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02-17-2006, 04:05 AM
BA Rumor Central: Lakers Hesitant To Make A Move

Thursday, February 16

Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers Hesitant To Make A Move
Feb 16 - Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said he doesn't expect to make a trade before next Thursday's deadline, reports the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "I am making calls and receiving calls every day," Kupchak said Wednesday by phone. "If something makes sense, we'll look at it." Because they hope to get Aaron McKie back soon, Kupchak told the newspaper that the Lakers are hesitant to make a move for a guard.

Orlando Magic

Smith Likes Francis' Future In Orlando
Feb 16 - The Nuggets and Knicks are the teams rumored to have the most interest in Steve Francis. Magic GM Otis Smith conceded a multi-team deal is on the table, but he wouldn't divulge which clubs or whether Francis was a centerpiece in the trade, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

"I think Steve's future here is still good, better than good," Smith told the newspaper Wednesday. However, Smith said he'd have to look at all scenarios to improve a team that is headed for the draft lottery.

"I still fully expect him to be here on the 24th, but that's just the way I think," Smith told Florida Today. "It's something that is going to go down to the 25th hour. We've still got time."

Added Francis: "I'm just blocking it all out right now. I'm not listening to what's out there. But whatever happens, really, I'm fine with it."

In related news ...

# According to the New York Post, the Knicks have been speaking to Orlando about Steve Francis for 10 days, however they're not close to a deal. "We're no closer to getting Francis than we were 10 days ago," one Knicks official told the newspaper.

# A league executive who spoke to Knicks GM Isiah Thomas in the past two days said there was no deal right now, and even described talks as "dead," reports the Newark Star-Ledger.

Miami Heat

Riley Expecting To Stand Pat
Feb 16 - While trade rumors fly all over the NBA in anticipation of the trade dadline, no serious rumors concern the Miami Heat, reports the Palm Beach Post. Pat Riley told the newspaper he doesn't think that will change. "Unless it's an absolute no-brainer, and a frontline player and a starter," he said. "I think we have enough players and specialists in Shandon Anderson and Jason Kapono as a shooter, Michael Doleac as a center, Wayne Simien as a power forward."

Portland Trail Blazers

Do The Blazers Need A Trade?
Feb 16 - "They are going to have to," Ruben Patterson told The Oregonian. "There are a lot of guys who are unhappy here. It's just time to make some moves." Then, Patterson stopped himself. "I think I'm going to shut up now," he said.

Darius Miles concurred with Patterson. "Do I think so? Yep. Yep. You can see what's going on. We are not a team," Miles told The Oregonian. "I don't see no problem adding another piece."

Nate McMillan told the newspaper the team has to look at making a move. "We should always look at it," McMillan said. "What is the plan, what do we want to do, where are we? You have to look at that. We are still with all of our small forwards and we haven't made a change."

New Jersey Nets

Nets Need Ely
Feb 16 - The Charlotte Observer reports the way Melvin Ely played in the first half last night, the question shouldn't be whether the Nets would offer a first-round pick for him, but how many. According to the newspaper, Ely might not be the perfect player, but he's exactly what the Nets lack -- a consistent low-post threat who would open space for jump shooters.

In related news ...

# The Nets are trying to move Marc Jackson and Zoran Planinic, but haven't found any takers, reports the Bergen Record. According to the newspaper, they could deal either or both to a team under the cap for a draft pick or two, and then sign Tim Thomas if the Bulls waive him.

# One player they won't add is Robert "Tractor" Traylor. He had heart surgery in the summer and hoped for a comeback, but his medical procedure was so extensive, it's unlikely he'll play this season, reports the New York Post.

Hey, Joe, now you need a backup point guard

By John Hollinger
ESPN Insider

OK, Joe Dumars, the clock's ticking. You have seven shopping days left to find yourself a backup point guard.

The trade of Darko Milicic was the big news Wednesday night, but for the Detroit Pistons, the bigger story come June will be who backs up starting point guard Chauncey Billups. The Pistons sent the previous backup, Carlos Arroyo, to Orlando along with Milicic, and since the trade only returned Kelvin Cato's expiring contract and a draft pick, the Pistons will have to fill that void somehow.

