HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – No offense to Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely or Bismack Biyombo, the biggest of the big men drafted in the top 10 of Thursday night’s Draft, but they are not the biggest name international post players that we’ll be keeping our eyes on in the coming weeks.
But there are two other NBA bigs that will have our undivided attention as we head into an uncertain July. Nuggets center Nene and Grizzlies center Marc Gasol are the headliners in a free agent class whose star power and depth pales in comparison to the flashy class of 2010 (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, etc.), a group still awaiting word on a new collective bargaining agreement before they can begin the process of deciding their futures.
As promising as that international crop of big men from the draft is supposed to be, and Valanciunas is considered by most the best long-term big man from the 2011 class, none of them will be as valuable as either Nene has been and could be to the Nuggets or Gasol has been and could be to the Grizzlies.
We are talking about two low-post anchors for Western Conference playoff teams, as opposed to long-range projects that no one is sure will be impact players in the league anytime soon.
SAN ANTONIO — Carmelo Anthony didn’t exactly dispute reports that the New Jersey Nets were given permission by the Denver Nuggets to negotiate with him, he just doesn’t believe that’s the case. David Aldridge first reported the latest twist in the ‘Melo Sweepstakes on NBA.com.
“I haven’t talk to anybody, [general manager Masai Ujiri] or [owner Josh Kroenke] or any other teams,” Anthony said Sunday night after a lackluster performance by him and Denver in a loss to the Spurs. “So for that speculation to be thrown around out there, that’s false.”
‘Melo added that he has no desire to talk to another team, noting the Nuggets still dish out his paychecks. He claimed not to know anything about a proposed meeting with the Nets, which reportedly would include a personal pitch from New Jersey billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
“I don’t want to talk to nobody,” Anthony said. “I’ll let the front office handle that type of stuff. That ain’t my job to be talking to New Jersey, Lakers, Dallas, no one. That’s not my job to do.”
And if given permission?
“I still won’t step into something like that,” ‘Melo said. “I have seen a lot of people go through that. For me to sit here and say I want to talk to them or Masai and Josh gave them permission to talk to me, I think that’s false. If that was the case then I’m pretty sure I would have got a phone call.”
Should that phone call come, Denver’s 26-year-old franchise player said he still wants no part in being personally involved in any trade talks. As has been the case lately, ‘Melo virtually guaranteed being in a Nuggets uniform for the foreseeable future — Wednesday against Oklahoma City, Friday against the Lakers and Sunday against Indiana.
When asked about the possibility of Anthony waiting until after the season to address his future, the person familiar with his strategy told CBSSports.com that he has not factored in the prospect of a hard cap and salary rollbacks in a new CBA. Such an outcome in the labor talks would make Anthony’s three-year, $65 million extension — thought to be a driving force behind any trade that would compel him to sign it before the Feb. 24 deadline — a moot point.
Nuggets coach George Karl said he hasn’t been given an update on Anthony by Ujiri.
“I have not talked to him since Friday and I’m sure if there was anything that would have drastically changed, he would have called me,” Karl said.
As for the team, Karl did evoke a slogan that’s been tied to ‘Melo since trade speculation exploded last summer.
“We just got to keep our focus and keep fighting through our drama,” he said.
It doesn’t figure to end anytime soon. ‘Melo was asked if dealing with this at every stop is a drag.
“It is. I get tired of answering the questions. I live with it,” he said. “I wake up in the morning, keep my head high, be professional and answer the questions as y’all ask them.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While everyone else on the planet believes that Carmelo Anthony is headed to the New Jersey Nets any day now, Anthony remains skeptical that a deal is imminent.
In fact, Anthony doesn’t seem like a man convinced of anything right now. He’s waiting to hear from Nuggets GM Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke before he gives all these rumors anything but a roll of his eyes.
All these mixed signals do, though, is set Anthony up to be the fall guy in a debacle that could play out much like “The Decision” did for Anthony’s good friend LeBron James, with Anthony playing the unsuspecting villain this time.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Paul Pierce‘s late night Tweet said it all.
