doing that for the past seven seasons and all Toronto has to show for it are two first-round eliminations (2007, ’08) and, since then, a record 90 games under .500 and three different coaches in five years.

Leiweke was unflinching in telling the media in a separate media call prior to Colangelo’s that there will be no blurring of the lines, in terms of duties, responsibilities and authority. Colangelo can suggest, but he can no longer decide. All the big stuff, all the basketball stuff, will be the new GM’s domain, from Dwane Casey‘s future as coach to scouting priorities.

“Bryan’s going to have to occasionally take a deep breath and understand now that a GM is going to have a direct report [to me] and final say-so on all basketball decisions,” Leiweke said. “He’s going to have to live with that. And I hope he can. Because if he can’t, I’m fairly certain we’re not going to fire the Toronto Raptors.”

There also was a question about Colangelo being free to pursue another basketball job. Leiweke’s stance was evident in the quick and simple way he said: “Yes.”

Because Leiweke – a longtime executive with sports and entertainment conglomerate AEG — has his roots in the business and marketing side of pro sports, it’s not likely Colangelo will get his brain picked on branding and sponsorship decisions, either.

Now, as someone to send to Flin Flon or Labrador City to raise the Raptors’ profile as “Canada’s NBA team” on an offseason promotional caravan, sure. But it didn’t take much reading-between-the-lines of Leiweke’s platitudes about Colangelo’s performance in his dual role to see this as a warehousing.

Good soldier. Good citizen of Toronto. Ugh. Was this a redeployment or a eulogy?

“I don’t believe I’m being pushed off into a corner somewhere,” Colangelo said. “I think I’m going to be used in a fashion that my 18 years of experience is going to be tapped into, not just by Tim but by the new GM.”

Good for Colangelo. But odds are, MLSE has just turned “team president” into one of those “assistant to the assistant manager” positions fit for Dunder-Mifflin, a job from which one seeks one’s next job.

Front Office Phil (Jackson) Headed North?



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You need a passport for this week’s stop on the Phil Jackson rumor train.

Cleveland is history, Mike Brown‘s the new (old) coach there. The Seattle situation, complete with Chris Hansen and his affinity for Jackson, took a serious hit Monday when Sacramento prevailed in its bid to keep the Kings in California. The Los Angeles Lakers’ situation is still in flux as no one knows what is going to happen with Dwight Howard (free agency looms), Kobe Bryant (rehabilitation from Achilles surgery is underway) and coach Mike D’Antoni (good for next season as coach), but they will all certainly be in the crosshairs this summer.

So the attention to Jackson has shifted north, to Toronto, where reports have the Raptors exploring the possibilities of trying to woo Jackson to be a part of their front office structure. Since he’s made it clear that he has no interest in returning to the league as a coach, the ideal situation for the Zen Master is to return as Front Office Phil.

Jackson’s relationship with new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment boss, Tim Leiweke, presents the Raptors with an opportunity to pursue Jackson in ways that didn’t seem possible before, as Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com detail here:

One source said that Leiweke’s “vision and energy” and history of shared success at Staples Center with the 11-time championship coach ensures that Jackson will give the pitch strong consideration despite skepticism around the league about his willingness to relocate to Canada.

Amid its pursuit of Jackson in the wake of Leiweke’s arrival, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo is scheduled to meet with the MLSE board next week in hopes of convincing his bosses to pick up the option year on his contract. The 2013-14 option in coach Dwane Casey‘s contract was picked up by Colangelo before this season, but Leiweke’s arrival has thrown both of their futures into some immediate doubt.

In an interview last week with the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson said “three or four teams” have already expressed interest and that “none of it involves coaching.”

“There are some interesting situations that are presenting themselves, but I really haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Jackson told the Chronicle.

Jackson also confirmed to the newspaper he’s interested in a developing team “where you’d have the influence in [selecting the] coaching staff and the kind of culture that goes along with it.”

It makes sense, until you remember that Jackson’s ties to the Lakers remain extremely strong. And until the Lakers make some concrete decisions about their future, there always be those who hold out hope that Jackson (alongside his fiancée Jeanie Buss) will return to the Lakers and help fix all that’s gone wrong since he departed two years ago.

That reconciliation seems impossible as long as Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak remain at the controls for the Lakers. Quite frankly, they have more pressing matters to tend to, namely what Howard will do in free agency. Having him in the fold with Pau Gasol makes the Lakers’ recovery from their ragged 2012-13 season one of the most crucial stretches in recent franchise history, considering they’ll have to do it without a healthy Bryant to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility.

There remains another potential option in Jackson’s preferred Southern California, one that Lakers faithful fear above all others, and that’s Jackson working down the hall at the Staples Center in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. What better way for the Clippers to cement their takeover as the city’s top basketball outfit than to lure Jackson over to their side in his return to the NBA?

