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Sorry, you have to read through a lot of stuff to get to the Baron Davis talk.
For the Hornets, Nowhere to Go but Up
By LIZ ROBBINS
Published: January 9, 2005
Somebody must have had a Sacramento Kings voodoo doll. The New Orleans Hornets claimed the third victory of their meager season last night, an overtime triumph over the Kings.
It might have been cause for celebration, but not optimism. The odds are more favorable that the Hornets will win another game before Jim Jackson reports to the team. Jackson is a 34-year-old guard who began his career 13 years and 10 teams ago with a holdout, a character trait the Hornets apparently did not take into consideration when they traded David Wesley to Houston for what amounts to Bostjan Nachbar.
"We're just hopeful over time we get him in here," New Orleans General Manager Allan Bristow said in a telephone interview from New Orleans last week. So far, Bristow and management have tried to sell Jackson on the franchise only via a conference call.
This, said Bristow, was the pitch: "There are some things that have gone wrong, but the past decade we've always been .500 or better, we don't plan to be down here that long. We got to make some trades.
"It's our job to get this thing turned around."
Forgive Bristow the obvious, which is hard to see when submerged in the bayou of the league. At 3-29, the Hornets are competing against history this season.
The Philadelphia 76ers were 9-73 in 1972-73. They were without Billy Cunningham, who left for the A.B.A. before the season. They were five years removed from the Wilt Chamberlain trade that started the franchise's downward spiral.
Bristow, tired of the Philadelphia comparisons, said: "We'd like to get in double-digit wins. We'd like to put that to rest."
With victories over Utah and Golden State before last night, the Hornets were the fifth team in N.B.A. history with 28 or more losses before their third victory, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
The team that holds the record for the worst start? Dallas, which began 2-39 in the 1993-94 season. The leading scorer for those Mavericks? Jackson, a year after he sat out the first 54 games of his rookie season in a contract dispute.
Jackson informed the Hornets that he did not want to go through a rebuilding experience again, and the Hornets suspended him Dec. 29 when he refused to report.
With the Hornets ridding themselves of Wesley's $9.4 million salary over the next two years and still hoping Jackson would report, Bristow did not void the deal, which he could have done within 48 hours of the trade. Although Bristow has received offers, according to several people within the league, he has not traded Jackson.
"I was disappointed when this trade went down that there was any public discussion of our past conversations," Jackson's agent, Mark Termini, said of the Hornets, who had spoken about the suspension. "Beyond that, there is no change on Jimmy's status, and I do not want to comment further."
Meanwhile, the Hornets are exploring deals for the disgruntled point guard Baron Davis. Center Jamaal Magloire, who is at least another month from returning from a broken and dislocated right finger, had also expressed his desire to be traded.
Davis had a triple-double - the fourth of his career - in the Hornets' victory last night in his best game since returning from a back injury that sidelined him Nov. 12. Health issues and his $58 million contract for four more years make him difficult to trade.
If there is a plan, the Hornets seem to be edging toward a younger and more athletic style. The Wesley trade has enabled the rookie guard J. R. Smith from St. Benedict's High School in Newark to play more.
Bristow insisted that Byron Scott, the third coach in the three years since the Hornets moved to New Orleans from Charlotte, was safe. "He's at ground zero," Bristow said. "We're trying to keep things positive, and they are, as positive as they can be."
The N.B.A. and the players union combined to donate $1 million to the victims of the tsunami in south Asia when the league granted a request from the union to match a $500,000 donation to Unicef.
"To a man, every member of our union has expressed concern for the victims of the tragedy of Dec. 26," said Billy Hunter, the executive director of the union.
Teams are collecting donations at games or matching donations through the Red Cross or Unicef. In addition to the union's gift, players have contributed individually.
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Baron Davis could cure what ails Timberwolves
BY ISRAEL GUTIERREZ
Knight Ridder Newspapers
MIAMI - (KRT) - It's difficult to gauge who is unhappier at the moment, Baron Davis, the best player on the worst team in basketball, or Kevin Garnett, arguably the best player in basketball on a team that, for the first time since he has been on it, is terribly underachieving.
