Players must be waived before March 1 to be eligible for the playoffs, and no one will be in more demand than 6-foot-11 power forward Troy Murphy, a rebounder with three-point range. The Nets wanted no part of Murphy, who played 18 games for them before they moved him in a minor deal with the Warriors, who are expected to buy him out. As recently as two years ago, Murphy converted 45 percent of his threes and averaged 11.8 rebounds in 34 minutes a game for the Pacers.
The Celtics believe they can lure Murphy to provide length and rebounding in place of departed center Kendrick Perkins, though a league source said Murphy is also considering Miami at the top of his list. If the Celtics are able to essentially replace Perkins with Murphy as well as 6-9 combo forward Jeff Green and 7-footer Nenad Krstic, who were acquired in the Thursday deal with Oklahoma City, then the controversial trade will make more sense to the Boston veterans who have to be questioning the departure of their center.
(In a side note, I don't necessarily buy the talk that Green is the best player in that trade. He puts up bigger numbers and of course he is more versatile offensively than Perkins, but stats don't convey Perkins' value. The Thunder are viewing him as an indispensable part of an eventual title contender. They hope to convert from a finesse team to a two-way unit that will defend the basket and adapt to the nastier style of postseason basketball, and Perkins' arrival will instantly make them more intimidating this spring. As for the Celtics, it's now difficult to articulate their identity as a team: If Shaquille O'Neal isn't playing the majority of the minutes at center, who will provide the post presence that helped define them at both ends of the floor? Did the Celtics surrender their rugged advantage against Miami now that they can't hope to keep Perkins or Shaq on the floor at all times? Green may turn into a valuable asset for both the short- and long-term, but let's see how this trade and the ensuing buyout acquisitions influence each team before deciding whether Perkins or Green is the superior asset.)
The Heat have long been rumored as a destination for former Knicks center Eddy Curry, who had played 10 games over the past three seasons before New York packaged his expiring contract to Minnesota as part of the Anthony trade. Miami will also be interested in point guard T.J. Ford, should his wish for a buyout be granted by the Pacers.
Other buyout candidates include three-point shooters Rasual Butler and Jason Kapono; big men Joel Przybilla (who will be coveted by all the contenders if he is interested in continuing his career after being dealt to Charlotte) and Darius Songaila; defenders Jared Jeffries (who is expected to return to New York) and Leon Powe (who could return to Boston); and recent Knicks pickups Corey Brewer, Renaldo Balkman and Anthony Carter.
Murphy should be attractive to all the contenders. As for the remainder of these buyout candidates, the Spurs, Mavericks, Lakers and Bulls are generally expected to have less interest in pursuing them than the Celtics, Heat and Magic, who have short-term needs to be filled going into the playoffs.
Nuggets coach George Karl won't agree with this assessment, as he believes his team's newfound depth and potential commitment to defense can keep them in playoff contention following the trade of Anthony and Chauncey Billups to the Knicks.
But other teams view Denver and Utah as teams in recession now that each has surrendered its franchise star in a trade. If the Nuggets and Jazz slide into the lottery, room will be created for the Grizzlies (who added Shane Battier but held on to O.J. Mayo after the last-minute breakdown of an attempted trade with Indiana) and the Suns (who added Aaron Brooks as a potential long-term replacement for Steve Nash) to claim the last two playoff spots.
Three second-tier Western playoff teams improved for the stretch run. The Thunder are a more intimidating postseason team with Perkins; the Hornets added another low-post scorer by trading for Carl Landry from Sacramento; and the Trail Blazers strengthened their perimeter by acquiring hyper-aggressive small forward Gerald Wallace from Charlotte. The heavily injured Blazers had considered surrendering talent for future prospects and draft picks, but their success around the newfound leadership of LaMarcus Aldridge persuaded them to hold on to center Marcus Camby in order to maintain a challenge for this season.
