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04-15-2003, 01:04 PM
Will the Bulls come
charging after KG?
by Chad Ford

Operation Chicago Freedom was completed Monday when owner Jerry Reinsdorf finished the liberation of the Bulls from Jerry Krause's chubby grip by naming former Bulls guard John Paxson as the team's GM.
It's now everyone's prerogative to give Paxson a little bit of unsolicited advice. Here goes mine. Paxson's first, and only, objective this summer should be to find a way, any way, to pry Kevin Garnett from the Timberwolves. Paxson has a great reputation in Chicago as a student of the game, an honest, trusting man with a great feel for players and how to fit them together. That's nice and all, but his greatest attribute is simply that he isn't Jerry Krause.

Chicago is one of the most desirable free-agent markets in the NBA. But Krause's rep as the guy who stubbornly broke up the Bulls has scared away almost every top-flight free agent in the league. When Krause, along with Benny the Bull, came calling, the free agents started running. With Krause out of there, the Bulls will once again be open for business. They should start, and end, with Garnett. "They have a good team, and they just have to get a couple of people around there, and it will blossom into something beautiful," Garnett told the Chicago Sun Times recently. "They have a lot of good, young players who someday will be dominant in this league."


Kevin Garnett is the Timberwolves' all-time leading scorer.
A couple of people? Try one. Injecting KG into the Bulls' mix of young, athletic big men would immediately propel the terri-Bulls from lottery dwellers to the beasts of the East. Prying KG away from the T-Wolves this summer won't be easy. Not only do the Wolves desperately want to re-sign Garnett to an extension, his $28 million salary next season means the Bulls would need to give up a massive portion of their roster to make such a deal happen. It isn't impossible. The Bulls are loaded with young players. Combine them with a few veterans and the T-Wolves could get a potent infusion of talent that would make Garnett expendable.

What could Paxson offer the T-Wolves? He'd start with No. 2 pick Jay Williams. Williams has been shaky this season and seems to have lost the respect of his teammates. He's been outplayed by Jamal Crawford, who at 6-foot-6 arguably has a better upside. Williams' trade value is still high, however, and most teams feel he still has the chance to be a star if he plays in the right system.

Then we'd throw in third-year forward Marcus Fizer. Fizer always has been one of coach Flip Saunders' favorite players, and he's been instant offense for the Bulls when he gets into the game. Better yet, Fizer's contract is up at the end of next season. If he doesn't pan out, the Wolves aren't tied to him long term. Now for the tough part, because pairing Williams and Fizer only gets us to about $8 million. The Wolves also would have to take on Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall to make the numbers work. Marshall is a no brainer. He makes a reasonable salary and his contract comes off the books after the 2004-05 season. Rose will be a harder pill to swallow. His salary is at $13.3 million next season, and he has four years left on his contract. Rose does have an opt out after next season, but given the financial climate around the league, he's unlikely to to want to give up that money.

Williams, Fizer, Rose and Marshall would give the Wolves essentially four starters for the price of one. Combine them with Wally Szczerbiak, Radoslav Nesterovic, Troy Hudson and Joe Smith, and the Wolves would be deep. If that's not enough, making that trade would also shave about $3.5 million off Minnesota's payroll. Since the Wolves are in luxury-tax land, the trade essentially would save them $7 million next season.

If that still isn't enough to convince the Wolves to take the deal, Paxson should up the ante and throw in the Bulls' first-round draft pick this year. The last thing Chicago needs is more young players. Currently, the Bulls have a 4.4 percent chance of winning the lottery. Even if LeBron, Darko or Carmelo is at the end of the rainbow, Paxson shouldn't be afraid to give up the chance at such players in pursuit of a legitimate MVP candidate. If the Bulls don't win the lottery, the seventh pick still would give the Wolves a chance at a great player like Dwyane Wade, Chris Kaman, Michael Sweetney or even Brazilian big man Anderson Varejao.

The Bulls still would be in good shape, as well, despite giving up five players. Chicago's lineup would include Garnett, Tyson Chandler, Eddy Curry, Crawford and either Eddie Robinson or Trenton Hassell at the two. That lineup would be one of the biggest, most athletic in NBA history. Chandler, Curry and Crawford all have shown signs late in the season that they're on the verge of stardom.

The Bulls still would have their full mid-level exception and veteran's exception to bring in more veterans (Scottie Pippen is already stumping for a return to Chicago) to fill out the roster. And don't forget that several other promising young players, including Dalibor Bagaric and Roger Mason Jr. (who'd be a lottery pick this year had he stayed in school), are still on the roster.