One obvious option is Lindsey Hunter, who recently returned from an injury and has won the trust of his teammates with his performances the past two seasons. However, Hunter is 35 years old and, although a pesky defender, he's a huge liability offensively.

In last season's playoffs, he shot only 31.9 percent, and he hasn't shot above 36 percent since 2001-02. He also has played shooting guard for most of his career; running the offense has never come easily for him.

Besides, what happens if Hunter goes back on the shelf or, even worse, if Billups were to end up there? Detroit has absolutely no Plan B at the moment.

That's a dangerous position to be in when your goal is to win a championship right now. It doesn't matter how much cap space Dumars clears for next year by trading Arroyo if he loses out on a ring in the meantime. The Pistons already have the league's best record and a playoff-tested starting five, but do they really want to depend so heavily on Hunter's surgically repaired ankle when he was a marginal player to begin with?

That's why it's so important for Dumars to come up with a replacement for Arroyo before the Feb. 23 trade deadline. Fortunately for him, a few names are out there. Far and away the most alluring for him is Mike James, a free-agent-to-be for the Raptors whose play off the bench helped spark Detroit's title run two years ago. However, he might cost a pretty penny since the Raptors wouldn't mind re-signing him over the summer.

(And speaking of former Pistons, you have to think Dumars is kicking himself right now for not re-signing Chucky Atkins last month while he had the chance.)

If he can't talk the Raptors out of James, then Dumars might have to set his sights quite a bit lower, choosing among several flawed candidates.

A brief sampler:

" Minnesota's Marcus Banks plays the pressure D Detroit likes, but he's not a pure point guard offensively;

" Chicago's Jannero Pargo might be too shot-happy for the Pistons' liking;

" Portland's Steve Blake can run the show adeptly but would be vulnerable at the other end;

" Denver's Earl Watson is rather richly compensated for a guy who would play only 10 minutes a night.

Unfortunately for the Pistons, somebody of that ilk is probably what they'll end up with -- especially as one of the best targets, Atlanta's Tyronn Lue, is now out with a knee injury.

Of course, Arroyo wasn't exactly the second coming of John Stockton to begin with, so picking up one of these guys shouldn't leave the team any worse off. But the Pistons do have to get somebody. So, although most will look at this trade in the long term as Detroit's washing its hands of Darko and getting a do-over in 2007, the story in the short term is the Pistons' dropping their backup point guard and hoping like crazy they can get another one in a week's time.

It's a gamble, but Dumars has rolled the dice plenty of times before and has won far more of them than he's lost. Seven days from now, we'll know whether he has won another.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. His book "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06" is available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books. To e-mail him, click here.

The diminutive dunker
posted: Thursday, February 16, 2006

Nate Robinson was not even 2 years old when Spud Webb won the NBA slam dunk contest.

He was barely into his teens by the time he was imitating him.

"My first dunk in high school, they threw me an alley-oop from out of bounds. I was a sophomore. I was like 14, and I've been dunking ever since," he said.

Robinson stands only 5-foot-9, but his vertical leap and his athleticism have given him almost eight years of experience dunking a basketball. He'll be one of four competitors in Saturday night's slam dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, facing reigning champion Josh Smith of Atlanta, rookie Hakim Warrick of Memphis and Andre Iguodala of Philadelphia.

It's been 20 years since Spud Webb was the toast of the dunking world, a 5-foot-7 leaper extraordinaire whose 360-degree slam in the 1986 contest set the standard for biggest thing done by a little guy at the NBA's showcase event.

The prediction here is that Robinson raises that standard. He claims to remember watching Webb win the dunk contest live, although he was only 20 months old, and his pre-teen years included hours upon hours of watching NBA mix tapes, with Webb's dunks prominently featured.

"I was dunking volleyballs in middle school," said Robinson, who tried to throw an alley-oop pass to himself off the backboard in his first exhibition game with the New York Knicks back in October. Needless to say, coach Larry Brown wasn't thrilled.

He watched last year's dunk contest on tape, coming away suitably impressed by Smith's winning performance. Still, Robinson believes he's better.

