Posts Tagged ‘Mo Williams’

Rose Garden One Of Last Stadiums To Get The Corporate-Naming Touch

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – And then there were three.

Only three of the NBA’s 30 arenas do not bear a corporate name: Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks; The Palace of Auburn Hills, home to the Detroit Pistons; and New Orleans Arena, home of the rebranded Pelicans.

Truth be told, that number will soon shrink to two if the Pelicans can find a willing corporate partner.

Last year’s renaming of Milwaukee’s Bradley Center to BMO (Harris Bank) Bradley Center dropped us to four. And Tuesday’s announcement in Portland that the awesomely named Rose Garden Arena — affectionately called simply the Rose Garden — is now the antiseptic Moda Center, made it a lonely three. The deal with Moda Health, a regional health and dental insurance provider, reportedly is for 10 years and $40 million, or $4 million a year, or about $1.4 million less than backup guard Mo Williams will earn the next two seasons.

The Trail Blazers called The Rose Garden Home since 1995, and although team president and CEO Chris McGowan surmised: “The Rose Garden put us on the map, the Moda Center’s going to take us into the future,” Blazers fans seem to have an affinity for roses.

The sudden death of The Rose Garden made us nostalgic for the good ol’ days when an arena name meant something, by gosh, or at least sounded like it did. Gone are The Omni, The MECCA, The Spectrum, The Summit and The “Fabulous” Forum, among others.

Lost are the coliseums like the Coliseum at Richfield — or as I remember it, “Richfield Colisuem” — and the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Which leads to another bygone era of patriotism in arena/stadium naming such as Phoenix’s old barn and Portland’s Rose Garden predecessor, Memorial Coliseum.

And forget about naming an arena after the great metropolis in which it sits. Once New Orleans finds a deal (assuming it can), the mighty Detroit suburb of Auburn Hills will stand alone.

We’re left with a hodgepodge of cold, corporate neon signs on big buildings. It’s difficult enough to keep track of player movement, let alone which stodgy bank or hot company du jour has its name on which arena this week.

Some of these companies seem to come and go with every Wall Street ebb and flow. Quick, name the Philadelphia 76ers’ home arena … For 27 years they suited up at The Spectrum. In the 17 years since moving into a new arena, the place has gone by four corporate names. If you said Wells Fargo Center, congratulations. If you said CoreStates Center, First Union Center or Wachovia Center, please catch up.

It’s hard to believe we’re a solid two decades into naming-rights deals with the late, great Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss really ushering in the era 25 years ago when he signed a deal with Great Western Savings and Loan, changing the Forum to Great Western Forum. The genius behind it is there was little backlash because so few people outside California recognized Great Western as a bank, it almost seemed like a natural name change for a venue that had grown famous for its basketball, boxing and concerts.

The Chicago Bulls weren’t too far behind, going corporate in 1994 with their move into the cavernous United Center and the great Celtics ditched the Boston Garden a year later for something called the FleetCenter. Yes, Fleet specializes in enemas, but this Fleet was actually a Boston-based bank. Of course, once Fleet was sold to Bank of America, the arena name had to be flushed.

In the name of nostalgia, what follows is a history of arena names for each of today’s 30 NBA teams (via basketball-reference.com):

Atlanta Hawks

Alexander Memorial Coliseum (1968-72); Omni Coliseum (1972-97); Georgia Dome (1997-99); Philips Arena (99-present)

Boston Celtics

Boston Garden (1947-95); FleetCenter (1995-2005); TD Banknorth Garden (2005-09); TD Garden (2009-present)

Brooklyn Nets 

Barclays Center (2012-present);
As the New Jersey Nets: Rutgers Athletic Center (1978-81); Brendan Byrne Arena (1981-96); Continental Airlines Arena (1996-2007); Izod Center (2007-10), Prudential Center (2010-12)

Charlotte Bobcats

Charlotte Coliseum (2004-05); Charlotte Bobcats Arena (2005-08); Time Warner Cable Arena (08-present)

Chicago Bulls

International Amphitheater (1966-67); Chicago Stadium (1967-94); United Center (1994-present)

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland Arena (1971-74); Coliseum at Richfield (1974-94); Gund Arena (1994-2005); Quicken Loans Arena (2006-present)

Dallas Mavericks

Reunion Arena (1980-2001); American Airlines Center (2001-present)

Denver Nuggets 

Denver Auditorium (1974-75); McNichols Sports Arena (1975-99); Pepsi Center (1999-present)

Detroit Pistons

Detroit Olympia (1957-61); Cobo Arena (1961-78); Pontiac Silverdome (1978-88); The Palace of Auburn Hills (1988-present)

Golden State Warriors

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Arena (1972-96); San Jose Arena (1996-97 while Oakland arena renovated); The Arena in Oakland (1997-2004); Oakland Arena (2004-06); Oracle Arena (2006-present)

Houston Rockets

Hofheinz Pavilion (1971-75); The Summit (1975-98); Compaq Center (1998-2004); Toyota Center (2004-present)

Indiana Pacers

Indiana State Fair Coliseum (1967-74); Market Square Arena (1974-99); Conseco Fieldhouse (1999-2011); Bankers Life Fieldhouse (2011-present)

Los Angeles Clippers

Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (1985-99); STAPLES Center (1999-present)

Los Angeles Lakers 

Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena (1961-67); The Forum (1967-88); Great Western Forum (1988-99); STAPLES Center (1999-present)

Memphis Grizzlies

Pyramid Arena (2001-04); FedExForum (2004-present)

Miami Heat

Miami Arena (1989-99); American Airlines Arena (1999-present)

Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee Arena (1968-74); The MECCA (1974-88); Bradley Center (1988-2012); BMO Bradley Center (2012-present)

Minnesota Timberwolves

Metrodome (1989-90); Target Center (1990-present)

New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans

New Orleans Arena (2002-present)

New York Knicks

Madison Square Garden (1947-present)

Oklahoma City Thunder

Ford Center (2008-09); Oklahoma City Arena (2009-10); Chesapeake Energy Arena (2010-present)

Orlando Magic

Orlando Arena (1989-99); TD Waterhouse Centre (1999-2006); Amway Arena (2006-present)

