The NBA preseason is upon us, and with that comes the reentry of the Association into the national lexicon.
August and September are largely the doldrum months in the NBA, with rosters staying largely unchanged as everyone heads to remote islands to enjoy the last moments of summer sun.
Usually, the preseason responds in kind. Supposedly "major" roster quandaries are, in reality, "minor." Teams will attempt to carve out their rotations and adjust their schemes to new talent, but the reality of the situation is that those changes are embryonic until the real game starts. The players you see come and go out of camps will have the Q-Score of your local mailman.
Of course, the 2012-13 preseason altered our expectations. Just days before the regular season started, the Thunder and Rockets famously agreed on a trade that brought James Harden to Houston. That deal's ripple effect is still in play today, with Russell Westbrook's knee issues again highlighting Harden's absence and Dwight Howard now wearing a Rockets jersey after deciding this summer that he'd rather be in Houston than Los Angeles.
With the preseason beginning in earnest, the rumor mill has once again heated up with possible deals. Now, if you're looking for a proper sequel, the 2013-14 season will be far closer to Caddyshack II than The Godfather: Part II. Major deals and movements—if there are any—will pale in comparison to those of last year, like Harden.
That said, there are still a few interesting rumors floating around to spark your interest.
Heat "Explored" Possible Norris Cole Deal?
The blueprint for the defending champs this offseason has been wildly apparent: retention and shoot for the moon.
Miami brings back the entire core of its 2012-13 championship team, with the exception of Mike Miller, whose contract was amnestied this offseason in order to save Micky Arison enough money to buy a lifetime supply of eggshell-white button-downs.
Elsewhere, Pat Riley took chances on two exorbitantly talented players in Michael Beasley and Greg Oden, both of whom come with their own host of issues. Beasley has fallen off the map since a semi-promising (at least from a scoring sense) 2010-11 season, and I'm pretty sure the ABA still existed the last time Oden played organized basketball. Getting anything from either player would be a massive boon.
But it's also far from a guarantee. That reliance on the Beasley-Oden duo to create an improvement over last year's team, coupled with the improvements in Brooklyn (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, AK-47, etc.) and Chicago (the return of Derrick Rose), is enough to make even Riley slightly uncomfortable.
So while it was a mild shock, Sam Amico of FOX Sports' report that the Heat had exploratory trade talks about point guard Norris Cole makes some sense. The 24-year-old guard has come up big on the national stage multiple times since being taken at No. 28 overall in 2011, but his median effectiveness is definitely in the below-average range.
Cole has yet to develop a consistent outside shot, which allows opposing teams to all but ignore him on the perimeter. The juggernaut Heat were nearly outscored on a per-100 possessions basis with Cole on the floor last season, and they defeated their opponents by 13.7 points per the same total, per NBA.com. While part of that is certainly due to Cole playing a good deal of his minutes with Miami's second-string talent, he's also at fault for not quite developing into a plus on either end of the floor.
The former Cleveland State standout is a willing defender, whose foot speed and aggression are often perfect fits for Miami's "attack, attack, attack" defensive system. He's also jumpy and prone to getting beat away from the basket due to over-aggression. And while Cole has gotten good at navigating through traffic and getting shots off, he still ranks in the bottom-10 at his position in terms of finishing at the rim among players who played at least half of last season, according to HoopData.com.
In essence, he's the perfect player for Riley to look into moving. Miami could probably replicate a majority of his production by signing a Rodrigue Beaubois or Sebastian Telfair type, and teams around the league still value Cole as an asset. If the Heat were able to package Cole and Joel Anthony's contract for a reliable Mike Miller replacement on the wing, it's something they should explore.
As it stands, though, Miami is probably satisfied to stand pat and reassess as the season progresses. (The Heat also opted into Cole's $2 million option for next season this week. So there's that, too.)
A "Handful" of NBA Teams Have Looked into Signing Jason Collins
You'll probably be hearing more about this as the season draws closer (as you should), but Jason Collins is still without a job three weeks prior to the NBA season. Collins, of course, became the first active athlete in the United States' four major professional sports to come out publicly as gay. He did so earlier this year in a first-person Sports Illustrated story.
