Sam Smith might be crazy, but there is some interesting stuff in here.
INSIDE THE NBA
2 Hall of Famers, 1 savvy GM
On Pro Basketball
June 12, 2006
There's a wonderful symmetry at work with two NBA franchises. Both are run by Hall of Famers who played for the Celtics. Both have superstar-level players whose values have diminished, and both are in transition.
But only one, the Pacers with Larry Bird, knows it's in transition. The Timberwolves with Kevin McHale don't.
Apparently not much has changed since the 1980s when Bird and McHale combined with Robert Parish as probably the best frontcourt in NBA history. Bird was the serious, hard-driving one always looking forward to getting better. McHale had the talent, if not necessarily the vision.
That's why the talk fast-breaking around the NBA these days is that the Pacers are pushing for major moves involving their star forward, Jermaine O'Neal, while the Timberwolves are sitting back with their star forward, Kevin Garnett, and expected to go forward with pretty much what they have.
It remains highly unlikely that Minnesota will trade Garnett. The Timberwolves are said to be looking to move their No. 6 draft pick for a veteran to complement Garnett, though it's hard to imagine they could get someone significant at that level in this draft. With Larry Brown likely out as New York's coach, it seems the Knicks will keep Stephon Marbury. So maybe the Timberwolves will make a deal for Steve Francis, who actually could help. But they look like a team just trying to make the playoffs in Garnett's waning years. What's the point?
The Pacers understand their situation better, which is why they've been one of the most forward-thinking franchises in the league. Rather than risk going down slowly after making the Finals in 2000, they broke up their team without falling to the bottom and quickly returned to championship contention. Because of Ron Artest and the big brawl against Detroit, the plan fell apart. They made the playoffs last season, but they understand the goals are larger. They could make the playoffs again with the team they have, but why bother?
That's why they're said to be one of the teams talking with Toronto about a trade for the No. 1 pick. Although it has been rumored that Toronto will pick Italian 7-footer Andrea Bargnani, I don't believe that. It's clear Chris Bosh, the Raptors' star forward, doesn't want that, and priority No. 1 is extending Bosh's contract. Plus, as a first-year general manager, Bryan Colangelo probably doesn't want to take such a risk with the No. 1 pick in a draft with personnel experts saying any one of six players could justify a top pick.
One of the rumors from Toronto has been that the Raptors would add a veteran inside player to ease the burden on Bosh and try to be a playoff team immediately. Memphis' Pau Gasol has been mentioned, and one could make a case for the Grizzlies trying to get younger and save some money with an ownership change apparently imminent. The other rumor is a deal for the Pacers' O'Neal, who could be the kind of low-post presence to ease the strain on Bosh.
Bosh is said to be pushing for Texas forward LaMarcus Aldridge as the No. 1 pick. They're even working out together now. But it would be hard for the Raptors to say no to O'Neal, a perennial All-Star.
The talk is the Pacers would throw in their No. 17 pick, which would give the Raptors a shot at a point guard and a team ready to compete next season. The Pacers would get back forward Charlie Villanueva, whom Colangelo is said to be willing to deal.
There are some other factors which suggest a major Pacers' makeover.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle is entering the final year of his four-year contract with no extension likely. He's done a remarkable job in some respects with all the turmoil from suspensions and injuries, but Bird said at the end of the season that Carlisle "probably did lose the team" at times.
Bird also said when he left the Pacers' coaching job after three seasons that three is probably the optimum run for a coach with one group of players. Insiders say Bird privately was lobbying for major moves last summer because he envisioned the fit wouldn't work anymore, but he was persuaded by ownership to endorse the current coaching staff. Now it seems Bird has been vindicated and will have a freer hand to make moves.
One rumor is the Pacers would take Gonzaga guard/forward Adam Morrison at No. 1 if they made the deal. But it seems more likely they'd try to re-sign Peja Stojakovic and draft a big man, probably Aldridge, to pair with Villanueva, and then move Stephen Jackson and Jamaal Tinsley and be back in contention sooner than many would expect.
