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02-03-2004, 02:30 PM
Hawks, Bulls, Warriors ready to unload?

Sixteen days and counting until the NBA trade deadline, and after months of unprecedented high-profile wheeling and dealing, the phones suddenly have gone quiet.


"It's weird, but the calls have really tapered down into a trickle," one GM told Insider. "Usually now is the time when everything heats up, but so many deals have already been done, maybe there aren't that many left that make much sense."

Insider talked with several league executives who were reporting the same thing -- the sound of silence. Some believe the parity in the league right now is starting to put a kibosh on things. Others think we're just in the calm before the storm. When GMs get together in Los Angeles next week before the All-Star Game, things will begin heating up again.

"There are so many teams that believe they have a shot at the playoffs," another league executive told Insider, "that very few are willing to give up a valuable asset or two. Everyone is looking for another team's fire sale. With a few exceptions, most teams aren't ready to write off the season yet."

The few exceptions? Read on ...

2004 Fire Sales

Atlanta Hawks: Everyone agrees the folks in Atlanta are ready to pull the plug. The holdup has been the never-ending approval process for the sale of the team. Time Warner recently issued a statement claiming all of the details have been worked out between the two sides. The new owners claim they are just waiting for approval from the Board of Governors. That could take place next week in Los Angeles.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Power Forward
Atlanta Hawks

49 19.7 9.3 2.3 .483 .883

The new owners, led by Boston businessman Steve Belkin, know they have several coveted assets -- Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Theo Ratliff and Jason Terry -- and have been figuring out the best way to "deploy them," as one Hawks source told Insider.

A number of teams have their eyes on those three, with the Hawks looking for young prospects, draft picks and cap room in return.

Chicago Bulls: GM John Paxson's patience is just about gone. The Bulls have lost 11 of their last 12, and it has become pretty clear that head coach Scott Skiles isn't getting through to the Baby Bulls.
One sequence in Monday night's loss to the Sonics summed up the Bulls' problems. Jamal Crawford was awesome offensively, dropping 31 points on the Sonics in his hometown. At one point during the third quarter, Crawford threw himself a pass off the backboard, caught the rebound and slammed the ball over a defender, drawing a foul.

Crawford hit the free throw, but while he was celebrating, Ray Allen, the man Crawford was supposed to be guarding, ran down the court and nailed a 3-pointer.

Jamal Crawford
Shooting Guard
Chicago Bulls

47 17.2 3.3 5.5 .393 .836

Afterward, a flabbergasted Skiles didn't know what to think. "Jamal was very good offensively," Skiles told the Chicago Tribune. "Defensively, he wasn't there."

Only five teams give up more points than the Bulls. Unfortunately for Chicago, all five are also in the top 10 in scoring. The Bulls rank 21st in that department, which goes a long way toward explaining their miserable record.

Paxson wants to remake the team in his (and Skiles') gritty image, which means he's going to have to dump players like Crawford and Curry, once believed to be the building blocks of the team.

The Bulls have had some discussion about shipping Crawford and Marcus Fizer to the Clippers for Marko Jaric and Melvin Ely. So far there hasn't been anything close on a Curry trade, although the Grizzlies in particular would love to get their hands on him.

Golden State Warriors: The goal now, after the ridiculous preseason prediction of the playoffs, is to get well under the salary cap for the summer of 2004. To do it, they've got to move Nick Van Exel off the books. To entice teams to take on the final year and $11.8 million of Van Exel's deal, they're willing to give up Erick Dampier, arguably the third-best center in the league this season.
The talk has centered around a Warriors-Blazers swap for Rasheed Wallace. That would clear roughly $17 million off Golden State's books this summer and put the Warriors in a position to make a run at Kobe Bryant. So far, however, the Blazers are balking -- or, more accurately, waiting patiently to see if a better deal comes along.