A team with a nucleus of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Jackson working behind the scenes (or as coach/executive, if things don’t go Vinny Del Negro‘s way during this postseason) has all sorts of possibilities. Same goes for the Brooklyn Nets, who could have a coaching vacancy this summer, barring a surprise championship run during these playoffs.

So much of this is speculation at this point, with everyone believing that they have the perfect situation for Jackson to walk into and craft to his liking, it’s hard to know what’s a legitimate possibility and what’s just hot air.

But as long as Jackson is reportedly interested in making a comeback, in whatever capacity, there will be suitors lined up to pitch him and plenty of fans anxious to see if he bites.

Morning Shootaround — April 17

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

Clips get boost in backcourt | Spurs not expecting much from T-Mac | Players unsure Hunter will be back in Phoenix| Big decisions ahead for Raptors

Bledsoe, Billups give backcourt a boostThe Clippers have had Chauncey Billups in the lineup in just 21 games this season and heading into last night’s home game against Portland, he had missed L.A.’s last eight games. As well, third-year guard Eric Bledsoe had missed five games with a left calf muscle injury that slowed his energetic, up-tempo style. But both players were instrumental in the Clips’ romp of the Blazers, something that made Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro happy, writes Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

Billups brings the Clippers championship experience. He won a title with the Detroit Pistons over the Lakers in 2004, when Billups was named the Finals most valuable player.

“He’s a little bit older now,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said about the 36-year-old Billups. “He’s missed most of last season and a lot of this season, so that’s not as easy to do. We still expect a lot from him with his leadership. He can make shots, obviously. He’s another guy that can make plays.”

Billups had missed the last eight games with a strained right groin. He has played in just 21 games this season and is expected to play in a back-to-back game Wednesday night in Sacramento.

Del Negro said the plan is to play Billups about 20 minutes per game.

“He knows how to play and we have to get him into game condition as quick as possible,” Del Negro said. “He gives us another dimension out there making plays off the dribble, shooting the basketball. But he’s got to get out there and get his rhythm and chemistry with the guys.”

“[Bledsoe] changes the complexion of the game with his speed,” Del Negro said. “It’s just the versatility that he brings that is of value. We can’t always use it depending on matchups. But he’s been fantastic for us since he’s been healthy.”

Bledsoe had suffered a sore left calf muscle that kept out of five games. He seems to be just now getting his legs back strong again.

“He gives us an edge to us out there defensively and the speed he plays with,” Del Negro said. “We knew that was going to be a factor for us. I feel he’s back playing with a lot of confidence. He knows his energy and the way he plays is very important, especially with that second unit or if he’s out there with Chris [Paul], in how he uses his athleticism to pressure the basketball defensively.”

Spurs likely not expecting much from McGradyAfter parting ways with Stephen Jackson last week and dealing with a myriad of injuries to Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker along the guard corps, the Spurs picked up Tracy McGrady last night. McGrady, who hasn’t played for an NBA team this season, is eligible for the playoff roster and provides some backcourt depth for the postseason. But how much will the former scoring champ impact the Spurs’ postseason rotation? Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

With all the twists and turns during the 2012-13 regular season, it was only fitting that the Spurs gave us one more on Tuesday, signing Tracy McGrady to fill to roster vacated after the unceremonious whacking of Stephen Jackson.

It is the seventh NBA stop for the former franchise player, and eighth as a professional including his recent stint in the Chinese league. He dominated with Qingdao Double Star Eagles, averaging 25 points, 7.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists — the type of numbers he put up as a seven-time All-Star before injuries sapped his athleticism.

McGrady won’t find it nearly so easy back in the NBA, where he averaged 5.3 points last season with Atlanta.

There’s some speculation that McGrady’s addition had been the end goal all along. But at this point, the most likely  explanation is probably the simplest: The Spurs excised what they viewed to be a cancer, and they needed a warm body to help pick up the slack on a Spurs bench that suddenly isn’t so deep.

That means chewing up whatever time is available behind starting small forward Kawhi Leonard. And from what Gregg Popovich has said recently, there won’t be much. Leonard, he said, could earn up to 40 minutes a night, leaving precious little for a floor-bound ex-star.

Still, they needed somebody, and with only days left until the playoffs begin on Saturday, the Spurs could have done far worse. His woeful playoff record notwithstanding, McGrady has experience, and he should be able to provide adequacy in a number of facets: Playmaking, rebounding, perhaps even a touch of scoring.

Players unsure if Hunter will coach Suns next seasonWhen the Suns parted ways with coach Alvin Gentry in mid-January, some drama ensued. Assistant coaches Dan Majerle and Elston Turner quit the team shortly thereafter once word came down that fellow assistant Lindsay Hunter — and not Majerle or Turner, who had more experience as assistants — would be the Suns’ new interim coach. Those two might want to consider themselves lucky as Hunter hasn’t set the world on fire as coach. He is 12-28 as interim coach and the Suns are 2-8 in their last 10 games. All of those facts would seem to not bode well for Hunter returning to the Suns, a topic many players were mostly mum on. Scott Bordow of The Arizona Republic has more:

Luis Scola and Goran Dragic were asked whether they would recommend interim head coach Lindsey Hunter returning next season. Both players punted the topic.

