Second-half storylines to watch
The effect of Gilbert Arenas' and Delonte West's legal woes bears watching
Chris Bosh, Amar'e Stoudemire are among big names who could move at deadline
Don Nelson (all-time wins) and Nets (single-season losses) are challenging records
The first half of the NBA season is the time to get a first glance at the rookie class, assess how well players have returned from injuries, see which teams thrive at incorporating new players and identify the contenders and the pretenders.
The real news occurs in the second half of the season. This time of year is when people start paying attention due to roster shake-ups, playoff berths and, yes, the occasional legal issue.
Without further delay, let's delve into what and whom those in the NBA will be discussing in the next few months:
Will Gilbert Arenas' contract be voided? In the wake of his indefinite suspension by the league and his pleading guilty to a felony gun charge, a hot topic has been whether the Wizards will attempt to terminate the remainder of Arenas' $111 million deal by invoking the morals clause that is standard in player contracts.
That decision has several ramifications, and certainly could set off a legal battle with the players' association. Union executive director Billy Hunter has said he will defend Arenas as vigorously as he did Latrell Sprewell, whose contract was voided by the Warriors after he choked coach P.J. Carlesimo, only to be reinstated once Hunter got involved.
The decision would obviously affect Arenas and his future, but it also could extend to this summer's free agency because it would ostensibly free up $17.7 million for Washington, giving the Wizards a chance to be major players in a star-studded market.
If the Wizards do not move to void Arenas' contract, general manager Ernie Grunfeld will almost certainly have to try to trade him. Given the franchise's firm stance against Arenas, he has become persona non grata; it would be very difficult to welcome him back after that.
Speaking of guns ... No one is watching the outcome of the Arenas situation like Cleveland guard Delonte West, who is facing eight misdemeanor charges stemming from a Sept. 17 arrest for speeding and carrying three loaded guns. West's trial is scheduled for next month, after which NBA commissioner David Stern is almost sure to impose a suspension.
His recent broken finger notwithstanding, how West's legal problems affect Cleveland's quest for a championship is of particular interest because winning a title seems like the best chance for LeBron James to remain with his hometown team rather than jump to, say, New York, once he becomes a free agent.
Speaking of free agency ... With James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Joe Johnson and Amar'e Stoudemire, among other big names, all eligible to hit the market, the 2010 class is generating enormous buzz.
The most active speculation is that Bosh will leave Toronto and perhaps sign with Miami, which has only $24 million committed in salary for next season, and so the Raptors must decide if they want to risk keeping him and losing him for nothing. If the Raptors get an indication he is not going to re-sign, it would behoove them to trade him now and extract as much in return as they can, because even if they do a sign-and-trade with him this summer, they will not get nearly what they would as the Feb. 18 trade deadline approaches.
Adding another element of intrigue is that the Raptors have started to win more regularly and are now in the thick of the playoff race in the weak Eastern Conference. Had they remained well below .500, it would have been easier for GM Bryan Colangelo to trade Bosh. But now that they have a legitimate chance to make some noise in the postseason, it'll be more difficult for Colangelo to get rid of the team's best player.
Speaking of getting rid of players ... Most of the time, it seems as if there is more interest in trade rumors than in the games themselves. And most of the time, the rumors never come to fruition and the trade deadline produces only a smattering of notable activity.
That does not make it any less entertaining to imagine the possibilities and permutations of players moving from team to team. Will Bosh be dealt in the next couple of weeks so that Toronto can get something in return for its most valuable asset? Same goes for Stoudemire, who has a $17.7 million player option for next season and who may not be seeing eye-to-eye with Phoenix management on the direction of the team.
With Tracy McGrady and the Rockets at odds, can they unload his league-leading $23 million salary and bolster their lineup? Or will he linger in uncertainty until becoming a free agent in the offseason?
Will the Kings explore deals for Kevin Martin? Will Utah trade free-agent-to-be Carlos Boozer, breaking up a core that has been together for four-and-a-half seasons? Is Tony Parker really on the block? Marcus Camby? Zydrunas Ilgauskas?
The answer to most, and maybe all, is no. But who knows, once the trade deadline approaches, some general managers start to feel the pressure of winning immediately.
Speaking of winning immediately ... Safe to say nobody saw the Thunder or Grizzlies succeeding like they have so far. It's always good to see new blood in the NBA playoffs. So, can the upstart Thunder or the Zach Randolph-led Grizzlies -- and who ever thought you'd be reading that particular phrase? -- continue to win and make it into the postseason ahead of schedule?
That is also true of the Bobcats, who have staged a turnaround with the unusual pairing of Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson, as well as, to a lesser degree, the Bucks, who have stayed in the playoff hunt behind rookie point guard Brandon Jennings and former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut.
Conversely, you have the Suns, who started out 14-3 and have gone 12-17 since then. Their success -- or lack thereof -- could go a long way in determining the makeup of that franchise next season, because nobody wants to spend a bunch of money and lose.
Speaking of losing ... The Nets are 3-40, putting them on pace to break the 1972-73 Sixers' ignominious single-season record of nine victories. It seems almost impossible to be that bad. Having said that, the Nets recently lost by 32 points to the 13-win Warriors and have dropped 11 in a row, their third double-digit losing streak of the season.
Look on the bright side: Regardless of whether they make history, the Nets are all but assured of getting a high draft pick, perhaps even Kentucky's John Wall, to help them on their long road back.
Speaking of long roads ... Golden State coach Don Nelson still is trying to surpass Lenny Wilkens, the league's all-time winningest coach. Nelson says the record does not mean anything to him, but he is not staying on the Warriors' bench and putting up with losing as much as he does solely for the love of coaching. Though $6 million a year helps soothe the pain.
Nelson is 11 victories away from breaking the record of 1,332, and with all the injuries the Warriors have suffered this season, it could be a close call whether he reaches the milestone by the end of the season. If he does not, it will be interesting to see if he continues to pursue it by coaching again next season.
Speaking of next season ... We are in uncertain times in the NBA. The economy is bad. Teams are losing money. A labor dispute is on the horizon. And franchises are preparing for the worst. How that subplot affects teams' immediate decision-making remains to be seen. But rest assured, everybody is thinking about a potential lockout and its consequences on franchise-building.
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