NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Celtics getting into Asik sweepstakes? — In case you missed it over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled their name out of the hat as a team interested in acquiring Rockets center Omer Asik. (Basically, the Cavs would be interested in being part of a three-team deal for Asik, but don’t want him coming to Cleveland.) So where will Asik end up? ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that the Boston Celtics have emerged as a potential suitor for Asik, joining the Philadelphia 76ers (who remain the favorites to land Asik):
There is no hard proof yet to support the theory — first presented in this tweet from my USA Today colleague Sam Amick — that the Houston Rockets already have a trade framework in place to solve their Asik conundrum and are only waiting to see if someone else out there steps up to beat the mystery offer between now and Houston’s self-imposed Thursday deadline to deal Asik.
While strong rumbles persist that the Philadelphia 76ers are the team most likely to go along with such an arrangement, given the close ties between Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and Philly counterpart Sam Hinkie, there’s fresh talk in circulation about another potential co-conspirator.
The Boston Celtics.
The advice offered to us on Sunday was stern: Keep an eye on Boston. The Celtics possess two players in different salary ranges that would presumably fit in useful ways next to Dwight Howard: Jeff Green and Brandon Bass. The Celts also have a spare first-round draft pick or two to plug into any trade equation to sweeten the deal for Houston, amid rising suspicions around the league that Morey’s Rockets are going to find a way to come out of the Asik saga with at least one future first.
The same Rockets who happen to have a GM (Morey) and coach (Kevin McHale) who have long-standing relationships with Celts president Danny Ainge.
So, yes, I’d say you should keep an eye on Boston.
Question here that must be asked loudly: Can Houston, in whichever Asik trade it ultimately chooses, really afford to take back a player possessing substantial long-term money like Green (two seasons at $18.4 million after this one) or Philly’s Thaddeus Young (two seasons at $19.4 million after this one) when it knows it’s going to have to give an extension bump to Chandler Parsons as soon as Parsons is eligible for the raise his play merits via extension?
Which is another way of saying you shouldn’t be surprised if Young gets routed to a third team should the Rockets and Sixers officially join forces to construct an Asik deal, as some observers have been expecting all month.
No. 2: Pacers, Granger set target return date — Just last week — before the much-anticipated Heat-Pacers showdown in Indianapolis — injured Pacers forward Danny Granger said he pondered returning for that game, but ruled it out so as not to put the spotlight on himself over the team. On Friday, Granger ruled himself out of the Pacers’ home game with the Charlotte Bobcats, but said he was closer than ever to a return. Indiana now is hoping for an early Christmas present as Granger is planning on a Dec. 20 return, writes Scott Agness of Pacers.com:
Might this finally be the week that Danny Granger makes his anticipated season debut? That’s the plan right now for the Pacers.
“I was waiting for the Danny Granger [question],” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said more than four minutes into a post-practice interview. “I finally have news on Danny Granger. We’re going to target next Friday for a hopeful return to see how this week of practices goes.”
Until now, the Pacers stayed away from publicly announcing a timeline after the initial diagnosis. Now, both Vogel and Granger appear giddy about the possibility of him playing Friday when the Houston Rockets are in town. Coincidentally, the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.
“I had a good practice today,” Granger said. “It’s really just fine-tuning my game, honestly. Making sure my timing is on, making sure I know all the plays. That’s a big thing when you haven’t played in awhile. I know the plays but I haven’t repped through the plays like all the other guys constantly get a lot of reps through the plays.”
Granger said he and coach Vogel are always on the same page, and that both agreed that he needed more practice time before putting on his game uniform.
“Me and Frank talk after practice — he’ll call me in or he’ll call me over,” said Granger. “Just because I said ‘Hopefully I can play on Friday,’ I was thinking hopefully. And then when I came and I practiced, and I dribbled the ball off my foot twice and I shot an airball on a layup, me and Frank met again and I’m like, ‘I’m not ready,’ and he was like, ‘No, you’re not ready yet.’ ”
Now in his ninth NBA season, Granger has typically been a slow starter. It’s fair to expect that again, though he doesn’t anticipate it.
“In the past in preseason, I always would tinker with different things in my game,” he explained. “I always used it as a time to do the things you’re good at, but just experiment with other things and notoriously I would always have a slow start. I’m trying to avoid that this year.
“I don’t know if (fans) think we’re just machines that you just turn on and all of sudden we’re playing in rhythm. Every basketball player is a rhythm player. It’s takes awhile. That’s why we have a preseason.