Apart from the Celtics and their ever-bold president, Danny Ainge, the championship favorites had a quiet week. The Mavericks were interested in moving Caron Butler's expiring contract for Tayshaun Prince, who would have helped Dallas at both ends of the floor without any risk of damaging team chemistry, but the Pistons weren't interested. The Bulls tried to land a shooting guard, but the Grizzlies weren't interested in dealing Mayo -- at least, not to Chicago.
The Spurs, Heat and Lakers had little they were willing or able to trade, which is a function of their success -- most of their investments are indispensable, and those that are available (if you believe the Lakers would love to dump Ron Artest) are too expensive to be moved in this market. The Heat wanted to improve but lacked tradable assets. The Magic were thought to need more size to match up with Boston, but the Celtics traded away that advantage by sending Perkins to Oklahoma City.
The Cavaliers claimed they were interested in Baron Davis as a talent, in addition to the first-round pick that accompanied him in the trade that sent Mo Williams to the Clippers. But does his arrival also signal the likelihood of an amnesty clause in the next collective bargaining agreement?
Davis was thought to be untradable because he has two full years remaining at a total of $28.7 million. With the owners seeking a hard salary cap next season, there is talk of each team's being provided "amnesty" to dump one or more players: They would be paid their salaries, but their money would vanish from the team's cap commitment. Cleveland's Dan Gilbert is one of the more influential owners in the current CBA negotiations, and he is ambitious enough to be willing to someday dump Davis' salary in exchange for a pick that could hasten his team's rebuilding.
New point guard Devin Harris became an All-Star in 2008-09 when Nets coach Lawrence Frank installed a dribble-drive offense to exploit his skills. Utah's traditional offense is the antithesis of the dribble-drive.
Now that Jerry Sloan is no longer in charge after 23 years, expect Utah's offense to adapt to Harris' skills.
"I think there is a little wiggle room," Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor said. "We've got a new coach. Ty [Corbin] shouldn't do everything Jerry did, because he's not Jerry. That's one of the things you look at."
The questions are fabricated, my answers are for real.
"I look in the mirror and what do I see? The NBA's biggest bargain."-- S.O.N., Boston
Shaquille O'Neal, the Celtics spent $1.4 million on your salary, and now their championship hopes depend on you. It is amazing how the game always comes back to you. The Lakers won with you, the Heat won with you, the Cavaliers hoped to win with you and now the Celtics can't win without you. You are going to be 39 early next month, and all of your greatest former teammates -- Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami, Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles -- are lining up to greet you in the playoffs. I foresee the makings of a tremendous book in your future.
"This is a strange league. I worked at a place where nothing changed for 23 years. Then everything changed. Now I'm on the other side of the country and people want me to commit long-term? I don't even know where I'm going to live."-- D.W., Newark, N.J.
Deron Williams, all you need to do is remind people that Carmelo demanded a trade to New York, but you were surprised by your trade to New Jersey.
But there is an opportunity with the Nets for you to explore. In Utah, you were the best player on the last of the coach-driven NBA teams. Sloan defined that franchise, but now the Nets are inviting you to define their team. You are a demanding, bottom-line star, and now you have a chance to create an environment to your liking. Will you lead an eventual championship contender? You have more say in the future than you have ever known.
"When can we expect to begin beating the best teams? Shouldn't we have turned the corner by now?"-- L.J., Miami
LeBron James, you are going to look back on the Heat's current 1-7 record against the Celtics, Mavericks, Lakers and Bulls -- following your 93-89 loss in Chicago on Thursday -- and recognize that it helped you. Name another championship player in modern times who wasn't humbled along the way. Hunger enforces the discipline that made champions of wing players or playmakers like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. As smart as you are with the ball, I bet you've never learned more about basketball than you're learning this season.
How to keep your local team from moving to another city.This comes from Amber Williams, who heads the grassroots campaign to keep the Kings in Sacramento. The website SacDeflated.com was launched last Sunday, the day after NBA commissioner David Stern disclosed that Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof had been in talks to move the franchise to Anaheim. Williams is president of Glass Agency, a Sacramento-based advertising firm that has led the way in funding the pro bono $150,000 campaign to support the development of a new arena. This week, the Maloofs asked the NBA for an extension of the deadline to permit them to move to a new market this year."This means one thing," Sacramento mayor and former NBA All-STar Kevin Johnson said. "They are trying to cut a deal to leave."
