With the trade deadline exactly a month away, things are starting to heat up in earnest as teams try to acquire talent for a potential playoff run or, conversely, other teams attempt to unload players and shed salaries.
In speaking with multiple executives around the league, it appears Portland, Denver and Oklahoma City are the most active teams trying to acquire players, in part because all three believe they are a big man away from taking the next step.
For obvious reasons, the Blazers are searching high and low for somebody to replace injured centers Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla, leaving them with soon-to-be 37-year-old Juwan Howard as their starting center. The Blazers are in the fifth year of their rebuilding under Nate McMillan, and they'd like to take the next step in their development.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have a fantastic starting front line, but the depth behind Carmelo Anthony, Nene and Kenyon Martin is lacking a bit. Adding one more big man would make Denver's front office feel a lot less apprehensive about heading into the postseason having to rely solely on ChrisAndersen.
Oklahoma City is in an altogether different mode, but would like to add a complement to center Nenad Krstic nonetheless. The Thunder aren't trying to find a short-term fix for a run in the postseason, but are focusing more on their long-term goal of building a sustainable winner. Oklahoma City is one victory away from matching its win total for last season, and though making a decision for immediate success is tempting, Thunder general manager Sam Presti is going to place a premium on patience and prudence.
So, who's out there?
Well, just about anybody on the Washington Wizards' roster is available, though GM Ernie Grunfeld is not going to just give away his assets. If a team makes a legitimate offer, Antawn Jamison could be had. Clippers forward-center Marcus Camby also is available, and rejoining the Nuggets could be an interesting dynamic for Camby, whose contract expires after the season. The Sixers are thought to be dangling Samuel Dalembert, and the Nets are listening to offers for Yi Jianlian. Carlos Boozer's name also is always out there, but acquiring the Utah power forward would be more than just finding a complementary player; that would require the fundamental restructuring of a team.
Expect those named to be thrown around more and more as the Feb. 18 deadline approaches.
It's being called the "Nuclear Option."
Imagine if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh decided to take pay cuts from their max contracts and all signed with the same team and spent the next five years trying to win as many championships as they could.
Not going to happen, Wade said.
Not because he doesn't think it couldn't. But because he's not willing to take a pay cut.
When I presented the option to him recently, he laughed for about five seconds before answering.
"I ain't heard that. I ain't heard that. My first time hearing that one," Wade snickered. "I got two kids, man, I got to think of them. I ain't never thought of that one. But I'm cool on that right now."
Cool. As in, frigid to the idea.
Those three players do face an interesting dynamic, though, when they sit down with their teams to negotiate a deal this summer. They obviously want to know what plans each team has for building a winner around them. But free agents are not going to sign with the team until and unless they know that Wade, for instance, will be in Miami.
It's the classic chicken and egg. Does Wade sign with the Heat before other free agents are brought in? Or does he have to see quality free agents signed before he makes a decision?
"It's the business side of it, and that is the battle we were going through a little bit this summer," Wade said. "When the offseason comes, you sit down and you see what the future is like for your organization and for yourself. I don't know what the future holds. All I know is we are going to sit down at the end of the year and have a conversation and we'll go from there.
"But it will work out if it's meant to be. And I think both sides are confident in that."
There is a growing sentiment among league executives that the Wizards should not be permitted to void the contract of Gilbert Arenas. It's a funny thing, really, because if the Wizards are successful at voiding the contract, it would make it easier for teams to void the contracts of other players in the future should moral clauses be violated.
However, this is where the competitive edge of sports arises: Rival teams want Washington to be held accountable for giving Arenas such a large contract when it knew it was dealing with a quirky personality.
In theory, a premium should be placed on the due diligence teams should show before they grant such large amounts of money to players. If the Wizards were allowed to void the contract, it would hypothetically give them more cap space to pursue some of the players in this summer's crop of free agents, thus making it that much more difficult for other teams to bid.
And that's the real reason other teams wants Washington to be stuck with Arenas.
I was having a conversation with Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles on Friday night about how long ago it was that he was playing for the Orlando Magic and set the single-game all-time assists record of 30. It was on Dec. 30, 1990, against the Nuggets.
Shaquille O'Neal joined that Magic team two years later, and Skiles played with him for a year before joining the Washington Bullets, where I covered Skiles for a season.
He was trying to recount the players remaining in the league with whom he played. O'Neal and Juwan Howard immediately came to mind. And then he said a strange thing: "Jerry Stackhouse."
I looked at him quizzically.
"Well, he's not playing in the league, but he could still play for anyone."
The Bucks signed Stackhouse on Sunday.
The first thought that came to mind when I saw Utah's Sundiata Gaines drain a buzzer-beating three to beat Cleveland last week was: Why is Jerry Sloan allowing a player on a 10-day contract to take the game-winning shot against one of the best teams in the league?
Certainly, that question would have been asked had Gaines missed. But Sloan's philosophy is that there are only a couple of percentage points separating a good three-point shooter and a bad three-point shooter in the NBA. And a warm body makes up the difference, so it doesn't make sense to replace a player who's been in the game with one who's been sitting on the bench, even if the bench player has a higher shooting percentage.
Turns out, Sloan was right, as was Jazz radio play-by-play announcer DavidLocke, who predicted Gaines' winning shot.
This is the difference between the veteran leadership of Sloan and the inexperience of a coach like Oklahoma City's Scott Brooks. The night after the Jazz beat Cleveland, the Mavericks and Thunder were in a close game. With Dallas leading 99-98, Jason Terry missed two free throws with 4.7 seconds remaining. Unlike Sloan, who had saved one last timeout that helped set up Gaines' game-winner, Brooks did not have a timeout to call. That left Russell Westbrook to sprint up the floor and take a three from beyond half-court rather than getting a better look, like the one Gaines had.
Brooks will learn. But it takes time -- and a few losses.
A week ago, Cartier Martin was playing for the D-League's Iowa Energy. Last Monday, because of the Warriors' extensive injury woes, the 6-foot-7 Martin found himself in an NBA game -- guarding LeBron James.
"You see him on TV all the time and I'd always wonder, 'Can I guard him?' " Martin said. "Of course, I am never going to think I can't guard somebody. But I like a challenge.
"I think I did pretty well against him, to be honest with you. I don't think I did horrible. He is one of the best guys in the league. He is going to get shots, he is going to get fouls, but I did my best to contain him. I did what I could do."
James had 37 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and four blocks in the Cleveland win, though, to be fair to Martin, 15 of those points came in the low block against Corey Maggette in the fourth quarter.
One last acknowledgement of longtime Sonics broadcaster Bob Blackburn, who died Jan. 8 at age 85. Blackburn was the team's announcer from its inception in 1967 until 1992, when he handed over the microphone duties to Kevin Calabro. Blackburn was a sweet, classy man who loved the time he spent with that organization and is considered an icon in the Pacific Northwest.
Slick Watts once said of Blackburn, who has a banner hanging in KeyArena: "He always made me sound like the player I wanted to be. Bob would make me sound like I was 7 feet tall on the radio."
I sat with Bob a few years ago and asked him to recount the best basketball game he ever called.
"It was not even an NBA game," Blackburn said. "It was when Seattle U. was playing a team at an arena in Vancouver, Wash. And Elgin Baylor grabbed a rebound under the basket with one second left and threw it the length of the floor. He swished it to win. It was the most incredible shot I've ever seen."