Alan Diaz/AP Photo
After a brief networking trip to the annual D-League Showcase and a whole lot of D-Miles this week, less than 40 days remain before the NBA's trading deadline.
So it's clearly time to pass along some fresh dribbles of player-movement chatter from the front-office grapevine, as collected on the road and on the phone from various team officials, league insiders and more:
• Knicks president Donnie Walsh had initially tossed out the idea that buyout talks with Stephon Marbury would resume after Jan. 1. But they haven't.
One explanation in circulation is Marbury still refuses to consider forfeiting any of this season's $20.8 million salary for the right to go to Boston or anywhere else. (Even though I realize whom we're talking about here, that stuns me because of the potential public relations payoff for Steph if he goes to the Celtics and plays well.) Sources close to the process maintain that the $1 million giveback Marbury initially offered to the Knicks remains off the table because Marbury stormed out of a face-to-face meeting with Walsh on Dec. 1.
The other explanation mentioned often at the D-League Showcase, among Walsh's fellow executives in the stands at Utah Valley University, is that Walsh would prefer to hang on to Marbury's expiring contract through the Feb. 19 trading deadline. Just in case the Houston Rockets decide they want to disassemble their nucleus by offering up Tracy McGrady (whose contract expires in 2010) or the Sacramento Kings say they're willing to part with Brad Miller (and Kenny Thomas to help make the salary-cap math work) or the Miami Heat unexpectedly consent to part with Shawn Marion.
"Donnie still thinks he can trade Steph," one Western Conference executive said.
I had the chance to visit with Walsh on Thursday and told him the consensus is he'll just keep Marbury through the deadline, which then would leave just more than a week for the sides to negotiate a buyout before March 1 if there is no trade. By that time, Marbury would need to clear waivers to be eligible to appear in the playoffs for anyone besides the Knicks.
Walsh countered by insisting that regardless of what folks are saying, he remains open to a buyout as long as the terms are fair. The Celtics return to Madison Square Garden on Feb. 6, and I have to believe that the Knicks desperately want to avoid the possibility of Marbury's lighting them up that night or, worse, facing him in the first round of the playoffs. But Walsh also said he has no desire to block Marbury from going to Boston.
"I'm playing this by ear," Walsh said. "I'm still open to negotiating. I've seen a lot reported [about New York's demands in a buyout], but I've never put a number on it. But that doesn't mean I'll just give you what you want, either."
Add it all up, and it would appear that Walsh, as open-minded as he says he is, has little incentive to move quickly. What could change New York's urgency factor? Looks as if it could happen only one of two ways: Marbury gives up more cash than he wants to, or a trade not involving Marbury that necessitates the use of Marbury's roster spot materializes for the Knicks.
• Important disclaimer to any Knicks fan who came away from all that believing Walsh has new hope of finding a trade taker for Starbury in the next 39 days: Walsh is the first to admit that trading him is still a serious long shot.
"So far, there hasn't been the kind of [trade] interest you're describing," he said.
And even if there were such interest, rest assured the Rockets, Kings or Heat -- in the hypothetical scenarios mentioned above -- would be virtually certain to complicate matters by asking for David Lee or Nate Robinson to be included in a deal. In McGrady's or Marion's cases especially, their teams -- if they were to reach that point -- undoubtedly would be looking to get back more for a big-name asset than the mere cap room that comes with taking back Steph's expiring deal.
Asked again, Walsh said: "Things could develop closer to the deadline, but there hasn't been that kind of interest."
• I'm told that in recent days the Knicks have tried to interest Miami in a package for Marion that centers on Eddy Curry, who makes $9.7 million this season and whose contract runs through 2010-11. I'm guessing you won't be surprised to hear that the offer was swiftly knocked back by the Heat, whose overall willingness to part with Marion before the deadline remains one of the harder reads in the trade market.
• A few execs have told me the Mavericks have passed Toronto as the team currently pushing hardest to make a trade. And the growing sense I get is that the Mavericks, for all their stated reluctance to do so, are prepared to move Josh Howard before the deadline if they can bring back the wing explosiveness and/or post scoring that we've mentioned before as areas of concern in Dallas.
Just days ago, I didn't think so. I saw the prospect of moving Howard as highly unlikely. My feeling was Dallas would continue to shop Jerry Stackhouse's cap-friendly contract and Brandon Bass' and DeSagana Diop's unfriendly contracts, hoping that the Stackhouse-and-Bass combination would eventually net something positive.
