Sam: Is New Jersey really the right place for Melo?


Sam: Is New Jersey really the right place for Melo?

Monday, Jan. 10, 2011
5:45 PM

By Aggrey Sam

With the NBA world currently consumed by the impending potential blockbuster trade of Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony, the Bulls' opponent Monday evening, the Detroit Pistons, are in the middle of the storm. While the Pistons won't get the high-scoring small forward in the proposed deal, as the third team involved to facilitate matters for the Nuggets and the New Jersey Nets, they are key to the months-long rumored swap finally going through.

In case you spent your weekend under a rock, here are the particulars: Denver reportedly will send Anthony, point guard Chauncey Billups, veteran backup point guard Anthony Carter and big man Shelden Williams to New Jersey, the Nets will ship point guard Devin Harris, rookie Derrick Favors, sharpshooter Anthony Morrow, swingman Stephen Graham, undrafted rookie Ben Uzoh and two first-round picks to the Nuggets, and lastly veteran shooting guard Rip Hamilton and a second-round pick goes from Detroit to New Jersey in exchange for Troy Murphy and Johan Petro. Complicated enough?

Of course, there are still obstacles. Denver reportedly wants New Jersey to take on the four-year, 28-million contract of reserve forward Al Harrington (one of multiple players involved in the deal signed to an offseason free-agent contract or in the expiring year of a current deal), ironically, a Jersey native. And then there's the big question: Will Anthony sign a three-year, 65-million contract extension--the deal the Nuggets have had on the table for him since the summer--with the Nets?

The current deal in place--now featuring the Pistons and the disgruntled Hamilton (one of the final pieces remaining from Detroit's last championship team), reportedly engineered by Leon Rose, the shared agent of Anthony and Hamilton--is considered to be likely more amenable to Anthony, as the reunited former Motown backcourt of veterans Billups and Anthony, along with the presence of second-year center Brook Lopez, would seem to be an East playoff contender, even as soon as this season, despite the Nets' present woeful record.

The franchise's plan to move in Brooklyn in two years (fitting the Baltimore-bred superstar's supposed preference to relocate to the Big Apple, let alone that of his wife, a native New Yorker and ex-MTV personality), the allure of Russian owner Mikhail Prokorhov's big pockets and bigger influence, the involvement of rapper Jay-Z and his weariness after constant speculation since the summer--those things would all seem to appease him, especially when scuttlebutt has his All-Star and Olympic buddy, Hornets point guard Chris Paul, poised to join him in two years (or sooner), when his own contract is up.

But what about "Melo," the basketball player? This is somebody accustomed to only winning, from his days at local Charm City high school power Towson Catholic to his one-year stint at national juggernaut Oak Hill Academy, and from his storybook national-championship season as a Syracuse freshman to his tenure in the Rockies, where his Nuggets made the postseason as a rookie and in every campaign since.

Granted, Denver is an aging, flawed squad--Billups and especially ornery power forward Kenyon Martin are on the downsides of their careers, while it's almost a certainty that sixth-man J.R. Smith is in a new uniform next season, if not before, as his erratic play and constant struggles with Nuggets head coach George Karl, back on the sidelines after battling cancer, appear to be reaching a head--but it's still a likely playoff team, even in the competitive West, despite the team's recent struggles, perhaps somewhat due to the Anthony rumors taking a toll on the team's general state of mind.

Unlike some of the other teams reportedly inquiring about Anthony (the Clippers, Rockets and Mavericks, among others), New Jersey is clearly disinterested in merely acquiring arguably the league's premier scoring threat for the remainder of this season, only to see him hop across the Hudson River to play for the Knicks, widely regarded as his destination of choice. As important as a change of scenery is to him, is enduring a level of losing he's never before dealt with (at least initially) worth it in the long run?

Sure, having Billups by his side--despite reports that the Denver native will seek a buyout after the season; he has a team option for the final year of his expiring deal--will help, as will Hamilton, Lopez and even rugged rebounder Kris Humphries, but the Nets are far from a contender in the Eastern Conference. By forcing the hand of Denver's young brass (GM Masai Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke are both in the first year of leading the Nuggets' regime), Anthony could go from a team that gave the eventual champion Lakers all they handle in the Western Conference Finals two years ago to a team about which much is uncertain (including the youngster Lopez, who some observers feel has regressed after an outstanding rookie campaign).

