Posts Tagged ‘Steve Aschburner’

Bar for Gasol: Better than Boozer?


VIDEO: Two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol joins the Bulls

LAS VEGAS – We come not to praise Carlos Boozer but not to bury him, either.

The Chicago Bulls’ signing of Lakers free-agent Pau Gasol means that one veteran NBA power forward will be replacing another, with the benefit of the move to be measured, ultimately, in how much more success Chicago has as a team.

Here’s the bar Gasol has to scale: A .657 winning percentage (205-107) in four seasons, four postseason berths, one conference finals, no rings.

Some weight will be given, too, to the newness of it all and public relations aspect, with the 34-year-old Gasol coming in as a fresh face and personality for a team that tried and failed to land its primary target in free agency, Carmelo Anthony. He’ll be filling not just the position, then, but the role that Boozer had in salvaging something from Chicago’s free-agent plunge in 2010, when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson all declined the Bulls’ overtures.

Finally, the marginal superiority of Gasol’s game over Boozer’s will matter to a certain degree. Let’s presume superiority, anyway, since Gasol’s signing is coming directly at Boozer’s expense: The Bulls will be using the amnesty clause on the final year of Boozer’s contract, worth $16.8 million, to open the salary-cap space needed to sign the 7-foot Spaniard.

So is Gasol better than Boozer? And if so, by how much?

Over Boozer’s four-season run with the Bulls, he averaged 15.5 points and 9.0 rebounds while shooting 49.1 percent. He had a 17.4 PER, to go with a 102 offensive rating and 98 defensive rating.

Gasol’s numbers since 2010-11 with the Lakers: 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg and 49.9 percent shooting. He had a 20.5 PER, a 112 offensive rating and a 104 defensive rating.

They’re different types of power forwards, clearly. Gasol is three inches taller and has pterodactyl arms, which explains his blowout victory in blocked shots over Boozer (1,484 to 334). Part of that might be due to his instincts and a few defensive IQ points, though Gasol’s limited mobility could find him planted next to coach Tom Thibodeau late in the games just like Boozer was. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson figure to remain the Bulls’ defensive closers among their bigs.

None of this is intended to sell Gasol short. He is a heady player, widely respected within the NBA and a solid citizen who drew heavy interest from Oklahoma City, San Antonio and New York, as well as the Lakers. He is considered to be a far better passer than Boozer, likely to thrive with Noah in the Bulls’ ball movement. He possesses great offensive skills overall, playing a finesse game that might hold up better to the ravages of time and mileage than someone who relies on explosiveness or vertical leap.

Gasol definitely is a quieter type than Boozer, which might or might not serve him well with United Center fans, depending on his early Bulls’ performances. (Boozer’s vocal exuberance has become the butt of jokes in Chicagoland.) But Boozer has been more durable of late, missing 32 games the past four seasons compared to Gasol’s 56.

Gasol’s decision to sign with Chicago was greeted with excitement on multiple fronts, including Noah and Gasol’s old coach in Los Angeles, Phil Jackson.

Gasol’s signing, however, could limit Chicago in what it can do financially on a couple other fronts. Money will be tighter now to spring stashed Euro star Nikola Mirotic and to upgrade their wing scoring.

Speaking of money, some might give the Bulls’ generally tight-fisted management some credit for being willing to swallow Boozer’s salary – amnesty only gets him off the cap, not the books for 2014-15 – for whatever marginal improvement Gasol brings. That’s a bold but not necessarily prudent move.

Even in his least productive Chicago season in 2013-14, Boozer was good for nearly 14 points, eight rebounds and 28 minutes. He’ll no doubt find work, and he’ll be double-dipping from both the Bulls and his new team’s payroll.

It would have been a tough sell to bring Boozer back, without some splashy signing or trade to provide cover and flip the organization’s script. It remains to be seen whether Gasol can help enough to flip it.

Wizards need Porter to plug Ariza hole


VIDEO: Otto Porter scores 25 points in the Wizards’ opening Summer League match

LAS VEGAS – Normally, Otto Porter‘s performance in his summer league debut Saturday would have been ripe for superlatives: 25 points on 11-of-16 shooting in 28 minutes, seven rebounds and three assists.

Given its timing, however, and the situation in which his Washington Wizards team suddenly found itself, a request was more in order:

More, please.

Come to think of it, the Wizards might be inclined to drop the “please” and go with a straight demand.

Porter is due and, with the loss of forward Trevor Ariza as a free agent to the Houston Rockets – effectively and finally, during the very hours Porter was on the floor at the Thomas & Mack Center Saturday afternoon – Washington needs him. Now.

“I mean, hey, the door opens up,” Porter said. “He [Ariza] had a tremendous year last year. Now guys are moving on and stuff, it’s time for people to step up and fill those shoes.

