John Paxson, general manager of the Chicago Bulls, says there's nothing going on with his team regarding a deal for Kobe Bryant.
"There's not going to be a deal done," Paxson said last week after the Kobe-to-Chicago rumors went on overload. "All the things that were out there were really unfair to all of us who were trying to do our jobs."
In other words, look for the deal to go down in 72 hours. (Just kidding.)
You have to think at some point that it will, however. It falls into the "where there's smoke, there's fire" department. Bryant wants out of Los Angeles and has fingered Chicago as his preferred destination. Anyone who has seen the good-but-not-good-enough Bulls over the past two years knows there is a need for someone who can demand double-teams and post up, all of which is in the Kobester's massive repertoire.
Then why hasn't it happened?
First off, if you're the Lakers, you don't want to trade a superstar and get back 50 cents on the dollar, which is generally the exchange rate for these kinds of deals. They know, after the Shaquille O'Neal trade.
Consider four recent deals involving certifiable Big Timers.
1. Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to Boston for Theo Ratliff, Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, and a No. 1 pick. We all know how this one is going to turn out - KG for Big Al, Gomes, and whoever that No. 1 turns out to be. The Wolves already have basically said ciao to Green. Ratliff is a one-and-doner. Telfair should be a one-and-doner. Unless Big Al turns into Kevin McHale, and unless the draft pick turns into O.J. Mayo or some such stud, and even if it does, it still looks pretty lopsided. Edge: Boston.
2. Allen Iverson from Philadelphia to Denver for Andre Miller, Joe Smith, and two No. 1s. The Sixers were a bad team when Iverson was traded and actually improved after the deal. But they still stink. Smith left for Chicago. The rookies are still rookies. Miller is still there. Iverson now has a training camp under his belt and we'll see where it goes. For now, edge to Denver.
3. O'Neal from Los Angeles to Miami for Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Brian Grant, and a No. 1 pick. Gee, who got the better deal here? With Shaq, Miami got to Game 7 of the conference finals in Year 1 and won it all in Year 2. LA hasn't won a playoff series since he left and missed the playoffs in 2005. Odom is always hurt. Butler was flipped for, ahem, Kwame Brown. Grant is long gone. Edge: Miami.
4. Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue, and Reece Gaines from Orlando to Houston for Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Kelvin Cato. T-Mac was the key guy here, and he is the only one left from this deal still with the team to which he was dealt. He is a big part of the Rockets' high hopes. Francis has even returned to Houston and Howard is now in Dallas. Edge to Houston.
That's an Ellsburyesque 4 for 4 for the team acquiring the supernova.
The Bulls can't give the Lakers even money for Bryant because it will decimate their roster to the point where Bryant won't accept the trade. He isn't the first player to have a no-trade clause; Horace Grant had one in Orlando. But you have to have eight years of service and four with the team that signed you to be eligible. So he can call his shot.
Another problem is money. Bryant is down to earn $19,490,625 this season and has a 15 percent trade kicker. But he also has an opt-out clause after the 2008-09 season, meaning he could leave LA high and dry if the Lakers continue to be mediocre. It behooves them to either placate Kobe by adding players or move him.
Moving him to Chicago presents a problem because the money needs to be close, and the only big-money man on the Bulls is Ben Wallace, whom the Lakers don't want. The Bulls could try to re-sign P.J. Brown and include him in a deal; it would have to be a three-year deal for Brown per league rules, but only the first year has to be guaranteed. Then throw in the additional pieces (not Luol Deng) and see what gives.
You have to think Chicago has explored this option. You also have to think Paxson might want to give his team some time to see how it plays. A lot of people like the Bulls, as currently constituted, to come out of the East. If Paxson is one of those guys, then it's not hard to understand why he's more than comfortable waiting. For now.
Deal him in with Celtics
The paperwork isn't final, but the Celtics will soon have a new minority owner. He is Gary Loveman, who also happens to be chairman of the board and CEO of Harrah's.
While Loveman's inclusion is considered a "slam dunk," according to Joel Litvin, the NBA's president of league and basketball operations, it wasn't always thus. When principal owner Wyc Grousbeck first proposed Loveman's name to the NBA last spring, commissioner David Stern rejected it because of Loveman's association with the casino.
Any proposal for less than 5 percent ownership does not require Board of Governors approval and, according to industry sources, Loveman's stake in the Celtics will be around 2.4 percent. But the gambling tie-in was a no-no for Stern.
"The league's policy is that no owner can also have an interest in a business that takes NBA bets," Litvin said. "David was simply acting on league policy. He couldn't approve it."
However, the league also had formed a Las Vegas committee in April and, at Grousbeck's suggestion, Loveman's application was forwarded to the committee for a second look. When the committee reviewed it during the recent Board of Governor's meeting, it decided to approve the application so long as Loveman removed Celtics games from Harrah's sportsbooks in Nevada.
That was not a tough call. According to gaming sources, NBA sportsbook revenues accounted for less than .1 percent of Harrah's Nevada gross gaming revenues in 2006. And the Celtics represented a teeny, tiny fraction of that. Harrah's is being sold to two private equity firms. Once the deal goes through in early January, Loveman plans to stay on in his current role.
Sonics' reign in Seattle appears over
Last Tuesday, NBA commissioner David Stern said it would take "a miracle" to keep the Sonics in Seattle. And now that the Sonics ownership group says it is preparing to file application papers to move to Oklahoma City, there doesn't appear to be a miracle out there.
There has been NBA basketball in the Seattle area since 1968; the Sonics are the oldest pro sports franchise in the city. Three Seattle teams have made it to the NBA Finals, and the 1979 team won it all, led by Finals MVP Dennis Johnson.
But with no new arena in sight, and with state and city officials unwilling to act, it sure looks as though this will be the Sonics' swan song in Seattle. And Ray Allen thinks that's wrong.
"It is hard to believe," said Allen, who played four-plus seasons for the Sonics. "Most people who have been to Seattle have seen the beauty of the city. The area deserves a basketball team.
"Whatever the government is doing to run the team out of town, it is a shame they let that happen. You lose more than just 42 nights of basketball. That team is a community resource, not only for the adults, but for the children who look up to the players and the programs that take place throughout the year that you can't lose. It's ridiculous."
The Sonics spent all of their years in Seattle, save for one season (1994-95) that they spent in Tacoma while Key Arena was being reconfigured. But even a 12-year-old reconfiguration isn't good enough.
We do know this: Oklahoma City demonstrated over the last two years that it is more than NBA-worthy.
As for Seattle, well, they have so disappointed Stern that you might see a Ray Allen airball before you see another team in the Emerald City.
Cash for the class
Big Al Jefferson cashed in at the 11th hour, agreeing to a five-year deal with the Timberwolves for $65 million. The deal starts at $11 million in 2008-09 and rises $1 million annually for the five years. As if that's not enough, an industry source indicated there also are bonuses that could add another $1 million per year to the salary, although the league has deemed them not likely to be attained. Unlikely bonuses are usually things like playoff bonuses, viewed as unlikely given Minnesota's performance last year (and, most likely, this year as well). Also cashing in from the Class of 2004 where Jameer Nelson and Kris Humphries, joining Dwight Howard and Devin Harris, who signed earlier. But more interesting was the list of those who didn't sign extensions: Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Josh Smith, Andre Iguodala, and old friend Delonte West. (The Charlotte Observer reported that Okafor rejected a deal averaging a Jeffersonian $13 million per.) All that means is that those players become restricted free agents next summer (ask Sasha Pavlovic and Anderson Varejao how well that works) with the ability to still re-up with their team or play a fifth season and then become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2009. The Wolves also did not pick up the fourth-year option for Gerald Green, meaning he will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
Have a seat
Rookie Mike Conley Jr. was relegated to DNP-CD status in the Grizzlies' season opener Wednesday. He watched as Damon Stoudamire and Kyle Lowry split the point guard minutes. It was the first time since 1992 that a No. 4 overall pick has not played in his team's opener. And that year, the No. 4 pick, Jimmy Jackson, had not signed with the Mavericks and ended up holding out. Last year's No. 4 pick, Tyrus Thomas of the Bulls, played 16 minutes in Chicago's road rout of Miami. Overall, five of the top 10 picks in the June draft saw no action in their first NBA games, with Golden State's Brandan Wright, No. 8 overall, joining Conley as a DNP. The other three (Greg Oden, Joakim Noah, and Spencer Hawes) were injured.
A shot, but a miss
The Celtics were definitely one of the teams on Juwan Howard's list, once he and the Timberwolves agreed to a buyout. Instead, he ended up in Dallas. "At the end of the day, we had a shot at him," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who coached Orlando (for just 11 games) in the one year (2003-04) that Howard played for the Magic. "I think what it came down to more than anything is that he's familiar with Dallas [Howard played for the Mavs in 2001 and 2002] and that his family is still in Houston. He can hop a plane to Houston a lot easier to visit them than he could from here." Rivers said Dallas coach Avery Johnson's family also is in Houston, so Johnson and Howard might end up being traveling companions on offdays.
Maybe next year the Grizzlies should plead with the NBA to have their season opener on the road. It would be a first for the team since it moved from Vancouver to Memphis. And the result couldn't be any worse. Memphis's tough loss to the Spurs Wednesday night dropped the Grizz to 0-7 in opening-night games at home. They were in this one to the bitter end, prompting San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich to say he thought the Grizz were a playoff team "and I'm not blowing smoke." Memphis also was in the opener last year, losing, 118-117, to the Knicks in triple overtime after rallying from a 19-point deficit in the fourth quarter. What makes this streak more puzzling is that in the Grizzlies' final year in Vancouver, 2000-01, they won their first two games, which included - yup - a season-opening home victory over Seattle.
But all they've tasted is defeat
By dropping its first two games to the Pistons and Pacers, Miami's losing streak, over two seasons and an exhibition stretch, grew to 15. That includes losses in the last two regular-season games, four playoff losses to the Bulls, and an 0-7 exhibition season. Not to worry. Alonzo Mourning said the Heat are "taking the regular season a whole lot more seriously" than last year, when they mailed in a 44-38 mark. "We were content with being champions and we felt the entitlement of being a champion, that a lot of teams would just fall to their knees when they came and played us," Mourning said. "That isn't the case here. We've got a group of guys that's hungry."
Father, son aren't Birds of a feather
There's bound to be some conflicting emotions in the Larry Bird household this afternoon. Bird, a Hoosier through and through, told the Indianapolis Star that he will be cheering for the Colts against the Patriots. "I like to see Peyton [ Manning] and those guys do well," he said. "When I lived in Florida, I watched Tony [ Dungy] all the time in Tampa and I always wished him the best because he was a great guy down there, too. He built that thing up. Knowing what he's doing here and the success he's had here. I like both teams, but I'm an Indiana boy, I want to see the Colts win." But Conor Bird is an unabashed Patriots fan. A few years ago, Conor and his mother visited Gillette Stadium. Soon thereafter, he had all the Patriots stuff he wanted and needed.
Peter May can be reached at email@example.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.