Suns guard Nash looks to drive on Mavericks center Mahinmi during their NBA basketball game in Dallas, Texas

The Inbounds: Free Agency and the Magical Musical Chairs

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Welcome to The Inbounds, touching on a big idea of the day. It could be news, it could be history, it could be a tangent, it could be love. OK, it’s probably not love. Enjoy. 

If the Pacers don’t match Hibbert’s offer, then Batum could go to Minnesota.

If the Bulls don’t match Asik’s offer, O.J. Mayo could wind up a Bull.

If the Joe Johnson to the Nets trade goes through, Dwight Howard may be a Laker next season.

If Nash goes to Toronto, Kidd could wind up in New York, and Jose Calderon could be a Laker. If he goes to New York, Lin could be a Raptor.

Welcome to the offseason musical chairs game, 2012 edition.

Player movement is the central commodity in the NBA. In a lot of ways, it’s the engine that makes things run. It drives front office decisions and fan interest. The busiest time of the year for scribes isn’t the NBA Finals, it’s this time, when players are whipping from one team to another in trades and free agency.

But there’s a special environment this year, driven by several factors. For starters, the new CBA has created a different set of priorities. The idea of simply matching any offer for a restricted free agent like Omer Asik and dealing with the luxury tax was never a popular one for some teams (even rich teams like the Bulls, who have staved off the tax at all costs in the past), but now it’s sheer poison. The advanced punitive measures enacted in the new CBA, along with the threat of the repeater tax in 2014 have created an environment where every addition is carefully considered.

That’s not to say all of the deals won’t make your heads spin. But from Brandon Bass and David West’s short-term deals signed last December to the “either or” nature of so many deals to come in the next two weeks, the environment has shifted.

Additionally, the super-teams are mucking with this whole thing. Combinations of superstars means title contention, which means players are tempted to take less money to play there, which in turn pushes those superstar teams to slough off their excess, putting them on the market.

Throw in the complicted nature of restricted free agency and a light class without too many that are locks to return, and you have a very delicate ecosystem undergoing some fairly substantial changes, at least around the edges.

Another big secret that often gets lost this time of year is how much of an outlier 2010 was. Stars just don’t often change teams. We’re seeing it this year with Deron Williams looking very likely to head back to Brooklyn with the Nets, and Kevin Garnett staying “home” with the Celtics. It’s difficult for teams to just let go of players and structures they’ve had success with in the past.

The outlier, of course, is Steve Nash, and that shows you the situation the Suns are in. It takes a pretty self-aware and humble front office group to recognize that a two-time MVP can’t help their team at this point and it’s time for a new direction. But that’s what they’ve done.

Nash’s choice has engendered debate. The Raptors have reportedly offered a three-year, $36 million offer for the native son to return to the Maple Leaf nation. To accept, Nash would be spurning better chances to win a title for essentially money (and the prospect of returning “home” to finish his career). If LeBron James was killed for taking less money to try to win a title in Miami, and we tend to revolt against players taking the money, why aren’t we torching Nash for the same?

And it’s a valid criticism. But the root of that is not that we should bash Nash. It’s that a player’s circumstances and feelings matter, and we should respect it and maybe chill out with what we feel a player should do. One set of absurd standards and ridiculous criticism doesn’t mean we should apply those same poor ideas to other people. It means we should never have applied them in the first place.

If Nash goes to Toronto, the Knicks may move towards Jason Kidd, the idea being that he can serve as a mentor to Jeremy Lin (should the Knicks be able to match a poison pill offer from Toronto). There’s debate about whether that’s a good idea. After all, what can Kidd really do for Lin, and what can he give the Knicks at his age?

But the answer to those questions is a lot, and a lot. Kidd famously mentored Deron Williams during the Olympics and international competition process. It’s not just recognizing defenses, understanding where to put the ball, and how to read the opponent. It’s handling pressure, it’s dealing with coaches and teammates, it’s intangibles. And as far as his on-court contributions? In the ISOMelo offense, the best thing you can have is a point guard who can set the frame and then get out of the way and hit a three. That’s become Jason Kidd over the past three years. He’s not going to be an exhilirating playmaker. But the Knicks’ new offense isn’t geared that way anyway. Kidd’s a fit.

The Portland-Hibbert-Pacers-Batum situation may be the most interesting musical chairs scenario.