Erick Dampier
Golden State Warriors

46 12.0 11.6 0.7 .511 .638

The Blazers won't be the only team interested in Dampier. The Grizzlies made a strong run at him last summer and would likely be willing to swallow Van Exel's contract to get something done. What's more difficult is finding a deal that makes sense for Golden State. Combined, Van Exel and Dampier earn roughly $18.5 million this season. The Grizzlies don't have enough expiring salaries to make something work, though they could send a number of assets (Stromile Swift, Earl Watson, Shane Battier) along with a contract that expires in 2005 (like Bo Outlaw or Bonzi Wells) to make the deal make some sense for the Warriors.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, the same holds true for almost every other team. With the exception of a team like the Suns, Nuggets or Jazz (who are unwilling to jeopardize their cap space for the summer), no one has enough expiring contracts to make a deal that makes sense for Golden State.

Orlando Magic: If the player's name isn't Tracy McGrady, he's expendable in Orlando right now. The problem is there's nothing that is going to turn the Magic into contenders overnight or give them the cap space they need to make a run at a top free agent. Grant Hill and McGrady just take up too much room for that to happen.
Talk of trading Juwan Howard, Gordan Giricek, Tyronn Lue and Steven Hunter is all well and good, but what will it get them? Right now the best answer the Magic have been able to come up with is an injured Michael Olowokandi.

Now you know why John Gabriel's days in Orlando appear to be coming to an end.

Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers have been working the phones desperately trying to make something happen. Philadelphia's season has been a huge disappointment. Though they're just one-and-a-half games out of the eighth playoff spot in the East, the Sixers have been playing with zero passion and look too old to be a real contender again. That means everyone, including Allen Iverson and Eric Snow, are on the block if the team can get back value and cap flexibility in return.
"There's been a lot of interest in some of our young guys that have played well," Sixers GM Billy King told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "There's been a lot of interest in some of our veteran guys. It's just trying to find a solution that makes sense."

So far King, who has had no problems making trades in the past, is striking out.

"You have teams that are trying to make the playoffs," King said. "You have teams that are trying to preserve cap room. You have teams that are trying not to pay a tax. There's a lot more going into it probably this year than ever before. Everybody in the East thinks they still have a shot, so nobody really wants to do anything."

Around the League

Francis not on the block . . .yet: Rumors that the Rockets were ready to ship Steve Francis out of town got a huge boost on Monday when coach Jeff Van Gundy revealed that Francis intentionally missed a team flight to Phoenix so that he could attend the Super Bowl in Houston. However, his agent, Jeff Fried, claimed that Francis wasn't at the Super Bowl but instead stayed in Houston to attend "to an urgent personal family matter."
Steve Francis
Point Guard
Houston Rockets

46 16.6 5.6 5.9 .395 .750

Friend's statement sent Van Gundy through the roof. "I talked to Steve," Van Gundy told the Houston Chronicle. "He was in the parking lot of the Super Bowl. We had a long discussion about him thinking it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and me talking about the commitment to the team.

"I know what the truth is. Steve knows what the truth is. Everyone involved knows what the truth is. That's up to them if they want to try to spin it a certain way. Everyone knows what happened. What agents say doesn't have any bearing.

"I talked to him last night. He disagreed with the (suspension) decision vehemently. He just thinks it was the wrong decision."

This is just the latest incident for Francis, who has struggled to adapt to Van Gundy's more conservative inside-out offense. Francis' numbers are at all-time lows and he's been complaining about how the team uses him. Van Gundy has been equally unhappy with what he perceives as selfish play by Francis. That's inspired a host of published rumors that Francis could be on his way out of Houston.

The problem with the rumors is that Francis is a base-year player this season. Even though he earns roughly $11 million, his team could take back only $5.5 million in return if he were traded. That makes him virtually impossible to trade unless he's sent to a team with cap room or a much larger, multi-team trade were to go down.

Furthermore, Van Gundy insists that he wants Francis to remain a Rocket for a long time.