“That’s a tough question,” Dragic said. “ … I’m here to play basketball. It’s not my decision to make.”

Dragic did say he liked Hunter’s approach to practice.

Alvin (Gentry) was a great coach for the veteran players; he knows when to give them a day off, but for our team we have a young team and we really need to practice hard every day,” Dragic said. “When he (Hunter) took over the team I think we maybe had one or two days off. I think it should be like that.”

Scola said he thought Hunter did “a great job. Circumstances were bad and he did as good as he could. But I don’t make those decisions. I’m just a player.”

Would a third coach in less than a year be unsettling for the team?

“I think it would be a sign of things being bad,” Scola said. “But things are bad.”

Suns owner Robert Sarver declined comment when asked about Hunter’s future, and Hunter said no time has been set for a postseason meeting with either General Manager Lance Blanks or President of Basketball Operations Lon Babby.

Off-court decisions loom for RaptorsAnother season draws to a close in Toronto tonight and the Raptors are once again on the outside of the playoff picture. It has been five seasons since Toronto made the postseason and seven since it finished with a record above .500. Needless to say, the team is in need of more overhauls and changes, although many of those could happen to non-roster positions. Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun explains how the fate of GM Bryan Colangelo, the direction of Maple Leaf Sports and more could shape the Raptors’ future:

As another Toronto Raptors season crawls to its conclusion, a franchise teetering on irrelevance has a series of enormous decisions to make.

There may not be any one right answer for Tom Anselmi and the board of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, but there is almost certainly a wrong one.

The decisions, as they seemingly do at the end of every Raptors season, revolve around the general manager, Bryan Colangelo, and the coach, Dwane Casey. Colangelo has an option year remaining on his contract. Casey has one year left on his deal.

And the team is forever paddling in circles, creating the occasional wave, but ending up nowhere in the end.

The decision for Anselmi and the board isn’t in any way obvious, with the largest issue being the relationship between Colangelo and Casey. Colangelo did his best to distance himself from his coach early in the season and there has been all kind of internal speculation that the two can’t possibly work together again.

Here’s the dilemma for Anselmi and the board: Do they use the option year on Colangelo’s deal and enable him an eighth season as general manager? Or do they have enough faith in Colangelo to reward him with a new contract, which would be based as much on blind faith and the fact he gives good board meetings as anything else?

Whatever determination is made on Colangelo’s future puts Casey’s future in a rather distant place. If one doesn’t believe in the other — and we saw what happened how effective it was when Brian Burke allowed Ron Wilson to continue on when they were philosophically opposed with the Leafs — then what sense is having Colangelo back with Casey as coach?

Colangelo apparently tried to fire Casey at least once during the season, insiders say, but wasn’t given the go-ahead to do so.

Colangelo hasn’t helped himself by his annual summers of bad decisions. There are only so many Landry Fields and Hedo Turkoglus and Jason Kaponos and Jermaine O’Neals you can miss on.

Casey, as coach, didn’t help himself by following up a decent first year with a scrambly second year and an absolute inability to compete in close ones.

So far, Anselmi has revamped the entire front office of Toronto FC and he played good soldier when some of the ownership decided to fire Brian Burke with the Leafs. Now he has a chance to go 3-for-3 in his first year on the job as president and chief operating officer.

“It’s not like we’re going to make an out of the blue decision. There’s been conversation going on all season long,” said Anselmi. “Is it any more complicated than usual? I don’t know. Either Bryan’s going to be in place and making decisions or someone else will be in place and make the decision on the coach. Leadership is very important to us.”

The Raptors’ season ends tonight. There is no meeting yet scheduled for the MLSE board. A decision on Colangelo is expected by early May.

ICYMI of the night: Plays like this one from Chauncey Billups to Blake Griffin might be a good example of why coach Vinny Del Negro is glad Billups is healthy again:

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26

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: After a Feb. 10 win against Denver, Boston was in the midst of a seven-game win streak and feeling good about its place in the East pecking order. But the Celtics’ five-game road trip West hadn’t gone as planned and they found themselves 1-3 with a date against the Jazz entering Monday. The Celtics had every reason to fold up shop, especially after looking listless at times in the first half and unable to contain Gordon Hayward most of the night. Never count out Paul Pierce, though, as he came through big for Boston as Celtics-Jazz ended up being our one to watch. Pierce showed off his Truth-y goodness in the win, particularly in the extra frame, where he scored seven straight in OT to salt away the victory:

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News of the morning

Nuggets beat D’Antoni, Lakers at own game | Horford finds a rhythm | Report: Bulls’ Gibson out 2 weeks | Can Celtics’ lockerroom change players? | Playoff hopes hurt in Toronto

