Posts Tagged ‘Gregg Popovich’

Summer Dreaming: Coach of the Year

Let’s face it. For all the talk about stability and commitment, most NBA franchises change coaches the way the rest of us change T-shirts on these sweaty dog days of August — often and without even thinking twice.

When the regular season begins in two months, there will be nine new coaches roaming the sidelines. Some will sink, some will swim and some will stand out from the pack.

So as our Summer Dreaming series continues, let’s take a bold leap to next April and have a look at the five candidates most likely to be filling the Coach of the Year ballot for 2014-15.

Send us your picks.


VIDEO: Doc Rivers and Steve Ballmer discuss new Clippers era

Doc Rivers, Clippers — After making the coast-to-coast jump from Boston to L.A., Rivers probably didn’t think his leadership duties on the West Coast would include being the spokesman and face of the team in the difficult scandal involving former club owner Donald Sterling. But as you might have expected, Rivers was out front, direct and kept a firm hold on the situation and his locker room, though it’s hard to discount some effect in the playoff loss to OKC. Now with a new owner and clean slate, he can get back to just concentrating on basketball, where he already upped the franchise record for wins from 56 to 57. He used an up-tempo attack to overcome the losses of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick for stretches. His fingerprints were all over the dramatic improvement of center DeAndre Jordan to become a mainstay rather than a sideshow in the lineup along with CP3 and Blake Griffin. The next step is the Western Conference finals and real bid for a championship.


VIDEO: Erik Spoelstra’s exit interview

Erik Spoelstra, Heat — Now you see him, now you don’t. One minute you’ve got the best player in the game in your starting lineup every night and the next minute he’s gone home to Cleveland. Maybe that’s what it takes to finally get Spoelstra noticed for being more than just Pat Riley‘s pupil and the guy who let’s LeBron James pile up wins. Truth is, he dramatically revamped the Heat offense after that 2011 loss in The Finals and that did lead to back-to-back championships. But as Phil Jackson learned with the Bulls and Lakers, there is nobody overlooked more than the coach of the reigning league icon. The Zen Master won the award just once (1996) despite his 11 titles. Now if Spoelstra can keep a reinvented Miami attack built around Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Luol Deng in the top half of the Eastern Conference race, he’d finally get the credit he’s been due.


VIDEO: Dwane Casey accepts the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Dwane Casey, Raptors — Midway through last season, Casey was on many lists as the coach most likely to be fired next. But talk about pulling yourself back from the brink. Once the Raptors unloaded the contract and the bad fit that was Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Casey got his team to raise its level of play by getting the Raptors to tighten down on defense and make that a calling card. So much for the outside world that thought the Raptors were going into the tank for a lottery pick. They went from ranking 22nd in defensive rating the previous season to finishing 10th and used that identity to win 48 games and the Atlantic Division title. It all came together enough to convince free agent Kyle Lowry to remain committed to what Casey is doing and sign back on. Casey himself re-upped on a new three-year deal. With up and comers DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas, there’s no reason to think the Raptors can’t build on their success and stay in the fight in a rejuvenated Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Tom Thibideau talks about the Bulls’ upcoming season

Tom Thibodeau, Bulls — Admit it. After what he’s done just grinding out wins the past two seasons with holes in his lineup, we want to see just how far Thibs can take the Bulls if a healthy Derrick Rose stays on the court. And don’t forget that the front office dealt Deng out from under him at midseason. You have to know that Carmelo Anthony‘s decision to stay in New York was all and only about the money when he passed up an opportunity to be the perfect piece in the puzzle in Chicago. Neverthless, Thibodeau gets to supplement his frontline with the ultra professional Pau Gasol, who’ll fit in nicely alongside the semi-controlled frenzy that is Joakim Noah. There is no question that the Bulls have bought into the philosophy and completely taken on the hard-driving, do-anything, no-excuses attitude of their coach. Yes, he has overused players to the point of wearing them down to the nub. But that’s only because he’s been playing shorthanded for two years. Give him this full season with all of the key players able to stay healthy and the Bulls will be challenging LeBron and the Cavaliers at the top of the East with a real shot at championship contention for the first time since that guy with the statue outside the United Center was still in uniform.