Consider this: there’s a three-day matching period that goes on after the moratorium ends on the 11th. Say a team lands Nicolas Batum to a huge contract before the Blazers can get Roy Hibbert inked to an offer sheet. Then the Blazers ink Hibbert, putting a hold on their cap space while Indiana debates. If Indiana were to hold out until the last minute, then match, the Blazers would have had their cap space held by the Hibbert deal, not match Batum, and lose out on Hibbert. Timing is fun!

Now, there’s a million ways this won’t become an issue, but it does represent the complexities in play for these teams.

And then, of course, there’s the Nets situation and the relationship with Dwight Howard and the Magic.

If the Nets go all in on Joe Johnson (and we’ll talk about this one tomorrow), then that means there’s no room for Dwight Howard. Which means Howard would have to consider what team that isn’t on his list he wants to play for. Can he get along with Kobe? Is he willing to play in Houston? Does San Francisco mesh with his religious upbringing? The Nets went halfway in another direction with the Gerald Wallace signing. Bringing in Joe Johnson locks in their core. Do that, and the Dwight Howard situation becomes somehow more insane.

But if they do land Dwight, then what does Atlanta do? Is that their best and only shot at dumping Joe Johnson’s contract?

Oh, and if the Bulls match Omer Asik’s offer from Houston, they’re amnestying Carlos Boozer at some point. But waiting to amnesty Boozer means there’s less of a chance another team will take on part of his contract.

This isn’t rocket science. But to a degree, it is game theory. Welcome to the 2012 NBA Free Agency period. Choose wisely.

This is chess, it ain’t checkers.

Paul Pierce says he’ll retire after season

Paul Pierce
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Clippers forward Paul Pierce has ended the maybe/probably/maybe/probably/maybe saga of whether he’ll play next year.

Pierce in The Players Tribune:

This is it, my final season.

It’s time to move on from the game of basketball.

Just like any difficult decision, I think you’ve got to be at peace with yourself. I’m at peace with retiring, but I’ve got one more ride left. One more season. One more opportunity.

Pierce has had an incredible career, one that will surely vault him into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

He started in Boston, where he was the Celtics’ go-to player and his most reliable sidekick was Antoine Walker – and then Pierce didn’t have even Walker. Seemingly destined to be forgotten as a good player on a mediocre team, Pierce received a legacy boost when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived. The Celtics won the 2008 title, and Pierce earned Finals MVP.

After a few more years of Pierce proving he could excel individually and help a team contend, he went to Brooklyn, where the Nets gave him a late-career spark by using him at power forward. He added a stop in Washington, where he made a few clutch shots for the Wizards. Now, he ends his career reunited with Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

Pierce doesn’t need to add more to his all-time résumé – and he probably won’t. Only Dirk Nowitzki has played more games among active players than Pierce, who turns 39 in a few weeks. The mileage shows. Pierce has declined considerably, and he’s likely in store for a minor role this season.

But on limited minutes, maybe he can still provide a spark on occasion. The Clippers have at least a fighting chance of making Pierce part of another meaningful playoff run.

After that, would he go back to the Celtics on a ceremonial contract to retire? That’s what Rivers wants. Before it reaches that point, there will be plenty of pomp for Pierce, who just set himself up for a grand retirement tour.

 

Timberwolves confirm that Nikola Pekovic out for entire season

Minnesota Timberwolves center Nikola Pekovic (14), of Montenegro, yawns during NBA basketball media day in Minneapolis, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Timberwolves’ owner Glen Taylor said this exact thing last week, which is a pretty good sign that it’s going to happen. Taylor writes the checks.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have confirmed that Nikola Pekovic — who played 12 games last season due to foot injuries — is out for the coming season.

Taylor mentioned buying out Pekovic, but that seems unlikely. Pekovic is owed $23.7 million over the next two seasons, and I’d be hard-pressed to think of a reason he would take a penny less. The more likely outcome is the Timberwolves waive him and then come January (one year after his last game) apply to the league to have his salary excluded. (This would require a doctor approved by both the league and players’ union say that he is physically unable to play in the NBA ever again. If the doctor said that Pekovic would still get paid, but the money would not count against the salary cap for the Timberwolves).

No Pekovic and no Kevin Garnett, but it doesn’t impact the Timberwolves as training camp opens. Minnesota has Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng, Cole Aldrich and Jordan Hill up front, plus developing young players Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne. Garnett and Pekovic were not going to play much anyway.