Who knows? A lineup like that could even drag Michael Jordan out of retirement one more time. While the trade makes sense in theory, there are two pressing questions. Could Reinsdorf afford to give KG that big extension he's been looking for? And would Wolves VP Kevin McHale have the courage to give up an all-star for three good players, one potential all-star and a lottery pick?

Reinsdorf has assured Paxson he's willing to pay the luxury tax if the team is competitive, and the addition of Garnett should certainly put it on the road. Garnett has been discussing an extension with the Wolves for a while and has indicated he'd be willing to take a pay cut if it meant freeing up cash to sign other players. Even if KG's extension started at over $20 million a year, he'd be worth the money.

McHale is in a difficult position. Garnett makes so much money the Wolves just don't have the cap space to pursue legitimate free agents. They also have been hit hard with the loss of draft picks as a result of the Joe Smith fiasco. Garnett already has made it clear he won't sign an extension unless the Wolves prove to him they're capable of bringing in more talent. That's going to be tough with a mid-first-round pick and a mid-level exception. Outside of Garnett and Szczerbiak, McHale has no real trade bait. If the Wolves make an early exit in the playoffs again, they face the possibility of losing Garnett for nothing when he becomes a free agent in 2004. The Bulls are one of the few teams with enough intriguing talent to make up for the loss of Garnett.

If Paxson wants to make a splash -- scratch that, a tidal wave as GM of the Bulls -- he should pick up the phone today and call McHale. It's a deal that makes sense for both teams, and one that could eventually propel Chicago and Minnesota into a Finals showdown in the next few years.
Wizards quickly losing their magic

One day after Jerry Stackhouse took a shot at Michael Jordan's leadership on the floor, coach Doug Collins fired a few shots of his own at MJ's teammates. Collins told the Washington Post that he'd been "disrespected" by some of the players on his team, claiming the level of disrespect was "insidious." "I've had guys in that locker room curse at me this year, show no respect," said Collins. "Michael [Jordan] stepped in and said, 'Don't treat Coach that way.' Michael has the ultimate respect for a coach."

Some believe that Collins was specifically referring to Kwame Brown, who was pulled from a game in March for swearing at Collins. Said Jordan: "Doug felt he had been disrespected. These are things you have to deal with. I'd rather for them not to be out for everyone's opinion. Those are things I'd like to field internally, but I think Doug felt very disrespected."

Jordan apologists continue to come out of the woodwork claiming Jordan's presence on the hardwood was good for the Wizards this year. Winning they claim, was more important than high lottery picks. Jordan's example to young players like Brown, they holler, was more valuable than playing time. Hogwash. The Wizards will post a losing record for the second straight year. I understand that 37 wins is better than 20 wins, but those extra 17 wins were a result of the young kids standing around watching Jordan do his thing.

"Michael cannot carry a subpar team at 40," Collins told the Chicago Tribune. "Michael at 25 would have made the playoffs. This team never mixed or fit the whole year. Let's hope we can make changes. Guys said [Jordan] took away from their games. They're going to find out what he brought. Sometimes you'd better be careful what you wish for. [Disrespect] was insidious. I have a reputation. Anytime there's a flare-up, it's me. But sometimes you need to look at the players. It won't happen next year. Trust me."

As for Jordan's example to the kids, the kids hated him. Even if some of Jordan's work ethic and professionalism wore off, the Wizards won't receive the benefit. Jordan's two main pupils last season, Richard Hamilton and Courtney Alexander, are in Detroit and New Orleans. This summer, expect Brown, Etan Thomas and anyone else who crossed Jordan or Collins to follow them out the door.

"I can look at some marginal players around the league and say, 'You know what? This kid may not be as talented, but his desire and passion is strong and he may be able to help a team like this on a consistent basis,' " said Jordan. "Maybe there's a guy we feel is a star, yet he doesn't have the quality it takes to be a leader at practice, on the court, responding to the coach's leadership and what he thinks. I would take 12 guys who had a strong passion to play this game over 12 stars who don't respect the game."

Good riddance.

In Jordan's two years he did discover that drafting Brown No. 1 was a mistake. Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol (Jordan claimed he couldn't play), Eddy Curry or even Tony Parker would've been better. He discovered that UNC alum Jerry Stackhouse wasn't all he was cracked up to be. That Bryon Russell's tank is on empty. That Charles Oakley's mouth is the only thing left on his body that still works. That Christian Laettner doesn't qualify as a veteran locker room presence. That there was a reason the Warriors and Sixers let Larry Hughes go.

He even discovered that trading Juwan Howard and Calvin Booth for Laettner, Courtney Alexander, Loy Vaught, Hubert Davis and Thomas was a mistake. All five players have been a bust. Meanwhile Howard, once the most reviled man in Washington, has gained respect from just about everyone for his play in Denver the last two seasons. Of course there were positives. Jordan gave Wizards fans something to root for, something to believe in the last two season. He made a lot of money for owner Abe Pollin and 28 other owners in the NBA by selling out arenas wherever he went.