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich helps celebrate the Spurs’ championship win

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — Now that he’s won five titles and also this award three times in his career, it’s no longer fashionable to say that he’s taken for granted down there in little ol’ San Antonio. But you simply can’t have any list of top five coaches in the league without including the guy who is generally regarded by his peers as being the best. Far more than just a grumpy face, Pop has changed the focus of his offense during the 17-year championship run from being low post oriented with Tim Duncan to whipping the ball around the perimeter in an international style of unselfish frenzy and filling up the bucket with 3-point shots that Pop himself admits “I hate.” He’ll stick with his plan of managing the minutes of his core players Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to the point of sacrificing wins — but never too many — in the regular season. He’ll continue to shift more of the burden to rising young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. They’ll likely be written off again as too old, too worn out at some point during the long regular schedule. But the Spurs will win 50 games, make the playoffs and, if physically fit next spring, Pop will have them once more as the team with know-how and the ability to win West again.

In West, who slides out and sneaks in?


VIDEO: What are the Spurs’ chances of repeating next season?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – In our Wednesday Blogtable, the NBA.com staff agreed — with the lone exception of esteemed colleague Aldo Avinante in the Philippines office — that the Los Angeles Lakers, even with the return of a bullish Kobe Bryant, will not make the playoffs.

This seemed like a pretty easy call. Carlos Boozer and Swaggy P. just don’t scream Showtime. Meanwhile, the Western Conference threatens to be more ferocious this season than last.

But what if the question had asked if the Phoenix Suns will make the playoffs? Or if the New Orleans Pelicans with ascending star Anthony Davis can break through? Or if a Ricky Rubio-Andrew Wiggins combo can end the Minnesota Timberwolves’ long postseason drought? Or if the don’t-sleep-on-the-Denver-Nuggets, with Danilo GallinariJaVale McGee (don’t laugh) and others coming back from injury, plus the return of near-All-Star Arron Afflalo, can climb the ladder? Sorry Kings fans, but I’m leaving out the (maturing?) DeMarcus Cousins and Co. in this discussion.

Would any of these teams have lessened the majority of naysayers?

Perhaps not.

For one team to sneak in, one must slide out.

The regular season in the West might only be good for a reshuffling of last season’s top eight. An argument can be made that among those eight only Houston came out of the summer weakened, and even then some contend that swapping of Chandler Parsons for Trevor Ariza will aid the Rockets’ lacking perimeter defense and thus make it a better overall outfit.

The Spurs return their championship squad in full to attack the task of repeating for the first time in the everlasting Tim Duncan-Gregg Popovich era. Oklahoma City will welcome a full season of a fully healthy Russell Westbrook. The Clippers are pumped to play for an energetic new owner. The talented Trail Blazers added veteran depth.

At positions six through eight, Golden State is free of last season’s distractions, the Grizzlies cleaned out the front office and solidified coach Dave Joerger. The Mavericks stole offensive flamethrower Parsons from Houston and added defensive anchor Tyson Chandler.

So which of those teams possibly falls out? (more…)

Horry’s HOF scale … does it exist?


VIDEO: Robert Horry, a seven-time NBA champion, earned his nickname “Big Shot Bob” the old-fashioned way!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Whenever his name is mentioned, the words “NBA legend” usually accompany Robert Horry.

How else should one refer to a man who in 16 NBA seasons collected seven championship rings, played alongside some of the game’s all-time greats, earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for his clutch shooting heroics on the biggest stage and has become a cult figure with his own measurement for big shots (All Ball’s famed Horry Scale)?

