Nets appear to be closing in on Carmelo

Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony (L) moves against the New York Knicks guard/forward Landry Fields during the first quarter at the Pepsi Center in Denver on November 16, 2010. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Per ESPN…

As of late Sunday night, sources said, New Jersey was poised to receive [Carmelo] Anthony, [Chauncey] Billups and [Rip] Hamilton, with Denver landing two future first-round picks and six players. The Nuggets’ haul would feature Nets rookie Derrick Favors, former All-Star guard Devin Harris and Nets sharpshooter Anthony Morrow. In addition, the Nuggets would bring in the New Jersey threesome of Quinton Ross, Ben Uzoh and Stephen Graham included for salary-cap purposes.

Detroit, meanwhile, was to receive Nets big man Johan Petro and the expiring contract of Nets forward Troy Murphy, with the Pistons motivated to join in by the $17-plus million in long-term savings they’d earn by shedding Hamilton’s contract.

Denver threw a wrench into the works by choosing to play Anthony and Billups in Sunday night’s game against New Orleans. Generally, if a player is about to be traded, the team sits him down until the deal is consummated to avoid a deal-killing injury. The Nuggets’ move indicates that the trade is not as close to the finish line as some would like to believe.

If this deal does go through, it looks fairly equitable from all sides. The Nets get their man, and they also upgrade (in the short term) at point guard. Billups is getting on in years so one wonders if the inclusion of Harris was at the Nuggets’ request. Denver would get a young prospect at power forward (Favors) and a proven guard (Harris) whom they can plug in at the point or move to another team for another piece to the rebuilding puzzle. I suspect that Ty Lawson is the future at point guard in Denver, and Harris could potentially bring in more talent later. After what happened to the Raptors and Cavs this summer, getting Favors and Harris for Anthony and Billups isn’t a bad haul. I’m sure there will be a first round draft pick or two included as well.

If anyone is wondering why Carmelo has apparently become agreeable to signing an extension with the Nets, it’s probably due to the Knicks’ inability to offer the Nuggets something equitable. If Melo finishes the season as a Nugget, the uncertainty of the next collective bargaining agreement could mean that Anthony would leave a lot of money on the table by passing on the Nuggets’ extension offer. In other words, he’d like to lock up his contract now, and since the Nets and Nuggets have worked out a deal in principle, Carmelo can start counting his money. Certainly the prospect of continuing his career with Billups in New Jersey/Brooklyn also has to help.

If this deal does go through as described, the Nets could have a starting lineup of Billups, Hamilton, Anthony, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez. That might be enough to turn the Nets into a playoff team despite the 10-27 start. After all, they’re only five games out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the East.

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Otis Smith is the real Executive of the Year

All due respect to Denver’s Mark Warkentien, who won the 2009 NBA Executive of the Year Award, but Orlando GM Otis Smith deserves the honor. This is the problem with how the league hands out these awards at the end of the regular season — there’s no way to take the playoffs into account. Granted, it’s a regular season award, but in that case, wouldn’t Danny Ferry deserve it for pulling the trigger on the Mo Williams trade, which led to an All-Star nod for the guard and a 66-win season? Mitch Kupchak also deserves mention for his theft of Pau Gasol (now a year and a half old) along with mining Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown from other team’s benches.

Of course, Warkentien pulled arguably the best in-season move by sending Allen Iverson to Detroit for Chauncey Billups, which gave the Nuggets the toughness and defensive intensity to go from a Western Conference also-ran to a legitimate contender. I didn’t like his decision to give away Marcus Camby last summer in a salary dump, but in his defense, his signing of Chris Andersen offset that loss. Still, it would have been nice to have Camby on the roster against the Lakers, but there probably wouldn’t have been enough minutes for three centers. Warkentien rolled the dice that Nene was ready to explode and that Andersen could bring energy, rebounding and shotblocking off the bench, and it worked out, for the most part. Warkentien also signed Dahntay Jones, who eventually turned into (sort of) a starter for George Karl, and re-signed J.R. Smith.

Now let’s take a look at the job Otis Smith has done (from HoopsHype):

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The Conference Finals: The four trades that got us here

We’re down to four teams…Cavs/Magic…Lakers/Nuggets…

What do they have in common? Star power, efficient offense, pretty solid defense, good coaching…check, check, check and check.

But how about an aggressive front office?

Each of these four teams made a major trade in the last two years.

July 11, 2007: The Magic sign Rashard Lewis
This was a sign-and-trade, not a straight free agent signing, but the Magic only had to give up a conditional second round pick. The upside for the then-Seattle Supersonics was a trade exception worth $9 million. The contract (six years, $110 million) seemed outlandish at the time, and Lewis is still overpaid, but the Magic did what they had to do to get him. He’s a great fit for what Orlando is trying to do. They are built like the Rockets were in the Hakeem Olajuwon era — find a big man who commands a double-team, and surround him with great shooters. Lewis is the Magic’s version of Robert Horry in that he’s a lanky, versatile, sharpshooting big man. Strength-wise, he’s not built like a typical power forward, but since the NBA has gotten smaller and quicker over the past few years, he can get by against most teams. Offensively, he creates all sorts of problems for opposing power forwards as he can drill the long ball (career 39% from 3PT) or take it to the rack. He’s also pretty good in the post when teams try to defend him with a smaller player.

