Magic not the first to deal with disgruntled star

Magic not the first to deal with disgruntled star

Published Jan. 12, 2012 5:29 p.m. ET

New Orleans guard Jarrett Jack looked on last season as the Melo-drama unfolded in Denver.

Would Carmelo Anthony stay? Would he go to New York? What about New Jersey? Might he make like Michael Jordan and play baseball?

"It was just a circus almost, man," Jack said of the saga, which ended with the star forward being traded to the Knicks last February after six months of haggling. "Every single day, it was like a soap opera, and I don't think they wanted that (in New Orleans)."

The Hornets sure didn't. So when guard Chris Paul asked to be dealt before training camp began last month for this lockout-shortened season, the Hornets got it done rather quickly. OK, it did drag a bit when the NBA-owned Hornets had a deal for Paul to go to the Lakers nixed. But Paul's move to the Clippers was rapid fire compared to what Denver had gone through.

It's become an NBA trend for stars in small-market cities to ask to be traded, holding the hammer of soon being able to leave as free agents. And teams have handled that situation in different ways.

Utah acted the speediest of all. The Jazz dispatched guard Deron Williams last February not because he had asked for a trade but because team officials didn't feel he eventually would want to stay beyond being able to opt out of his contract in the summer of 2012.

Now, the NBA waits to see will happen in Orlando, where star center Dwight Howard has asked to be dealt and his agent has been given permission to talk with Dallas, New Jersey and the Lakers. With Howard already having lasted three weeks into the regular season, gone is the possibility of a quick exit. But, with the trade deadline of March 15 still two months away, could the situation drag on like it did with the Nuggets?

"I'd recommend highly organizations don't go through it," Nuggets coach George Karl said of what he endured last season. "We had such a wear and tear on us. It's just a negative energy, and I think we all know negative energies, you don't like being around them. And not only was it a negative energy, you got asked (about it by the media) every day. Now, I chose to talk about it. Some people might choose not to talk about it. I used it as kind of therapy for myself because it was wild and crazy."

When Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was asked shortly before the start of the season if the Howard situation is a distraction, he said he would not be talking about it anymore. That alone makes it seem to be a distraction.

Overall, the Magic (7-3) have weathered it well, being just a half game behind Miami in the Southeast Division. Still, the desire to be moved by Howard, who can become a free agent next summer, is going to make some think at times it's affecting his or the team's overall play.

"Not to pick on Dwight, but as dominant, as great of a player he is, I think the other night through three quarters he had no points and no rebounds and finished with (four) rebounds and (five) points," Jack, who has replaced Paul as the Hornets' staring point guard, said of Howard in last Sunday's 104-97 win at Sacramento. "He can do that with one arm tied behind his back. Eventually, it's going to creep into some people's minds, especially his coaching staff, the fans and all those others playing. I think once you get it over with and done with and allow it to move on and kind of get it as further down the line as you can, it would be best for everybody.

"I think the thing that our franchise did that was so key for us was they kind of got it out of the way. They didn't let it linger and be something that kind of crept into the locker room on a day-by-day basis. They kind of turned the stone. It was over and done with, and we were able to have some closure with the fans, and that just allowed everybody to move on."

Jack gets no disagreement from Hornets general manager Dell Demps and coach Monty Williams about having wanted to get the Paul situation over as quickly as possible. Paul was sent Dec. 14 along with two second-round picks to the Clippers for Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a first-round pick.

"Chris, he gave us an early indication," Demps said of the desire to be dealt by Paul, who could have opted out of his contract next summer before giving that up in the deal to the Clippers. "I think if it would have been a situation where if he was unsure and unknowing, we might have waited."

Demps at least had gotten some advice early on about how to deal with a star who sought to be traded. It came from Nuggets executive vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.

Ujiri and Demps, who both used to be scouts, have been close for nearly a decade. Both were hired before last season, with Ujiri being greeted immediately by Anthony informing the franchise in August 2010 he wanted to be dealt.

