The hidden beneficiary of Steve Nash's absence

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Despite missing two-time MVP, team captain, spiritual advisor, and auteur Steve Nash, the Phoenix Suns rallied to beat the streaking Oklahoma City Thunder last night. Goran Dragic had 16 points and 10 assists (albeit with six turnovers) in his second ever start, as he continues to convert his critics into true believers.

Dragic stands to benefit greatly from performances like these, which essentially act as a test-run for his future gig as a starting point guard with Phoenix or otherwise. But the man who benefits most from Nash’s absence is not Dragic, despite the opportunity to showcase his skills. It’s not Alvin Gentry, who could prove that the system is not totally dependent on Steve Nash. It’s Amar’e Stoudemire, free agent in the class of 2010 and still questioned All-Star.

Stoudemire has been with Phoenix for his entire career, but his greatest successes have come in fast breaking offenses with a Hall-of-Fame point guard at the helm. As any big man in the NBA will tell you that’s quite the set up, and though Amar’e’s talent isn’t at all questionable, one can’t help but wonder just how effective he’ll be when taken out of his more or less ideal circumstances in Phoenix.

Nights like last night go a long way toward not only earning Stoudemire respect, but likely earning him a few extra dollars on the free agent market this summer as well. Stoudemire totaled 30 points and nine rebounds on 60% shooting against a top five defense, all while playing with a decent point guard who, while effective, is decidedly not Steve Nash. Amar’e won’t have any opportunities to prove what he can do in a slower system, but big performances like Stoudemire’s showing last night will go a long way towards emphatically proving his versatility and offensive independence.  

Report: Enes Kanter not yet permitted to travel to Mexico, where Thunder scheduled to play

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Remember when Turkey revoked Enes Kanter‘s passport?

That looms over the Thunder’s Dec. 7 game against the Nets in Mexico City.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Without a valid passport, he is unable to travel to another country other than Canada, which allows entry from U.S. residents who have a Green Card. There is no such agreement with Mexico.

Kanter could receive a re-entry permit, a special document issued to citizens of other countries whose passports have been canceled for reasons the U.S. government deems unsuitable. The permit would allow Kanter to leave the U.S. for another country, such as Mexico, and still return. And the plan is for Kanter to acquire one before OKC’s game in Mexico City. Still, he is yet to receive a re-entry permit, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. There is, however, still ample time for that process to complete.

Kanter is a high-profile millionaire working for a billion-dollar company that has a vested interest in getting him to Mexico. He likely works this out.

Rumor: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving met in Miami

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LeBron James denied wanting to fight Kyrie Irving, but wanting to meet with his for-now Cavaliers co-star? That might be another story. Likewise, Irving – in light of his trade request – might not be eager to meet with LeBron.

But…

Tony Rizzo of ESPN Cleveland, as transcribed by Jackson Flickinger of King James Gospel:

“From very reliable sources. Plural. Kyrie and LeBron were in the same room over the weekend in Florida…Apparently these guys were in the same room and here’s the deal. I don’t know if there’s a thawing out process. All I do know is LeBron didn’t punch Kyrie the way Stephen A thought he would. I can report that. As for what they talked about or discussed…it was very cool. They didn’t get into any heated discussions.”

Did LeBron and Irving actually meet? Both were spotted in Miami, but maybe someone is just connecting dots that don’t belong connected.

Whether or not LeBron and Irving met, they might need to soon. Cleveland will have a tough time getting its desired return for Irving before the season, and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert discussed the possibility of Irving returning. LeBron isn’t getting traded.

No matter the disconnect between the two, LeBron and Irving might have to figure out how to work together a while longer. It’d be nice if that process has already begun.

Are Bulls and Dwyane Wade moving toward a buyout?

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About a month ago, the Bulls said they hadn’t discussed a buyout with Dwyane Wade.

Have the two sides progressed since?

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Dwyane Wade isn’t long for the organization’s future and is expected to reach a buyout agreement at some point in the next few months.

Expected by whom?

People with direct knowledge of momentum toward a buyout?

Or everyone who can see that a 35-year-old earning $23.8 million fits poorly on a rebuilding team?

For the Bulls to now drop their biggest name and a large expiring contract that could prove useful in trades should require Wade surrendering a large portion of his salary. He doesn’t sound like someone inclined to do that yet.

A few months is a long time. As long as Wade gets bought out by March 1, he could join another team’s playoff roster. It’d surprise nobody if he gets bought out after the February trade deadline, which we already knew. I don’t see strong indication of something more imminent.

LeBron James’ camp already shooting down leaving-Cavaliers rumor

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LeBron James has done a terrible job shooting down rumors about him leaving the Cavaliers

Except this one from Chris Sheridan, who cited a source saying LeBron would “100 percent” leave Cleveland next summer due to a rift with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Sheridan’s source saying LeBron is leaving doesn’t make that true. But other anonymous sources denying it doesn’t make the denials true, either.