Horry piled up championship experiences during his playing days that many of his more celebrated contemporaries would trade All-Star nods for. And perhaps even some of that cash they made. What would you want more, the adulation, fortune and fame — all of which inevitably fades over time — or the timeless prestige of seven, count ‘em seven, championship rings?

I’d have to think long and hard about that one, really!

The purists have every right to laugh off the Horry belongs in the Hall of Fame argument. He never averaged more than 12 points per game during any season in his career, and he didn’t reach double digits once during his final 12 seasons in the league. Horry only started in 480 of a possible 1,107 games he played in during the regular seasons of his 16 years.

Still, few players were feared the way Horry was with the ball in his hands late and the game on the line. And therein lies the dilemma for a specialist, a role player extraordinaire like Horry. There is no metric available that would bolster his case for entry into the Hall of Fame, his individual numbers (a ho-hum 7,715 career points and nary an All-Star bid) just do not stack up to the Hall of Fame water line. And yet you feel like there has to be some sort of recognition for someone who has accomplished the things Horry did during his career.

He was eligible for consideration with the 2014 class and didn’t make the cut. Horry will join a deep pool of carryover candidates for the 2015 class, headlined by newcomer Dikembe Mutombo, and a star-studded group that includes the likes of Kevin Johnson, Tim Hardaway, Spencer Haywood, Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway. They all have stronger individual cases than Horry but possess none of the championship hardware he brings to the party.

Horry reminds me of the NFL specialists who have struggled for years to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It took Ray Guy, arguably the greatest punter in football history, forever to crash through that glass ceiling.

Complicating matters for Horry and others is the fact that the recognition in the Naismith Hall of Fame isn’t just about what a player has done during his professional career. It’s a culmination of an entire life in the game, from high school to college and all the way up to the very top of the heap.

Horry played a significant part in Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers like Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant gobbling up the championship rings that highlight their respective credential lists. If you don’t believe it, ask Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich, all-time great coaches who know the worth of a truly game-changing role player.

While I’m not ready to argue that Horry deserves to be immortalized in Springfield the way the best of the all-time best have been and always will be, and deservedly so. I do think there needs to be some sort of special recognition for a an elite specialists like Horry, a guy whose accomplishments, even in a supporting role, are unparalleled by anyone else during his era.

Can’t he get a plaque or commemorative brick or something to acknowledge his unique contribution to the game?

Ultimately, Horry might have to settle for the scale, the universal love he gets from all corners of the basketball galaxy and the knowledge deep down that there are plenty of men already in the Hall of Fame and on their way who would do anything for just one of his seven rings!

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 171) … The Future!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What does the future look like for the Indiana Pacers?

The forecast is gloomy, even after a few sips of Rick Fox‘s homemade breakfast smoothie, which he needed to get through Episode 171 of the Hang Time Podcast … The Future.

Everything changed in an instant for the Pacers when their young All-Star Paul George went down with a compound-fracture of his right leg during last week’s USA Basketball Showcase in Las Vegas.

George could very well miss the entire 2014-15 season, and then some, recovering from the gruesome injury. And that leaves the Pacers, who also lost Lance Stephenson this summer via free agency, with huge holes to fill in their lineup with LeBron James (Kevin Love) and the Cleveland Cavaliers and Derrick Rose (Pau Gasol) and the Chicago Bulls hunting that No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference.

We also talk about LeBron’s offseason weight-loss routine, Becky Hammon joining the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff, smoothie making and a plenty more on Episode 171 of The Hang Time Podcast … The Future:

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Quiet Spurs make big noise with Hammon


VIDEO: Becky Hammon is introduced by the Spurs

Last week, when virtually nobody was looking, point guard Tony Parker signed a three-year contract extension.

That’s usually the way the Spurs do business.

But for a franchise that usually goes out of its way to avoid creating even a ripple in the pool, the Spurs have made loud splashes this summer. The first was hiring longtime European coach Ettore Messina as an assistant coach. That was just a warmup.

