Brandon Roy returned to Portland for the first time as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. Although he did not play, he did address the media. Here's what else is going on in the Northwest Division:
There are only six games in the NBA tonight, but four of the five Northwest Division teams are in action, including a clash between the Nuggets and Jazz in a matchup that would be a first-round pairing if the playoffs began today. The division's other teams in action tonight are on the road, with the Trail Blazers facing a stiff test against the Heat while the Nuggets take on the Raptors. While we wait to see how those games turn out, here's what's happening off the court around the Northwest:
- Jazz forward DeMarre Carroll will be a free agent this summer, but he feels he's found his niche in Utah, as Jared Zwerling of ESPN The Magazine details.
- Blazers GM Neil Olshey sat down with broadcaster Mike Barrett for a one-on-one that's up on the team's website (video link), and Ben Golliver of Blazer's Edge provides a transcript. Olshey said he coveted Nicolas Batum when he held the Clippers GM job, and revealed that owner Paul Allen never wavered in his commitment to match the offer sheet Batum signed with the Timberwolves this summer.
- Rival executives tell Grantland's Zach Lowe that the Nuggets are "projecting calm" in advance of the trade deadline. The team seems fairly satisfied with its young core and doesn't want to add much or any payroll, so major moves are unlikely. That's in line with coach George Karl's recent comments indicating there's only a slight chance the team makes a deadline trade. Still, the most common prediction from executives around the league about Denver's playoff chances this year is that they'll go out in the second round.
- The Wolves love Nikola Pekovic and don't want to trade him, so the smart money is on the club making a smaller move, perhaps one that includes Luke Ridnour, writes Steve Kyler of HoopsWorld.
Luke Adams of Hoops Rumors contributed to this post.
NBA.com's David Aldridge has his new weekly column up, and as usual, it's packed full of interesting notes, quotes, and stories. Let's take a look at some highlights....
- The Hawks' Larry Drew was the NBA's Coach of the Month in December, but as we saw with Avery Johnson, that doesn't always guarantee job security. The Hawks have dropped eight of their last ten and there has been speculation around the league that GM Danny Ferry is waiting for the end of the season to remove Drew and hire Mike Brown. For his part, Ferry says that he has enjoyed working with Drew and plans to discuss his future with him after the season.
- Ferry acknowledged that he made decisions this summer with the idea of freeing up cap space down the line. It was a plan that he knew wouldn't yield a world-beating Hawks team in 2012/13. "I had no preconceived notions," Ferry said. "We were in a situation where we had six guys back and we were going to have to fill the roster with six guys to stay under the tax. Ownership gave me permission to go over the tax, but I didn't think there was anything we were going to be able to do to be a contender even over the tax."
- Prior to his suspension, Josh Smith told Aldridge that he had a great deal of confidence in the Hawks' core and believed that they could be a couple pieces away from contending.
- Nicolas Batum's says that his lucrative new deal hasn't put pressure on him and has instead left him feeling liberated. The forward is averaging 16.8 PPG with 5.9 RPG per game this season which are both career highs.
- There has been some buzz about a possible return to the Cavaliers for LeBron James in 2014, but Aldridge believes that Cleveland will still be more than two years from contending with a core including Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters.
Tomorrow at 5PM EST marks a significant deadline in the NBA, as players who are currently on non-guaranteed contracts kept after that point will have their deals guaranteed for the rest of the season. While the official deadline for contracts to become fully guaranteed is listed as January 10, ESPN's Marc Stein pointed out yesterday that teams who decide to release a player on a non-guaranteed contract will have to do so by tomorrow in order for them to clear waivers by Thursday. We've seen quite a handful of teams release some of their non-guaranteed pacts today, and with less than 24 hours left to go, there could be more of those types of transactions to come. With that in mind, you can find tonight's miscellaneous links from around the NBA here:
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune talks about the need for Minnesota's Derrick Williams to step up and contribute with Kevin Love sidelined by a hand injury.
- Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas notes Dirk Nowitzki's feelings of uncertainty with the direction of the Mavericks' franchise and expressed thoughts on whether or not he should be traded. After acknowledging the team's failed attempt of luring Deron Williams or Dwight Howard, Nowitzki didn't seem too enthused about Dallas' chances of adding a marquee name of that caliber in the near future.
- HoopsWorld's Steve Kyler thinks that Lakers' rookies Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom could be the next in line to be waived in order to avoid paying more luxury tax on their deals. He also thinks that Johnson-Odom would be more likely to be released than Sacre (Twitter links).
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post wrote that tonight's matchup with the Heat and tomorrow's game against the Thunder are critical for Wizards guards Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack, who are both currently on non-guaranteed contracts.
- During an interview on NBC's Chris Mannix Show, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports said that there is a very good chance that the Grizzlies move Rudy Gay or one of their high-salaried contracts by the February trade deadline. Also, he does not believe Royce White will ever play in the NBA (Twitter links).
- Mark Deeks of ShamSports tweets that it's not unusual for teams to waive a player before their contract becomes guaranteed before subsequently re-signing him for the rest of the season.