Philadelphia 76ers

Convention Hall (1963-67); The Spectrum (1967-94); CoreStates Spectrum (1994-96); CoreStates Center (1996-98); First Union Center (1998-2003); Wachovia Center (2003-10); Wells Fargo Center (2010-present)

Phoenix Suns

Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum (1969-92); America West Arena (1992-2007); US Airways Center (2007-present)

Portland Trail Blazers

Memorial Coliseum (1971-95); Rose Garden Arena (1995-2013); Moda Center (as of Tuesday)

Sacramento Kings

ARCO Arena (1985-09); Power Balance Pavilion (2009-12); Sleep Train Arena (2012-present)

San Antonio Spurs

HemisFair Arena (1973-93); Alamodome (1993-2002); SBC Center (2002-06); AT&T Center (2006-present)

Toronto Raptors

SkyDome (1995-98); Air Canada Centre (1998-present)

Utah Jazz

Salt Palace (1979-91); Delta Center (1991-06); EnergySolutions Arena (2006-present)

Washington Bullets/Wizards

Capital Centre (1974-93); US Airways Centre (1993-97); MCI Center (1997-2006); Verizon Center (2006-present)

Reports: Blazers Pick Up Guard Williams

From NBA.com staff reports

One of the last remaining marquee names on the free-agent market, ex-Jazz guard Mo Williams, has found a new home in the same division.

As first reported by CBSSports.com’s Ken Berger, Williams will sign a two-year, $5.6 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers. The move keeps the versatile combo guard in the Northwest Division and adds another guard to a Portland roster that also features reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, rookie C.J. McCollum and veterans Earl Watson, Wes Matthews and Dorell Wright.

Portland had its fair share of trouble scoring off the bench last season and has attempted to address that issue by bolstering its bench with more guards and by adding big men Thomas Robinson and Robin Lopez in offseason trades as well.

Who’s Left? A Look At The Numbers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – It’s been 15 days since teams could start talking to free agents and six days since contracts could be signed. And at this point, pickings are slim. If you want an impact player, you’re probably going to have to settle for a guy that makes an impact only some of the time.

Here’s what’s left on the free-agent market as of Tuesday morning, according to the numbers guys put up last season.

There were 30 free agents available on July 1 (or who became available afterward) who had played at least 2,000 minutes last season. Only three remain …

Most minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 80 2,896 36.2
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 58 2,133 31.4
Nate Robinson CHI 82 23 2,086 25.4
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 62 1,959 31.6
Jason Maxiell DET 72 71 1,789 24.8
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 6 1,636 21.5
Lamar Odom LAC 82 2 1,616 19.7
Alan Anderson TOR 65 2 1,495 23.0
Gary Neal SAS 68 17 1,484 21.8
Beno Udrih ORL 66 9 1,457 22.1

(R) = Restricted free agent

There were 21 free agents who played at least 200 minutes in the playoffs, and six of those guys are still left …

Most playoff minutes played, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP GS MIN MIN/G
Nate Robinson CHI 12 8 404 33.7
Gary Neal SAS 21 0 390 18.6
D.J. Augustin IND 19 1 316 16.6
Derek Fisher OKC 11 0 261 23.7
Kenyon Martin NYK 12 1 253 21.1
Devin Harris ATL 6 6 225 37.5
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 4 4 133 33.3
Sam Young IND 15 0 130 8.7
Keyon Dooling MEM 14 0 114 8.1
Ivan Johnson ATL 6 0 108 18.0

There were 31 free agents who scored at least 800 points last season, some more efficiently than others. Only four of those guys are left …

Most points scored, remaining free agents

Player Old team GP PTS PPG eFG% TS%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 1,397 17.5 46.8% 51.0%
Nate Robinson CHI 82 1,074 13.1 51.0% 54.0%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 1,055 15.5 46.6% 53.1%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 1,011 16.3 52.0% 57.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 712 9.4 53.7% 56.1%
Alan Anderson TOR 65 693 10.7 46.0% 50.9%
Gary Neal SAS 68 645 9.5 48.7% 51.2%
Mo Williams UTA 46 592 12.9 48.5% 51.9%
Devin Harris ATL 58 577 9.9 52.5% 56.5%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 564 10.6 44.4% 46.5%

EFG% = (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))

Of the 30 free agents who grabbed at least 300 rebounds, five remain …

Most total rebounds, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP OREB DREB REB RPG OREB% DREB% REB%
Nikola Pekovic MIN (R) 62 230 315 545 8.8 13.1% 18.8% 15.9%
Lamar Odom LAC 82 117 363 480 5.9 8.6% 25.2% 17.2%
Jason Maxiell DET 72 135 274 409 5.7 8.6% 17.7% 13.2%
Antawn Jamison LAL 76 109 253 362 4.8 7.5% 16.7% 12.2%
Byron Mullens CHA 53 71 266 337 6.4 5.3% 21.9% 13.2%
Samuel Dalembert MIL 47 105 171 276 5.9 13.9% 26.6% 19.8%
Ivan Johnson ATL 69 76 190 266 3.9 8.4% 20.9% 14.7%
Brandan Wright DAL 64 85 175 260 4.1 8.5% 16.0% 12.4%
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 55 195 250 3.7 2.9% 10.9% 6.8%
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 59 187 246 3.1 2.1% 7.3% 4.6%

OREB% = Percentage of available offensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds grabbed while on the floor
REB% = Percentage of available total rebounds grabbed while on the floor

Of the 24 free agents who dished out at least 200 assists last season, six remain …

Most assists, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP AST APG TO AST/TO ASTRatio
Brandon Jennings MIL (R) 80 521 6.5 203 2.57 24.9
Nate Robinson CHI 82 358 4.4 144 2.49 23.9
Beno Udrih ORL 66 302 4.6 108 2.80 32.4
Jamaal Tinsley UTA 66 290 4.4 106 2.74 45.2
Mo Williams UTA 46 285 6.2 125 2.28 29.1
A.J. Price WAS 57 205 3.6 64 3.20 28.9
Devin Harris ATL 58 197 3.4 88 2.24 24.8
Gerald Henderson CHA (R) 68 177 2.6 108 1.64 13.9
D.J. Augustin IND 76 170 2.2 68 2.50 29.5
Luke Walton CLE 50 166 3.3 60 2.77 39.9

ASTRatio = Percentage of possessions resulting in an assist

There were 49 free agents who recorded a positive plus-minus last season, and 18 of them – including a pair who made a strong impact – remain.