The addition of WNBA star Becky Hammon to the coaching staff is nothing less than a cannonball.

Hammon, who is retiring as a player at the end of this season, will become the first full-time female assistant coach in NBA history.

Lisa Boyer was a volunteer assistant coach for the Cavaliers under John Lucas during the 2001-02 season, but she did not sit on the bench during games or travel with the team.

Make no mistake. This is big, potentially a game-changer and another milestone for women in sports and as professionals in general. Hammon will have the same duties as the rest of the coaching staff; scouting, writing reports, game-planning and offering her opinions in coaching sessions.

“In some ways it is trailblazing,” Hammon said on a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “But so many other women have done so many great things. I’m just following in their path.”

“I very much look forward to the addition of Becky Hammon to our staff,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said in a statement from the team. “Having observed her working with our team this past season, I’m confident her basketball IQ, work ethic and interpersonal skills will be a great benefit to the Spurs.”

Hammon is a 16-year WNBA veteran and was voted one of the 15 all-time best players in league history. Ironically, an ACL injury that forced her to sit out last season may have opened the door to coaching. While in San Antonio rehabilitating during the offseason, Hammon asked Spurs general manager R.C. Buford and Popovich if she could attend practices and sit in on meetings. A connection was quickly established and both sides were on the road toward making history, though with no intention of grabbing the spotlight.

“Coach Pop made it clear to me I was being hired because of my basketball IQ and my qualifications,” Hammon said. ” ‘It just so happens you’re a woman.’ “

It is, of course, the Spurs’ way to push at the envelope, leap outside the box of conventional thinking. They won their fifth NBA title in June with a roster consisting of 10 international players that came from eight different countries. Messina has spent more than a quarter century as perhaps the top coach in Europe and was widely regarded for years as one who could make the jump across the Atlantic to thrive in the NBA. It took the Spurs to actually make it happen.

Still, it is a quantum leap to make Hammon a woman at the highest level of the men’s game.

“People have always asked me if a woman could play in the NBA,” Hammon said. “I tell them no, because there is a difference. The men are too big, too strong. But when it comes to coaching, game-planning and scheming, there’s no reason that a woman can’t do anything a man can do.”

So could a woman one day become a head coach in the NBA?

“I think anything is possible,” Hammon said.

As Parker’s deal proves, Spurs just keep doing things their way

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Relive Tony Parker’s top 10 plays from last season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Leave it to the Spurs to take all the fun out of free-agent suspense. This franchise is so boring.

Four-time champ and six-time All-Star point guard Tony Parker won’t even make it to free agency next summer. He won’t even play to the players’ strength in the collective bargaining agreement and strong-arm his team into paying him more money over more years. He won’t even explore what other teams might offer him.

There’ll be no premature speculating of where Tony might go. Heck, no speculating at all. What are we, the media, supposed to do with that?

Great going, Tony.

Of course it is great for the San Antonio Spurs. The flawless organization with the executive of the year, the coach of the year, another championship and another young NBA Finals MVP keeps merrily rolling along. Earlier this summer, just weeks after dismantling the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals for the franchise’s fifth championship, the team announced in a two-sentence release that coach Gregg Popovich, had signed a multi-year extension. Popovich’s move followed star Tim Duncan‘s equally exciting decision to opt in with the Spurs — which came with the usual San Antonio fanfare.

And now they’ve done it again.

Parker, who is already playing on a below-market deal that will pay him $12.5 million on the last year of his current deal this season — or right about the amount that Phoenix Suns restricted free-agent point guard Eric Bledsoe seems to find insulting — has signed a three extension that will begin with the 2015-16 season.

Yahoo! Sports reports the deal is worth in the range of $45 million.