The Timberwolves could do something similar, though I'm convinced they won't. In fact, the way the NBA is going these days with the perimeter dominance, if I were the Bulls I'm not sure I'd even want Garnett anymore and probably would just use my draft picks. But if Minnesota could get both first-round picks and a player, say Ben Gordon or Luol Deng, for Garnett, wouldn't they have to consider that? It would give them an exciting young nucleus. But, heck, if you can get to eighth in the West, why change?
All that Jazz
The Jazz finally got Brigham Young star Rafael Araujo, whom the Raptors took No. 8 in 2004. Araujo doesn't figure to be a starter, but he's a big body to help with Greg Ostertag having retired. And the Raptors could get something out of Kris Humphries, who never got a chance with Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur signed after that draft. The Jazz, though, continues to look at big men, suggesting it might have a deal for Boozer. The Jazz is said to be looking at Bradley's Patrick O'Bryant, UConn's Hilton Armstong, Duke's Shelden Williams--whose workouts hint he might go top 10--and Saer Sena, the 7-footer from Senegal who impressed Karl Malone in a workout. Said Malone: "He's hungry; he didn't start playing until 2003."
Addition by subtraction
Maybe the NBA should just disband several franchises and make a stronger league. How about Charlotte, Memphis, Atlanta and Portland to start?
The Bobcats have now run out their president, chief operating officer and marketing head in the last two weeks amid declining ticket sales despite a new arena. The Trail Blazers remain for sale, and bankruptcy even has been mentioned. The Grizzlies are for sale, and there's talk of a group including former NBA player Christian Laettner coming in and cutting back. And last week a Maryland judge ruled in favor of former Atlanta part-owner Steve Belkin's claim that he be allowed to buy out the partners who ran him out, setting up more appeals and a franchise in chaos. Then there's Seattle for sale and seeking a new arena and the Jazz talking of losing millions annually.
Hey, but it's been a good playoffs.
Shawn Kemp gave himself a positive review after working out for the Nuggets at a free-agent camp. He told Denver reporters: "I wanted to make it through every drill, through every play and not come up hurt, not take any plays off, and I was able to do that. I actually surprised myself with my speed. I ran better than most of the big guys here." Kemp, who hasn't played since 2002-03, said he'll work out for Dallas. . . .
Denver coach George Karl says he hasn't spoken to Kenyon Martin since he suspended Martin in the playoffs. Said Karl: "We have a frontcourt situation which Kenyon, Marcus (Camby), Nene, Carmelo (Anthony) all want to be paid $10 million. You can't have that. So there's going to have to be some cleaning out there."
Gonzaga's Morrison says not to worry about his diabetes and mentions players who succeeded with the disease, like Chris Dudley in basketball, Bobby Clarke in hockey and Ron Santo in baseball. Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff was so impressed with Morrison's workout that he said Morrison might not get to them at No. 3. . . . Former Bull Jason Williams, trying to come back from his 2003 motorcycle accident, has worked out for or is expected to see the Raptors, Grizzlies and Nets. . . . Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said on New York radio that his relationship with Heat coach Pat Riley has been strained with the early-season departure of his brother, Stan as Miami coach. Jeff added: "I don't think they're any better coached this year than they have been in the last two years with Stan."
Something special about this year's Finals is two guys we didn't expect to see there, Magic Johnson and Alonzo Mourning. Johnson, who 15 years ago was diagnosed with the AIDS virus, worked for TNT leading up to the Finals and remains the NBA's No. 1 ambassador. Mourning, in his first Finals with the Heat, was diagnosed with kidney disease six years ago and had a transplant.
"Everyone thought I was going to die, like a year later," Johnson, 46, told CNN in an interview earlier this year. "Most people who are healthy, and I'm healthy, can't even live my life. Trust me. I get up at 5:30, 6 every morning. I run a couple of miles. I lift weights, and then I'm at work until 8, 9 at night. The only time I think about HIV is when I have to take my medicine twice a day."
Said Mourning: "I give everything I've got. It ain't a matter of pacing myself. I just go as hard as I can. Tomorrow isn't guaranteed."
"Next year isn't guaranteed. It's not guaranteed this team will be together. Who knows?"
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