“This is just the beginning of it … But I’m definitely feel I’m gonna build on today’s game.”

Losing Ariza hits the Wizards hard for a couple of reasons. First, according to multiple reports, the four-year, $32 million deal he signed with Houston is no better, on an annual basis, than what Washington had been offering. Turns out, Texas’ absence of a state income tax was a selling point worth a couple of million dollars, net, in Ariza’s pocket.

The 10-year-veteran also had probably the best season of his career. Ariza, 29, averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds, hit 40.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He was a defensive wet blanket when thrown on the opponents’ most dangerous wing scorers. And he provided some helpful leadership for the team’s young talent, from backcourt mates John Wall and Bradley Beal to Porter.

That’s why the Wizards had made re-signing Ariza, along with center Marcin Gortat (who did re-up), such a priority. It wanted to keep intact the core and maintain the momentum of the budding East contender that pushed Indiana to six games in the conference finals.

“We’ll be all right,” coach Randy Wittman said, unconvincingly, on his way out of the arena, with the news of Ariza’s exit still washing over the Wiz.

The move hurts even more because Martell Webster, a backup last year, is sidelined for three to six months after back surgery. And the Wizards’ options to add a replacement is limited both by the salary cap (no Luol Deng, for instance) and the shrinking list of available fill-ins.

Even with one Washington media outlet suggesting that this all might set up the Wizards financially for a run at D.C.-born Kevin Durant when he becomes free agent in 2016, that’s two seasons away with zero guarantees.

That Ariza will be missed as a solid teammate and even mentor is just a, er, bonus.

“To have him gone, he taught me so much,” Porter said, “especially on offense and defense. Being there, showing me the right things, the ins and outs. Now I’ve got to put ‘em to use.”

Ya think? Porter had one of the most disappointing rookie seasons of anyone drafted so high – the No. 3 pick overall – in recent NBA memory. He appeared in only 37 games, averaging 2.1 points in 8.6 minutes while shooting 36.3 percent.

His problems began almost immediately with a thigh strain that curtailed his summer league work, followed by a hip injury that messed up his training camp and kept him inactive till December. Porter was drafted after two years at Georgetown – with multiple scouts claiming he was a perfect fit and ready to help – with the idea he would replace Ariza.

Well, now is his chance. More, please.

Wiggins vs. Parker, season 1, episode 1


VIDEO: Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker generated plenty of buzz in their first pro matchup

LAS VEGAS – It wasn’t LeBron James showing up unannounced or anything on the first night of Summer League action here, but it was close in terms of crowd and buzz and curiosity.

Cox Pavilion, smaller sidekick to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus, was crammed to its modest 2,500 capacity and beyond. Some fans were standing against the wall behind the top rows – and they were the lucky ones. Others couldn’t get in at all, and when they were shooed from the two congest entrance/exit bottlenecks, they were offered refunds on their $25 tickets.

Which isn’t nearly the same as being able to say, years from now, that you witnessed the first NBA clash of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Sure, it was played in the desert, the rules were different (10-minute quarters, for instance) and the scores, stats and standings largely were immaterial, surely forgotten 10 days out. But when the No. 1 pick in the Draft goes head-to-head with the No. 2 pick, when the two have been linked since their high school days and when there was genuine mystery – right up until NBA commissioner Adam Silver read Wiggins’ name — which one might be selected first, it ranks as a showdown, a matchup, something special to cap an NBA day full of same.

“It was crazy,” said Wiggins, the rookie from Kansas, said of the Cox Pavilion atmosphere. His new team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, had learned during shootaround Friday morning that James was headed back to the franchise. But Wiggins’ and Parker’s debuts stirred imaginations on their own.

“Our game was probably the most packed,” Wiggins said, no offense to the other five Friday. “It was crazy. The fans were excited, which made the game more fun than if you didn’t feel them.”

Wiggins’ team won the game but the battle with Parker, happily grabbed second by the Milwaukee Bucks, was essentially a push. Wiggins scored 18 points in 31 minutes on 7-of-18 shooting. He was 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, including an air ball. Parker shot 5-of-11 scored 17 points He was 7-of-11 from the line and grabbed nine rebounds. They guarded each other occasionally, but the sturdier Parker – 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds to Wiggins’ 6-8 and 194 – more often squared off with power forwards, including Anthony Bennett, the 2013 No. 1 pick.

The two rookies enjoyed the encounter without dwelling on it, just as they shrugged off a few mistakes. Parker talked of communicating more with the other four Bucks on the floor and gave himself a grade of “B-minus.” Wiggins looked forward to the opportunities in Cleveland’s upcoming games and enjoyed the moment with his rival/cohort.

“It was a great feeling,” he said. “On the court, we just have to battle. But off the court, we’re good friends. He’s a great player, able to score in multiple ways, very smart, intelligent player. It’s always good to play against him.”