Since Collins' announcement, he has also found himself as the source of widespread speculation within league circles. Would an NBA team be willing to take a risk on signing Collins, who may have been on his way out of the league anyway, regardless of his sexuality? Or would his relative lack of usefulness on the floor and the distraction that comes from signing him prove too much?
So far, it's been the latter. No team has yet to even bring Collins in for a workout, though there has been increasing chatter about teams having interest.
Yahoo! Sports' Marc J. Spears is reporting that about a "handful" of teams have reached out to the 34-year-old center, but each of those teams have still passed on making a formal offer.
Among those teams were the Sacramento Kings and New York Knicks, both of which need help in the middle. Sacramento ultimately chose the younger Hamady Ndiaye, and New York went with Cole Aldrich and Josh Powell.
I'll be the first to admit I have no objectivity here. I'm rooting for Collins to get a job, mainly because of what I think it could mean for the league and the sports world in general.
That also comes with the understanding that Collins, quite frankly, isn't a very effective NBA player at this point. He's described himself as a big, tough body who has six fouls to give. There is a place in the league for those types of talents—but that's only if that isn't their sole talent. Collins has been on a steep decline from even his middling peak over the past three or so seasons, with his player efficiency rating dipping all the way down to 3.01 in 2012-13.
My thought tends to be that Collins will get a chance, but it will not be until after the regular season begins. By then, the hoopla surrounding his signing would decrease exponentially, with media outlets not being able to send their entire staffs to a certain city during the middle of the regular season.
We're not to the point where thinkpieces need dusting off, but the Collins situation is something worth monitoring—especially after such an outpouring of support from the league in the aftermath of the news.
Luol Deng Upset With Lack of Contract Extension Talks?
Much talk has been made about how important 2013-14 is to the Heat. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can all be free agents after this season, and their decisions to stay or go will fundamentally alter the power balance in the NBA.
But one could argue that it's just as important for the Chicago Bulls. After two-straight potential championship runs were set ablaze by Derrick Rose's torn ACL, the 2011 MVP is back this season and should have his sea legs under him by opening night. The emergence of Jimmy Butler at shooting guard also gives Chicago one of the most formidable starting lineups in the league, one that may be the league's stingiest unit defensively while also being a top-10 unit on offense.
It's all set up for the Bulls to come for the King's Crown. What happens beyond this season, however, is anyone's guess.
Carlos Boozer has been an amnesty candidate since the NBA ratified the new collective bargaining agreement, and the Bulls are doing the unthinkable by going over the luxury tax. Everything sets up for this being the all-in season with this core.
The most glaringly obvious confirmation of that is the team's lack of long-term extension talks with Luol Deng. The 28-year-old forward's contract expires after this coming season, at which point he'll become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. There were talks this offseason about Deng being used as trade bait, though obviously no deal came to fruition.
It's a murky situation, one that Deng is reportedly unhappy about. Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski noted in his column about Rose's return that Deng was frustrated with the Bulls' disinterest in engaging in negotiations with him.
Now what constitutes "serious" talks is likely in the eye of the beholder. Deng is, in all likelihood, starting negotiations with his 2013-14 salary ($14.28 million) as a starting point. Though he's rapidly approaching 30, Deng is still a great wing defender and is very effective on the offensive end. He struggled a bit with his increased responsibilities in shot creation without Rose last season, but a majority of his efficiency numbers should return back to where they were with Rose on the court.
That said, Butler played the 3 during last season's playoffs admirably, and he could be a long-term fit at the position. Amnestying Boozer and allowing Deng to walk would give Chicago something resembling maximum-salary cap room. At which point, the Bulls could make the splash they thought they did with Boozer a few years ago.
Barring a trade for a LaMarcus Aldridge-type, Deng probably isn't going anywhere this season. After the season? That's anyone's guess. And, in Deng's eyes, that's the entire problem.
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