"Last year, we both came in as young GMs in the league," Demps said. "He got thrown into the fire. And we (discussed) the potential I'd have the same situation in the fall… He'd always say things (able the Anthony situation last season) like, 'Man, you're not going to believe this.' And, now, this year, I was like, 'Yeah, I see what I didn't believe.' It's good just to have somebody where you can say that he knows what the situation was like."
Demps said Ujiri would call or text and offer support when there were some "tough days that were going on"with Paul's situation. Ujiri served as a sounding board for Demps.

Ujiri didn't want to talk about specific dealings with Demps. But he spoke with some relief about how the Melodrama is long behind the Nuggets.

"If a player doesn't want to stay and he wants to go, our job is to look out for our organization and figure it out," Ujiri said. "It was there (the situation hanging over the team). But I thought the players handled it well. And I thought the coaches handled it well. And it was frustrating for our city."

Karl helped hold the Nuggets together, leading them to a 32-25 record as last season's trade deadline approached even though the team also had battled injuries to big men Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen.

There were daily rumors about where Anthony, who could have opted out of his contract in the summer of 2011 and left the Nuggets with nothing, might go. The situation became even more of a distraction when it became apparent Denver's second All-Star, Chauncey Billups, was on the verge of also being dealt.
"I hope it's a once-in-lifetime thing, that I never have to do again," Karl said of it all. "It's very draining. I don't know how you stop it from being draining… There were a lot of days that everybody was kind of heavy and mad and nothing can make it go away."

When the trade finally got done Feb. 22, 2011, that helped it go away. The Nuggets were able to play the Knicks and the Nets against each other and came out with a good package for Anthony.

In a three-team deal that also included Minnesota and also included Denver giving up Billups, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams, Renaldo Balkman and a second-round pick, the Nuggets received Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, two first-round picks and a second-round pick.

The Nuggets, using a more team-oriented style, finished the season on an 18-7 run. This season, they're off to a 7-4 start.

"A lot of people thought, especially this year, we'd be at the bottom of the league," said Ty Lawson, who took over as the starting point guard after Billups was dealt. "So we definitely have emerged to be better than people thought."

Are the Nuggets, with Gallinari averaging a team-high 17.2 points this season as the biggest return piece in the deal, actually better now than they were before the trade?

"I would say, 'Yes,'" said forward Al Harrington.

A day after Denver's big deal, the Jazz sent Williams to New Jersey for a similar package of assets the Nets had been dangling in hopes of landing Anthony. Utah received young big-man prospect Derrick Favors, Devin Harris and two first-round picks, one which last summer became Enes Kanter.

The general consensus was the Jazz made the trade to avoid the chance of going through what the Nuggets had. Williams declined to comment on any circumstances involving his trade, including whether he indeed had a desire to leave Utah.

"I was surprised like everybody else that they traded (Williams) because he was supposed to be our franchise player," said center Mehmet Okur, who was with the Jazz until being dealt to the Nets last month.

But plenty of franchise players have bolted teams in recent years. In the summer of 2010, free agents LeBron James of Cleveland and Chris Bosh of Toronto both went to Miami and Amare Stoudemire headed from Phoenix to New York, leaving teams behind to scramble for scraps in sign-and-trade deals.

The Nuggets, with Ujiri having just left the Raptors, were determined not to let that happen to them. It didn't. And Utah and New Orleans soon followed in getting a bevy of assets for a superstar.

The Hornets came out well even though the NBA's new "Carmelo Anthony" rule doesn't allow for a player to extend his contract for more than one year while being traded. Under the old rules, Anthony was able to not opt out for this season while tacking three more years onto his deal. Paul didn't actually add the one allowed year because it wouldn't benefit him financially.

"Yeah, I think you got to call this The Masai," Demps said when asked if the Nuggets executive has written the recent book on getting value for a disgruntled star. "I thought (Ujiri) did a great job. He was really patient, and I thought they got some really good pieces."

Soon, it will be seen if Orlando, which wants to get at least one established star in a package for Howard, follows suit. But is anybody from one of the other teams that has been in a similar spot offering the Magic advice?

"Stan wouldn't listen to me anyway," cracked Monty Williams, who played for the Magic from 1999-2002, leaving five years before Van Gundy arrived.

Nevertheless, the Magic no doubt have looked closely at what happened with Denver, Utah and New Orleans.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at or on Twitter @christomasson.