PDA

View Full Version : NBA Insider Jan 13


thebac
01-13-2004, 12:07 PM
Burning down the Hawks

Wasn't it just a year ago that Hawks president Stan Kasten called the play of his lowly Hawks "unacceptable" and vowed to fix the team?

Wasn't it a year ago that then-Hawks GM Pete Babcock admitted his offseason moves were "wrong across the board?"

And one year ago didn't Kasten and Babcock begin exploring how to blow the team apart after it was apparent that the group they had put together just couldn't get along?

The Hawks had and have a talented team on paper. But on the court, the pieces have never fit.

"When you are assembling a puzzle and two pieces don't fit, because either they are bad guys, or they don't buy into what you are doing, or they don't work hard, then it's easier to identify," Babcock said Jan. 11, 2003. "In our situation, each individual player -- they're good guys. They're working hard. They're doing the extra things. They take the program seriously. But when you put the pieces together, it's like they don't have faith in each other. They don't quite believe in each other yet.

"That's the job of this staff, to get them believe. If they can't, then you've got to reassemble the puzzle. You've got to change the pieces to get that mix that believes in one other, because this is a team sport."

A year later, Jan. 12, 2004, it's like Groundhog Day. The 10-28 Hawks are awful. The seats are empty. Players slouch on the bench. The gloom is palpable. Tempers are short. Coach Terry Stotts paces the sidelines like a sweaty, caged tiger. Jason Terry wants a one-way ticket out. Theo Ratliff has been caught screaming at the coach. Nothing has changed. Nothing. Which makes you wonder, what the hell is going on in Atlanta?

"Nothing," a Hawks source told Insider. "The team is a train wreck. Guys aren't playing hard. They're giving up. Terry [Stotts] is doing everything he can to motivate them, but the guys act offended when he asks them to play hard. No one trusts each other. Everyone is on their own page. I can't imagine there's a team that's more screwed up. But there are no signs that changes are coming. Just talk, threats really. We're worn down. I know Terry [Stotts] is under fire, but it's not really his fault. These same players have killed other coaches, and they'll kill the next guy too, if something else doesn't change."

Corporate red tape
Harsh words for harsh times. If the Hawks were a normal team, fans would be picketing the owner right now and demanding the GM be fired. But the Hawks aren't a normal team. They are mired in the corporate molasses of Time Warner. A sale has been pending for what seems like the last decade. The potential ownership groups seems to change weekly.

The official sale to a conglomerate known as Atlanta Spirit LLC took place Sept. 12, but that group still hasn't gotten official approval from NBA owners. That could happen later this month, then again, with the way things are going in Atlanta, my Jan. 13 column in 2005 may begin with the same refrain: The Hawks stink. Why isn't anyone doing anything about it?

Even when the sale does become final, who has faith in an ownership group that's not that much smaller than the Board of Directors for Time Warner? Atlanta Spirit is one-third owned by Boston businessman Steve Belkin; one-third owned by Washington businessmen Bruce Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman; and one-third owned by five local men (Michael Gearon Jr., Rutherford Seydel, Michael Gearon Sr., Bud Seretean and Beau Turner -- Ted's youngest son).

New owners, new team?
How does that committee of nine get anything done? Officially, Belkin will have two votes and Gearon Jr., Seydel, Levenson and Peskowitz one apiece on ownership decisions. Great, we've reduced the number to five.

Five heads to hopefully dismantle what has become the biggest train wreck in the NBA. The Clippers and Warriors have been bad for longer, but at least you can argue that they've made moves trying to get back on track. The Hawks keep swirling down the drain.

No one knows exactly what will happen when David Stern hands the keys to Belkin & Co. Will they bring in their own GM? Their own coach? Will they be inclined to burn the team to the ground, like Kiki Vandeweghe did in Denver? Or will they be blinded by the talent on paper and try a quicker fix to get this team playing mediocre basketball faster, like Isiah Thomas did in New York?

GMs around the league are waiting on the answers with bated breath. Why? Because the Hawks do have talented individuals with decent contracts whom other teams crave. If the Hawks decide to detonate, there will be a long line waiting to pick up the pieces.

