Posts Tagged ‘Danny Ferry’

No Timetable For Return Of Lou Williams





ATLANTA — Veteran guard Lou Williams will be on the floor Tuesday morning in Athens for the first day of training camp with the Atlanta Hawks. What he does, however, remains to be seen.

There is no concrete timetable for his return from the right ACL tear he suffered Jan. 18. The Hawks’ team physicians haven’t cleared him for full contact and Williams admitted Monday afternoon during Media Day that he has no idea when he’ll be allowed to return to full contact work.

“I would hope sooner than later,” Williams said. “I feel good at this point in the process. I guess you could say it’s just day-to-day with months worth of time [to go].”

Hawks general manager Danny Ferry declined to give specifics on the recovery process last week. Coach Mike Budenholzer did the same Monday afternoon, stressing that there will be no rushing the process for Williams, who played in just 39 games last season before getting hurt against Brooklyn and missing the remainder of the season.

“Right now we are in a rehab and evaluation mode or process so I can’t really give you a better indication of when he’ll be ready,” Budenholzer said. “But we feel like that process is going well. But when he’ll be able to play has not been determined and won’t be determined for the foreseeable future. His health and the health of any injured player will be our priority. And before he returns to play we will make sure he is 100 percent and feels great. He won’t go live five-on-five [Tuesday] but he will be on the court and participate and do some non-contact and things he’s been cleared to do. But there won’t be any five-on-five.”

The healing process varies depending on the player, of course. And with so many high-profile players around the league returning from various injuries, Williams made it clear that whatever hurdles he faces in the coming days, weeks and perhaps months, are physical and not psychological.

“I don’t think the issue I have is mental,” Williams said. “The trainers and the doctors will tell you that. The first day I could get back on the court they told me I had to slow down because I was trying to do too much. I’ve never had that issue. I guess I’m just naive to what’s going on. I feel really good about where I am. Every time they tell me to work out with a basketball I work out as if I wasn’t hurt, like I normally would if I wasn’t hurt. So I don’t think my issue is really going to be mental, it will be more what can I endure physically.”

With so many new faces on the roster, the Hawks could use Williams sooner rather than later. For the time being, though, he looks like his rehabilitation process could last well into the regular season.

Hawks, Horford Searching For Identity





ATLANTA – In each of his first six Media Days with the Atlanta Hawks, Al Horford gladly shared the spotlight with others, older teammates who understood the fluctuating dynamics of the NBA in ways Horford never will.

A lottery pick, All-Star and franchise cornerstone with the Hawks, Horford’s been a mainstay and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. But the guys he looked around the room at during his rookie season and since then are no longer around. One by one they’ve vacated the premises in various ways (trades, free agency, etc.), leaving Horford as literally the last man standing from the previous regime and era of Hawks basketball.

From Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams to Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia, some of Horford’s closest friends and colleagues in the league have moved on to new adventures. It’s a feeling Horford, the Hawks’ All-Star big man, is still trying to get used to with the seven-year switch going on at Philips Arena this season.

“It’s weird man,” Horford said Monday. “It is. It’s hard for me to believe it’s my seventh year. I started, we started with a big group of guys here and it’s hard for me to believe it’s just me from that original group of guys. But it’s new and it’s exciting, an exciting time for the Hawks.”

It’s not necessarily the fresh start Horford envisioned when the Hawks went into free agency with $34 million in cap space and hoop dreams that included luring some of the biggest names on the market to town to help usher in this new era.

When the Dwight Howards and Chris Pauls decided to go or remain elsewhere, Horford realized that the new identity the Hawks were planning on would include him wearing the tag as the face of the franchise on his own.

“I had to take a step back and look at everything,” Horford said of his initial reaction to the Hawks’ work in free agency. “Initially I was concerned. But at the end of the day, I have to trust [Hawks general manager] Danny [Ferry] and his vision and where he wants to go. So at this point I’m putting all my trust in him and working with the guys we have here and we’re going to try and make the best of it with what we have.”

No offense to Paul Millsap, Elton Brand or any of the other new veteran faces here, but this is Horford’s team — and he knows it. And no amount of conversation from Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer stressing the “group dynamic” is going to change that fact.