There is one way to perk both of them up immediately: Bring them together. And it's a lot easier than it sounds.
The Hornets could ship Davis, the injured Jamal Mashburn and, say, Lee Nailon to the Timberwolves for Latrell Sprewell and his expiring contract and the aging Sam Cassell, who only has one year left on his deal.
The Hornets are fielding offers for anyone on their roster because they are already flirting with worst-team-ever status and have been rejected by mid-level players like Jim Jackson.
The most recent talk was of a possible trade with Memphis that would send Jason Williams and Shane Battier to New Orleans for Davis.
But teaming Davis with Pau Gasol doesn't create the type of excitement that a Davis-Garnett pairing would - two of the most emotional personalities and dynamic players at their position.
Right now, there is nothing dynamic about the Timberwolves. Since complaining this preseason about Minnesota's offer for a contract extension, Sprewell has offered career lows in scoring, rebounds and assists, making him worth about half of the $7 million-a-year extension he turned down prior to the season.
Cassell's scoring numbers have also dropped slightly, but what's more disconcerting about the 35-year-old guard is his decrease in minutes played (less than 30 a night), even though the Timberwolves don't have a backup who they feel very good about at the moment. This comes after Cassell finished last year's playoffs on the bench with an injured hip.
The combination of Cassell and Sprewell has not been the complement to Garnett that it was last year, when a healthy Cassell could have led Minnesota to the NBA Finals. Case in point: Garnett scored an efficient 47 points and grabbed 17 rebounds at home against the Phoenix Suns, and the Timberwolves still lost, 122-115.
Granted, everyone seems to be losing to the Suns this season, but Sprewell offered six points in 33 minutes.
Cassell had 24 points and nine assists against Phoenix, but that came one game after a four-point effort in a loss to the Grizzlies.
They are simply not the same team, and General Manager Kevin McHale needs to address it before Garnett starts another streak of first-round playoff exits.
Assuming the Timberwolves don't trade Wally Szczerbiak, which is a possibility every year at this time, moving Sprewell would put him back at the shooting guard position, where Szczerbiak has had his best seasons.
What would the Hornets gain from getting rid of their best player? Nothing in the short term other than two bitter guards who want to get paid more than they're already making. But with Sprewell's contract expiring, and getting rid of Mashburn's contract, the team would have plenty of salary-cap space to begin building anew, possibly in a new city (Kansas City) with new owners.
Cassell still has another year left on his deal, but at a relatively small number (about $6.1 million). The Hornets could likely find a suitor for Cassell, or just buy out the guard's contract so he can sign with the team of his choice and lessen the damage on the Hornets payroll.
Davis and Garnett would be the closest the Western Conference has to Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal since the two parted ways. And Davis would be a better fit for the Timberwolves than Jason Kidd because Davis can carry the scoring load more often than Kidd, taking some of the pressure off Garnett.
It might never happen, but it would make two superstars a lot happier if it did.
Cavaliers' energetic first pick couldn't play with bulging disk in his back
By Brian Windhorst
The fate of Luke Jackson's rookie season might have been sealed his second day on the job last summer.
It was during Jackson's second practice as a member of the Cavaliers' summer league team in July that he hurt his lower back. The injury has resulted in a bulging disc that he's considering having surgery on in the coming days. If so, it might end his rookie season prematurely and represent the biggest obstacle of his young career.
Understand that Jackson is the strong, silent type. You know, like John Wayne.
When Jackson was a small boy, his family lived for a time in Alaska, and he spent much of his time in the winters indoors watching movies. His parents, Steve and Kathi, didn't have a huge selection of G-rated movies, so they started showing him some of their favorite Wayne pictures. He fell in love with them.
Maybe that's why he kept a stiff upper lip for so long and refused to tell anyone that his back ached so badly at times. There have been days when every step came with a shooting pain, when he could barely bend over to tie his shoes.
The Cavaliers were wondering where the sometimes violently active Jackson, drafted with the 10th overall pick, had gone. He had stunned scouts with passing and defensive skills, a hard-nosed attitude and silky jump shot.