Nuggets run Lakers out of DenverOnce Mike D’Antoni supplanted Mike Brown as Lakers coach, the assumption among some fans was that D’Antoni would employ the high-octane system he used in Phoenix in Lakerland and all would be right in the world. Yet as D’Antoni and the Lakers have learned time and time again this season, playing up-tempo isn’t the fast track to success for L.A. In fact, it’s the complete opposite and was proven so again last night as the Nuggets simply ran the Lakers out of Denver with a fast-breaking offense. Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register and Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com have more:

From Ding:

Big picture, the Lakers have still gone 11-5 since the day of their clear-the-air team meeting in Memphis. But the feel-good sentiments were contrasted Monday night by some ongoing cold – or should that be “old”? – realities for this Lakers team.

The Lakers were as slow as ever in letting the Denver Nuggets blow by them. Final score: Denver 119, Los Angeles 108.

Fast-break points? Denver 33, Los Angeles 3.

“Man,” Kobe Bryant said, “that’s a killer.”

The Lakers are last in the NBA in points allowed per game off turnovers, and that’s just how Denver took control of this game – also running off Bryant’s early missed shots. The Nuggets kept control with Dwight Howard shooting 3-for-14 on free throws and Bryant’s individual defensive effort lacking even as he rediscovered his shooting stroke.

From Shelburne:

Those who have been waiting to see what Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni’s high-octane offense looks like finally saw it Monday night.

Too bad it was the Denver Nuggets playing it.

All that great spacing and shooting and scoring D’Antoni’s teams have become known for over the years … yeah, that was George Karl‘s Nuggets running the Lakers off the court in a 119-108 win Monday night.

“They’re good,” D’Antoni said. “They spread you out and they shoot a high percentage.

“We just couldn’t catch ‘em.”

D’Antoni was glum after the loss, but not unusually so. That wistful, pining, ”If they could only see what I see?” quality he carried around with him during the first few months of his tenure on the Lakers bench is gone now. He’s either squashed it for good or put it in a place where it doesn’t bother him as much.

What’s become clear during the Lakers’ modest revival — they’ve still won 11 of their past 16 games despite Monday’s loss — is that they’re no longer trying to play like one of D’Antoni’s teams.

The coach — and his team — have adapted. Or at least accepted that the up-tempo style is not going to fit this team, this season. There are still elements of it that work, including the pick-and-roll game and the emphasis on spacing and rhythm. But the rest of it has kind of been shelved for now.

For the Lakers, it served as a reminder of the decisions they’ve been forced to make this year. The Nuggets’ run-and-gun style was the vision D’Antoni was hired to bring to Los Angeles. For now, though, with no training camp and injured, ill-fitting personnel, it’s just not to be.

The coach has taken a lot of criticism since he got to L.A. So have many of his players.

It’s way too soon to start praising him. The Lakers are still in great danger of missing the playoffs after Monday’s loss dropped them to three games behind Houston for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

But it’s not too soon to recognize that D’Antoni also has made some difficult sacrifices since taking the job — to his principles, his pride and his legacy.

“There’s no job in the NBA that’s easy,” D’Antoni said, refusing to make a sympathy play. “You don’t just fall out of bed and have things happen. It gets more complicated with injuries. I didn’t know Steve [Nash] was going to be out. I didn’t know Steve Blake was going to be out. I didn’t know Dwight wasn’t healthy 100 percent. So, yeah, there are some side issues. But everything is hard.”

Hawks’ Horford hitting his strideWhen the Atlanta Hawks have been in the headlines on this site and others, the name heard most is Josh Smith and his future with the team as a pending free agent. While we were all focused on J-Smoove, his future and the trade deadline the last few weeks, Al Horford, the lone ex-All-Star selection on the Hawks, has been tearing it up. He’s averaging 24.6 ppg and 12.4 rpg over his last nine games and went wild last night against the Pistons, notching a 23-point, 22-rebound game in the Hawks’ win. Atlanta has won three in a row, sits at No. 4 in the East and much of that is due to Horford, writes Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Al Horford is completely over the hamstring strain that bothered him earlier this season. It shows.

The Hawks center is averaging 24.2 points and 10.0 rebounds with a .679 field goal percentage (55 of 81) over the past five games. He has scored over 20 points in each of those games, a career first.

“I think it just has to do with me being healthy and we are playing through me a lot more,” Horford said Monday before the Hawks played at the Pistons. That helps. I’m able to stay in the rhythm of the offensive.”

Horford said the hamstring is no longer limiting his running and jumping. He also dealt with a calf issue.

“When we have a lot of ball movement and high assists it gets everybody involved not just me,” Horford said. “When that happens I usually do pretty well. When we don’t and we stick, that is when my game gets affected and we tend to struggle as a team. It’s not hard to figure out that if we have a high assist total we are going to have a good chance.”