"I've watched Hakim Warrick dunk the ball all last year in college. Everyone knows he can jump. He's long. Andre Iguodala has amazing hops, he can do a lot, and we've seen what Josh can do last year. All these guys can jump, so it's going to be an interesting dunk contest this year."

Robinson hasn't competed in a dunk contest since the senior year of high school, a contest he won in a runaway, the way Robinson tells it. He believes Vince Carter's arm-through-the-rim dunk in Oakland was the best ever performed in a dunk contest, and he looked at me like I was crazy when I asked if he could do a reverse 360.

"Of course I can," said Robinson, who said he has a trick up his sleeve (he revealed no details, of course) that has never been tried before in an NBA slam dunk contest. It's a question of whether he has the guts and the confidence to try it.

Having covered about a dozen dunk contests, and having seen most of them turn into duds in recent years (anyone else remember Chris Andersen missing his first seven or eight attempts last year? Or what about Darrell Armstrong's layup? That's right, he did a layup in a dunk contest), I'm making a prediction that this year it will finally be worthwhile to watch it.

Smith is going to be a tough dunker to beat, but Insider is predicting big things from the little guy. If you're making a friendly wager with your buddies, take Robinson.

02-17-2006, 04:12 AM
Knicks still hot for Francis

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Chris Sheridan

NEW YORK -- Just in time for the All-Star break, Larry Brown got a reprieve from his misery.

The most dysfunctional team in the Eastern Conference (we were ready to call them the worst team in the league, except they beat the Raptors at the same time the Bobcats were losing to the Nets, keeping New York in 29th place) finally snapped its 10-game losing streak Wednesday night on a late jumper by Jamal Crawford that gave New York a 98-96 victory over Toronto.

Never did a team need a boost as badly as Brown and the Knicks, who have become the local laughingstock in a town with no shortage of underachieving pro teams.

The Mets haven't won a World Series since 1986, the Rangers haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1994 and the Jets haven't won a Super Bowl since 1969. The Knicks' title drought stretches back to 1973, and the newest crop of players wearing orange and blue are finding it's no fun living in a fishbowl when things are going sour.

But the way Brown sees things, comparisons to any local team except the Yankees are invalid. In his mind, the Bronx Bombers have set the standard -- despite the lack of a World Series title since 2000 -- that every other local team should be judged by.

And when he looks at his roster, he feels any comparison to the Yankees is unfair.

"I think we have the resources and the potential to be a contender all the time, and that's what we're hoping to get to. But we've got eight guys 25 and younger, and of your veteran guys, if you look at the veteran guys on the Yankees and on championship teams, you're looking at some of the biggest stars in their sport. I look at our team, we've got a lot of young players that are going to get better, that are assets that are improving, but when you put them all together, it's a lot different. I don't see the Yankees bringing in rookies and playing Bubba Crosby. You look out on the court now and you see Channing [Frye] and David Lee and Nate [Robinson] and Jackie Butler and Qyntel Woods and Eddy Curry at 22, you see them all out there, and they're not out there with [Derek] Jeter and [Alex] Rodriguez and [Jason] Giambi and people like that."

Brown spoke at length with more than a half-dozen writers who descended upon the team's suburban practice facility on Wednesday morning to get a feel for whether this ship is merely listing badly or is ready to sink. Brown's players are clamoring for him to stop berating them through the media, and he is on them to earn some praise by doing something, anything, praiseworthy.

The victory over Toronto gave the Knicks 15 wins and sent them into the All-Star break on a positive note. But by the time the team reconvenes early next week, the roster could look different if Isiah Thomas is able to pull off a trade or two.

The Knicks remain hot for Steve Francis, who shot 3-for-15 in Orlando's loss to Miami on Wednesday, and there are some in the organization who believe a late run at the eighth and final playoff spot in the East is not such an absurd notion. New York would have to finish 26-4 to end the season with a .500 record, but .500 might not be necessary to make the postseason.

"Maybe it will be an opportunity to start over, to start fresh," Brown said of the coming All-Star weekend break.

There's no doubt the Knicks need a fresh start, a new beginning. The big question in the week ahead is whether it will include Francis.