“I believe so, at this point you can say that,” Horford said. “But most importantly, I’m a team player. Not one person is going to make that big of a difference. And I think we all understand that in the locker room.”

That same locker room that Horford has called home his entire NBA career will still take some getting used to, at least until the “weird” phase passes.

“It’s weird because … you create all of these relationships with different players over the years,” he said. “And whether it’s Joe Johnson, Marvin, Zaza or Josh and now they’re gone and you come back around in September and see all these new faces and it’s tough. I still have Jeff [Teague] here and Kyle [Korver] and a couple of my rookies, John Jenkins and Mike Scott are still rookies until the first game of the season, but we have something here. With Lou Williams, he’s coming along [from his injury] and I’m excited in what I’ve seen so far. We’ve been working together a couple of weeks so far here in September and I like what I’ve seen.”

He’s not the only one. Ten-year veteran Royal Ivey began his career with the Hawks and is back for his second stint, this time as a backup point guard. He understands the change in dynamics that Horford will be dealing with the season and said he’ll remind him whenever needed that this is definitely Horford’s team.

“Al is the last of the Mohicans around here,” Ivey said. “He’s a cornerstone, a veteran now. It’s basically his team with Jeff Teague and the guys they’ve brought in like Millsap. Al has to lead by example and with his voice. It’s a new regime and a different locker room. But that’s everywhere, it happens everywhere. New management, new culture and a different style. He definitely has to take the onus with this group and say, ‘listen, we’ve been here but we want to go to uncharted waters and do things a bit differently.’ He has to put that on his shoulders and carry this team.”

It won’t be easy.

The Hawks are trying to navigate the process of reconstituting the culture of a team that has amassed six straight playoff appearance and five straight winning seasons. They’re trying to fix something that wasn’t necessarily broken, yet was clearly in need of revamping.

If they succeed, they’ll do so with Horford’s face and game as their new and true identity.

Ferry: Hawks Still In Thick Of Things In Crowded Eastern Conference Race





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With a busy offseason behind him and a what promises to be an arduous 2013-14 NBA season ahead of him, it wasn’t surprising to see Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry sporting a scruffy summer beard Thursday afternoon at Philips Arena.

Like every other shot-caller in the Eastern Conference, Ferry has to find a way to stay in the mix in the playoff chase behind the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, while also maintaining the roster and financial flexibility he worked so hard to achieve when he took over day-to-day operations of the Hawks’ basketball operation prior to the 2012 Draft.

That job is tougher now than it was this time a year ago, what with all of the jostling for position in the East. The teams at the bottom are inching closer to the middle, while some of the teams that were considered contenders have fallen off the pace a bit. The middle class remains muddled. And Ferry believes the Hawks are still very much in the thick of the crowded East after a roster rebuild in the offseason.

“I think we have to get through the beginning of the year to get a feel from our group, but we’re not just putting together new players. We have an entirely new coaching staff that is working together. That being said, the guys will work hard and compete. And we have smart coaches and they’ll put guys in positions to succeed. I expect us to be competitive. What that means as it relates to wins, losses and so on … I don’t know. The East is better, first of all. You can go through the teams and see the East has gotten more competitive, which I like.”

The Hawks have had near-wholesale changes to their basketball operation since Ferry came on board. Mike Budenholzer was hired to replace Larry Drew this summer and that was before Ferry turned the roster over for the second straight summer, the most notable move this time being the parting of the ways with Josh Smith (Detroit via free agency). Ferry traded away both Joe Johnson (Brooklyn) and Marvin Williams (Utah) in his first couple of months on the job.

Only Al Horford and Jeff Teague remain from the previous regime.

And there is that crowded East race Ferry spoke of that is sure to factor into the situation.

“Charlotte’s a better team, their coach is going to do a better job, I have a lot of respect for him, and they have added more talent. Detroit with [Brandon] Jennings and Josh [Smith], that’s a better group. They’re going to be more competitive. Milwaukee will be good. Larry [Drew] will do a nice job there. That being said, I like where we are right now. We have options going forward to continue to get better. But we have a group of guys that are going to compete. We have to continue to make good decisions, and from there I think we’ll be competitive because of the nature and the spirit of our guys.”