Who should go? According to the Hawks source, who asked not to be identified, Terry and Ratliff are the biggest problems. Shareef Abdur-Rahim should go, as well, if the Hawks aren't able to parlay Terry and Ratliff into an all-star leader. In other words, Abdur-Rahim is a good enough player, but he's not a guy you build around. He's Scottie Pippen looking for someone else to lead.

In the process, the Hawks want to unload one other big contract (read: Alan Henderson) to get far enough under the cap to make some noise this summer. If they find a way to get Terry, Ratliff, Abdur-Rahim and Henderson off the books while taking back minimal salary in return, they can reduce a projected 2004-05 payroll of $52 million to $12 million.

The blueprint
How does it happen? The options aren't that pretty. The Hawks aren't going to get equal value in return. At this point, you'd have to live with the fact that the team will get lots of cap room and a few prospects to work with. As always, Insider has some ideas.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim
Power Forward
Atlanta Hawks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
38 19.4 9.4 2.5 .493 .856



Moving Rahim: This is the easy part. Abdur-Rahim is just 27 years old and is putting up solid numbers (19.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg) once again. The knock on him is simple. Since his rookie season, when he averaged 18.3 ppg, Rahim hasn't done much to improve. Scouts see a talented kid who lacks the killer instinct to lead on the court or develop his game off the court. With the right coach and the right motivation, maybe he changes. But even if he doesn't, he'd be an awesome second or third wheel on a good team. His contract is easy enough to digest, at $13.5 million this year and $14.6 million next year.

The key for Atlanta is to get major cap relief and top prospects (like the Suns did with Marbury) in return. How does that happen? The Sonics have always been the best fit for Abdur-Rahim. They almost traded for him two years ago, before backing out at the last second. The team is rolling but needs a post presence who can score in the paint. Brent Barry, Jerome James and Vladimir Radmanovic for Abdur-Rahim gives the Hawks roughly $7 million in cap relief next year, and a top, low-priced young prospect in Radmanovic.

The Jazz have enough cap room to make a trade for Abdur-Rahim, but would an offer of a couple of high first-round draft picks and Greg Osterag's expiring contract be enough to get the Hawks to make a deal? The Warriors could offer the expiring contracts of Adonal Foyle and Avery Johnson, along with a top player like Jason Richardson or Troy Murphy, but since when have the Warriors been willing to spend more money?

Whatever the Hawks do, they shouldn't move Rahim until they have deals in place for Ratliff and Terry. They'll become even more unruly if Rahim goes and the team takes yet another step back. Trading Rahim is the last move, not the first one.

Theo Ratliff
Forward-Center
Atlanta Hawks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
38 7.6 6.6 0.8 .451 .619



Moving Ratliff: Plenty of teams are also interested in Ratliff. He's one of the top shot blockers in the league and a legit center in the Eastern Conference. Ratliff is on the books for $10.1 million this year and $10.9 million in 2004-05. Who's interested? There's talk the Blazers want Ratliff and would be willing to swap Rasheed Wallace for him if the Hawks also included Terry. Terry is a base-year player, which makes that trade more difficult, but it is doable with the right add-ons. It might be simpler for Portland to offer a combo of Wesley Person's expiring contract, Jeff McInnis and a prospect like Travis Outlaw straight up for Ratliff.

The Grizzlies have interest in Ratliff, but they're running out of ammo to get him. A combo of Stromile Swift, Jake Tsakalidis and Shane Battier might be enough, but is the injury-prone Ratliff really worth that price? I don't think so, and neither does Jerry West. The Bucks could offer Toni Kukoc's expiring contract and a prospect like Marcus Haislip. The Celtics could send the expiring contracts of Chris Mills and Chris Mihm to the Hawks, but surely Atlanta would demand a first-round pick or two to make it happen.

Jason Terry
Point Guard
Atlanta Hawks
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
37 15.7 3.9 4.9 .429 .822



Moving Terry: Again, the interest is there, but Terry's base-year compensation status makes him tough to trade. So does the fact that he can veto any trade until this summer, because the Hawks matched his offer sheet. At this point, you'd think Terry would be happy to go anywhere else. If the Hawks want to trade him, they're going to have to package him with Ratliff or Abdur-Rahim to make the deal big enough to absorb the base-year problems. That's going to be very difficult.