Jordan proved once again why he is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. Toward the end of the season, at the ripe old age of 40, he was playing at a superstar level. His will to succeed is remarkable. His ability to adapt his game as his body weakens is extraordinary. He is the best. Period. His legacy is not only in tact, it is enhanced by his resolve. His fledgling legacy in the front office, however, has never been in more doubt.

Five years from now, when the fans at MCI center are looking at the Wizards' eighth consecutive lottery, will those memories have faded? Will the brief euphoria of the past two seasons have been worth the trouble? When Jordan walks out that door, the magic will leave the building with him. Jordan used to openly mock Jerry Krause's assertion that franchises, not players, win championships. Without any real players for Jordan to lean on as he heads back up to the front office, how long will it be before Jordan joins Krause on a beach somewhere sipping Piña Coladas and reminiscing about the good old days?

Playoff-tology

There's just two days to go in the regular season and we still don't have a clue who's playing who in the first round of the playoffs.

The only two matchups we know for sure is that the Spurs will receive the top seed in the West and play the Suns in round one. The Kings will win the second seed in the West and play the Jazz in round one.

Everything else is still up for grabs.

The Mavs are now locked into the third seed, but they could still potentially play either the Lakers, T-Wolves or Blazers in round one.

The Wolves have the inside track at the fourth seed. They need a win on Wednesday at Memphis or a Blazers and Lakers loss to guarantee them home-court advantage in the first round.

The Blazers need a loss by the T-Wolves and wins against the Suns on Tuesday and Clippers on Wednesday to get the fourth seed.

Two wins by the Lakers (against the Nuggets and Warriors) and a loss by the Wolves and Blazers, and the Lakers will leap-frog both Minnesota and Portland into the fourth seed. Two wins by the Lakers and one loss by the Blazers and the Lakers will be the fifth seed and the Blazers will fall to sixth.

Two wins by the Blazers, two wins by the Lakers and a T-Wolves loss would give the Blazers that fourth seed, the Lakers a fifth seed and the T-Wolves the sixth seed.

Out in the East, the Pistons locked up the No. 1 seed with a big win against the Cavs Monday night. Everything else is up in the air.

The Nets need a win against the Pacers on Wednesday to lock up the No. 2 seed and the Atlantic Division. The Sixers need to win their final two games -- against the Bulls and Wizards -- and have the Nets lose both of their remaining games to move into the second seed.

The Pacers still have a shot at the third seed if they win their last two games (against the Knicks and Nets) and the Sixers lose their last two games (against the Wizards and Bulls), but that is a very slim possibility.

The Hornets could still catch the Pacers for the fourth seed in the East with a win against the Hawks on Wednesday and two Pacer losses.

The Celtics are now a lock for the sixth seed after the Magic's loss and the Hornets win on Monday.

The Bucks and Magic will meet for a head-to-head showdown for the seventh seed on Wednesday. Whoever wins the matchup will take the seventh seed.

Draft Rumors: Is T.J. Ford in the draft?

Texas point guard and national player of the year T.J. Ford was "110 percent" sure he would return for his junior season just a few weeks ago. Now he's a little less than that. T.J. Ford is projected as a top-six pick in the draft, if he declares. When asked if he'd declare for the NBA draft, Ford told the Dallas Morning News that, "It's a possibility."

"I haven't had time to think about it," he told the paper. "I haven't had time to sit down with my coach. I am still a part of the Texas basketball team. I'm part of the university, and I'm still here. Until I make a decision, I'm still at the University of Texas."

Ford's waffling is probably tied directly to feedback he's been getting from NBA scouts. Insider talked to numerous NBA scouts in Portsmouth and almost all of them had Ford going anywhere from fourth to sixth in the upcoming draft. "We love him," one Western Conference GM told Insider last weekend. "He's the best player in college basketball. If he was a few inches taller or had a better outside shot, he'd challenge LeBron for the No. 1 pick in the draft. He's that good."

His coach, Rick Barnes isn't concerned with Ford's future. "He's a better shooter, and he's only going to get better, because he puts the work in," Barnes told the Houston Chronicle. "I don't think people realize how good he can be. You won't find anyone that will work harder than him to improve. You can't keep him out of the gym."

Ford said "it's going to be a while" before he makes up his mind about the draft. "I don't know," Ford said. "I'm tired right now. I've been doing a lot of traveling, and I haven't been getting a lot of rest. I'm going to take this time to relax and continue to work out, and whenever I make a decision, I make a decision." Ridnour would be considered the third-best point guard in the draft. Oregon coach Ernie Kent confirmed what we've known for some time. Junior point guard Luke Ridnour likely will declare for the 2003 NBA Draft.

