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If there's a face of the Hawks' emergence as November darlings in the East, it's Smith. No longer satisfied to be adored for his spectacular dunking and shot-blocking but just as often hounded about his shot selection, Smith has launched only one 3-pointer all season. One in 12 games. The result? One of the league's most tantalizing entertainers has inched away from his equal and well-chronicled tendency to frustrate by playing the best all-around ball of his life. I checked in this week with one trusted scout who assured me back in October that the Hawks could be this good -- consider this my formal acknowledgment of your sageness, Trusted Scout -- to learn more about the specific areas of improvement that have turned Smith into a better player. The scout countered: "I wouldn't say better. Just more mature." Perhaps Smith is simply playing a smarter game, making good use of his many summer tutorials in recent years from a Houston-based legend Kobe Bryant has also been consulting lately, as well: Hakeem Olajuwon. It also doesn't hurt that the Hawks, as a group, are creating more transition opportunities with their defense than they used to, which gets them running more than coach Mike Woodson has previously allowed. Which only helps J-Smoove. (PS -- I realize Smith almost exclusively plays power forward for the Hawks nowadays. Really could have just listed J-Smoove and the next guy as forwards, without using the SF and PF designations, because they're interchangeable in this mythical frontcourt of mine. Just wanted to let you know we're well aware Smith is a full-time 4-man in real life. Let's proceed.)
How many lefties (or righties) can play all five positions? Odom's presence on that short list is just one of the reasons he was an automatic choice here. The other reasons? Odom's ever-increasing importance to the defending champions, on top of how gracefully he glides all over the floor in a way no righty could, should make them all pretty obvious. His athleticism and versatility, combined with the gifts possessed by Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, give the Lakers what must be the league's most dynamic trio of 7-footers (and near 7-footers). Odom also gives the Lakers at least one player in that locker room who speaks Ron Artest -- since he grew up with Artest in New York -- and showed his coach a glimpse of his newfound championship wisdom by telling Phil Jackson this week that he needed to make an immediate return to L.A.'s otherwise-thin bench now that Gasol is healthy. He has pretty much silenced all those old knocks about his focus and dependability. Odom, at 30, is doing more as he gets older, not less.
Even though only 7 percent of the league's population is left-handed, there are lots of big men to choose from for this squad. New York's David Lee, Golden State's Andris Biedrins and Indiana's Troy Murphy are all warmly appreciated here and ESPN colleague/famed retired lefty Jalen Rose chided me for leaving Memphis' Zach Randolph out of the lineup. However You can quibble about designating Bosh as a pure center, but there can't be much debate about his standing as the league's pre-eminent lefty big man. Although it has to help that he has more offensive talent around him in Toronto than ever before, Bosh is playing with a ferocity and a consistency we haven't seen before in the run to his much-anticipated foray into free agency. "Obviously, one thing I think everyone notices right off the bat is that he's bulked up," says Raptors guard Jarrett Jack, who sees the change more than most since he roomed with Bosh for a year at Georgia Tech. You'll also notice some seriously beefed-up statistical production when you examine Bosh's first month of the new season. Playing two minutes less per game than last season, Bosh is averaging better than four points and two rebounds more per game than he did in 2008-09, nudging his averages up to 26.8 points and 12.2 rebounds. The problem? At the rate Toronto is giving up points these days? Raps fans are either going to have to see their team mix in some defense soon, or get some sort of positive signal from Bosh about his forthcoming free agency, to enjoy any of this.
My man-crush on Redd's shot-making is old news. The impossibly quick and gorgeous lefty release. The way he turned himself into a shooter after he got drafted by living in the gym until he had transformed himself into a 3-point bomber. The journey from collegian who barely shot 30 percent on 3s at Ohio State to All-Star and Olympian. I'm still a sucker for all that. I am in spite of the longstanding complains about Redd's game being too one-dimensional as well as the knee injury that limited him to 33 games last season. I'm well aware of the rampant skepticism about Redd's ability to ever shake his knee problems and get back to being the scorer he was at his peak. But I'm the eternal optimist when it comes to lefties. So if Redd finally does recover -- after lasting only two games this season before returning to the rehab room -- Milwaukee will have my favorite guard tandem in the league. Two explosive lefties? Yet we have to concede, when we finally calm down, that it remains to be seen whether Redd and Jennings can actually find enough shots to share and play together. And you have to believe that the onus will be on the vet, as opposed to the youngster, when it comes to fitting in. Especially with Redd approaching the final year on his contract at a whopping $18.3 million in 2010-11. "It'll be Redd's problem," one Eastern Conference observer said this week. "Not Jennings' problem."