The 10 players most likely to be dealt by Feb. 23

By Chris Sheridan
ESPN Insider

The clock is ticking, and the days are winding down until next Thursday's NBA trade deadline.

There are going to be some deals, but there's really no telling exactly how many. Lots of folks were predicting a quiet deadline day a year ago, but it turned into one of the busiest days of deal making ever.

Insider has been in constant touch with general managers and player personnel officials throughout the NBA, allowing for a handicapping of who might be wearing a new uniform by next weekend. So without further ado, we present The 10 Players Most Likely To Be Traded by Feb. 23:

1. Steve Francis. It now appears to be a matter of when, not if, the Magic will trade him. New York and Denver are the leading candidates as of now, but Minnesota is trying to engineer a three-team deal that would put Francis alongside Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis. A long-shot possibility is Francis returning to Houston. Wednesday night's Orlando-Detroit trade removed the possibility of Kelvin Cato going to New York in a Francis trade, but the Knicks can still do a Hardaway-Francis deal by removing Jamal Crawford from the equation and substituting Trevor Ariza and rookies David Lee and/or Nate Robinson.

2. Penny Hardaway. The most valuable thing about Penny is his expiring max contract, which comes off the salary cap at the end of this season. Teams can make up for years of mistakes by dumping their big contracts in exchange for an expiring deal (see Jalen Rose to Knicks; Rasheed Wallace to Hawks; Tom Gugliotta to Jazz), so there's plenty of interest in the former superstar who's appeared in only four games this season for the Knicks. Aside from Orlando, Portland is a possibility.

3. Voshon Lenard. There is always a market for a deadeye shooter, even when he's well past his prime (see Steve Smith-Malik Allen a year ago). Denver has been trying to find a taker for Lenard since early this season, and the Nuggets probably will take the best offer on the table by 3 p.m. Thursday for the career 38 percent 3-point shooter (42 percent in the playoffs).

4. Reggie Evans. One of the league's best rebounders has the right to veto any deal after accepting a one-year tender offer from Seattle, but the time has come for him to escape Bob Hill's doghouse and get to a place where he can establish some value for himself before becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Sonics have been willing to move him all season.

5. Derek Anderson. The arrival of Keith Bogans in Houston last week signaled the end of the Anderson experiment for the Rockets, who publicly stated they'd make every effort to trade him. Anderson makes less than $1.7 million but has an option for next season. He was a solid player in Portland a couple years ago, but his production level and his value have plummeted.

6. Michael Sweetney. The Chicago Bulls still are trying to find a big man with an expiring contract who can help them make a push for the playoffs, and one of the assets they'd be most comfortable moving (as opposed to their fear of letting go of Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, and/or Kirk Hinrich) is the overweight power forward who came in the Eddy Curry trade. The Jazz like him, and they'd consider taking Sweetney and another player if they could get rid of

7. Carlos Boozer. The worst hamstring in the history of the state of Utah finally is healed, just in time for the Jazz to showcase their $70 million asset. Boozer's star has faded considerably since he was a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team, and if the Jazz had it to do over again they'd have spent their free agent money elsewhere. Drew Gooden in Cleveland is often mentioned as the power forward most likely to be moved, but the Cavs need him more than the Jazz need Boozer.

8. Jim Jackson. The Suns were close to moving him recently, but the deal fell through. Phoenix is content to keep him as an insurance policy in case of an injury, but he's not going to play much this season if the Suns stick with their current rotation. Not many teams are calling Phoenix, but interest in veteran players such as Jackson typically picks up when the deadline is inside of 72 hours away.

9. Earl Watson/Nene. No list of the Most Likely To Be Traded would be complete without the Denver duo who have been involved in trade rumors throughout the entire season -- and even longer in Nene's case. There's not as much interest in Watson as the Nuggets would have people think, but there are teams willing to throw money at Nene when he becomes a restricted free agent over the summer, and the Nuggets seem convinced he won't be worth the investment.

10. Eric Williams. New Raptors general manager Wayne Embry said he would try to accommodate Williams' desire for a trade, but Williams has an option to be paid $4.3 million next season, and he simply isn't good enough to justify that salary. Philadelphia was interested earlier this season, but the Sixers are now holding a roster spot open in case Tim Thomas gets a buyout from Chicago.

