Updated: Jan. 12, 2006, 4:51 PM ET
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this weekly around-the-league notebook edition of the Dime.
Hollywood needs more drama
You have to be a dice-roller, a certifiable risk-taker, to make a sincere run at the most tantalizing undependable talent since Micheal Ray Richardson.
You have to be more than that, actually.
To trust enough in Ron Artest to trade for him?
You have to be desperate, too.
That's why the Indiana Pacers, despite trading dialogue with at least two-thirds of the league's 30 teams, are still trying to close an actual Artest trade.
Yet desperation is also why the Los Angeles Lakers, more than any other team in the league, make the most sense as an Artest destination.
Don't be fooled by the Lakers' outstanding recent road trip. A 5-1 swing through some tough towns doesn't change the fact that L.A. doesn't have a second franchise player closer to Kobe Bryant's level and lacks an obvious route to find one.
The Lakers' plan to sock away salary-cap room for the summer of 2007 (or later) was always a prayer. Now that Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire have signed long-term extensions to stay in Houston and Phoenix, to the surprise of pretty much no one, they're faced with the prospect of waiting until the summer of 2008 on Toronto's Chris Bosh.
Or they can try to be daring now and explore every conceivable option for assembling a three-way trade that gets Artest. The Pacers' new-millennium answer to Dennis Rodman wants to go home and play for the Knicks, but what could be more ideal than landing on the opposite coast? I can't think of a coach with a better chance of keeping Artest on the floor than Phil Jackson.
This would probably be even tougher for Phil than handling Rodman, without Michael Jordan to help with the policing, but the payoff is arguably greater because Artest is a better all-around player. And Jackson, not surprisingly, is already a big fan. The Lakers, according to NBA front-office sources, made inquiries into Artest's availability in the summertime shortly after the Zenmeister unretired. Those advances were rebuffed, but, as you might have heard, there has been a bit of a re-think in Indy.
The Lakers' problem now is that, even though the Pacers are suddenly prepared to part with Artest, they don't have the pieces Indy wants ... even if they were willing to include Lamar Odom. Indiana would prefer to ship Artest to the West, yes, but it prefers more to take back a quality youngster (preferably still on his rookie contract, a la New York's Channing Frye) packaged with a short (or, better yet, expiring) contract.
The Lakers actually have plenty of attractive lower-end contracts, starting with Devean George making $5 million in the last year of his deal, but don't have that shining young gun to tempt the Pacers. That's why L.A. would need to pull at least one more team into such a trade.
It's about as big as NBA gambles come, of course, but let's face it: Lakers owner Jerry Buss isn't afraid of those. He's the guy, remember, who ordered his general manager, Mitch Kupchak, to trade Shaquille O'Neal. With no guarantee that Bryant would then re-sign.
The Lakers have already proven that they're the sort of franchise that would sign up for this challenge. And if there's a more desperate team out there -- taking into account not only the current landscape and long-range prospects but also the level they're expected to play at -- I don't see it. Laker fans, at Laker ticket prices, aren't going to accept a rebuilding project for long, even if the team is unexpectedly churning out gutty road trips.
Every team on the NBA map is obliged to consider the possibility of making a bid when the game's best two-way perimeter player becomes available. That said, a top-15 player who can't stay on the court is not really a top-15 player.
The Pacers have decided to move on because they're no longer prepared to live with the "What Next?" fear Artest injects into the locker room. The overwhelming majority of Indiana's rivals will pass in fear of infecting their locker rooms.
That will ultimately bring us to a daring and desperate handful of suitors. In the Lakers' case, they can keep waiting on a free-agent maybe down the road or try to do what Golden State did last February in dealing for Baron Davis and the supposed health risks.
Bet big on a big name from the trading block, in other words, in the belief that it'll click.
• Dimes Past: December 10-11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16
Some Players Just Need A Hug
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
George Karl co-existed with Gary Payton. Could he tolerate Artest?
1. The Denver Nuggets don't exactly qualify as desperate. Compared to the Lakers, they've got a nucleus with more polish and better balance.
Yet NBA front-office sources tell ESPN.com that Denver is pursuing Artest as hard as anyone, and here's an explanation: If you want to narrow the gap with West powerhouse San Antonio, acquiring Artest to counter Manu Ginobili isn't a bad idea ... assuming, of course, that Artest is actually playing as opposed to doing or saying things that get him suspended.