The Blazers could get it done. The Jazz could too, except the Hawks aren't allowed to trade Terry to Utah for one year, because the offer sheet they matched was from the Jazz. The Pacers have had plenty of interest in Terry in the past, but they don't have the expiring salaries to get it done.

Around the league


'Sheed to Big D? With talks between the Blazers and Knicks "cooling," to quote one source, the hottest rumor over the weekend had the Mavericks as the leading contender to land Rasheed Wallace in the "Who wants to win a head case" sweepstakes. The rumors, if you believe them, have the Mavericks offering Antawn Jamison, among others, in return for 'Sheed.
The problem is, Mavericks owners Mark Cuban is vehemently denying that the Mavs are doing anything or shopping anyone.

"They'd have to make us a sweetheart deal that we couldn't say no to," Cuban told the Fort Worth Star Telegram when asked about the deal with the Blazers. "No reason to change unless there's something that's a great deal."

Rasheed Wallace
Small Forward
Portland Trail Blazers
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
33 16.8 6.6 2.7 .430 .726



"We haven't been shopping anybody," Cuban said. "We haven't been out searching for anything. I've said it again and again and again: It's just about us trying to turn the corner. We'd all hoped that things would click better beforehand. It's not a talent issue; it's a coming-together issue."

He's also, by the way, no longer interested in the Knicks' Kurt Thomas.

"Kurt is a great defender, but defending in the West is completely different from defending in the East," Cuban told the N.Y. Post. "We have to put it into context of what happens in the Western Conference. I'm not knocking Kurt Thomas, but we're not going to make a change just to make a change. Just swapping parts and comparable pieces doesn't help us."

Fine. Just remember that Cuban has said similar things the past few trade deadlines and offseasons only to make huge deals. Every time, Cuban's response is the same. Essentially, "They made us a sweetheart deal that we couldn't say no to." So the question you have to ask yourself is this: Is Rasheed for Jamison and spare parts a "sweetheart" deal for the Mavericks?

Probably not. Jamison has been great coming off the bench in Dallas. No telling how 'Sheed would respond to that. Considering the Mavs' chemistry problems this season, why add another, even more volatile element into the mix. Wallace isn't the tough, blue collar defender and rebounder the Mavs need. Why take the risk?

So if the Knicks aren't getting Sheed and the Mavs aren't going to pull the trigger, who is?

Ummmm ... that's a tough one. Unless Blazers GM John Nash has altered his criteria for trading 'Sheed (young all-star or expiring contracts and prospects), it's tough to see how he's going to pull off a deal. The Hawks, as we noted above, may be the best bet, but given how much the team is in flux, don't bet on it.

Despite all that, Nash claims it's "likely" he'll make a move before the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

"We are making an effort, and we have made it known to people that we are willing to deal," Nash told the Oregonian. "But we have also made it known that we are not conducting a fire sale. I expect that as we get closer to the deadline, teams will make their best offer. It's my experience that the best and final offers are made in the final moments."

While Nash wouldn't divulge exactly who he's going to trade, it's pretty clear Wallace is the target.

"What we are doing is exploring all options involving all players," Nash said. "Usually, there is more interest in your best players, so it's logical to assume that there has been more interest in Rasheed than, say, Ruben Boumtje Boumtje.

"But because of the size of Rasheed's contract ($17 million), his is not an easy deal to make. It would probably have to involve a multiplayer deal. Look, we don't want to trade Rasheed if it's a bad trade. We don't want to trade any player if it's a bad trade. But we have not made a decision on what we intend to do in the future (with Wallace). But obviously, we are going to have to make that decision in the not too distant future."


Knicks after Camby? It was no surprise this weekend to learn that Isiah Thomas has shifted his gaze from Portland to Denver. Marcus Camby was a popular player in New York and would be a good fit. He's managed to stay healthy all season, and his rebounding and shot blocking numbers for Denver (9.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) are exactly what the Knicks need. Camby's deal only has one more year left (his option), which also should be interesting to Thomas. The problem is, the Knicks don't have anything the Nuggets are interested in. The Nuggets like Camby and don't have another big man on the roster to replace him.
Talk of a three-team trade would make some sense only if that third team was willing to send a young big and an expiring contract Denver's way and was willing to swallow whatever junk Thomas is peddling in return. In other words, don't hold your breath, Knicks fans.

