Nelson rewards Magic's faith (cont.)
The Thunder's draft flexibility. After shipping Johan Petro to the Nuggets for Chucky Atkins and a first-round pick in the 2009 draft, Oklahoma City now has five first-rounders in the next two drafts. Those assets will allow GM Sam Presti to build a supporting cast around Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook in a hurry.
Mehmet Okur's New Year. The Jazz center is averaging 20.8 points and 9.3 rebounds while connecting on 63.6 percent from the floor and from the three-point line. No wonder Utah has started 2009 by winning three of four games.
Trade rumors with teeth. With dozens of teams looking to acquire salary-cap space and/or dip under the luxury-tax threshold, the trading season could be as much fire as smoke this time around.
Tracy McGrady's impact. McGrady is averaging 15.4 points (his lowest mark since 1999-2000) and shooting a career-low 38.8 percent from the field while shuffling in and out of the Rockets' lineup because of a sore knee. He also has come under criticism for a lack of effort. "I can take it from anybody, from everybody," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I know my ability. And when I do get right, all that ... is put to rest. So kick me when I'm down, because I swear to you, I'll be back up. And when I get back up, I'm going to sit back, and I'm going to laugh, man, because I'm going to have the last laugh. Right now, I'm down. I'm physically down."
Mike Dunleavy Sr.'s security blanket. With Elgin Baylor no longer around to share the blame for another lost season in Clippersland, the coach and now personnel boss must answer for a team that has lost 11 and won three of 18 home games.
Mike Conley's star prospects. The fourth pick in the 2007 draft has lost his starting job and is said to be on the trade block. Maybe a rumored deal that would send him to Milwaukee would benefit Conley, who is averaging 7.5 points and 3.1 assists in his second season.
Power forward Kevin Love has averaged 12.8 points and 10.8 rebounds during the Timberwolves' five-game winning streak. An NBA scout assesses the former UCLA big man's progress as a rookie.
"As a third big man now [behind Al Jefferson and Craig Smith], he's very effective. He's got a very good nose for rebounding and he also has good ball skills and can play on the perimeter. His biggest challenge right now is improving his ability to score inside. He's crafty around the basket and can finish with both hands, but he just doesn't have the natural athleticism. He can get stronger and probably leaner. Is he going to be able to increase his vertical leap significantly, though? Probably not. He's going to be an under-the-rim player for his NBA career. But he's an intelligent player, and as he plays against bigger guys, more athletic guys, he's going to learn what he can get away with and what he can't. Right now, it's a little trial and error, but he'll learn that he's got to be a little more deceptive with shot fakes and more versatile playing away from the basket."
They said it
"Go to the cloning era, clone myself 20 times, and put myself in America as 20 different people. One Shaq would be a banker. One Shaq would be a sheriff. One Shaq would be a race car driver. One Shaq would be a prince. One Shaq would be Spanish. We'd all be here at the same time, and every once in a while I'd meet myself."
"You can't score without shooting. Getting five shots ... what the hell's that going to do?"
"We don't like the boos at home. It doesn't make us play better,"
"We all know Gil. We all know how Gil likes to do things. So I guess he's been in the Bat Cave, working with -- what's the butler's name? -- Alfred."
NBA.com: Could the free-agent class of 2009 have a greater impact on the NBA than the ballyhooed group of 2010? David Aldridge thinks so.
Basketball Prospectus: Who is the best point guard in the East now that Chauncey Billups has moved to the West? Kevin Pelton has a few ideas as he breaks down the performances of the aforementioned Nelson, Devin Harris and Rajon Rondo.
East Valley Tribune: The potential free agents looking to cash in on the bounty of cap space being cleared for the next two summers may have to adjust their expectations. A sagging economy and a possibly shrinking salary cap will likely affect all but the biggest names.
1. Kudos to the NBA for responding in a timely fashion to the Trail Blazers' attempt to bully the rest of the league into not signing Darius Miles. The league quickly issued a statement expressly giving teams the go-ahead to sign the former No. 3 pick. The NBA is filled with enough egos that Portland's threat to sue any team that signed Miles for non-playing reasons would be met head-on, but getting the league's backing doesn't hurt, either. (The Grizzlies signed Miles to a 10-day contract Saturday.)
2. Smart move by the Thunder to hire defensive guru Ron Adams away from Chicago, where he has been serving as a special assignments scout. A former assistant coach under Scott Skiles, Adams helped turn the young Bulls into one of the league's stingiest defenses a few years ago.
3. Who says you need to run to win nowadays? Seven of the 10 slowest-paced teams are on track to make the playoffs, while only three of the 10 fastest can make the same claim. Running may win fans -- no small feat in these times --but execution and defense still rule the standings.