Each lived up to his pre-draft evaluation: Wiggins showed his natural athletic ability merely running up and down the court, but pushed it into gear when soaring for an errant alley-oop pass or draining a nifty step-back jumper. Parker carries a more-ready-to-contribute label that was evident in some of his post-ups and his aggressive rebounding. The one-and-done Duke player also unsheathed a slick pass or two.

“He showed that he is somewhat of a ready player, that he can step into the league and play,” Bucks general manager John Hammond said. “Neither one of those guys surprised me. Both of ‘em have a chance to be special players in this league, and what Andrew showed tonight was a total glimpse of that.”

A pair of soon-to-be-sophs showed flashes, too. Bennett, who has lost weight and looks more serious after his disappointing first season, seemed driven to make an impact. He had one monstrous dunk and seven rebounds, but he also shot 6-of-16 and racked up eight fouls (summer rules).

For the Bucks, it was last year’s find, lanky 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo (playing at 6-foot-11 after another growth spurt), pushing the pace and loping around the court with boundless energy. “The Greek Freak” scored 17 points and hit a couple 3-pointers, to go with seven fouls and five turnovers.

As closely as Wiggins and Parker have been linked – in case you didn’t already know it, both are the sons of former NBA players, Mitchell Wiggins and Sonny Parker – their shared path might have diverged some Friday.

James’ arrival changes the Cavaliers’ dynamic from merely a young and promising team – Wiggins might find himself a few less opportunities but a whole lot less pressure. Parker continues as a Bucks’ cornerstone, his learning curve assumed to be shorter and steeper.

But that’s OK, because his self-critique afterward showed a young guy driven to improve.

“It’s been a pretty good transition because Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] has prepared me,” Parker said. “A lot of the language, a lot of the stuff we did with Duke has helped me so far.”

His early NBA lessons? “That games are won on the defensive end and there are going to be a lot of runs. You’ve got to keep your composure and play on both sides of the floor, and you can’t have any sense of complacency.”

Forget complacency. In what’s looking suddenly like a Central Division on steroids, there figures to be lots of NBA competition and more than a few comparisons between Wiggins and Parker in the coming years. This was the start.

Choosing Cleveland makes James’ story bigger, better than basketball

Because of his connection to Ohio, LeBron is heading back to the Cavs (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

LeBron’s connection to Ohio is the driving force behind his return. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Root for the story. It’s an ethos of this sports media business that gets neglected too often in these modern times, what with the fan blogs and team-specific Web sites. But it’s a line straight and true to covering this stuff professionally, avoiding any partisan tilt and occasionally having something special about which to cover, report and write.

LeBron James choosing to leave Miami and return to the team for which he previously played is the better story because…

Cleveland.

And home.

And loyalty and identity and a few other things that lift this beyond basketball.

Who chooses Cleveland? More specifically, who among the sports and entertainment world’s biggest names and brightest stars chooses Cleveland? The shore of Lake Erie in northeast Ohio is the place you take your talents from, whether you take them to South Beach or not.

Miami will always have the 2012 and 2013 titles and four Finals in four years. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened.” But Cleveland is home for James (well, Akron but close enough). And home was where James’ heart was when he announced his decision Friday in a letter on SI.com to return to the Cavaliers next season in search of NBA glory, yes, but something even greater.

Immediately when the news hit Friday, an increasingly anxious but committed sports fan base in Cleveland erupted in joy, excitement and redemption – counterweights, all, to the angst, sadness and anger left in James’ wake when he exited four years ago.

And because he was one of them, James had context to get over Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s heated, foolish, mocking public letter in the aftermath of “The Decision” in 2010. He so identified with the people whose hopes and dreams were invested, probably too heavily, in him and the Cavaliers that he could look past the flaming jerseys, the snarky placards and the boos that descended on him each time he played at The Q.

James even told those people that in his expressive, heartfelt letter on the Sports Illustrated Web site, a far classier way this time to make his free-agent decision known to the world:

It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

So much for those clinging to hope, in the media or out, inside the Heat organization or out, that hard feelings from Gilbert’s silly Comic Sans rant would trump the big-picture values James wrote of (with the assistance of SI’s Lee Jenkins). Petty in the first place, that sort of outlook on life or even just business seems childish next to the things that helped make up James’ mind. Of the folks back home:

I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

James knows all about the love those Cavaliers fans – and those of the MLB Indians and the NFL Browns and Ohio State and more – have for their teams and sports stars. He knows well the suffering they have endured, with no major sports title since Jim Brown ran the Browns to their 1964 championship. He took heat for rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees, looking like a frontrunner but easing the frustration of the inevitable letdowns closer to home.

James knows this too:

These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man.

