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thebac
01-07-2004, 07:24 PM
Sorry about the late posts, but these days I've gotten a little busier during the day...

A year that seems like a lifetime

Tracy McGrady is damned if he does. Kobe Bryant is damned if he doesn't.

Last year, they were the top two scorers in the NBA and about all we could write about during the regular season. McGrady was leading his team and the league in scoring, while we tuned into the boxscore each night to see if Kobe had extended his 40-point scoring streak as the Lakers attempted to win their fourth NBA title in a row.

A year later, McGrady is no longer leading the league in scoring, and his Magic have the worst record in the NBA. Bryant faces more questions about his pending rape trial than about his team losing four of its last five games and seven of its last 10.

And everyone is looking at them wondering what happened and what they're going to do about it.

Tracy McGrady
Shooting Guard
Orlando Magic
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
34 25.1 6.3 5.9 .417 .799


McGrady has been vocal about his team's demise and has been criticized for his lack of loyalty. Kobe has been quiet, saying only that he will become a free agent after the season, and has been criticized for his lack of loyalty. It got so bad that, at its worst, there where rumors the two would be traded for each other.

"It's tough, because guys don't want to hear all of that yelling, especially when you are having the season like we're having now," McGrady told Florida Today. "Then, when you start pointing the fingers at people, it just gets ugly. ... I just tell the truth and how I see it. At times, it might be a little too blunt. But if it's the truth, it's out there, man."

With the rest of his life in turmoil, Bryant doesn't even have the desire or energy to do that much.

"He has a desire to keep his life in order," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "Basketball isn't his No. 1 priority. He hasn't put all his attention into it as he has done in the past."

And as a result of all of the distractions, McGrady is shooting a career-low 41 percent from the field while scoring an Orlando-low of 25.1 points per game. Bryant is scoring only 22.1 points per game while shooting only 42 percent, his lowest since his rookie campaign.

And even when they do pick up the pace, it doesn't seem to help.

Tuesday night, McGrady scored 43 points, and his team lost to the Pacers by seven. The game before that, he scored 34, and the Magic fell to the Grizzlies by nine. In all, the Magic have lost five in a row after beginning the season with a 19-game losing streak.

Kobe Bryant
Shooting Guard
Los Angeles Lakers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
30 22.1 5.0 4.3 .425 .860


In Kobe's last three games, he has averaged 32 points (including 44 against the Clippers and 32 against the Sonics), and the Lakers have lost all three. On Dec. 13, with Shaquille O'Neal, Karl Malone and Gary Payton also in the lineup, Bryant scored 35 against the Blazers, and the Lakers still lost.

"It was perfect," McGrady said, longing for the days when he scored and others helped in the leadership role. "We had Darrell Armstrong, a veteran who was outspoken and a great leader. He spoke his mind, and guys gave him respect as a leader. My job was to go out and play hard and lead by example. So we had a well-balanced situation there, but this year we're lacking that."

And we're still waiting to hear something from Kobe, knowing that nothing is really forthcoming.

"Kobe is a very strong individual," Minnesota forward and former teammate Mark Madsen told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. "He can tune a lot of things out when he is on the court. But it's difficult to believe that it's not going to cut through every once in a while. I think it has to."

You can ask his coach.

"It's difficult," Jackson told the Rocky Mountain News. "But I really don't think it impacts his play as much as it impacts his mood."

And it is exactly that somber mood that has Laker fans worried, wondering if the team can stop the losing streak, if Kobe and Shaq are still feuding, if Kobe will even be around next year.

There is no joy in Orlando or Los Angeles right now.

"Basketball is the only place we can be anything we want to be," Kevin Garnett told the Pioneer Press after Tuesday's win over Kobe and the Lakers. "To an artist or a guy who draws, it's his pad. On the basketball court, you can get lost for two hours. It's a sanctuary. You don't have to deal with anything else for two hours. You don't have to deal with reality."

But now we are being forced to watch McGrady and Bryant as that sanctuary becomes a little less of an escape.