With Derrick Rose returning from injury in Chicago, Brooklyn’s new-look roster, the anticipated rise of younger groups in Washington, Cleveland, Toronto and Orlando, Ferry is well aware that the landscape has changed dramatically from last season to this one.

There is undoubtedly more depth in the Eastern Conference, maybe not as much as there in the Western Conference, and that means the Hawks will have to scrap and claw their way into the playoffs for a seventh straight season.

“I do think the West, having been there, they beat themselves up more getting there [to The Finals] than Miami has had to,” he said before running down the list of improved teams that will factor into the Eastern Conference race this season.  “You look at the East and the challenge is there, and if we’re going to be a team that competes and gets better every day, we’ll be there.”

Ferry mentioned guys like Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver and the consistent level of play they bring to the floor every night as staples for a revamped Hawks team that will conform to a system rather than freelance the way they might have in years past.  In addition to the core members of this new team having the sort of leadership qualities that have historically been critical to a team’s success, Ferry also suggested the Hawks will field a no-nonsense, blue-collar team fans in Atlanta will support vigorously as opposed to tolerating them the way many had grown accustomed before Ferry’s arrival.

Drafting well and having a sound player development program in place are other areas Ferry has focused on since taking over, upgrades and improvements that fans and the media either won’t see or simply don’t have access to.

Ferry’s focus is on the Hawks’ overall program as much as it is on putting a competitive team on the floor night after night this season. They go hand-in-hand, a factor that changes the way a team operates if that hasn’t been committed in that way before.

“I think we’re in a position where we have started to build on the values we want to work as a team,” Ferry said. “I think we have professional guys that will compete every night, and pretty good characters guys as well. With that, we want to keep flexibility as strategic option for us right now with where we are as a team. With where we are lined up, with contracts and the future we have the opportunity to still take different paths. I think we have a value system that is going to guide us along that way. But we still have the option to make changes and do things going forward that allow us to continue to build and to continue to try to get better.”

New Coaches: Five That Fit

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HANG TIME, Texas – Sometimes it’s the big things, a change in philosophy or overall team strategy that’s required to make a difference. Sometimes it’s just a new attitude, a new voice that’s needed in the locker room.

With a baker’s dozen new coaches ready to roam NBA sidelines — at least one in every division — this season, some will find the task a heavier lift than the circus wagon that holds the elephants.

Others will pick up their new teams immediately. Here are the five coaches who’ll make themselves right at home in their new digs and have the smoothest transitions:

Doc Rivers, Clippers – The veteran of previous stints with the Magic and Celtics definitely has the least room for improvement in the win column, since the Clips already won a franchise-best 56 games and their first-ever division title a year ago. But the little brothers of Staples Center won’t really shed their “second-class-citizen” image until they make a real run in the playoffs and that’s where Rivers’ experience will pay off. While they will still dance to the tune of Chris Paul’s talent on the court, Rivers will get them marching to a more serious, professional beat at both ends of the floor and in the locker room. They have to be more than just a group that jumps into the passing lanes to get steals on the defensive end and thrives on Lob City dunks on offense. He knows what it takes to win a championship and will put his stamp on the team early so we’ll notice the difference.

Mike Brown, Cavaliers — Let’s face it. Other than a fat man in an undersized Speedo, there wasn’t a more uncomfortable fit anywhere than Brown coaching the Lakers for a year and a smidgen. But now he’s back in Cleveland in a familiar role with a young team that is trying to build something special around an All-Star talent. OK, Kyrie Irving isn’t LeBron James, but he is the kind of lead horse that can pull the wagon. The truth is that these Cavaliers have a deeper collection of all-around talent than ever surrounded James, from Anderson Varejao to Tristan Thompson to Jarrett Jack to No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett and maybe a rehabilitated Andrew Bynum. Brown will emphasize what he knows best — defense — to give the Cavs a toughness and identity that, assuming Irving stays healthy, will have them back in the playoffs for the first time since LeBron left.

