LONDON — Road trips in the NBA have always provided the sort of seclusion and quality time members of the traveling party cherish. Ferrying a team across an ocean and to another continent, though, seems like a bit much, even by today’s standards.
Nets general manager Billy King isn’t complaining. Not with few of the normal distractions around as he continues to cultivate his relationship with the new face of the franchise, point guard Deron Williams.
It’s an ages old practice that has become increasingly more important in the last eight months since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwyane Wade in Miami, and Carmelo Anthony joined Amar’e Stoudemire in New York, a movement of friends pairing up with other friends to form “super teams.”
King and the Nets are in full-blown sales mode, knowing full well that Williams has to be treated like the prized that he is. Williams can sign an extension in July, though, the current CBA expiring after this season throws a curve into the process. Still, the Nets have plenty of time to woo him. Williams also acknowledged that he, too, has to don his recruiter’s cap at this stage of his career, wherever he plays, in order to keep up with All-Star and Olympic team peers in Miami and New York.
“I’m going to have to [turn into a recruiter],” Williams said from a courtside seat Thursday morning after the Nets finished practice. “I tried to do it in Utah. But it’s tough. It was a tough situation. You’ve got to do it. Guys have to want to play with you and hopefully they will. And I’m going to try and recruit some guys to come here and help.”
Vujacic was the fifth guard in L.A. coach Phil Jackson’s four-guard rotation and had seen his playing time drop significantly this season. The 35-year-old Smith was averaging just 0.5 points and 0.8 rebounds in New Jersey and, with a decent mid-range shot, will give the Lakers a few minutes on their frontline.
The deal gets the Nets two first-round draft choices (Lakers 2011, Rockets 2012) and brings their total of first-rounders in the next two seasons up to five, which they hope will strengthen their hand in a bid to pry loose Carmelo Anthony from Denver.
For the Rockets, who entered the season talking about being a contender for home-court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs and a player in any deals for big-name stars before stumbling to a 10-14 start, are now looking desperate and figure they’re taking a flyer on a 23-year-old with plenty of potential despite a nose for discontent.
Williams was clearly happy to be getting a new start. Early Tuesday evening he tweeted: “Welcome welcome, to all my Jersey fans an people it’s been real I love y’all an thanks, to HOUSTON what uppppp “go Rockets” lol.”
The Nets’ 2009 first round pick had just returned last week from his time in the D-League, which came after habitual lateness to practices, shootarounds and team meetings. He played 10 games for the Nets this season, averaging 6.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists.
All in all, a Rockets team that could sorely use another slashing scorer who can run the court figures this is a low-risk move that could pay off if they can somehow get through to Williams and find a sense of professionalism. And, of course, the D-League is never far away.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If Carmelo Anthony does end up relocating to the New York area, the New Jersey Nets want him to cross the river.
They showed just how much they want to make that happen this evening when they agreed in principle to a three-team deal that sends Terrence Williams to Houston, Joe Smith to the Lakers and Sasha Vujacic and two first round draft picks (one each from the Rockets and Lakers), a deal first reported by Yahoo! Sports.
With five draft picks over the next two years, the Nets have built a war chest that allows them to present the Nuggets with an offer they can’t refuse. It’s been common knowledge since the summer that Anthony had his sights set on joining the Knicks, either via trade or as a free agent.
The Rockets, as always, find a way to get in the mix and sneak away with what could turn out to be a gem in Williams, the lottery pick turned NBA D-Leaguer who is now headed for Texas. A solid veteran presence, Smith helps the Lakers beef up their frontline while also helping the Lakers ease their luxury tax burden — his $1.35 million salary this season is scraps compared to Vujacic’s expiring $5.5 million.
The big winner in this whole affair could be the Nets. But that hinges on whether or not they are able to lure Anthony away from the Knicks, the reported leader in the Anthony sweepstakes.
An ESPN.com report earlier this week said Anthony would only sign $65 million contract extension if he was moved to the Knicks, a report Anthony refuted later.
The Nets clearly have the most colorful assortment of assets to bring to the bargaining table, all those draft picks as well as a coveted young talent in rookie big man Derrick Favors. The task of convincing ‘Melo to sign on for the long haul with the Nets is something coach Avery Johnson and billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov surely would relish, especially if it means they keep him from the rival Knicks.
If his denial is legit and he doesn’t have a Knicks-or-nothing stance at the negotiating table, the Nets are in business. If not, this could wind up being a whole lot of running in place for the Nets.
We’re two months away from the trade deadline, but the drama is already building!