Bucks coach Scott Skiles is right. It is way too soon for the Tiny Archibald talk. Although he's mostly remembered in this household for the blasted Achilles' injury that prevented him from playing a single game for Buffalo after my beloved (but doomed) Braves traded for him in 1977, Archibald is the only player in NBA history to lead the league in scoring and assists in the same season. Jennings? He's played a total of nine NBA games. But it is most certainly not too soon to put the 20-year-old on the closest thing there is to an official All-Lefty Team. Not after Jennings went scoreless in the first quarter against Golden State and then rung up 55 points in the next three quarters, breaking a record that stood for nearly 50 years. You can look it up: Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 points in the NBA in his eighth game as a pro, but Jennings did so in only seven. We don't know how he's going to cope physically with the NBA grind or how he'll handle teams game-planning for him in greater detail with each passing week. What we already do know, though, is that Jennings has instantly infused the Bucks with a sense of chic that they haven't had in ages. Maybe dating all the way to their powerhouse teams in the 1980s. Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and Andrew Bogut are No. 1 overall picks of recent vintage, but the little guy who fell to the Bucks at No. 10 in June is the first Buck in ages who has really made the nation pay attention. So he has to be my point guard.
Don't want to hear about the injury woes that left him one-legged in the 2008 Western Conference finals and dragged him all the way out of the 2009 playoffs. Not going to listen when you try to tell me he's an old 32. Manu? His contributions to three Spurs championships in the space of seven seasons and the frequent doses of un-Spurs-like flair make it impossible to omit Ginobili. Demoralizing as it has to be for the Spurs to know that they didn't make it to Thanksgiving without Ginobili (groin), Tony Parker (ankle) and Tim Duncan (ankle) all missing time with the sort of injuries that will only fuel the perception that all those playoff miles are wearing them down, Manu is still widely regarded as the most influential sixth man of his generation. I can't argue: Wednesday night was an undeniable downer. In the Spurs' locker room before the game, when informed about the story I was planning, Ginobili playfully volunteered Toni Kukoc, former teammate David Robinson and Argentine tennis legend Guillermo Vilas as his favorite all-time lefties. The mood was light. Less than two hours later, Ginobili was out of the game with a fresh groin injury. Yet we've seen too much dependability and creativity for too long from Ginobili -- who's just 32 -- to give this spot to a pretty deserving Philly kid named Thaddeus Young. Not yet, Thad. Not quite.
ESPN senior writer Marc Stein |
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The Warriors are understandably thrilled to have found a trade-taker so quickly for Stephen Jackson, having privately feared that one more blowup from their disgruntled former captain would have made moving him near-impossible.
Golden State is likewise scoffing at the suggestion -- and rightfully so -- that they should have taken Cleveland's trade offer instead of Charlotte's. The Cavs not only tried to extract a first-round pick from the Warriors as a sweetener for taking on Jackson's three-year contract extension worth nearly $28 million, according to sources close to the situation, but it's believed they also would have asked the Warriors to release Delonte West after completing the trade.
Had Golden State done that deal, even assuming it would have rejected any suggestion of including draft compensation, its only return for Jackson would have been payroll relief in the form of a signed-and-traded Wally Szczerbiak (to a three-year deal with only one season guaranteed) and the long-term savings from waiving West immediately. League rules would have then enabled Cleveland to re-sign West after a 30-day wait, as seen last season when Antonio McDyess went back to Detroit after the Pistons dealt him to Denver in the Allen Iverson deal.
In the Charlotte scenario, Golden State got a player it can actually use this season (Vladimir Radmanovic) as well as some $21 million in long-term savings. The Warriors would naturally prefer to have a healthy Raja Bell, too, but sources with knowledge of Golden State's thinking insist that the Warriors took Bell back knowing full well that season-ending wrist surgery was inevitable for the former Phoenix Suns defensive ace. They like the idea of Bell's bringing some fresh leadership and statesmanship to an unsettled locker room but wanted Bell's $5.3 million expiring contract above all.
Dealing with Charlotte did create a trade exception for the Bobcats worth just more than $3 million that will be good for a year. And there's one more footnote to file away: Jackson can be traded again by the Bobcats through Jan. 16 as long as he's not packaged with another Bobcats player.
After Jan. 16, Charlotte can package Jackson with other players through the Feb. 18 trade deadline. We pass that along just in case adding Jackson doesn't lift Charlotte into playoff contention and the Bobcats decide to make him available to one of the teams (such as Cleveland or San Antonio) Jackson stated publicly that he hoped to join.