"We had been planning this campaign for a couple of weeks," Williams said, "and then we heard the rumor that something was going on last weekend. I was born and raised in this city, I went to college locally, I love Sacramento and I love the Kings. They're a part of our city, they have been here for more than 25 years.
"I think -- I hope -- that the final decision hasn't been made and that there's room to negotiate. What has been missing is the citizens' voice, and our intention is to rally that voice for the Kings and carry that voice through the city and the government. Our power is in the numbers, and the more people who come to our website or show their support, the more voice we will have. We need to rally the community to help create a new arena, and we need the support of citizens -- we need the citizens to unite and make that happen.
"The economics of a new arena are difficult, and that's a huge challenge. Being economically tight creates fear in people, and it becomes hard to think of an idea like this as an investment. There are a lot of people -- and they're vocal people -- who might look at the negative side of things and might not be as supportive. We have a lot of voices here in Sacramento that will voice their opinion through local media, and the thing I keep noting is that these people say these things and don't put their names to it. They use an online handle and they can say these things that are just terrible, they are disparaging to people, and it's just unfair. I hope deep down in my heart it's a smaller group that believes they can do this because they never have to show their face. If people have to put their names behind what they say, I hope they'll think twice about it and see the Kings as part of the fabric of our city.
"What we've seen already on our SacDeflated site is that so many people are stepping up. I can't tell you that people never stepped up before, but I have to believe that many of them now are stepping up maybe for the first time, and it's 99 percent positive. It's really exciting and wonderful, and maybe these people had not felt the urgency to express the positive, or maybe they didn't have a place to express it. They haven't had a place where they could feel they have a voice as sports fans.
"We've also put up four billboards with a headline that reads "GAME OVER." The 'O' is a deflated basketball representing how we think Sacramento will feel if the Kings do leave.
"We don't have any other professional sports teams in Sacramento, but we're one of the top 20 media markets. If the Kings were to leave, we'd be fine in terms of having the other great things that people love about our city. But in terms of being taken seriously as a city in a national context, that would be taken away if the Kings were to leave. In my business I seek out clients on a national stage, and when I go out to pitch an advertising campaign and I say I'm from Sacramento, it's hard to be taken seriously because Sacramento is not seen as a top-tier city. Losing the Kings would make that worse. People want to move to a place that's thriving and alive, and Sacramento is all of that. But to lose our professional sports team would take away a lot of the appeal of people moving here.
"I think local government is behind us. I feel there's still hope that the Kings will stay. But if the writing is already on the wall and they're going, the way I look at it is that we couldn't later on complain about it if we hadn't stepped up and tried to do something about it while we could. That's what we're doing right now."
• With a GM.On how a new collective bargaining agreement could help small-market teams hold on to players: "You talk about a franchise tag for players, but wouldn't that only keep them for one year? Maybe we're looking at rookie contracts that go four years, and then a three-year extension with restricted free agency built in."
But that amounts to seven years -- which is no longer than the length of service LeBron and Chris Bosh provided to their former teams before leaving last summer.
"I don't have a good answer for you," he said. "I don't know what the answer is."
• With an agent.Responding to speculation that coaches' and executives' salaries will be capped in some way by the owners starting new season: "It's not going to happen because it would be a blatant violation of anti-trust laws. This is the same way things have been communicated to the players. There are a lot of scare tactics toward the players, and they've been very effective. I'm sure there's a little truth in that coaches' salaries will come down, but it can't be outright collusion. If high-powered teams like the Knicks and Lakers are competing for a coach, do you think they aren't going to pay the money it takes to bring him in if they think he can do the job for them?"
• With another GM.On concerns about the new CBA affecting this year's trading season: "Last week everybody was talking about upcoming labor issues? Didn't we all know about this in July, when all of those contracts were being handed out? I don't see how you hand out a big four- or five-year deal in July and now all of a sudden you're worried about labor issues."