Thomas to coach Knicks next year? The chants of "Fire Chaney!" are growing louder and louder in the Garden, and Isiah Thomas' trigger finger is getting itchy. But speculation that Thomas will take over for Chaney this season is ridiculous. When Thomas took the job two weeks ago, Insider laid out the scenario where Thomas would take over the head coaching gig for the Knicks, and we're sticking to it. For those of you who missed it, here it is again.

Chances are, if the Knicks continue to struggle, Chaney will be fired and replaced by Knicks assistant Brendan Malone this season. That gives Thomas his own guy on the bench and more time upstairs to concentrate on getting the team right.

Thomas will only take over as the head coach of the team after he feels he has the team he wants in place. That probably doesn't happen until this summer at the earliest. Why take the hits now if you know the team is going to continue to lose?

Now that we've reiterated the scenario, read his words from Monday night in that context.

"We're in the state where I think it would be impossible for me to do both and do them well," Thomas told reporters. "We're trying to get healthy, and we got to dig ourselves out of a big hole. And I don't think I would do this organization justice by trying to do both jobs."

But asked about the future, Thomas wouldn't close the door. "In sports I always say you never say never, because you never know what's going to happen," he said.


Magic GM John Gabriel still feeling the heat: With all the major trades going down in the NBA, you know that the pressure cooker Magic GM John Gabriel is in just keeps getting hotter. If Isiah Thomas can turn those players into an all-star like Stephon Marbury, why can't Gabriel work the same magic?

Of course he can't. He doesn't have the expiring contracts or the same budget as the Knicks. His best chance is to try to package Juwan Howard and Gordan Giricek into something to help Tracy McGrady and Drew Gooden. Still, his latest "sly" moves over the past few weeks deserve a pretty loud yawn.

First, the Magic sent Donnell Harvey to the Suns for a second-round pick. Then the team traded for Monty Williams and waived him three days later. Then Gabriel acquired Robert Archibald only to trade him to the Raptors for Mengke Bateer a week later. The Magic then waived Bateer last week and signed Lee Nailon, who was cut from the Hawks, to a 10-day contract.

Whew!

"In essence, we've taken Harvey and we've spun him into some smaller assets in the process of creating another player opportunity," Gabriel told the Daytona Beach News.

Three trades to net Nailon, two second-round draft picks and guy, Ramon Van de Hare, who may be the worst prospect I saw last year in Europe? The way Gabriel makes it sound, he's just a step behind Isiah in the race to remake his team. In reality, second-round picks and Nailon aren't going to do anything to convince T-Mac to stick around Orlando much longer. McGrady can opt out after the 2004-05 season, and if things don't start changing soon, both Gabriel and McGrady won't be around to keep sifting through the wreckage.

Sam I Am is an easy choice
By Greg Anthony

Who's been the best of the best in the West so far this year? Let's take a look at who should be starting in the All-Star Game and why.
At the point guard this actually was an easy choice -- Sam "I Am The Man" Cassell, one of the most underrated players in the league. The guy has won two championships and been a thorn in the side of every opposing guard he's played against.

Sam Cassell
Point Guard
Minnesota Timberwolves
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
35 20.3 3.4 7.5 .501 .825


What makes Sam so good is he is the best mid-range jump shooter in the league -- period. From 17 feet in, he is near automatic. But what makes him special offensively is he doesn't settle for that automatic. Instead, he will attack the basket and score or get to the line (where he's a career 85 percent free-throw shooter). He keeps defenses off balance.

Couple that with his ability to make the pass when it's there and you see why he's also fifth in the league in assists at 7.5 per game. Playing with Kevin Garnett will make anyone look better. KG is a walking double-double who plays with tremendous energy and a passion to win, but there is no question KG has benefited from playing with Sam.

Yeah, I know Sam comes off as being allergic to defense, but he does try on occasion. While he is not great at individual defender, he has a great feel for team and help defense concepts. And with the ability to play zone you can hide his deficiencies for long stretches and allow his strength -- dominating on the offensive end - to come to the forefront. I expect to see Sam as a participant in the All Star game, not as an observer.