The Nuggets also have a coach who, a bit like Artest, is known for his eccentricities. Although my old studio-show colleague George Karl probably won't appreciate being lumped into the same sentence with Ron-Ron, I could see them co-existing.
It would certainly be volatile, probably wilder than Furious George and Gary Payton
in Seattle, but it's a pairing with potential, as is Carmelo Anthony
The Nuggets, though, have already seen an offer of Earl Watson and Voshon Lenard turned down, sources say. Like the Lakers, Denver would likely need a third team to facilitate a trade. That's unless the injured Nene is included, which the Nuggets don't want to do. And if they did change that stance, Nene's forthcoming restricted free agency in July is bound to give Indy pause, without a guarantee of being able to re-sign him.
The more desperate team in Denver's division is Minnesota, with the Wolves -- not unlike the Lakers with Kobe -- knowing they need to manufacture a splashy roster upgrade in the short term to keep Kevin Garnett engaged. This, then, is an opening to try to do just that, assuming that the Wolves are A) willing to believe that Artest could really be more reliable for them and B) willing to gamble again so soon after the Latrell Sprewell era.
If they decide to make that leap, imagine KG and Artest together. The Wolves would have two of the three or four best two-way players in the league on the same team. With Michael Olowokandi's expiring contract, a reasonably priced defensive specialist (Trenton Hassell) and an intriguing rookie (Rashad McCants) on its roster, Minnesota also has some pieces to bid with.
2. One element of the Artest trade story with the potential to get very interesting is the Pacers' desire to keep Artest inactive until they can move him.
I'd want to do the same thing. There's no way Artest can ever wear a Pacers jersey again after the things he has said publicly about Rick Carlisle ... and his two-word answer when asked if he even wanted to play another game for Indy: "Hope not."
The problem? What if they can't swing a deal by next week? What if it takes longer than the Pacers hope to find a trade partner and Artest, content to sit out in the short term with a wrist ailment, starts getting restless?
The Pacers, according to league policy, apparently do have the right to keep Artest inactive as long as they keep paying him. Of course, as you fans of gridiron football saw with someone named Terrell Owens, that doesn't always go smoothly.
3. I'm convinced that the ol' Team Trip To Vegas, no matter how much it costs teams in fines, isn't going away.
Minnesota was docked $200,000 for arranging a voluntary summertime mini-camp in Las Vegas that was met with near-perfect attendance. You have to figure that the extra time together under new coach Dwane Casey helped the Wolves mesh early, leading to an unexpected 12-6 start before this week's excruciating run of losses to Philadelphia, Sacramento and San Antonio by a combined five points.
Houston, meanwhile, was just fined $100,000 for taking a detour to Vegas between the first and second game of their current six-game trip. The previously anemic Rockets, incidentally, are 4-0 on the trip and conceivably saving their season after a 4-12 start, with the bonus of scoring at least 100 points in each of the four victories.
In other words ...
Those six-figure fines look like money well spent.
One big reason why the Mavericks are hesitant to make a bid for Ron Artest is that Indiana wants swingman Josh Howard or point guard Devin Harris to headline the package. Dallas is thrilled with its youngsters' progress and rates both as untouchable. When you ask about Howard specifically, the impression that the Mavs give you is that it would probably take Artest and Jermaine O'Neal to pry him away.
Yet there's another reason that the Mavs are unsure about pursuing the unpredictable stopper, even though Artest recently told our ESPN colleague Stephen A. Smith that they're one of the teams on his short list along with New York, Cleveland and Miami. Reason No. 2: Dallas is wary of chemistry problems after an unpleasant experience with Doug Christie.
Christie's career with the Mavericks lasted only seven games, but sources close to the situation say that the 35-year-old's chronic ankle problem is not the only reason they parted company. Christie and wife Jackie, sources say, proved even more high maintenance than expected, and the resultant discord that caused for various members of the staff created a tension that Dallas decided it didn't need.
A left ankle still healing from April surgery clearly limited the former defensive ace's effectiveness and frustrated the ex-Sacramento stopper, but Christie was also suspended briefly by coach Avery Johnson after one blowup before the sides mutually agreed to part.