Report: Bulls may lose Gibson for 2 weeksBulls reserve forward Taj Gibson injured his knee in the second half of Chicago’s blowout loss to the Thunder on Sunday night. Now comes word, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, that the Bulls’ depth — which has been hampered all season by the loss of star Derrick Rose – may suffer another blow following the results of Gibson’s MRI on Monday:

Taj Gibson celebrated the birthdays of Jerry Reinsdorf and Joakim Noah on Monday by having an MRI performed on his sprained left knee.

Well, not really, but the confluence of such events seemed fitting for a star-crossed Bulls team these days. For every celebratory moment — a blowout win in Charlotte, Noah turning 28 — a somber one follows in the form of a convincing loss to an elite team or another injury.

At least Gibson’s MRI didn’t reveal a torn ACL, although it did confirm a sprained MCL that could sideline the defensive-minded forward up to two weeks.

Can Boston’s lockerroom change Crawford, Williams?Depending on whom you ask, new Celtics Jordan Crawford (acquired via a trade with Washington) and Terrence Williams (signed as a free agent) are seen by some as one-dimensional players, talented-but-emotional players or young players in need of some veteran guidance … or a combination of the three. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald brings up a great point in questioning whether the Celtics’ veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the like can do anything to change the careers/league-wide outlook on players such as Crawford and Williams:

It is the common perception that the Celtics dressing room is a healing commune where those of questionable basketball reputation can be saved. A Lourdes of leaping, if you will.

So as the Celts return home today with Terrence Williams and Jordan Crawford — two players who would not have been available to them were it not for concerns about their approach to the game and the fact they did not entirely please previous employers — there is the expectation among some, and hope among others, that regularly observing Kevin Garnett and breathing the same air will improve their focus and make them better teammates.

The newest C’s have the opportunity to either prove the perceptions a lie or rip off the old tags and begin anew.

Pierce knows that altering the career course of another adult may be quite a bit to ask, but he also recognizes it’s part of his job as captain and accomplished veteran.

“I think you just try to feel things out with new guys,” he said. “I mean, at this point in the season you usually get a chance to talk to guys in practice, but there’s not a lot of practice time.

“But it seems like these guys, from what you’ve heard about them from other teams, it doesn’t look that way from what I’ve seen in the past few days.”

Doc Rivers is well aware of the upside of both Williams and Crawford, but he’s not banking on his regulars to make them fit into the Celtics’ system.

Beyond that, Rivers tries to avoid preconceived notions. He doesn’t want to read the labels on the players the Celtics acquire.“You know, one of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t listen to hearsay,” he said. “I really don’t. I never have.

“I’ve learned that lesson long ago. There’s been a lot of players who you hear are bad guys or are not great guys that I’ve had that have turned out to be great guys. And I’ve had some that people said were great guys and they’ve turned out not to be.

“So I just don’t ever listen to the hearsay. I give everybody a chance, and if they don’t become that, then they don’t become that. I leave it at that.”

He doesn’t listen even when the comments are coming from his close friend, Washington coach Randy Wittman, who pulled Crawford out of his rotation?

“No, I don’t,’ Rivers said. “I really don’t, because there’s always circumstances. He may be right in what they’re saying, but there could be other circumstances that we can’t see. So I just let it go, and if they turn out to be a bad guy, then they’re a bad guy. Some turn out to be good guys.”

Loss harms Colangelo, Raptors’ playoff hopesRaptors GM Bryan Colangelo has done a decent job of attempting to salvage Toronto’s season given his trade to land Rudy Gay and his deadline-day deal to add point guard depth in the form of Sebastian Telfair. But last night’s loss to Washington not only dropped the Raptors 4 1/2 games behind Philadelphia for No. 8 in the East, but also dealt a bit of a blow to Colangelo and his future in Toronto, writes Eric Koreen of The National Post:

Monday’s game, a 90-84 loss to the Washington Wizards, did not help the Raptors’ chances. They are now 4½ games out of the final playoff spot.

It was a putrid game, particularly the first half, when the Raptors turned the ball over 12 times. Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry both struggled badly from the floor.

While the loss was certainly disappointing, it does not do much to change the Raptors’ position: They are fighting for a playoff spot, even if they are unlikely to prevail.

“That was our goal going into this year,” Dwane Casey said. “We got started off on a rocky start and dug ourselves a huge hole to start the season. We didn’t go about it [the right] way. We kind of got to the point where we wanted to be as far as knocking on the door on the playoffs. I think those are the terms that I used as far as our goal in the building process. [Acquiring] Rudy accelerated that process. I’m happy with our team. I like the direction we’re going in. I like our core group that we have.”

The team’s reality will have untold reverberations on the future. At the nadir of the season, it looked like president and general manager Bryan Colangelo would have to take the fall. If the Raptors fail to make the playoffs this year, it will be the first time in franchise history they that have missed the post-season in five consecutive years.

