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Rudy Gay, John Wall and other players already on notice for 2012-13 season

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It could be a make-or-break year for Rudy Gay in Memphis. (Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The offseason and trade deadline are good times to find players who are newly on notice — ones thrust into larger roles or facing increased pressure because of contract realities or a new roster context. Below is a look at players who fit the bill now. I’ve tried my best to de-emphasize guys entering the fourth years of their rookie contracts because they are the most obvious candidates, striving for extensions or fat new contracts in free agency. Also, I’ve already taken detailed looks at four such players — Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, DeMar DeRozan and Stephen Curry – so there’s little need to repeat what has been said. In a broader sense, young players are always  “on notice” to show the expected refinements that come with age. The goal here is to spotlight some cases that are more interesting, for whatever reason.

Already Got Paid

Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies. The notion that Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay don’t mix well is a myth; Memphis played significantly better when the two were on the court together, per But Gay’s development as a defender, passer and pick-and-roll creator flatlined last season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, and his uneven performance against the Clippers in the playoffs was one of many small factors that added up to a seven-game loss for the Grizzlies. In a reloaded Western Conference, the Grizz have jumped over the luxury tax to see if this core, fully healthy, can emerge as a true title contender. If it can’t, the team figures to make a cost-cutting move. That won’t necessarily mean moving Gay and his rapidly increasing contract, but the 26-year-old small forward’s play will be huge determining factor in the path this franchise charts.

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  • Published On 2:26pm, Sep 11, 2012
  • The short list of potential one-team stars

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    Dirk Nowitzki says he will play two more seasons before re-evaluating his career. (Danny Bollinger/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Dirk Nowitzki broke a bit of news over the weekend by tweeting during a Q-and-A with followers that he will play two more seasons and decide after that whether he wants to continue his NBA career. This isn’t all that surprising because his contract runs for two more seasons, after which Nowitzki will be at an age where even stars generally leave the game.

    Nowitzki turned 34 in July, so he’ll be that age next season and 35 for the 2013-14 season. Since the institution of the three-point line, only 11 players 34 or older (as defined by their age on Feb. 1) and 6-foot-10 or taller have logged at least 1,500 minutes and posted a Player Efficiency Rating of 20.0 — a general approximation for an All-Star — in any season, according to Basketball-Reference. Those 11 players pulled the trick a combined 23 times, with three players — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon — combining for 12. Players 36 or older under that Feb. 1 definition accounted for just eight of those 23 seasons, with the above-mentioned trio hitting the minutes/PER double six times in 36-plus seasons.

    Nowitzki, of course, can remain a very productive sub-20.0 PER player, as most of the players on this list — and many others — have done before. And as by far the best perimeter shooter in this group, Nowitzki has a chance to age in a different way, especially if the Mavericks can continue supplying him with skillful pick-and-roll partners and legitimate centers to ease his burden on defense. Nowitzki has already increased his three-point attempts in each of the last two seasons as part of a team-wide evolution in Dallas that could also help prolong his career.

    But the painful thought of Nowitzki’s career ever ending naturally leads to another thought: Will he finish it in Dallas? And how many legendary players still have a shot at playing with only one team?

    By my count, there are seven Hall of Fame locks or players approaching that category who have a chance at wearing only one NBA uniform. They are:

    Nowitzki: Given Nowitzki’s love of Dallas and that the Mavericks have $0 in guaranteed money on the books beyond the 2013-14 season, it seems likely that he would return on a cheap deal if he decides to play past that 2013-14 season. There certainly aren’t any cap obstacles in the way, even if the Mavs manage to sign a max-level free agent next summer. If they don’t, Nowitzki will have to look around the league and see who can offer him a chance at another title, how much they can offer and whether he’d like to change teams.

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  • Published On 1:53pm, Aug 27, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • The team-centric blogs at SB Nation are unveiling their choices for the greatest trade in the history of each NBA franchise today. Some links to the winners, with nice reflections on the motivations behind each: Houston, Atlanta, Cleveland, Sacramento, Dallas, Boston (with a bit of Red Auerbach spin), Portland (the ABA is involved), L.A. Clippers (an especially hilarious one), Utah and San Antonio — a surprising (but also fitting) nomination. Otis Thorpe, by the way, is directly involved in two of these trades.

