Free agency can get awfully personal, when in reality it is nothing more, nothing less than the business of professional sports thrust awkwardly into the spotlight normally reserved for highlights and victories.
When a coveted athlete chooses one team over another, it typically means he sees better a earning potential and championship path (which often translate into dollars, too) with the former rather than the latter. Sometimes sunshine or nightlife plays a role, but most of the time, for most of the guys, the factors that matter most are money and rings.
It wasn’t about money for Nash, but it was about the pursuit of a title. That figures to be more legit in L.A. than Toronto over what probably will be the final three seasons of the 38-year-old point guard’s career. That truth wasn’t what Raptors fans reacted to initially, when the disappointment hit Thursday, but it’s where they need to be now and it’s where a lot of their media insiders already are. Such as Doug Smith, dean of the Raptors’ beat for the Toronto Star:
It’s not a repudiation of Canada — that’s so trite it should be dismissed out of hand; it’s not a repudiation of Toronto — 100 NBA free agents given the choice of the Lakers team and this Raptors team would take this Lakers team 100 times; if anything, it’s a repudiation of a team that’s been out of the playoffs for four years and needs to get closer to respectability before it can make a bold move like this.
So now the Canadians can’t even recruit “Captain Canada.”
If it helps at all on what otherwise will rank as one of the darkest, kicked-in-the-groin days in Toronto Raptors’ history, followers of that franchise should know that Steve Nash never seriously has considered playing for Cape Town, Soweto, Egoli or any of the other teams in the Premier Inland League in South Africa. Remember, the guy was born in Johannesburg, so if any basketball teams should feel snubbed by a native son, it’s the folks down there.
Not helping? Yeah, didn’t think so.
Nash grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, attended and played at St. Michaels University School there before heading to Santa Clara (Calif.) University. As a player, he helped Canada advance within one victory of the medal round of the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. In May, Nash agreed to become general manager of the men’s senior team for Canada Basketball.
The news conference for that move was held in Toronto, and it will remain the lone news conference for Nash in that city this offseason. The aging-but-still-incredibly-fit point guard won’t be playing for the Raptors in 2012-13, instead working out a sign-and-trade deal that delivers him to the Los Angeles Lakers. He won’t be doing a “Wayne Gretzky in reverse” by bringing his skills, fame and knack for public relations to the Great White North the way the Great One re-planted the NHL’s flag in the U.S.
Lots of fans and those close to the Raptors are awfully upset by this turnabout. Some even have accused Nash of “using” Toronto and the New York Knicks as leverage, as if landing a deal worth $25 million over three years rather than $36 million (Toronto’s offer) demonstrates any boardroom ruthlessness. Knicks fans feel snubbed, too, though at least their team isn’t the one (yet) locked into a $20 million offer sheet to Landry Fields, an ill-advised Raptors move to entice Nash.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If you thought three years and $34 million was too much for the Boston Celtics to offer Kevin Garnett at 36, you’re going to cringe at what the Toronto Raptors are reportedly offering Steve Nash, 38, to return home to his native Canada to continue his career.
The Raptors are just one of several teams believed to be in the running for Nash, who is also being courted in free agency by the Suns, Mavericks and Nets. But they are the only one of the four capable of offering the two-time MVP the chance to come home and put more than just his face on Canadian basketball for generations of fans both old and young.
Nash playing for the home team would cause havoc, the good kind, for the Raptors. He would also be reunited with Raptors boss Bryan Colangelo, who as an executive in Phoenix years ago acquired Nash in free agency and set him on the path to those two MVPs.
CHICAGO – Downtown to O’Hare at 6:15 p.m. on a Friday? No problem.
So, quickly, a few thoughts as the two-day pre-draft camp ends at the University of Illinois Chicago…
Dion Waiterswithdrew from the combine after the first day, a move that essentially confirms unusually candid statements from at least one opposing executive that the Syracuse shooting guard has received a draft promise and will be cancelling future workouts.It is not known which team (apparently) gave Waiters the completely unenforceable verbal agreement in exchange for the completely unenforceable verbal agreement to call off whatever showcases had been scheduled. But with Waiters bound for the lottery anyway and climbing the board as June 28 approaches, logic dictates it would be someone in the 5-to-10 range. He would be foolish to give up the chance to reach mid-lottery for a promise from a team in double digits.Raptors president Bryan Colangelotold the Toronto Star that “His agent has told me there’s a promise to another team,” which is more public candor than normal from an executive or agent on the topic. And as Colangelo noted as well, Toronto, or anyone could still take Waiters. Just as the team that gave Waiters the promise could conveniently forget the handshake arrangement on draft night if another player is unexpectedly available.