- After last night's win at the Target Center, Trail Blazers swingman Nicolas Batum admitted that he drew some motivation from wanting to prove to the Timberwolves and their fans that he was worth the offer sheet that Minnesota presented to him last summer (Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com reports).
As we turn the calendar to 2013, two Eastern Conference contenders are prepared to welcome back players who missed the 2012 portion of the '12/13 season: Amare Stoudemire is expected to play his first game of the season tonight, while Avery Bradley is prepared to make his season debut on Wednesday. While the Knicks and Celtics prepare to welcome those guys back to their respective lineups, let's round up a few more notes from around the NBA....
- All signs point to Nate Robinson's contract being guaranteed for the rest of the season by the Bulls, according to Dave van Dyck and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. The deadline for the Bulls to waive Robinson and avoid guaranteeing his deal is today, so as of tomorrow, the point guard will be in line for a full-season salary.
- Eric Koreen of the National Post examines a number of question marks facing the Raptors as 2013 begins, including the futures of GM Bryan Colangelo and big man Andrea Bargnani.
- Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts tells Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today that it's not fair to expect Nicolas Batum to drastically improve his game overnight just because he signed a lucrative new contract. However, as Zillgitt writes, Batum has been living up to the deal so far.
A home win last night over the Kings ensured that the Trail Blazers surpassed the Jazz and Timberwolves in the Western standings, making them the eighth seed in the conference. It's still very early in the season, but Portland has outperformed most expectations so far, and now the team will have to decide whether its performance will affect the way it approaches roster moves as the trade deadline approaches. Jason Quick of the Oregonian has the latest updates on that front, so let's round up the highlights....
- After a veteran reporter told Quick that he'd heard the Blazers are shopping LaMarcus Aldridge, the Oregonian scribe asked Blazers GM Neil Olshey directly whether that was the case. "It was as if I had told Olshey the best joke he had ever heard," says Quick, who adds that the Blazers haven't made a single call about Aldridge, though they did field one exploratory inquiry from another team.
- Olshey has identified a handful of core players in Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Damian Lillard, and Wesley Matthews, and it would be a huge surprise if any of those guys were moved. "The players on our roster who are no-brainers are not going anywhere," Olshey said, referring to that core.
- Of those four players, Matthews represents the most likely candidate to be dealt, but the Blazers GM has come to value the guard more than his stats suggest and wants him around during the rebuild, making a trade very unlikely.
- The Blazers may still make a move before February 21st, but it's unlikely to be a deal that "moves the needle."
- Quick speculates that Portland's top trade candidate could be J.J. Hickson, who has been outperforming his one-year, $4MM contract so far. The Blazers may want to get something in return for him before he hits free agency next July.
- Portland is expected to pursue a center and shooting guard in free agency or the draft next summer, when the team should be working with eight figures in cap space.
Jason Quick of the Oregonian looks at the friendly rivalry between the Trail Blazers' Nicolas Batum and the Nuggets' Danilo Gallinari that has stemmed from their days as young Euroleague stars hoping to make it into the NBA. Most notably, Quick mentions that Batum's salary negotiations this past summer were influenced by the type of deals that Gallinari, Marvin Williams, and Arron Afflalo had received with their respective teams. With that aside, here are a few more rumblings from around the Association tonight:
- Derrick Rose took part in the non-contact portion of Bulls practice today, although coach Tom Thibodeau has not yet placed a timetable on the superstar's return (Seth Gruen of the Chicago Sun-Times reports).
- Despite a strong start to the season, the Warriors' upcoming stretch against teams that have a notable inside presence will help determine if their interior defensive struggles against the Kings were either minor or a sign of a major problem, writes Marcus Thompson II of MercuryNews.com.
- Rookie Royce White is "hopeful" that he'll play for the Rockets again sometime this season (Mark Berman of Fox 26 tweets).
- 1500 ESPN's Darren Wolfson confirms earlier speculation via a team source that Timberwolves guard Malcolm Lee will be sidelined for the rest of the year (Twitter link).
- Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune tweeted that Chris Douglas-Roberts is another top option available for the Timberwolves in addition to Michael Redd.
- In his Nuggets Mailbag, Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post discusses why he thinks Gallinari has shown the capability of being a clutch All-Star type of player, why Carmelo Anthony isn't necessarily the clear-cut MVP right now, and the Nuggets' decision to commit to a long-term deal with Ty Lawson.
Blazers GM Neil Olshey dished about his team with Justin Termine and Mateen Cleaves on the "Off The Dribble" show on SiriusXM Sports, revealing details about his plans and some of the moves he's made since taking over the Portland front office in June. Part of the agenda for the team is to address its rebounding deficiencies at the trade deadline and in the offseason, Olshey revealed. Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com put together a transcript of the full interview (hat tip to Ben Golliver of Blazer's Edge), and we'll run down some of the juicier material here.
On whether the team will make moves to try to salvage this season:
"We need to see what we have, we need to develop our assets, we need to continue to groom Wes Matthews and Nic Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge and get them to get to the next level, but look, next summer we're going to have $13MM in cap room, we're going to have a first (round pick), three seconds, we have an aggressive owner who's willing to spend whatever it takes to win. So the only thing we want to do is we don't want to race to the middle. We want to make moves that put us up at the upper echelon of the Western Conference when this thing comes together for a sustainable period of time, not make a bunch of incremental moves that maybe let us slide into eighth to go get swept in the first round and then be back to the drawing board again."