"You go through your ups and downs," Bryant told the L.A. Daily News. "It's just important that when we come out of this, we come out of this a better team. I think we will. You just have to learn as you go."


Finally, the Knicks matter again
By Greg Anthony

Excitement is returning to the world's most famous arena as a Star(bury) begins what is hoped to be a long engagement filled with performances in May (and potentially June) if Isiah Thomas has his way.
The Knicks finally matter again, and while there are many questions still to be answered, there is no doubt this is a better basketball team today than it was on Monday.

The positives are undeniable. You have in Stephon Marbury arguably one of the three best point guards in the league. He is one of only two players to average 20 points and 8 assists for his career (the other is Oscar Robertson, who also had questions about his character but eventually won a championship), and he is only 26 years old, not yet even in his prime, which had to be a big consideration for Thomas in acquiring him.

Stephon Marbury
Point Guard
New York Knicks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
34 20.8 3.4 8.3 .432 .795


The Knicks have a potential Hall of Famer manning the point for the first time since the glory days of championships past, when Walt "Clyde" Frazier was The Man.

Marbury's past is well documented and will continue to haunt him until he produces wins in the playoffs, which he will have the opportunity to do in the Eastern Conference. Jason Kidd, his counterpart across the Hudson River, became the winner he is when he got the opportunity to dominate in the East after never getting out of the second round in the West.

While many will look at this as another example of a petulant star being shipped away because he was a cancer on a losing team, the reality, at least in part, was that the Phoenix Suns were bleeding money. They lost a reported $5 million last season and were on course to lose $20 million this year, which makes this deal all the more plausible for their future.

"When you look at the impact from a financial standpoint, the numbers are staggering," Suns President and GM Bryan Colangelo said. "When you look at the basketball impact, you can't argue that we've taken a step back. But when you look at what the prospects for the future are, you get excited."

Anfernee Hardaway
Shooting Guard
New York Knicks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
34 8.7 2.9 2.9 .443 .857


The Suns get cap flexibility (ridding themselves of Anfernee Hardaway's $33 million for the rest of this season and the next two) and the rights to two European prospects they are very high on in Maciej Lampe and Milos Vujanic, who both are praised for their potential. Phoenix also gets a first round pick from the Knicks in each of the next two years. That kind of return brings optimism.

But we're talking about a team at the very bottom of the Western Conference. A trade made sense, but what they ultimately do with what they got from New York will determine whether it was the trade to make. That potential lottery pick won't be one if New York makes the playoffs, and the Knicks are only six games out of first place in the Atlantic and just a game and a half out of the No. 8 spot in the conference.

In addition to adding Marbury, the Knicks also addressed their need for a backup to Allan Houston. Although Hardaway is an expensive backup, he gives them versatility with his ability to play the point, shooting guard and small forward. This move also allows Keith Van Horn to be the third scoring option, which I think his personality is better suited for.

Kurt Thomas is the power forward who provides some toughness and an ability to defend the paint alongside Dikembe Mutombo. Depth at the four and five are a concern, but the hope has to be that little-used Othella Harrington and Mike Sweetney can fill that void.

How long will the transition be for this team to come together? And how much have Van Horn and Marbury matured and gotten over the turbulent relationship they had when both were with the Nets? Those issues will have to be worked out. But as Bryan Colangelo told me yesterday, "I know one thing -- the Knicks are a much better basketball team."

How much better, only time will tell. But the garden will be buzzing once again with excitement and hope, and games there will once again have significance.

Grizzlies playing with energy

In a very ugly game even by their standards, the Detroit Pistons overcame 1 of 12 shooting from three-point range, 20 personal fouls and not a single player scoring more than 15 points to beat the Boston Celtics last night, 78-68.

They did it by tallying 10 offensive boards, 11 steals and six blocked shots.

That's 27 possessions altered in a game that featured only 58 made baskets for both teams.

Seven different Pistons had a steal. Five different Detroit players had an offensive board and four different Pistons had a block.

So we decided to find out which teams could win, if they had to, on sheer will and determination when shots aren't falling and calls aren't going their way. We tried to find out which teams put together the best hustle stats in terms of blocks, steals and offensive rebounds.