However, minus the specific nature of some of the controversies and concerns that the team has dealt with in the season’s first two-thirds, where the team sits now is exactly where the Raptors figured they would be. In fact, the Raptors trading Jose Calderon and his expensive expiring contract for a dynamic wing player such as Gay would have been an ideal scenario heading into the year. It was, as Colangelo likes to say, part of the plan.

So, where does that leave Colangelo?

In lieu of a franchise superstar — and Gay is not at that level — the person in charge of moulding the roster is arguably the most integral man in any basketball organization. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment will have three options: pick up the third-year option on Colangelo’s contract; offer Colangelo an extension beyond next year; or decline to pick up the option, effectively firing him.

ICYMI of the night: If you’re a Laker-hater (or just a Nuggets fan), two plays from last night had to get your attention: JaVale McGee coming over to swat Kobe Bryant and Kenneth Faried powering home an alley-oop over Dwight Howard …:

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Gasol, D’Antoni Sniping Suggests Move

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The setting: Minneapolis. The month: February. So you knew that Jack Frost would be in the air Friday night, nipping at toes, noses and other exposed flesh as the Los Angeles Lakers unbundled at the visitors’ end of Target Center for their game against the Timberwolves.

Jack’s buddy Sammy Sarcasm showed up for the event, too.

He was there when reporters approached Pau Gasol to ask about his starting gig in place of ailing Dwight Howard, who had flown back to L.A. for treatment on his right shoulder. Said Gasol: “Big news. Headlines. Exciting.”

Sammy was there as well in some comments by Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to the media:

D’Antoni offered a way for Gasol to get over the disappointment of getting shuffled in and out of the Lakers’ starting lineup.

“Pay him $19 million. I think that should help,” D’Antoni said, smiling.

Gasol is under contract for $19 million this season and $19.3 million next season.

Get all that witty repartee down on paper, throw another $100 million or so behind it in production costs and ad campaigns and the purple-and-gold might have a Hollywood rom-com blockbuster on its hands.

Instead, alas, it simply has more of the same: An unhappy Gasol, feeling underappreciated after helping L.A. win titles and reach Finals since his arrival in 2008. And a stressed D’Antoni, clearing the distractions of criticism and expectations by doing what he thinks is right with his rotation. Which doesn’t appear to have a primary place for Gasol’s particular, not-so-fleet-of-foot skill set.

The outcome in the Lakers’ long-ago hometown Friday – a victory over the Wolves that got uncomfortably tight for a stretch and 22 points, 12 boards and three blocks for Gasol – isn’t going to significantly change anything about the dynamic. When Howard is fit to return, he’ll start and Gasol won’t. Simple.

That figures to keep the veteran forward’s name in play right up through the Feb. 21 trade deadline. If he’s still around beyond that, either the Lakers received low-balled in offers for him (relative to their expectations) or they’re keeping Gasol around for Dwight insurance, should the All-Star center end up exiting as a free agent or as damaged goods for the balance of the season.

One possible destination for Gasol to keep an eye on? The team that just made the big Rudy Gay trade. Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo wasn’t shy the other day in his willingness to shop forward Andrea Bargnani:

And Colangelo speculated openly that Bargnani might be the next Raptor to move on.

“The situation with Andrea is a unique one, he’s a great talent and he’s done a lot for the organization but sometimes a change of address is not bad,” said the general manager. “I’m not saying he’s asked for a trade but he certainly would not fight or resist a situation if it was the right situation.”

A role in D’Antoni’s system could be the right situation. Even if it sends Sammy Sarcasm north of the border with the underloved Gasol.

Everybody Wins On Trade Night




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ATLANTA – The aftermath of draft night and the night of a big trade in the NBA involve similar routines for the executives whose fingerprints are all over the selections and deals. Study your own handiwork hard enough and it becomes easier with each passing second to justify whatever was done in the name of the greater good.

That’s also why front office types are fond of this theory that you can’t just judge draft picks or trades on the spot. They both require a little extra time before being examined.

But that’s only in the insulated world of said front office types, the men whose jobs are on the line each and every time a draft pick busts or a prized acquisition doesn’t live up to the hype.

If you let the men in charge of sealing the multiple player, three-team deal between the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons Wednesday night, they’ll swear under oath that the deal provided all interested parties with exactly what they were looking for.

Raptors general manager Bryant Colangelo (in the video above and here) has coveted Gay since the 2006 Draft, when the Raptors selected Andrea Bargnani with the No. 1 overall pick, the same Bargnani they are also trying to deal before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace gushed about veteran forward Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye, acquired from Detroit, and promising young big man Ed Davis snagged from Toronto:

“We are excited to add three players who bring with them a tremendous amount of value to our team and have achieved incredible success on the pro, college and Olympic levels,” Wallace said in a statement. “In these players, we welcome NBA Champion and Olympic gold medalist Tayshaun Prince, as well as up-and-coming athletic forwards Ed Davis, who won an NCAA title at North Carolina, and Austin Daye.”