Jackson tried to work through the pain, rehabbing during August and September, so he could avoid starting the season on the injured list. Looking back, it is easy to see that he couldn't get his legs up under him on his jumper. He shot less than 30 percent from the floor during the preseason, zapping his chances of earning a spot in the rotation.
Rookie years always are tough. A lifelong superstar from Smalltown USA, he found himself facing adversity for the first time, and he hated it. Yeah, he's a millionaire now, but Jackson doesn't care much about that at this point. He just wants to play a game he loves in the league he has wanted to join for years.
Plus, there's the whole rookie experience, the new faces, being away from friends and family, and, of course, the hazing.
He has taken his fair share of ribbing. Even from a youngster named LeBron James, who has the locker next to his, a place where the media swells so greatly that Jackson sometimes must wait for James to finish his postgame news conference just to get dressed.
His answer was to do what he could -- work. And he did. No player spent more time working at his game than Jackson. Every practice he stayed late. Every shootaround, too. Before every game, whether he was on the injured list or not, he would return to the locker room drenched in sweat. And all the while, he squeezed that bad disc.
When they first learned of the injury, the Cavaliers didn't think they'd see Jackson until December. Now they might not really see him until September at training camp.
A back injury is a dangerous thing. Surgery is not a 100 percent guarantee. The condition can linger, and drastically alter athletic careers. Not playing and not feeling like himself, Jackson decided he wanted to try to fix it now, to end this frustrating first NBA experience and to focus on the future.
He and his team now hope it's just as bright when he comes out on the other side.
• Now that the Cavaliers have played in throwback uniforms, Reebok can start selling the old wine-and-gold version with James' name and number on them. Philadelphia-based sporting goods outfitter Mitchell & Ness has made a lot of money by licensing all of the old NBA jerseys, but Reebok's deal with NBA allows them to sell throwback jerseys with current players names on them once they've been used in a game.
Don't think this didn't play a part in the decision to wear the throwbacks this season.
Sales of James' white and wine jerseys have naturally slipped in his second year. Here's predicting this new version becomes quite the rage.
• Speaking of jerseys, James' St. Vincent-St. Mary throwback, which Nike now makes, is the second-highest selling jersey in the country. Should we point out to anyone that it really isn't authentic because James wore adidas gear all through high school? Nah.
• Dajuan Wagner has virtually fallen off the roster and Jackson is out indefinitely, but Sasha Pavlovic is starting to blossom behind the scenes. He has not seen regular playing time and still has not been consistent in games, but he has started to win over the Cavaliers' coaching staff. Coach Paul Silas is searching for chances to get Pavlovic in the game because he believes that he has a bright future.
Acquired from the Utah Jazz via the Charlotte Bobcats expansion draft for a future first-round pick last summer, Pavlovic came with promise. Recently, he has started to show it. Expect to see more of him in the near future. It would not be surprising to see him getting some of Lucious Harris' minutes.
• With Jackson facing an uncertain future and Anderson Varejao shaping up to be an untouchable commodity, it is unlikely the Cavaliers would deal either prospect before next month's trade deadline. There have been rumors that the pair could land Michael Redd of the Milwaukee Bucks under certain circumstances.
• Look for the Cavaliers to quietly push for Varejao to be invited to play in the Rookie Challenge game at All-Star Weekend next month in Denver. James will play for the sophomore team in the game. Jeff McInnis is also a candidate for the 3-Point Shootout.
• If James maintains his 25-point, seven-rebound, seven-assist average, he'll be just the fifth player in history to accomplish it. The others are Oscar Robertson, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan.
• Silas said this week that the rumors of his former star and favorite player with the New Orleans Hornets, Baron Davis, being on the trade block are true. And though he'd love to have him and thinks that he could be a great complement to James, there's almost no chance of a deal being worked out because Davis makes $11.3 million. The Cavaliers also don't have the players to pull off such a deal.
WINDERMAN: NBA Sunday column
Sprewell, Cassell must grouse less, guard more
Published January 9, 2005
The problem with featuring erratic, emotional and (relatively) elderly guards is that sometimes that is what you get.
So the questions in Minnesota now become:
Did the Timberwolves max out last season by making it to Game 6 of the Western Conference finals?