There is a good chance the Trail Blazers will wait until after the draft to hire a new coach or remove the interim tag from Kaleb Canales.Indications are that general manager Neil Olshey, hired Monday, is more open to keep both lottery picks and build for the future in contrast to the previous plan that seemed to lean toward trading No. 6 and/or No. 11 for immediate help in win-now mode around LaMarcus Aldridge. The new Portland management team, wanting the roster to help dictate the coach, is more likely to see the direction of the team before deciding whether to go with an assistant in line for a first job or an experienced hand.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Brook Lopez is definitely back. He put on an offensive show for the Nets last night in their win over the Mavericks.
A trade deadline cynic would argue that he was being showcased as well. He’s long been rumored to be the piece the Nets would have to deliver to the Magic in a potential blockbuster deal for Dwight Howard.
The broken right foot that cost Lopez 32 games this season appears to be in fine shape, he dropped 38 points and the go-ahead free throw to power the Nets over the Mavericks last night. His every move will be analyzed as the perfect bait for the Magic, who have to make a decision to either deal or not deal Howard before the March 15 deadline.
Deron Williams gushed about his current big man after the win over the Mavs, telling reporters:
“He was a monster tonight. He carried us from the start of the game and it makes a difference, I’ve said it all season. … He knows how to play the game and we’re glad to have him back.”
Williams has to be measured in his praise. And the Nets have to be careful with Lopez, who outside of his ability score, isn’t in Howard’s category in any way. If they see him play at a high level for long enough, they might start to rethink this notion of moving him for Howard or anyone else.
Still, you can’t argue that Lopez has great timing. The Nets have won three of their last five games, and that includes wins over the Bulls, Knicks and now, the reigning champs.
BEASLEY BEING SHOWCASED, TOO?
Go ahead and add Timberwolves’ forward Michael Beasley to the list of players being showcased as the trade deadline draws near. So what if he’s still coming off the bench.
Rookie Derrick Williams and Beasley dropped 27 points a piece as the Timberwolves knocked off the Clippers in Los Angeles. They’ve both been overshadowed this season by All-Star power forward Kevin Love and rookie sensation Ricky Rubio. But with rumors swirling about the Timerbwolves hoping to get involved in a potential deal for Lakers forward Pau Gasol, Beasley would have to be a part of that deal.
The All-Star Game is about the stars, of course, but the All-Star break is about shooting stars, going in opposite directions. Once again, we see teams, players, coaches and general managers either enjoying a surge or suffering from stagnation.
Therefore, he’s a quick look at who’s going up and down heading into the break.
On the rise
* The Knicks: Forget the loss at home to the Nets; the Knicks have time to work on their chemistry issues and enter the playoffs (yes, they’re going) as an intriguing team. It’s all due, of course, to Jeremy Lin, the discovery of the decade, although now we’ll see how Carmelo Anthony gets with the program.
* Tony Parker’s Hall of Fame credentials. Seriously, he’ll have to be considered for Springfield someday. He has a few championships, a Finals MVP, All-Star appearances (including one this weekend), remarkable career consistency across the board and is enjoying a fine season (20 points, eight assists). Plus he’s only 29. Seems like he’s been around forever, but then, star players are like that. (more…)
The Mavericks are on the verge of adding All-Star swingman help after losing Caron Butler to a season-ending knee injury. Peja Stojakovic, bought out by Toronto on Thursday, has given Dallas a verbal agreement to sign once he clears waivers Monday, a league source confirmed to NBA.com.
The Mavericks would open up a roster spot for Stojakovic by trading fourth-team center Alexis Ajinca in a separate deal with the Raptors, according to ESPN.com.
Stojakovic, a 13-year vet seven years removed from his third and last All-Star appearance, is one of the league’s all-time best 3-point shooters at 40.1 percent. He just wasn’t a fit in Toronto, which acquired Stojakovic in a Nov. 20 trade with New Orleans along with Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks.