Chris Sheridan, a national NBA reporter for the past decade, covers the league for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.

02-17-2006, 04:13 AM
Be like Dwight? For most sophs, no

By John Hollinger
ESPN Insider

Here's the tricky thing about the NBA draft: What matters isn't the player you have on draft day, but the player you have a couple of years down the road. Numerous players have bounced back from uninspiring performances as rookies to become superstars later on -- even four-year collegians like John Stockton, Steve Nash and Michael Redd.

Thus, one of the most important things teams want to see in a young player is progress. With the rare exception of a Tim Duncan or, this year, Chris Paul, most rookies struggle. More often than not, it's the ability to learn and adapt from their struggles that separates the Karl Malones from the Kwame Browns.

That's why this year's sophomore class has been such a disappointment. Yes, there are still plenty of talented players in the group, and it could still go down as the best crop of high-schoolers ever to enter the league. But the group hasn't done much to build on the promise of a year ago. Six rookies who started a year ago find themselves on the bench (Tony Allen, Sebastian Telfair, Chris Duhon, Shaun Livingston, Rafael Araujo and J.R. Smith), while several others have regressed after promising rookie seasons.

With the rookie-sophomore game kicking off All-Star weekend, now seems like a good time to evaluate how much progress the class has made from a year ago. With each player, I've included his PERs from last year and this year to help track his performance. As you'll see, a few players have made strides, but in general, the news isn't pretty. I'll start with the bad news:

Taking a step back

These guys showed us tons of promise a year ago, but have broken our hearts a year later.

Emeka Okafor, Charlotte Bobcats (16.35 PER in 2004-05, down to 15.18 in 2005-06)
The 2004-05 Rookie of the Year has seen his sophomore campaign swallowed up by injuries. Thankfully they aren't back problems, which was the greatest area of concern when the Bobcats picked him, but lasting only 26 games isn't a feather in his cap either way. Besides, he also looked slower when he was on the court and had a lot of trouble finishing inside.

Trevor Ariza, New York Knicks (13.24 to 10.35)
As part of Larry Brown's Confidence Reduction Program (TM), Ariza began the year with the humiliation of becoming Matt Barnes' backup and saw things quickly degenerate from there. Despite having the second-worst record in the league, New York appears more interested in giving Ariza's minutes to 33-year-old Jalen Rose. In fact, the athletic 20-year-old swingman could be on a flight to Orlando or Denver by the time you read this.

Tony Allen, Celtics (14.68 to 7.65)
Allen has missed most of the season with a stubborn knee injury and has played only 21 games thus far. Even when he's been on the court, he's been a shadow of the explosive leaper and strong defender that had the Celtics so excited a year ago. He's had off-court troubles, too, as he was charged with aggravated battery when an offseason bar fight in Chicago escalated into a shooting.

Shaun Livingston, Clippers (10.32 to 8.69)
A year ago, Livingston tantalized with his talent in his first year out of high school, but some were concerned about his frequent injuries and his poor shooting. A year later, he's frequently injured and can't shoot (37.2%). Until at least one of those things changes, his development will be stunted.

Josh Smith, Hawks (15.43 to 13.45)
Smith electrified the NBA with his amazing leaping as a rookie, but has yet to develop other positives beyond "Man, can he jump." He can't handle the ball and isn't strong enough to post up, so developing a consistent mid-range jumper would go a long way to establish him as a long-term starter. He did rip the Lakers for 21 and 15 in the last game before the break, however.

David Harrison, Pacers (12.77 to 9.84)
Harrison held down the fort inside when the Pacers suffered their rash of injuries a year ago, but apparently he forgot how to shoot over the summer. His field-goal mark is down from 57.6 percent to 47.8 percent, and from the line he's gone from a shaky 57.1 percent to a ghastly 38.4 percent. Can the Hack-a-Harrison strategy be far behind? For the optimists, Harrison's 16-point game against Milwaukee on Wednesday at least offers hope.