    Brian Kamenetzky at ESPN Los Angeles has an extensive Q&A with Lakers’ coach Mike Brown, who touches on the pressures of his job, the differences between Los Angeles and Cleveland, the way he nearly injured himself upon hearing about the Dwight Howard trade and lots of other stuff. Those interested in the X’s-and-O’s of the Lakers’ new-look offense will hone in on this exchange:

    [Kamenetzky]: How does the Princeton work with having someone like Nash? As my understanding, it’s not as much a heavy pick and roll offense, but more motion and ball movement.

    MB: ‘The way that we’ll put it together, Steve’s going to have an opportunity — he’s going to quarterback the team — and so he’s going to have an opportunity to come down the floor every possession and in early offense play pick-and-roll if he wants to. It’s up to him, based on where he decides to take the ball or a call that he makes or an action that he does, it’s up to him to get us into some of the looks of the Princeton offense.

    So again, with him quarterbacking, or making that decision, he’ll still have a chance to get the ball back after he moves or after bodies move. I don’t want to completely give away what we’re trying to do, but in a nutshell, he will have an opportunity to play pick-and-roll at the beginning of almost every play set coming down the floor in early offense. And if not, he can also choose to get to some of the looks out of the Princeton by making a pass or doing an action or doing a call or whatever.”

    • Aaron McGuire reflects on Dirk Nowitzki’s 2011 playoff run and wonders if all the coverage of LeBron James’ 2012 postseason dominance has obscured what Nowitzki accomplished in 2011 (and what Tim Duncan did in 2003). Lots of interesting stuff in here.

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  • Published On 3:31pm, Aug 22, 2012
  • In defense of Mark Cuban: Making sense of the Mavs’ difficulties

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    Mark Cuban has attracted attention for his comments regarding Deron Williams and Jason Kidd. (Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE)

    Mark Cuban has been talkative lately, from criticizing Jason Kidd for the manner of his departure to sounding wishy-washy on the radio about whether the Mavericks actually wanted Deron Williams (via ESPN Dallas):

    “I don’t want to pick on Deron Williams because he’s a great, great, great player, and so it’s not necessarily him, per se,” Cuban said. “The conversation we had going back and forth — and obviously the decision was to go for him — but the conversation was, ‘OK, once you add $17.1 million in salary to what we’d have with Dirk (Nowitzki) and Trix (Shawn Marion), then what do you do?’ That’s your squad. And it’s not just your squad for this year. It’s your squad for next year other than the $3.3 million mini midlevel.

    “So that was a challenge that we had because we want to win, and everybody talks about Dirk’s window. Well, not only would it have been difficult to add players, then it also would have been difficult to trade players, and in reality that was the same problem that Deron had. Because he looked and saw the same thing and said, ‘OK, now what are you going to do?’”

    To understate things a bit, folks in Dallas aren’t exactly buying Cuban’s story. Here is Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPN Dallas reacting to Cuban’s remarks on the Williams non-deal:

    We don’t have to like what happened this summer with the Mavs, but it’s better to admit you swung and missed than to come up with this silly cover story about not really wanting Williams.


    That’s a lie at worst and disingenuous at best.

    Cuban is so much better than that.

    Building a successful NBA team is extraordinarily difficult, with each move and non-move creating ripple effects — often in unintended directions — for several seasons. Believe me: For every trade and free-agent signing that a team consummates, there are a dozen other scenarios (at least) that the team discussed internally. There is an even smaller but still significant number of would-be moves that the team actually broached with a rival GM or a player agent.

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  • Published On 1:30pm, Aug 22, 2012
  • Court Vision

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    • Mark Cuban is upset that Jason Kidd pulled an about-face and bolted for the Knicks after — per Cuban — verbally agreeing to return to Dallas. Now he’s coming out against retiring Kidd’s number in Dallas:

    “Putting somebody up in the rafters, that’s something sacred in my mind,” Cuban said. “You don’t just do it just to do it, to have a big ceremony, to sell tickets. You haven’t seen me decide yet. I go back and forth on Derek Harper all the time, but Harp will be up there before J. Kidd will.

    “I’ve always said my prerequisite was that you played on a championship team for the Mavs. I’d say Jet’s got a shot, Dirk’s an obvious, but as of right now I wouldn’t put J. Kidd up there.”

