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Prowling the NBA: Dec 5 - The best laid plans

Even as I'm typing this right now, the NBA world is burning. Greg Oden has, once again, gone down with a serious injury. He's a prodigy. He's overrated. He's athletic. He's injury-prone. He might become the best center in the NBA. He might never play again. No one really knows what Greg Oden is, and the jury is going to be out a lot longer now.

What we do know is Portland's master plan just went up in those flames. Outlaw is already out for the year. Batum might be too. Andre Miller is not fitting in and Roy is being a diva about it. And now the linchpin for the Blazers' hopes and dreams, the player who might actually be more important to them than Brandon Roy, appears to have been struck by the curse that seems to afflict all promising Portland big men.

There's other teams who are building up or tearing down their plans for the immediate future, and we'll cover those here too (as well as several Wolves items to talk about at the end), but let's start off with Oden.

Greg Oden is badly badly hurt:

I'm right now monitoring several boards and blog sites for updates on this, but just by watching that video, anyone can tell it's serious. The injury happened when Aaron Brooks collided with Oden's knee on the way to the hoop. Oden was down for a good 7 minutes, and ultimately had to be carried off the floor on a stretcher.

Via one of the boards I'm refreshing, a sideline reporter for Blazers Radio is saying it's a fractured left patella, which would effectively end Oden's season right now, and possibly even his career. The injury itself looks eerily similar to the one Shaun Livingston suffered two years ago, from which he is still trying to recover from to this day.

Ok, ESPN has just confirmed it: fractured left patella.

Blazer fans are in a panic. Browsing their threads and blogs for info, I'm coming across a constant cascade of direness that can effectively be summed up as "the season's over, time to tank for John Wall". I've even read a few posts heavily criticizing Portland golden boy Kevin Pritchard, who has already lost some luster over the Andre Miller saga.

Ah, Twitter update: Portland GM Kevin Pritchard says Brooks never hit Oden's leg. The injury is "non impact". Very definitely Shaun Livingston-esque.

I'm concerned by the lack of movement in Oden's leg while he was on the floor. You could see as the trainer was talking to him, his legs were spasming and he looked like he was trying to kick his left foot out, but couldn't. The knee was bent at a greusome angle, and the lack of tension in it that was preventing him from moving his left shin usually indicates torn ligaments or nerve damage.

Livingston's injury occured much like Greg's...no contact. Shaun landed awkwardly from an open court, routine layup, and ended up dislocating his kneecap and tearing both his ACL and PCL.

Oden will undergo surgery and a definite rehab timeline will be set then, but nothing in Oden's history or the nature of this sort of injury would suggest he'll play again this year, and it's possible he might be done for good if his rehab doesn't go perfectly. For now, we can simply pray Oden recovers from this.

Portland is now without Travis Outlaw, Greg Oden, and possibly Nic Batum for the season, and one top of that...

Portland is shopping Andre Miller. Plus the Rockets are  shopping McGrady and the Sixers are shopping Elton Brand

Blazers: Oden's injury certainly changes the game plan here. The original intent was to trade Miller for an athletic wing to replace Outlaw for the year, but now finding a big man is a much more pressing concern for the Blazers.

Miller hasn't found a comfort level with the Blazers, nor the Blazers with him. As reported last week, Brandon Roy went as far as to subtly blame Miller for Portland's recent struggles, and Nate McMillan's somewhat baffling decision to let Roy decide how the team would handle that is certainly what has led the Blazers to look for trade options. Miller can't be traded until the 15th, but it seems basically inevitable he will be eventually.

Rockets:
Houston don't want TMac back, it's as simple as that. They're 100% invested in Aaron Brooks and Trevor Ariza now, and don't want to jeopardize the chemistry they're building. But Houston is also having a hard time finding takers for McGrady because he's coming off of an injury and isn't playing.

If the Rockets want to move TMac, they're going to have to bite the bullet and play him at some point. The team has said it would be willing to take back long term deal as possibly an incentive to just unload McGrady hassle free, but I doubt any team will take him, even as an expiring, until it's proven he can play at least a little still.

Sixers: Brand is unhappy with his new bench role, but he also doesn't fit with the team. And other teams don't think Brand, who makes $14.8 million this season, has enough left to merit taking on that contract.

