February 19, 2006 -- HOOP DU JOUR HOUSTON — The All-Star Game returns to the Space City for the first time in 17 seasons. By my count, the similarities are eerie.
Back then, there was a Bush in the White House, the Pistons were the best team and we idly took pot shots at a simpleton vice president named Quayle.
Now, there's a Bush in the White House, the Pistons are the best team and the shiftless vice president simply shot a guy while hunting quail.
By the way, a look at the way-back machine from '89 Astrodome affair (West 143, East 134) reveals the following tidbits:
* Karl Malone (26 min, 12-17 FG, 28 points, nine rebounds) was the MVP. After saying "thanks" to David Stern for his trophy, The Mailman claimed he was misquoted;
* The two coaches (Pat Riley & Lenny Wilkens) wound up in New York. Feel free to insert your own punch line;
* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (13 minutes, 1-6 FG, three rebounds and four points) replaced an injured Magic Johnson for his 18th and final All-Star Game;
* Dale Ellis, who won the 3-point competition the night before, added 26 (12-16 FG). It would be a career season (27.5 PPG) for Ellis;
* The game featured 115 field goals, but only five 3-pointers;
* Charlatan Barkley had 17 points and zero assists. Just like now: his presence helps no one.
That reminds me; I see where Magic Johnson stamped Barkley an ambassador for basketball. Right. And Dick Cheney is an ambassador for the Audubon Society.
I can't remember a season that has furnished so many trades once it got underway, and so much genuine talk that isn't going away.
Ron Artest, Peja Stojakovic, Jalen Rose, Antonio Davis, Steven Hunter (almost), Kelvin Cato, Vladimir Radmanovic, Chris Wilcox, Carlos Arroyo, Darko Milicic, Wally Szczerbiak, Ricky Davis (who had Celtic-for-life written all over him), Justin Reed, Marcus Banks, Michael Olowokandi, Keith Bogans, Lonny Baxter, Moochie Norris, Jamaal Magloire, Maciej Lampe, Jumaine Jones, Mark Blount, Desmond Mason and Nikoloz Tskitishvili already have changed teams, with plenty more apparently on tap before Thursday's deadline.
KNICKS: According to Snoozeday, New York can get both Darius Miles (Isiah Thomas' objective) and Theo Ratliff (Larry Brown's objective) from the Blazers. All it has to do is throw David Lee in with Penny Hardaway's expiring $15.7 million salary. That's funny since Portland presently has Lee, only his name is Viktor Khryapa.
Other than that, owner Paul Allen has grown fond of Miles and it's doubtful he'd approve his exodus. "That's nice of the Knicks," chuckled a Portland official. "They're willing to take two players we like and let us keep the one (Ruben Patterson) we don't like." Dealing Jamal Crawford to the Magic in a three- or four-team trade and receiving Earl Watson remains plausible. Expanding it to include Kenyon Martin, Penny's pact and Lee also remains within reason.
Sending Nate Robinson to the Sonics for Reggie Evans is a conspicuous possibility, but only if Seattle agrees to include Bob Hill for Larry Brown.
NETS: It'd be shocking if management tampered with the team's starting five. They have nothing else of consequence to offer any other team that can make them better for the second half of the season.
Their sole goal at this time appears to get cap and luxury-tax relief by finding a home for Shareef Abdur-Rahim replacement Marc Jackson ($4.55 million/$4.87 million), since it's apparent coach Lawrence Frank has no use for him and his delinquent defense.
Meanwhile, last I looked Jackson — a halfway decent scorer and rebounder — had no trouble getting back on offense. Shouldn't that be enough to get a guy just a little consistent daylight on a team that craves bench help?
TIMBERWOLVES: They're trying to do something big, but don't appear to have the necessary assets to acquire someone who'll propel them into the playoffs. Question is, who goes first: Kevin McHale or Kevin Garnett? It has to be McHale. How can owner Glen Taylor trust him to do right by the organization when/if management starts shopping around its mentally and physically fried franchise player (7-22 FG in the fourth quarter of the last five games after shooting 30-65 in the first three quadrants)? See McHale's sign-and-trade for Marko Jaric (Sam Cassell and a No. 1 pick), yet another one of his spending sprees ($38 million over six years) gone ghastly, and his selection of Ndudi Ebi in the '03 first round. "It's like David Stern gave Minnesota that once-forfeited pick back just so McHale could blow it," said one of the Timberwolves' Everyday People.
CAVALIERS: Have been pursuing Watson since the summer but it'd be counterproductive, it says here, to surrender Drew Gooden, the name on everyone's lips except GM Danny Ferry. How does Cleveland hope to get better by obtaining a backup point guard for a starting forward who's good for a double-double most nights? It's immaterial that Gooden is a rising free agent; the only thing that counts is what he's providing now. Worry about next season this summer. In my mind, Gooden is a perfect fit for the Cavs: He can't remember plays and coach Mike Brown doesn't call any for him; he just cleans up teammates' messes, er, misses.
LAKERS: They can't guard anybody, as evinced by the Hawks running a layup line on them at Staples Center to close out the first half. They're sick about investing three years and $25 million in Kwame Brown. They see their playoff hopes flashing before their eyes. Yet I can't imagine them being remotely interested in acquiring Steve Francis for Lamar Odom, as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. Yeah, that's right, trade your best rebounder and second-best all-around player for a Kobe wannabe.
At the same time, don't believe word one of the stories that have the Grizz and Sonics interested in Francis. Neither team would take him if he fell off the waiver wire and they could have him for nothing.
ROCKETS: Sources say Jeff Van Gundy and Carroll Dawson are no longer on speaking terms. A reenactment of the ruthless friction that transpired in New York between Van Gundy and Ernie Grunfeld, which led to the firing of the Knicks team president. I'm informed Van Gundy is so angry with the personnel Carroll has provided that he recently told free-agent pickup Stromile Swift, "Would you please ask to be traded."
This just in: As a result of Next Town Brown blaming the Knick woes on the environment, Camp Cablevision has sued Christine Todd Whitman.