But we didn't just tally up the numbers. We put them side by side with their opponents numbers to find out which teams were getting the most or least amount of benefit from these stats regardless of tempo or style.

And while Detroit narrowly missed making the list, here a few teams who can also win ugly when they have to and a few teams who can just plain lose ugly, too.

All Hustle Teams

1. Memphis Grizzlies
Numbers: +3.9 (+2 steals, +1 blocks, +.9 oreb)
The Memphis Grizzlies currently stand at 17-17. But that only tells half the story. As young, as athletic and as energetic as these guys are, the more head coach Hubie Brown is able to push, pull and prod them, the better they are. Not only do they top this list of hustle numbers, but in the 17 games that they've won this year, they averaged 14.7 offensive rebounds, 10.5 steals and seven blocks. In the 17 games they've lost, they averaged 13 offensive rebounds, 9.2 steals and 6.8 blocks. Forget the 3.9 additional possessions they get from their opponents and realize that they get 3.2 additional possessions above themselves when so possessed.

2. San Antonio Spurs
Numbers: +3 (+.5 steals, +1.9 blocks, +.6 oreb)
Blocking shots is one thing, and the Spurs have two in Tim Duncan and Radoslav Nesterovic who block a combined 4.86 per contest, but blocking passing lanes, drives and lines of vision is quite another and evidenced not only in the Spurs blocked shots margin but in their opponents' paltry 39.6 percent shooting from the field. They're fifth in the league in terms of raw block numbers but second in terms of the aforementioned category.

3. New Orleans Hornets
Numbers: +2.6 (+2.8 steals, -2 blocks, +1.8 oreb)
Baron Davis has 15 more steals than any other player in the NBA. To put that in perspective, Allen Iverson is second at 74 and 14 below him is Jason Kidd. And while the Hornet big men aren't going to win any beauty contests in terms of scoring and blocks and late night highlights, they're starting baseline averages eight offensive rebounds per game and have two players off the bench (Robert Traylor and David West) who actually tally more boards than points per game.

4. Denver Nuggets
Numbers: +2.6 (+1.2 steals, +1.4 blocks, = oreb)
Chris Anderson is playing 14.6 minutes per game these days and averaging 2.12 blocks per contest. That's a whopping 6.94 every 48 minutes. Second on that list is Hawk center Theo Ratliff at 4.91. And No. 4 on that list is teammate Marcus Camby at 4.49. So what does it all mean? Well, when opponents take a shot against the Nuggets, the league leaders in blocks per game at 7.5, there is not only a 56 percent change they're going to miss it, but a nine percent chance that it's gonna get shoved back in their face.

5. Los Angeles Lakers
Numbers: +2.3 (+1.2 steals, +1.5 blocks, -.4 oreb)
Hold your applause. The Lakers may have squeezed themselves onto this list but for the first time since Phil Jackson came into town they are being outrebounded on a nightly basis despite having the best rebounding power forward on the team since Elgin Baylor. Yes, that Elgin Baylor. Last year, this team averaged 13.1 offensive rebounds per game. This year, they're averaging 11.5. Think they miss Robert Horry and his 2.3, yet?

No Hustle Teams

29. Atlanta Hawks
Numbers: -4.4 (-2.9 steals, -.2 blocks, -1.3 oreb)
I'm not convinced there's anyone on this team that can dribble without looking at the ball at the same time. Opponents are averaging 9.6 steals per game (league high) while the Hawks, themselves, are 0.1 away from being the worst team in the league in terms of stealing the ball back. But, then again, their starting point guard, Terrell Brandon, never played a minute for them before retiring, while their starting shooting guard, Jason Terry, is actually the point guard who is backed up by re-tread Jacque Vaughn.

