Updated: Jan. 15, 2006, 2:53 PM ET

SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Jermaine explains Indy state

Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this weekly around-the-league notebook edition of the Dime.

Sometimes you have to make room for two one-on-ones in a single Weekend Dime.

This would be one of those times: Jermaine O'Neal granting us a State Of The Pacers address as Indiana inches closer to a Ron Artest trade that will formally end a relationship that O'Neal says "we both know has ended."

Stein: It has been three weeks since Ron publicly demanded a trade. Do you and your teammates need a trade to happen soon to really move on?

O'Neal: He doesn't practice with us. We don't see him at all. We talked about it when this first came up, but nobody's worried about that. On Ron's behalf, I would hope that they move pretty fast so he can move on and start playing again. I don't wish anything bad for him. At the same time, I know Donnie [Walsh] is the best CEO in sports. He's going to take his time to do the best thing for this franchise.

Stein: Artest later rescinded his request and asked the Pacers to keep him. You responded by saying "we can never play together again" and management agreed. Can you elaborate?

O'Neal: I like Ron as a person. I care about him as a person. I don't think there's any bad feelings between us, but he understands my position. I went to bat for him [last season] just like I'm going to bat for this team now. We took a vote and every player said they prefer to move on. I've got to back the team and that's something I told him. It's not just me. That's a bridge you cannot cross, when you start talking about playing with other players and playing for other teams.

Stein: No Pacer was willing to let him come back and try again one more time?

O'Neal: No.

Stein: How awkward was it when you finally did speak with Ron after his trade request?

O'Neal: I've only had one chance to talk to him this whole time, but it wasn't awkward. We sat down for at least three, four hours. At first I thought, "We've been through all this and you haven't called me or anything?" But that meeting wasn't anything to do with basketball [or reconciling]. I wanted to try to understand what was bothering him.

He had some issues that he never really addressed. That's the big problem with Ron. He has issues and he doesn't tell anybody what his issues are, and then he [eventually] gets so frustrated that he does things and says things that he regrets after.

Stein: First he said he's frustrated with his role and coach Rick Carlisle's system and wants to be traded so he can leave all his baggage behind. Now he says he wants to stay. Do you think, deep down, that he really never wanted to be traded?

O'Neal: I really don't think so. I don't think it was even really [frustration with] his role. Every player is going to be talked about in trades. That doesn't mean they're going to trade you, but I think he heard that the Pacers might have been talking about trading him. I don't know if they were or not, but he took it a little personal and he ended up saying something and really overdoing it.

I don't think he realized how deep he was putting himself in it until he did it. Coming off last year, it wasn't the best thing to do. The city didn't take to it too well, obviously, and the organization didn't take to it very well, and definitely the players didn't take to it very well. Especially coming off a season where the city and organization and your teammates totally backed you.

Stein: Do you feel now like all that support went to waste?

O'Neal: I went through a lot personally but I don't regret any of that. That's what I do -- my loyalty is for the guys that are here.

Stein: There have been rumblings that Indiana explored trading you to Toronto for Chris Bosh in the off-season. Why hasn't that unsettled you more?

O'Neal: You should only worry about what you can control. If I am [traded], I am. But you'd have to be an absolute fool to feel that you're untouchable. Look at Shaq, the most dominant player ever. Moved. My thing is that I want to get better every single day and lead the Pacers to a championship. That's my focus. If there comes a time where the Pacers feel they can get something younger or better for me, I've got to go with it and try to make another team better.

Stein: What happens to the Pacers now?

O'Neal: We feel like we can hold the fort. We feel like we can still make things happen, still be very competitive, still compete for a championship. I know the rest of the world doesn't see it that way, but we're going to give ourselves a chance every single night with our team defense. People forget that we took Detroit to Game 6 [last spring] with almost no team. We almost won 50 games in spite of everything that happened, and I think Rick should have been Coach of the Year for that. We want to prove again we can win without Ron.

• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: December 21 | 22 | 23 | 24-25 | 27 | 28 | 29


Can't Touch This
Ike Diogu
The enormous wingspan of rookie big man Ike Diogu has made the thought of acquiring him in a trade quite a reach, too.


Eastern Conference
Webber

It's a faulty assumption, I'm told, to presume that Hawks free agent-to-be Al Harrington is certain to be dealt between now and the Feb. 23 trade deadline.

With the Hawks possessing the salary-cap flexibility next summer to match or trump any offers Harrington gets, they haven't abandoned the idea of extending the relationship. NBA front-office sources thus say that Atlanta won't part with the swingman before the deadline unless A) the trade fills a clear need and B) the trade delivers a first-round pick or two to replace the first-rounders that went out in the Joe Johnson extravaganza.

Letting Harrington finish the season in Atlanta would put the Hawks at risk for losing an asset without compensation, so his name will continue to circulate in trade scenarios. Yet the Hawks figure that, if they can't re-sign Harrington or even if they elect not to, they'll have opportunities in the summer to participate in a sign-and-trade to prevent losing him for nothing.

It's a stance that apparently helped convince Atlanta to withdraw from the original three-way deal that would have landed Ron Artest in Denver. The Pacers had some hesitation about acquiring Harrington, because the financial constraints in Indy these days would have made it tough to keep Harrington around, but the Hawks also decided that a package of Nene and Earl Watson wasn't sufficiently enticing given Watson's long-term contract and the absence of picks.

The Hawks, furthermore, will have a decent shot at signing Nene in the summer without giving up anything now for the injured Brazilian, who'll be a restricted free agent.



You say we never have anything nice to say about the Knicks, so we dug and dug and dug until we found this:

Just 36 years ago, New York started a championship season with 23 victories in its first 25 games.

Only two other teams in history can make the same claim: Philadelphia in its 68-win in 1966-67 and the 72-win Chicago Bulls in 1995-96.

