View Full Version : NBA Insider Dec 23

12-24-2003, 12:13 PM
Sorry about the late post, was away from the computer yesterday...

Can GMs get an assist from Santa?

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ... everywhere you go.

Much of the holiday cheer is being spread early this year. Cavs GM Jim Paxson got at early Christmas present, in the form of a 30-point-a-night superstar, when a few ping-pong balls bounced his way in May.

Knicks fans saw Christmas Eve come three days early when they finally got their wish -- the ouster of team president Scott Layden. Of course, minutes into the celebration, the Grinch arrived with the news that Isiah Thomas, perhaps the only guy in the NBA with a more tarnished rep than Layden, was replacing him.

For others in Atlanta or Orlando, it's likely to be a year without a Santa Claus. It's hard to believe even Santa has enough magic to fix what's wrong with those franchises.

Sources at the North Pole gave Insider a sneak peek at every GM's Christmas wish list. As an early holiday gift for all of our loyal Insider readers, here's what the league's GMs hope to find in their stockings this year.

Billy Knight, Hawks: An explosive device.

Danny Ainge, Celtics: A legitimate triple double from Ricky Davis.

John Paxson, Bulls: A heart transplant for Eddy Curry.

Jim Paxson, Cavaliers: A bodyguard for LeBron James.

Don Nelson, Mavericks: Shaq's twin brother.

Kiki Vandeweghe, Nuggets: A sherpa.

Joe Dumars, Pistons: 20 and 10 from Darko (20 minutes, 10 of anything).

Garry St. Jean, Warriors: An Insider pardon.

Carroll Dawson, Rockets: A Houston summer home for Yao.

Larry Bird, Pacers: Ron Artest to stay on Santa's "nice" list.

Elgin Baylor, Clippers: Donald Sterling's credit card.

Mitch Kupchak, Lakers: Two words: "Not Guilty."

Jerry West, Grizzlies: Shaq and Kobe back.

Pat Riley, Heat: More Dwyane Wade, less Eddie Jones.

Larry Harris, Bucks: Someone to pay attention.

Kevin McHale, Timberwolves: Peace on Earth, and in the locker room.

Rod Thorn, Nets: A Tony Parker-for-Jason Kidd swap.

Bob Bass, Hornets: Mash and Baron healthy at the same time.

Isiah Thomas, Knicks: Jermaine O'Neal.

John Gabriel, Magic: A last-second pardon.

Billy King, 76ers: Someone to put the Big Dog out of his misery.

Bryan Colangelo, Suns: Glasses for Joe Johnson.

John Nash, Blazers: A therapist.

Geoff Petrie, Kings: One golden ring.

R. C. Buford, Spurs: A Tony Parker-for-Jason Kidd swap.

Rick Sund, Sonics: No Doze for Jerome James.

Glen Grunwald, Raptors: Twenty pounds of muscle for Chris Bosh.

Kevin O'Connor, Jazz: A move to the Eastern Conference.

Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards: Smelling salts for Kwame Brown.

Around the League

Knicks won't rebuild?

On Monday, Insider went about the impossible task of coming up with five ways that Isiah Thomas could fix the Knicks. The moves essentially tore the Knicks apart and replaced key components with expiring contracts and young prospects to start building around.

That advice came before the Knicks press conference with owner James Dolan. Afterwards? Forget about it.

Dolan and Thomas both made it clear that Isiah's marching orders in New York are clear -- get to the playoffs now.

"I know he wants to win the NBA championship this year, and I do, too," Dolan said. "But if we don't make the playoffs, I will be very dissatisfied."

Dolan and Thomas believe Zeke's mere presence will bring about a massive attitude adjustment that will propel the Knicks from cellar dwellers into contenders.

"We're hoping that Isiah can come in and bring a new energy level to the team, bring in a winning attitude that he clearly possesses," Dolan said.

"What's required here is leadership, it's not necessarily skills in terms of basketmaking, it's about giving and reassuring confidence," Thomas said. "No one is capable of giving his or her best under this type of environment. ... The mindset around here has to change. I think we have to have a situation where everyone in the organization understands what we're trying to do and works together toward doing it."