“I’m hoping the practices that I’ve been getting now, and the playing that I’ve been getting now is very similar to what I will do in a game. Obviously, when you get in a game you got adrenaline that you have to account for and that changes things a little bit. Just me practicing fullcourt, playing everyday, playing one-on-one, shooting a lot of shots, doing ball handling drills, I’m hoping that’ll be my time where I can get some of these kinks out.”
The team’s medical staff continues to keep a close eye on Granger.
“They’re not out of it,” said Vogel. “They’re still very much involved because part of the final process of recovery from a calf strain is, is his body going to respond to the extra work? Is the calf going to flare up? They’re still checking it everyday and not ruling him 100 percent healthy until they see he can go through added work and the calf can still respond the right way.”
Should Granger step onto the floor Friday night, as hoped, it’ll be his first regular-season appearance since March 3, when he left the game (also against the Bulls) due to soreness in his left knee, which kept him out all but five games last season. The knee is really good, according to Granger, and he’s motivated more than ever to return to game action.
No. 3: Dalembert’s role dwindling in Dallas — The Dallas Mavericks signed big man Samuel Dalembert in the offseason in hopes of seeing him provide the kind of interior defense and paint protection that Tyson Chandler gave the Mavs during their run to the title in 2011. That hasn’t been the case so far, though, as Dalembert has gone from starting 16 of Dallas’ first 19 games to seeing his minutes cut as coach Rick Carlisle has given DeJuan Blair the starting job. Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News has more on how the return of Brandan Wright may force Dalembert even further out of the rotation:
The return of Brandan Wright had a ripple effect on the Mavericks’ interior rotation, though it’s difficult to draw conclusions from Saturday night because Dallas was playing without Dirk Nowitzki.
On this night, at least, Samuel Dalembert dropped to fourth-team center, behind starter DeJuan Blair, second-teamer Brandan Wright and late third-quarter sub Bernard James.
Dalembert started 17 of Dallas’ first 18 games, but Saturday marked Blair’s sixth straight start. Dalembert did not play.
Dalembert, who as a free agent signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract over the summer, is averaging 6.7 points and 6.5 rebounds.
“He’s shown his moments,” said Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “I just don’t think he’s been in a position where he’s been expected to perform to help a team win since his first or second years.”
Last season, the Mavericks signed Chris Kaman to a one-year, $8 million contract and anointed him the starter. Though he wound up starting 52 games, his minutes decreased as the season wore on and so, it appeared, did Kaman’s effort level.
In other words, rather than inspiring Kaman, cutting his minutes seemed to have an adverse effect. Are the Mavericks concerned the same will happen with Dalembert?
“No, I think Sam is the exact opposite,” Cuban said. “Sam is figuring out how to contribute. I think he’s disappointed in himself. I don’t think he thinks he’s playing well. He wants to get better.”
No. 4: Rockets’ Lin expected to miss game vs. Bulls — A knee injury in November kept point guard Jeremy Lin from the Rockets’ lineup for six games. Although he returned to play in Friday’s win over Golden State, he suffered a back injury when he collided with Warriors big man Andrew Bogut. Lin sat out last night’s loss to the Sacramento Kings and seems sure to miss Houston’s date with Chicago this week, writes Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
The Rockets’ injury issues took another unexpected turn when guard Jeremy Lin developed back spasms following a collision Friday with Golden State center Andrew Bogut.
Lin missed Sunday’s loss and is expected to be out Wednesday against Chicago, having played two games after missing six with a sprained and bruised right knee.
Lin said he ran into Bogut on a screen in the first half, but kept playing. He played 21 minutes in that game and returned in the final minutes after Pat Beverley fouled out.
In addition to leaving the Rockets short-handed, it took away another game for Lin to work his way back from the six games out.
“I only played him 14 or 15 minutes in Portland because you could tell he was out of rhythm,” assistant coach Kelvin Sampson said. “The game kind of dictates your substitution patterns, … but I certainly made an effort against Golden State to get him more minutes. He needs to get in a rhythm.
“We’re disappointed that he’s out, not nearly as disappointed as he is, I’m sure.”
Guard James Harden left Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle. With Lin and center Omer Asik out, Rockets players have been out for a combined 43 games. The entire roster was out for a combined 50 games last season.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat might be looking to work a trade for the Celtics’ Jordan Crawford … Good look at how rookie point guard Trey Burke has proven to be worth the Draft-day gamble for the Jazz … Magic rookie swingman Victor Oladipo got some preseason pointers from fellow a guy he long looked up to: fellow D.C.-area star Kevin Durant
ICYMI(s) Of The Night: You all know we love Kenneth Faried around these parts, so here’s the latest must-see alley-oop from “The Manimal” last night …