Highest plus-minus, remaining free agents

Player Old Team GP +/- OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg
Lamar Odom LAC 82 +296 104.9 95.4 +9.5
Devin Harris ATL 58 +155 105.2 97.9 +7.3
Gary Neal SAS 68 +101 105.4 101.4 +4.0
Brandan Wright DAL 64 +100 107.9 102.8 +5.1
Derek Fisher OKC 33 +64 107.2 100.7 +6.5
Kenyon Martin NYK 18 +58 109.8 101.4 +8.4
Rodrigue Beaubois DAL 45 +36 102.8 99.3 +3.5
Nate Robinson CHI 82 +32 101.9 101.9 +0.0
Mike James DAL 45 +30 106.8 103.8 +3.0
Jerry Stackhouse BKN 37 +27 103.0 104.6 -1.7

OffRtg = Team points scored per 100 possessions with player on floor
DefRtg = Team points allowed per 100 possessions with player on floor
NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions with player on floor

Got Shooting? It’s Going Fast

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HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The 2012-13 season shall forever be known as the year of the three. There were 3-point records set on the individual, team and league levels. And Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer to tie Game 6 of The Finals will go down as one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

Furthermore, there was a much stronger correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of a team’s shots from 3-point range than we’d seen previously. With one notable exception — the Denver Nuggets — the best offenses in the league shot a lot of threes, or at least shot them very well.

Top 10 offenses, 2012-13

Team OffRtg 3PM 3PA 3PT% Rank 3PA% Rank
Miami 110.3 717 1,809 39.6% 2 28.5% 5
Oklahoma City 110.2 598 1,588 37.7% 3 24.4% 12
New York 108.6 891 2,371 37.6% 5 35.4% 1
L.A. Clippers 107.7 627 1,752 35.8% 16 26.5% 8
Denver 107.6 521 1,518 34.3% 25 21.7% 22
Houston 106.7 867 2,369 36.6% 9 34.9% 2
San Antonio 105.9 663 1,764 37.6% 4 26.4% 9
L.A. Lakers 105.6 715 2,015 35.5% 19 30.3% 3
Brooklyn 105.0 628 1,760 35.7% 17 26.9% 7
Golden State 104.2 658 1,632 40.3% 1 23.9% 14

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
3PA% = Percentage of total shots from 3-point range

The Nuggets were upset in the first round when they couldn’t make 3-pointers and, more importantly, couldn’t stop the Warriors from making them. And now, Denver is without the three guys who made the most 3-pointers for them last season. Danilo Gallinari (135) is recovering from ACL surgery, Corey Brewer (91) is a free agent (who could come back), and Andre Iguodala (91) is heading to Golden State.

There’s a lot more to success in this league, but if you want to compete for a championship, you need guys who can knock down long-distance shots. There were several available on the market and a handful of good teams that needed them to take the next step. A couple of those teams will be signing a couple of those shooters. Here’s a look at the contending teams that needed shooting the most and what they’ve done to address the problem…

Chicago Bulls

OffRtg: 100.4 (24), 3PT%: 35.3% (21), 3PA%: 18.9% (29)
The Bulls’ offense will obviously be better with the return of Derrick Rose, but they still need better perimeter shooting to complement their penetrating point guard. They ranked fourth in 3-point percentage in 2011-12, but then said goodbye to Kyle Korver and C.J. Watson.

They’re heading back in the right direction this summer, upgrading from Marco Belinelli (35.7 percent) to Mike Dunleavy (42.8 percent), who ranked third in 3-point percentage among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season. There are few players in the league better than Dunleavy at coming off pin-down screens and draining threes on the wings.

Jimmy Butler should also be a more dangerous shooter, especially with Rose coming back. After shooting just 1.3 threes per game at 38 percent in the regular season, Butler shot 3.1 per game at 41 percent in the playoffs. No. 20 pick Tony Snell is known as a shooter, but hit just 64 threes in 35 games at New Mexico last season.

The Bulls haven’t exactly turned into last year’s Knicks when it comes to shooting threes, but they have taken a step forward.

Denver Nuggets

OffRtg: 107.6 (5), 3PT%: 34.3% (25), 3PA%: 21.7% (22)
The Nuggets took a big step backward by losing Iguodala and trading Kosta Koufos to Memphis. And we don’t know if they’ll play the same fast-paced, attacking style under coach Brian Shaw that they did under coach George Karl.

But Denver will get one of the better shooters on the market by sending Iguodala out via a three-team, sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors and Jazz that brings them Randy Foye, who ranked second among free agents with 178 threes last season and shot them at a 41.0 percent clip. Foye will likely split time at shooting guard with Evan Fournier, who shot a solid 22-for-54 (41 percent) in limited regular season action last season (and went 0-for-8 in the playoffs).

The Nuggets will also have a full season of Wilson Chandler, who shot well after returning from injury last season. Denver’s defense will most certainly fall off without Iguodala, but the Nuggets might actually have a little more inside-out balance to their offense.

Indiana Pacers

OffRtg: 101.6 (19), 3PT%: 34.7% (22), 3PA%: 24.5% (11)
Like the Nuggets, the Pacers thrive in the paint (just not as well). And the No. 1 defense in the league helped them make up for their lack of shooting. But they could have used a few more weak-side threes against the Heat’s aggressive defense in the conference finals, when Lance Stephenson shot 7-for-23 (30 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over his last six full seasons, Danny Granger hit 901 threes at 39 percent. And with Granger set to return from the knee injury that kept him out of all but five games last season, returning team president Larry Bird didn’t have to do a thing to improve his team’s 3-point shooting.

But Bird went out and got Watson (41 percent last season) and Chris Copeland (42 percent) to give his team some more punch off the bench. No. 22 pick Solomon Hill was also decent shooter (39 percent on threes) at Arizona. He might not play much as a rookie, but he can’t be a worse from the perimeter than defensive specialist Sam Young was.

Last season, Frank Vogel only had D.J. Augustin — a defensive liability — to turn to when he needed more shooting on the floor. Now, he’s got plenty of options.