That pretty much nixes a long-overdue rebuilding program. The Knicks are too old, too small, too unathletic, too average to be serious contenders for an NBA championship. Could they possibly make the playoffs this year? Sure. Could they make it out of the first or second round of the playoffs? No way. And, considering the team isn't getting any younger, what possible future is there in that?

Layden, towards the end, became almost paralyzed with fear. He fell in love with the players on his roster. He valued them more than any other team in the league. He felt he couldn't make another mistake -- making it virtually impossible for him to make the changes he needed to make.

Every trade proposal he made was along the lines of offering players like Clarence Weatherspoon or Howard Eisley (who should be making the veterans minimum) to teams in return for young players like Chris Bosh or Jamal Crawford. No one is going to trade a young, athletic, 7-foot superstar in the making for an over-the-hill, overpaid, undersized power forwards.

The one real virtue in replacing Layden with Thomas is that Thomas' comes in with a fresh slate and cocky attitude. He could afford to be bold, at least for a little while. He could afford to dump a fan favorite here or there and take a shot at getting a young prospect or two in return. The Knicks need more than an attitude adjustment. Dialysis, face lifts and angioplasties won't do. They need fresh blood, fresh faces and heart transplant. If Thomas isn't allowed to give them that, what's the point?

Sonics swap?

There continues to be rumbling that the Sonics are eyeing a trade for legitimate power forward.

The Sonics have a number of tradable assets -- Brent Barry, Ronald Murray, Vladimir Radmanovic -- that they can package with over priced players -- Jerome James, Vitaly Potapenko, Calvin Booth -- to clear cap room and/or help fill that glaring hole in the paint.

The names out there who could be available -- Kenyon Martin, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Al Harrington, Kwame Brown, Antonio McDyess, Juwan Howard -- have all been mentioned in this column before.

Are the Sonics any closer to pulling the trigger on a trade? Sonics GM Rick Sund is still feeling out his options.

"What we've always said is that this is a year of exploration," Sund told the Seattle Times. "We want to see what they (Seattle's young players) can do given some real minutes. ... The worst thing we could do is move too soon."

Actually, the worst thing Sund can do is wait too long and watch the trade value of some of his players evaporate. Barry has steadily gone downhill the past few weeks and is now on the injured list. Allen returns tonight and likely will cut heavily into the minutes and shots that Murray takes. While Sund remains determined to stick with the rebuilding process and keep young players in the fold, the options are plentiful at the this point.

Among possible trades that could make sense for the Sonics?

Martin and Lucious Harris for Murray, Radmanovic and James: The Nets can't afford to pay Martin, but the Sonics could. The team needs a tough bruiser in the paint, and Martin would be a great fit. He'll come at a high price. Murray and Radmanovic would give the Nets some dangerous offensive weapons, and James would help the hemorrhaging the Nets are experiencing in the middle.

McDyess for James, Potapenko and Murray: The Sonics get a legit power forward for a run this year. If injuries continue to be an issue, the team clears $13.5 million off the books this summer and gives them around $7 million to play with in free agency.

Abdur-Rahim for Barry, James and Radmanovic: Abdur-Rahim is just 27 years old and would be a nice fit in the Sonics' up-tempo offense. While Rahim isn't the blue-collar tough guy the team needs in the paint, put him on the floor with Allen, Murray and Rashard Lewis and you have a team that can run with the Mavericks.

Harrington and Jamaal Tinsley for Murray and Barry: The Pacers have a glut of forwards and need help at the point and center positions. Murray and Barry might be the combo guards the Pacers have been looking for. Harrington is the type of young athlete Sund needs to add to the front court. He's tough, a good rebounder and a better-than-average defender. Tinsley had a falling out with coach Rick Carlisle, but he's still one of the best young point guards in the league.

Brown and Jared Jeffries for Radmanovic and James: Brown has been a flop in Washington, but many scouts still believe he has enough talent to be a star on the right team. The Wizards need shooting in the worst way, and Radmanovic could give them a big boost. James won't be a star in the middle, but the Wizards are running pretty thin on bodies.