Anderson Varejao, Cavs (16.95 to 12.11)
Varejao suffered a shoulder injury playing in his native Brazil last summer that kept him out for half the season. Upon his return he hasn't quite picked up the energy and timing that made him such a force off the bench a year ago, and like Harrison his field-goal percentage has sank like a stone. He's at least had the good sense not to get a haircut.

See you in Yakima

These guys didn't do anything last year to get our hopes up . . . and haven't done anything this year either.

Rafael Araujo, Raptors (6.87 to 4.28)
Having proved to everyone's satisfaction that he was a wasted lottery pick, the Raptors finally abandoned the pretense of starting Araujo once Rob Babcock was fired. He has no chance of getting the job back and could even be bought out after the season.

Luke Jackson, Cavaliers (16.26 to 7.44)
The Cavs have been desperate for a wing player to come in and take advantage of all the open shots that LeBron James creates, but Jackson has failed to deliver. After his missing nearly all his rookie year with a back problem, Jackson's shot has been as hard to find as his razor. The stubbly soph is shooting only 34.2 percent while suffering savage beatings on defense.

Sasha Vujacic, Lakers (8.85 to 8.76)
The slender Slovene is getting plenty of minutes in L.A.'s paper-thin backcourt, even starting four games, but he's shooting only 34.2 percent. Granted, that's an improvement on last year's 28.2 percent, but it's far short of what the Lakers had been expecting.

Careers on hold

We won't know much about these guys until they get a chance to play.

Kris Humphries, Jazz (9.40 to 11.83)
It's tough getting minutes in a frontcourt with Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, Jarron Collins and Andrei Kirilenko. Then again, that hasn't stopped Greg Ostertag from seeing the floor. It probably doesn't help that Humphries never met a shot he didn't like but is only making 38.2 percent of them.

Pavel Podkolzine, Mavericks (N/A)
Podkolzine has played 10 minutes his entire career. The 7-5 Siberian giant is still only 21 but his near-total lack of game experience means he could take a long time to develop.

Beno Udrih, Spurs (14.24 to 17.25)
Udrih has hardly played this year as his job was given to veteran Nick Van Exel in the wake of Udrih's dreadful performance in the NBA Finals. This may be one of those rare times where the Spurs' wisdom deserves to be questioned, as Udrih has played extremely well in his limited chances and was better than Van Exel a year ago as well.

Andris Biedrins, Warriors (14.69 to 12.72)
Buried on the bench for most of his first two seasons, Biedrins has seen more minutes of late and the Latvian teenager has been solid, if unspectacular. He's one to keep an eye on for the future, though. Unlike a lot of other Euros, he already has an NBA body, and his 63.5 percent career shooting mark is worth noting.

Dorell Wright, Heat (5.10 to -2.44)
While the other high schoolers from this draft went to bad teams and got to play right away, Wright ended up on a contending team and has only played 93 career minutes thus far.

Treading water

Rookies are supposed to get better in their second season. So when they give the same performance, we're inevitably disappointed.

Andre Iguodala, Sixers (13.49 to 14.34)
Philly's defensive stopper hasn't done enough stopping to keep the Sixers from being one of the league's worst defensive teams, and he's still had trouble converting his incredible athleticism into a reliable offensive weapon. He has improved his 3-point stroke, however, hitting 40.0 percent this year.

Josh Childress, Hawks (15.20 to 16.03)
Childress got off to a very slow start for a second straight season, but finally gained traction around the holidays and has done well since. Childress's Shawn Marion-esque jumper has found the net much more this year, as he ranks second in the NBA in true-shooting percentage, but his other numbers are down.

Sebastian Telfair, Trail Blazers (9.59 to 11.22)
Telfair lost his job to Steve Blake, but he probably shouldn't have been starting in the first place. He was unready when the Blazers threw him into the fire a year ago, and it was nave to think he'd grow into the job in less than a year's time. Telfair has made some improvements -- he's really cut his turnovers, for instance -- but unless he gets a jumper he's just a quicker version of Kevin Ollie.

Matt Bonner, Raptors (14.64 to 13.69)
Big Red made a splash in his rookie season by shooting 53.3 percent from the floor, but hasn't been able to sustain that stellar marksmanship in his second season. Nonetheless, he's done just enough to stay in the rotation in spite of his defensive shortcomings.