Or, at 34 and 35 respectively, will Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell be able to get up now that they have fallen?
Although still on the positive side of .500, the Timberwolves stand as one of this season's biggest disappointments.
In previous years, the concern was with the frontcourt, from the bungled attempt to retain Joe Smith to the loss of Rasho Nesterovic to the questionable addition of Michael Olowokandi.
But with Kevin Garnett still very much at the top of his game, Wally Szczerbiak having returned there and Eddie Griffin providing more than could have been expected, the concern comes when Minnesota leans on its backcourt.
With both Sprewell and Cassell, the scoring totals are down, but the expectations remain high. That math has proven toxic.
After averaging 19.8 points last season, Cassell went into the weekend averaging 15.6. That, of course, hasn't stopped the nonstop extension demands.
Then there's Sprewell, whose scoring average is down from last season's 16.8 to 11.6, but who still believes an extension is due at his current $14 million pay rate.
Factor in that top backup Troy Hudson recently was benched in favor of former Heat guard Anthony Carter, only to get his second-string spot back after grousing about a possible trade demand, and there is little doubt why Flip Saunders' team has flopped.
None of this, mind you, should come as a shock. Free-agent negotiations last summer with Hudson were protracted and ugly. Cassell never has met a team that he hasn't complained to about being underpaid. And Sprewell, well, check out how it ended at Golden State and in New York.
The shame is that the Timberwolves' frontcourt has never been better, especially when factoring in the possibilities off the bench of defensive stopper Trenton Hassell.
But with Cassell and Sprewell allowing countless blow-bys, the defense has slipped significantly. And there is only so much Garnett can do at the rim to clean up the mess.
During a recent six-game span, Minnesota allowed .505 shooting and 105.2 points per game. That from a team that last season allowed .462 shooting and 94.5 points.
"We have too good of a team to keep going the way we are," owner Glen Taylor recently said. "It is little distractions that can keep your team from being as good as it should be."
With Cassell and Sprewell, there never are little distractions. There's enough chips on each shoulder to outduel Greg Raymer in Texas hold 'em.
So what next?
The options are limited, and the one thing about both Cassell and Sprewell is they know how to showcase themselves. That could leave their contract situations as an advantage for Minnesota come playoff time.
"We have to continue to work harder," Saunders said. "Our guys know the league perception and public perception of where we're at."
For now, there mostly is confusion, amid losses to the likes of the Raptors, Bulls and Knicks.
"K.G. and I said it's a bad dream, that we've got to pretty soon figure out a way to get back on track," Szczerbiak said.
The way to get back is through the backcourt.
"We dug this hole for ourselves," Cassell said. "The only people who can get us out of this hole is us."
It's courtship at courtside for lovebirds
With Valentine's Day cards already on the shelves, we pause for news from two of the NBA's better-known couples.
In New Jersey, Nets guard Jason Kidd has discontinued his practice of blowing a kiss to his wife and kids before each foul shot.
"We talked about it at the house. It's become so, I don't know, commercialized," he said. "It started off as a hello to her and then the kids. She wanted me to say hi to her on the road."
Kidd's wife, Joumana, has suggested a more subtle approach. And he worried about his son T.J. thinking it was a necessary component at the line.
"I don't want T.J. to start doing it at his games," he said.
Meanwhile, Kings guard Doug Christie and wife Jackie are considering an even greater public display of their affection.
For those who somehow might have missed them, Christie offers a series of on-court signals to his wife during games to let her know she's in his thoughts.
Now the two are considering a VH1 reality show based on their relationship.
It is a relationship that, shall we say, is uncomfortably close.
For example, when Christie was ejected from a recent loss to the Heat, who was it escorting the guard through the tunnel and toward the locker room? Yes, Jackie.
It's the same escort Christie receives after the final horn of games. And, yes, that was Jackie at Doug's side during a 2002 melee in an exhibition against the Lakers.
VH1 says the deal is still in "developmental stage," but the crew that would spend months with the couple already has conducted a practice taping, in anticipation of it becoming the next in line to Nick Lachey-Jessica Simpson and Carmen Electra-Dave Navarro.