Peja Stojakovic
Small Forward
Sacramento Kings
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
34 25.1 5.9 2.1 .494 .912


I know this guy is a small forward, but with a stroke like Peja Stojakovic's, and his ability at 6-foot-10 to move without the basketball, shooting guard should not be a problem. The best thing to happen to Peja was C-Webb being injured to start the season. That has allowed Stojakovic to emerge as a go-to guy and become comfortable in that role. As great as he is -- and he has become truly great -- he will get better as he improves at beating people off the dribble and also becoming a better passer.

But that's being picky. He's third in the league in scoring and free-throw percentage, and he's eighth in 3-point FG percentage. You could argue that even with the return of C-Webb, Peja is The Man in Sacramento. They have the best record in the league right now. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. As great as they've been, they won't be hoisting a championship without Mr. Webber.

Kevin Garnett
Forward
Minnesota Timberwolves
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
35 24.7 14.2 5.1 .504 .746


The small forward is where KG resides, Kevin Garnett, the multi-dimensional, multi-versatile freak of nature -- the only guy on the planet who legitimately can play all five positions and do it at both ends. And what's been most impressive is that he has developed a killer instinct on the defensive end.

I say this all the time, but one common trait of teams that win championships is that their best player is dominant defensively. Folks, KG is that now, and he has a supporting cast to boot. If they win the Midwest division, he is the MVP. And not only will they advance past the first round, they will be a legitimate title contender.

Tim Duncan
Forward-Center
San Antonio Spurs
Profile


2003-2004 SEASON STATISTICS
GM PPG RPG APG FG% FT%
33 22.0 12.8 3.0 .502 .606


Tim Duncan is scary consistent and is having another one of those MVP-type seasons. He doesn't have the Admiral to watch his back, but the improved play of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili will keep him in the title hunt. They also will give him every chance to make history by becoming only the fourth player in history to win three consecutive MVP awards. Russell, Chamberlain and Bird have been in that locker room for quite some time. Will Mr. Duncan join that team? It's possible, but given the choice, I'm sure he'd settle for another ring.



At center, Shaq. Enough said. Shaquille O'Neal is still the most unstoppable player in the game (when healthy) and, really, no one is even in the same stratosphere. He can be the most intimidating and most dominant force in the game at both ends, and he is hungry to regain the NBA title. The question is, will injuries -- or the Spurs, Kings or Timberwolves -- get in the way?

The Good, the Bad, the Kitchen Sink

With only seven games separating the Sacramento Kings, the top seed in the Western Conference, from the Seattle Sonics, the current eighth seed, after playing 35 each, here's wondering what a semifinal matchup would look like if they played only a one-game series with Ray Allen and Peja Stojakovic playing quarterback for their respective teams.

The Good
Jim Jackson, Houston Rockets

Week's work: 2-2 record, 20 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 3 apg, 2.2 spg, 0.5 bpg, 17 triples, 61.7% shooting
There may have been a time when Jim Jackson was the only one who remembered that he was once fifth-leading scorer in the NBA back in 1995. But after scoring 47 points in his last two games on 16-for-24 shooting, including 10-for-17 from distance, there will be many who will claim they were in the building.

Vladimir Radmanovic, Seattle SuperSonics
Week's work: 3-1 record, 18.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.7 bpg, 14 triples, 57% shooting
We complain enough about his lack of rebounding, defense and passing, so when he actually stands out on a team shooting 47.7 percent from the field as a whole for the month of January, then we might as well give him his due for shooting.

Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Week's work: 3-0 record, 26.6 ppg, 16.3 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1 spg, 1.6 bpg, 58% shooting
Getting ready to type his name in here in permanent marker.

Ron Mercer, San Antonio Spurs
Week's work: 4-0 record, 11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 55% shooting
Before this week, the Spurs had only four players averaging double-digits on the entire team (and two of them were Tim Duncan), much less a bench whose top scorer, Malik Rose, averaged only 7.8 on 38 percent shooting. This week, they found a fourth, or fifth, depending on how you look at it.

The Bad
Stephon Marbury, New York Knicks

Weak work: 1-2 record, 9.3 ppg, 3.6 apg, 9.6 apg, 1 spg, 33% shooting
This wasn't the Coney Island Stephon Marbury, and that goes ditto for Kentuckian Allan Houston, shooting 38 percent since the trade, and Memphis gentleman Penny Hardaway, shooting 36 percent since the trade.