Jason Kidd, Nets – If it was so easy, the Naismith Hall of Fame would be filled with plaques of many more All-Stars who took off their uniforms one night and slipped easily into the role of head coach the next. There will be plenty about the nuts and bolts of the job that Kidd will have to learn as he goes along. But it helps that as point guard he already possessed some of the coaching genes. It also helps that he’s walking into a locker room filled with veterans names Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko, who are all looking to erase recent seasons of disappointment to come together and win a championship. Kidd won’t have to sweat the small stuff with this bunch. Garnett, Pierce and Terry have all won rings before and know the sacrifices that have to be made and the work that must be put in. In fact, Kidd’s toughest job might be holding them back and limiting regular season playing time. Since he’s in the glare of the New York media, any mistakes along the way by the rookie coach might be magnified, but he’s played a good portion of his career there and knows how to survive.

Mike Budenholzer, Hawks – After nearly two decades in San Antonio and the past six seasons as Gregg Popovich’s right hand man on the Spurs bench, this was finally the right time and the right place for Budenholzer to make the move into the No. 1 seat. For one thing, the Hawks are certainly not bereft of talent, even after the departure of Josh Smith. Free agent Paul Millsap will fill in capably. For another, it’s not as if there is the burden of having to live up to decades — or even one or two seasons — of greatness. But mostly it was time because Budenholzer was hand-picked by general manager Danny Ferry, his old Spurs buddy, as the start of a plan to finally have the Hawks build something special and to do it the right way. The Eastern Conference has gotten stronger at the top and it will be much tougher for Atlanta to break through against the likes of Miami, Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. But Budenholzer and Ferry won’t be impatient, are in this for the long haul and will have each other’s back. There’s no rush this season.

Maurice Cheeks, Pistons – After previous stints as head coach in Portland and Philadelphia, Cheeks spent the past four seasons as Scott Brooks’ assistant in Oklahoma City getting prepared for his third chance. The understated Cheeks knows his stuff and knows what he wants and could be just the right personality to get the newly acquired, up-and-down pair of Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings to deliver every night. The real heat is on general manager Joe Dumars to build the once-proud franchise back up after a half decade of serious slippage has had the Pistons way outside of even playoff contention, let alone the championship conversation. Cheeks will have Chauncey Billups back with his championship pedigree as an extension on the court and if he can keep the young big man tandem of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe moving ahead together, the Pistons could bring some joy back into The Palace with a run at a playoff spot.

Hawks Match Bucks’ Offer To Teague



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Jeff Teague won’t be leaving Atlanta for Milwaukee after all.

The Hawks matched the Bucks’ four-year, $32 million offer sheet before the midnight deadline, keeping their starting point guard, who was a restricted free agent.

The Hawks had no choice but to match the offer sheet Teague signed Wednesday, a move first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Even with Teague expressing his desire to play elsewhere to Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, the Hawks had to match the offer.

They didn’t have an experienced backup that could take over for Teague if he was allowed to go to Milwaukee. Veteran combo guard Lou Williams is coming back from a season-ending knee injury. First-round Draft pick Dennis Schroder is a prospect and not ready for a starting role as a rookie. And free agent guard Devin Harris, who started games in the backcourt with Teague last season, had already agreed to a three-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks (before both sides backed out of that deal when it was discovered that Harris would need surgery on his toe and be out of action potentially through training camp).

First-year Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer will have enough of a transition to deal with after coming over from the San Antonio Spurs, trying to make that move without an experienced point guard would only have made that process more difficult.

In Teague, Budenholzer has an experienced but still relatively young (25) point guard to run his system. Teague averaged 14.6 points and a career-high 7.2 assists during the 2012-13 season, guiding the Hawks to their sixth straight playoff appearance under former Hawks — and now Bucks — coach Larry Drew.

Drew and the Bucks have a restricted point guard of their own to deal with in Brandon Jennings. There were rumblings that the Hawks and Bucks were engaged in discussions about a restricted free agent point guard swap of sorts, but those talks clearly never reached the serious enough stage for the two teams to work anything out.

While the Bucks continue to ponder what they’ll do with Jennings, the Hawks’ decision on Teague has been made. He’ll continue in his capacity as the starting point guard for the team that selected him with the 19th pick in the 2009 Draft.