With the Christies also unhappy with the arrangement and apparently wanting out as well, they came to a fast agreement on an annulment of the four-year, $14 million contract that was only guaranteed this season at $3.15 million. Christie's roster spot has since been claimed by veteran lefty Adrian Griffin, who was signed in part because he's a proven team guy, having already spent two seasons in Dallas (2001-02 and '02-03).
It's difficult to imagine the Mavs diving into the Artest mix after all that, for all his potential to finally give Dallas an enforcer. If Artest could be pried away from the Pacers for Jerry Stackhouse, maybe. Even then, though, it seems unlikely given that second-year coach Avery Johnson has not forgotten the damage inflicted on Johnson's Spurs in the mid-1990s by Dennis Rodman.
It's not just an out-of-sorts Ben Wallace who's wondering where his rebounds are. Kevin Garnett, from whom we've come to expect no less than 13 or 14 boards every night, has to be wondering the same thing in Minnesota.
As if three losses by a combined five points in the space of four days weren't deflating enough, there's this: Garnett somehow collected only 20 rebounds in a three-game stretch before a more KG-like 21 boards in Thursday's loss to San Antonio. Garnett had only five boards Tuesday against Sacramento, which wasn't even his season-low. That would be four in a home loss to Houston on Nov. 15.
You have to go back to the previous century for the last time Garnett's rebound average was this low. He's at 10.4 rips per game, same as he was in the lockout season of 1999. Strange as it is to see Detroit's Wallace at No. 5 on the list of NBA rebounding leaders, it's stranger to see Garnett at No. 10.
The Spurs are naturally a bit freaked about Manu Ginobili's sprained foot, but mainly because Ginobili has been trying to play through some sort of injury (quadriceps, ankle and now the foot) since the season began.
Ginobili, so long as he heals eventually after a testing start, isn't so worried about the Spurs coping without him, especially with their ability to plug in Michael Finley.
"It makes you feel very confident knowing that even when you have to sit, your back is going to be well-covered," Ginobili said. "We knew that with our new guys [Finley, Nick Van Exel and countryman Fabricio Oberto] we have a great chance to be fresh for the playoffs."
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
When Shawn Marion soars in for a tomahawk jam, there's no shame in taking a step back to get a better look, even while on the court.
Marc Stein talks with Phoenix forward Shawn Marion:
STEIN: How is this team coping with some tough times [multiple injuries and three-game skid] after your long winning streak?
MARION: When we went on that streak, everybody was just gelling. It was unbelievable. We were playing defense, too. With all these injuries right now, we're probably getting fatigued a little bit, but we can't use that as an excuse.
STEIN: Seven of the nine wins during the streak were at home. Does this team still have to prove to itself that it can go out and win road games without Amare Stoudemire?
MARION: Honestly? I still think we play better on the road than we do at home. The expectations are high on us, but at the same time people are talking down about us. We got a team right here -- even without Amare.
STEIN: Have you seen enough to believe that this team can be even better than last year's team when Amare does comes back?
MARION: I try not to do stuff like that. I want to wait for him to come back. But I definitely think it's possible because we do have some great tools here. With the addition of Kurt [Thomas] and Raja [Bell], our defensive intensity is better.
STEIN: When you see Amare rehabbing, do you ask him how close he is to coming back?
MARION: No, man. That's one thing I've learned -- you've got to respect a man when he's down and hurt. I feel his pain. I know how it feels to have a knee injury. He's got to take his take his time. He's got to wait until his body's right. One hundred percent. That surgery is nothing to play with.
STEIN: Were you really wearing weights under your sweatshirt in that new Foot Locker commercial?
MARION: Just tryin' to make it fair.
If he can't land Ron Artest, with the Pacers intent on sending the wayward swingman to the West, look for Knicks president Isiah Thomas to pursue Seattle's Rashard Lewis. Thomas is admittedly obsessed with length and Lewis, at 6-10, is thus an irresistible small forward.
This could only happen, granted, if the Sonics shift into cost-cutting mode. Yet if that is Seattle's response to a tough time financially, I'm hearing that Isiah would be ready to pounce with an offer featuring Penny Hardaway's expiring contract and rookie guard Nate Robinson, who's more popular in Seattle than Ray Allen after starring at Washington.