For Kobe, .500 is a glass half full
The latest from the Kobe World of Spin is that .500 is a good thing for the Lakers.
"We all knew it was going to be hard," guard Kobe Bryant said last week of life in the post-Shaquille O'Neal era. "At the same time, it's interesting to see people's reaction.
"At the beginning of the season, people thought at this point we'd probably be like five games under .500, being that we play in the Western Conference and we play against the top teams every night."
When the Lakers dropped to 16-14 last week, it marked their fourth-worst 30-game start since Jerry Buss took over as owner in 1979.
"Throughout the process," Bryant said, "we've still managed to keep our heads above water in the Western Conference, which is pretty good."
In the Lane
LAST MAN STANDING: Unless Derrick Coleman surfaces elsewhere after being cut last week by the Pistons, it would leave the Heat's Shaquille O'Neal (Class of '92) as the NBA's longest-tenured No. 1 overall selection. Coleman was the No. 1 pick in 1990. Larry Johnson, the No. 1 pick in 1991, already has retired. All No. 1 selections since 1992 are still active, although some certainly could question that status when it comes to 1994 No. 1 pick Glenn Robinson.
ANGRY YOUNG MAN: Steve Francis is up to his old tricks again. After leading the league in technical fouls last season, the Magic guard already is approaching double figures this season. "I'm going to get my point across regardless of the consequences," he said. "That's what comes with this package. If they don't like it, I can't really change that. That's the personality of Steve-o."
NO DEAL: Whether the Hornets would have taken guard Jason Williams and forward Shane Battier from Memphis for Baron Davis is moot because Grizzlies President Jerry West said his team is not dealing Battier. Clearer is that the Hornets wouldn't mind dealing Davis, with four years at $58 million remaining on the guard's contract. ... Although success is at hand, it could be short-lived for the Sonics, with three of their top four scorers eligible to become free agents in the offseason: Ray Allen, Vladimir Radmanovic and Antonio Daniels. Currently surrounded by unique talent, Rashard Lewis could wind up feeling awfully lonely in '05-06.
PERSONNEL: Preparing for his Jan. 26 return from suspension, forward Stephen Jackson has begun traveling with the Pacers. He can practice with the team but is not allowed in the arena on game nights. His return comes five days after the first of the Heat's four games against Indiana. ... The Vlade Divac comeback tour likely is finished with the Lakers. With Thursday's back surgery expected to have the center out for the season, the Lakers are expected to buy out next season's $5.4 million salary for $2 million. Divac turns 37 on Feb. 3.
NEXT IN LINE: Former University of Miami standout John Salmons last week became the 11th 76er to earn a starting opportunity when he opened at shooting guard against Golden State in place of Willie Green. "He gives us length and gives us a guy that does some things off the dribble in finding people, and I like those factors," coach Jim O'Brien said. ... The Clippers reached to their past Wednesday when they added Darrick Martin on a 10-day contract. The last time the Clippers made the playoffs, eight years ago, the journeyman point guard also was on the roster.
NUMEROLOGY: With the injections of David Wesley and Jon Barry into the rotation, the Rockets have compiled 12 50-point halves in their last 12 games, after accumulating three 50-point halves through the first 21 games. ... Call it the curse of Allan Bristow. At his previous stop as a GM, Bristow oversaw the 11-71 Nuggets in 1997-98. This season, Bristow returned to the post with the Hornets, who went into the weekend at 2-29. ... Predrag Drobnjak's claim to fame this season? The Hawk is the only center on the All-Star ballot who has not started at least one game this season.
PUNCH LINES: Cavaliers center Zydrunas Ilgauskas said that by being forced to wear a mask to protect his injured cheekbone, teammate LeBron James becomes immune to criticism. Ilgauskas had worn a mask earlier in his career. "It gives you a good excuse when someone says, `I was open. You missed me.' I could say, `I didn't see you,'" Ilgauskas said. ... Amid his unexpected success, Raptors forward Matt Bonner was asked about his chances of participating in the Rookie Game during All-Star Weekend. "I'm on cloud nine just being here," the former Gator said. "If I think about that, my head might explode. You don't want to see that."