“We were clear from the beginning that our trade with New Orleans was made with the future in mind, so a buyout or trade of Peja’s contract was a likely option,” Raptors president Bryan Colangelo said. “Although he did not fit into our plan of developing our young core talent, I’m sure that Peja will add significantly to any veteran team that signs him.”
Health has been an issue in recent years, with the 33-year-old native of Serbia playing more than 62 games once in the last five seasons. Stojakovic has played just eight games this season, and only two since the trade because of a sore knee.
He’s averaging a career-low 8.4 points in a limited sample this season, but didn’t score less than 12.6 per game in the previous 11 years. He won’t be asked to fill the void left by Butler, but it’s a low-risk move that potentially helps fill it.
The Mavs also signed Sasha Pavlovic to a second 10-day contract on Thursday after the veteran small forward scored 11 in Wednesday’s win over the Lakers.
The new word today, boys and girls, is “karma.” I suspect even LeBron James, who wasn’t sure about “contraction,” has an idea what this means.
Now that karma is bold-faced and suddenly prominent in the basketball lingo, can we see some examples of such? Well, here’s a start:
Karma: Kevin Garnett (allegedly) calls Charlie Villanueva a cancer patient and then suffers an injury, misses a few weeks with a strained right calf.
Karma: Elton Brand reneges on a verbal pledge to re-sign with the Clippers (or so thought Mike Dunleavy), joins the Sixers, still looking to be who he once was. Meanwhile, back in L.A., heeerrreee’s Blake Griffin!
Karma: Michael Jordan criticizes Jerry Krause all those years for being a lousy general manager; Bobcats are floundering under Jordan’s rule.
Karma: Joe Dumars thinks Darko Milicic will turn out better than Carmelo Anthony; now trying to make a deal with Carmelo as the main figure.
Karma: Suns figure they’d be better off without Bryan Colangelo first and then Steve Kerr. Hmmmmm.
Karma: Ditto Trail Blazers and Kevin Pritchard.
Your turn, readers. Give us your examples of karma in the NBA.
Proximity to home, minutes and a chance to play for a contender all played a part in free agent Erick Dampier‘s decision to choose Houston over Toronto. The veteran center agreed to a one-year deal with the Rockets on Friday for the bi-annual exception of $2.08 million.
“Erick believes had can help push Houston over the top,” Dampier’s agent Dan Fegan told NBA.com. “[Houston general manager] Daryl Morey and [coach] Rick Adelman asked Damp to watch their games to see how he would fit in there. He’s joining a very good team and will have an opportunity to play.”
Playing time behind and in place of Yao Ming is definitely there. The plan for the oft-injured All-Star center is to limit Yao to 24 minutes per game and to sit him out in one game of a back-to-back.
Dampier has started for most of his 14-year career, and owns career averages of 7.8 points and 7.4 rebounds. The Rockets and Dampier know each other well. Dampier has played for Southwest Division rival Dallas for the last six years.
Houston, currently with the maximum 15 players on its roster, has to make room for Dampier.
“The Rockets still have to clear up a roster spot,” Fegan said. “We hope that will take place quickly.”
Fegan said Dampier seriously considered Toronto, which he visited during the offseason along with other teams such as Miami.
“It was a really close decision between Toronto and Houston,” Fegan said. “[Raptors general manager] Bryan Colangelo made a really compelling argument that Damp could have a long-term future in Toronto.”
The Raptors were also offering a one-year contract for the minimum, but had discussed the possibility of a long-term deal if Dampier had a strong season.
Dampier, 35, still has a home in Dallas. He was traded to Charlotte in July and waived by the Bobcats last month in a salary-cap move.
“Toronto was a good situation, but at the end of the day the distance from home also factored into the decision,” Fegan said.
It’s time for a fresh start and Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo made that clear with the way cleaned up after Bosh’s departure to Miami (via free agency), where he’ll team with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in a title chase that will be the envy of so many in Toronto and beyond.
The holdovers in T-Dot — a relatively motley crew including the likes of Andrea Bargnani, Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems as well as newcomers Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, Ed Davis, Julian Wright, David Andersen and Solomon Alabi — will have to come together quickly if the Raptors want to erase the nasty taste of summer from the mouths of their fans.
Still, we have to ask, exactly whose team is this now?
Jack provided HT with some answers to that and more after a recent workout:
HANG TIME: It’s been a tough summer. What’s the internal outlook in terms of what kind of team you’ll put on the floor this season?
