Uncontested Shots: Five More Things I've Learned About This NBA Season

Andrew Ungvari@DrewUngaSenior Writer INovember 30, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Jordan Farmar #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers goes to the basket against the Los Angeles Clippers during the season opening game at Staples Center on October 27, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

There are two kinds of NBA fans: Die-Hards and Casuals. The Casuals are those who are too consumed with the NFL and college football to care as much about the NBA as the Die-Hards do.

While Die-Hards consider the first preseason game the NBA's unofficial opening night, the Casuals think it's Christmas Day.

You can tell which camp you're in just by answering one simple question: Do you get your NBA information from someone else or does someone else get his or her NBA info from you?

The Die-Hards knew how special Brandon Jennings was before the second week in November. The Casuals didn't know who he was until they read Ian Thomsen's great piece in Sports Illustrated last week or Bill Simmons' Thanksgiving mailbag.

I hate to admit it, but the Die-Hards need the Casuals. Why? Because it validates the time and passion we Die-Hards spend poring over box scores in late October.

It's sort of like that indie band you knew about when they were only on pirate radio that's now one of the biggest bands in the world.

It's already December, and that means that we're just a few weeks away from the Casuals jumping on the NBA bandwagon.

The reason why the Casuals don't start paying attention until Christmas Day is because that's the day that ABC begins its national coverage of the NBA.

The NFL regular season is in its dog days and the college football season is on a pseudo hiatus, as we get meaningless bowl games while anticipating the important ones in the first week in January.

The NBA always schedules marquee games to make its debut with and this year is no exception. The Celtics visit the Magic in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals, followed by the Cavs and Lakers at Staples Center.

It's kind of sad, but Shaq and Kobe have been as associated with Christmas Day over the last 10 years as Christmas trees, ham, and wrapping paper.

Regardless, we're quickly approaching the (unfortunate) unofficial start of the NBA season.

If you consider yourself a Casual, please allow me to use this space to tell you five more things I've learned about this NBA season so far.


Allen Iverson Will Play Again This Season

When an athlete retires and includes the phrase "I've still got a whole lot left in the tank" when releasing a statement about his retirement, don't think for one second that he's played his last game.

While I predicted in this same space before the season started that the marriage between Iverson and the Grizzlies wouldn't make it into March, I'm predicting with the same amount of certainty that Iverson will sign on with a contender before the season is over.

The reason why teams haven't reached out to Iverson yet is because they see no reason to do so this early in the season. 

There are two big dates to keep in mind when it comes to player movement in the NBA: Dec. 15 and Jan. 10.

Dec. 15 is the first day that players who signed with new teams this past summer are eligible to be traded, and Jan. 10 is the day when non-guaranteed contracts become guaranteed and teams can start signing free agents to 10-day contracts.

While there has been much chatter about the Philadelphia Sixers signing Iverson while guard Louis Williams recovers from a broken jaw, I would be surprised if Iverson signed on with any team so soon—especially one that stinks, and let's face it, the Sixers stink.

The minimum salary for a veteran with 10-plus years of experience is approximately $1.3 million. In an effort to prevent teams from shying away from signing veterans, the NBA will actually pay the difference in salary between the NBA veterans' minimum and the minimum for a player with two years of experience.

What that means is that any team that signs Iverson would only be responsible for paying $825,497 of his $1,306,455 salary, with the NBA paying the difference.

Furthermore, whatever team signs him would only be responsible for paying him the prorated amount of that $825,497 based on how many games were left in the season.

So if your favorite team has 40 games left, then your favorite team would only have to pay Iverson $402,681.

Sounds simple, right?

Except that all of the league's legitimate contenders are over the luxury tax. So signing Iverson with 60 games left in the season would cost the team double with the luxury tax.

If those teams wait until after Jan. 10 then they can have Iverson for less than a million—including the luxury tax.

By Jan. 10, those teams will have an idea as to whether or not they could use Iverson, but more importantly, they'll know if the players they have on non-guaranteed contracts are worth keeping around or releasing.

If I had to guess I'd say the Celtics will sign Iverson. With Rajon Rondo's contract extension kicking in next year, the Celtics' window to win another championship with this current squad could be shrinking faster than expected.

In addition to Rondo's extension, the Celtics are also facing the possibility of having to let impending free agent Ray Allen walk after this season.

The Celtics took a chance on Stephon Marbury. Why wouldn't they give Iverson a shot?

If Iverson were to work out in Boston, then they might convince him to sign for the mid-level exemption next summer—much less than what Ray Allen will be looking for in his next contract.


Is Jordan Farmar Turning The Corner?

The writing appeared to be on the wall for Jordan Farmar the moment the Lakers allowed the Oct. 31 deadline to pass without even offering the fourth-year point guard an extension.

It seemed as if the Lakers were sending a message to Farmar that this would be his last season playing for his hometown team.

The Lakers, already owners of the league's highest payroll, were willing to let Farmar enter next summer's free agent market as a restricted free agent.

