HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – In legal quarters they call it “irreconcilable differences,” the basis for granting dissolution in no-fault divorce states.
Neither Josh Smith nor anyone in the Atlanta Hawks’ front office is willing to publicly admit that their relationship has moved into the realm of “irretrievable,” but some of us recognize the obvious. It’s time for a clean break for both sides.
Sure, he made a statement apologizing and articulating all of the right things:
“Clearly I am competitive and was frustrated by our recent losses,” Smith said in a statement released by the team. “I understand and respect the team’s actions and just want to get back on the court to do whatever is necessary to help my teammates. I apologize for letting them down and apologize to our fans for not being available for tonight’s game.”
But it still doesn’t resolve the lingering issue that has been there from the day this hastily arranged marriage between the enigmatic hometown kid and the beleaguered franchise was consummated on Draft night 2004.
Smith wasn’t supposed to last until the 17th pick that year. But his stock plummeted on the eve of the Draft based on whispers at workouts that he didn’t show up with the best attitude and energy in some places. We all remember what happened on Draft night, when ESPN analyst Jay Bilas smashed him before he could pull that Hawks hat down tight over his head.
Nearly nine years later, Smith has done plenty to prove his doubters wrong. At 27, he’s become one of the most versatile and productive power forwards in the league, a player with All-Star credentials who has never actually made an All-Star team. We could debate the reasons for that another time, say next week when he probably misses out again despite leading his team in scoring (16.5) and blocks (2.3) while also averaging 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
His production isn’t the issue. Everything else is. Instead of being a fan favorite, no player sends a more divisive shiver through the Philips Arena crowd than Smith does. The fans don’t agree with his preferred playing style and they’re not afraid to let the world know about it. Any shot of his from outside 12 feet is usually accompanied by a collective groan at the building some like to refer to as the “Highlight Factory.”
A fixture in trade rumors since his second season in the league, Smith, a free agent at season’s end, finds himself smack in the middle of those trade crosshairs once again. His representatives insist that he is not interested in forcing a trade by the Feb. 21 trade deadline. ”I want to be clear that I’m not pushing a trade,” Wallace Prather told Ken Berger of CBSSports.com. “This is not a trade request or anything, but there are frustrations in Atlanta.”
Smith is never going to turn his back on his hometown. He’s never going to come out and proclaim his desire to play elsewhere. And no general manager the Hawks have employed, from Billy Knight (who drafted Smith) to Rick Sund (who refused to come up with a contract for Smith and eventually matched a $58 million offer sheet from the Memphis Grizzlies to keep him in the fold) to current boss Danny Ferry has exhibited any desire in meeting the Smith camp halfway in NBA divorce court.
The Hawks have All-Star big man Al Horford to work with, as well as standout guards in Lou Williams and Jeff Teague. They have a decision to make about the future of coach Larry Drew, whose cause Smith championed when no other Hawks player did when Woodson’s contract wasn’t renewed, as well. The Hawks can take all of the cap space they’ve accumulated and rebuild with or without Smith.
Smith is still young enough to start over somewhere else and continue to play in his prime, working as a productive piece for a playoff team in a city that doesn’t possess the inherent pitfalls of his beloved hometown.
Both sides need a fresh start. That much is obvious to us all.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Now is not the time to turn into some cliché monster, spouting basketball-related terms from now until the end of the June until you hear a voice inside your heard screaming for you to stop.
Our favorite here at the hideout is easily this one:
No. 5 — They’re getting some good open looks: Is there such a thing as a bad open look? Well, perhaps if they’re shooting from midcourt. It would do college basketball telecasts wonders if the broadcast teams would simply explain their clichés. How is the team getting open looks? Is it the dribble-penetration from the slashing point guard. Are the offensive sets being executed to perfection? More college basketball analysts should be like Jay Bilas — he doesn’t shy away from offering detailed breakdowns during the action.
So be careful what you say this month. You don’t want to be that guy!
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The New Orleans Hornets don’t even want to discuss these Chris Paul trade rumors.
What team wants to talk about moving its one golden asset in a summer of such uncertainty for so many, what with the draft and free agency all brewing like the perfect storm for something crazy to happen.
“I’m not going to comment on rumors, regardless of confirming them or denying them or saying how believable or unbelievable they are. Because it’s something that will be there throughout the free agent process. I’m not going to begin commenting now.
“We have the duty to listen and have dialog with teams about all of our players. I’ve also always said we have a very high value and opinion of what Chris provides for us. Things really haven’t changed.”
… the Hang Time crew is happy to pick it up there.
Sure, it’s being mowed down in nearly every direction — New Orleans, Cleveland, New Jersey and everywhere else James sits atop the summer wish list. That’s fine.
But to dismiss the discussion entirely is sheer craziness.
Unless the Hornets have grand plans to put a much improved supporting cast around Paul, a group that can thrive under new coach Monty Williams, don’t they owe it to themselves to at least explore all their options this summer?
“Everything sounds far-fetched when you first hear it as a rumor,” a former Eastern Conference general manager told me this morning by phone. “But no one is ‘untouchable’ in our league, not even Chris Paul. So if my phone is ringing right now and they are asking him about him, I’m going to take that call. I might not be listening seriously to whatever someone is trying to offer, but I’m taking that call.”