"He should make himself available," Kent told the Eugene Register-Guard. "I expect that, and he should do that. "But in terms of making any final decision, he might not have all the pertinent information that he needs until a week before the draft. By that time, you will know everybody who has declared, what came out of the Chicago pre-draft camp, and what European players have popped up all of a sudden. He'll have enough information then to make the best decision he's able to make, and even then it may come down to a tough decision."

Kent said that Ridnour probably won't hire an agent right away, keeping his college eligibility intact. Ridnour met with NBA VP Stu Jackson on Monday to get a feel for his draft status. Most NBA scouts have him ranked as the third best point guard in the draft behind Ford and Kansas' Kirk Hinrich. Ridnour likely will be a late-lottery to mid-first-round pick. "I've got a lot of stuff I've got to figure out right now," Ridnour said. "I'm just going to pray about it some more and find some more information out, and just go from there."

Last week we told you, with Doug Wrenn's draft declaration, that the floodgates would now be open for middling underclassmen to put their names in the draft. With that said, Kentucky center Marquis Estill announced he'll formally place his name in the NBA Draft this week.

"He wants to see where he'd fit in," Allen Feldhaus, who coached Estill at Madison Central High School, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I just don't think he wants to go back to school next year. A lot of kids feel that way." Estill claims he'll test his status and won't hire an agent until he gets a clear picture of where he might go. Most NBA scouts are projecting Estill as a second-round pick.

Feldhaus acknowledged he's hearing the same thing, but that's not stopping Estill, who'd like to get his hands on an NBA salary.

"That would be the main reason," Feldhaus said.

Peep Show

Houston Rockets: Remember when owner Les Alexander said in September that this year's team is "one of the great teams ever assembled." What does he think now that the team is finishing in the lottery for the fourth consecutive season? "I'm disappointed," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I would have hoped we had done better. I think we have the talent to do better." Asked if he would go into the postseason assuming that Rudy Tomjanovich would be back as Rockets coach, Alexander put nothing to rest. "I'm going into this thinking that my primary goal is to have a stable franchise," Alexander said. "To have stability means having people working with you awhile. We'll leave it at that." Told that he seemed to be avoiding an endorsement of Tomjanovich, Alexander said: "We'll leave it at that."

Memphis Grizzlies: Jerry West said he plans on signing Mike Miller to an extension this summer. "If you get a player you like and you think he's going to be a part of your future those are things you get done and out of the way," West told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. "I don't view it as a major thing." Miller said he wants to stay in Memphis. "It'd be great to do that because it means you'll be with one team," Miller said. "They're making a commitment to you and you're making one to them. I see this team as being good in the future so I'm excited about being a part of it. I'm really happy to be here."

Denver Nuggets: For those of you who have labeled rookie Nikoloz Tskitishvili the "Big Bust", you probably should ready Harry Araton's great piece on "Skita" in the New York Times. Kiki Vandeweghe, who watched Dirk Nowitzki go through similar struggles his rookie season in Dallas, believes it's only a matter of time before Skita's dominating the league.

Atlanta Hawks: Good news Hawks season ticket holders. Your refund check is in the mail. Executive vice president Lee Douglas told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that every fan who bought a full 41-game season ticket before the season started will receive a $125 refund check. The Hawks had about 4,000 season tickets, so the guarantee cost them about $500,000.

Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors: The two teams meet each other tonight with a lot at stake. Whoever loses will lock up the third spot in the draft lottery, guaranteeing a 15.7 percent chance at the first pick, a 47.2 percent shot of being top three, and a worst-case scenario of sixth. So will both teams play the worst tonight? "Our belief and hope is that our teams are playing to win and playing as hard as they can, because that's what the fans expect and the fans want," NBA spokesman Tim Frank told the Sun Sentinel. "That's the expectation we've had since the beginning of time. There's no indication that any team is trying to position itself better."

jayC
04-15-2003, 02:07 PM
Thanks for the great info. Particularly laying the chicago KG trade out. Can we say dynasty part two if that happened.

Murphy3
04-15-2003, 02:37 PM
i think it would be a bit early to proclaim the bulls a "dynasty" just because they added KG.

aexchange
04-15-2003, 02:39 PM
i dont put any stock into what ford writes.

he talked about a KG to dallas deal. and what did that net us? just some wet dreams and a big pile of poop.

jayC
04-15-2003, 02:46 PM
If Curry develops into an All-star then who knows? Even if it is just a my secretary told your secretary rumor it makes for good sports talk.

MavKikiNYC
04-16-2003, 06:59 AM
Ouch. Harshin' the MJ retirement buzz.....