Memphis Grizzlies

OffRtg: 101.7 (18), 3PT%: 34.5% (24), 3PA%: 16.6% (30)
The Rudy Gay trade didn’t change much for the Grizz, who made a league-low 4.6 threes per game after the deal. And they have yet to do anything in free agency to improve their perimeter offense. Tony Allen, returning on a new contract, is the definitive shooting guard who can’t shoot. Even their top draft pick — Jamaal Franklin — is a wing who doesn’t shoot very well.

The Grizzlies still have their mid-level exception to spend. And there are a couple of shooters still left on the market (see below). They also have a trade exception worth almost $7.5 million to absorb a contract from a team willing to deal them a shooter. But right now, they look like they could rank last in the league in 3-pointers for a second straight season.

Still on the market

For the Grizzlies and other teams still looking for shooters, the pickings are rather slim. Here are their six best options (in order of how many threes they hit last season), all of which come with issues …

Nate Robinson — 141-for-348 (40.5 percent)
Robinson had his best shooting season with the Bulls. And though he was mostly the Bulls’ back-up point guard, 101 of his 141 threes were assisted, so he can certainly play off the ball. He has improved defensively and is certainly making better decisions than he was earlier in his career, but it still isn’t easy for a coach to trust him with the ball in his hands for big minutes.

Wayne Ellington — 94-for-240 (39.2 percent)
Of the free agents that are still available, only three — Brandon Jennings (173), Robinson and Alan Anderson (95) — hit more threes than Ellington did last season. He was a decent role player in Memphis before it sent him to Cleveland for financial flexibility.

Gary Neal — 89-for-251 (35.5 percent)
Neal hit six threes in Game 3 of The Finals, but shot just 35 percent from beyond the arc last season (31st among the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes) after shooting 42 percent in his first two years with the Spurs, who have seemingly swapped him for Belinelli. (They didn’t have an Italian on their roster, after all.)

Roger Mason Jr. — 66-for-159 (41.5 percent)
Of the 57 free agents who attempted at least 100 threes last season, only 11 shot them better than 40 percent. And only two — Robinson and the Pelicans’ Mason Jr. — are still on the market. Mason doesn’t do much more than make threes, but you can do worse if you need a fifth guard on your roster.

Mo Williams — 59-for-154 (38.3 percent)
Jazz starting guard Williams can handle the ball or play off it. In his two seasons playing next to LeBron James, he shot 43 percent from 3-point range, and only two players — Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen — hit more threes than Williams did over those two years. But he played a career-low 46 games last season and defense is an issue.

Anthony Morrow — 16-for-43 (37.2 percent)
There was a point a few years ago when Morrow qualified as the best 3-point shooter in NBA history. He’s still a great shooter, but doesn’t have as quick a release as some others, struggles when he needs to put the ball on the floor, and is a defensive liability. He couldn’t get off the bench for the Mavs as they were making their playoff push last season.

Three more points

  • The Timberwolves were by far the worst 3-point shooting team in the league last season, but should move up the rankings with a healthy Kevin Love (who shot 22 percent), a healthy Chase Budinger (who shot 32 percent) and with the addition of Kevin Martin (who shot 43 percent for OKC). Martin’s presence will also mean that they’ll need less minutes from Alexey Shved and Luke Ridnour (who may be traded) at the two. The pair combined to attempt 500 threes last season, connecting on only 30 percent of them.
  • Brooklyn shot a lot of threes last season, but didn’t shoot them particularly well. Things will get better with Paul Pierce (38 percent) replacing Gerald Wallace (28 percent) at small forward. But Watson (41 percent) was their best 3-point shooter last season and he’s been replaced by Shaun Livingston, who has made a grand total of nine threes in 390 career games. Assuming that coach Jason Kidd will have one of his starters — Deron Williams, Joe Johnson or Pierce — playing with the second unit, a back-up point guard who can shoot (Toney Douglas, perhaps?) would have been a better option. Either way, the Nets’ success could be determined by the ability of Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic to knock down shots and keep Pierce and Kevin Garnett fresh.
  • The Clippers were another team that shot a lot of threes at a mediocre percentage. And while they’re getting two great shooters in Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick, they’re replacing two guys — Caron Butler (39 percent) and Willie Green (43 percent) — who shot rather well from 3-point range last season. (Green is still on the roster, but likely out of the rotation.)

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.

Free-Agent Roundup: July 5

From NBA.com staff reports

NBA free-agent madness doesn’t apparently take a break … even for a national holiday. The first deal on Day 4 of NBA free agency saw the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, J.R. Smith, agree to a four-year deal with the Knicks (they also brought back Pablo Prigioni on a two-year pact as well). Jazz big man Al Jefferson is headed back to the Eastern Conference for the first time since his days with the Celtics as he and the Charlotte Bobcats agreed to a three-year deal, and the Kings, Blazers and Pelicans pulled of a trade that sends former Rookie of the Year and restricted free agent Tyreke Evans to New Orleans, puts Robin Lopez in Portland and has Greivis Vasquez headed to Sacramento. And, oh yeah, the Spurs picked up Marco Belinelli and the Cavaliers helped their depth by signing ex-Lakers forward Earl Clark. Not too shabby for a supposed day off.

Gordon says he’s ‘all in’ with Pelicans

Last season, Eric Gordon and the New Orleans Pelicans (nee, Hornets) never could get off on the right foot together. Gordon was hampered early in the season as he recovered through a knee injury and dealt with a hand injury in the middle of the season as well. There was also his summer of 2012, which rubbed a lot of New Orleans supporters the wrong way. In the last offseason, he signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns and declared that he wanted the Pelicans to not match the offer so he could play in Arizona. But the exact opposite happened and he endured questions all season about whether or not he was loyal to the team.

According to Yahoo!Sports’ Marc J. Spears, Gordon isn’t wavering in his commitment to the team this season and is ready to go:

The potential addition of Tyreke Evans and New Orleans’ draft night trade that landed Jrue Holiday have improved Eric Gordon’s outlook on New Orleans.

“I’m all in with the Pelicans,” said Gordon, who has been friends with Holiday and Evans since their AAU days. “It would be great if we can all play together. I would say we’d definitely have a chance to make the playoffs.”

Gordon could be part of a sign-and-trade to bring Evans to New Orleans. His high salary – he signed a $58 million deal over four seasons last summer – and knee/ankle injury woes would make him tough to deal, but the Pelicans entertained the possibility this offseason, sources said. The Kings also drafted a shooting guard in Kansas’ Ben McLemore with the seventh overall pick. While Gordon and point guard Greivis Vasquez could be candidates for a sign-and-trade, Gordon doesn’t expect that to be the case for him.