We would, too.
There’s not a single player in this draft more valuable right now than Paul, who when healthy is considered among the top two or three point guards in the game by most.
And if anyone needed to be told that having Paul on the roster makes their team a more attractive destination for James or any other marquee free agent … well, there’s always World Cup soccer to keep you busy this time of year.
Other Draft Day Eve tidbits from around the league
The Washington Wizards are actively attempting to acquire at least one more pick in Thursday’s NBA draft, with team president Ernie Grunfeld working the phones in hopes that the team can assemble to best possible talent around No. 1 pick John Wall. The eventual selection of Wall isn’t a secret, but the NBA does not allow teams to make the official choice known before David Stern steps on stage at Madison Square Garden to make the announcement.
The Wizards also have the 30th (acquired from Cleveland in the Antawn Jamison deal) and 35th picks in the draft, but they are not content with just those choices. New owner Ted Leonsis has already expressed his desire to add more players through the draft. They are also in pursuit of a pick between the late lottery and early 20s of the draft, Grunfeld said on Tuesday that “we’re having as many conversations as any team in the league about trying to move up and acquire another pick, but a lot of teams are trying to do the same thing.”
Washington is among several teams with multiple first-round draft picks. Minnesota and Memphis have three picks, and Oklahoma City and New Jersey have two. Miami and Atlanta could also be looking to move their lone first-rounders to create cap space for the 2010 free agency class. Grunfeld wouldn’t confirm or deny that he’s been in touch with any of those teams. But the Wizards have competition for first-round choices, with teams like Cleveland and Dallas — which don’t have selections — also looking to move in.
Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel says it’s time for the Heat to abandon the Michael Beasley project after just two years. That seems a bit harsh after such a short sample of what Beasley can and cannot do. But Hyde is convinced it’s time to turn the page:
Two years ago today, Michael Beasley entered a Manhattan, N.Y., ballroom, straight off the campus in Manhattan, Kan., whispering to himself, “You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.”
He saw the pre-draft media crowd part before him and said, “Look, it’s like I’m Moses before the Red Sea.”
He was so fun then. So loose. And so 19, as it turned out once you got to know him better.
Two years later, the best move for everyone is for the Heat to eat that decision to invest the second overall pick in Beasley. It will taste like cat litter in some ways, especially when the Heat’s best option might be to get nothing in return.
Yes, nothing. Which is still something in the salary-cap world. As we’ll see, it’s the last time the Heat can turn this nothing into something, too.
The telling image of Beasley that matters now is his sitting on the bench for the most important half of the past season, the Game 5 playoff loss at Boston. Couldn’t help, the coaches concluded. Wasn’t needed. If not then, when?
On a team constructed around expiring contracts, Beasley’s existing contract of about $5 million becomes his most valuable commodity for the Heat. It’s not like we’re reducing his game to a price tag. It’s reduced. He’s in the discount bin.
This is normally the time of year when Bryan Colangelo is successfully climbing a mountain of information.
But as the Toronto Raptors head into what will surely be a franchise-defining few weeks, even their general manager acknowledges that, like almost every executive in the NBA, he’s feeling for an elephant in a dark room. There’s something big in there, but what exactly it is, he can’t be sure.
Welcome to the off-season of 2010, unlike any other in NBA history and almost unique in professional sports, where some of the biggest names in basketball – not just LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Raptors’ Chris Bosh, but all-star veterans like Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki and Amare Stoudemire – may be free agents angling for long-term contracts even as the league’s salary cap is shrinking and most insiders are expecting a labour stoppage prior to the 2011-12 season.
The uncertainty will affect Thursday night’s entry draft.
The Raptors are selecting 13th and have narrowed their list of desirable prospects to about a half-dozen after working out 36 or more players. Uncertainty abounds, however, because of Bosh’s unknowable decision, the desire of forward Hedo Turkoglu to be traded, and an apparent log-jam at point guard, where the Raptors have $17.7-million (all currency U.S.) tied up in Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack and Marcus Banks.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with the roster, and with that uncertainty there’s a lot of uncertainty around this pick,” Colangelo said after the Raptors’ final predraft workout Tuesday at the Air Canada Centre. “But we’ve said we’re going to take the best available player, the one we feel has the most talent, the most upside, that we feel will fit this organization long-term.”
Ron Tillery of the Commercial Appeal says Hang Time’s Grizzlies are weighing their draft night options and might make a move up the food chain. Whatever it takes to make HT’s Grizzlies better is fine with us:
A potential deal that would have the Griz exchanging their picks at 25 and 28 for the Timberwolves’ 16th selection has not been agreed upon but is one of several possibilities being seriously considered.
ESPN.com first reported the proposed trade. A person with knowledge of the talks said Minnesota presented Memphis with the deal. However, the Grizzlies remained hesitant Tuesday night, preferring to wait until the draft begins before committing to such a transaction.
Memphis brass wants to gauge which players might be available before agreeing to move up to 16. The Griz also own the 12th pick.