Farmar's situation seemed a bit of a Catch-22 for him and the Lakers: Have a bad season and there's no way they bring him back. Have a great season and there's no way they can afford to bring him back.

After a bit of an inconsistent start to the season, Farmar has started to resemble the guy who started at point guard for the team in their first-round series with the Suns as a rookie.

If the last two games are any indication, Farmar seems to be taking control of the team's second unit as its primary ball-handler and scorer—a unit that has Lamar Odom and YouTube sensation Shannon Brown.

In his last two games, Farmar has made 10-of-16 shots, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. For a bench unit clearly lacking in scoring, Farmar has scored eight or more points in six of the last eight games.

But the biggest improvement in Farmar's game might be on the defensive end—highlighted by this block of Rafer Alston in Sunday night's game against the Nets.

While Farmar's improved play probably won't increase the likelihood that he is re-signed, he does provide the Lakers with a consistent backup who can spell veteran Derek Fisher as well an asset in a trade if the Lakers can get a more capable replacement for the aging Fisher.

At least as a restricted free agent, the Lakers would have the opportunity to match an offer if they wanted to keep him.


The Next Coach To Be Replaced Will Be...

There's really only one coach left who might not stick with his team until the end of the season, and that's the Golden State Warriors' Don Nelson.

Nelson is 18 wins shy of breaking Lenny Wilkens' record for most wins by a head coach and could step down soon after he gets there.

Nelson has already missed the last few games with pneumonia, so he could always use his health as an excuse.

All of the other teams that at the bottom of the standings have replaced their coaches within the last calendar year.

The only other coach who might be fired is Mike Dunleavy, but he's also the Clippers' GM and is signed through the 2010-11 season.

Los Angeles Times columnist T.J. Simers recently spoke with Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling. When Simers asked Sterling if Dunleavy's $5 million salary for next season was the reason Dunleavy still had a job, Sterling replied by saying:

"If a coach is discharged, there is always a stretch provision, which means you pay them off over five to 10 to 15 years, so you have the funds to hire someone else right away. How much we're paying him is no consideration."

That stretch provision might also explain why the Hornets fired Byron Scott so early in the season. Scott had a $5 million salary for this season coaching a team that is trying its hardest to shed payroll.

It's becoming more and more obvious that Scott was fired to save the team money and not because of the team's poor performance.

The Hornets are still about $3 million over the luxury tax, and it's appearing more likely that they won't be able to make a move to get under before the end of the season.

After moving Rasual Butler in the offseason for just a second-round pick, the Hornets have nobody else they'd be able to unload as easily.

Nobody will trade for Peja Stojakovic and the $15.3 million he's scheduled to make next season. It's the same with James Posey, who is scheduled to make close to $7 million in 2011-12. Nobody will take on Morris Peterson's contract, either, which has him making $6.6 million next season.

The Hornets' only other choice is to try and move one of their recent draft picks like Julian Wright, Darren Collison, or Hilton Armstrong—something they probably won't do since the Hornets don't have to worry about extending any of them until after next season.

I can envision a scenario where Scott was paid half of his salary for this season with the remaining $2.5 million being paid out next season—thus saving owner George Shinn close to what his team will be paying out in luxury taxes.


The Nets Did Lawrence Frank a Favor

The Nets' firing of Lawrence Frank this past Sunday was a blessing in disguise for him. My opinion differs from that of my colleague, Robert Kleeman.

While Kleeman believes that the Frank firing may hurt the Nets in free agency next summer, I think it helps them.

The Nets would have probably fired Frank at the end of the season, so Frank gets to float his name out there immediately as a potential replacement for future openings on both the pro and collegiate level.

On the flip side, the Nets can now tell whichever stud free agent they decide to bring in that he will have major input into the team's next coaching hire.

Portland Trailblazers head coach Nate McMillan is in the final season of his contract, and could be used to help entice a LeBron James or Dwyane Wade to the Garden State.

Judging by the comments that Blazers fans are leaving about McMillan after losses, I doubt many of them would care if McMillan left anyway.

*Correction - The Blazers exercised an option for the 2010-11 season on McMillan's contract back in July. The earlier version of this story was incorrect.


A Little Love For Los Angeles

Gone are the days when New York City produced the league's best talent. Chicago had a nice run for a while with Antoine Walker, Corey Maggette, Dwyane Wade, and Derrick Rose.

But it's the City of Angels that's looking like the hotbed for NBA talent these days.

In the past three drafts, Los Angeles has produced Brandon Jennings, Russell Westbrook, DeMar Derozan, Darren Collison, Aron Afflalo, James Harden, and Jrue Holiday.


Andrew Ungvari is a senior writer and featured columnist for Bleacher Report as well as co-lead blogger for the basketball website, SirCharlesInCharge.com .

For up to the minute news on all things basketball and occasionally brilliant thoughts and observations, follow him on Twitter.


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