"No, I don't accept it," Brand said of not starting. "I don't think I've done anything to merit a bench spot. We're not winning either way, so I'd rather be out there and give us the best chance." Yet the Sixers put Brand back into the starting lineup tonight and he got lit up by Boris Diaw in a one point loss to the Bobcats.

Some team will eventually decide it needs post scoring and Brand is the best player available (Houston...?) Until then, Brand is a good player matched with a bad team, getting paid more than he probably should be.

And there's one more trade rumor...

The Bulls are reportedly discussing a trade for Al Harrington:

To which the immediate reaction should by "why???"

The rumored deal is Al Harrington for Tyrus Thomas and Jerome James. But that trade ultimately helps neither team. The Knicks get a half-year rental of Thomas and clear no additional cap space for this summer, which is the only way any mid-season trade will be relevant for them. The Bulls give up assets and still don't get the low post scorer they need.

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ESPN's Ric Bucher said that he called around and no such deal was in discussion, but there are too many sources saying the same things for that to appear to be true.

If the Bulls are indeed seeking to deal Thomas for a player as generally bad as Harrington, should perhaps the Wolves be in this discussion?

Ok, now that we're past the trade chatter, back to the headlines.

The New Jersey Nets set a new record for the worst start in NBA history:

0-18 to start the season, after a loss to the Dallas Mavericks. But so much happened in New Jersey before this, and after.

Before:

The Nets have fired head coach Lawrence Frank:

It isn't entirely fair, but it was inevitable. "It's tough, because he was the hardest worker on the team," center Brook Lopez said. "He's so passionate about what he does. It was a rough situation, and he did a great job of not using our injuries as an excuse. He came in every night and had us prepared."

Frank, quite frankly, just didn't have much to work with. Mass injuries depleted the Nets early this year, with a few games where Brook Lopez was the only usual starter in the lineup. And even healthy, the Nets lack quality talent. Could Frank have gotten them to win one of those 18 if he had pushed harder? Probably. But the bottom line is you can't trade away your only franchise player, Vince Carter, and not expect to seriously fall off.

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Nets fans weren't terribly pleased with Frank, but then again, they weren't pleased with any part of the team. They expressed regret over the firing, although they also echoed its inevitability.

"This is an completely undeserved termination RIGHT NOW. Frank got the most out of what he had & unfortunately it didn't translate too many wins. Firing him now i don't think was the best move, at least give him the end of the season. What bugs me out is that Kiki wanted to fire Frank when he first got the GM job but Thorn refused & went as far as to follow the team on their West Coast trip so he could scout the players. A little shady, but we'll see what happens."

"I guess management is trying to light a fire under the players or something. Good luck with that. I kind of feel bad for the guy. This start wasn't all his fault, but he's taking the blame. Still, this is much easier to understand than the Hornets firing Byron Scott."

As for what's next for the Nets...

Net's general manager Kiki Vandeweghe will coach the rest of the season, with Del Harris his top assistant:

Vanderweghe and Harris worked together as assistants in Dallas previously, so this makes some sense. Also sensible is that, with new ownership on the horizon, hiring a permanent replacement coach would almost certainly be a waste of money. Prochov will probably want to name a head coach he's picked next year anyway.

In the meantime, Vanderweghe is a solid, if somewhat reluctant, choice to finish out the season. When asked if he wanted to coach, he said, "Not until Rod called me yesterday. But it's a challenge, and you embrace the challenge. I'm sure all the coaches I've had are laughing at me right now."

As for a possible permanent coach...

Patrick Ewing says he'd love to coach the Nets:

Or any team, really. Ewing has been gunning for a head coaching job for a couple of years now, while working as an assistant with the Magic to develop Dwight Howard.

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Ewing's permanent home is in New Jersey. The subject came up when the Magic visited Madison Square Garden to play the Knicks.

"Of course. I would be back home. I still live in New Jersey. I just want an opportunity. Yes, I would love to coach the Nets."

However, since firing Frank...

The Nets finally won their first game of the season:

A 97-91 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats. The Nets received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of what can only be described as a gutsy performance, and took the win and it's context in stride. The Nets were most boosted by the return of Courtney Lee, who threw in 27 points, but Brook Lopez and Devin Harris both had strong performances as well.

''It's just one at the end of the day,'' guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. ''It's one win. We wanted it to get it out of the way. It means a lot. We did it. We can't be satisfied with it. We've got to move forward and put something together."

