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kerosene
04-26-2004, 07:36 PM
Francis, Pierce could be on the block
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Monday, April 26

The dream is over.

Remember when the Memphis Grizzlies were the team nobody wanted to
play in the first round? Well it sure didn't take the Spurs long to
get over their fears.

A four-game sweep of the Grizzlies is by far the most impressive
feat of any playoff team so far. The Grizzlies were deep, well
coached and stoked to be in the playoffs for the first time in
franchise history. So what happens? Tony Parker and Tim Duncan
systematically dismantle them.

The Grizzlies' demise, combined with the quick kills of the Celtics
and Knicks, brings into focus the other reality of this time of the
year. It isn't just the lottery teams that are thinking about
rebuilding.

Many of the teams in the playoffs are still works in progress. Danny
Ainge has just begun the demolition of his Celtics. The Knicks
underwent more turnover during the season than any other team in the
league. The Grizzlies are at stage two in their rebuilding process.
However, Jerry West isn't going to rest until he puts together a
team that can compete for a championship -- they aren't there yet.
Those three aren't the only teams that will look for major upgrades
this summer. The Rockets, Hornets and Mavs will likely be eliminated
in the first round. All three have fundamental flaws to their teams
that need to be corrected.

Even a few of the elite teams, like the Timberwolves, are still in
need of a tweak or two.

Last Monday, Insider broke down the list of star-caliber players who
might be dumped by lottery teams this summer. The list included
Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Elton Brand.
They won't be alone. Several playoff teams will also be looking to
make big changes this summer. Who's on the block? Who's most likely
to be traded? Where could they be heading? Insider has the answers
...
Steve Francis, PG, Rockets

It's hard to envision Steve Francis playing in Houston next
season.

Steve Francis has been trying to conform to Jeff Van Gundy's
conservative offense all season. It hasn't been a very good fit.
Francis is more of a scoring combo guard who likes to have the ball
in his hands (a la Stephon Marbury) all of the time. Van Gundy is
looking for Francis to bring the ball down, dump it into Yao and
then wait for the big fella to do his things. Both Francis and Van
Gundy have put on a happy face all season, but once the Rockets' run
is over? Expect a quick, painless divorce.

Francis has a lot of value in the league and Van Gundy should have
plenty of offers to pick from. Van Gundy wants an old school point
guard who is comfortable running an offense without taking 15 to 20
shots a night. He also wants a sharp shooting two guard who Yao can
kick it out to when the double teams come. Francis should be able to
deliver both.

Odds of trading Francis: 3-to-1

Paul Pierce, SG, Celtics

Danny Ainge is promising a significant overhaul of the team this
summer. But with little cap room, Mark Blount hitting free agency
and the team still on the hook for part of Vin Baker's contract, the
resources aren't really there to make a major splash. If he wants to
make a big move, Pierce will have to be part of the deal.

Trading Pierce isn't as bizarre as it first sounds. The team already
has two young players who can play his position -- Ricky Davis and
Jiri Welsch -- and both of them are Ainge guys. Furthermore, there
are several attractive swingmen in the draft who the Celtics could
get their hands on. What the Celtics really need is a tough,
low-post scoring option at the four and a replacement for Blount at
the five. Raef LaFrentz will give them some size up front, but he
doesn't play with his back to the basket and isn't that tough.
Pierce is the only player on the team with enough star power to
deliver that. The Celtics won't give Pierce away, but if they can
get a good young big man in return -- someone like Al Harrington or
Zach Randolph -- they'd have to seriously consider it.

Odds of trading Pierce: 6-to-1

Pau Gasol, F, Grizzlies

Gasol looked pretty good in the playoffs, but the Grizzlies still
aren't sold that he's the guy who will get them to the promised
land. Jerry West likes tough, athletic big men who rebound, block
shots and score with their backs to the basket. He still doesn't
have one of those and he desperately craves one.

Gasol is the one chip West has that could bring that type of player
in return. Gasol is by no means "on the block," but he isn't
untouchable either. West is going to make a real push to add a
"star" to this team in the summer. Without any real cap room to work
with, Gasol would have to be the bait. He'd love to add a big time
name like Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady or Elton Brand to the mix in
Memphis. If West can't get a player like that, Gasol probably stays
put and some other combo of players will be put together in an
attempt to add a tough guy or two. Either way, watch Memphis closely
this summer.

