Winderman: NBA should bring order to free agency chaos

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If the NBA was smart, it would swoop collectively upon Dallas, claim the already-booked hotel space and tell Major League Baseball that, at this moment, they need winter meetings far more than any other sport.

In 2010, when the NBA actually had time to conduct an orderly free-agent process, most of the league found itself camped in Chicago. That’s where the Heat, Nets, Knicks, Bulls and other teams wined and dined Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer and other prime free agents, while also having planes at the ready for the quick flight to Cleveland for the LeBron-a-thon.

This time around, order has given way to bedlam. And while the Free Agent Class of 2011 pales in comparison to what 2010 had to offer, it is likely that there will be more than a few sight-unseen dollars spent Friday when free agency and camps open.

If they open.

As of the weekend, a pair of agents said they weren’t sold that the Friday would be the definitive starting point of the process, with a final collective-bargaining agreement still being completed and votes by the owners and players not scheduled until Thursday.

One of the agents said he has been told that if he wants to get his players in front of general managers and to work at the various sessions being conducted at NBA arenas, that the athletes or agents would have to pay such travel expenses out of pocket.

Considering how much has been done on the fly since an agreement in principle was reached Nov. 26, each day along the path to a lockout resolution seemingly has brought its own rules.

“Last week they said nothing is starting until Dec. 9 and all of a sudden they said, ‘Oh, at 9 a.m. tomorrow we’re open for business,’ ” the agent said of last Tuesday’s NBA change of heart when it came to free-agent negotiations. “I think the same thing is going to happen. I think they’re going to say you can fly guys there on the seventh and things are going to change. I think they’re going to give us direction.”

Some of that direction came with word that contact between coaches, executives and players could resume Monday. But, even then, workouts alongside coaches or in front of team executives remain off-limits until Friday.

In other words, players coming off injury, such as Dallas Mavericks free-agent forward Caron Butler or Portland Trail Blazers center Greg Oden, would have to be signed off medical records. For now, there can be no eye test before Friday.

With signings on hold until Friday, some teams are planning to drain D-League rosters for what effectively could be considered training-camp “seat fillers,” players who will work for $1,500 a week during camp for the opportunity for some face time in front of NBA coaches.

What the NBA truly needs is its own version of the winter meetings, a high-priced whirlwind job fair to create a greater sense of order at week’s end.

That, of course, is not happening. Bud Selig isn’t giving up that Dallas hotel space.

“It’s going to be chaotic,” an agent said.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/IraHeatBeat.

Raptors hire Spurs video coordinator, who just happens to be Kawhi Leonard friend

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Jeremy Castleberry played his high school ball in Riverside, California, on the same team as Kawhi Leonard. When Leonard went on to San Diego State for college, Castleberry went too and was a walk-on for that team.

When the Spurs drafted Leonard, it was not long before Castleberry was a video coordinator and on the staff in San Antonio. Now Leonard is a Raptor so… you know what’s coming. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN explained it well.

The Toronto Raptors are hiring San Antonio Spurs staffer Jeremy Castleberry — a close friend of Kawhi Leonard — to a position on their coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.

Castleberry has worked with Leonard as a Spurs staffer and played with Leonard in high school and at San Diego State, where he was a walk-on.

Is this alone going to keep Leonard a Raptor next summer when he’s a free agent? No. But this is how the game is played — make the star player you’re recruiting feel comfortable, wanted, a key part of everything. Bringing in a friend to a new city for him fits right into that plan.

The smart money is still on Leonard bolting next summer to go to Los Angeles, but if the Raptors are able to change his mind — ala Paul George — it will not be one big thing but a thousand little ones. And a lot of wins. But hiring Castleberry is a start.

Brandon Jennings signs to play in Russia next season

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Brandon Jennings has just never been the same since his 2015 torn Achilles. He hasn’t shot over 40 percent from the floor for a season since then, he hasn’t moved well defensivly, and he had a PER of 19.3 the season it was torn and it’s never been above 13.7 for a season since then. In the past couple of seasons he has played in the G-League and China, and he played 14 games at the end of the season for the Bucks last campaign.

This summer, there were no offers. He is now headed to Russia, according to multiple reports, including EuroHoops.net. He will play for Zenit St Petersburg.

He’s only 28 years old, there is time for him find a way to make his game fit into the NBA landscape again. He’s just not there yet, and maybe the opportunity in Russia will lead him there. If not, he’s still getting paid to play at a high level.

Some owners reportedly want access to mental health files of players

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If you read one thing NBA related today, it should be the first installment of Jackie MacMullan’s brilliant series at ESPN on the mental health of players and staffs in the NBA, and how the league is handling it. MacMullan not only got Kevin Love and Paul Pierce to open up about their challenges, but she also got into the challenges the league faces in confronting this issue head-on.

One such challenge: Owners wanting access to players mental health “files.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, players union executive director Michelle Roberts and their respective teams are reportedly working on a new mental health policy for the league. Privacy is going to be a big part of that. From MacMullan:

Yet there remain many obstacles to confront, chief among them the stigma attached to mental health that prompts many players to suffer in silence. The union also insists that mental health treatment be confidential, but some NBA owners, who in some cases are paying their players hundreds of millions of dollars, want access to the files of their “investments.” That is not, however, the league’s position. “The NBA fully supports protecting the confidentiality of players’ mental health information and, accordingly, committed to the players association that any mental health program we undertake would do so,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass says.

Confidentiality, says Love, has to be non-negotiable. Without it, he says, he never would have become comfortable enough to announce from that All-Star dais that he was seeking treatment.

Those files must be private. This is different from a torn knee ligament or sprained ankle (and on those we have HIPPA laws for good reason). For one, this is something more unpredictable in treating. Second, it comes back to the stigma of mental health issues and how the information about them might be used.

That stigma still exists, both in society and the NBA — McMullan gets into the players and their wives talking behind Love’s back All-Star weekend, and the players currently seeking treatment who do not want it public. The “real men don’t talk about this” mentality is everywhere, but it has fertile ground in professional sports locker rooms where players see themselves as invincible.

That mentality, that stigma will be the hardest thing to change in altering the culture of mental health issues in the NBA. There are no easy answers here. Does anyone think the owners who want access to those files wouldn’t use against the player in negotiations (never underestimate an owner’s effort to gain leverage)?

The players’ union will not allow that in whatever the framework is for the leagues’ new mental health policy. Nor should they.

Love, DeMar DeRozan, Royce White and others broke barriers stepping forward into the spotlight to discuss their challenges. But there are a lot of barriers still up, and a lot of work for both the NBA and society to do on this front. And privacy must be part of that.

Rebuilding Hawks add depth by signing Daniel Hamilton, Alex Poythress.

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ATLANTA (AP) — The rebuilding Atlanta Hawks have added depth by signing guard-forward Daniel Hamilton and forward Alex Poythress.

Poythress was signed to a two-way contract, so the former Kentucky player will split his time with the Hawks’ G League Erie team.

Hamilton is on a fully guaranteed one-year contract after impressing the Hawks playing for the Thunder Summer League team. He averaged 2 points in six games with Oklahoma City last season while on a two-way contract with the Thunder. He spent most of the season with the G League Oklahoma City Blue.

Poythress averaged 1 point in 25 games with Indiana last season. He began the season on a two-way contract.