February 17, 2004 -- LOS ANGELES - The biggest surprise regarding All-Star Weekend is Magic Johnson didn't win MVP.
Don't be surprised, sources accentuate, if Rashweed Wallace is in uniform tonight at the Garden when the Knicks host the Pistons - only not in a Knick uniform.
Now that Wallace is a member of the Hawks, the Pistons, who didn't have the necessary assets to acquire him from the Blazers, have intensified their pursuit - along with at least one other team, perhaps the Mavericks whose All-Star-like lineup is the league's path of least resistance.
"We definitely play defense like an All-Star team," harpooned Mark Cuban in person, not by e-mail.
Chances of Joe Dumars capturing his prey for Detroit are better than good. Before I boarded a flight back to New York yesterday I was advised the Pistons' VP was playing tag with Billy Knight and the Hawks' GM was it. The incoming owners clearly aren't thrilled at the prospects of being represented by Rashweed.
Meanwhile, the Pistons have the critical goods Atlanta wants - a spare No. 1 pick and enough contracts (belonging to Bob Sura, Lindsey Hunter, Zeljko Rebraca, Darvin Ham and Tremaine Fowlkes) that expire at season's end which almost equal Wallace's $17 million salary.
The Knicks are well aware of Rashweed's continued availability, but aren't in position to do much about it; which doesn't mean Isiah Thomas has stopped trying. In the final analysis, it appears he simply can't come close to meeting the Hawks' above requirements.
At the same time, the Pistons' lease of Wallace in a relatively bold attempt to win a championship (at the cost of a first-rounder in what the experts contend is a weak draft) figures to be brief. There's still every reason to believe the 6-11 finesse forward plans to settle for less come summer and sign with the Knicks.
Especially now that he sees exactly where he fits - opposite Tim Thomas and alongside Nazr Mohammed (both 27 this year, as is Stephon Marbury) - and how Isiah isn't wasting time or fooling around.
Not that Mohammed is a deadbolt lock to start for the Knicks. Dikembe Mutombo remains both a shot-blocking force ("His defense was probably the difference when we lost to them at the Garden the other day," mentioned Pacer coach Rick Carlisle) and a vital pawn (along with Kurt Thomas) in sustained trade talk with the Warriors for Erick Dampier.
If they don't do something with the elderly Dikembe soon they can forget it," notes column castigator Frank Drucker. "He's about ten minutes away from being declared a landmark."
Again, it's doubtful the Knicks have sufficient resources to beat out, say, the Grizzlies, but they haven't been disqualified from the hunt either. Memphis Moolah Michael Heisley is lovin' the life of being eight games above five hundred (30-22) and isn't letting the luxury tax intimidate him.
Like Isiah, Grizzlies prez Jerry West has the freedom to spend whatever it takes to compete at the highest level. Which is why he's all over Dampier (as long as the price is one essential piece, not two), who, at least, bears a vague resemblance to centerfolds he's been associated with throughout his career as a player, coach and exec: Wilt, Kareem and Shaq. Ahem, unlike Lorenzen Wright and Jake Tsakalidis.
* The second biggest surprise during All-Star Weekend is Bill Russell smiled without first getting paid; all it took was Kelly Clarkson singing Happy (70th) Birthday to him.
Numerous sources are predicting the Rockets will do something noteworthy before Thursday's trading deadline, but it positively won't involve Steve Francis. In an effort to ease the defensive congestion around Yao Ming, management is trying to acquire a legit 3-point shooting forward, namely Austin Croshere.
A few weeks ago, the Pacers discussed swapping him for Kelvin Cato. Recently, the talk revolved around Maurice Taylor; if Indy pulls the trigger, you might see Al Harrington to Denver for Rodney White and Jon Barry. Houston also is talking to the 76ers about Aaron McKie, who could just as easily wind up in Chicago for Jerome Williams.
The fact the Nets are 9-0 since Lord Bye-Ron Scott's eviction is a damning indictment on both the coach and the players; he had totally lost their respect and attention, whereas they had bailed out on him one and all, particularly at the defensive end. That's where New Jersey has made its biggest improvement.
The third biggest surprise of All-Star Weekend is Kobe Bryant didn't opt out of his court case.
I could see Detoit going after Resheed. His 17 million would come off the books at the end of the season so they would have more than enough money to resign Okur. Who knows, he might like it there and resign with them.
If he does sign with Detroit it hurts the Pacers chances of coming out of the East. Doesn't mean they still can't win the East though.