Some numbers of note from the West this week:
13: Phoenix has scored at least 100 points in all 13 games this season, which is the NBA's longest such streak since Chicago and Golden State did so in their first 19 and 18 games, respectively, in the 1991-92 season. The Suns haven't had a streak like this to start a season since 1988-89, when they hit triple digits in each of their first 20 games.
20: Portland's Brandon Roy has scored 20 points or fewer in eight of his past 10 games. Even stranger, Roy made 42 trips to the free-throw line in three games played in October and has since made just 46 trips to the line in 10 games played in November.
1,010: That's how many points separate Jerry West (25,192) from Kobe Bryant (24,182) on the Lakers' all-time scoring charts after Bryant became the No. 2 scorer in team history Thursday night with 21 points in L.A.'s rout of Chicago. Bryant also became one of just three players in NBA history with at least 100 40-point games this week, reaching triple digits his 40 points Tuesday in a home win over Detroit. Only Wilt Chamberlain (271) and Michael Jordan (173) are ahead of him on that list.
2.6: Entering Thursday's win over the Bulls, Bryant was averaging 2.6 buckets per game from the 10-to-15-foot range this season. That's nearly double Bryant's average of 1.4 last season and reflects his increased reliance on post-ups.
14: Denver has won 14 consecutive regular-season home games, dating back to last season, entering the weekend.
Q: After the season you had in Indiana, how unexpected was it to end up in Toronto in free agency?
A: The free-agent market is something that you don't really choose. It kind of chooses you. When I looked at the free-agent market, I didn't think Toronto was a team that would come courting me because obviously they play Jose [Calderon] so many minutes. I thought they pretty much had their backcourt situation set and [that] they were going to bring back Anthony Parker. But they made some room for me and the opportunity presented itself.
Q: I know it's been kind of an up-and-down start but how do you see your role evolving with this team?
A: I think they wanted some toughness and wanted to find people that can bring some scoring off the bench. And I think I bring both of those qualities. They just kept telling me [back in July] that even if they didn't play Jose and me together that there could be room for me at the 1 or the 2 spot.
Q: What's your reaction when you hear people talk about your presence here helping the Raptors hang onto Chris Bosh?
A: It's going to take more than me to keep Chris here. It's going to take us playing well, us playing at a very high level, if we're going to keep a player of his caliber here.
Q: But your presence can only help, right?
A: I think so. Any time you can get together with someone on a daily basis that you're close with -- someone you can actually call a friend and not just a co-worker -- I think that helps anywhere. If you were in a position where you were thinking about leaving and they brought in your best friend to work side-by-side with you every single day, I think it would help.
Q: You guys were that close at Georgia Tech?
A: We were roommates. First time away from home, growing up, getting a sense of independence we went through that transition together.
[But] he was just as surprised as I was when I told him the news about me possibly coming [to Toronto]. He was really happy. And when it finally went down it seemed like a surreal situation.
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Suns' Jason Richardson, like LeBron James and anyone else who might consider switching from No. 23 to a new number next season, would have to formally request that change through the league by March 5. (See Box 7.)
|Player||New No.||Old No.|
|Chauncey Billups (Nuggets)||1||7|
|Jordan Farmar (Lakers)||1||5|
|Tracy McGrady (Rockets)||3||1|
|Nate Robinson (Knicks)||2||4|
|J.R. Smith (Nuggets)||5||1|
|Martell Webster (Blazers)||23||8|
This season's 13 players who currently wear No. 23(Listed in alphabetical order) Devin Brown (Hornets)
Marcus Camby (Clippers)
Toney Douglas (Knicks)
Stephen Graham (Bobcats)
LeBron James (Cavaliers)
Kevin Martin (Kings)
Jodie Meeks (Bucks)
B.J. Mullens (Thunder)
Jason Richardson (Suns)
C.J. Watson (Warriors)
Martell Webster (Trail Blazers)
Lou Williams (76ers)
Celtics executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge was adamant Wednesday in a radio interview with Boston's WEEI-AM that he is not close and never was close to joining Philadelphia and Sacramento in a three-team deal that would bring Andres Nocioni to the Celts.
So unless that changes, Philadelphia and Sacramento will have to find another third party to help them complete a deal they've been exploring that would essentially swap Samuel Dalembert for Kenny Thomas.
ESPN.com reported Tuesday that the Sixers and Kings -- in talks described as exploratory -- tried to recruit Boston to be the third team in a deal that would send Philadelphia's Dalembert to Sacramento and Thomas' $8.8 million expiring contract from the Kings back to the Sixers.
According to NBA front-office sources, Philadelphia and Sacramento initially discussed a deal featuring Dalembert and Thomas, but the Kings wanted the Sixers to take back Nocioni instead of Thomas' cap-friendly contract. The search then began for a third team, with Boston inevitably targeted after the Celtics' widely reported interest in Nocioni around the trade deadline in February as soon as Sacramento first acquired the rugged Argentine from Chicago.