''This game is a game of runs, and so we had our run and we knew they were going to come back and attack us again,'' Lee said. ''It was just if we had enough character and poise to take that hit and continue to play through it.''
''For me, I was happy for the players,'' Vandeweghe said. ''This has been a bit of a struggle. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It was tough, tough on everybody.''
The Nets are still without enigmatic power forward Yi Jianlian, and all the off-court issues with the probable new ownership and possible move aren't helping either, but it's one step at a time for New Jersey. In the grand scheme of master plans, the Nets aren't even to the rough draft yet.
Now for the latest on Allen Iverson.

Allen Iverson has returned to the Philadelphia 76ers:

He's slated to re-debut with the Sixers Monday against the Nuggets (the irony...it hurts...)
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I'll start by saying I'm delighted about this. I'm a big Iverson fan and this is the best situation he could have landed in after everything that has happened.

The Sixers are reeling, having lost both Louis Williams and Jrue Holiday to injury, and need scoring ability and guard play in the worst way. Iverson will have a chance to step in and immediately take over (or more aptly, pick up where he left off). The Sixers still have two key players from his first run with the team...Andre Iguodala and Sam Dalembert....and with Elton brand fuming, Iverson should and probably will have free reign on the court.
Iguodala immediately gave his approval to bringing back Iverson. "That was pretty easy," he said. "I think all the guys on our team, whether they've played with him or not, realize what he can do. He can play."

8 weeks from now? Well, that's another story. No one has said what Iverson's role will be when Williams returns, and given the revelation of that situation playing out badly in Memphis, one would think a long talk with Eddie Jordan is coming up for AI.

Also worth watching is how Iverson reacts to the presence of owner Ed Snider and General Manager Ed Stefanski, both of whom Iverson had tense relationships with when he demanded out of Philly three years ago. Remember, the Sixers banned Iverson from the team before he was traded.

Stefanski was welcoming in his words, deflecting away from their past issues and showing encouragement for Iverson. "If there's going to be a chance for him to do it and make it work, there's no doubt in my mind Philadelphia is the best spot for him to try and do it," Stefanski said. "He's like a rock star."
Snider was less hospitable, giving nothing more than a terse, "I support him [Stefanski] and his basketball decisions."

Iverson meanwhile was moved to the point of tears in his press conference. ''I thought my basketball life was over,'' he said. But then I got a chance to come home, it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down. This is a blessing, a great day for me. I have fans all over the world. But the relationship I have with the these fans is like no other. I have a love for them and they love me.''

Iverson is signed to a non-guaranteed (although it's basically guaranteed because of Philly's injuries) contract pro-rated off the veteran's minimum...pocket change by comparison to his peers, but "The whole situation wasn't about the contract and the money," Iverson's agent, Leon Rose, told The Associated Press. "It was about the opportunity and the chance to come to Philadelphia."

"Without really seeing him on the floor, I would like to compare him to Brett Favre, a guy who people think is too old to play and he's almost having an MVP year," Jordan said.
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Ok so there might be an element of "I'm retired no wait I'm not" comparison in that as well...

And the other piece of Iverson news is...

Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley finally told the truth about what happened with Iverson. If you believe him, that is:
I'll let you read it yourselves:

"The trainer said I don't want him playing in the first two or three games but when he starts to play we should play him about 15 minutes. We're going to watch him very closely and bring him along slowly otherwise he's going to injure this leg again. So that's the directions Lionel got. He played him 18 minutes in the first game when we told him 15 minutes. Which was fine and Allen did well. He scored 11 points in 18 minutes I think."

"So in the 2nd game, if I remember correctly, he played 25 minutes and he scored like 17 points. Now he went to the press and started bitching about not being the starter. I think he was being a little ridiculous to think he could be put out there after he's coming off that leg injury and be the starter and that he had earned it like he said he wanted to do."

"Lionel then had a meeting with him and the team; with all of the stuff that was going on around the team and Allen was very upset. I was in the Middle East when this took place and I flew for 29 hours and when I got home I heard there was a problem and I flew out to the West Coast. I met with Lionel and I met with Allen and I thought things were going to be straightened out."

"Allen came to me that night and said he had a problem at home that he had to take care of, which I believed to be true and I still do believe, and I told him to take as much time as he needed to take care of his personal problem and so he left."