"Everyone involved -- me and him, in particular -- knows exactly what happened, and that's it," Van Gundy said. "In those situations, it is never an easy conversation. He was upset about my decision about his decision. It's not the first time a coach and player had a disagreement about decision-making, and it won't be the last.

"When you get a situation like this, you deal with it, you say you were wrong, and you move on. Steve has obviously been our best player. He's a reason I came (to Houston). There's not a problem between me and him."

Still, if the Rockets don't find a way to get Francis and Yao Ming to co-exist, don't be shocked if the Rockets at least explore trade options for Francis when his base-year status expires on August 26th. Francis is still considered one of the most talented combo guards in the league, and a combo of Francis and Cuttino Mobley could land the Rockets a more traditional point guard and a bigger sharp-shooting two guard in return.

Sonics struggling with Barry decision: Brent Barry's broken finger couldn't have come at a more inopportune time. The Sonics were reportedly in the throes of deciding whether to give Barry a multi-year contract extension or trading him to a team that could give them some value in return. According to the Tacoma Tribune, the Sonics had discussed offering a two-year, $10 million extension to Barry with his agent, Arn Tellam. According to the same report, Barry, who is 31, is looking for a four-year, $23 million deal in return.
That's probably too rich for the Sonics blood . . . meaning ultimately the decision might have been made to trade him instead of losing him for nothing this summer. Barry's injury, however, complicates things. He's no longer able to help the Sonics in their playoff run and Antonio Daniels has stepped in and been great. But has Barry's value taken a major hit because he's out the next five weeks?

According to several newspaper accounts, the Celtics are the latest team to show interest in Barry -- offering Chris Mills' expiring contract in return. That's significantly less than what the Sonics were hoping to get in return, but given Barry's uncertain status and future contract demands, there may not be anything better out there. If that's true, they're probably better off holding onto him.

What happened to Frank Williams? Wasn't it just a month ago that new Knicks president Isiah Thomas was calling new starting point guard Frank Williams the next Walt Frazier? Since then, Thomas has acquired Stephon Marbury, Moochie Norris and Penny Hardaway and Williams has gone from point guard of the future to a coach's DNP.
Thomas is still reportedly high on Williams (he turned down a Williams-and-Othella Harrington-for-Darius Miles deal a few weeks ago) but new head coach Lenny Wilkens obviously isn't. That has Williams now pining for something, anything, to happen.

Claiming he's ready to "move or stay," Williams wants an explanation. "I wish something would happen," he told reporters. "I wish something would happen real soon."

Williams got his wish on Monday when he met with Wilkens. He was then, however, suddenly sent home with a "sinus infection." Wilkens told the N.Y. Post later that day that he still favored Norris as his back-up because he's a better ball handler.

Thomas, on the other hand, claims that he's still looking at more trades. "It's a simple answer and solution if you want to stay here - play better. The status quo when I came in, it wasn't a very good team. If you're telling me four weeks [later] status quo was acceptable, that was totally unacceptable to me."

Dallas' 'Big 3' has company

Last year the Mavericks got everyone talking about their "Big 3" of Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitzki, and Steve Nash after their amazing start and amazing play offensively. They were as good as it gets (to borrow a term from a great movie). So in the offseason other teams went about improving their talent bases, either through experience and maturity or via trade and free agency. Let's look at some of the other "big threes" in the league, and you decide who is the best.
First is the original trio in Dallas. They made a lot of changes in the offseason, bringing in Antawn Jamison and Antoine Walker as two other marquee players, and that has had an impact on the trio's individual numbers. In the long run, though, the Mavericks have improved in other areas, rebounding in particular.

But it is still the same theme, with those three counted on heavily to score, score, score, with their opponents doing the same. Teams average -- get this -- 100 points per game against Dallas. While their play is improved of late, and the chemistry is getting better (I think this is a better team than last year's group), they still have the same issues as a year ago -- to defend or not to defend? I think you know which one they choose.