Howard's end?

Magic GM John Gabriel told the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday that Juwan Howard is not about to be traded. "There's nothing there," Gabriel said.

However, it's probably only a matter of time before Gabriel trades Howard. According to sources, Gabriel has been making numerous calls over the past week and a half trying to package Howard in a deal that gives the team either a point guard, center, or cap relief this summer.

The point guard and center have been hard to come by, which may be why Gabriel isn't enthusiastic about anything out there. There's talk that the Cavs are willing to swap Darius Miles and Kevin Ollie for Howard and Gordan Giricek. That's a slam dunk for the Cavs if they can make it happen. Coach Paul Silas is looking for veterans with positive attitudes, and Howard fits the bill. But it's hard to believe the Magic want to endure the five years remaining on Ollie's contract.

The other team showing interest in Howard is his former team, the Nuggets. The Nuggets had a great relationship with Howard, and with their surprisingly strong play, they could use Howard to propel them into the playoffs. Vandeweghe told the Denver Post on Tuesday the team needs another big man. "I'm certainly not opposed to the idea," Vandeweghe said. "I think it's a definite need."

However, what the Nuggets really need, according to Nene, is a bruiser in the middle. "We need a strong (center)," said Nene. "I'm not a 5. Camby is skinny for a 5. We don't have a 5 here. I play 5, but it's not my position. We need one strong guy."

If that's what Vandeweghe is looking for, Howard doesn't qualify. However, if Nene can handle playing the five, a Marcus Camby for Howard and Giricek deal works under the cap and could pay off for the Nuggets down the road.

Can Isiah fix the Knicks?

Somewhere Scott Layden is wandering the streets of New York. I picture him sitting on a curb in an alleyway just off Times Square. His coat is frayed, the fingers of his gloves are worn away, that tattered FDNY hat still is perched upon his head.

He's alone. He was always alone. He's mumbling to himself, still caught up in delusions of grandeur about players and deals gone wrong.

Shandon Anderson is an All-Star. ... Chris Bosh for Kurt Thomas sounds like a fair deal to me. ... Dikembe Mutombo is the most athletic 87-year-old I've ever seen. ... You think Kobe would play in New York for free? ... Clarence Weatherspoon is the best 6-foot-4 power forward in the league. ... How about a former Heisman trophy winner for an All-Star center?

LaydenLayden's problems in New York have been well documented. Before taking the job with the Knicks he was the Jazz's wunderkind, a brilliant strategist with an eye for mining diamonds in the rough. In New York, he was a reclusive, stoic leader who shunned the spotlight and became obsessed with paying those same diamonds in the rough (many with ties to Utah -- Anderson, Howard Eisley, Keith Van Horn, Michael Doleac) millions more than they were worth. New York became the place where all bad contracts went to die. It was only a matter of time before Layden went out to pasture with them.
Layden was fired as the president of the Knicks on Friday, replaced by the only executive in the league that possibly has a more tarnished rep -- Isiah Thomas.

That has to hurt.

"He would have been the last human being on earth that I thought would've gotten that job," one league executive told Insider. "That's the premiere GM job in the NBA, the team is a mess, and the Knicks need someone with experience to get them through this. Isiah Thomas isn't that guy."

Pacers president Donnie Walsh, who hired Thomas to coach the Pacers three years ago, disagrees.

Thomas"I think he'll do fine," Walsh told Insider. "He's a bright guy. That he coached for three years will help him with that job. It helps him fill in some of the blanks. It takes more than skills and playing ability to make a team. There are other intangibles there to be successful. It will help him down the road."
Can Thomas handle the intense media scrutiny that he'll come under in New York?

"He's made for it," Walsh said. "He's a very articulate, bright guy. He was unbelievable with the press. He'll just try to make sure they're not critical of them."

Even if that is the case, you have to wonder, can Thomas turn the Knicks around? The team has the second-highest payroll in the NBA, a ton of bad contracts, an aging roster, few young players to build around, and an embattled coach. How can Thomas, or anyone for that matter, fix the Knicks' problems?