“It’s been a pleasure to bring my talents to south beach now on to Memphis.”
After taking apart for a second straight time the team that is supposed to be your biggest rival, what else would you expect Pierce or any of his Boston Celtics teammates to say?
They’ve exposed the Heat twice in the season’s first three weeks. Like we mentioned the other day, the Heat have problems at point guard … and apparently in a few other places when it comes to dealing with some of the league’s other elite teams, particularly those with elite point guards.
You thought we were making this stuff up after the Utah Jazz rallied from a huge deficit for a stunning overtime win over the Heat Tuesday night. And then last night happened and the Celtics’ Big 3+1 showed us all how it’s done.
Rajon Rondo shredded the Heat’s league-best defense yet again, doing whatever he felt like doing (literally), whenever he felt like doing it, as the Heat watched in amazement as the Celtics cohesive machine the Heat hope to be some day.
“They simply out-executed us and carved us up and exploited us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters after yet another humbling defeat. “And it paralyzed us.”
That’s what we all saw:
Pierce (25 points), Ray Allen (35 points) and Kevin Garnett (16 points and 13 rebounds) thrived against a Heat defense that is simply ill-equipped to stop them. While the Heat scrambled to keep up with Rondo (16 assists), both Pierce and Allen were busy destroying them on the perimeter.
Garnett, meanwhile, (with a nice assist from Big Baby Davis and Shaquille O’Neal) owned the paint against a Heat frontline rotation led by Chris Bosh that is in need of a lift.
Maybe next time the Heat will realize that committing either James or Dwyane Wade to guard Rondo is exactly what the Celtics want them to do. Once they do it, the door opens for Rondo to play his role as the ultimate set-up man for his Hall of Fame teammates.
The Heat keeping talking about the process and how they should have it all figured out in time for the playoffs, and that’s a noble approach when you realize that their greatest obstacle on the way to the championship parade they had planned for the summer has already figured them out.
ANTHONY, NUGGETS LUMP LAKERS
The Celtics weren’t the only ones delivering messages last night.
Carmelo Anthony told TNT’s David Aldridge that he was happy in Denver (“happy right now” were his exact words). Maybe we should all start listening to him now. The Nuggets pulled the upset at the Pepsi Center, handing the Lakers their first loss (118-112) of the season behind Anthony’s 32 points and 13 rebounds and a monster effort off the bench from J.R. Smith and Ty Lawson.
The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 33-19 in the fourth quarter, showing the sort of finishing kick that big time teams show against a superior foe. George Karl is still touting his team as a contender in the Western Conference, we’re just not sure if Anthony is buying it or even interested in a purchase in Denver.
One sliver of hope remains.
There are clearly more organizational change on the horizon in Denver.
That much is clear now that Josh Kroenke has taken over for his father as the team’s president and Masai Ujiri has cleaned out the last of the old guard, Bret Bearup, earlier this week.
“That’s a step. I think that was a big step, not just for Josh (Kroenke) and Masai (Ujiri) but for the whole organization – for the whole league to know what they’re doing here, to make progress,” Anthony said. “Positive (step). They made some changes obviously for the better of the organization. That’s their decision.”
Anthony is still speaking in a distant tone about the Nuggets, which has to be troubling for Nuggets fans. But a win over the Lakers without Chris “The Birdman” Andersen and Kenyon Martin is a huge statement about what type of team the Nuggets could be when those two stalwarts return to the lineup.
The only lingering question is whether or not Anthony will be around when everyone gets healthy. A question Anthony answered in classic fashion.
“TNT loves drama, don’t it?”
WORN OUT WARRIORS NO MATCH FOR BULLS
There’s no sense in pounding on the Warriors this morning.
The Bulls did enough of that in their 120-90 rout of the worn out Warriors at the United Center. The Warriors were playing their fourth game in five nights (and they didn’t have David Lee).