28. Boston Celtics
Numbers: -3.7 (= steals, -.4 blocks, -3.3 oreb)
The NBA lists the Top 50 rebounders on its website and the Celtics placed only one player on the list in Paul Pierce at No. 35. The league also lists the Top 50 offensive rebounders and the Celtics, again, placed only one player on the list in Vin Baker at No. 39. Let's remember that there are only 29 teams in the entire league meaning that there is a whole division worth of teams out there with second-best rebounders better than anything Boston can put on the floor at any given time. And here's the salt. The Celtics are averaging 93.7 points per game to their opponents' 94.2. That's only a 0.5 point difference. Now take a look at that offensive rebound discrepancy and tell me what type of drills they should running in practice.

27. Sacramento Kings
Numbers: -2.9 (+.3 steals, -1.6 blocks, -1.6 oreb)
Sacramento's big men can pass better than any other big men in the league. In fact, it is arguable that they can pass better than the little guys on their own team. So unless the little guys start holding up their end of the deal in the paint, the Kings are going to continue to get hammered on the offensive glass. Brad Miller and Vlade Divac can't very well be expected to be the second and third best assist men on the team and block shots, too, while Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Anthony Peeler muster up a combined 2.0 offensive boards a game in 82 minutes of action.

26. Orlando Magic
Numbers: -2.9 (-1.1 steals, -1 blocks, -.8 oreb)
I'm not sure that we really need to spend a lot of time on a team that is behind in every statistical team category that the league bothers to track. From shooting, to rebounding, to assists, steals and blocks, there isn't a thing the Magic can point to and say they do better than their opponents so we're obviously not going to solve any of their problems with just one Power Outage.

25. Toronto Raptors
Numbers: -2.4 (-.6 steals, +.8 blocks, -2.6 oreb)
It's taken a rookie, so far, to lead the team in offensive rebounds and place second in blocked shots. If it weren't for Chris Bosh, this team might have a problem getting a second shot in the WNBA. The other fours starters are averaging 3.3 offensive rebounds to his 2.8 while no one on the team other than he and Donyell Marshall block more than 0.95 shots per game. Let's hope Vince Carter doesn't rub off too much on the youngster. The veteran has pumped up playoff averages of 3.1 offensive boards a game to go along with 1.6 blocks but is only working for 1.1 and 0.94, respectively, this season.

Peep Show

New Jersey Nets: A 26-point lead obviously wasn't enough for Kenyon Martin last night, as the New Jersey forward hammered Clippers swingman Corey Maggette on his way to the basket. Punches ensued, with suspensions forthcoming. "That was a good foul on Kenyon's part," Nets coach Byron Scott told the New York Times. "I thought Maggette overreacted, and Kenyon's a man. He's not going to back down if someone comes at him and throws a punch." Of course, the Clippers had their own version. "Kenyon took a hard foul on Corey," said coach Mike Dunleavy. "That's Kenyon Martin. He does that. He's up 26 points, and he does that. I'm not sure if it's good or bad. It depends on your perspective. He has a history."

Houston Rockets: Steve Francis doesn't know we're writing about him now, because he doesn't read the newspaper or watch the news on TV after all the negative criticism he's been receiving. But just in case they're listening to him ... "If we start winning, I want to get the same (amount of) respect as the attention I get when we're not playing well," Francis told the Houston Chronicle. "If we lose, it's going to be because of me. It's not because of anybody else. It's cool with me. I mean, I'm the highest-paid player on the team, even though I don't feel like it or act like it. I think in sports, and especially basketball, the highest-paid guys are considered the scapegoats for losses or credited for wins."

Cleveland Cavaliers: Paul Silas had two words when he saw LeBron James walking with Dajuan Wagner while both were in uniform together for the first time all season. "Glory be," the coach told the Lorraine Morning Journal. Actually, he did have more words. "Wags is going to be an important part of this thing," Silas said. "I'm just happy to see him out there. He practiced well the last week or so, and I'll give him some minutes and see how he does."