‘Cap Space’ Isn’t Always What It Seems



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In some places they are the magic words, the path to a new future and,  hopefully, championship glory somewhere down the line.

Go ahead, say it out loud. “Cap space.”

It’s all people talk about during free agency. Who has it? Who’s trying to get it or at least create a little more? And who is going to have it next summer?

The better question is when you do get it, can you make anything out of it? Because we’ve all learned over the years that cap space isn’t always what it seems, especially when it is misappropriated or even worse yet, unused altogether.

There was an estimated $300-plus million in cap space available across the league on July 1, the day free agency began. With Chris Paul ($107 million with Los Angeles Clippers), Dwight Howard ($88 million from the Houston Rockets) and Josh Smith ($54 million from the Detroit Pistons) chewing up the bulk of that cash, that left some teams flush with cap space scrambling to find an impact player to spend that money on.

The Dallas Mavericks, who struck out on their main targets for the second straight summer, and Atlanta Hawks stand out as the two teams who had their free-agent dreams dashed immediately. Howard choosing the Rockets and Paul deciding to stay with the Clippers days before free agency began, basically the moment Doc Rivers left the Boston Celtics for his new gig as coach and senior vice president of basketball operations for the Clippers, ended any parties before they began.

“That was the game-changer for free agency,” a Western Conference executive said. “The moment Doc made that move, anyone that was trying to find a way to lure CP3 away from the Clippers had to wipe their white board clean and start from scratch. Dwight was a wild card until he made his choice. And those were clearly the top two guys on the market. Once they’re off the board it becomes a free-for-all to get value out of that cap space. Given the circumstances, Houston pulled off a hell of a move by getting Dwight.”

The Hawks are a prime example of a team that spent the better part of the past year preparing to make a splash in free agency this summer only to get here and barely make a ripple.

They came into the process with champagne wishes and caviar dreams, Howard and Paul as a package deal, sporting in excess of $34 million in cap space and four Draft picks. They were fined by the NBA for tampering after mention those two impending free agents by name in a letter to season-ticket holders in June.

Instead of fine dining, the Hawks are trying to salvage their summer by grabbing a quality free agent in Paul Millsap but nothing else that sets off fireworks around the league. In fact, for all the resources the Hawks sported heading into the process, they are not a better team right now than they were when last season ended for them with a first-round playoff loss to the Pacers.

Champagne and caviar plans turned into a quick stop through the drive-thru. Al Horford is still stuck playing center, when his preference and natural position remain power forward. And two of the top players on the market, Smith and restricted free agent point guard Jeff Teague, who has signed a four-year, $32 million offer sheet with the Milwaukee Bucks yesterday, never got so much as a formal offer from the incumbent Hawks.

Two of Hawks general manager Danny Ferry‘s biggest potential assets could walk for essentially nothing, not even a second-round Draft pick. (The Hawks do have two days to match the offer sheet to Teague.) They’ll still have Horford as the face of the franchise and a player to build around, but they won’t be anything close to what they could have been, if all of these resources had been used differently.

Building for a brighter future is always the mantra of teams flush with cap space. And the Hawks, Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers and other teams that missed out this summer or are scheduled to have cap space a year from now will point to the loaded free agent summer of 2014, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade could all potentially be available. Those teams will also keep an eye on a stout 2014 Draft class that could include Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Andrew Harrison, Marcus Smart and several other elite-level prospects.

The disappointment of the summer of 2013 has a silver lining in the daydreaming being done about the summer of 2014, as my main man Fran Blinebury of NBA.com pointed out recently.

But all of those teams need to beware. Cap space isn’t always what it seems … especially when you can’t find a superstar willing to take some of yours.

Howard To Houston Is A Two-Fisted Gut Punch For Mavs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – If the Los Angeles Lakers recoiled at the sobering prospect of dealing Dwight Howard to an already rising divisional foe, imagine the steam clouds that spewed from the ears of Mark Cuban as if his head was an erupting Mount Vesuvius when he learned the big man had agreed to join the aspiring Houston Rockets.