    Kidd played six full seasons and two partial ones in Dallas, and he was a key player for the Mavs’ only title team. Still, at best, he was the fourth-most important player on that squad. His peak years obviously came elsewhere. There is no set standard for retiring numbers, and different franchises have handled the decisions differently. Some, including the Blazers, have retired numbers for guys who played roles roughly equivalent to Kidd’s on beloved title teams. But it’s not as if Kidd would be a lock for Dallas jersey retirement by any common standard.

    • Amar’e Stoudemire is (again) promising to play better defense, per the New York Post:

    “Defense is the key to win championships, that’s something I’m dedicated on also, to become a much, much better defensive player,” he said. “It’s going to happen. It’s a matter of preparation and practice and getting that chemistry down on that end of the court.”

    Stoudemire is one of the worst defensive players in the league among those receiving heavy minutes. His issues have always struck me as having less to do with effort, and more to do with things that are much tougher to correct: a poor understanding of angles, bad timing, difficulty fitting within schemes, shaky instincts, etc. But on top of those things, Stoudemire has a painfully upright stance that makes it difficult to move side-to-side; he looks very creaky on the floor. Is that due to a lack of effort — of failing to work diligently on a crouched defensive stance? Or is it a result of his aging knees?

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  • Published On 3:26pm, Aug 21, 2012
  • Offseason has left number of potential contenders at risk of disappointment

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    Taj Gibson

    With Omer Asik now a member of the Rockets, Taj Gibson (above) likely will assume a bigger role in helping the Bulls defend the paint. (Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

    We covered free agency’s winners on Thursday, and next week, we’ll touch on the most intriguing team offseasons and teams that mostly stood pat. Today: the teams that have left us concerned.

    Chicago Bulls

    I covered the state of the Bulls last week after center Omer Asik’s departure for Houston, so I won’t belabor things too much here. The Bulls have replaced four bench players — Asik, swingman Kyle Korver and guards Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson — who would have been due about $17.6 million next season with five due a combined $8.5 million. Only one of those players, guard Kirk Hinrich, has a contract that runs beyond next season, but the $4.1 million that he will earn in 2013-14 jeopardizes Chicago’s ability to use the full mid-level exception again next offseason.

    Chicago now has about $71 million committed for 2013-14, factoring in the minimum $1 million guaranteed on shooting guard Richard Hamilton’s deal and power forward Taj Gibson’s cap hold. Gibson, of course, is even more critical now that Asik is gone, especially given that center Joakim Noah and/or power forward Carlos Boozer seems to suffer a 20-game injury every season. Gibson will be 28 next July, much older than a typical player coming off a rookie deal, but he’ll have suitors around the league and he’s firmly in Chicago’s core, especially if this team will seriously consider using the amnesty provision on Boozer at some point.

    The Bulls can shave $1 million off that $71.1 million number by dumping Hamilton between now and then, a move they’ll likely explore midseason if they’re sputtering because it would get them under the tax. But the league’s new rules prohibit teams from using the full mid-level exception and spending past a line $4 million above the tax threshold in the same season. If the Bulls bring back Gibson at market value, they’ll likely have to rely on the lesser mini mid-level exception to add a much-needed veteran piece. That’s a problem, particularly because Watson could have duplicated much of Hinrich’s production on a cheaper expiring deal. There would seem to have been a way to mix one or two holdovers with the new bench players, though that might have left the team a bit shallow and a tad more expensive.

    There are some serviceable bench players among Chicago’s new crew, but the Bulls would have taken a significant step back even if point guard Derrick Rose and small forward Luol Deng were healthy.

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  • Published On 2:18pm, Aug 03, 2012
  • West race already looks like a doozy

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    Dirk Nowitzki (right) will have a much different supporting cast next season in Dallas. (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)

    Just a couple of weeks ago, Dallas shaped up as a lottery team, Phoenix had lost its franchise player, Houston appeared to be in “Dwight Howard or bottom out” mode and Minnesota was in a stand-off with Portland over Nicolas Batum. Now things have been fleshed out a bit, and if you’ll indulge some premature team projection: Holy cow, the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff race looks exciting already.

    Indulge me further and allow for the assumption that the Spurs, Thunder, Lakers, Clippers and Grizzlies retain their status as postseason teams. And let’s assume that New Orleans, Sacramento and Portland are lottery bound.

