Full-Court Press: Failure to trade

At its worst, the NBA trade deadline for a beat writer involves sitting and waiting, countless phone calls and a hope that some bigwig national writer doesn’t break the deal of the team you cover.

At its best, it’s a week or so in which contemplating and arguing about fun, whimsical swaps is totally kosher, a week when you learn about the CBA and maybe meet a new player to write about.

Most interesting, though, are the moments when the deals that could have been but failed are leaked. Sounds silly, I know, but in a world in which agents hold more and more power and influence over trades, those failed deals mean something.

What they mean – well, that varies. It depends who leaks the deal, for one, and in most cases, that’s the party with the most to gain from doing so. Take the Timberwolves’ reported interest in Nuggets’ third-string big man Timofey Mozgov, which Yahoo! Sports reported on Wednesday after the proposed trade was shot down by Denver. Really, who cares? The Timberwolves didn’t particularly need Mozgov (and by particularly here I really mean at all), and Denver reportedly shot down the deal because it wanted more than just a first-round pick and Brandon Roy’s dud contract. In this case, the leaking could have come on the part of the Nuggets, to give an example of what they weren’t going to put up with when other teams came calling for Mozgov. Or it could have been the agent, to show how much his player would command – or what exactly was too little.

Before the Timberwolves’ Wednesday game – so about 20 hours in advance of Thursday afternoon’s deadline – Rick Adelman, who’s been a coach for more than two decades and is closely involved with his team’s personnel decisions, discussed his team’s relative silence on the deal front. 
“You see all the stuff in the media about it, but I wouldn’t obviously – obviously 90 percent is probably totally not going on at all. I don’t worry about that,” he said. “They tell me about who’s called, who’s done that, but until somebody actually comes up and makes a deal, I just don’t worry about.”

But those, Adelman says, are the deals we hear about, the Mozgov near-trades, the wheeling and dealing for Atlanta’s Josh Smith that came to nothing, the proposed packages for the Clippers’ Eric Bledsoe. They’re failures, at some point in the negotiation, and they then become the tools of agents and, to some extent, teams.

“I think the biggest thing going on in our league right now is the agents,” Adelman said. “I really believe that the agents have so much involvement, and they’re trying to broker deals all over the place, and that’s where you get all these rumors out there. I know this for a fact, because I’ve been involved with that.”

Obviously, the agents are the ones pushing the deals more often than not, even when they might not be the best for certain teams, and with so many ways to push their agenda, the media can become just another tool in those frantic days between the All-Star Game and the deadline. There’s no way to know for certain what’s being leaked strategically and what errantly, but my money is on strategy 99 percent of the time.

And that’s why the failures are often more fascinating than the actual trades. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather track some sort of strange agent-driven economic system than analyze the Dexter Pittman to Memphis deal, especially when the biggest trades are often the ones no one expects.

But again, maybe it’s just me.

Dare I say it, Los Angeles?

Suddenly, I may want to watch the Lakers a little bit – for more than the decent chance of seeing some sick train wreck unfold. They’ve won three straight and 11 of their past 15, and as much as the whole “Lakers aren’t making the playoffs” thing was fun, you kind of have to wonder if it’s going to hold.

And for all the sadists out there, the fans whose teams have been smote by the Lakers for years and were hoping to exact their revenge, there’s one silver lining: Steve Nash. Through the whole Lakers melodrama – which no doubt will continue even if the team does find some success – no one has said a word about Nash, perhaps because he’s aging, but mostly because he’s not getting in high-profile, combative kerfuffles. This week, Nash moved into fourth place on the NBA’s all-time assists list, finished the week with 10,150, passing Magic Johnson, and all anyone talked about, really, was that the Lakers were winning and Dwight Howard’s antics.

I’m all about subordinating individual to team, but come on. Magic Johnson. That’s big. So congratulations, Steve, and I still kind of wonder if you secretly wish you were still in Phoenix.

Trending up

The Pacers, who are in the midst of a four-game winning streak and have won those four games by an average margin of 27 points. More impressively, Indiana has made a habit of coming out strong and securing early leads; over the stretch it’s outscored opponents by 17 points in the first quarter, a deficit that’s not impossible, but definitely difficult to overcome – especially against a good team like the Pacers that seems only to be getting better.

Trending down

The Trail Blazers, who lost six straight before beating the Celtics Sunday. On Feb. 1, Portland was a .500 team, on Jan. 15 in the eighth playoff spot in the West. Now, the Blazers are 26-30, with the playoffs looking like an ever more distant hope, and their lack of any consistently competent play from the bench is looking like it may doom them.