Cuban seemed to take the news in stride Friday afternoon when the Dallas Mavericks’ owner was notified that his team was out of the running for the summer’s most coveted free agent. At the time, he said he was not told with which team Howard would sign.

“Got word we are out of the DH sweepstakes,” Cuban wrote in an email to various media outlets. “We gave it a shot and it didn’t work out. It was truly an experience. At some point I will post our video and presentation we made.”

The Rockets, Golden State Warriors and the incumbent Los Angeles Lakers remained in play. But only a short time later, USA Today, followed by TNT’s David Aldridge confirmed that Howard will leave the Lakers and join the Mavs’ Southwest division rival.

This one will deeply burn the Mavs, now two-time losers trying to lure a big-name free agent to pair with a now 35-year-old Dirk Nowitzki.

All the while Cuban controversially, yet strategically was dismantling his 2011 championship club in anticipation of re-building a contender by creating cap space to lure a superstar (or two) under the guidelines of the new collective bargaining agreement, his in-division, in-state rival in southeast Texas was scheming just the same.

Daryl Morey, the gambling Houston Rockets’ general manager, set in motion a number of trades and transactions over the last two years to ultimately acquire players, cap space and other assets that would position the Rockets to strike when opportunities arose, to swing for the fences through both trades and free agency.

The Rockets should give Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti a tip of the cap for making this behemoth agreement possible. Before the start of last season, the Thunder’s salary-cap-strapped GM dealt rising star James Harden to Houston as Morey dipped into his collection of assets. Harden became an All-Star and delivered the Rockets back into the playoffs. Now Morey has Howard, too, his longtime target.

Aside from the Lakers, who practically begged Howard to re-sign, no team will find this harder to swallow than Dallas. The scenario of Howard to Houston was always the Mavs’ worst nightmare, leaving the franchise third in pecking order in its own state behind the Rockets and the ever-resilient San Antonio Spurs.

The Warriors cleared out cap space Friday and added another top-flight free agent in Andre Iguodala – a Mavs target in the case they whiffed on Howard — to a young and talented roster that challenged the Spurs in the second round. Golden State won’t be too disappointed in not landing Howard. They were always a long-shot in this race and even without Howard they look to be putting together something special.

The Atlanta Hawks, flush with cap space, never seemed to elevate their hopes too high that Howard would reverse his long-held thinking and decide to play in his hometown. General manager Danny Ferry will now attempt to piece together the best team he possibly can for new coach Mike Budenholzer.

This was Strike Two for Dallas. A year ago, it chased native son Deron Williams, but was rebuffed. It signed a slew of players to one-year deals to keep their free-agent “powder dry” — as president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson is fond of saying — and to go after Howard or Chris Paul this summer.

Williams’ Nets now have the look of a contender after general manager Billy King pulled off the stunning trade that brings Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. CP3 got Doc Rivers and is staying put and now the Rockets with Howard will vault into the top four or five in the West with Warriors, CP3’s Clippers, the Thunder and the reigning West champion Spurs.

And Houston might not be done. They have long been reported to seek Atlanta free agent power forward Josh Smith, a childhood buddy of Howard, who’s reluctance to join the Mavs leaves the franchise reeling. Two seasons ago they were swept out of the first round by the Thunder and this season failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons.

Nowitzki, understanding his years are numbered, has repeatedly called this a “big offseason for us.”

Yet on the roster at this moment with him is Shawn Marion, 35, Vince Carter, 36, two 2012 second-round draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James, plus 2013 first-round pick Shane Larkin and newly signed Israeli guard Gal Mekel. 

As Howard’s drama dragged on, Dallas missed out on other free-agent targets, most notable Iguodala. The Clippers re-signed role player Matt Barnes and on Thursday center Al Jefferson signed a lucrative deal with the Charlotte Bobcats.

So where do Cuban and the Mavs go from here?

Dallas, 41-41 last season with Nowitzki playing in only 53 games after preseason knee surgery, has glaring holes at point guard, shooting guard and center. They can seek a trade but possess few assets to entice a team into dealing a player of stature. They learned that quickly in reported talks with Boston for Rajon Rondo.