    I’m not 100 percent comfortable with such early assumptions about those eight teams — injuries, trades and surprises happen — but I’m comfortable enough to proceed for the purposes of this summertime exercise. That leaves seven really intriguing teams fighting for three playoff spots. Here’s a very rough and early ranking of those teams:

    Dallas Mavericks: The 2011 champs, who finished seventh in the conference last season, get the slight nod here, based on the presence of Dirk Nowitzki and perhaps the most creative coaching staff in the league. The Mavs’ defense held strong last season despite the departures of center Tyson Chandler and assistant coach Dwane Casey, but the vaunted offense collapsed. An infusion of scoring depth on the inside (center Chris Kaman), the wing (shooting guard O.J. Mayo) and off-the-dribble from the perimeter (point guard Darren Collison) should elevate Dallas’ offense from bottom-10 status to at least league average and probably better. The lockout season also messed with Nowitzki’s conditioning and health, and though he still performed like a star, the 34-year-old probably still has one more year left at an even higher level.

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  • Published On 2:16pm, Jul 27, 2012
  • Mavs’ position in Dwight Howard derby

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    Dwight Howard

    Dwight Howard’s threat to leave for Dallas in free agency next summer is not as simple an option as the disgruntled Magic star seemingly believes. (AP)

    Dwight Howard met with Orlando Magic officials on Wednesday in Los Angeles and reiterated his desire to be traded as soon as possible. He added that if the Magic keep him or deal him anywhere but Brooklyn or the Lakers, he will simply sign with Dallas as a free agent, according to’s Chris Mannix, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM and several others.

    And then the world yawned, or vomited, or did whatever it does now when a “new” tidbit of Dwight Howard “news” trickles out. The story has been endless and ridiculous, and endlessly ridiculous, and Wednesday’s meeting fits nicely within that theme. Howard expressed his frustration over Orlando’s failure to deal him by now to the Lakers or the Nets, teams that have since used up cap space (Brooklyn) and useful trade assets (the Lakers) in moving on from the Howard drama without actually moving on. Both teams are still in the running for Howard if they wish to be, and if the Magic wish them to be; the Lakers still have center Andrew Bynum, and the Nets can trade center Brook Lopez as of Jan. 15, along with power forward Kris Humphries, who is overpaid on a short-term deal (two years, $24 million) precisely so that he is not too unpalatable in a trade package.

    According to Rudolph, Howard is also upset with Orlando’s lack of a clear rebuilding plan:

    Howard, however, was expecting an outline of how the team planned to improve and get back to a championship-contending level, something he didn’t receive during the hour-long meeting, according to sources.

    This is where the story gets laughable again. Howard opted in, at his choice and clear financial benefit, to a team with no cap flexibility this summer and no game-changing trade assets other than himself. The lack of flexibility is at the foot of Otis Smith, the team’s departed general manager, and an ownership group that signed off on cap-killing trades (Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu) and toxic mid-sized contracts to players whose production hasn’t met those deals — including at least one player, Glen Davis, reportedly acquired at Howard’s request. The Magic have no space to pursue free agents, and if Howard believes that the team’s new (and well-regarded) GM, Rob Hennigan, can just pick up the phone and spin these other pieces into championship-level help, perhaps he needs a summer internship in the front office to see how the NBA actually works.

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  • Published On 11:22am, Jul 26, 2012
  • Mavs salvage offseason after striking out on Deron Williams

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    The Mavericks have agreed to a multiyear deal with shooting guard O.J. Mayo. (Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images)

    After piecing together a competitive roster in a rapid-fire, 24-hour span last week, the Mavericks capped their solid consolation prize of a team by agreeing to a multiyear contract with shooting guard O.J. Mayo on Monday. Despite missing out on point guard Deron Williams and allowing guards Jason Terry and Jason Kidd to depart as free agents, Dallas has now responded by adding Mayo, power forward Elton Brand, center Chris Kaman and point guard Darren Collison.

    Dallas made the deal for Mayo by using its remaining cap space after winning the amnesty auction for Brand. The Mavs could also devote their available cap exception or a limited form of Larry Bird Rights to re-sign Delonte West, who would serve as a backup point guard to Collison on a roster that’s suddenly loaded with wing players.