Parker, 32, turned in another sensational season last year, yet another quiet MVP-type season (even if his stats don’t shout it) in leading the game’s most artistic offense. He averaged 16.7 ppg, 5.7 apg and 2.3 rpg, but averaged just 29.4 mpg under Popovich’s watchful eye. Popovich has long lamented that his stars might finish their careers with lesser stats than some of their contemporaries simply because of the minutes he won’t play them.

For instance, Parker’s per-36 stats — meaning if he averaged 36 mpg like many in-their-prime starters do — might have looked more like this: 20.4 ppg and 7.0 apg. But that’s not the Spurs way.

The Spurs way is doing what’s best for the team. Parker’s extension virtually guarantees that he will eventually see Duncan, 38, and Manu Ginobili, 36 into retirement. Throughout the years, all three have passed on leaving small-market San Antonio for more lucrative deals elsewhere. Collectively, the Big Three has won four titles since 2003.

“It makes it all worth it,” Parker said following the NBA Finals. “All three, we took, like you said, less money to stay here and to win championships. So it makes it even better to have been able to play my whole career with Timmy and Manu and experiencing those great moments we’re never going to forget our whole life.

“That’s why we play basketball, to win championships and create moments that we’re never going to forget.  So I’ve been very blessed, and I don’t take it for granted. I enjoy every moment, especially with Timmy and Manu.”

Popovich doesn’t see end of Spurs’ road


VIDEO: Despite an “exit interview” after the latest NBA title win, Popovich is going nowhere

Remember during the playoffs when Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said that on the day Tim Duncan finally walks out the door on his NBA career, he’ll be 10 minutes behind him?

Maybe it’s time for us to start envisioning the 38-year-old Big Fundamental rolling on past 40. Or 42. Or…

That’s because Popovich seems to be making no plans to leave soon, agreeing to a multiyear extension to continue as head coach of the team he’s led to 967 wins and five NBA championships since taking over on the bench 18 games into the 1996-97 season.

With all the uncertainty and turmoil that has kept the waters churning through the free agency period this summer, the Spurs have simply kept rowing their boat straight ahead.

Where’s LeBron James going? Who knows? What’s Carmelo Anthony thinking? What does it matter?

In San Antonio, there are ties — and professional goals — that bind.

The confetti was practically still falling from the rafters of the AT&T Center when Duncan announced that he was picking up the option on his contract and returning for 2014-15. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are also under contract through the end of next season. The Spurs wasted no time in signing free agents Patty Mills and Boris Diaw to new deals. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is eligible for an extension, but nobody at all is worried that it won’t get done.

Popovich has often joked that his wagon is hitched tightly to Duncan’s. But during The Finals, Pop said that he wanted to continue and didn’t see any reason to stop.

One reason Popovich would stop, maybe, is his age — 65. But he’s often said that once you’ve had a couple of bottles of wine and taken a few weeks off, there’s nothing else to do except plan for the next training camp and the next season.

The other reason, of course, is that things won’t be quite so easy once Duncan really does hang it up.

But there is also that part of Popovich that will enjoy the challenge. Following right behind Duncan would be too easy.

Seeing the franchise make the transition into the next era behind Leonard and whatever new faces come in will be too much for a career teacher to resist.

The Spurs way is not cutting corners, not skipping steps. There will come a time when Popovich walks out the door, but not until he knows the organization he helped mold into a model franchise knows where it’s going.

Boris Diaw won’t miss chance to repeat

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Boris Diaw earned his three-year deal with his stellar showing in the 2014 playoffs.

The multifaceted Boris Diaw earned his three-year deal with his stellar showing in the 2014 playoffs.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Most Versatile Man in the world doesn’t want to miss out on one of the rare opportunities in the world: The repeat.

That’s right, Boris Diaw will re-sign with the newly minted champion San Antonio Spurs. Diaw, the 6-foot-8 power forward, small forward, point forward, shooting guard, whatever, announced via Twitter on Sunday evening that he’ll be hanging around for a few more years.