Ainge, though, insists that he is not talking with either team.
As our initial report stated, just as in February, Nocioni's contract would make it very hard for the Celts to join in even if Ainge wanted to proceed. The Celts have had a need for a versatile forward since the free-agent departure of James Posey, but Nocioni has two seasons worth $13.5 million on his contract after this season as well as a team option worth $7.5 million for 2012-13. That's a big expenditure for another role player after Boston just signed Rajon Rondo to a lucrative extension and with decisions about the futures of Paul Pierce and Ray Allen looming.
Yet Philadelphia remains determined to move Dalembert, who's earning just over $12 million this season and is scheduled to earn $12.9 million next season. Dalembert's agent, Marc Cornstein, has had the blessing of Sixers management since February to help assemble a workable deal after the Sixers said they would try to honor Dalembert's request to be traded.
The Kings have shown a fluctuating level of interest in adding Dalembert as a third big man to a frontcourt rotation headlined by youngsters Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes. To make a three-teamer with Boston work, Sacramento would have been required to send Thomas to Philadelphia along with Boston's Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine. The Kings would have received Dalembert and Boston's J.R. Giddens, with the Celtics getting Nocioni.
One source close to the situation insists that Philly is still prepared to move Dalembert -- if it can fetch payroll relief through expiring contracts in return -- even after the recent injury to Marreese Speights sliced into the Sixers' frontcourt depth.
Some numbers of note from the East this week:
1: After grabbing 15 boards in Thursday's loss to the Lakers, Chicago's Joakim Noah has failed to reach double digits in rebounds only once in 11 games this season. Tops in the league in rebounding at 12.6 rips per game at this early juncture, Noah is trying to become the first Bull to lead the NBA in rebounding since Dennis Rodman did it three times in the 1990s.
18: Since Rodman's rookie season in 1986-87, Detroit's Ben Wallace has recorded 18 games with at least 10 rebounds and zero points -- including Wednesday's zero and 12 in Portland -- which is second only to Rodman's 27 such games in that span.
4: Just as a reminder of the damage he could once inflict -- or maybe provide Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings with a new target -- allow us to bring up Allen Iverson's four consecutive games with at least 40 points late in his rookie season. Still searching for his fifth NBA team after the Knicks decided against signing him, Iverson scored 44, 40, 44 and 50 points in that streak in April 1997.
12: Al Harrington has a dozen 20-point games in his 15 reunions with Indiana, including Harrington's 26 points Wednesday in New York's big comeback road victory over the team that drafted Harrington in 1998. Harrington's career scoring average of 22.9 points against Indy is his highest against any opposing team.
17.4: Indiana's Dahntay Jones awoke Friday morning averaging 17.4 points per game with his new team after averaging 5.4 points last season with Denver.
If not the Knicks, then where?
Where can Allen Iverson go to ensure that his final NBA act is not a three-game stint with the Memphis Grizzlies -- all road games -- during which he averaged just 12.3 points per game?
There honestly appears to be no answer for that one.
Not a single team besides the Knicks has shown any interest in scooping Iverson up since he left Memphis and cleared waivers. If that landscape doesn't change, A.I.'s earnings for the season will amount to the $437,609 he earned from the Grizzlies, leaving the rest of his original $3.1 million contract from the Grizzlies behind to become a free agent.
I suppose there's always a chance that someone will get desperate as the playoffs approach and consider taking a gamble on Iverson's veteran know-how and what's left of his scoring ability provided Iverson is willing to accept what would inevitably be role-player minutes.
But when the Knicks ultimately take a pass -- given that Iverson is still an undeniable upgrade on Chris Duhon and given New York's clear desperation to give fans something approaching entertainment to survive the long slog ahead until 2010 free agency arrives July 1 -- you really start to believe that Iverson's NBA options might be exhausted.
Of the 90 current members in the Basketball Hall of Fame who played in the NBA, only two -- Walt Bellamy (one game for New Orleans in 1974-75) and Walt Frazier (three games for Cleveland in 1979-80) -- played three games or fewer in their final NBA season. If Iverson ever reaches the Hall and this indeed turns out to be his NBA farewell, we'll have to add him to that list.
In his weekly visit with the NBA on ESPN Radio pre-game show, Marc Stein joins host Marc Kestecher to discuss several of the latest developments around the league, including the Knicks' original motivations for the since-canceled pursuit of the suddenly available Allen Iverson, Atlanta's rise to the top of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings and the impact of Travis Outlaw's injury in Portland.