LOS ANGELES – Oh, the things men will do when they are desperate.
The Lakers’ reserves were missing in action during Games 4 and 5 of these NBA Finals in Boston, souls that had been lost on the cross-country flight, players that didn’t find their way to the arena in time for two of the most crucial games of the season.
But they bounced back with a vengeance here Tuesday night, helping boost the Lakers’ energy in every facet during a raucous 89-67 Game 6 win over the Boston Celtics at Staples Center.
We have a Game 7 because the Lakers’ bench finally decided to bow up and attack the Celtics from all angles instead of just pulling up chairs and watching the Kobe Bryant show.
Maybe they were sick of all that “Shrek and Donkey” talk from Boston, courtesy of their Celtics counterparts Glen “Big Baby” Davis and Nate Robinson (whose combined work off the bench basically won Game 4 for the Celtics).
Or maybe it was that Tuesday morning meditation session that got them going …
“That’s something that we always do,” Lamar Odom said. “To me, mediation is a form of prayer … you can just understand the power of prayer; the power of people coming together … willing themselves toward the same thing. It works for us as a team and individually as well.”
Or maybe it was the sight of their season coming to an abrupt end that stirred their emotions …
Whatever it was, the Lakers had it working overtime in Game 6. Go ahead, take another look at the video (up top). There’s not a frame on those top plays that doesn’t have a member of the Lakers’ Scramble Unit (a moniker we bestowed upon them without their blessing) featured prominently.
Odom, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton and even my man Josh Powell all had their hands in this blowout win.
Not only were they aggressive on offense, at one point they had outscored the Celtics’ reserves 24-0 through three quarters and finished the game with a 25-13 edge, their defense was superb. The Lakers held the Celtics to their lowest point total ever in a Finals game.
“We have an explosive bench and they got after it tonight defensively,” Bryant said. “They got loose balls, got out in transition, made big plays, which is something that they’re extremely capable of doing.”
They all had their moments but both Farmar and Brown were spectacular (again, check the video), taking a page out of the Celtics’ handbook from earlier this series. Brown entered the game early when Derek Fisher got in foul trouble and immediately cranked up the energy and Farmar controlled the game when he was on the floor, distributing the ball and attacking whenever each opportunity presented itself.
“I just think it was about controlling the tempo and getting good shots,” Odom said. “We kept those guys off the glass. On drives, we made other guys finish at the rim. They didn’t step up too soon, where we got easy dump-offs where we could find guys sitting on the baseline. That’s it, just the flow of the game. That can switch throughout the series.”
Even on a night when Bryant was his usual brilliant self and Pau Gasol got back in touch with his dominant side (he flirted with a triple double before finishing with 17 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists), the bench was hard to ignore.
“Well, benches historically are much more comfortable on their home floor,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “There’s a comfort zone out there. But the energy and the direction they had was what I was pleased with. I felt like they were directed and had an idea what they wanted to get accomplished out there on the floor. That was important.”
PHOENIX – There the Suns were again, down by 18 in the second half to the Lakers, looking dead on the hardwood.
You saw the comeback coming, right?
A loss of composure from the usually-unflappable Lakers helped spark Saturday night’s late rally by the Suns. Nursing a 15-point lead early in the fourth, Sasha Vujacic elbowed countrymen Goran Dragic in the chin as both were headed up court following a Dragic jumper.
Dragic had words after the jump shot that preceded the cheap shot. Vujacic was called for a Flagrant Foul 1, adding to the subplot of the two Slovenians who are apparently engaged in personal feud.
Dragic hit both free throws and connected on driving layups on the next two possessions. The Lakers’ lead was suddenly down to nine (91-82) and all bets for a blowout were off. Phoenix was down only 99-96 after Steve Nash‘s reverse lay-in with 2:19 left.
“We were that close,” Suns general manager Steve Kerr said. “Tough way to finish, but I’m proud of our guys for fighting back and getting it within three. Goran kind of took over the game on his own, which is remarkable, second-year kid, and we just didn’t quite have enough.
“And Kobe is Kobe. I used to see that show every night in Chicago and it’s the same show.”
Yes, Kobe Bryant was Kobe Bryant and the Lakers prevailed, 111-103, to advance to The Finals for the 31st time in franchise history. The series against the longtime rival Boston Celtics begins Thursday in Los Angeles.
Bryant’s ridiculous display of jumpers down the stretch brought back memories of Kerr’s former teammate Michael Jordan, and clinched the series in six games. As much as he hated to watch, Kerr had to see that coming.