Al Jefferson, Celtics (16.59 to 17.76)
Jefferson's production numbers are fine. It's the other end of the court that's killing him. Jefferson has been painfully slow in rotating at the defensive end, and is picking up so many fouls trying (one every 6.7 minutes, to be exact) that it's been difficult to keep him on the court. A series of ankle sprains has also stifled his progress.

Ben Gordon, Bulls (14.80 to 13.93)
Gordon won the Sixth Man award a year ago thanks to a series of electric fourth quarters, but has had trouble finding the range this season. Despite a recent stretch of three straight 30-point games, Gordon's points per minute are well down from a year ago and he's earning fewer free-throw attempts.

Showing signs

These guys might not be setting hearts aflutter, but their slow, steady progress could make them quite desirable in another year or two

Viktor Khryapa, Trail Blazers (8.90 to 11.62)
The new Ryan Bowen, Khryapa is not the most gifted offensive player on the planet but earned a starting job in Portland with his defense and hustle. Unfortunately, the 6-9 forward is probably headed back to the bench now that Darius Miles is healthy.

J.R. Smith, Hornets (10.84 to 13.55)
Don't read too much into Smith's benching. Yes, his defense and shot selection both need work, but he still was playing much better than he had as a rookie. The real problem was that the Hornets unexpectedly found themselves in a playoff race and couldn't afford to waste any more minutes on Smith's development.

Carlos Delfino, Pistons (8.54 to 11.72)
Delfino hurt his knee as a rookie and never earned Larry Brown's trust, but has cracked the Pistons' rotation in his second season. He's been slow to turn the corner offensively, however, and with his years of European seasoning was expected to have a faster learning curve than most. And in a major upset, nobody has attempted to nickname him "Mike" yet.

Luol Deng, Bulls (14.16 to 15.68)
Chicago's smooth forward couldn't do any offseason work after injuring his wrist at the end of last season, so it was a surprise to see him begin the year without skipping a beat. While some would like to see him get more aggressive offensively, Deng is only 20 years old and remains among the most promising players in the game.

Chris Duhon, Bulls (9.80 to 13.03)
Duhon lost his starting job just after New Year's, but he's become a much more reliable offensive player than he was a year ago. He's more than doubled his fre-throw attempts thanks to a greater willingness to put it on the floor, without making more turnovers.

Leaping forward

Now we get to the good stuff. While most of the rookies have shown halting progress, we still have a few gems from this year's sophomore class. The envelopes, please:

Delonte West, Celtics (12.27 to 15.42)
Coming into this year, West had to prove two things -- that he could stay healthy and that he could play the point. Score both in his favor. While West doesn't have any assist titles in his future, he stretches defenses with his shooting and doesn't turn it over. As an added plus, he may be the best shot-blocking point guard I've ever seen.

Jameer Nelson, Magic (14.47 to 18.59)
All those folks who hollered when former college player of the year Nelson lasted until the 20th pick a year ago had a point. Orlando appears to have the steal of the 2004 draft in the pint-sized point guard, who had badly outplayed the more heralded Steve Francis before hurting his foot last month.

Dwight Howard, Magic (17.23 to 19.26)
It's possible the Magic got the two best players from this draft. (And yet they still stink. That's what you get for trading T-Mac.) In Howard's case, it's no big surprise. At the ripe old age of 20, the top overall pick a year ago is leading the NBA in rebounding while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. If he ever gets a post game, watch out.

Kirk Snyder, Hornets (8.48 to 15.66)
Unwanted in Utah after behaving badly and playing worse, the Jazz essentially traded Snyder for Greg Ostertag. Think they might want a do-over on that one? Snyder's sudden development has been an underrated reason beyhind the Hornets' overnight turnaround, as he's displayed the shooting and ballhandling skills that had made him so coveted coming out of college.