Quentin Richardson, Los Angeles Clippers
Weak work: 0-3 record, 6 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.3 bpg, 26% shooting
Last year, Q averaged 9.9 rebounds every 48 minutes as a guard. This year, he's at a career-high 6.3 per game after averaging 7.1 in November and grabbing 35 in the last three games of December. But that was last year, last season, last month, before he left Sunday's game complaining of a sore wrist, which would explain the 6-for-23 shooting but not necessarily the four boards in three games.

Gilbert Arenas, Washington Wizards
Weak work: 0-4 record, 14.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, 30% shooting
Learning it's a lot harder staying at the top than it is getting there. Especially when those dang abs keep acting up and it looks like another 3 to 6 weeks in rehab.

Michael Finley, Dallas Mavericks
Weak work: 1-3 record, 10.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 1 bpg, 31% shooting
If this is a shooting slump, then it's been going on for 100 games now stretching over two seasons and 3,856 minutes of actual game time. That's a lot of bricks for a guy who finished the 2002 season at 46.3 percent from the field, pushing his career mark up to 45.5 percent. But the following season, he shot 42.5 percent followed by this season's 42.4 of which his back-to-back 2-for-10 nights this weekend didn't help.

The Ugly

Just when you thought the Hawks couldn't shoot any worse from long range (0.0003 from being the absolute worst in the NBA from distance), they go and shoot 1-for-11 against the Jazz after shooting 1-for-8 against the Lakers after shooting 1-for-5 against the Kings. That's 3-for-24 for the week for 12.5 percent, making it 20 percent in the month of January so far and 30 percent for the season. Which might even be an uglier statistic than the seven points they scored against the Lakers Friday night in the entire first quarter.

The Kitchen Sink

QUESTION AND ANSWER
In order for Tracy McGrady to win his second scoring title in a row, he would have to average at least 28.3 points per game for the remaining 45 games left on the schedule and hope that Allen Iverson stays at his current league-leading 27 per game. The good news is that in his last four games, McGrady has been able to put up 35 a game. The even better news, for Magic fans anyway, is that in his last four games, Iverson has put up only 17.5 per game while trying to fight through injuries.

VIN OR LOSE
During Vin Baker's three-game suspension, the Celtics averaged 101.6 points per game on 47.7 percent shooting from the field while defeating the Magic, Cavs and Rockets to climb one game into the black at 20-19. Prior to the run, with Baker in the lineup, the Celtics averaged 93.4 points per game on 44.2 percent shooting from the field.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME
Maybe it's a good thing that Sam Cassell has played for six teams in his 11 years in the NBA. He has lots of places to call home and it's paying off for the Timberwolves, who have the best road record in the NBA at 12-6 and will play seven of their next away from the Target Center.

On the season, Sam is averaging a nice 22.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on the road while shooting 52 percent from the field and 87 percent from the line. But at home, he's down to 18 points, 2.9 rebounds and 0.9 steals on 4 percent from the field and 78 percent from the line. As a whole, the Timberwolves average 95 per game at home and 95.7 per game on the road.

ROOKIE POINT
If Milwaukee Buck point guard T.J. Ford wants to remain a Trivial Pursuit answer for years to come, then he'd better start picking up the pace. Currently, he is the rookie leader in assist per game at 6.4 after handing out 229 dimes in 36 games. Right behind him, though, is LeBron James. You might have heard of him. He's at 6.2 assist per game after handing out 222 dimes in 36 games. The difference though, is the Ford has dropped down to 4.7 assists per game in the month of January while James had jumped to 7.5 in the same month.

PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS
Since the departure of Anfernee Hardaway to the New York Knicks, Joe Johnson has scored 66 points in the latest three games for the Suns for an average of 22 per contest on 46 percent shooting. Prior to the trade that also sent Stephon Marbury away, he was averaging 13.4 a game on 39 percent shooting. On the flip side, Shawn Marion is down to 13.3 points per game since the Jan. 4 trade on 31 percent shooting. Either way, the Suns are still looking fo their first win on the new year.