Jason Kidd
Point Guard
New Jersey Nets

45 17.0 6.4 9.6 .396 .803

Next up the Nets, with Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd. They don't shoot it as well as the Dallas trio, but they are every bit as effective at scoring, especially in transition. Plus they compete on the defensive end, and K-Mart (who should be an all-star this year) and RJ continue to improve.

The only thing holding this trio back has been the tension among them since the departure of Byron Scott (that's another story for another time) and the questionable roster moves that have not bolstered the supporting cast.

But for basketball skill and entertainment value, they are surely a must-see act. Nobody runs the break like Jason Kidd, and who better on the other end of that break than the high-flying act of Martin and Jefferson? (Kidd, Martin, and Jefferson sounds like a law firm -- you think they really had anything with the dismissal of Byron Scott?)

Brad Miller
Sacramento Kings

45 14.5 10.7 4.7 .513 .792

When you think Sacramento and talk big three, how impressive must that team be to do so without putting C-Webb in their triangle? Chris Webber has yet to play a game, but the Kings have not skipped a beat with Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, and Peja Stojakovic. These guys have been simply amazing, scoring at will while also showing a deft passing touch.

Brad Miller came over from the Pacers and has been just what the doctor ordered, providing scoring, rebounding and a bit of toughness on that front line. Bibby has bounced back from an injury-riddled season last year that saw him struggle in the playoffs.

And what can you say about Peja that hasn't been said already? He continues to improve each and every game and has become Sacramento's go-to guy and an MVP candidate. His jumper is automatic, and what is even more impressive is his ability to move without the basketball. He is arguably the best shooter in the game, but you can't argue that no one moves better without the ball. And on the best passing team in basketball, that is a lethal combination.

The Lakers version is the injured three, but it can be every bit as lethal offensively. Since The Mailman is still injured and expected to be out the longest, we'll go with GP, Shaq, and Kobe for the sake of this comparison. When healthy, they are as good as, if not better than, any trio, because they are equally as good on the defensive end.

What Payton lacks in having lost a step, he more than makes up for in smarts on the defensive end, and both Shaq and Kobe can change a game defensively, as well. Their trio is the perfect scenario -- they can all shoot it (though I wouldn't want Shaq shooting jump shots), post it, defend it and pass it; all are used to taking a game over; and all three are winners (only Payton doesn't have that ring). And come playoff time, all have the ability to take their games up another level.

Kevin Garnett
Minnesota Timberwolves

46 24.5 14.0 5.2 .494 .746

Last is the trio that right now truly is the big three. I'm talking about the MVP of the first half in KG; the best point guard in the West over the first half in my homey from Baltimore, Sam Cassell; and arguably the best third option (with a first-option mentality) in Latrell Sprewell.

This group has been special, and each has something to prove. Remember, this is a team that has been kicked out of the first round in each of the last seven years. But you wouldn't know it by their play, which has been inspiring for all those T-wolves fans out there. They continue to put up amazing numbers and win games.

What's been most impressive is Minnesota's league-leading record on the road. To win away from home, you have to be able to defend it, and the T-Wolves have done a good job of that so far. Also, with the offensive impact Sam and Latrell have had, what really stands out for me is that KG's numbers across the board are all up. That's why, hands down, this guy is the MVP of the first half.

But it's only the first half, and things should get a little warmer in the coming months. Every team will be jockeying for playoff seeding out West, where all but the Suns are still legit in terms of playoff aspirations.

Rumor Central


Brent Barry


Feb. 3 - According to several newspaper accounts, the Celtics are the latest team to show interest in Brent Barry -- offering Chris Mills' expiring contract in return. The Tacoma News Tribune reported over the weekend that the Sonics were interested in re-signing Barry, but so far, the Sonics are willing to give Barry only a two-year contract. A trade for Mills is significantly less than what the Sonics were hoping to get in return, but given Barry's uncertain status (he's out five weeks with a broken finger) and future contract demands when he hits free agency this summer (reportedly 4 years, $23 million), there may not be anything better out there.


