LAS VEGAS – The Chicago Bulls' pursuit of Memphis Grizzlies center Pau Gasol promises to push against Thursday's trade deadline when Bulls general manager John Paxson will be faced with one of the toughest decisions he's had to make on the job: Does he include Luol Deng in a deal for the Memphis star?
The way it looks now, league sources say, Paxson, who has reshaped the Bulls with so much young talent, will keep his 6-foot-9 forward. Deng has been terrific this season for Chicago, averaging 18.6 points a game on 52.3-percent shooting. He's been even better in the last month. Also, he is just 21 years old.
Several league executives and scouts believe that it won't be long until he's a frequent All-Star out of the Eastern Conference.
"Deng has been a better player in every way this season," one Eastern Conference scout said. "He takes better shots, plays better defense – does so much you want out of a winning player. To me, you're not trading Deng unless you believe you're getting a player back who is going to put you over the top."
For Paxson, that's the question that keeps coming back: Is Gasol that player?
As currently constituted, New Jersey Nets president Rod Thorn understands his franchise has gone as far as it can with Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. Between now and the trade deadline, he'll be working relentlessly to move Carter, but there's one lingering possibility that could lead to a parting of ways with Kidd.
So far, L.A. has resisted. To part with Bynum, who has a chance to become one of the game's elite centers, makes no sense. In the end, does anyone truly believe Kidd makes the Lakers a championship contender in the two years that he probably has left as an elite player? He's 34 years old and is playing his best basketball in years for the Nets, but Phil Jackson's triangle offense has never demanded the presence of a true point guard.
Thorn wants what every executive with a mandate to dump star players wants: A package of young players, expiring contracts and draft picks.
"Thorn might be the most active G.M. in the league now," one Western Conference executive said. "He's trying hard to move Carter."
Carter can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, but realistically, there isn't much of a market for him at near-max out money. For the Nets and Carter, a sign-and-trade could be a genuine possibility this summer.
It has gotten to the point, one Washington Wizards source said, where it is virtually impossible for centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas to sit in the same room without wanting to trade haymakers. They went at it again last week in practice, and the Wizards have given up hope that they'll ever be able to get these two players to co-exist. The result is that Washington is listening to offers between now and the deadline.
Whatever the respective camps of all-worldly freshman Greg Oden of Ohio State and Kevin Durant of Texas are telling people about the possibility of returning for a sophomore year, no NBA executive or agent is buying it. Most of them believe that there will be no debate about the No. 1 pick. It'll be Oden, the 7-footer.
As NBA executives begin to consider coaching changes over the summer, there are several college coaching names cropping up on short lists, including Marquette's Tom Crean, Florida's Billy Donovan, Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt and Villanova's Jay Wright.
USA Basketball boss Jerry Colangelo has been overheard to be unhappy in Las Vegas with so much discussion about his Olympic basketball program serving to wear out NBA stars.