Dwyane Wade ready for his Chicago challenge

Chicago Bulls player Dwyane Wade speaks during a news conference Friday, July 29, 2016, in Chicago. Wade who played at Miami Heat for 13 years, joined his hometown team for a two-year contract worth about $47 million. (AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim)
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MIAMI (AP) — It’s not like Dwyane Wade has never dealt with change before.

He played for three head coaches in 13 seasons with the Miami Heat, helped orchestrate one of the most scrutinized free-agent hauls in NBA history when LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to play alongside him, and had 112 teammates along the way.

So going into a new locker room doesn’t figure to overwhelm him.

Wade’s first official day of work with an NBA team other than Miami comes on Monday, when he goes to media day on the eve of his first training camp with the Chicago Bulls – the team he grew up rooting for, a club he has faced off against 64 times as an opponent and now the franchise he’ll be asked to help lead.

“It’s going to be difficult, 100 percent. I’m fine with it, though,” Wade said in an interview with The Associated Press. “For me, it goes back to the whole challenge thing. It’s not like I haven’t done this before. At the end of the day we’re all wearing the same jersey right now and we have to come together, just like any team. And that’s going to be tough.”

Wade left Miami this summer in a move that shocked the Heat. He took a two-year deal worth about $47 million from the Bulls, who came in offering a bit more than what the Heat were able to promise. He leaves Miami has one of two players who were on all three Heat championship teams – Udonis Haslem is the other – and as the franchise leader in points by an enormous margin.

But now he changes addresses, changes colors and in many ways is starting over. So are the Heat, who won’t have him and will go into the season without Bosh – still sidelined by the blood-clot problem that ended each of his last two seasons, an issue that now seems to be putting any plans he has for a return to the court in major jeopardy.

Wade said he still wants the very best for Bosh. He’ll just have to send those wishes from afar now, while he gets ready to embrace his own challenge of meshing with Jimmy Butler, Rajon Rondo and the rest of the Bulls.

“When I don’t have anything else left to prove, then I don’t need to play the game of basketball,” Wade said. “I want to prove I’m out of my comfort zone. I’m in a totally different environment, a totally different system. This is a challenge for me, at this stage of my career. Leave it up to me to put myself in a challenge and not just fade to black in the comfortableness of Miami.”

Wade turns 35 in January, and answered plenty of questions about his supposed durability issues last year. He played in 74 games for Miami, got lighter and leaner to take pressure off his knees and hamstrings, averaged 19 points a game and was an All-Star for the 12th consecutive season.

He’s not the Wade who led the league in scoring in 2009, or was NBA Finals MVP in 2006.

He does, however, think he’s smarter than ever.

“There’s no risk for me,” Wade said. “It’s basketball. It’s just a sport, man. And I’m pretty good at it. I know the game and I’ve put in so much work in this sport, everything right now is just the cherry on top of the whipped cream.”

Nerlens Noel calls Sixers crowded center situation “silly,” adds it “doesn’t make sense”

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 30: Jahlil Okafor #8 and Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers play in the game against the Utah Jazz on October 30, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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He’s right. And Philadelphia management knows it.

At the center position, the Sixers have the athletic and defensive minded Nerlens Noel, the offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and the untested player who may be the best of the group in Joel Embiid. Elton Brand is on the roster as well.

That’s a lot of talented young players and not enough minutes to go around. Nerlens Noel called the situation out as “silly” speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey. At least he didn’t go so far as to request a trade.

“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer…

“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated….

“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”

The Sixers wouldn’t officially comment, but this summer they did try to get something done — Okafor and Noel were on the trade block. The problem is all the offers that came in were low ball. GM Bryan Colangelo has said he didn’t want to go into the season with this situation at center, but he also wasn’t going to give away one of these three for pennies on the dollar. Colangelo wanted a fair deal.
We saw last season that Okafor and Noel can’t play together, and now the Sixers need to see which ones of these three can play well with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons, who will be a point-forward much of the time.
Expect a deal to get done to move one of the three centers — and it very well could be Noel, he drew the most interest from other teams. It could happen during training camp, or maybe closer to the trade deadline. Maybe this stretches into next season.
But the Sixers know this doesn’t make sense, they just haven’t been able to remedy the situation. Yet.