That’s something Cavaliers fans really need to chew on, especially the last part. They might not have liked what they would have gotten over the past four years had James stayed in Cleveland. The pressure to win there, and presumably futility similar to what he and they went through from 2007 through 2010, slowly and surely could have wrung the fun out of 156 more regular-season home games of LeBron. So, too, could the pull from other teams trying to pry him loose, the incessant questions from media at every NBA stop.

The drum beats of bigger markets and something akin to the “Big 3″ maneuver – had that particular “Big 3″ version not happened – might have swamped the basketball and been too much for that guy to handle. They would have not been the best of years with LeBron in place.

These have a chance to be the best of years, now, with LeBron back home. The siren song of free agency is over. He needs to go nowhere. James has his rings and the Cavs have their pieces for a real future, thanks to the heights-to-depths dynamic that seems the surest way to NBA rebuilding.

James’ omission of No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins‘ name in his published explanation Friday was a little curious, leading to instant parsing (and rumors that Wiggins might be traded for, say, the immediate help of Minnesota’s Kevin Love). But taken in whole, it is nothing short of a mission statement for him and his career going forward.

James sounds like he’s not going anywhere. Friends, rivals, All-Stars, they’re all welcome to join him as he chases as many rings in Cleveland as he can. But the work he has staked out for himself goes far beyond the Larry O’Brien Trophy he wants to deliver:

I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

The NBA is going along for the ride, and gets itself the better story.


VIDEO: David Aldridge on LeBron returning to Cleveland

Market for Stephenson might move, though concerns remain same


VIDEO: Lance Stephenson talks about his season with the Pacers in 2013-14

Lance Stephenson might or might not be happy with the Indiana Pacers’ contract offer to him. But he has to be happy with the Charlotte Hornets’ contract offer to Gordon Hayward.

By doing nothing beyond waiting, Stephenson – the talented and erratic shooting guard who is testing free agency after four seasons of development and nurturing in Indiana – has seen the market change for good young wing players. Not necessarily his market to stay in Indianapolis, given Larry Bird‘s calculation of Stephenson’s pro & con bottom line: five years, $44 million, an average annual salary of $8.8 million. But the market overall, as determined by a pair of needy teams in modest-sized markets.

The Hornets’ decision to sign Hayward to an offer sheet for four years, $63 million (a max deal worth $15.75 per year) presumably has shifted things seismically not only for Stephenson but for Chandler Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng.

Depending on what you read or believe, Stephenson already was displeased with the amount of Indiana’s offer and/or Bird’s one-price strategy.

Some reports claim Stephenson was simply disappointed by the Pacers’ number and wants to see what else is out there. Some claim he rejected that deal and is looking to leave. Among the teams said to have interest, from passing to strong, in Stephenson: Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Charlotte and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Taking the speculation to yet another level, there was word out of Texas that the Mavericks might deign to offer a smaller deal with Stephenson if he spurns Indiana yet miscalculates and grows desperate enough to accept a worse payday. Good luck with that.

We all know how the game goes from here: If Avery Bradley is worth $8 million a year to Boston with his limited offensive impact and Hayward is worth nearly twice that to Charlotte and Utah – the Jazz have been open about their intent to match anything Hayward signed – then it might seem, in sheer basketball valuation, Stephenson should be further to the right on the pay scale than what Indiana has presented. There are a couple of disclaimers though:

  • The difficulty, or should we say near-impossibility, of attracting free agents to Salt Lake City. Epecially with the Jazz mired in the lottery. With a new, unproven coaching staff.
  • Hayward’s restricted status.

Both of those point toward a player perhaps getting overpaid. A market that can’t dangle some mix of beaches, balmy weather, nightlife, lucrative endorsements and instant winning often has to show more money. And with RFAs, if the current team has expressed its intention to match, a rival can only fatten the offer in hopes of discouraging that.

Indianapolis isn’t a glamour market but it has gone to two consecutive East finals, with a breakthrough possible again next spring, especially if Miami has a break-up. Stephenson is unrestricted, which means that the team that overpays him will be the one stuck.

And stuck is an operative word, leading to a couple legitimate disclaimers about Stephenson and his value:

  • The Pacers shooting guard has had an unusually patient and nurturing situation in Indiana. Bird has had his back from the start, drafting him in 2010 despite off-court incidents and behavioral concerns. The team’s veterans have encouraged and kept him in line for the most part. Even when Stephenson drove down his own value with some high-profile hi-jinks against LeBron James and the Heat this postseason, Bird wondered aloud if he should have spent more face time with the irrepressible player.
  • Teams, including the Pacers, wonder what Stephenson might be like off the court once he has an eight-figure, multi-year guaranteed contract. He might take that as validation of everything – good and bad – he’s been doing, rather than a deal offered flinchingly in the hope that his maturity might catch up to his skill level.