JARRETT JACK: It was rough when the trade got rescinded that was on the table with Charlotte. Basically, both teams agreed and then I guess at the last-minute it got refused. If we could have added Barbosa, Boris Diaw and Tyson Chandler to the team that we already had that would have given us a shot at being a legitimate team in the Eastern Conference. So I think that set us back a little bit. From what I understand we are still exploring some avenues to try to add to our team and hopefully we can make it happen. But if not, we’ll just have to go with what we’ve got.
HT: Going into the summer, when everybody was still in play in free agency, was there a feeling that even if you didn’t keep Chris (which seemed bleak even then) you’d get something in return to help rebuild this team?
JJ: Sure, assuming that Chris would just got traded straight up and it wasn’t going to be a sign and trade, we figured no human being in this lifetime was going to do something like that and leave $30 million on the table. But it was a situation where they worked it out and he didn’t leave $30 million on the table, we were able to get a trade exception back in exchange. We’re still trying to make some moves. And it’s not over until training camp starts. We’ve still got a little time, and it only takes a phone call and two sides to agree. So you never know how quickly things could change.
HT: You know they’re talking championship in Miami, Boston, Orlando, Chicago and places like that. What’s the attitude for a team like yours, when you know the climb is going to be much steeper than some of your competitors?
JJ: It’s definitely steeper. We just have to find our own identity, really. All these other teams have established stars and we have a pretty young group of guys. We have guys that really haven’t established themselves in the NBA yet. I think once we do that, once we establish ourselves individually and as a team, once we decide what brand of basketball we’re going to play night in and night out, we’ll be fine.
HT: When you are watching all that goes on in a wild and crazy summer like this, with players going from this team to that one and the balance of power shifting the way it did, how do you stay focused only on your team?
JJ: I just worry about the things that affect me, my teammates, the organization I represent and let that other stuff be what it is. You really can’t worry about where everybody else is going or what they are doing. I’m just worrying about how we’re going to get better, what steps we’re going to take, what kind of positive moves that can be made so we can be a factor in the Eastern Conference. All you can do is mind your own business and see where it lands at the end of the day.
HT: From afar it seemed sort of strange last season watching the Raptors’ point guard situation. You started 43 games and Jose started 39 games, but it was hard to tell who was “the guy.” One minute it looks like your team and the next it seems like Calderon’s team. Who leads from that spot this season?
JJ: Just play, man. And that’s the frame of mind I’m going in with. If they have me leading the team and running the squad, then that’s what it is. If not, then I’ll come off the bench and do whatever I have to do and keep doing what I’ve been doing since I got in the league. Even if I wasn’t starting, I was coming in off the bench as a positive influence and trying to lead the team on the floor when I’m out there. I’m always trying to be the best leader I can possibly be whenever I’m out there.
HT: With such a passionate and knowledgeable fan base in Toronto that’s thirsty for a winner, how do you think they’ll respond to this team this season?
JJ: I think they’ll follow our lead. If we come out there and play a tough brand of physical basketball night in and night out, win or lose, they’ll respect us. To me, Toronto is a blue collar city. It reminds me of New York, Philly and those type of fans that are really passionate and rowdy. They definitely make their presence felt, if you’re playing bad or well they’ll let you know. So I think it’s up to us. If we go out there and show every single night that we’re hungry and just truly passionate about the game, they will respond to that. And honestly, that’s what you love about them the most as a player.
HT: I know you and Chris are good friends and have been for years. So you’ve obviously spoken to him about what they have going on in Miami. I know you guys have business to handle in Toronto this season, but you have to be curious to see how things play out down there, don’t you?
JJ: Yeah, I’m curious. The bottom line is, one person is going to have to be left out. And I’m not pointing fingers or anything. That’s just real talk. It’s very rare that you have three superstar guys in this league and everybody get’s their fair share amount of touches and whatever. And I know they all “compromised” some things to play together in the first place. But it’s one thing to say we’re going to do it and something else to actually swallow that pill and be that third option. Going from a superstar to that third option, when you’ve been “the guy” on a team for four or five years of whatever … it’s different. It’s like when you go from college to the league and you’re not that dude anymore and you have to take that step back. Some people can handle it and some people can’t. Like I said, somebody is going to get squeezed out of the equation down there. And that’s just how it is.