Cuban said after the season that he doesn’t want to go through another year of one-year contracts, preferring to find players that are core-worthy. Now he and Nelson must decide if, for instance, still available guards Monta Ellis, Mo Williams or Jarrett Jack are building-block players they want to commit years and dollars to at the risk of cutting into cap space for next summer. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant and Zach Randolph, among others, could be on the market.

But the Mavs have twice seen what a crapshoot that strategy can be.

After Midnight Free-Agent Madness





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Who’s waiting on Dwight Howard?

Not the Detroit Pistons, who have bypassed the Howard free agency sweepstakes for a chance to snag Josh Smith, the versatile forward who ranks as the hottest commodity on the market not named Howard in the first hour since free agency began at 12:01 a.m. ET.

Pistons boss Joe Dumars and his brain trust met with Smith and his camp shortly after midnight with the sides discussing a significant four-year deal that would see Smith join an already impressive young frontcourt group that includes Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond.

The Pistons would be the “surprise” team mentioned at the bottom of this report from Sunday morning and per Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, who highlights the Hawks’ willingness to work a sign-and-trade deal for Smith rather than re-signing him themselves.

Anything is possible now that we have crossed the threshold into what some folks like to call the NBA’s silly season.

Only in the minutes immediately after midnight do we find out that a guy like Chase Budinger, a fine player, could end up being targeted by more teams than a player the likes of Al Jefferson.

Crazy season is more like it. (more…)

Smith Ready To Emerge From The Shadows



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – They’ve grown up and become their own men, traveled very different paths over the course of the past decade or so. But just like they were 25 years ago, Josh Smith and Dwight Howard are shadowing each other.

When they were children, sharing space in the same southwest Atlanta preschool classroom, no one could have figured these lifelong friends would have their lives intertwine the way they have. And that includes everything from being local high school stars and eventually top five prospects in the prep class of 2004, first-round Draft picks (Howard first overall and Smith 17th) straight out of high school and now the top two players heading into the chaotic world that will be the free agent summer of 2013. (Los Angeles Clippers superstar point guard Chris Paul has reportedly bowed out of the NBA’s silly season by alerting teams that he will not entertain suitors and stay with the Clippers.)

Howard is the headliner, the object of affection of his current team, the Los Angeles Lakers, while also sitting atop the wish list of the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and the hometown Hawks — Smith’s current team until 12:01 a.m. ET, when they both become unrestricted free agents.

But Smith is finally poised to emerge from the shadow of Howard and other contemporaries who have become All-Stars, franchise and maximum salary players elsewhere. One of the league’s most enigmatic and unique talents, he’s played every single second of his NBA career with the Hawks. Free agency, without restrictions this time around, is his first real opportunity to see exactly where he fits in the league.

And it couldn’t come at a better time for the only player in NBA history to have a career average over 15.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 1.0 steals. That’s right, the only player (go ahead and look it up, there is only one).

Even with his often spotty shot selection — he’s a career 47 percent shooter from the floor, 28 percent from beyond the 3-point line —   Smith should be an analytics All-Star with all of the impressive metrics he’s piled up before his 28th birthday.

He and Howard are the only two players who have surpassed 1,200 points and 100 blocks four times in the past five seasons and Smith is the only player to have accomplished that feat in each of the past four seasons.

Smith joins four-time MVP and back-to-back Finals MVP LeBron James as the only players in the league to log 2,300-plus minutes in eight straight seasons, dating back to the 2005-06 season, showing off durability that has eluded so many for various reasons.

Sure, Howard will remain the top target for the teams that are the biggest players on the free agent market this summer. No other big man ranks where he does, even after his uneven performance for the Lakers this season. Smith, however, ranks right behind him on most of those lists.

But that’s where the connective tissue between them starts to fray. Howard will command a max contract (four years and $88 million on the open market, five years and $118 million were he to stay with the Lakers), while his former AAU teammate Smith is expected to fall into that next tier just below the max.