“I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent, but I do feel comfortable I am coming back,” Gordon said. “I think there is a good to great chance I will be back.”

Pistons interested in Billups reunion?

Chauncey Billups‘ repeated clutch performances in the playoffs with the Pistons in the early 2000s helped him earn the nickname “Mr. Big Shot”. But his surprising departure from the Pistons via a trade with the Nuggets two games into the 2008-09 season left Billups with a bitter taste in his mouth about the franchise he helped lift to a championship in 2004.

Apparently, some of those old wounds have healed up for Billups, who may reportedly return to the Motor City as a free agent, writes Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News:

The Pistons have kept an open door with current and former players, and will explore those options next week with Jose Calderon, Will Bynum and Chauncey Billups.

Bynum has received interest from the Knicks and Chicago Bulls, and wants to be on a team that has a chance to win.

Bynum and Calderon share the same agent, while as for Billups, he and Pistons president Joe Dumars repaired their strained relationship recently, as Billups told the Detroit News this season when the Clippers made a trip to Detroit this season.

It stemmed from Billups being traded from the Pistons to the Denver Nuggets in the 2008-09 season for Allen Iverson, and although Billups is just recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered in the 2011-12 season, he still wants to play.

Apparently, Detroit is an option for Billups, who can play a mentor role for some of the young guards and still contribute timely shooting from both guard spots.

Report: Lakers, Pacers, Jazz in pursuit of Copeland

After the Knicks’ moves on Thursday to lock up Smith and Prigioni, two key contributors from last season — Kenyon Martin and Chris Copeland — remain on the open market. Copeland, in particular, has seen a spike in interest of late, with Utah, Indiana and the L.A. Lakers chasing him the most, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:

Copeland’s agent, John Spencer didn’t rule out a return to the Knicks, but said he expects Copeland to get an offer above $1.75 million. Spencer said he spoke to Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni yesterday.

Spencer said the Lakers, Pacers and the Jazz are front-runners and even the Nuggets, where Copeland played college, are interested. The Lakers may have to wait on Dwight Howard, but have their mini mid-level. Spencer didn’t rule out the Knicks, saying Copeland could take less.

Twitter quick hits: On Jack, Gordon, Calderon, Rondo and more

Free-Agent Roundup: July 1

From NBA.com staff reports

In case you missed it overnight, the Rockets met with Dwight Howard as free agency began overnight with a contingent that was equal parts Hall of Fame and front office in an attempt to woo the big man to Clutch City. As we all await what happens next with Howard, there are other names in the free-agent stew that we’ll update you on as well:

Blazers interested in Allen

Widely regarded as the best defensive shooting guard in the NBA, Tony Allen is due for a big payday this summer and the suitors are lining up to make their pitch to him. According to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, the two-time All-Defensive First Teamer has been contacted by the Blazers:

Late Sunday night the Portland Trail Blazers contacted the representatives of unrestricted free agent guard Tony Allen, a league source conveyed to CSNNW.com.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the free agency period, says at that at this point, the reason for the conversation was merely “exploratory” with interest on both sides.

They are expected to resume discussions shortly during the free agency period. As of now, no meeting has been scheduled.

Bulls targeting Williams, Bynum?

Without Derrick Rose last season, the Bulls managed to win 45 games, take a Game 7 in the first round on the road and give the eventual-champion Miami Heat fits in a physical semifinal series. They did all of this with Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich putting in most of the work at point guard while Rose recovered. It stands to reason, then, that since Rose is expected back next season (and Robinson has all-but-assuredly played himself into a bigger contract) that the Bulls need to rethink their point guard depth. According to RealGM.com, Chicago is potentially targeting Jazz starter Mo Williams and Pistons backup Will Bynum to fill that reserve point guard role:

With uncertainty in the backcourt, the Chicago Bulls are showing significant interest in Mo Williams and Will Bynum and have started exploratory discussions with the representatives of the free agent guards, league sources told RealGM.

Williams averaged 12.9 points in 46 games a season ago with the Utah Jazz, and he has a stated desire to receive heavy, contributing minutes. The Jazz acquired Trey Burke at No. 9 in the NBA draft and could start him early in his NBA career. At 30, Williams has established himself as a combo guard, and Tom Thibodeau would undoubtedly place the 10-year veteran in shooting and playmaking situations.

Bynum has been a pace-changing guard, averaging nearly 10 points on 46.9 percent shooting in 2012-13. He has played five of his six seasons with the Detroit Pistons. Given Chicago’s salary structure, Williams and Bynum both could be inclined to make less money in a potential deal with the Bulls.

The Bulls appear unlikely to retain Nate Robinson or Marco Belinelli, and they are expected to waive Rip Hamilton before his entire contract becomes guaranteed. Still, they’ll have Derrick Rose back next season, leading to fewer minutes for Kirk Hinrich.

Wolves interested in Martin, Budinger

As Oklahoma City’s sixth man last season, Kevin Martin was the third-leading scorer for the Thunder and their top option off the bench. Once the playoffs came around, Martin’s scoring average stayed the same (14.0 ppg), but his 3-point shooting drooped from 42 percent in season to 37 percent in the postseason. Still, Martin remains one of the more efficient scorers in the league and is drawing interest from a team in need of 3-point shooting and scoring: the Timberwolves.

The Timberwolves also never got to see much of what Chase Budinger could do in their lineup last season. He tore the meniscus in his left knee six games into the season and played just 23 games with the Wolves. Now a free agent, Minnesota is interested in keeping Budinger around, writes Sam Amick of USA Today:

The Minnesota Timberwolves honed in on perimeter scorers at the outset of free agency, visiting with small forward Chase Budinger in San Diego while also calling shooting guard Kevin Martin.

Budinger tore the meniscus in his left knee six games into the season and had surgery that kept him out three months, but has averaged 9.4 points per game as a valuable reserve in his three seasons in Houston and one in Minnesota. He is also known to be receiving interest from the New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks.

The interest in Martin is no surprise, as Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman brought him up as a young player in for the Sacramento Kings and later coached him with the Rockets. Martin also received a call from the Bucks on Sunday night, and is receiving interest from the Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies.