Pistons boss Joe Dumars was just as effusive in his praise of Jose Calderon, the veteran point guard with the expiring contract who relocates from Toronto to Detroit with his coveted expiring ($10.5 million this season) contract:

“We are pleased to welcome Jose Calderon, knowing that he fits our mold as a high character individual who is a great competitor,” Dumars said in his statement. “Jose is a great facilitator at the guard position and a player that we feel gives us tremendous flexibility on the court when added to the core of guards we have on the roster.”

The flexibility for the Pistons will come this summer in the form of the projected $35 million and change in cap space they’ll have to work with this summer in free agency (and trades). Prince’s departure also means all of the players who toiled on the Pistons’ last championship team have finally exited the premises, closing the door on one era and perhaps opening the door for another in a few months.

And in that regard, all three of these teams can and will walk away claiming victory.

The Raptors got their man in Gay, 26, a dynamic wing player from a Western Conference contender whose contract (two years and $37 million after this season) forced the Grizzlies’ financial hand more than anything. Gay is hardly the only member of the top 20 salaries list who would not make your top 20 players in the league list, but he’s far from a bust. He just hasn’t reached All-Star status (yet?).

In the Eastern Conference, the road back to respectability is often just the right player or two or one big summer away. On the other hand, the Grizzlies were forced to weigh the long-term sustainability of a salary structure that doesn’t support coming up short of the Western Conference finals.

They reduced their payroll with this deal and also shed some $6 million in payroll after completing a multiple-player deal with the Cavaliers last week. Prince, 32, whose best days in the league predate Twitter,  still pays immediate dividends with his experience and leadership. Davis provides a huge development chip for the future and Daye, the No. 15 pick in the 2009 Draft, serves as the wild card, depending on how he adjusts to his new city and new role.

But the question will linger well into early spring for the Grizzlies: did they move up a spot on the Western Conference food chain, stay the same or take a step back by breaking up their promising (but expensive) core four of Gay, All-Star power forward Zach Randolph, former All-NBA center Marc Gasol and point guard Mike Conley?

“The Thunder, Clippers and Spurs are loving this deal,” an Eastern Conference assistant general manager said late Wednesday night. “Rudy would have been someone they had to worry about if they saw Memphis in the playoffs. Tayshaun was a great piece in his prime. But he hasn’t been that guy for a few years now. The big winners in this deal are the Thunder, Clippers and Spurs.”

Perhaps it’s best to give the final word to a man whose statistical value has often paled in comparison to some of the other, tougher to quantify benefits he brings to his own particular situation …

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Who’s Sitting On A Hot Seat Now?


HANG TIME, Texas — Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.

In the NBA that familiar line from the holiday classic “It’s A Wonderful Life” has a different twist.

Every time the bell rings a head coach gets his walking papers and a handful of others start looking over their shoulders.

It’s a tenuous life.

Of course, this season has already been quite unusual with Mike Brown fired by the Lakers after just five games. But now that the schedule has reached the one-third mark and claimed Avery Johnson, it’s time to look at some others down around the bottom of the standings.

Randy Wittman, Wizards (3-23) – No, he hasn’t had John Wall all season. Yes, he’s had to play at times without Nene and Trevor Ariza and Bradley Beal. But the Wizards are the only group in Washington that makes Congress look competent by comparison. After a recent 100-68 thumping by the almost-as-hapless Pistons, even Wittman seemed to have enough. “That was an embarrassment, and I apologize to our ownership and to our fans,” he said. “I especially apologize to anyone who watched that entire game. I would have turned it off after the first five minutes.” It would seem to be a matter of when, not if.

Monty Williams, Hornets (6-22) – It’s hard to see the Hornets turning right around and cutting Williams loose just months after giving him a four-year contract extension. There has been the matter of Eric Gordon’s injury and the fact that No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis was on the shelf for 13 games. But there are rumblings in New Orleans about his constantly changing rotations and collapse of his defense, which ranks 29th.

Byron Scott, Cavaliers (7-23)
— The Cavs are likely headed to their third straight trip to the lottery under Scott, but that doesn’t mean that he’s headed to the exit. The key to his previous success at New Jersey and New Orleans was having a top-notch point guard and Scott has an excellent relationship with maybe the next great thing in Kyrie Irving. This was always a long, heavy lift from the moment LeBron James bolted and that has not changed.

Mike Dunlap, Bobcats (7-21)
– What a difference a month makes. After beating the Wizards on Nov. 24, the Bobcats were 7-5, had matched their win total from last season and their rookie coach was getting praised. Now 16 straight losses later, Dunlap is preaching patience with his young core of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kemba Walker, Byron Mullens and Jeffery Taylor. He has earned that. A dozen of Charlotte’s 21 losses have come by 10 points or less, a dramatic change from the historically horrible last season when the Bobcats were rolled in one-third of their games by 20 points or more.