SONICS BOOM
Ronald Murray, first 10 games as a Sonics
21 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.2 spg, 0.7 bpg, 46% shooting

Ray Allen, last 10 games as a Sonic
23.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 5.8 apg, 1 spg, 0.2 bpg, 46% shooting

REMEMBER THE ALAMO SPECIAL
San Antonio Spurs (26-11) versus Indiana Pacers (28-11)
Friday, Jan. 16, 2004 in Indianapolis at 7 pm EST on ESPN2

Despite the fact that spurs swingman Hedo Turkoglu hit that 3-pointer to send Saturday's game into overtime . . . Despite the fact that the Spurs went on to defeat the Pacers in that game, 89-88 . . . Despite the fact that the defending champs have now won their last four games and 17 of their last 18 . . . The Pacers still have a better record than them and this week get the Spurs at home.

The End
"Maybe you ought to reward three points for a lay-up and one for a 3-pointer. You might have a better game."

Head coach Larry Brown hating on the triple as his Pistons go from averaging 18.1 bombs per game last year to 11 this year.


Peep Show

New Jersey Nets: You know about Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. But . . . "We go to the next level when Kerry plays well," Kidd said in the New York Times. "It is like a sixth gear . . . We try to tell him to forget that last pass. I'd like his shot attempts go up even more." But Kittles doesn't mind being the fourth option at all despite his recent 54 percent shooting from the field. "That's O.K. with me," Kittles said. "I don't need the stories or the commercials. People who know the game know I can influence the game. I don't ask to be in the spotlight."

Orlando Magic: If Magic fans want to blame someone, then David Stern is pointing his finger at Grant Hill, himself. "You need the doctor's opinion," the NBA commissioner told the Orlando Sentinel when asked why Orlando wasn't given a medical exception for Hill to sign another player. "We had the doctor's and the patient, both suggesting he was going to play again. So to get an injury exception in the face of the patient suggesting that he was ready to play, and a doctor saying he saw no reason why that couldn't take place, that argues strongly against the exception."

Minnesota Timberwolves: Sam Cassell has a pen and paper and is ready to continue his studies. "I'm a student of the game," he said to the Star Tribune. "Go back to before they had the three-point line, guys developed the mid-range game. I'm talking about Oscar Robertson, Sam Jones, Rudy Tomjanovich, the Pearl, Walt Frazier. All of those guys did a whole lot of things off the dribble." Timberwolves analyst and former player Mychael Thompson agrees. "Everyone has fallen in love with the three-point arc," said Thompson. "It's the three-pointer or the dunk. Go to any school. All the kids want to do is run behind the three-point line and shoot. As soon as they can dunk, all they care about is showing me all kind of dunks. They forget about the 15-footer, but that's what wins you games. And, right now, Cassell is the best at it. There are some good ones. But Sam's the best."

Phoenix Suns: Antonio McDyess is back in Phoenix again but wishes he could change one thing. "I wish I would've never left here," he said in the Denver Post. "We had a winning team. I can't believe it." This time, the two parties are going to take their time. "I think he'll make a lot of improvements between now and the end of the year," head coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Then I can evaluate where we are at the end of the year. It's something where I don't want to put him in the starting lineup too quick. It's not fair to him. He needs to come off this injury, so we'll get a little bit more careful with it."

Chicago Bulls: After surgery on his right knee five weeks ago, forward Scottie Pippen is this close to returning to action as early as tonight. "I'm a blink away," Pippen said in the Chicago Tribune. "I feel pretty good," Pippen said. "Hopefully, [Tuesday] I can feel just as good as I did [Monday]. We'll see what goes from there. You can't stay away from [contact.] I'm all right, though."

Golden State Warriors: The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting the power forward Troy Murphy will miss four to six weeks of action because of an injury to his right ankle. It isn't broken and he doesn't need surgery, but will be out an extended time after already missing the first 22 games of the season with an injured foot.

Washington Wizards: Gilbert Arenas is putting both hands up and surrendering. "I just can't keep fighting the pain and keep performing like I am," Arenas said in the Washington Times. "We're losing games because of it, so I'm going to have to sit out." The point guard has been told by doctors that he is out for at least three to six weeks and Arenas has consigned himself to looking at a post All-Star break return.