What about Monta?

Monta Ellis is a tried and true scorer in the NBA, something that has got the interest of the Bulls, Spurs, Nuggets and Suns. But as Ken Berger of CBSSports.com reports, the Knicks might be the frontrunner for the former Most Improved Player of the Year Award winner due to the combination of factors they provide:

As the free-agent negotiating period opened Monday morning, the Knicks expressed an interest in pursuing a deal with Bucks shooting guard Monta Ellis, league sources told CBSSports.com.

A union of Ellis and the Knicks is viewed as a long shot, as the Knicks have only the $3.2 million taxpayer mid-level exception available. Ellis just opted out of a deal that would have paid him $11 million next season in Milwaukee.

But Ellis, 27, and his Washington, D.C.-based agent, Jeff Fried, are known to be willing to compromise in order to sign with a contending team. And the Knicks, who face the free-agent loss of sixth man of the year J.R. Smith, would provide ample opportunity for Ellis to showcase his scoring prowess deep into the playoffs.

The Bulls, Spurs, Nuggets and Suns also are among the teams who expressed interest in Ellis as the free-agent negotiating period began Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET, league sources said.

The Mavericks and Hawks are also keen on adding a player like Ellis, who Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports points out, is prepared to do what it takes to finally play for an outfit that wins big:

The Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks — both teams with significant salary cap space — are two teams who have shown strong interest in Ellis and two teams Ellis has an interest in, according to multiple people with direct knowledge of Ellis’ situation.

They requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about free agents.

Ellis is also at the point in his career where he wants to play deep into the playoffs. Other teams have shown interest — such as the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks — but those teams are handcuffed by salary cap restrictions and would need to make other moves in order to accommodate Ellis, who is willing to find common ground between salary and playing for a contender. (more…)

All That Jazz Puts Heat on Lakers

HANG TIME, Texas — As Dean Wormer might have once said to Flounder in “Animal House”: “Losing nine out of 11 games is no way to make the playoffs, son.”

But here are the Jazz, back up and dancing like Otis Day & The Knights are playing at a toga party, suddenly the owners of a three-game winning streak and… wait for it… a road win.

When Utah won at Portland for its first victory on the road since Feb. 13, it jumped the Jazz over the Lakers and back into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

According to Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune, the chatter was back in the Jazz locker room after they rallied from nine, 14 and nine down again in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

“Winning does that,” Mo Williams said. “Winning puts you in a good mood, especially when you care. Top to bottom, people care here, when you lose you feel down. It’s not so jolly, it’s not so loose.”

Earlier in the evening, Williams was far from happy. The 30-year-old point guard, in his second stint with the Jazz, was benched by coach Tyrone Corbin in the second quarter. In the final minutes of the game, Williams carried the Jazz to the win, scoring 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and spearheading a 25-6 run in the final six minutes.

“You get pissed off,” Williams said. “Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you come out and be aggressive.”

The Jazz come home to close out a back-to-back tonight against the Nets and there is light again after it had appeared for weeks that Utah was going to do everything except lift the Lakers up onto their shoulders and carry Kobe Bryant & Co. into the postseason.

Now the two teams are in the stretch run and for the first time in a while, the Jazz might have a leg up in getting to the finish.

Let’s break it down for final nine games:

Jazz

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining: 0

Tonight — vs. Nets

Mon. — vs. Blazers

Wed. — vs. Nuggets

Apr. 7 — at Golden State

Apr. 9 — vs. Thunder

Apr. 12 — vs. Timberwolves

Apr. 15 — at Minnesota

Apr. 17 — at Memphis

The Jazz hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers and if they can take care of business at home, where they’re 26-9 on the season, will be tough for the Lakers to beat out.

Lakers

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining — 1

Tonight — at Sacramento

Tues. — vs. Mavericks

Fri. — vs. Grizzlies

Apr. 7 — at L.A. Clippers

Apr. 9 — vs. Hornets

Apr. 10 — at Portland

Apr. 12 — vs. Warriors

Apr. 14 — vs. Spurs

Apr. 17 — vs. Rockets

Of the 14 players on the Lakers roster, seven are listed on the injury report for tonight at Sacramento, though Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison are probable, with Steve Nash questionable and Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill out. Of the Lakers’ three remaining road games, they won’t have to leave their own building to play the Clippers and that next-to-last game against San Antonio could catch them another break if the mercurial Gregg Popovich decides to rest up his veterans for the playoffs.

Kobe’s Injury Opens Door For Jazz, Mavs

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The reports on Kobe Bryant‘s ankle injury are ominous. The team is calling it a “severe sprain” and has deemed the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar “out indefinitely.”

Yet why does it feel like Kobe will show up at Indiana Friday night and tough it out in a walking boot if he must?

No one can write off Kobe until he’s actually scratched from the lineup, but Wednesday’s incident in the final seconds of a painful 96-92 loss as Kobe missed a baseline fadeaway to tie and then landed on the controversial feet of Hawks defender Dahntay Jones just might keep him out.

For how long will be the question that decides the Lakers’ fate.

They relied heavily on Kobe’s magic recently to rally past New Orleans and then Toronto to finally barge into the final playoff spot. Without No. 24, L.A.’s chances to remain at No. 8 seem bleak at best, opening the postseason door to the two teams below them in the Western Conference standings: the cratering Utah Jazz and the suddenly surging Dallas Mavericks.

Just 10 days ago, coming off the sting of a 33-point humiliation at Houston that left Dallas at 26-33 and in 11th place, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle sternly said:  “I understand if you look at the standings right now it doesn’t look good. But a lot can happen in a month-and-a-half. We got to make a stand.

“If you want to write us off,” he said, “go ahead.”

Since then, the Mavs are 4-0, the Jazz are 1-5 and the previously streaking Lakers are left to cross their fingers for a quick Kobe return.

Still, it’s not like this will be a playoff waltz for Dallas, a chronically inconsistent team sitting in 1oth place and three games under .500 (30-33). Yet the Mavs are just one game back of both Utah and L.A. in the loss column. They’ve played two fewer games than the Jazz, who are 2-8 in their last 10 and haven’t received a spark from the return of Mo Williams. Dallas also has played three fewer games than the Lakers, who dropped to 12-21 on the road (which is where they’ll play half of their remaining 16 games).