Odds of trading Gasol: 10-to-1

Wally Szczerbiak, SF, Timberwolves

Wally Szczerbiak is the odd man out of the Timberwolves'
rotation.

A season-long injury has obscured a pretty obvious scene in
Minnesota -- Wally's World has crumbled. Kevin McHale's offseason
acquisitions of Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell and Michael Olowokandi
have pretty much killed Wally's future in Minnesota. Szczerbiak
needs 15 shots a game to be effective and those shots just aren't
there anymore. Furthermore, he's never been a favorite of Kevin
Garnett's. Now that KG has formed a tight bond with Cassell and
Spree while Wally nursed his injury, Szczerbiak has a zero chance of
breaking into the clique.

There should be plenty of interest this summer for Szczerbiak.
Several teams, including the Bulls and Cavs, have been trying to
acquire him for years. The Bulls, especially, could have a lot to
offer if they were willing to throw a player like Tyson Chandler and
a re-signed Jamal Crawford into the mix for Szczerbiak. The Wolves
still need size and depth, and both players would be good fits in
Minnesota.

Odds of trading Wally: 2-to-1

Antoine Walker, F, Mavs

Antoine Walker has already worn out his welcome in Dallas, and the
Mavericks will attempt to use him as trade bait this summer in an
effort to secure more toughness in the low post. Walker's tendency
to jack shots up at will hurt the team's chemistry. He finished last
on the team in the plus/minus category and lately has been an
afterthought behind rookies like Marquis Daniels and Josh Howard.
Will anyone take Walker? The good news is that his $14.6 million
salary comes off the books after next season (assuming he doesn't
exercise his early termination option this summer). Plenty of teams
can use his offense and ball handling at his position. Cuban isn't
afraid to take bad contracts back . . . so right now it's just a
question of fit. Could the Bulls stomach one year of Walker and a
lot of years of Michael Finley (they're both locals) to get some bad
contracts (read Antonio Davis, Eddie Robinson and Jerome Williams)
off the books? Davis and Williams would give the Mavs some interior
toughness and . . . less may be more on Dallas next year . . .
especially with the emergence of both Daniels and Howard at the two
and the three.

Odds of trading Walker: 3-to-1

Jamal Mashburn, SF, Hornets

Mashburn has been feuding with the team all season because of where
he decided to rehab his injury. Mashburn decided to stay at home in
Miami to work on his rehab. That didn't set well with his teammates
or management. Tim Floyd's decision to leave Mashburn off the
playoff roster set things a blaze.

Mashburn is now claiming that his knee injury may be serious enough
to consider retirement. He obviously wants out and the Hornets won't
mind trading him. Despite an all-star performance last season,
Mashburn's history of injuries has hurt the team. If doctors give
his knee the green light, someone will take a chance on the two
years, $20 million left on his deal. If his knee really is that bad,
the Hornets could be stuck with him.

Odds of trading T-Mac: 5-to-1

Dikembe Mutombo, C, Knicks
The Knicks had no interior defense in their playoff series versus
the Nets, but they still refused to put Mutombo in the game. Mutombo
wants out and Isiah Thomas will oblige.

The funny thing is that someone will make an offer for Mutombo.
Despite having three straight teams (Philly, New Jersey and now the
Knicks) give up on him -- Mutombo is still a big man who can block
shots with the best of them. Thomas will find a team desperate
enough to take one more chance on Mutombo. The fact that he has just
one year (and $4.5 million) left on his deal will make it much
easier to swallow.

Odds of trading Mutombo: 3-to-1

Around the League

Blount out in Boston? Mark Blount had 21 points and 13 rebounds in
the Celtics' loss on Sunday. Some in Boston are now arguing that
he's the best Celtic big man since Robert Parrish.

Too bad for the Celtics that it looks like Blount is gone this
summer. Blount is an unrestricted free agent and all signs point to
him bolting the Celtics. Among his possible destinations? Miami
(where he has a summer home and the Heat have a big void in the
middle), Philly (where his favorite head coach, Jim O'Brien, has
landed) and Atlanta (they can outbid everyone else).

Both Miami and Philly have their full mid-level exception at their
disposal and could offer him a six-year deal starting at roughly $5
million per season. That's a huge pay raise over the $900,000 he
makes this year. Danny Ainge is saying publicly that the team will
re-sign him (the Celtics can offer him the same deal), but
internally they are preparing for the worst.