Sure, the Magic overpaid on that contract, but I think it’s safe to say that if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be in the Eastern Conference Finals right now. Lewis is a big, big part of Orlando’s recent success. GM Otis Smith deserves a lot of credit for having the cojones to pull the trigger on this deal.

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Iverson would “retire” before coming off the bench again

It’s safe to say that the Chauncey Billups-for-Allen Iverson trade hasn’t worked out very well for the 2008-09 Detroit Pistons. The team is 36-39 and is just two games ahead of the 9th place Charlotte Bobcats. The two teams play on Sunday in Detroit, and if the Bobcats can pull out a win, they will be very much in the thick of a playoff spot, meaning that the Pistons could miss the postseason for the first time in…well…forever. (Meanwhile, Billups’ Nuggets are in second place in the West and have won nine of their last 10 games. And Chauncey gets to look at “Bouncing Bridget” every time the Nuggets play a home game.)

Iverson has been fighting a sore back and shin, and the Pistons have elected to use him off the bench for the last three games. During that span, he’s averaging 18.7 minutes, 7.7 points (on 36% shooting) and 2.7 assists. And he’s none too happy about his playing time.

Reporter: You made a comment the other day about how this is a temporary situation. What did you mean by that?

Iverson: I won’t do this again, in my career. I’ll retire before I do this again. I would leave the game before I do this. I can’t be effective like I know I can playing this way. It’s just that I’m not used to it. Just not something I’ve had to do. Like I said, it’s hard for me mentally and physically.

Reporter: So, on a positive note, what can you say about guys coming off the bench?

Iverson: Like I said. I take my hat off to the guys that can do it. And some guys get used to it. They’ve done it before. Like I said, I’ve been playing basketball since I was eight-years-old, and I never had to do it. At 33-years-old, to have to adjust to something like that it’s kind of tough. That’s something I’m dealing with as far as my rhythm, my timing and like I said, the mental part of that.

With the trade, Joe Dumars gave the team a ton of flexibility to rebuild over the next couple of years, but he really sunk these 2008-09 Pistons. With Billups on the roster, they’d be a top 4 team in the East, and with the injuries to Boston’s Kevin Garnett and Orlando’s Jameer Nelson, they’d have a legitimate shot at being the second-best team in the conference. Is that enough?

I don’t know — one injury to LeBron and suddenly the Pistons would be first in line to go the Finals. That seems like a good thing, right?

Only time will tell what kind of free agents Dumars will be able to attract over the next couple of summers. Then we’ll know if this Billups-for-AI swap was worth it.

Allen Iverson debuts in Pistons’ loss

It was an inauspicious beginning to the AI Era in Detroit.

Iverson himself was respectable (24p, 6a), but the Pistons lost to the Nets, 103-96.

According to ESPN’s Chris Sheridan, the Billups-for-Iverson trade might be more about how Detroit feels about Rodney Stuckey than either of the players involved.

When Detroit needed buckets in the fourth quarter, it was Stuckey running the show at the point, with Iverson off the ball.

And when the Pistons needed stops in the second half, it was Stuckey who continually was getting burned by Devin Harris (career-high 38 points, with 22 of his 24 free throw attempts coming in a second half in which Detroit surrendered 64 points to one of the NBA’s worst teams). All that time, Pistons coach Michael Curry refused to switch Iverson onto Harris — even as Stuckey was committing five fourth-quarter fouls on Harris.

“Stuckey’s the point, and Harris is the point. What we do here in Detroit, you guard your position. And when he comes into the game, Allen slides to the 2. and if Devin Harris is outplaying you, you’re going to have to get better. That’s what you’re going to have to do — play your matchup,” Curry said.

A couple of things jump out from this game: 1) Devin Harris blew up, and he was on my list of “Six NBA players who are about to break out” and 2) Curry refuses to go with the best matchup defensively, instead insisting that each player guard his position (even if it is to the detriment to the team).

I don’t know too many coaches that don’t try to utilize the best matchups defensively. Regular readers know that I played for (current UW coach) Bo Ryan at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. The other starting forward was the better defender, so Ryan would have him cover the other team’s best scoring forward. That left me with an “easier” matchup, and since I was one of my team’s primary scorers, going with that matchup would save my legs so I could hit crucial jump shots at the end of the game.

So why is Curry insisting that Stuckey – who is actually more of a combo guard – cover the lightning-quick Harris when he has his own lightning-quick guard on the court? It might be pure stubbornness, thickheadedness or he could be trying to light a fire under Stuckey defensively.

But back to the decision to play Iverson off the ball. More and more this trade is looking like one that is meant to keep butts in the seats for this season while giving the team salary cap flexibility to sign one or two big name free agents over the next two summers. Joe Dumars likely saw that, with Billups, the team was going to be competitive, but it wasn’t going to be a legitimate contender. With the backcourt shakeup, it looks like the team is going to give the ball to Stuckey and ask him to create, and it doesn’t really matter if this is the best thing for the 2008-09 Detroit Pistons.

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