They say the grass isn't always greener on the other side. Well, money (by signing the aforementioned deal with the Nets, Anthony will avoid any potential salary reduction from the new Collective Bargaining Agreement) certainly is green, but not even New Jersey residents would likely describe either downtown Newark or the Nets' future in definitively glowing terms.

But hey, New York is just across the river and Brooklyn is supposedly two years away. Still, one has to wonder if, in hindsight, Anthony will be satisfied with his decision (assuming it actually occurs in the next day or so, as many believe) when that day finally comes--if it finally comes; remember, this is the NBA, where something imminent today can vanish tomorrow.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

Just as we all predicted, two rookies stole the show in L.A.

There's not often hype surrounding a game between two of the NBA's worst teams, but Tuesday's Bulls-Lakers matchup was intriguing to many because it offered a chance to see a pair of top rookies compete. 

Oh, but you didn't think we meant Lonzo Ball and Lauri Markkanen, did you?

Nah, it was two different, less-touted first-year players that ended up stealing the spotlight at the Staples Center. 

Kyle Kuzma and Antonio Blakeney may not be household names, but they sure played like they were in the Bulls' 103-94 loss. 

Kuzma, the Lakers rook drafted 27th overall, has been a spark for Luke Walton's squad all season long. Boasting a terrific scoring arsenal, the Utah product carried the load for the Lakers' offense in the first half, dropping 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He finished the game as L.A.'s leading scorer with 22 in 40 minutes. But if you still need a more in-depth scouting report on Kuzma, just let Lonzo break it down:  

More importantly for Bulls fans, though, was the play of their undrafted guard who's signed to a two-way deal. 

Blakeney, the unofficial Summer League MVP, came off the bench on Tuesday and immediately left his mark on the game. The 21-year-old out of LSU posted 15 in the first half, finishing through contact as well as connecting on outside jumpers. 

Blakeney's shooting isn't reliable quite yet, but his energy has clearly influenced Hoiberg's rotation. The guard went from playing one NBA minute in the Bulls' first 11 games to playing 75 in the last four. Given that his two-way deal allows him to only spend 45 days with the team, it'll be fascinating to see how creative Gar Forman and John Paxson will get with his contract if this type of production continues. 

In a season that's obviously going to have its share of rough moments, an offseason flyer hitting is a huge plus for the rebuild. 

As for the recognized rookies, Lonzo's shooting woes persisted and Markkanen had maybe his worst offensive performance of his young Bulls career. Combined, they finished 7-for-30 with 21 points. Not ideal. 

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

Zach LaVine cleared for contact practice

The Zach LaVine comeback is one step closer as the shooting guard was cleared for contact practice after checking with his doctors in California. 

LaVine will go through a step by step process over the next few weeks and the Bulls will gauge his progress to see when the best time for his return will be. 

But, given the nine-month process from his ACL injury he suffered in February, he's right on track and there doesn't appear to be any setbacks. 

"There’s no real timeframe, I guess," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said at practice Monday. "It’s really going to be on how he feels. We’ll try to do a little more every day with him. We did a little bit, got him some light contact today just to get the process started.

"He’ll be able to play a little two-on-two with not a lot of practice time these next 10 days. But we’ll throw him out there and continue to try to get him feeling better. There’s going to be a mental hurdle that he’s going to have to clear as well. I know he’s excited. His teammates are excited and the coaches are obviously excited as well."

LaVine's recovery has gone as planned since his arrival in Chicago from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night. Targeting a mid-December return seems realistic but of course, the Bulls will take every precaution to make sure he's healthy for the long term, both for LaVine and the franchise, as he's a restricted free agent this summer--and they have no plans on letting him walk. 

LaVine told NBC Sports Chicago recently that he wants to get on the floor immediately but the Bulls know they'll have to protect him from himself in the meantime. 

"He’s going to have to string together a lot of really good days, and he knows that," Hoiberg said. "He understands that. The important thing is he’s right on track from where it was said after the injury. He’s been doing a great job with his rehab. He’s on time. He’s doing everything that’s asked of him. His strength numbers are where they’re supposed to be. I’m confident he’s going to keep making progress. But we’ll absolutely monitor it daily and hopefully it’ll just continue to get better."

The Bulls aren't sure if they'll send LaVine to the G-League but it's certain they have plans on not only how to use him when he steps on the floor but also a regimen they've stuck to, to ensure there are no real setbacks. 

Hoiberg has been salivating over having a true scorer at that position since trading for him, and LaVine has been eager since his arrival to prove to the Bulls and fans that he is a franchise player. 

Prudence in the moment of progression, though, appears to be the approach taken by both sides.