It turns out he was right: The anticipation of a lockout and a new CBA didn't have a chilling effect on trades at the deadline.
Looking ahead to the 2012 Olympics. You won't hear anyone from USA Basketball discussing this because it is the third rail of their sport, but the anticipation of a lockout this summer has added to the importance of the American gold medal at the FIBA World Championship last summer in Turkey.
That victory provided the U.S. with automatic qualification to the Olympics next year in London. Had the Americans not prevailed last summer, they would have been forced to pull together a team for the qualifying tournament at the same time as the players are expecting to be locked out. During the last lockout, NBA players pulled out of the 1998 World Championship. A U.S. team of replacement players won the bronze medal that summer in Greece.
Apart from the influence of labor negotiations, the U.S. looks ahead to the Olympics with an enormous pool of talent.
"Coach K said it the best," USAB men's national team director Sean Ford said in quoting coach Mike Krzyzewski. "He said the nice thing about our player pool right now is that we have two sets of champions. We have champions for 2008 [from the Olympics] and we have champions for 2010."
The championship last summer was an affirmation of chairman Jerry Colangelo's original plan to run USA Basketball as a program. The team approached last summer's event with a group of young players who were inexperienced in FIBA tournaments.
"You could say it was an inexperienced team," Ford said, "but we had an experienced coaching staff. They were able to make the team more experienced than it would have been. The coaches knew what they needed to do, they knew where they were every step of the way. So an experienced coaching staff overcame an inexperienced group of players.
"We've never had a team from the first day of training camp all the way to the end get better a little bit each day, to reach a peak that was maybe beyond our expectation when we started the team."
There was a leap-of-faith aspect to last year's success. Instead of relying on Kobe, LeBron and Wade to dominate the competition, the U.S. instead had to develop a championship team from the ground up. Everyone around USAB had preached that talent can't win without commitment, and the team last summer went on to prove the importance of that commitment.
Asked to name the ingredients of a winning program as learned from last summer, Ford said: "Experience in the coaching staff, and hungry players who want to be there, who are all looking to make a statement individually -- but also knowing the way they really make a statement is by working collectively.
"Because of the circumstances, that was a direction we had to take," Ford said of the reliance on unproven players. "We learned a lot, but I don't know if we would have taken that direction if we'd had every option at our disposal. So you end up learning that you can get better as you go along. You don't have to be a great team on Day 1, but you need to get a little bit better each day, and you can be great when you need to be."
Bryant has committed to the 2012 Olympics, but James has indicated he is waiting to find out whether Miami teammates Wade and Bosh are going to be involved. But now the program can go forward with confidence of developing alternatives.
The 2008 Olympic team.These gold medalists have created a lot of news over the years. Read through this list for a better understanding of the overwhelming trend that helped persuade the Jazz to preemptively trade point guard Deron Williams this week.
• Kobe Bryant -- demanded a trade from the Lakers in 2007 (later recanted).
• Jason Kidd -- demanded a trade from the Nets and was moved to the Mavericks in 2007
• LeBron James -- left the Cavaliers to join the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal as a free agent in 2010
• Chris Bosh -- left the Raptors to join the Heat in a sign-and-trade deal as a free agent in 2010
• Dwyane Wade -- visited other teams as a free agent in 2010 before re-signing with the Heat
• Carlos Boozer -- left the Jazz to join the Bulls in a sign-and-trade deal as a free agent in 2010
• Carmelo Anthony -- demanded a trade from the Nuggets and was moved to the Knicks this week
• Dwight Howard -- rumored to be interested in joining the Lakers as a free agent in 2012
• Chris Paul -- raised a toast to the possibility of joining Amar'e Stoudemire and Anthony in New York, will be a free agent in 2012
• Tayshaun Prince -- recently acknowledged he would accept a trade if the Pistons moved him to a winning team
• Michael Redd -- taken off the market after suffering major knee injuries in 2009 and 2010
• Deron Williams -- traded by the Jazz to the Nets to avoid his potential departure as a free agent in 2012