Rasheed Wallace


Feb. 3 - The San Francisco Chronicle and the Oregonian reported on Thursday that the Blazers and Warriors are involved in talks that would send 'Sheed to Golden State for Nick Van Exel and Erick Dampier. However, sources told ESPN Insider that so far the Blazers are balking -- or more accurately -- waiting patiently to see if a better deal comes along. The move is an obvious cap-cutting attempt by the Warriors that could leave them around $20 million in cap room next season.

Peep Show

Washington Wizards: After missing only 42 games in is first seven years of NBA play, Jerry Stackhouse was a bit nervous about returning to action after missing 45 games this year alone. "I never really get nervous or anxious about basketball and I was nervous," he told the Washington Post. "I didn't know what to expect from not being on the floor for a long time. Things I normally do, which I react to, I thought about a little bit . . . It's been difficult for me because if I had this happen to me if I was a third- or fourth-year player, my game wouldn't be where it's at," Stackhouse said Friday after a light workout. "But now I feel like I'm missing out on being at the top of my game because I've taken a year out of my prime. I feel like I'm just starting to hit my stride to know the game, to know what I can do to out-think a lot of the players on the floor."

Dallas Mavericks: It seems like the easiest way to beat the Mavs these days is to let them have the lead. "We're an outside-inside team, and we don't have a lot of really great post players," coach Don Nelson said in the Dallas Morning News. "And when the jump shots aren't going and our defense is not strong, that's exactly what you're looking at - lost leads. When we have some cold spells, we're vulnerable." And it's not just the coach talking. "It's more of a mental thing for us," Michael Finley said. "When we get big leads, we kind of forget how we got them. We can't relax on defense. If anything, you want to take up your defensive intensity because the other team knows they have a big hole to get out of so they become even more aggressive."

Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce and the Celtics seem to be going from the frying pan into the fire on a weekly basis. "It definitely humbles you," Pierce said in the Boston Herald. "It's definitely something that can bring out the best or the worst in you. I have a lot of challenges I'm facing. I could use all of these things as an excuse for not getting the job done, but I'm not going to do that. This has probably been the toughest week there has been on me, but I just have to move on from it." Of course, his latest struggle has been the resignation of coach Jim O'Brien. "It was just draining on me," he said. "I was definitely drained by it. There were a lot of things I expected after the trades and our off-court situations. But (O'Brien's resignation) is something I wasn't prepared for. I let it affect me."

Chicago Bulls: Jay Williams nearly lost his life on a motorcycle last summer, so the $4.7 million he forfeited after the Bulls bought out the remaining $7.7 million on his contract for $3 million this week is the easy part. "No question it's more than fair," agent Bill Duffy said in the Chicago Sun Times. "Usually when you cut a deal, it hurts both parties, but this is great for both parties." The Bulls are said to be looking for a job within the organization for Williams to fill until he can return to play.

Denver Nuggets: Denver fans are wishing David Stern had a vote for Rookie of the Year. "When it's all said and done, you're ultimately judged on whether you've turned your team into a winner," Stern told the Denver Post. "I think Carmelo and (Cleveland rookie guard) LeBron (James) have improved their teams' records dramatically, but I think Carmelo is off to a faster start (because of his team)." They might also wish Stern had a vote for Executive of the Year. "I actually think that building through the draft is the easiest way to go, and having salaries low enough where you can add free agents is intelligent management," Stern said. "I think Kiki is a good (general) manager and a good judge of talent. You have to be patient. He took advantage of a poor team to get a good draft pick, that sly old fox."

Philadelphia 76ers: Jerry Stackhouse didn't work. Neither did Keith Van Horn. So should we really be surprised about Allen Iverson's latest sidekick? "It's the same way it's been, even with Glenn [Robinson]," Iverson said in the Philadelphia Daily News. "The feeling was, if we had Glenn on the floor, it would get a lot easier. But teams play me the same way, just pay more attention to him."