Yet in the course of all those aggressive calls, sources say Howard's name is coming up more and more, either because of the interest of teams on the other end of the line or the Mavs' growing willingness to consider another shake-up.
"Dallas is talking to everyone," one rival exec said.
The Mavs' acquisition of the selfless Jason Kidd in February and the coaching switch from Avery Johnson to Rick Carlisle were supposed to help Howard more than any Mav. But they haven't. You can attribute some of his struggles to a nagging ankle injury, but Howard has strangely never flourished alongside Kidd and isn't playing with the bounce that made him an All-Star, leading some folks in town to wonder whether he'd rather be elsewhere.
But if that's the case, Howard hasn't let on. Nor are the Mavs likely to rush into anything if they don't get the offer they want.
That's because Dallas is convinced Howard's very reasonable salary this season ($10.4 million) and next ($11.4 million) and the $12.3 million team option held by the Mavs for the 2010-11 season -- all attractive contract details -- combine to negate any trade value the 28-year-old has squandered through declining production and off-court transgressions.
• Didn't mean to suggest the Raptors have put the phone down.
They're still strongly against parting with Andrea Bargnani, but they're also looking to upgrade on the wing (Chicago's Andres Nocioni is a possibility) while trying to determine whether the Chris Bosh/Jermaine O'Neal experiment -- which hasn't worked out like a high-post/low-post combo as Toronto imagined -- can be salvaged or is best abandoned quickly.
Moving O'Neal certainly won't be easy. Yet it probably isn't impossible because O'Neal's $23 million salary next season is an expiring contract.
• Earl Watson looks like the next veteran in line to be dealt away in Oklahoma City -- ahead of big men Chris Wilcox, Nick Collison and Joe Smith -- after the departure of Johan Petro and the arrival of Chucky Atkins from Denver to serve as veteran insurance for rookie guard Russell Westbrook.
But the real sport in OKC will be tracking the Thunder's use of one or two (or three?) of the five first-round picks racked up by general manager Sam Presti in the next two drafts. With three first-rounders in June, two more in the 2010 draft and plenty of cap space, Presti is swimming in two of the NBA's most valuable forms of currency and thus figures to earn an invite into numerous trade discussions around the league in the coming months. That could help the Thunder land the quality veteran they need to lead Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Let's face it: Landing a marquee talent via free agency would be a lot tougher for the starting-over Thunder, no matter how much cap space they have. By contrast, stockpiling numerous draft picks to go with their low payroll sets them up to be a prime trade destination, if not a free-agent hot spot.
• Can't leave without a word on the D-Miles saga
Most teams I've spoken to expect the Blazers to face some sort of heavy fine from the league office -- in addition to whatever legal problems they might have created for themselves -- for what was widely perceived to be a threatening (and unprecedented) e-mail to 29 teams about staying away from signing Darius Miles. But I'm not so sure.
The vibe I get is that the league, which has yet to issue any formal comment on this case, might decide that fining Portland on top of the multimillion-dollar implications of having Miles' contract restored to the Blazers' payroll would be excessive.
The Blazers say they informed the league before sending out the e-mail, implying no one stopped them. League officials maintain they didn't approve the e-mail but acknowledged that Portland made its intentions known shortly before sending it out. Stay tuned.
It also didn't surprise anyone who knows Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley that Memphis re-signed Miles to a 10-day contract soon after he cleared waivers and barely 24 hours after the Blazers raised the possibility of legal action against any team that employs him.
"Heisley is the not the kind of guy who's going to be bullied," one GM said.
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.
Five questions with Jazz forward Carlos Boozer before Boozer underwent knee surgery Friday in Los Angeles:
Q: Are your critics laying off you now that they see you're having surgery?
A: I had to go through the same thing three years ago with my hamstring. I mean, c'mon. If I could play, I would play all day long. People thought I was doggin' it [three years ago], but I'm not that kind of dude. If I can play, I'll play through anything. And I've already played through a bunch of stuff that people don't know about.
It's unfortunate, but it's a part of the game. Especially when you're a huge part of a team. When people depend on you, they want you out there no matter what.
Q: Does the fact that you've been through this before make it any easier to deal with that kind of criticism?
A: Probably worse. It makes it easier for me because I've been able to deal with [an injury] a couple different times. But because I've been through it before, it makes it worse as far as other people, for them [wanting] to write more stuff or speculate or what have you. But for me, I've been fortunate to have my family by my side and keep my sane hat on.