Chicago Bulls: Sorry, Tyson Chandler. You, too, Eddy Curry. "If I really wanted to break it all down, Kirk's our best player," Bulls coach Scott Skiles told the Chicago Tribune of rookie Kirk Hinrich. "So he stays on the court the most. All around, top to bottom, with all the things he does for the team, he has been our most consistent and best player. We're a totally different team when Kirk sits down. His defensive effort is there every minute of every game and every minute of every practice. He leads our team in taking charges from the guard position. So he deserves it." And Skiles could care less about that rookie tag. "I felt like Kirk was being too quiet," Skiles said. "And I simply said to the guys, 'Do you trust this rookie point guard to run your team?' Every guy said yes. I said, 'There you go, rook. Run the team.' "

Golden State Warriors: There are two things bugging Nick Van Exel right now. "I'm just frustrated with losing and the way it (knee) feels from time to time," Van Exel told the Contra Costa Times. "Those are the two things I'm frustrated with. Losing really takes a toll on me. And my knee, not being able to wake up and know it's going to feel good. I don't like that feeling." Well, I guess, there's one more thing. "We start the game, and we shoot 10 jumpers in a row," he said. "Then we say we want to push the ball and get in transition. Then, every time we get ready to push it, we call a play. It's easy for you to sit there and watch that (waving off the play), but you don't really know. I definitely want to try to push the ball to get into open-court situations, because I think we've got some guys who can shoot the ball and some guys who can finish at the basket. That's what we should try to take advantage of."

New York Knicks: Let's not forget that Anfernee Hardaway was involved in that big trade the other day. "I know other players don't overlook Penny," Knicks guard Moochie Norris told the Newark Star Ledger. "Maybe that's the way it is from a media standpoint, but everyone in the league knows what kind of player he is and what he brings to the table. Him being the 'other guy' in a deal, it is strange. But to me, we got two great players in this trade." Penny's so giddy he's talking in third-person. "Finally, after all the years with aches and pains with the knee, my knee finally feels great and I can play," he said. "My body feels good. The Knicks are getting a healthy Penny Hardaway, instead of a worn-down Penny Hardaway with the aches and pains. I'm really anxious to get out and play in a Knicks uniform, because my body feels good."

Boston Celtics: With Vin Baker's play on the court faltering, those in Boston knew this was coming. "I'd like to inform everyone that although I am still on the road to recovery, I have encountered a setback in the recovery process," Baker said in a statement released late Tuesday night. "I am disappointed in myself but committed to re-focusing my efforts to stay the course." Baker has been suspended for three games and been fined $75,000. "I feel badly for Vin and our team," Celtics coach Jim O'Brien told the Boston Herald. "It's really an unfortunate thing. There's no doubt about the challenge that Vin must be facing. I'm sure it's very difficult, and hopefully the issues will help him to overcome it and get his life and career going back in the right direction."


Baron Davis: The producer

Baron Davis folds his arms, lowers his chin and leans his shoulder against a wall outside New Orleans Arena. He locks his gaze on the concrete, as if he had X-ray vision and the answers to all his questions were on the other side. His brow furrows, and a look of confusion blankets his face.

"What? Won't that affect the back end?" he asks. "Are you sure?"

He stands straight up and puts his hands on his hips, nodding slightly. "Who do you think is right for the part?" A pause. "I could see that."

He's not CRAZY. Davis lifts up his shirt to reveal the celly clipped to his waistband, flipping it shut to end the call. When he's not running the break or launching rainbow threes for the Hornets, this is what he does.

"Just closed a two-picture agreement," Davis says with a grin. As the CEO of Too Easy Entertainment, a film production company he formed in 2002, he's bringing the glitz to the Crescent City. "There's definitely an art to the deal," he says. "I'm learning."

For the time being, Davis is a much bigger player on the court. He's producing an MVP-caliber season, averaging 23.9 points per game (fifth in the NBA), 8.2 assists (third), 2.62 steals (second), 3.0 three-pointers (first) and 41.0 minutes (third). "Right now," says his coach, Tim Floyd, "his confidence is as high as any player's I've ever coached."

That was on prominent display one December night against the Magic. In the second quarter of a tight game, Davis got the ball at the three-point line with his back to the hoop and one man to beat. He glanced over his left shoulder and bounced a between-the-legs pass to Darrell Armstrong streaking down the left wing for a jumper. The crowd went wild; veteran Big Easy basketball observers flashed back to Pistol Pete. "I knew he was going to find me," Armstrong said afterward. "He always does."