That’s music to the ears of Spurs fans who fretted that Diaw might seek (and find) a larger payday elsewhere after his magnificent, all-around performances in the NBA Finals. Instead, Diaw will remain with the team that in many ways resurrected his career when it plucked him off the Charlotte Bobcats’ trash heap in March 2012.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Diaw and the Spurs reached an agreement on a three-year deal worth $22.5 million.

The Spurs have managed to reach agreements with two critical players off a bench that made San Antonio arguably the deepest team in the league. Last week the Spurs came to terms with backup point guard Patty Mills, who will miss a chunk of next season because of surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder. They get both players on reasonable deals, securing the services of both for the next three seasons at around a combined $11 million per year.

Contracts cannot be officially signed until the league’s moratorium comes to a close on July 10.

Diaw provides Gregg Popovich‘s team tremendous versatility and it was on full display during the Western Conference finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder and then in the NBA Finals in the Spurs’ five-game triumph over the Miami Heat.

Diaw scored 26 points in 36 minutes of the series-clinching Game 6 of the West finals when point guard Tony Parker was lost for the second half with an ankle injury. Popovich inserted Diaw into the starting lineup starting with Game 3 of the Finals after Miami’s smaller lineups took Game 2 in San Antonio.

Diaw, 32, replaced the bigger, less mobile Tiago Splitter, and put together three memorable performances in Games 3, 4 and 5 — all Spurs blowout wins — averaging 7.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg and 6.0 apg.

According to Wojnarowski, the third year of Diaw’s deal is not fully guaranteed. Diaw will be guaranteed $18.5 million over the first two years of the deal.

While the Spurs are keeping their own, they will continue to pursue free-agent center Pau Gasol. San Antonio is limited to offering its full mid-level exception of $5.3 million.

Otherwise, the champs will look very much the same when they open training camp in October. Before the start of free agency, Tim Duncan opted into the final year of his contract, and Manu Ginobili put off retirement for at least another year.

Still in the crosshairs of this club that has won four championships with the Big Three going back to 2003 is celebrating in back-to-back seasons.

Diaw apparently didn’t want to miss out on such an opportunity.

If money isn’t the ultimate factor, ‘Melo and Bulls are a perfect match

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Where will Carmelo land?

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Carmelo Anthony Freedom Tour ’14 is off and running.

If the high-scoring superstar can stomach leaving tens of millions of dollars in New York, this whirlwind wine-and-dine is bound to end where it starts: Chicago.

Anthony, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, is in the Windy City today meeting with the Bulls, including emphatic center and franchise backbone Joakim Noah, whose seemingly been in ‘Melo’s ear since around the All-Star break. On Wednesday, he’ll do a two-step through income-tax-free Texas. First to Houston to meet with the always scheming Rockets where general manager Daryl Morey has plotted a super team since he assumed office. Later in the day, he’ll trek north to Dallas where the Bank of Cuban is open for business. Owner Mark Cuban is swinging for the fences for a third summer, but this time he believes he’s got the roster to go with the cap space (albeit not max cap space).

On Thursday, the coach-less Los Angeles Lakers will make their pitch. And finally, Phil Jackson and his 11 championship rings as coach of the Bulls and Lakers will get in the final word for the incumbent Knicks.

Even then there’s theories floating about that maybe Jackson really isn’t all that keen on bringing ‘Melo back, evidence being the way he keeps needling Anthony to re-sign at a discounted rate, a notion Anthony first broached during All-Star weekend; that perhaps Jackson and rookie coach Derek Fisher would be better off without the pressure of expectation in Year 1; better off without a max (or near-max) deal gobbling up valuable cap space when New York will finally have it in abundance to go star chasing in the summer of ’15.

But then there’s the curious trade last week between the Knicks and Mavs, in which both teams trumpeted the deal as a move to motivate ‘Melo to sign with them. Dallas reacquired beloved center Tyson Chandler, their fiery leader and defensive task master on the 2011 championship team. To get Chandler, they also had to take on sinking point guard Raymond Felton.