Q: How worried are you about this team missing the playoffs because of all the injuries?
A: Actually, they've played well without me. I know I'll be back before [the end of the season]. We've been able to stay above water without me, so when I get back for those last 20 or 30 games, hopefully we'll be able to take off.
When you have great players and when you have a great coach like Phil Jackson or like we have with Jerry [Sloan], health is probably the biggest [factor]. Can you imagine if me and D-Will had been healthy what our record would be? We feel like we're a championship team when we're all healthy.
Q: How does this team deal keep the fact that there are a lot of potential free agents on the roster besides you from becoming a distraction?
A: We don't really talk about it that much. I made a mistake of talking about it earlier [in a Dec. 17 interview with ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan], and that obviously had a big media impact. But for the most part, people haven't talked about their contract situations, which is the way we'd like to keep it from now on until the summer.
Q: Do you think you and Paul Millsap can really play together long-term, as opposed to the organization having to choose between the two of you?
A: I'd love that. I would love that. I think we complement each other so well. Sometimes our fastest lineup, with me and him in there together, is our best defensive lineup. Paul is playing like a stud, man on a mission. He's become a huge part of our team.
That's when Paul, on the eve of a trip to Utah to duel with his pal Deron Williams, walked away with a victory over the Lakers that ended L.A.'s 15-game home winning streak as well as a performance out of John Stockton's scrapbook. Paul became the first player to go for at least 30 points and 15 assists (32 and 15, to be exact) in the same game with zero turnovers since Stockton did in 1989.
But somehow that wasn't the peak of Paul's week.
Turns out Paul, on the same night, was formally introduced to "Grey's Anatomy" star Ellen Pompeo, one of the many Hollywood celebs in the courtside seats for the Hornets' upset. We're told Paul is a huge Grey's fan.
I had a feeling I botched this as I was speaking, but a loyal listener who speaks cap confirmed for me later that I indeed fumbled my explanation on the tradability of Raef LaFrentz's contract in Portland.
This is what I was thinking and should have said: If a tax-paying team trades for the injured veteran's expiring $12.7 million contract between now and the Feb. 19 trading deadline, that team cannot apply for LaFrentz's salary to be removed from the payroll for luxury-tax calculations.
But the new team definitely would receive game-by-game insurance payments of $124,122 -- which computes to 80 percent of LaFrentz's per-game salary of $155,152 -- after I mistakenly suggested it wouldn't.
The bottom line after all that math? Don't try to work from memory on salary-cap questions in live interviews.
He's kidding about that.
But there are a few legit silver linings here for the Nuggets, worried as they are by the prospect of playing without Anthony for a month.
1. Anthony didn't need surgery on his broken hand. Surgery likely would have sidelined him for months, not weeks.
2. Melo says he'll be out no more than three weeks no matter what the doctors say.
3. Anthony has been plagued by an elbow injury all season that has been a bigger bother than he ever talks about. You certainly couldn't tell when he was shredding Minnesota with that 33-point quarter, but the elbow really could use a few weeks of enforced rest.
"Melo is a glass-half-full kind of guy," said Idan Ravin, who serves as a personal player development coach for Anthony and several other top players, including Chris Paul, Gilbert Arenas and Jason Richardson. "So I imagine he's going to try to turn these next few weeks into a positive.
"The elbow has been causing him some pain, probably more than people realize. He's been chopping his follow-through short on his jump shot, but he's been able to overcome that and play through it because Melo can find so many other ways to get to the basket and finish or get to the line.
"I think you saw how resilient he is when he stayed in the Indiana game after his hand was broken. He wants to play through every injury. I'm sure he's going to feel some frustration not being able to play for the next few weeks, especially when the Nuggets have been playing so well, but he'll make the most of the time off."
Ainge, though, remains unwilling to discuss the idea publicly and probably won't until Marbury and the Knicks officially complete a split, which Ainge knows is no given. The Celtics remain pessimistic that a Marbury divorce will happen before March 1, the deadline to keep him eligible to play in the playoffs.
"I can't [comment]," Ainge told NBA TV's Ahmad Rashad in his most playful views on the subject, during a courtside interview at Utah Valley College. "I can't and I won't. We kind of like all the excitement and attention going on around the Celtics and all that, but I really can't comment on [Marbury]."