Best of the week

Team: The Heat, who have won 11 straight, dating back to Feb. 3. To get a sense of how far they’ve risen over the time, consider this: the day before, Miami was tied with the Knicks atop the East, and now LeBron and company are 6.5 games up on New York, 5.5 on Indiana. Oh, and another nugget: Over the past two Februarys, the Heat have a 21-3 record. Yep. That’s an .875 winning percentage.

Player: Houston’s James Harden, mostly for his 46-point performance Wednesday in the Rockets’ 122-119 comeback win over his former team, the Thunder. That night, Harden went 14-of-19, including 7-of-8 from long range, almost singlehandedly annihilating the Thunder. Oh, and in his other two games this week – 22 and then 27 points on 45.9 percent shooting. Not bad. 

Improvement from last season: Watching the Nets give the Grizzlies a run for their money on Sunday in a nationally televised game, it struck me: this Brooklyn team had a worse record last season than the one I covered, the Timberwolves – and now they’re a consensus playoff team, holding their own against arguably the league’s best defense. The stats back it up, too: through 57 games this season, they’re 33-24, a 13-game improvement over their record through as many games last year. This far into the season, it’s starting to look for real.

Worst of the week

Team: The Kings, not for their five-game losing streak so much as for the surprising trade they swung Wednesday, sending Thomas Robinson (along with Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt, but… yeah) to the Rockets for Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich, Toney Douglas and $1 million. Sacramento needs to cut costs, yes, for its sale, but this was not the way to do it, by sending last June’s No. 5 out for Patterson (who has nowhere near the potential upside of Robinson) and a whole lot of nothing.

Player: Kobe Bryant – from 3-point range, that is, which is an important qualification. This is actually a trend that dates back to Jan. 21; since that time, Bryant has gone 6-of-42, or 14.3 percent, and that’s after he went 4-of-5 on Saturday. In fact, before that game, he was shooting 5 percent from three over the stretch. (Bryant is a career 33.6 percent shooter from beyond the arc.)

Antics: Dwight Howard’s reported mockery of Bryant in the locker room before the All-Star Game. According to the New York Post, the Lakers center made fun of his teammate in front of several other Western Conference players. Bryant then entered the room and moved his stuff away from Howard’s. Call me crazy, but this seems like maybe the worst possible idea, maybe ever. Especially when, for Howard, it seems like this season has been one huge karmic payback.

Telling stats of the week

20 points: Kyrie Irving had 20 points for Cleveland in the fourth quarter of its win against the Hornets on Wednesday, on his way to 35 on the night. Irving’s fourth-quarter scoring total exceeded that of four teams that night, the Timberwolves, Bucks, Hawks and Magic.

1,000 points, 300 assists, 55 games: Portland’s Damian Lillard on Friday became the first NBA player to log 1,000 points and 300 assists in his first 55 career games since LeBron James did so in 2004.

10 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 6 steals: The Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio became the first player to log this stat line this season on Sunday, when he finished with 16 points, 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 6 steals. It was Rubio’s second consecutive 10-5-5-5 game, making him only the third player in Minnesota franchise history to accomplish that back-to-back mark.

What we heard

This is the week in which some especially important people say some weird and downright boneheaded things on the radio.

“He deserves to have his name on the wall and a statue in front of (the) Staples (Center) at some point in time.”

– Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Dwight Howard during a Wednesday radio interview.

“If you look at their payroll, even if Dwight (Howard) comes back, you’ve got to ask the question: Should they amnesty Kobe? You just don’t know, right? It’s the same reason I wouldn’t get rid of Dirk (Nowitzki). I’ll take a hit for a season rather than get rid of Dirk. That’s just it. I’ve made that commitment to him over the years and he’s returned that commitment. Maybe that’s selfish, but that’s just the way it is.”

Mark Cuban on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s “Ben and Skin Show,” his comments inciting a fair amount of blowback, whether or not he meant them to be particularly inflammatory or meaningful.

What’s ahead

Clippers at Pacers, 7 p.m. ET Thursday: So, yeah, these teams aren’t rivals, or in the same conference, or even remotely similar. But this could be fun. The Clippers are good, and proving it. The Pacers are good, and proving it, too, perhaps more in recent weeks after their slow start. The West has outplayed the East by a good bit this season, but if the Pacers could pull off a win it would go a long way in giving some evidence that not just the Heat are capable of defeating the Western Conference in a playoff series if it were to come to it.

Follow Joan Niesen on Twitter.