The Knicks received four players and two starters off the Mavs’ 49-win team, including steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon and erratic center Samuel Dalembert. Jackson said he thinks ‘Melo would relish playing with the sharp-shooting and fundamental wiz Calderon.

But Jackson also spoke of “chemistry” reasons for shipping out Chandler. Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson cheered it as a move that makes Dallas more desirable for a big-fish free agent. In the days following the trade, Chandler, speaking on a Dallas-area sports radio talk show, described his relationship with Anthony as “professional.” He said off the court they stay out of each other’s way, and on it they respect each other.

Sound cozy?

Whether Jackson wants to offer Anthony a max contract — five-years for about $129 million — he holds the power to offer the 2012-13 scoring champ many more millions than any other team. The Bulls, Rockets and Mavs all have work to do to clear the cap space necessary to offer Anthony the maximum they can — four years for about $96 million.

Dallas, for one, won’t get to that number, and will seek to sell Anthony on taking less to partner with a still very capable Dirk Nowitzki at 36, a reformed volume shooter in Monta Ellis and his former teammate Chandler as a premiere rim protector. Cuban will sell the genius of coach Rick Carlisle, who challenged Gregg Popovich and the Spurs to seven games in the first round, and above all else a front office that has operated aggressively and creatively enough to remain contenders to various degrees for more than a decade.

Houston will tout James Harden and Dwight Howard, but signing Anthony will shuffle Chandler Parsons out the door. And there’s concern, at least on the outside, how Harden, Howard and Anthony will share one basketball. In Los Angeles, where Anthony spends much of his offseason anyway, a tag-team with Kobe Bryant (and cap space in 2016 when Bryant comes off the books) will be the hard sell.

So back to Chicago where the Bulls haven’t played for a championship since Michael Jordan hung ‘em up for a second time after the 1998 season. The formula seems ready-made for Anthony to drop in, take off and potentially take over a droopy Eastern Conference that has far fewer contenders than out West.

Coach Tom Thibodeau‘s defensive philosophy is entrenched in the Bulls’ DNA. Anthony’s scoring would instantly boost the Bulls’ offense that reached dreadful depths without Derrick Rose. Rose’s knees are a major question mark, and his salary — $18.9 million this season and up to $21.3 million in 2016-17 — can be fatal for long-term success if he can’t stay healthy. Then again, Rose could play the next 10 years injury-free.

With a roster that includes Noah patrolling the back line, two-way, youthful talent Jimmy Butler at shooting guard and Taj Gibson at power forward (assuming he’s not shipped out in an eventual sign-and-trade with New York) and Thibodeau at the controls, the Bulls and Anthony seem the preferable match.

Anthony turned 30 in May and is heading into his 12th season. A New York native, he loves playing on the Madison Square Garden stage. But transforming that stage into a championship parade will take patience beyond this year, a quality Anthony has acknowledged is in short supply at this crossroads of his career.

He’s earned more than $135 million in salary and made a small fortune from endorsement deals.

If Anthony can make peace with leaving tens of millions more in the city in which he grew up, then his Freedom Tour will likely end where it started today, in Chicago.


VIDEO: How will Bulls try to land Anthony?

Win Big in June, Not July!


VIDEO: The Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstakes last July but it didn’t matter come playoff time

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A year ago this time the Houston Rockets were on the eve of the biggest upset of the summer, stealing Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers and winning the NBA’s free agency sweepstakes by bagging the biggest name on the market.

Roughly 200 miles to the west, Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs were busy licking their wounds from an epic collapse in The Finals against Miami, gazing inward instead of at the free agent frenzy that was brewing.

When Kawhi Leonard and Boris Diaw changed the course of the 2014 Finals last month, it was the triumph of organic growth over the splash and dash of free agency, of the hot-and-now approach over the slow burn that is a player development machine in San Antonio that is the envy of not only the entire NBA but any professional sports franchise around the globe.