WOODS CUT DOWN: As was the case last season with the Heat, Loren Woods quickly has fallen from favor with the Raptors. A starter most of the first two months of the season, Woods is now settling for playing-time scraps. The Raptors instead are going with first-round pick Rafael Araujo. "We need to see Araujo play," coach Sam Mitchell said. "He was our eighth pick."
Call it our All-On-The-Spot team, players who weren't supposed to make an impact this season but have been called upon to do just that:
F Matt Bonner. The former Gator entered season as an afterthought in the Raptors' power rotation. Now, Bonner has emerged as an essential bench component, with a shot at a berth on an All-Rookie team.
F Michael Ruffin. The Wizards were expecting big things from power forwards Etan Thomas and Kwame Brown. Instead, all they've gotten has been injuries. Enter Ruffin, who gladly has more offensive rebounds than shot attempts.
C Nenad Krstic. With Alonzo Mourning and Aaron Williams lost to Toronto in the Vince Carter trade, the Nets were forced to rush the grooming for the former European standout. Now, Richard Jefferson is convinced the team has found a future All-Star.
G Rick Brunson. The goal was to play rookie Shaun Livingston at the point, with help from swing guard Marko Jaric. But with those two sidelined, Brunson found himself with his first starts since 2001, having started just 21 of his first 251 NBA games.
G Maurice Evans. A 6-foot-5 swingman who was used sparingly by Minnesota two years ago, the 2004 Eurobasket Player of the Year for Italy's Benetton Treviso has thrived amid the injury absence of Kings sixth-man Bobby Jackson.
They said it
"When I get older I can tell my kids me and Jermaine combined for over 60 points." -- Indiana guard Fred Jones, who scored seven Tuesday against the Bucks, the same night Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal had 55.
"It's just really embarrassing to have career-high night every night we play somebody." -- Bucks guard Michael Redd, after his team allowed the 55 to O'Neal, in the wake of Milwaukee previously allowing 54 to Allen Iverson, 42 to Tracy McGrady, 40 to Iverson and 39 to Dirk Nowitzki.
"Vince asked to be traded and maybe once that happened, maybe his heart wasn't totally committed to being a Toronto Raptor." -- Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, on Vince Carter upping his scoring average by eight points a game since being dealt to the Nets.
"It's a joke right now. This is unacceptable. We need to hold each other accountable." -- Nets forward Richard Jefferson, on his team's struggles even with Carter in the lineup.
"I want a bunch of pit bulls. I don't want a bunch of Chihuahuas. Right now, we have a bunch of Chihuahuas in there. We're not tough enough." -- Hornets coach Byron Scott.
"They're not as pretty, but jump higher." -- Nuggets coach Michael Cooper, on the differences between the players in his former stint in the WNBA and his current job.
By the Numbers
3 -- Consecutive seasons Kings guard Bobby Jackson has missed significant time. Two seasons ago, he missed 21 games (broken left hand). Last season, he missed 28 (strained abdominal muscle). This season, he is out for the year (torn wrist ligament).
2-12 -- Minnesota's record at Charlotte Coliseum -- the first 13 against the Hornets, followed by last week's loss to the Bobcats.
6-1 -- Mavericks record since Jason Terry replaced Darrell Armstrong as starting point guard.
4 -- Number of times the Clippers have been at .500 or better after December over the last 21 seasons. They reached that mark, at 15-15, Tuesday.
In the wake of center Eddy Curry being sidelined by the flu, Bulls coach Scott Skiles warned his players to take care of their bodies. Rookie guard Ben Gordon has his own unique regimen. "I eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before every game. Whoever invented that was smart. That's got to be one of the best sandwiches ever."
I see other teams are interested, but I think we out-bid them all with Artest and Tinsley; no one can offer more than that to N.O. If we want Baron, and they seem to be willing to gamble on Ron, I think he's ours if/when want him and think he's healthy.
Tinsley is not going to be traded. I doubt we want to do so, plus, even if we did, with his trade status it becomes very complicated to work up a trade. Almost has to be three teams, one with cap space or a trade exception. (like New Jersey)