Bob Kravitz, longtime columnist for the Indianapolis Star, urged the Pacers not to budge beyond the five years and $44 million they already have offered Stephenson. “Stephenson will never have as good a support system (read: Bird) as he has now in Indianapolis,” Kravitz wrote. “He will never find a group of teammates more willing (however grudgingly) to put up with his antics, both on the practice court and in games. He will never find a fan base more willing to embrace him, a fan base that loves him despite all his warts, much like Ron Artest, the former Pacers All-Star now named Metta World Peace.”

And yet, the one spinout other teams wouldn’t have to worry about that should concern the Pacers is Stephenson and his possible growing impatience with being the team’s “little brother.” He could well be Indiana’s second-best player in 2014-15 behind Paul George but his salary could be fourth- or fifth-highest on the roster.

One thing the Pacers can offer Stephenson that other teams cannot is the comfort zone he has at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, not just with the fans but in his eccentric “Bird Cave.” More pressing at the moment, though, for those who would consider him: caveat emptor.

Blogtable: NY’s plans with ‘Melo, without

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Idle summertime chatter | LeBron + Cavs = ??? | The Good & Bad of ‘Melo in NY



VIDEO: Howard Beck breaks down the news around the Knicks and free agent Carmelo Anthony

> You’re Phil Jackson. What do you do with the Knicks if Carmelo Anthony leaves? What if he stays?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I refuse to answer the first question because it ain’t happening – Melo’s going nowhere. The money, the attention and now the capability to claim he’s staying for Phil Jackson‘s “vision” (when it’s really the money and the attention) keep him right where he is. So with Anthony on board, Jackson will have to cue up some of the share-the-ball-you’ll-get-it-back teachings to Michael Jordan from back in the day. And he’ll need to lure Kevin Durant, LeBron James and/or Kevin Love to Manhattan because Jackson has limited experience with a roster that doesn’t boast one or two of the league’s top half dozen guys.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If Anthony leaves, you pat James Dolan and the Knicks franchise on the head and make a beeline back to Playa del Rey and Jeannie Buss.  If he stays, well, you might want to do that anyway.  New York is not a market that has the patience or the long-range vision to do what’s necessary, which is why with the exception of a couple blips on the radar screen the Knicks have spent the past 40 years peddling the false notion that they’re contenders.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comIf Anthony leaves, you celebrate? Really, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. A max contract is a cap-stuffer particularly as Melo plays into his mid-30s. Him leaving would totally free up Phil Jackson to remake the roster in 2015 when potential free agents include Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Goran Dragic. If Anthony stays, Jackson is already on the right track by trying to unload Amar’e Stoudemire‘s $23.4 million contract without taking much back. If Anthony returns, he knows 2014-15 is only a bridge to next summer when the Knicks, even with Melo’s max deal, will be flush with cap space to go nuts.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing much I can do if he leaves. Square 1 is Square 1. Maybe try to extract a couple picks/player(s) if it’s a sign-and-trade, but draft choices wouldn’t be paid out for at least another season and maybe, if it’s the Lakers, several. I might like the appeal of something close to a blank slate lineup wise while still having salaries to untangle, but I would also realize that’s the positive spin on “Ummmm … errrrr … let’s see here….” If Carmelo stays, I know there’s a better chance to land free agents in future summers and a quicker path to wins. Anthony plus Jose Calderon’s shooting plus Tim Hardaway Jr. coming off an encouraging rookie season is a decent start on the re-build.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Listen, as much as I’d love to be rich, famous and have more rings than your neighborhood jeweler, I wouldn’t want to be Phil Jackson in New York if and/or when Carmelo Anthony spurns the Knicks for either Chicago, Los Angeles or that dreaded outfit in Miami. The haters will be merciless if ‘Melo bolts after receiving a max offer to stick around. If ‘Melo stays, Phil has to include his max-earning superstar on his rebuilding plan, which has to include making a monster splash in free agency in 2015 (Melo and Kevin Love is a great place to start with the East Coast Triangle). ‘Melo doesn’t get to choose his new teammates, but he at least needs to be consulted in some form or fashion, because he’s going to be right up there with Phil and James Dolan on the fall guy list if this experiment doesn’t work out.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCarmelo, you’re not leaving $30 plus mil on the table. We need you. But not for this season — the Knicks this season aren’t going to be much better than they were a season ago. Then again, they can’t be much worse. But after this season, Stoudemire and Bargnani come off the books and clear up about $35 million in cap space, and suddenly we can be players in free agency. The triangle offense starts to take hold, and now we’re in the mix, particularly in the weak Eastern Conference. By the way, Cleanthony Early is going to be a steal, and our system will make contributors out of guys who had been overlooked in the past. So it’s going to take some time, but be patient. What, ‘Melo, you thought the Lakers would contend right away?