The Spurs win big in June and leave July to the Rockets and others who aspire to join them on that elite level of consistent powers around the league, a short list that includes just the Spurs, Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Indiana Pacers over the past four years.

That won’t stop the free agency craziness from kicking into high gear at midnight. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and the rest of a robust free agent crop will make sure that the attempt to make a splash trumps the status quo between now and July 10, when the moratorium for free agents to sign new deals ends.

In a copycat league, the one thing that few teams can emulate is the Spurs’ ability to — let’s borrow a phrase from Heat boss Pat Riley – “stay the course.” The Heat are attempting to do so with their core group of James, Bosh, Wade and Udonis Haslem all opting out of their deals to give Riley the ultimate flexibility to keep them together with restructured deals.

“It’s easy to tout the Spurs method and process when you’re sitting on five championships in 15 years and you have Timmy, Tony [Parker] and Manu [Ginobili] to work with,” said an assistant general manager of an Eastern Conference team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in recent years. “That’s operating from a position of power that basically no one else in the league can operate from other than maybe Miami. The problem we deal with now is the Draft doesn’t provide the consistent home run to build and pulling off great trades, under this new CBA, are a bit more complicated than they used to be. So you’re almost left with free agency and only free agency as the best way to instantly upgrade your team. It’s not the only way, but it’s often the quickest path to where you’re trying to go.”

Tell that to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, whose mastery of the cap and free agency is in a stratosphere of its own, given the way he piles up assets, works them and then does it all over again every summer.

Just don’t tell the Portland Trail Blazers, who bounced Howard, James Harden and the Rockets from the playoffs this season with homegrown talents LaMarcus Aldridge, Damien Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews and last summer’s free agent bargain Robin Lopez leading the way.

As long there’s a chance that reaching for the stars, and really the superstars, can result in the Heat’s summer haul of 2010, the Spurs’ approach will continue to be the exception and not the norm. It’s rare that the circumstances will present the sort of potential Hall of Fame pot of gold the Spurs tinker with now.

The fantasy basketball nature of the tip-off of free agency, which includes an endless number of scenarios — from the plausible to the utterly and completely far-fetched — fills the appetite of fan bases more interested in dreaming big than recognizing the realities of team building in today’s NBA.

For all of the heavy lifting the Heat did in 2010, their results ended up being 50-50 in four years of championship hunting. And the two teams that whacked them, the Mavericks in 2011 and the Spurs last month, were largely organic outfits that took the mighty Heat apart in those matchups. (And Spurs fans will point to the 2013 Finals and their team being 28 seconds away from winning that series in six games.)

It’s a theoretical gamble, choosing which way to go, that each franchise has to evaluate and weigh on its own.

The Phoenix Suns and Atlanta Hawks have decisions to make this summer about their respective paths. They have quality core groups that could continue to be grown and matured organically, or at least in a subtle fashion that does not include surrendering that cap flexibility on a player that doesn’t guarantee the elevation desired. But they each also have ample cap space that allows them to at least present themselves as players for high-profile free agents like James and Anthony.

A slow-burn approach, as rewarding as it can be when it finally comes together, is a tough sell when there are superstars out there waiting for someone to step up with an offer. From all indications the Suns are going all in on the pursuit of both James and Anthony, with the assets in future drafts, a young core and $20 million in cap space to wheel and deal in whatever way necessary to attract superstars.

With the projected salary cap at an estimated $63.2 million and the luxury tax threshold estimated at roughly $77 million, the Hawks will also enter free agency tonight with about $15 million in cap space to chase a superstar, or a couple of All-Star caliber talents, over the course of the next 10 days.

Whatever they choose, they do so knowing that there is an enormous difference between winning big in July and free agency compared to winning big when it really counts —  in June.