    For now, Mayo joins a crowded two-guard rotation that includes Roddy Beaubois, Dominique Jones, Vince Carter, Dahntay Jones and potentially West. Three of those players, Beaubois, Dominique Jones and West, can function as point guards in stretches to spell Collison. West was probably Dallas’ best off-the-bounce creator last season, and Dominique Jones has been working on his passing skills at the Las Vegas summer league.

    The other shooting guards, Carter and Dahntay Jones, can serve as small forwards behind Shawn Marion. Carter filled that role quite a bit last season, even drawing Kevin Durant as a defensive assignment for parts of the Thunder’s first-round sweep of the Mavs. Jae Crowder, the 34th pick in last month’s draft, may also get a crack at small forward minutes for Dallas, particularly given that Carter and Dahntay Jones play more often as shooting guards.

    Mayo hasn’t developed into anything close to a star in his four-year career, but he’s a very good complementary player who might possess the best two-way combination of skills among this group. He’s an above-average three-point shooter who has become deft at running around screens, Rip Hamilton-style, for catch-and-shoot and catch-and-drive opportunities. Dallas’ offense, so stagnant and perimeter-oriented last season, can use every bit of his youthful dynamism. The 24-year-old Mayo is also a feisty defender capable of challenging point guards, and he’s a decent passer for a wing player. Using him as a stopgap point guard has generally been ill-advised, but coach Rick Carlisle has enough options in Dallas to avoid such scenarios.

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  • Published On 11:55am, Jul 17, 2012
  • Darren Collison trade hands Mavericks, Pacers exactly what each team needs

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    Darren Collison

    Darren Collison’s ability to attack the basket is a commodity the Mavericks did not have in their backcourt last season. (Steven C. Mitchel/EPA/Landov)

    A year ago, the Spurs traded a helpful combo guard about to enter the last year of his rookie deal for a relatively unknown, borderline 2011 lottery pick at a position of need who would have the full four years left on his rookie deal. People have since hailed the trade as an ingenious combination of talent acquisition and cost control, and some of those people don’t even know San Antonio also acquired the rights to two talented international players in the same trade.

    On Wednesday night, the Pacers, San Antonio’s partner in that trade, dealt a helpful point guard entering the last season of his rookie deal for a relatively unknown player at a position of need who comes with the certainty of an affordable four-year contract. And people were outraged.

    This is not to say last year’s George Hill/Kawhi Leonard trade and Wednesday’s Darren Collison/Ian Mahinmi swap between Indiana and Dallas were close to identical. Mahinmi is almost 26, so his upside is limited, and he’ll make an average of $4 million per year over the next four seasons — double Leonard’s yearly rate, but also a few million less than what Collison is likely to get on a new contract that will start in 2013-14. The Pacers didn’t receive any trendy international players in the deal, nor did they obtain even a second-round pick for the player who was their starting point guard for most of last season — and a crucial, gutty bench spark in the playoffs. And the Pacers, assuming they have renounced Leandro Barbosa, were way under the cap, meaning they could have simply signed Mahinmi as a straight-up free agent.

    But the general ideas behind the trades aren’t that different, and the perception of Indiana’s return would surely be different if the Spurs were pulling this deal. Indiana, a money-losing franchise for years now, has agreed to pay Hill $40 million over the next five seasons to play Collison’s position — just as the Spurs had Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gary Neal (and then others) on hand to soak up Hill’s minutes. The Pacers have already agreed to a mammoth new deal with center Roy Hibbert, and swingman Paul George’s rookie deal will be up in two years. Indiana looked ahead, decided it made no sense to extend all of these players and flipped Collison for a low-priced player who fills a need, a solid backup big man.

    And if you don’t think the Pacers need a solid backup big man, you haven’t looked at their lineup data or power forward Tyler Hansbrough’s eye-searing numbers. The Pacers were an elite team — on the level of Miami, Chicago, San Antonio or Oklahoma City — with both Hibbert and David West on the floor. Swap Hansbrough or Lou Amundson for one of them, and the Pacers typically became average or a bit below average, depending on the personnel around the two big men. And when Hansbrough and Amundson paired up, the Pacers were outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions. It was even worse in the postseason. Read More…

  • Published On 12:08pm, Jul 12, 2012