Karan Madhok, NBA India: If Anthony leaves, I’ll be hoping that the always-expectant Knicks fans stay patient for one more year of awful basketball. By this time next year, the Knicks will have a ton of cap space and some interesting free agents (Kevin Love, Rajon Rondo, LaMarcus Aldridge, and, if he signs just a one year extension, maybe even LeBron James) available on the market to recruit to New York. If Anthony stays, I’ll be hoping to convince another contributor (like Pau Gasol, who has experience with Jackson) to sign for cheap, but still sell the team the idea of thinking the future before the present, and the idea of a big offseason in 2015 if they can suffer through a quiet one this year.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: I would start a new age where “the team” would be more important than a star player. If Carmelo stays, it won’t be good for the Knicks. If he leaves, the Knicks have a better opportunity to rebuild, Jackson style.

Guillermo Garcia, NBA Mexico: If Anthony’s still on the team, I’ll try to reinforce the club with another big player … maybe one with the name Gasol?

Blogtable: Say LBJ goes to Cleveland …

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Idle summertime chatter | LeBron + Cavs = ??? | The Good & Bad of ‘Melo in NY



VIDEO: Four years later, former NBA exec Stu Jackson reflects on “The Decision”

> There are a lot of “ifs” to consider, but IF LeBron goes back to Cleveland, are the Cavs really good enough to win the East?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI like the idea of LeBron going back to Cleveland and leading all that potential and raw talent to the top of the East standings. The roster now looks better to me than the crew that won 66 games in 2008-09. Several of the Cavs would get better almost overnight from the defensive attention paid to James. What would they be lacking? A savvy veteran backcourt player would help. Also: Bubble-wrap for Anderson Varejao to keep him healthy.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: If he were to go back to Cleveland, it obviously means the best team in the East has broken up. The Cavs would lack overall experience, cohesion and any real clue what it takes to get though the playoffs.  But hey, they’d have LeBron and a puncher’s chance.  He’s taken a team with less raw talent to The Finals in 2007.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comOnly because the East is so weak, the answer is yes. It would take Kyrie Irving and Anderson Varejao to stay healthy — and that’s never a given — and for last year’s No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett to contribute. They could use a knock-down 3-point shooter or two. You figure a LeBron-less Miami falls out and Indiana might not have Lance Stephenson plus they’ve got a major mental reconstruction job. Toronto and Washington should be on the rise. Maybe the Nets under Lionel Hollins will have a say. But any team with LeBron has to be given a legitimate shot.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: TBD. Who do the Cavaliers have to offload to make the money — and possibly the sign-and-trade — work? Do the Bulls get Carmelo Anthony? Cleveland could be good enough. I’ll go that far. James, Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins is a nice first five for the future, plus maybe Dion Waiters. But I would still pick Chicago with Carmelo, Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Doug McDermott and others.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: No. I’m not ready to vault this theoretical Cleveland team past Indiana right now. That said, with LeBron, the only thing the Cavaliers would be lacking is the needed seasoning to compete at the highest level. All that young talent they’ve piled up is fine, save for the fact that they’ve only seen the playoffs on TNT and other networks. They’ll also need to piece together some chemistry overnight. But they’d be right there behind Indiana and capable of overtaking the Pacers if we see the same kind of mental and emotional fragility we saw from the No. 1 seed Pacers we saw last season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Last season the Cavs didn’t even make the playoffs. Adding LeBron and Andrew Wiggins would be about the best one-two punch you could find. But to me, experience and outside shooting are the two things lacking that jump out at me. The Cavs were in the bottom half of the league last season in 3-point shooting, and that was how the Spurs dissected Miami last year — spreading them out and knocking down jumpers. Miami’s Achilles’ heel was rebounding, and I don’t know that the Cavs have much better depth along the front line than the Heat. It’s funny to me that everyone kinda writes off the Heat — they made it to the Finals and actually split the first two games. To me, the Heat with Bron are closer to another Finals run than Cleveland would be.

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: It wouldn’t be enough to just have LeBron back in Cleveland to win the Eastern Conference. The Cavs would need LeBron and a scientist to create a LeBron clone.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: First of all, any team with LeBron in the starting five becomes a contender. Moreover the Cavs have the talent to support him. Andrew Wiggins is a player with tremendous potential and Kyrie Irving has showcased his All-Star quality. Anderson Varejao if healthy is a great role player, Spencer Hawes can reallly stretch the floor and become a great asset for a LeBron-James-playing-style, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett are rising stars. If their core can overcome their injury-filled destiny they can be the next big thing, for sure.

Rodrigo Méndez, NBA Mexico: The Cavs, for those seven years LeBron James played in Cleveland — with a championship eluding them — had a chance to learn a few things. Now if LeBron returns, those lessons come to fruition: build a team around the star, a complete team with a good defense and a full suit of complements on the court and on the bench. That last lesson they can take from the Heat, which had trouble surrounding LBJ in 2013-14.