Here at Insider, we're always willing to help. Layden would never take our advice. What about Isiah? After talking things over with a few league executives, Insider breaks down five things Thomas needs to do to fix the Knicks.

1. Fire Don Chaney, just don't hire Isiah. Layden loved Chaney to the point that he refused to let him go, even when management started pushing. The Knicks need a high-profile, respected head coach to steer the ship. Doc Rivers, Doug Collins and George Karl are all available, though each has indicated he'd prefer to wait until next summer to take a head coaching job. For the time being, a Knicks assistant may have to do. Whatever, the case, there is one rule that can't be broken -- Isiah must resist the urge to hire himself. He's still bitter about his firing in Indiana and probably feels like he has more to prove as a coach. Handling GM and coaching duties are almost impossible -- it even wore down Pat Riley, eventually. There is too much to do in the Knicks' front office. Thomas can't be an effective GM and coach at the same time. The Knicks need more help in the front office than they do on the bench. Let someone else lighten the load.
Kurt Thomas
New York Knicks

27 11.0 9.3 2.0 .425 .784

2. Trade Kurt Thomas and Charlie Ward. Those two have been on the trading block for years, but Layden could never find the perfect deal to pull the trigger. "Scott was always trying to hit a home run with every trade," one GM told Insider. "You can't always do that. You've got to be willing to take risks, stick your neck out a little bit. Isiah needs to shake things up. Take a few risks. As long as he doesn't put himself in a worse cap situation, I'd do it." What can the Knicks get for Thomas and Ward? A combo of Ward and Thomas for say Kwame Brown and Christian Laettner would give the Wizards some much-needed toughness and cap flexibility now and give the Knicks a young talent in Brown to start building around.

3. Dump Antonio McDyess. The team is 3-8 since McDyess returned -- clearly he isn't a savior. He is getting healthier and more effective, but Isiah Thomas has to realize that the Knicks can't afford to pay McDyess this summer when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. McDyess is too fragile and too old to build around. If he's going to be gone this summer anyway, why not try to shake things up now? The Sonics need low-post scoring, and they need cap room. If the Knicks were willing to take a few big contracts -- like Vitaly Potapenko and Jerome James -- off their hands, would the Sonics be willing to include Ronald Murray?

Allan Houston
Shooting Guard
New York Knicks

23 20.7 2.2 2.4 .446 .949

4. Shop Allan Houston. If we've learned one thing over the past few years it's that no one, no matter how large the contract, is untradeable. However, moving marginal players with bad contracts -- read Anderson, Eisley, and Weatherspoon -- is pretty close to impossible. Moving good players with bad contracts is easier. Layden paid Houston twice the market rate to re-up in New York. While Houston is earning his money at the moment, when he's 36 and earning $20 million a year, his contract is going to kill the team. The Knicks would have to take back some less-talented players with serious cap problems in order to move Houston, but as long as the deals are shorter, it'd be worth the short-term hit.

5. Pull a page from Donnie Walsh's handbook. Layden's inability to communicate with the media often made him the butt of their criticism. Everyone is going to be skeptical of Thomas' ability to turn things around in New York. If he's going to survive, he'll have to make some friends. Walsh is revered by most writers because he always returns calls and does what he can to help with stories. If Thomas is going to survive a few lean years in New York, he's going to have to choose his friends wisely. He doesn't want the media calling for his head six months into this job. The Knicks are a three- to four-year rebuilding project.

Peep Show

Seattle SuperSonics: Ray Allen and his surgically repaired right ankle have spoken. "There is nothing from now until tomorrow that can prohibit me from getting out on the floor," Allen said in the Tacoma News Tribune. "My doctor's prognosis, I don't think he wants me to play 35 or 40 minutes. It has been a whole process, gradually getting better. That is what we have done. So I definitely don't think it is going to be a situation where I jump in and play 40 minutes tomorrow." Allen has already missed the first 25 games of the season and joins a team losing players left and right to their own injuries. "If you just would have heard them all week, when there was potential that I was going to play this game, everybody was excited, like, 'You gonna play? Think you can play?'" Allen said. "For a long time, when they found out I wasn't going to play, it was a disheartening blow to their minds, like where are we going to get his production from? But to know that I have my uniform on and I will be back in the lineup, as much as it will give us an uplift on the floor, for the opposing team it is going to cause them some concern as well, so it helps both ways."