In a year when little went right for the Celtics, Blount's emergence
as both a low-post rebounder and scorer has been the highlight of
the year. Blount averaged 13.5 ppg and 10.3 rpg since the All-Star
break. Without him the Celtics will have just Raef LaFrentz and
second-year big man Kendrick Perkins manning the middle. There
aren't any real free agents out there who could duplicate what
Blount did this year. The draft, while loaded with big men, doesn't
have anyone in the Celtics' range who could make an immediate
impact.

Ainge blames Obie for Celtics' poor playoff performance? At least
one person in Boston wasn't surprised by the Pacers' dominance over
the Celtics in the playoffs -- Danny Ainge. Ainge didn't say "I told
you so", but it was pretty evident why he wanted his team to end up
in the lottery instead of the postseason. The Celtics were never
very competitive and little was learned in the four-game blowouts.
Ironically, after the game, Ainge blamed former coach Jim O'Brien
for the Celtics' predicament in the playoffs. Had O'Brien coached
the way Ainge had asked him to, the Celtics would've been better
prepared come playoff time, according to Ainge.

"Obie was a coach that I have a great deal of admiration for to this
day," Ainge told the Boston Globe. "I'm not happy he's going to
Philly because I think he's a very good coach. But, I think [O'Brien
and his staff] came in with the design to win every single
basketball game.

"This has been my big thing all year," he continued. "I said from
the beginning that you come into training camp and you play
regular-season basketball in preparation for the playoffs. You don't
try to win every quarter. You don't have to win every game. If you
get to the playoffs and you're not prepared, because you're not deep
enough, or you're not prepared enough, then this is the kind of
thing that happens. You prepare for playoff basketball. If you don't
make the playoffs, because you're trying to prepare, then so be it.
That was my thing all along. You have to prepare to get there."

Knicks future may depend on Sheed: The Knicks looked no better than
the Celtics for most of the playoffs. However, there were times on
Sunday when you could see their potential. Will a healthy Allan
Houston and Tim Thomas make all the difference next season?
It's hard to see the Knicks being much better than a .500 team
unless they hit a home run this summer and land Rasheed Wallace.
Wallace would give them an extra dimension in the paint (when he
stays there) they don't already have. The problem will be convincing
Wallace to leave Detroit. Larry Brown has not only rolled out the
red carpet for Sheed, he's essentially pushed Mehmet Okur out the
back door to make sure that the Pistons, if forced to pick between
the two, will throw their money at Rasheed.

However, Sheed being a savior for either club seems like a stretch.
His talent has been overshadowed by his unselfishness in the
playoffs. He's been rebounding the ball well, but he hasn't taken
over in the fourth quarter when the Pistons needed him -- despite
being their most gifted offensive player.

Still, both teams covet him and he may very well determine the
balance of power in the East. With Sheed, the Pistons' only real
rivals are the Pacers and Nets. Without him, they're waiting on
Brown to continue developing Okur and Darko Milicic. With Sheed, the
Knicks are more than a playoff team, they could possibly be a
playoff force. Without him . . .expect a lot more painful grimaces
from Thomas in the future.

Grizzlies wait on Hubie: A four-game sweep has done little to dampen
the enthusiasm in Memphis right now. The town has fallen in love
with Jerry West's Grizzlies, and given their youth and depth -- they
should only keep improving from here. The new Fed Ex Forum opens
next year and the Grizzlies want to continue to make a splash. West
will try to make more moves this summer to upgrade at the five and
possibly add a star -- but the biggest question mark going into the
offseason is the future of Hubie Brown.

Everyone holds their collective breath as Brown heads to the doctor
for another check-up. Brown, who's signed for one more season, told
Insider in the preseason that he was coaching on a year-to-year
basis. The game continues to take a toll on the 70-year-old coach.
Both he and West know he's not in this forever. Hubie's job was to
change the culture in Memphis and teach this collection of young
players how to play together and win. He's done that. How much
longer will he keep doing it?

Everyone believes they need at least one more year with Brown at the
helm. Brown says that he'll make another visit to his doctor before
making any decisions. If the Grizzlies lose Brown? There's talk that
former Nets head coach Byron Scott could be his replacement. No
offense to Scott (who led the Nets to two straight Finals
appearances) but he's no Hubie.