Late in the fourth, with New Orleans struggling to keep a lead, Davis stole the ball at halfcourt. But teammate David Wesley accidentally bumped him, knocking the ball away. As the Magic's Juwan Howard closed in, Davis snagged the loose ball and pointed to the left wing. Wesley sprinted to the spot, taking Howard with him. Without taking his eyes off Wesley, Davis zipped a pass to the opposite corner, into the hands of a wide-open George Lynch, who drained a three to put the Hornets up 10. They won going away, 106-91.

This kind of vision has always helped Davis make a living. Now he's counting on it to help him build a second career. Louisiana figures to benefit twice. "I want to bring championships and Hollywood to New Orleans," Davis says.

His dual fascination goes as far back as he can remember. Whether we're talking Magic and Isiah or Indiana Jones and Luke Skywalker, the lives of the lead characters he followed were very different from the ones he brushed up against on East 85th Street in South Central, where Baron was raised by his grandparents, Lela and Luke Nicholson. When he wasn't watching movies or in church (the only place Grandma didn't let him take his basketball), Baron was pretending he was Magic in the backyard, driving over dirt and dead grass to a hoop his grandpa built. Before he was five feet tall, he'd earned a rep as the toughest little man around. "It was almost impossible to knock him down," says Dartgnan Stamps, his former AAU coach. And he played against heavyweights. At the Inglewood YMCA, he went one-on-one with another neighborhood kid, Andre Miller. On his 12-and-under AAU team, he was 1-A to Paul Pierce's 1. On his Pop Warner football team, he learned to take hits catching passes from Jason Hart, now backup point guard for the Spurs.


But Davis never saw himself as strictly a baller. The summer before seventh grade, he took a written test to get into the prestigious Crossroads School in Santa Monica, a school for the performing arts. "I'd heard Crossroads was a place I could express myself," Davis says.

His classmates were Hollywood glitter kids, the sons and daughters of John Ritter, Ted Danson, Damon Wayans and former superagent Michael Ovitz. Sean Astin, better known as Frodo's hobbit pal, Samwise Gamgee, attended Crossroads, as did Zooey Deschanel, who played Jovie in Elf. It's only 18 miles from South Central to Crossroads, but Davis wasn't prepared for the culture shock. "Sixteen-year-olds drove to school in Mercedes and BMW convertibles, and I'd be like, wow," he says.

Still, Davis made friends easily. "Baron was the class clown," says classmate Cash Warren. "People wanted to be around him because he made everyone laugh." Starting in seventh grade, he took nearly every class with a bubbly blonde named Kate Hudson. "She was funny, cool, down-to-earth," Davis says. In a class called Mysteries, where students told stories about their lives, Davis charmed the future Oscar nominee and the rest of the class with elaborate made-up tales. "All I could think was, this guy should be an actor," Hudson says. "But you could always tell he was going to be good at whatever he did."

You know, like basketball. When Baron was at Crossroads, even hoops was an art. In his senior year, he averaged 26.5 points and 7.8 rebounds, leading the Roadrunners to a 313 record and a Division 4 state championship. Then he left for UCLA, just 10 minutes up the freeway, as a Parade All-America.

With its Westwood location and Hollywood connections, UCLA was the perfect place to advance both his ambitions. Davis dabbled in film school and took some business classes, interning for a law firm that represented musicians and actors. But in the end he knew he had to major in basketball. NBA scouts were transfixed by his daring steals and highlight flushes, and his knack for finding people in transition or in a crowd. Despite tearing up a knee on a monstrous dunk at the end of his first season, two years of college was plenty.

As the third pick in the '99 draft, behind Elton Brand and Stevie Francis, Davis expected to light up the league right away. "I thought I could dominate off talent," he says, "but it just doesn't work that way." That first season, he clawed for minutes behind Wesley and Eddie Jones. After Jones was traded to Miami the following year, coach Paul Silas slid Wesley to off-guard, and Davis started all 82 games. No one could combat his blend of quickness and speed (or his floater), and Davis represented the lame-duck Charlotte Hornets at the 2002 All-Star Game.