Blogtable: Summer, when gabbing is easy

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Idle summertime chatter | LeBron + Cavs = ??? | The Good & Bad of ‘Melo in NY


> It’s been a confusing, chatter-filled start to the NBA summer. What’s the dumbest, most forehead-slapping headline or storyline that you’ve seen?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Geez, so many from which to choose —  Jodie Meeks‘ contract, Carmelo Anthony supposedly leaving New York and $30 million or more on the table, Klay Thompson suddenly being regarded as a combo Jerry West/Dwyane Wade in trade value. But I’m going with the hand-wringing in Chicago over Derrick Rose’s alleged “unwillingness” to recruit free agents. That sort of thing, in the best of places, probably ranks 8th or 18th or maybe 28th in what sways a player to choose a new team/market. All Rose should be doing is what he did – allow the targeted player, like Carmelo Anthony, to watch a workout so he can gauge Rose’s health and comeback potential. Beyond that, it’s sheer high-school silliness.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I was very tempted to say “all of the above” since the entire free agency period is mostly rumor, innuendo and flat-out lying posing as pseudo-journalism.  But if I must choose, well, Jodie Meeks at more than $6 million per is a head-slapper.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Orlando agreeing to pay Ben Gordon $9.5 million over two years. That slightly edges Portland agreeing to pay Chris Kaman nearly $10 million over two years.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: You’re asking me to pick one grain of sand on the beach. We know, for example, that the Heatles are definitely splintering, unless that they’re not and are simply giving Pat Riley time to make moves before closing their own deals. And Kobe, Carmelo and Kevin Love definitely magically appeared at the same pickup game at UCLA, except that they didn’t. The silly season in full effect. If there an option to expand beyond free agency and make it the entire offseason for dumbest, most forehead-slapping storyline, it’s an easy call: Jason Kidd.

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Gordon Hayward (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE)

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: How about the latest one, “Hayward get max offer sheet from Hornets.” In a summer when financial haircuts are being discussed for All-Stars — superstars in some cases — a guy who has never sniffed the All-Star team gets a $60 million offer from an Eastern Conference playoff team. Hayward is worth whatever someone is going to pay him, so I’m not mad at him. But, as I said on Twitter last week (when Hayward was supposedly on tap for a max offer from the Cavaliers that never happened), something is awry in this system when Lance Stephenson (as flawed or deficient as he might be in some areas) sees this headline about Hayward and is supposed to be cool with an offer $16 million lighter in total. Even if Utah matches, as they have said all along that they will, this is still one of the gems of “Crazy Season!”

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Well to be fair, it was probably a headline that I wrote that was dumb. But as far as a wild storyline, the thought that signing Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts will put Miami over the top is pretty out there. I mean, the Pacers basically let Granger walk, and Basketball Jesus a.k.a. McBob is a nice player but … putting Miami over the top? That’s a head-slapper. The Spurs beat Miami up and down and left and right in the Finals. It’s going to take more than just one or two additions to make the Heat a Finals winner. Then again, getting LeBron to re-up would be a pretty good start.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA Deutschland: The most confusing thing for me is that everyone is waiting for everyone. Melo is waiting for Bosh’s decision, Bosh and Wade are waiting for LeBron’s decision. LeBron is waiting what the Heat will do, but the Heat have to wait, what their Big 3 will do to know how much cap space they will have. Then the second row with Deng, Parsons and Ariza are waiting what Melo, Bosh,Wade and LeBron will do. And all teams with cap space are waiting for the decisions of the superstars to remain flexible. So everybody is waiting and the worst is, we have to wait, too. LeBron, get the ball rolling!

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: I’ll go with Jeremy Lin being upset because Houston used his uni to court Melo. Free agency is like love and war: all’s fair. It has been done before (Rockets GM Daryl Morey remembered they used Patrick Beverley‘s #12 last year to recruit Dwight Howard) and you shouldn’t be upset when your team is trying to get  one of the best players in the game, especially if you are in the trade rumors mill.

Karan Madhok, NBA India: After LeBron’s “Decision” in 2010, nothing in the NBA off-eason really surprises me anymore, and I truly leave all options open to possibility. That said, there were a couple of stories that made me shake my head with mild disbelief. One was The Pick-Up Game that Never Happened rumours of Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, and even Kevin Love playing ball at UCLA, as reported by some sources, as a hopeful indication of what the Lakers roster could look like next season. The second was the Recruitment Pitch that Wasn’t Made, a saga of Derrick Rose – did he or didn’t he try and recruit Carmelo Anthony to Chicago.