The Knicks, hopeful that Lewis' recent proclamation about opting out his contract after next season helps their chances, would also absorb Danny Fortson in such a swap.
Shaquille O'Neal is the sixth No. 1 overall pick to play for Pat Riley, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Mychal Thompson and Patrick Ewing. Larry Johnson never played for Riles in New York, or else the Heat's new coach would be tied for the all-time lead at seven with Bill Fitch, Don Nelson and Lenny Wilkens.
Fitch had Austin Carr, John Lucas, Elvin Hayes, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Joe Barry Carroll and Derrick Coleman.
Nellie coached Kent Benson, Bob Lanier, Lucas, Sampson, Chris Webber, Ewing and Danny Manning.
Wilkens had LaRue Martin, Bill Walton, Thompson, Benson, Brad Daugherty, Manning and Olajuwon.
It hasn't helped the Raptors win many more games -- they're 1-7 when Jalen Rose plays less than 24 minutes -- but the commitment to playing Toronto's kids has eased some of the pressure on coach Sam Mitchell. Giving heavy minutes to Charlie Villanueva, Jose Calderon and Joey Graham is what Mitchell's bosses want to see, unsightly as the results can be. Now to see if that keeps Mitchell safe for the rest of the season.
No NBA player has been fined for violating the new "business casual" dress code, a league spokesman confirmed Friday.
It appears that at least one team has, though.
With the season nearly two months old, according to the spokesman, "a very low number" of teams have been fined undisclosed amounts for players who have violated the new dress code more than once.
That's as specific as the league office is willing to go publicly.
The fine amounts and identities of the players responsible also remain unannounced by the league -- and not only to the media. Fines are often disclosed to all 30 teams via league memo, but the NBA has adopted a policy that any fines stemming from dress-code violations, as with uniform violations, are an internal matter revealed only to the offending party.
(Weekend Dime theory: NBA commissioner David Stern is thrilled that the initial outrage and blanket coverage sparked by the dress code has faded to the point of virtual non-story ... and is trying to keep it that way.)
To police what its players are wearing when they enter and exit arenas on game nights, at least one league-appointed observer is stationed at every game and supported by an in-house review of televised game coverage and still photography.
Any player whose attire fails to meet the business-casual standards put into effect on Opening Night earns his team a telephone warning from NBA vice president of basketball operations Stu Jackson. Example: The Lakers received a phone citation from Jackson early in the season when Kobe Bryant was spotted wearing pristine white sneakers after a game instead of dress shoes.
The second offense by the same player results in a team fine. The third offense results in a team and player fine.
"I think we've had some great cooperation with the players," said NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik. "The shorts [length] issue has been harder to deal with than the dress code.
"Occasionally we've had a guy sit down on the bench who didn't think he was playing that night [and] not have a sport coat on. So maybe teams should consider getting a closet full of sports coats."
Said Stern: "Our players look great and most of the 450 players are having no problem with it and actually enjoying it a bit -- and going far beyond it."
Asked if he thinks the widespread compliance with the dress code has improved the league's image, Stern said: "I don't think it has. I think that no one thing .... this is just something that was long in coming and was about our collective respect for the game that, together with lots of little things, over time, will continue to demonstrate that our players have enormous respect for the game they play and for the fans who watch them and follow the game."
"That would be wrong. There's no medals for trying and there's no [use] saying, 'We have this many man-power games lost.' I love reading that. You know a team sucks when they start quoting how many man-games lost they have."
Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy, suddenly riding a five-game win streak, when asked if the club's 4-12 start should have an asterisk because of an 0-8 record when McGrady is out injured.
|DEC. 12: ANDREI KIRILENKO VS. PISTONS|
Apologies, first of all, for running two straight Kobe Bryant lines in this space. And now: Welcome back, Andrei Kirilenko. In his first start in a month, Kirilenko was back to his box score-filling best for the Jazz in Monday's come-from-behind upset of Detroit.
The 12 rebounds were particularly significant because, with Jarron Collins grabbing 14 and Memhet Okur pulling down 12, Utah became the first team in more than 20 years to have three rebounders with at least a dozen in one game against the Pistons.
That hasn't happened to Detroit since Feb. 5, 1984, when the Boston trio of Larry Bird (19), Robert Parish (18) and Kevin McHale (13) did it.