Dallas begins a brutal stretch tonight at San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, TNT), the first of a dozen games against 10 current playoff teams, including at the Lakers (April 2). Eight of the 12 are at home and that includes a six-game homestand from March 20-30 against five current playoff teams (four from the East) plus the Jazz on March 24. The Mavs, however, are a pedestrian 17-12 at home and just 4-3 since Feb. 1.

But if Kobe is out for a matter of weeks — and that’s still to be seen — and the Jazz can’t get back in tune, it might not take 48 or 46 or even 44 wins to get in.

Utah’s next four games leading into the showdown at Dallas could determine its direction. The Jazz play the next two at home against Memphis (Saturday) and New York (Monday) and then hit the road for Houston (Wednesday) and San Antonio (March 22). The Jazz are 10-24 on the road, so playing 10 of their final 17 at home is advantageous, although they’re just 2-2 in their last four.

So much now rides on the healing powers of Kobe’s severely sprained left ankle.

A breakdown of the Lakers, Jazz and Mavs down the stretch:

No. 8 LAKERS

Record: 34-32 (16 games left)

Home/Road games remaining: 8/8

Games against current playoff teams: 8

Toughest stretch: March 25 – April 7 (at Golden State, at Minnesota, at Milwaukee, at Sacramento, vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, at L.A. Clippers)

No. 9 JAZZ

Record: 33-32 (17 games left)

Home/Road games remaining: 10/7

Games against current playoff teams: 9

Toughest stretch: Saturday – March 24 (vs. Memphis, vs. New York, at Houston, at San Antonio, at Dallas)

No. 10 MAVERICKS

Record: 30-33 (19 games left)

Home/Road games remaining: 12/7

Games against current playoff teams: 12

Toughest stretch: Sunday – April 4 (vs. Oklahoma City, at Atlanta, vs. Brooklyn, vs. Boston, vs. Utah, vs. L.A. Clippers, vs. Indiana, vs. Chicago, at L.A. Lakers, at Denver)

Morning Shootaround — March 5

Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.

The one recap to watch: Box scores rarely tell the whole story of a given game and such was the case in last night’s Raptors-Warriors game from The Oracle. A click over to said box score reveals Andrew Bogut‘s return to the Golden State lineup and a somewhat ho-hum stat line: four points, eight rebounds and two turnovers in 29 minutes. But what’s lost in the box score is seen on the court as Bogut helped the Warriors get a sense of what their full starting five is like while also providing some defense that the Warriors have lacked the last few weeks. Steph Curry and David Lee were the box score stars in this game, but don’t discount what Bogut adds to the Warriors.

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News of the morning

Stoudemire ready for more minutes | Nuggets, Korver a match someday? | Jazz’s Williams may play vs. Cavs | Bobcats’ Thomas stays home | Sixers CEO chimes in on Bynum

Stoudemire wants more playing timeWe mentioned in this space yesterday that some were questioning Knicks coach Mike Woodson’s strategy in Sunday’s loss to the Heat, particularly the amount of minutes reserve big man Amar’e Stoudemire was playing down the stretch in that game. After Stoudemire logged 31 minutes and led New York with 22 points in a comeback win over the Cavs on Monday, it appears Stoudemire can handle more playing time. Jared Zwerling of ESPNNewYork.com reports that a source says Stoudemire is more than set to take on a bigger role if asked:

… According to a source close to the Knicks, Stoudemire is “ready” and “healthy” to play more minutes to help the team.

“He’s in tip-top shape,” the source told ESPNNewYork.com. “He wants to play; whatever it takes for [the Knicks] to win.”

On Sunday, Stoudemire only got in for 21 minutes — sitting out the last eight — in the Knicks’ losing effort against the Heat. Down the stretch he was needed because when the Heat applied more aggressive defense on Carmelo Anthony, the Knicks didn’t have an inside scoring threat. Tyson Chandler was in the game, but he’s not one to create his own opportunities.

If Stoudemire’s body is ready, it would be important to increase his minutes now, to better prepare him for increased playing time in the postseason. That’s usually what happens during this critical period of the season, as coaches shorten their rotation to focus on their best players.

“Now is the time to be giving him extending minutes to see how his body reacts to it,” the source said, “especially when you’re not on [a] big winning streak. … Something has to shake up.”

Head coach Mike Woodson is still banking on basic perimeter play and 3-point shooting, which worked in the first two months of the season when the Knicks started 18-5. But since then, they’ve been mostly playing .500 ball, and there are still too many outside shots from Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton and J.R. Smith. In fact, against the Heat, while Smith shot 3-for-14 from 3-point, Stoudemire took just seven shots from the field, making five.

The source said the Knicks are “not a real hard team to figure out right now.”

Nuggets interested in KorverThe trade deadline is long gone, so any hopes of the Nuggets acquiring Hawks sharpshooter Kyle Korver in a trade (including this smart one suggested by John Schuhmann way back when) are out of the picture. But that doesn’t mean Korver wouldn’t be a natural fit for the high-octane crew coach George Karl is assembling in Denver, writes Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post. In fact, Karl in his pregame comments last night (before Denver hosted Atlanta) couldn’t help but gush about Korver’s skills:

Korver, an unrestricted free agent in his 10th year in the NBA, is expected to be one of the Nuggets top targets in the offseason as the team actively courts players who can fill that shooting void. Denver won’t be the only team looking to gain his services, but if the money is right (Korver makes $5 million this season) the situation might be hard for the sharpshooter, who grew up in Pella, Iowa, to turn down.

Shots figure to be much easier to come by in a system where guard Ty Lawson’s driving is so respected that he sucks defenders into the lane, and other players capable of hitting from long range – Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Corey Brewer – make it so that he would be difficult to devote additional resources to slowing just Korver down in the manner that the Nuggets are expected to try tonight.

“You don’t have a lot of pin-down offenses anymore, for some reason the game’s gone to pick-and-roll and away from the execution of a pin-down,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “You’ve got (J.J.) Reddick and some guys that come off of pin-downs but this kid right now moves without the ball as good as anybody in the NBA, and he will get his opportunity to be the first option in 10-15 minutes of the game that we’re going to have to be responsible and see how he’s shooting it. And then you can’t give them the open three, you can’t give him the ‘oh, what happened’ three. You’ve got to be ready. He’s a big part.”