But when the team settled in New Orleans a year ago, it was as if Davis had left his game in North Carolina. Fans wondered what happened to the powder-keg point. He was overweight, for starters: Davis packed 230 pounds on his 6'3" frame, which led to back problems and, eventually, torn cartilage in his left knee -- the same one he wrecked at UCLA. He missed 32 games but gained a new perspective, throwing himself into a series of boot-camp off-season workouts run by Stamps, who's now his full-time trainer. Seven a.m. wake-up calls were followed by two-mile runs, stretching, weightlifting and shooting 500 shots at game speed. Davis would return at night to the gym for three more hours of cardio and some fullcourt one-on-one drills.

Most important, he took the advice of his buddy Francis and hired a chef. So long, fried chicken; hello, baked fish. The result is a chiseled 213-pounder who could play safety for the Saints. "There's a huge difference in my quickness and ability to change direction," Davis says.

Good thing. When Floyd took over for Silas this season, he installed the running, slashing scheme employed by the Nets to make maximum use of Jason Kidd. Now Davis is Kidd's main competition for leading man in the East and, as the New Year's confetti settled on Bourbon Street, the Hornets were just 2 games behind the Pacers for best record in the conference. All this without Jamal Mashburn, who's been out all season with a bad knee. Mashburn, who will be back soon, prefers a slower pace, but Davis, pointing to Mash's success with Kidd in Dallas, sees the Hornets' top scorer last season fitting nicely into Floyd's plan. Everyone in the East thinks they have a shot at the Finals.

These Hornets actually do.

Meanwhile, the six-year, $84-million deal Davis signed in July 2002 has given him what he needed to punch his way into the movie business: cash. This fall, his company will release its first film, Asylum. The romantic thriller is no small-time debut; it stars Ian McKellen and Natasha Richardson. This time, Davis' involvement was mostly financial, but he will be much more hands-on in future productions.

"I want to see moviemaking from all sides," says Davis, who recently came up with an idea he wants to develop. Blacktop is about five LA streetballers who hustle their way through pickup games, earning money to get to a tournament in New Orleans. Davis has hired a writer and flooded him with notes, and contacted Justin Timberlake for a role he thought up with the pop star in mind. The film is expected to be budgeted at about $19 million.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Too Easy is making the NBA look easy, too. Try 37 points, 7 assists and 5 steals in a win over the Celtics; 23 points and 12 boards in a beatdown of the Lakers; 25, 12 and 9 in a win over Kidd and the Nets. And a game-winning dunk against the Pistons. "Baron's just going crazy right now," Francis says.

On a Friday night in early December, hours before the Hornets face the Rockets at the Arena, Davis is tucked away in a tiny locker room, getting a fade from his personal barber. He's at it again. His voice is barely audible under the buzz of the clippers, but his facial calisthenics tell the story: the raised eyebrows, the squinting eyes, the Cheshire-cat smile, the slow nod. After the call, he stares off into space. It's unclear if he's thinking about stopping Steve Francis or casting Nick Cannon. When someone mentions that Simeon Rice is working on a screenplay, Baron snaps to attention.

"Really?" he asks. "Who's attached?"

This article appears in the Jan. 19 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

madape
01-08-2004, 08:48 AM
Chicago Bulls: Sorry, Tyson Chandler. You, too, Eddy Curry. "If I really wanted to break it all down, Kirk's our best player," Bulls coach Scott Skiles told the Chicago Tribune of rookie Kirk Hinrich. "So he stays on the court the most. All around, top to bottom, with all the things he does for the team, he has been our most consistent and best player. We're a totally different team when Kirk sits down. His defensive effort is there every minute of every game and every minute of every practice. He leads our team in taking charges from the guard position. So he deserves it." And Skiles could care less about that rookie tag. "I felt like Kirk was being too quiet," Skiles said. "And I simply said to the guys, 'Do you trust this rookie point guard to run your team?' Every guy said yes. I said, 'There you go, rook. Run the team.' "

I just gotta say... that's badass.