On the drafting of Damian Lillard:
"I just really felt when I met the kid and spent time with him and watched him interact with my staff, my owner and our coaches at the time, that he was the kind of guy you could hand the ball to day one, just like a Kyrie Irving or a (Russell) Westbrook, a (Derrick) D. Rose. I'm not comparing him to those players, but that's what those organizations did as well, and I really felt like he had the kind of gravitas and composure where opening night he could take the ball. And there were going to be some bumps in the road, but once we lived through them, he was a franchise-caliber point guard."
On the decision to match the Wolves' offer sheet for Nicolas Batum:
"Well look, he's a dynamic wing player. He's clearly far better than anybody we thought would be available on the free agent market had we not matched the offer sheet. We have an owner that,. he wants to build. He doesn't want to rebuild; he wants to build and he doesn't want to take a step backwards basketball-wise. We just felt like Nicolas was just coming into his prime; it's the first year he's going to be a full-time starter. He makes a huge impact on the defensive end of the floor, he can go for big numbers, and I really felt like the kind of system that Terry Stotts was going to run was absolutely suited for his skill set. He's off to a career year as well. Nicolas is a part of the core."
On the hiring of coach Terry Stotts:
"I think we took a little bit of a different approach. We put the roster together first and then hired the best coach we thought would fit it. I thought Terry would be a great partner; he and I had a relationship prior to this. We'd been on the floor together working with players. I think he has a great … he gets great respect from his players. I thought he would know how to utilize LaMarcus (Aldridge) to the best of his ability, and I think I felt like we have a lot of pieces very similar to the Dallas team that won the championship in terms of skill set and style of play. And we really felt like when he implemented that offense, it was going to heighten the value and production of guys like Wes Matthews and Nic Batum, which was really important to us, to make sure those guys took the next step in their development as players. I also knew he'd be open to playing younger players. That had been his history."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni had some harsh words for Pau Gasol in response to a question about the thought process that led him to keep Gasol on the bench in the fourth quarter of the team's loss to the Grizzlies tonight. "I was thinking I'd like to win this game, that's what I was thinking," D'Antoni said, as Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register tweets. The coach also questioned Gasol's conditioning, Ding also tweets, and this will seemingly reignite the off-and-on trade speculation that's surrounded Gasol for the past several months. While we wait to hear more about that, here's the rest of the buzz from a 12-game night in the Association:
- Chauncey Billups is targeting the first week of December to return from his torn Achilles' tendon, reports Ken Berger of CBSSports.com.
- Wolves coach Rick Adelman explained the team's admiration of Nicolas Batum that led them to sign him to an offer sheet that was eventually matched by the Blazers, as Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune documents. "I felt he could do what he's doing, that with the group we had — especially with Kevin (Love) and Pek (Nikola Pekovic) and Ricky (Rubio) — it'd be a good fit," Adelman said. "But it didn't work out. They had control over it, and they got him and we're happy we got Andrei (Kirilenko)."
- Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel can see the Heat pursuing a center at some point later this season.
- Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio preaches patience on Dion Waiters, and doesn't think it would be worthwhile for the Cavs to trade Anderson Varejao.
- College seniors are no longer a commodity in the NBA draft, but several of this year's crop of upperclassmen are making a push to reverse that trend, notes Chad Ford of ESPN.com (Insider only).
- Croatian small forward Dario Saric is 16th on the DraftExpress.com list of the top 2013 draft prospects, but his new deal overseas doesn't include an NBA out until 2014, reports Toma Dragičević of Jutarnji.hr (translation via Sportando's Emiliano Carchia).
The Timberwolves got an unexpected lift on Wednesday when Kevin Love returned earlier than anticipated from the broken hand that had sidelined him for the last few weeks. Although reports suggested Love wouldn't be back until December, he looked to be in midseason form in his debut, racking up 34 points and 14 rebounds against the Nuggets. It wasn't enough to propel the T-Wolves to victory, but the team will get another shot to get its first win with Love on the court tonight vs. the Trail Blazers. In the meantime, here are a few rumblings out of Minnesota:
- Derrick Williams tells Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune (Twitter link) that he was preparing to become a Trail Blazer this summer when rumors involving a Nicolas Batum sign-and-trade were swirling. Asked if he was just listening to speculation or if he had inside info, Williams replied, "I guess you could say inside information" (Twitter link).
- With Michael Finley attempting to make an NBA comeback, the Wolves received a call from Finley's camp, but said no thanks, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
- Brandon Roy's future is still to be determined, tweets Wolfson, who says the idea of possible retirement came up when Roy spoke to GM David Kahn last Friday.
- Earlier this afternoon, we heard that the Timberwolves briefly signed Demetris Nichols and Troy Hudson before the season in order to hang onto the duo's D-League rights. Both players are now on the roster for the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Minnesota's D-League affiliate.