Everyone seems to know someone who is unemployed right now. In the NBA, the degree of separation is five times closer. Many teams have trimmed back on rosters as a cost-saving measure, and the line at the free agency office has rarely been this talented.
``Yeah, there's a list out there that everyone knows about. We're talking about the Wallys,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, tagging the entire group with the name of one of his former C's players - Wally Szczerbiak, like the rest of them, a man without a team. ``These are guys who have something they can give, but also something they can't do.''
Most, however, still have some game left: Jamaal Tinsley, Rashad McCants, Jerry Stackhouse, old friend Gerald Green, Lorenzen Wright, Donyell Marshall and Stromile Swift.
Desmond Mason is hardly washed up, either.
``Yeah, there's a lot of guys out there. Bonzi Wells, Brevin Knight, Damon Jones, even Antoine Walker - he could still be playing,'' said Tyronn Lue, recently hired by the Celtics as director of Basketball development (a quasi-assistant coach) after he gave up on his playing career because the market hadn't produced any lucrative deals. ``A lot of guys, like Desmond Mason, (were asked) to join teams on a non-guaranteed basis.'' Lue knows. Atlanta, one of the seven teams he played for, offered to bring him into training camp on a non-guaranteed deal. New York made a similar offer, if that's what you want to call it. Lue, who already has two championship rings courtesy of his early years as a member of the Lakers, saw otherwise.
He joined that growing list, though unlike many of those players, Lue had an out.
The others are still waiting, just as many of these budget-minded owners appear to be waiting for next summer's much-anticipated free agent market - potentially the greatest ever.
``There are more than there have been,'' agent Mark Bartelstein said. ``Some of my guys should be there. Jake Voskuhl, Linton Johnson and Dan Dickau are all guys who could play. We'll see what happens.
``I don't know if this is about next summer. I think it's more about saving money right now. Teams don't want to carry that 14th or 15th man. It's just owners watching their pocket books.''
As of Thursday, nine of the league's 30 teams didn't carry the NBA maximum of 15 players.
Four - Philadelphia, Orlando, Atlanta and the Lakers (of all teams) - had only 13. That will change, presumably, when Los Angeles and Orlando make additions for the stretch run.
Atlanta has solid playoff hopes, but with its ownership situation still in disarray, continues to be famously cheap.
The risk, though, is health. New Jersey, even with 15 players, could only dress eight players during a Nov. 7 game against the Celtics due to injuries and the flu.
``We almost ran into that situation ourselves last year, and we had 15 on our team,'' Rivers said.
Technically, there are now a total of 12 roster spots open across the league, including one each with the Knicks, Bulls, Bobcats, Nuggets, and Jazz, and two each with the Sixers, Magic, Hawks and Lakers. But Lue, for now, is happy to step back into coaching - something a number of his former coaches have always recommended. ``Doc always said that I could coach,'' said Lue. ``Mike Woodson and Scott Skiles - they all told me that. At times for me it was hard, but Doc was a man of his word.''
Rivers has no doubt that should Lue attempt to return, these vacant jobs will eventually open again.
``The coaches will always want the numbers,'' said Rivers. ``It will recover as far as the economy goes.
``But I think what Ty is doing is very smart. Just because he loves the game so much, you can predict that the next stage of his life will be in Basketball. He has to decide what he wants to do.''
Right now, coaching agrees with him, though Lue admittedly still feels more like a player than one of the suits on the bench.
Like Sam Cassell last year, Lue has now become Brian Scalabrine's pregame sparring partner. Cassell parlayed his experience on the C's bench into a regular assistant coaching job under Flip Saunders in Washington. ``It's basically the same thing that he did,'' Lue said. ``I travel, interact with the fellas. Of course, the guys still treat me like a player.''
That's where the issue of trust comes in to play.
``If you're a point guard then you're always going to be a coach, anyway,'' he said. ``When I got here, what I told them was that I was not going to be someone who would go back and tell the players what the coaches were saying, just like I wouldn't go to the coaches with what the players were saying.'' The job also fulfills another of Lue's goals - a rekindled collaboration with Rivers, who was fired 11 games into Lue's only season with the Magic (2003-04) after a 1-10 start.
They didn't have much time together, though a lengthy association apparently wasn't needed.
``This was good coming here,'' Lue said. ``I played for Doc in Orlando the year he got fired, and we had an instant bond. It's too bad. I was averaging 15 (points) and seven (assists) that year - it was turning out to be my best season - and so I hated to see him leave.''
Lue now faces an interesting choice. He's eight years younger than the 40-year-old Cassell, who finally chose to leave the court.
Lue isn't prepared to close the door on playing again.
But unlike many who are attempting to position themselves for that next contract, Lue believes he can walk away.
``Not for me. I had a great career - 11 years in the NBA, and I experienced a lot of things. I won two championships,'' he said. ``The Knicks and Hawks said I could come into training camp, but I didn't want to go in with a non-guaranteed situation. I felt that if teams didn't know how I played by now, then they never would.
``I'm single, no kids, so the time off wasn't such a bad thing,'' said Lue. ``I'll do this, and then see how I feel next summer. (Coaching) has always been something I wanted to do, so we'll see how it goes. I could have gone overseas, but this is good right now.''
A Twitter dither
Imagine if Twitter had existed when Darryl Dawkins played . . . or Charles Barkley. Imagine what Wilt Chamberlain would have ``tweeted'' after losing yet another game to Bill Russell.
The social network has become an avenue for emotional release.
A random Twitter search after Wednesday's games revealed, first of all, the ill-advised tweets, like Ron Artest posting the address of his birthday party to the entire tweeting universe.
There was material that absolutely no one should care about, like the Nets' Chris Douglas-Roberts boasting that with the exception of his jeans, none of his clothes are bought off the rack. And that he was waiting at that moment for his ``personal'' tailor to show up with some new suits and shirts.
But some tweets came from much deeper in the gut.
Deron Williams, after calling his Jazz team soft following a loss to the Celtics , wrote, ``We got to change something (because) what we doing ain't working right now! Don't know what but something?????''
Hornets star Chris Paul, not yet knowing that coach Byron Scott was about to be fired, lamented following a loss to the Suns: ``Tough loss once again. Man, this losin' stuff is for the birds.''
Golden State rookie Stephen Curry, whose introduction to the NBA has come as a member of the dysfunctional Warriors, felt compelled to soothe his public when he wrote: ``Promise to all Warrior fans . . . we will figure this thing out . . . if it's the last thing we do we will figure it out.''
The full Nelson
The travails of Don Nelson continue. Deemed by some as the greatest coach who has never won a ring (though he obviously did as a player), the Warriors coach is hoping to eventually pass Lenny Wilkens for most wins in NBA history.
But he continues to burn bridges along the way.
Notorious for his ability to alienate both management and players wherever he has been, Nelson now has the Warriors attempting to trade Stephen Jackson. In more of a shot to the team's bets interests, he also appears to be pushing Monte Ellis over the edge.
The young guard imploded following a spat with Nelson during Thursday's practice in New York as the media looked on.
Nelson waved off Ellis and left the gym as the guard asked, to no avail, why Nelson has repeatedly ``blamed him for everything.''
Ellis later refused comment, though an unidentified teammate told the San Francisco Chronicle that Nelson reprimanded Ellis in front of the team for not being ready at the start of practice.
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