Yet if Ainge does get the opportunity to gamble on Marbury between now and March 1, all signs continue to point to Boston's going ahead with the dice roll. Ainge is acutely aware that the Celts' bench issues -- no scoring, no size, no consistent threat to take some pressure off his weary starters -- are only growing. Ainge also is hampered by a lack of tradable assets that makes it hard to see how Boston can bring in anyone close to Marbury talentwise. So the case for a low-cost, low-risk Marbury experiment remains strong, and Ainge also knows the experiment could simply be aborted without a huge financial penalty if Steph hurts more than he helps, as countless leaguewide skeptics expect.
You certainly could argue that the hysterical "excitement and attention" sure to be generated by an actual Marbury signing, as Ainge politely described it, are the last things that weary Boston needs right now. There's a feeling in New York that the mere prospect of Boston's adding Marbury, which accelerated last week with ESPN.com's report that the Celtics were hopeful of landing Steph, has contributed to the defending champs' slump -- specifically Rajon Rondo's -- as much as the bench woes. Said one Knick, referring to Sunday's home victory over Boston: "Marbury finally helped us win a game."
But sources close to the situation dispute that theory. Rondo has publicly supported the Marbury concept as strongly as any Celtic, and one Rondo confidante insists the support was sincere. That's probably because Rondo understands Marbury would be brought in mostly to take minutes from Eddie House and Tony Allen. The Celtics also believe Marbury can play alongside Rondo in some alignments and that he'd help Rondo and Ray Allen save something for the playoffs assuming Marbury can accept a Ben Gordon-style role the rest of the season.
It's true. The reality is, the best Boston can do upgradewise might be making a Marbury marriage work and either convincing P.J. Brown to unretire one more time or hoping no one deals for Kevin Garnett's good buddy Joe Smith between now and the Feb. 19 trading deadline so the Celts get a shot at signing Smith between Feb. 20 and March 1 with the help of a buyout in Oklahoma City.
History says we shouldn't be surprised the Celtics fell into a funk after their 19-game win streak.
Of the five teams with the longest single-season win streaks in NBA history, only the Lakers in 1999-2000 responded positively to the end of a long unbeaten run. Even the '71-72 Lakers stumbled after their 33-game win streak was halted.
Longest Win Streaks in NBA History
|'71-72||Lakers*||33||Lost 4 of 6|
|'07-08||Rockets||22||Lost 5 of 8|
|'70-71||Bucks*||20||Lost 5 of 6|
|'08-09||Celtics||19||Lost 7 of 9|
|'99-00||Lakers*||19||Won 11 of 12|
*Won NBA title
First, McDyess forfeited nearly two-thirds of the guaranteed $15 million remaining on his contract -- yes, almost $9 million -- in a buyout from the Nuggets.
Then he re-signed with the Pistons for a prorated share of the league's veteran minimum when it was widely presumed he'd sign a two-year deal that would start at $1.9 million (using Detroit's biannual salary-cap exception) and would include a player option for next season. According to figures obtained recently, McDyess appears on the Pistons' payroll at a modest cap number of $600,532, although he is expected to recoup some of the money he surrendered when he enters free agency in the summer.
But this isn't how we imagined the moment.
After logging just 52 minutes in 12 games for the Raps, Adams was traded to the Clippers on Monday for a conditional 2015 second-round pick that Toronto likely won't ever receive, then was released by L.A. within a couple of hours. The move opens up an extra roster spot for the Raps for further maneuvering but most notably takes them approximately $220,000 under the luxury-tax line.
So we're not sure when we'll run into Adams to thank him for steering our beloved Josh Akognon -- maybe the best pure shooter in Cal State Fullerton history and a name you're bound to hear called on draft night in June -- to Titan Tech. Adams' godfather, Marlon Morton, was a Fullerton assistant at the time Akognon transferred from Washington State, and Adams struck up a friendship with the West Coast's answer to Davidson's Stephen Curry when he and Akognon -- both from Nigerian families -- were playing in the Pac-10.
Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Courtside celebs always have the capacity to distract a player on a trip to Los Angeles, but Chris Paul played one of his best games and met one of his favorite actresses on his last visit to Staples Center. (See Box 3.)
Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, leading off an e-mail Friday to his 29 fellow owners in the league with a proverb you don't hear every day in the NBA.That appears to be Gilbert's way of saying the Portland Trail Blazers -- after sending out a mass e-mail raising the possibility of litigation against any team that chooses to sign free-agent forward Darius Miles -- are the bad teammates in this saga.