“I don’t know exactly what his value is to be honest with you,” said a Western Conference executive whose team will not be in the marquee free agent mix this summer. “His production is through the roof when you look strictly at his numbers. No one can argue that he’s a factor, a game changer, when he’s locked in and playing at a high level. He’s still got some rough edges that shouldn’t be there, but you also have to realize that he’s never played with an elite point guard or in an environment where there is some leadership, either in the locker room or beyond, that forced him to smooth out some of those rough edges. That’s part of what makes him so intriguing, even a decade into his career. You’re still not sure if he’s actually reached his ceiling. And in free agency, that’s worth something.”

Before Danny Ainge imploded his roster in Boston, the Celtics were ready to offer whatever it was going to take to get a sign-and-trade deal done with the Hawks, who according to sources have not resigned themselves to parting ways with Smith. He could be an extremely valuable asset in a sign-and-trade deal, but if the Hawks strike out in their pursuit of Howard, are other free agent bigs like Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap better fits with the Hawks?

The recruiting process this time around for Howard and Smith will also be very different. While Howard is reportedly set to entertain suitors in Los Angeles (with the Rockets up first, the Mavericks next and the Hawks, Golden State Warriors and the Lakers getting the last word), Smith will not go through any sort of public song and dance.

“That’s not his style,” said a source close to Smith. “Did you see how uncomfortable he was leading up to the trade deadline? He’s not interested in all of the hype. He wants the opportunity to sit back and evaluate his options and choose his next move wisely. That’s all.”

That could become an increasingly difficult proposition if Howard’s process doesn’t go according to plan. Howard has already said he will have his decision made by July 10, the day the league’s moratorium on players signing new deals ends. If Smith has to wait until then to know exactly what all of his options are, the chatter surrounding him is sure to intensify.

Of course, if a team presents the right package (the big contract along with an opportunity to win at a high level and a much-needed fresh start), Smith could have his decision wrapped up sooner rather than later … sooner than Howard.

“Don’t be surprised if some team comes out of the blue and makes a big play for [Smith] right away, while a bunch of teams are waiting on Dwight to figure out what it is he’s going to do,” said a league source with knowledge of the situation. “It’s free agency, you never know what might happen.”

Whatever happens, Smith and Howard will be linked together in the free agent summer of 2013, the same way they have been at nearly every other milestone moment of their lives.

Free Agency: Making A Case For Dwight





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In the days, weeks and months leading up to the NBA Draft, the decision makers around the league play a revolving game of chess with agents about their players and where they might draft them, if at all.

It’s a complex, high-stakes game with very specific rules and constraints that only a select few play well enough to actually win. And even when they do win, we don’t find out about it sometimes for years.

Free agency, on the other hand, is a wicked venture that plays out every July, with the biggest stars holding most of the leverage and the desperate teams flush with cap space ready to do whatever it takes to win their favor. The winners and losers in free agency are revealed rather quickly. Spend wisely (like the Miami Heat three summers ago, with the aid of cap space and key sign-and-trade assets LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade on South Beach) and you can move into elite company immediately. Spend frivolously (see the Detroit Pistons’ 2009 summer of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva) and you’ll be making an annual date for the lottery.

That superstar list this summer is short, starting with the top unrestricted free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul, and falling to a second-tier that includes Josh Smith, David West, Andrew Bynum, Al Jefferson, Andre Iguodala, Paul Millsap, Monta Ellis, Manu Ginobili and others.

There is also an intriguing list of restricted free agent crop includes talents like Brandon Jennings, Jeff Teague, Nikola Pekovic, Tyreke Evans, Tiago Splitter and others that some teams with cap space will poke around at in an effort to fill out their rosters.

Because unlike the Brooklyn Nets and Boston Celtics, whose blockbuster deal on Draft night changed both franchises dramatically before the July 1 start of free agency, not everyone was prepared to handle their heavy lifting in that manner.

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With Doc Rivers fleeing the Boston rebuild for a championship chase in Los Angeles with the Clippers, that leaves Howard alone as the eye of this summer’s free agent storm. And he’s already reportedly set up a timetable of his own to have his future decided. July 10 is his decision day.

That leaves us with a distinctly different free agent landscape than we expected as recently as last weekend and the need for some clarity on exactly who and what will be in play July 1, as well as what teams figure to be the major players in the free agent sweepstakes …
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