Griz general manager Chris Wallace had no comment when reached Tuesday afternoon.
During a pre-draft workout early in the day at FedExForum, Wallace said the Griz are very active in trade talks and weighing several scenarios.
“Talking about and doing are two different things,” Wallace said. “Every team in the league is talking about moving up, moving down, moving out … all of that stuff is swirling around right now.”
It’s not likely that the Griz will draft three times.
Mike Monroe of the Express News says the draft is just the first step in a franchise revival project soon to get underway in San Antonio. The name Tiago Splitter is being tossed around liberally in connection with the Spurs:
The NBA draft Thursday features a class of prospects deep enough to put a talented player in reach of the Spurs, who have the 20th selection, their highest pick since they made Tim Duncan the No. 1 overall choice in 1997.Spurs general manager R.C. Buford acknowledges a “larger pool of players than most summers,” though he warns it will take three years before anyone can truly know how good, and deep, the class is.
The standard belief among NBA personnel chiefs holds that three seasons are needed to fairly judge nearly every player who comes into the league.
Take, for example, the Spurs’ first-round pick in 2007.
Then, they selected a 6-foot-11, 22-year-old Brazilian center.
Three years later, this is what Buford knows about Tiago Splitter: “He’s the MVP of the Spanish league and of the Spanish finals. That hasn’t been done since (Arvydas) Sabonis.”
In his prime, the 7-foot-3, 290-pound Sabonis was one of the best big men in basketball history. In 1994, the Lithuanian giant was 28 when he had his double-MVP Spanish League season for Real Madrid. He was a few weeks shy of 31 by the time he got to the NBA, with the Trail Blazers.
Sabonis’ late-entry NBA career made fans wonder how good he must have been in his early-to-mid 20s, before he put on weight and his knees began to betray him.
Buford isn’t saying Splitter is another Sabonis. He isn’t even saying he would drop right into the Spurs’ starting lineup.
“We already have a pretty good starting center,” said the Spurs’ GM, acknowledging what everyone but Duncan himself knows about which post position the two-time MVP fills.
ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said Hayward reminds of him of former Oregon player Luke Jackson, the 10th pick in the 2004 draft.
“I really want to like him. I’m just not sure about him,” Bilas said Monday. “I do wonder a little bit on who he guards. He’s not a super athlete. The (small forward) spot seems a little bit difficult for him defensively and he’s certainly not a (power forward).
“So you ask, who does he guard? At that spot, when a guy is not a great shooter, not a super athlete and not a great defender, that raises a few questions that I think are fair ones.”
Hayward has been projected to go as high as No. 8 to the Los Angeles Clippers. He could go as low as the mid-teens. The Pacers aren’t expected to select Hayward if he’s available at No. 10.
“I have him ranked 13th or 14th,” Bilas said. “I think Hayward has a very good chance in the NBA. It’s just that my personal view, I would have some questions about him.”
Hayward said he hasn’t paid attention to mock drafts because he forgot his laptop charger while he was on the road working out for teams.
“I think just about everything is positive about him,” Minnesota Timberwolves assistant general manager Rob Babcock said. “He’s a versatile player. He’s a much better athlete than people think. He’ll get stronger as time goes on. He’s got a real good feel for the game. He’ll start out as a small forward with a chance to play some power forward down the road if he gets stronger.”
John Hammond was the NBA’s executive of the year for last season.
My question now is whether a higher award might be available for Trader John.
To make Dan Gadzuric finally disappear is one thing. But to make the Floppin’ Dutchman and Charlie Bell go away at the same time? And get a 20-point scorer for two players who made the Maytag repair guy look like an overachiever?
Somebody needs to text message the White House to ask if the president has one of those Wizard of Oz humanitarian/genius ribbons lying around in a cigar box or something.
OK, so Golden State is dumping salary, Gadzuric had an expiring contract and Corey Maggette has a reputation as a selfish player who has scored in bunches because somebody has to score for bad teams. And, let’s face it, being a good teammate is not exactly a job requirement for the Warriors and Clippers.
But let’s see this trade for what it is: Danny G. had long ago become the poster child for all that ailed the old Bucks, drawing $7 million a year for basically taking up the seat between Royal Ivey and Primoz Brezec.
And besides getting on the business end of the Scott Skiles glare for missing a Game 7 playoff bus, Bell can’t play anymore. He had completely fallen out of the rotation. Not only that, but he was making $4 million a year. For the next two seasons.
So there you have it, nearly the final purging of the crippling financial mistakes that symbolized the Larry Harris years and almost dragged the Bucks down to a place where no light could penetrate.
By Hammond’s hand, Gadzuric and Bell are gone. So are Bobby Simmons, Mo Williams and Yi Jianlian. Only Michael Redd’s ominous $18.3 million player option hangs over the Bucks now, and my guess is Redd, too, will vanish before the expiration of the last maximum contract this franchise could ever bestow.
These are the new Bucks, symbolized by the flexible value contracts of Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino, not to mention the promising future that comes with having Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut locked up for the next four years. This is more about Hammond continuing to get the Bucks’ financial house in order as a means to give them a chance to compete.