On Thursday night, Portland president Larry Miller fired off an electronic warning shot about signing Miles by suggesting his organization would "take all necessary steps to safeguard its rights, including, without limitation, litigation" if it subsequently were proven that Miles' next employer had signed him for the "purpose of adversely impacting the Portland Trail Blazers' Salary Cap and tax positions."
Gilbert's response to everyone on this e-mail chain after he dropped that proverb: "I fully understand the frustration you and your team's ownership must be feeling in regards to this situation, but a pre-emptive threat of 'litigation' directed at all of your partners through a group e-mail does not sit well with me and seems to be incongruent with the spirit of keeping a 'fiduciary duty' and good 'partner-like duty' to your 'NBA joint venturers.'"
Those nine had to be released by Wednesday at 6 p.m. to allow them to clear waivers by 6 p.m. Friday. They are: Jawad Williams (Cleveland); DeMarcus Nelson (Golden State); Paul Davis and Fred Jones (Los Angeles Clippers); Darius Miles (Memphis); Shaun Livingston (Miami); Austin Croshere (Milwaukee); Dee Brown (Phoenix) and Anthony Tolliver (San Antonio).
But Jones and Miles already signed 10-day contracts to return to the clubs that let them go, while Livingston, Croshere and Brown are considered likely to receive 10-day offers to return to the league in the near future.
That left 14 players you could hear exhaling loudly this week, as two others had to be taken off our original list as explained below.
The 14 players who were thrilled to see Saturday arrive: Mario West (Atlanta); Lindsey Hunter and Michael Ruffin (Chicago); Rob Kurz and Anthony Morrow (Golden State); Von Wafer (Houston); Josh Powell (Los Angeles Lakers); Jamaal Magloire (Miami); Kevin Ollie (Minnesota); Sean Marks (New Orleans); Jeremy Richardson (Orlando); Malik Hairston (San Antonio); Jake Voskuhl (Toronto) and Juan Dixon (Washington).
The two guys on the original list who actually had nothing to worry about were Charlotte's Juwan Howard and Golden State's C.J. Watson (above, right). That's because, according to the Bobcats, Howard's veteran minimum contract was guaranteed for the season when he signed on Dec. 12. And because Watson, according to NBA front-office sources, has quietly played so solidly for the Warriors that he's likely to land a multiyear contract in the summer with the Dubs or someone else. I'm told that no Warrior generates more trade interest than the bargain-priced guard.
Not even a league-appointed doctor who also has been sanctioned by the National Basketball Players Association can predict the future. Especially with a player who's reasonably young by NBA standards.
At least that's how we see it at Stein Line HQ. There is zero doubt here that Portland's ability to pay off the remaining $18 million on Darius Miles' contract without those dollars appearing on its payroll -- granted by the league's medical ruling in April that Miles' right knee is shot -- is a salary-cap benefit the Blazers never should have been entitled to.
We wade through the various layers of the wild D-Miles case -- which reached a frenzied state Friday after word leaked of Portland's e-mailed warning to other teams about signing him -- following a lengthy examination of what's happening with Boston and Cleveland on the latest edition of ESPN's NBA Today podcast with co-hosts Frank Dale and Joe Mead.
By now you've surely realized that the luxury-tax standings mean as much to most owners as the regular standings.
The three seemingly inconsequential trades you saw between Monday and Wednesday were a lot bigger than they looked.
That's because the deals dropped three more teams beneath the league's $71.15 million tax threshold this week, leaving only seven teams in luxury-tax territory.
Miami dropped below the threshold by trading Shaun Livingston to Memphis although some executives expect Livingston to rejoin the Heat on a 10-day contract basis after he was immediately released by the Grizzlies.
And Toronto got under, as noted in Box 5, by trading the little-used Hassan Adams to the Clippers, who immediately released Adams.
The seven luxury-tax teams remaining are the Knicks, Mavericks, Cavaliers, Lakers, Celtics, Suns and Pistons. That group could shrink to six if the Pistons can shed a minimum-salaried player or two -- Will Bynum and Alex Acker are the prime candidates -- with Detroit at a mere $731,868 over the tax line.
And if you're wondering why these numbers get tracked so closely
The 23 teams on the list of non-taxpayers -- which finds Denver, Miami and Toronto with Chicago and Houston in a clutch of five teams less than $500,000 below the threshold -- are on course to each receive an estimated payment of $3.2 million at season's end from the tax pool.