We’ll spare you any more of the gory details and get back to the matter at hand, courtesy of the TNT crew:
Anthony actually considers these Nuggets more talented than the team he helped take to the 2009 Western Conference finals. But even that doesn’t seem enough to convince him to stay, despite the best intentions of Karl, Nuggets president Josh Kroenke and new vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
“They want to sit down and talk, but my thing is it’s way beyond this year,” Anthony told Yahoo! Sports after scoring a team-high 23 points in the Nuggets’ victory. ”It ain’t got nothing to do with the new GM, Josh, the players. For me, I feel it’s a time for change.
“If I do nothing now, I’m never going to do anything. I feel like my time is now to make a decision if I want to leave or if I want to stay.”
You have to wonder how much longer this will go on.
The Nuggets clearly didn’t let the drama bother them on opening night. But it’s hard to imagine anyone sending out a stronger signal about wanting to be moved than what Anthony did here.
It’ll be sad to see them split. Denver is the only NBA home Anthony has known. The franchise was lost in the ether before he arrived and has been a steady playoff force since he’s come into his own.
Despite the relative silence on the topic in Denver, Anthony’s name remains the hottest thing going in the Tri-State area (both the New Jersey Nets and the New York Knicks believe they have a shot to land him).
We understand that you’ve heard all this before about the Nets and Knicks — Free Agent Summer 2010, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, etc. — and their supposed pursuit of a big fish or two to swim in the water surrounding those areas.
Seriously, every little move being made by the Nets and Knicks these days is interpreted as a means to acquiring Anthony, who has done his best to stay mum on his future since training camp began.
D’Antoni first mentioned the 11-man concept in Milan. And as he left Paris, it’s still in play. D’Antoni said he wants to press and run so fiercely, he needs bodies. The skeptical view is no eight-man unit has stood out, and they are showcasing guys for a Carmelo Anthony trade.
“We can play a lot of guys,” D’Antoni said. “We’re going to have to press, run and use more guys this year because they can obviously play.”
None of this news shifts the focus in Denver, of course, where the main issue remains Anthony’s desire to either remain with the franchise that drafted him or move on. There has been no definitive public statement touching that topic from Anthony or anyone associated with him.
But while we’ve been down on the Nuggets here at the hideout (nothing malicious, mind you, we just feel like they as presently constituted they do not strike us as a contender in the Western Conference anymore), there remains cautious optimism surrounding this team in Colorado.
I went to the intrasquad game in Broomfield the other night and was very impressed. I told Masai Ujiri and Josh Kroenke, the new kingpins of the Nuggets, “You take this team and add K-Mart and Birdman, and you’re better than you were two years ago. But you’ve got to have that guy sitting over there.”
That guy was No. 15, Melo. J.R. Smith, Ty Lawson, Al Harrington and Chris Andersen coming off the bench are stronger than an on-time rent check. Talk about energy, offense and a new, improved Lawson. I talked to both Andersen and Martin. They’re both antsy, but are doing the right thing. The Nuggets need them after Christmas, down the stretch and in the playoffs, not now, not at the beginning of the season …
George Karl is slimmer and healthier looking. He has been playing golf with his son. Carmelo and I talked briefly. He is handling all of this very well. Here’s what I get: He’d be happy to play for the Nuggets this season, despite all the talk, and the longer he spends with these players, the more he is convinced they have a chance to be very good once the full roster is available. The more he hears about a hard salary cap possibility, the more likely he will sign the extension.
The Nuggets have backed off all trade talks and are hoping he’ll sign. That deal with the Nets will be there next week, next month, in February, no matter what you might read. So if all fails, the Nuggets have that trade as a backup plan.
Harrington is going to be a big-time scorer on this team early in the season. Nene looks good. And Gary Forbes, the invitee, will make this team. Lawson will take another big step. And J.R. is J.R. But we have to see how the Melo thing plays out.