Yet frighteningly enough, that's not nearly the most disorienting quote of the week. This is.

Ron Artest says he drank before games and at halftime:

And I'm not talking Gatoraid people.

"I used to drink Hennessy ... at halftime," Artest said in an interview with the Sporting News, which is publishing the story in its Dec. 7 issue. "I [kept it] in my locker.

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Hennesy is a French cognac. Hard liquor. Before games. At halftime. Are we really surprised? We should be, and yet, somehow I'm not at all. Just another bizzare aspect of Ron's borderline psychotic life I guess.

Now, before I forget again, I have something that I forgot to post in last week's update.

Jason Kidd is now second all time in assists:

Kidd overtook Mark Jackson in a game against Houston with an allyoop to rookie Rodrigue Beaubois to put his total at 10,335. It's an incredible accomplishment by one of the most creative faciliatators ever to play the game, even if he's understated about it.

"The stats will take care of themselves and after my career, I will reflect on them," said Kidd, who ranks third in the NBA with 9.4 assists per game this season. "Some records are meant to stay where they are, and the all-time assist number of John Stockton is going to stay there for a long time."

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I would go as far as to say Stockton's record is permanent. We might as well perma-plaque it now. To put Stockton's assist total into perspective, Kidd, assuming he averages 9.1apg all this year, would need to average 20apg over the next three years to catch Stockton (15,806 career assists, first all time) in the same amount of time John played (19 seasons).

Stockton averaged 13 assists/game between 87-97. That, combined with nearly two decades of playing, makes his assist record basically uncatchable.

Even so, a standing e-ovation to Kidd.

Ok, finally we have some Timberwolves things for you all to talk about.

The Timberwolves are looking closely at Rudy Gay:

I broke this story earlier this week, so many of you have already posted your thoughts, but I have more to add now.

Originally, the story was first posted by Hoopshype:

An NBA source close to the situation informed your friendly neighborhood columnist this week that the Minnesota Timberwolves have eyes for Memphis Grizzlies swingman Rudy Gay.  After turning down a contract extension that was reportedly worth $10 million a year from Memphis in early November, Gay is set to become a restricted free agent this summer.

The Wolves are in need of an impact wing player and believe Gay could be that guy.  Minnesota is watching closely how he performs this season.  The source indicated that the one concern the Wolves have with regard to Gay is whether or not he will develop that "killer instinct" late in ballgames.

Now, the interesting thing that came up after I posted this is that Dime Magazine, picking up on something the Pioneer Press posted, wrote that there was a potential trade offer to swap Ricky Rubio for Gay.

My take on that? Ick.

But Rudy Gay is most definitely high on my list of desired acquisitions. He's shown heart and has become a defensive force this year. And he is, as always, an extremely impressive athlete.

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"So far he's played great since he didn't sign the extension," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said. "His game is a lot more settled and poised. He's not as frantic as he used to be. He's maturing. He's scoring, his shooting percentage is up, he's rebounding better, he's getting to the free-throw line better. And his defense is picking up -- he's getting more deflections and just being more aware on defense. That's what you would expect from a guy who's been in the league for four years."

Our own Ryan Gomes added, "He looks like he's even more aggressive taking the ball to the basket. He's been a scorer -- it's not like his game has gone eight [points per game] to 20. But I'm thinking he has the contract on his mind. He's playing, maybe, with a little more chip on his shoulder. That can be a good thing. In order for them to win, he's going to have to keep being that aggressive."

Gay turned down a 5 year, $50million extension from the Grizzlies over the summer, and is reportedly seeking 5 years, $65million....similar to the contract LaMarcus Aldridge just signed with the Trailblazers. Is he worth that much? Probably not (nor is Aldridge...), but more importantly he's unlikely to get any offers that high. I think the Wolves could get him for 5 years, $55million over the summer, or even better, via a very reasonable trade (Gomes and a draft pick?) sometime in the next two months.

What do you guys think?

Anyway, the other Wolves news is my promised weekly draft watch, starting off with some speculation from Chad Ford.

Weekly draft watch:

Chad Ford says:

GM David Kahn drafted three point guards in the first round last year -- Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson (he later traded Lawson to Denver). Then he signed another point guard, Ramon Sessions, as a free agent. Would he really draft another point in 2010?