Jack trade boosts Cavs fans’ hopes


VIDEO: The latest buzz surrounding LeBron and the Heat

Now “The Return” isn’t just wishful thinking or idle speculation. The notion that LeBron James might sign a free-agent deal to play again for the Cleveland Cavaliers is getting propped up with real, tangible maneuvering, in this case a reported three-team trade that would move Cavs guard Jarrett Jack as the first step in opening serious salary-cap space for James.

That makes James’ decision to go back to Cleveland a legitimate possibility, as some insiders see it.

It also makes the opportunity for heartache and a sense of being played – again – all the greater.

Are the Cavaliers and their fans ready for that sort of repeat hangover, four years removed?

A case can be made for moving Jack, a disappointment acquisition last summer to the Cavs’ young backcourt (Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters), and the two years, $12.6 million left on his deal regardless of its impact on a pursuit of James. The deal, first reported by ESPN, is a three-teamer that will send Jack and Sergey Karasev to Brooklyn. Boston will receive Nets guard Marcus Thornton, Cleveland center Tyler Zeller and a future Cavs first-round pick.

Cleveland, if it takes back only picks rather than guaranteed salaries, would be freeing up an extra $9.5 million and, ESPN reported, have $21.7 million in cap space to dangle in James’ direction.

Everything is on hold, of course, for the rest of Wednesday until the NBA’s moratorium on signings and trades lifts at midnight Eastern Time. By then, James reportedly will have met again with Miami president Pat Riley, owner Micky Arison and teammate Dwyane Wade in Las Vegas to discuss his immediate future, which many still think keeps him in south Florida. Riley, after all, has agreed to deals with Charlotte forward Josh McRoberts and Clippers forward Danny Granger, two pieces who make sense in both basketball and financial terms only if the Heat’s championship core returns.

That hasn’t deterred some unbridled enthusiasm in Cleveland. The Cavaliers removed from their Web site this week the emotional, vitriolic open letter penned by owner Dan Gilbert in the angry moments immediately after James’ “The Decision” TV farewell.

Cleveland fans might be having more trouble un-burning their LeBron jerseys, but plenty of them have gotten their hopes up while James lingers in committing anywhere for 2014-15 and beyond. Now this move – an update and half-twist from Mike Brown‘s firing and Byron Scott‘s hiring as a (futile) attempt to please James in 2010 – is being taken by some as proof of a remarkable reunion.

Good luck, Cleveland. But just remember the axiom, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …”


VIDEO: Stu Jackson discusses LeBron’s decision

Deng weighing options, including one (Chicago) seldom mentioned


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew discusses Luol Deng’s strengths

CHICAGO – LeBron James would have to get past the flaming jerseys, the Comic Sans and the instant chasm that opened between him and Dan Gilbert, owner of the team for which he performed and amassed profits for the first seven NBA seasons.

Luol Deng would have his own set of baggage with which to grapple if he were to consider returning to the team that drafted him 10 years ago.

Putting to the test the old Thomas Wolfe-inspired aphorism “You can’t go home again” might seem quaint when the likes of Jason Kidd and others involved in last week’s Brooklyn-Milwaukee sleight of hand kept repeating “this is business”. But then, this is business, so maybe – somehow, some way – James can go back to Cleveland. And Deng can go back to Chicago.

While the former possibility (however slight) has the NBA and its fan base intrigued, maybe even fixated, the latter is generating nary a peep in the vast Chicagoland sports media market. Despite all those airwave hours and blank Web pages to fill, the idea that Bulls VP John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman would turn to the third-most desirable small forward in 2014 free agency (after James and Carmelo Anthony) seems to captivate no one.

Too awkward?

Too weird?

Too bad.

The Bulls claim to be committed to goosing the roster and changing the movie of Derrick Rose‘s second major comeback from knee surgery in as many years. But the prospect of bringing back Deng, the two-time All-Star who toiled longer and harder than any Bulls player over the past decade, hasn’t garnered a blip on the radar.

Blame the baggage. The steamer trunk in that set came in January, when the Bulls came at Deng with a 1-2 punch in a hurried-up bit of contract-extension negotiating. They offered him a reported three-year, $30 million deal that wasn’t so much take it-or-leave it as it was take it-or-leave US; when Deng declined, he was traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for draft picks and payroll relief via Andrew Bynum‘s contract.

It was an abrupt parting considering all Deng and the Bulls had been through together, his status as one of the team’s leaders, his skill set and the way Tom Thibodeau relied on him every way an NBA coach can. The locker room shook that day, emotional center Joakim Noah went into a temporary funk and, on the heels of Rose’s latest injury six weeks earlier, it looked like a tank job and felt even worse.

Being banished to the Cavaliers was no prize for Deng, either. His production and enjoyment faltered, and the “the Bulls don’t miss Deng” stories coming out of Chicago didn’t help. (They were 10-13 with Deng, 38-21 without or after him.) (more…)