Indiana Pacers: Reggie Miller knows he's scoring a career-low 9.4 points per game. He knows his Pacers are having a particularly hard time against zone defenses. And the NBA's all time 3-point shooter knows what he has to do. "I have to be more assertive when I'm out there," he said in the Indianapolis Star. "I have to take advantage of the times I'm in the game." But his coach Rick Carlisle knows everything will be just fine. "Even when Reggie Miller isn't shooting the ball much, he still has an unmistakable impact on the game because you must guard him closely," Carlisle said. "That alleviates other things for our team. He knows the right time to be aggressive. And he knows when he's the ultimate decoy on the court. When he's playing that role, it allows Jermaine and Al to post up with single coverage or it opens up the floor for them to get the ball out to open guys. Because we're really playing four-on-three, and four-on-three is an easier game to play than five-on-four."

Denver Nuggets: Jon Barry placed himself on the injured list and doesn't know when the pain in his neck will allow him to play again. "It was pretty much my decision," said Barry in the Denver Post. "I've been struggling with it for a while. I just don't think I'm helping out. I'm not helping myself because every night I go out there it just makes it worse. It hasn't felt right all (season), really." The 11-year veteran will be replaced by Jeff Trepagnier in the line up for at least four or five days. "I'm losing complete sensation in my right arm more and more each day,' he said. "If you don't be careful, it could be permanent."

New York Knicks: It just ain't the same in Gotham anymore. "There's no joy in Mudville," Spike Lee said in the New York Times. "Giants stink, Jets stink, Andy Pettite left. Nobody pays attention to the Nets. And the Knicks are a horror show. We're talking about Madison Square Garden!" So what else is the No. 1 Knick fan supposed to do but don the No. 8 jersey of Latrell Sprewell when the Timberwolves come to town. "I'm gonna break it out again," Lee said. "He's getting ready. I see it. Knowing Sprewell, coming into the Garden, he's . . . going to try to score 50. If he dunks on Dikembe [Mutombo], it's over! It's gonna be the most exciting game we've had. LeBron [James] hasn't come yet, so . . . and the Lakers, they killed us. This is the game everybody's waiting for."

Los Angeles Lakers: Magic Johnson walked up to the injured Karl Malone and told him to save himself for May and June and the playoffs. But the Mailman was having none of it despite the strained MCL in his right knee. "I don't accept that, because I like to be out there," Malone said in the L.A. Times. "But, I don't want to be out there hurting the team&. We'll make decisions in a week." He will miss at least three games on injured reserve, which is a lot for a guy who has missed only 11 in 18 seasons. "It's frustrating," Malone said. "You expect to punch the clock every night. Sometimes we feel like we're superhuman. I still feel like that a little bit. Just kind of a little chink in the armor right now. It could have been worse, I think."

Cleveland Cavaliers: With Ricky Davis gone, LeBron James officially owns Cleveland now. "I had to," James said in the Lorraine Morning News. "We lost 15 points from Ricky and nine points from (Chris) Mihm. That's a big part of our offense. We were averaging 89 points, close to 90 points a game. For me, I had to step up my offense to make up for some of those points we lost." And it is everything his coach had hoped for. "I think it just happened naturally," Paul Silas said. ''He took over at the right time."

12-24-2003, 12:58 PM
If they really expect Thomas to put the Knicks in to line, then they will be sadly disappointed. I liked Isaiah as a player, but he hasn't done enough to prove to me that he can handle the highest profile GM job in the league. I hope he proves me wrong, but he is being set-up for failure if their expectations are that high for the team they've got right now. Then again, the one thing going for Isaiah is the fact that the Knicks are in the Eastern Conference.