(John) Wall has something that neither Flynn nor Rubio nor Session possesses -- otherworldly athleticism. Flynn is a great athlete, but undersized. Rubio has great size, but isn't a great athlete. Sessions falls somewhere in the middle. On the other hand, Wall isn't quite the shooter that Flynn is, nor does he possess the amazing court vision of Rubio.

Given all the complexity and assets at the point, it would seem like (Derrick) Favors might be a better fit. However, Kahn's other two young building blocks are Al Jefferson and Kevin Love -- two players who play the same two positions as Favors. While neither player has the length or athleticism of Favors, they are both more skilled, especially down on the low block.

(Evan) Turner would fill a glaring hole at the wing for the Wolves, but the question is, if the Wolves get the No. 1 pick, would they take him that high?

I did a little snooping around Minnesota and I think Wall would still get the nod there. There would be a robust trade market for Flynn and/or Rubio if the Wolves were to take Wall.

EDGE: John Wall

Personally I think Kahn would be split 50/50 between Wall and Favors if we land the top pick, mainly because Flynn and Rubio are his guys, while Jefferson and Love were inheritences from McHale.

Thoughts?

The status of our picks:

Charlotte pick - lottery protected, Cats currently 8th in the east
Utah pick - top 17 protected, Utah currently 6th in west

Currently we're on track to get both picks.

The draftees we're watching:

John Wall:

What's impressive - the poise. Wall is clearly a facilitator, born to run an offense. What's been most telling so far this year is his control and leadership. He looks far more polished and comfortable than Rose or Evans did at this point in their freshman years.

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Wall struggled today in his first major test against UNC, posting a ton of turnovers. But he also scored well and led Kentucky to the win.

Derrick Favors:

What's impressive - the basketball IQ. Favors has done two major things so far this year at Gerogia Tech that show the kind of player he is.

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First, he understands that, while he may be the popular new kid in town, the team belongs to Gani Lawal, and he's deferring to Lawal without being Robin. It's a very fine rope to walk, but so far Favors has shown perfect balance.

Second, he's shooting a ridiculous, and I mean absolutely ridiculous, 72% from the field. That's not only staggering efficiency, but a crystal clear display of something very few freshman ball players have: shot selection.

Evan Turner:

What's impressive - the versatility. Turner came into today's game averaging absurd numbers across the board: 20.6 points, 13 rebounds, 6.6 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.4 blocks. He can do it all at both ends of the court.

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Unfortunately, as S-n-P posted earlier today, Turner fractured his back in a hard fall after a dunk attempt. So this update is going to be more of an injury report for the next two months, and has a good chance of ending with "returning for his senior year". Evan is lucky he wasn't knocked out cold; Shawn Marion and Gerald Wallace both have sustained multiple concussions on plays just like that. 

Cole Aldrich:

What's impressive - the size. Which sounds like a really stupid thing to say since it's not a skill or ability, but honestly the most impressive thing about Aldrich is how he knows he's just bigger than anyone else and plays like it.

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He takes up a ton of space in the post and uses his big frame to pin defenders under the hoop, box out on rebounds, and clog the lanes on defense. A lot of big men in college play small because playing big takes practice. Aldrich though is a natural.

Wesley Johnson:

What's impressive - the confidence. Johnson is a transfer to Syracuse, having spent his first two years at Iowa State. His second year was a disaster...Johnson was dealing with nagging leg injuries and a redefined role as a swingman, rather than a tweener forward.

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This year has been pure resurgence for Wesley. He's not just back to his freshman level, he's exceeded it by all accounts. He's been playing some swingman for the Orange, but he's also been allowed to operate in the paint more as well, and is posting his best numbers across the board. He's athletic and dynamic, and knows how to score.

All battle plans fail when contact with the enemy is made.

The NBA is no different. Sometimes injuries happen. Sometimes salary caps go down. Sometimes players fail to meet expectations, or cause drama, or bail out.

The Wolves have a final draft of the master plan, but it's just now seeing its first contest. The team is finally healthy. Assessments can finally be made.

How will we look in 5 years? What things will have happened that will have forced us to adjust? Detour? Rewrite? 

No one knows. For now, we take it one week at a time, and I think this week the best thing we can all do is follow the lead Kevin Durant just Tweeted:

Man please pray for my bro Greg Oden as well..

Will do Kevin.

Until next week...

 

 

 

 

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