“He’s an unbelievable shooter, he’s so gifted with that,” Kosta Koufos said. “He just has a positive outlook to everything. That’s why he’s been so successful in the league. He’s just been working hard, day-in and day-out.”

Koufos raved about Korver as a teammate.

“He’s great guy,” Koufos said. “He’s what you think of a professional. He comes in, works hard, he’s very motivational, very positive, a great player. He’s one of the better teammates I’ve ever played with.”

Jazz hoping to get Williams back soonUtah, the No. 8 seed in the West, has stayed in the thick of the playoff chase and gone 18-14 since Dec. 22. Why is that date significant? That’s when starting point guard Mo Williams was lost so he could have surgery to repair torn ligaments in his thumb. Guard play has been a problem for the Jazz during Williams’ absence, but he practiced with the team in Milwaukee on Monday and could play again as soon as Wednesday in Cleveland. Bill Oram of The Salt Lake Tribune has more:

Williams said Monday at the Jazz’s shootaround in Milwaukee that he could return to games as early as Wednesday, when the Jazz play at Cleveland, where he played from 2008 to 2011.

“We’ll see,” Williams said. “We’ll see. That would be great to play in front of those fans.”

The 30-year-old point guard had two pins removed from his thumb on Feb. 13, and his rehabilitation began in earnest after the All-Star Break, and if Al Jefferson were the final judge, Williams would be cleared to play.

“He said he was a little winded,” Jefferson said. “I told him I couldn’t tell.”

But the Jazz are being cautious with the veteran.

“As he gets close, he’s getting a little frustrated with trying to get himself to get better fast and be ready to go,” coach Tyrone Corbin said. “It’s a process until the body responds and getting stiffness out and feeling comfortable with and not being hesitant with the hand.”

Corbin said he has not yet decided how to integrate Williams back with the Jazz, whether he would start right away or come off the bench to ease back into his leadership role.

“We have to get readjusted to him as he has to get readjusted to how the guys are playing now,” Corbin said. “It’s been a long time. … There will be an adjustment period hopefully we can make it as short as we can.”

Alec Burks has seen a substantial increase in opportunity and productivity since Williams went out, and has averaged 8 points in the 30 games he’s appeared in since Dec. 23. In February, he averaged 9.8 points and shot 44.9 percent from the field.

Bobcats tell Thomas to stay homeAround the trade deadline, there were reports of veteran guard Ben Gordon getting into a disagreement with first-year coach Mike Dunlap. While Gordon is still with the team, his role in the rotation has been diminished. Now another player the Bobcats have had troubles with in the past, Tyrus Thomas, has been told to stay home — although not for disciplinary reasons. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer says the Bobcats told Thomas to stay home during Charlotte’s West coast road swing to work on his conditioning and other aspects:

Charlotte Bobcats power forward Tyrus Thomas was told not to accompany the team on its four-game West Coast trip by team management.

Bobcats president of basketball operations Rod Higgins said Monday that the front office felt Thomas’s time would be better spent in Charlotte, doing some physical rehabilitation and individual on-court work, rather than on the road with his team.

Thomas, the Bobcats’ second-highest paid player this season at $8 million, has fallen out of the rotation entirely of late. Monday’s road game in Portland was the 10th straight game that Thomas was designated as inactive and the 12th-straight game in which he did not play.

When the Bobcats acquired another power forward, Josh McRoberts, at the trade deadline, McRoberts was activated for his first game before he had participated in a Bobcats practice or shootaround.

The Bobcats have a considerable financial obligation to Thomas going forward – $8.6 million for the 2013-14 season and $9.4 million for the 2014-15 season, both guaranteed.

Sixers CEO: Bynum trade ‘should have worked’We’ve detailed the plight of Andrew Bynum and the Sixers plenty around here during the season, so there’s no reason to get into Bynum’s back story or the latest news. The main takeaway with Bynum is that the Sixers haven’t gotten what they thought they would out of him this season due to Bynum’s lingering knee injuries. Still, the Sixers’ brass is coming out more and more to talk about the trade and a more or less lost season, with the latest name to step to the podium and pontificate being Sixers CEO Adam Aron. He had the following to say to John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com:

“This is a move that should have worked,” Aron said. “But, unfortunately, he got an injury in September and it’s been compounded since, post-trade and we haven’t seen a day. The fans hopes were justifiably high that the Sixers had made a move, a bold move, that would catapult us back into the top teams in the NBA. It hasn’t worked.”

“The issue for this season is not whether Andrew Bynum has surgery, it’s what are the condition of his knees?” Aron said. “We thought he was going to play opening day. His doctors gave us a four-week delay, then another four-week delay. In December, we went out publicly and said he would be out indefinitely because we just didn’t know when he would be back. If you go back in time just three weeks ago, Andrew himself was telling everyone that he thought he’d be actively playing after the All-Star break. He did practice with the team about 10 days ago. There were high hopes and he was working out hard in February behind the scenes at the practice facility. But when he practiced with the team five-on-five his knees started swelling up and that was a big setback.”

Late last week, when Bynum was asked whether his knees are degenerative, he didn’t directly answer the question, saying instead that “50 percent of the people in the United States” are in the same situation. Are Bynum’s knees degenerative?

“I can’t get into his exact medical condition,” Aron said. “But I can say this, which is obvious to all of us: All season long he’s had bone bruise issues. He’s had cartilage problems. It’s March. He’s still not playing. He hasn’t played basketball since last May. Clearly, Andrew is dealing with some knee problems that have prevented him from playing in the NBA.”

Aron said “four doctors cleared the trade in August, and six doctors have actively been treating him and examining him all year long.” The Sixers’ CEO insisted that the team, until now, was confident Bynum would play this season.

“We certainly thought he was going to play in August,” Aron said. “That’s why we made the trade. Even in early October, we thought he would play on opening night. Then there was a delay. Then there was [another] delay. Even when we announced that he was out indefinitely, inside the team we thought he would play in January or February. He himself, in February, said he would play in February. But here we are in March and the team is disappointed. Our fan base is disappointed. And that’s the story of the season.”

ICYMI of the night: One reason Monta Ellis is the 15th-best scorer in the NBA?: it’s because he can always find creative ways to get the ball in the basket, like this: