NBA Notebook (cont.)
More buzz on Billups
Beyond Billups' significant impact on the court (Denver is 16-5 since his arrival), the Nuggets' front office believes he has made the team "likable." The feeling in Denver is that many fans viewed the team unfavorably. But with Billups, as polished off the court as he is on it, Denver now has a professional face on the franchise.
Some teammates believe Billups should run for mayor of Denver when his playing career is over. Billups downplayed the idea. "I know exactly who told you that," Billups said with a smile. "Politics have never been my thing. I got involved with the presidential election because of who the candidate [Barack Obama] was, but I don't think I'd run for office." One career that does interest Billups is real estate. He's working on setting up his own company.
Billups acknowledged that when he heard rumors that he might be traded last offseason, he asked Pistons presidents Joe Dumars to consider Denver. "Joe and I are very friendly," Billups said. "I told him, 'If you're going to trade me, this is where I'd like to go. Don't just ship me off somewhere. Let me have something to do with it.' "
Scouting the D-League
Two D-League point guards who could draw interest from NBA teams:
Dontell Jefferson, Utah Flash. "DJ is the guy most NBA scouts ask me about," Flash coach Brad Jones said. "Defensively, he is already an NBA player." Jefferson is a big (6-4), heady playmaker who has developed by leaps and bounds since graduating from Arkansas in 2006. He has blossomed into one of the D-League's most poised point guards, averaging 16.4 points and 5.3 assists in eight games this season. "I'm trying to be more conscious of my decision-making," said Jefferson, who was released by the Grizzlies in training camp last year and was one of Mike Dunleavy's final cuts at Clippers camp this season. "I feel like that's the thing that has been keeping me out of the league."
Coby Karl, Idaho Stampede. "Coby has really taken to the point guard role," said George Karl, Coby's father and the Nuggets' coach. "He's playing like a veteran out there." Coby Karl spent the 2007-08 season with the Lakers but was waived in October. A deadeye shooter, Karl has been honing his playmaking skills in Idaho (where he is averaging 17.8 points and 5.6 assists in eight games) with an eye toward signing a 10-day contract with an NBA team in January. The Lakers are keeping tabs on him and he still has his No. 1 fan in Denver. "He can play in this league," George Karl said. "I think we should pick him up."
Dipping into the mailbag
OK, so everyone knew letting Chauncey Billups go was a bad idea. Will bringing Antonio McDyess back give the Pistons some relief?
Absolutely. When I talked to scouts after the trade, they pointed to McDyess' ability to hit the perimeter jump shot as a huge loss for the Pistons. Moreover, even at 34, McDyess is still a solid defender whose presence helps relieve pressure from Rasheed Wallace at that end of the court. I still don't think the Pistons are going to make much noise this season, but getting McDyess back certainly helps keep them in the discussion.
I don't know why people are questioning Greg Oden so soon in his career. It was known everywhere that his defense was his calling card. He'll get you 8-15 points consistently while grabbing 10-15 boards and blocking 2-4 shots each night when he gets the minutes. On his team, he doesn't have to score. He's still learning the game, getting in shape and starting to trust his leg more. Never underestimate a leg injury to an athlete. He'll be a great player for years to come.
I don't hear too many informed people questioning Oden's abilities. I think the general understanding is that Oden is a work in progress. Everyone I talk to says he is already one of the best defensive centers in the game. The only question is, How will his offensive game develop? It was unfair to place such high expectations on Oden this season, because he was coming back from a serious knee injury and hadn't played high-level basketball in a year and a half. He'll be fine. Check back in three years and I think we will all share a good laugh at those who doubted Oden's talents.
The Wizards signed the wrong star, drafted the wrong players and fired the wrong person. It is good to be the owner's favorite. But losing with a high payroll, can GM Ernie Grunfeld last long?
I don't think Grunfeld is in any trouble. He and Eddie Jordan were like oil and water. Jordan was an extremely gifted offensive coach but Grunfeld preferred a tough, defensive-minded man on the bench. That's why he chose Ed Tapscott to replace Jordan. Though lacking coaching experience, Tapscott believes winning starts with defense and he's trying to give the team a new identity. And if you think Tapscott considers himself a stopgap solution, think again: He told me he would "love" to coach the team long term.
As for Grunfeld, he is considered one of the brightest executives in the NBA and, as you pointed out, has the ear of ownership. And let's not forget, this Wizards team has made the playoffs in each of the last four seasons. With a few tweaks (say, a high draft pick) and some good health (hello, Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood), Washington could thrust itself right back into the mix next season.