Lawrence Frank, Pistons (9-22)
— Frank insists that his Pistons are a better team than they were a year ago. The record — identical then and now — does not back that up. He says that his club now is more competitive, but just doesn’t know how to finish games. Some of the players have grumbled that there is also a failure of coach to make the right calls and adjustments when games get late. When push comes to shove, it’s the coach that gets nudged out the door.

Dwane Casey, Raptors (9-20)– Another one of those seasons when the Raptors were supposed to turn things around and make a push for the playoffs in the lesser Eastern Conference has gone south. Injuries to Andrea Bargnani, Kyle Lowry and Linas Kleiza. Amir Johnson gets suspended for throwing his mouthguard at a referee. G.M. Bryan Colangelo says the talent is there, but the Raptors lack focus and attention to detail. The Raps’ offense is mediocre (ranked 17th) and their defense just bad (27th). Even in Canada during the winter, that all puts Casey on thin ice.

Keith Smart, Kings (9-19) – Smart got the job to replace Paul Westphal specifically because of what was perceived as an ability to work with the mercurial DeMarcus Cousins. So he turned Cousins loose last season, let him do just about anything he pleased and got enough results to earn a contract extension. Now that Cousins has abused his free-rein relationship with his coach and another season is sinking fast, it would be easy to just blame Smart, which the Kings eventually will do. But this is a bad team with a knucklehead as its centerpiece and ownership that can’t tell you where they’ll be playing in two years.

Alvin Gentry, Suns (11-18) — It was at the end of a seven-game losing streak when Suns owner Robert Sarver told ESPN.com that Gentry’s job was safe. “We’ve got confidence in our coaching staff and we’re not considering making changes,” he said. Of course, that usually means start packing your bags. It was all about starting over in this first season post-Nash in the desert. He’s changed lineups more than his ties and the result is usually the same. Gentry is a good bet to last out the season, but it’s probably going to take a big finishing kick to return next year.

Want A Pau Gasol Trade? Be Patient

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – If you’re waiting on Pau Gasol in Minnesota or Toronto (or anywhere else, really), you’ll need to be patient.

While the All-Star big man continues to look like a bad fit with Mike D’Antoni‘s Lakers, L.A. brass is willing to wait to see how things work out after Steve Nash returns from his leg injury, as our David Aldridge reports in the video above.

“Right now,” DA says, “nothing’s happening with regard to Pau Gasol.”

That doesn’t mean that folks around the league can’t talk about the possibilities, of course. And it’s not like the NBA’s other general managers can’t gauge Mitch Kupchak‘s interest in their players until Nash is cleared to play.

Toronto fans are probably the most desperate for a shake-up. Their team is 4-15 and Andrea Bargnani is shooting 40 percent. Using an adjusted strength-of-schedule formula that takes home-away and back-to-backs into account, the Raps have played the league’s toughest schedule thus far. But they still have three more games on their current five-game trip and 4-15 is never an easy hole to climb out of, no matter what the circumstances are.

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star writes that rumors are just that, and Bryan Colangelo is always going to see what’s available:

The merits of a Gasol-Bargnani swap can be debated until the cows come home — and it would have to be a significantly bigger trade anyway to make the salaries match — but it speaks to general managers doing what they should: Try to make their teams better, in their opinion.

But it’s often the chatter that goes on behind the scenes that yields action; if things get to the public stage it often means one side is trying to change the opinion of the other by applying some public pressure.

There is no doubt that Colangelo, and his Los Angeles counterpart Mitch Kupchak, are tying their level best to improve their teams. If they chatted about Bargnani and Gasol, you can be sure they talked to several other teams as well.

And when those talks get to the public stage, another flurry of interest will follow. And when either makes a trade no one saw coming, it will be reality.

Meanwhile, Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that there’s certainly some validity to the Wolves’ interest in Gasol:

Make no mistake: Adelman has been driving the bus on personnel moves since last summer and the Wolves’ continued interest in a 32-year-old with knee tendinitis and an $18 million salary means Adelman approves of the idea, if he’s not outright pushing for it.

Any such deal would have to include Derrick Williams, Nikola Pekovic as well as J.J. Barea and/or Luke Ridnour just so the Wolves could give back enough salary to absorb Gasol’s big contract.

And it might very well have to involve a third or fourth team to make the deal work because the Lakers, if they do indeed trade Gasol, want a power forward who can shoot — a “stretch 4″ — to put next to Dwight Howard and have other preferred targets in sight such as Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani or New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson rather than Williams, who indeed is a stretch 4, just not a very consistent one so far.

Gasol’s contract (he’s owed $19 million this season and $19.3 million next season) would make any trade difficult to pull off, but bigger contracts have been moved and there seems to be interest around the NBA in one of the league’s most talented big men.

Still, the Lakers want first to see what they’ve got when D’Antoni is able to coach all four of his star players together. Furthermore, we’ll have to wait until Jan. 15 before some players who signed new contracts this summer are trade eligible.

So hold off on the trade talk for now.