Kevin Martin, Kings (8.67 to 15.44)
The "other" K-Mart, this Martin got a chance with Bonzi Wells's injury and ran with it, injecting much needed athleticism to the Kings' attack. He's also been surprisingly consistent with an awkward jumper that provides basketball's answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. In fact, Martin's .633 True Shooting Percentage leads the NBA

Robert Swift, Sonics (4.95 to 13.90)
After drafting Swift out of high school, the Sonics threw him in a meat locker for a year and a half before dragging him out when Bob Weiss was fired. Lo and behold, it turns out he can play. Swift is shooting 52.6 percent from the floor and despite a slender build has proved to be quite effective on the glass.

Devin Harris, Mavericks (14.70 to 17.83)
He's still stuck behind Jason Terry in Dallas, but that could change in a big way a year from now. With his quick first step and improved game management, Harris has played so well that the Mavs have to strongly consider letting Terry walk as a free agent this summer and using the money to shore up their frontcourt.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. His book "Pro Basketball Forecast: 2005-06" is available at Amazon.com and Potomac Books. To e-mail him, click here.

02-17-2006, 11:23 AM
Thanks for posting, Evilmav2. Good to see Harris getting some recognition

02-17-2006, 12:00 PM
Harris has played so well that the Mavs have to strongly consider letting Terry walk as a free agent this summer and using the money to shore up their frontcourt.

shore up the frontcourt? With Whom?

Who would be available this summer that Dallas could get with Terry type money, that would "shore up the frontcourt" ?

02-17-2006, 12:14 PM
i dont think that we would just "let terry walk" but there are some front court options out there

Al Harrington
Drew Gooden (restricted)
Nene Hilario (restricted)
Nazr Mohammed

Those are the guys i think we might be able to toy around with. it all depends on terry being signed tho. Harris is still one year away I think, and both terry and DA are FA's. the frontcourt we have right now is one of the top 5 in the league i think...

02-17-2006, 01:14 PM
i dont think that we would just "let terry walk" but there are some front court options out there

Al Harrington
Drew Gooden (restricted)
Nene Hilario (restricted)
Nazr Mohammed

I consider Josh and Daniels and Diop way better than any of these guys, whom would take minutes away from them,.

02-17-2006, 01:41 PM
We'd have to get another PG to backup Harris and Armstrong is older than the pyramids. The usual FA suspects are out there, ie. Cassell, Atkins, Claxton, Jacque Vaughn whom I doubt the Nets will exercise their option on, etc. but I think an intriguing FA candidate would be Fred Jones.

From www.nba.com/pacers/news/tinsley_jones_050201.html:

"...When the Pacers drafted Jones out of Oregon with the No. 14 pick in 2002, the original intent was for the athletic 6-2 scorer to develop into a combo guard capable of playing both positions off the bench. To this point, his playing time, and therefore development, has come almost exclusively at shooting guard. He's spent more time at small forward, in fact, than the point.

Jones, however, welcomes whatever opportunity arises for him to run the team.

"That's my favorite position," he said. "I've always liked the point guard position because I feel like I'm an unselfish player. A lot of times people complain that I'm too unselfish at the two-guard position. I love to pass the ball and get everybody involved, and I feel like I can create and make people better. That's why I've always liked that position..."

Jones could make an ideal 3rd guard as he can play SG and PG (albeit he hasn't played a ton of games at PG). He's an ok perimeter shooter and he has speed to burn. His D isn't the greatest but it's not horrible either. His ball-handling and passing skills are decent too. Basically we would be getting a slightly inferior version of Jason Terry and having a shooter coming off the bench at PG would be nice.

02-17-2006, 01:43 PM
i dont think that we would just "let terry walk" but there are some front court options out there

Al Harrington
Drew Gooden (restricted)
Nene Hilario (restricted)
Nazr Mohammed

Those are the guys i think we might be able to toy around with. it all depends on terry being signed tho. Harris is still one year away I think, and both terry and DA are FA's. the frontcourt we have right now is one of the top 5 in the league i think...

Who's this Nene Hilario fella? ;)

02-17-2006, 01:51 PM
Nene is overrated. He's a poor rebounder and shot-blocker for someone his size, and his FT-shooting is mediocre. So anyways, let's get him :D.

02-17-2006, 06:34 PM
Devin Harris will end up as the 2nd best player from that draft (after Howard, of course!).