This all came up when Detroit beat San Antonio on Christmas Day to secure the 15th 22-3 start in history; now back to the ongoing Larry Brown-Stephon Marbury squawking and Steph's very valid curiosity about why he's already reading about Larry's displeasure in the Gotham papers as opposed to hearing it directly.


If you're having trouble digesting all the fawning over the Pistons lately, fear not. There is something to nit-pick ... and perhaps even inflate into a full-blown issue.

The sight of a still-rusty Shaquille O'Neal slicing through the Detroit D for 22 points in three quarters Thursday night doesn't quite qualify as a shocker. Shaq can do that anyone and will start doing it more often as he gets sharper.

The source of distress -- if you're playing along -- is the string of big performances by opposing power players over the past three weeks. The vaunted Wallace Brothers haven't been able to prevent a variety of power forwards from producing big point totals this month: Elton Brand (36), Pau Gasol (32), Zach Randolph (37), rookie Ike Diogu (27 points in 32 minutes) and Chris Bosh (37).

Something to work on, along with Detroit's middle-of-the-pack rebounding.



Slams And Dunks

1. Strange times in San Antonio. Bruce Bowen and especially Tony Parker are playing better-than-ever ball and Rasho Nesterovic has been sufficiently effective to keep Nazr Mohammed out of the starting lineup. Yet the Spurs actually dropped three of five games in one recent stretch and are still hearing about that Dec. 10 loss at Atlanta.

Then again, maybe it's not so mysterious ... because the Spurs' sluggishness comes with a few explanations. Tim Duncan has been trying to play through plantar fasciitis, Manu Ginobili has missed 10 games this month through injury and month-long struggles on the boards would suggest a team-wide sense of urgency is clearly lacking.

The latter would figure to be the most worrisome of the alleged crises, but the Spurs -- besides getting zero sympathy -- aren't getting too worked up yet. Reason being: San Antonio still has the best record in the West and obvious room for growth in forthcoming months. When they're getting nothing close to a push from anyone in the conference apart from Dallas, it's tough for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to jump on his guys for more urgency.

Besides ...

It's Popovich, remember, who has been coaching with the grind in mind more than ever. As discussed here a few times already, Pop ran the Spurs through only one set of two-a-days in training camp. He also admitted recently that championship experience, such an advantage in the postseason because so few teams have it in abundance, can actually hurt a team early in the season because the players know how long the season really is. "A counterintuitive thing," Pop calls it.

Even Pop himself might be holding something back. More than one veteran Spurs-watcher would tell you that the coach with the Soviet Studies background purposefully held Ginobili out of the Christmas game in Detroit, at least in part to deny the Pistons a full look at the new, deeper Spurs.


Howard

2. One name you haven't heard yet for Team USA consideration -- and a name we should be hearing if they're really looking for quality role-players who will do anything you ask -- is the Mavericks' Josh Howard. He's not going to bust zones from the international 3-point line, but that's about the only thing he can't supply at the swing positions.

(Officially, though, Howard hasn't been contacted and doesn't appear to be on USA Basketball's list of potential candidates, presumably because he's still considered an up-and-comer in most league circles.)


3. It's never a surprise to get reader e-mails complaining about a Power Rankings jinx. You've heard these whines before: "My team just went on a losing streak because you ranked them too high, Stein."

Fine. Such correspondence is expected, if not justified.

But a Trimester Report jinx? Now we've got to hear that, too?

After Wednesday, probably.

Seemingly minutes after my first Trimester Report of the season hit the site, honorees Denver's Marcus Camby and Milwaukee's T.J. Ford were promptly diagnosed with injuries that will shelve them at least two weeks -- almost certainly longer in Camby's case. Ford's injury, furthermore, even messed with my Sixth Man of the Trimester, because now Mo Williams has to start in his place.


The 'Maine Men
Jermaine O'Neal
With Ron Artest out of the picture, the Pacers have seen their team chemistry improve. Their record on the other hand ...


Film Session
Click here to watch Marc Stein sit down with SportsCenter and run through five teams at the forefront of the Ron Artest Sweepstakes as the bidding enters its fourth week.

Minnesota, Denver and three clubs from California -- L.A.'s Lakers and Clippers and the Golden State Warriors -- are the featured teams in this segment.

Stein also appears weekly in ESPN Motion and ESPN360 in the NBA Writers' Block with ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher.



Western Conference
Lewis

The latest rumblings from the Ron Artest derby, via various NBA front-office sources, as the trade talk inches into its fourth week:

• Minnesota is offering Indiana anyone on its roster not named Kevin Garnett in the hope of pairing Artest with KG. That's because the Wolves are as desperate as the Lakers to make a splashy move -- in their case to keep KG energized and confident in the club's direction -- and because they see KG and Artest (assuming Ron-Ron could actually be counted on) as a devastating combo.

If Artest wants to score more, as stated in his original trade demand, Garnett is unselfish enough to make that happen. And if Artest is ever going to defer to a teammate, KG also (theoretically) has the juice and presence to make that happen. The Wolves, though, have been trying to pull a third team into the mix to better their chances of assembling a package Indy likes.

• The Lakers are still pursuing every three- and four-team scenario they can concoct (without including Lamar Odom) in their desperation to put a certifiable All-Star talent next to Kobe Bryant.

Denver, meanwhile, has led the Artest pursuit from the start and remains equally determined to team the unpredictable defensive ace with Carmelo Anthony. I'm told that Anthony, in addition to urging his Nuggets bosses to make the deal, has also reached out to Artest to let him know how badly he wants the Tru Warier in the Mile High air. Coach George Karl, meanwhile, is said to be as hopeful as 'Melo that a deal materializes.

• Tru Warrior? Golden State might actually have more pieces to deal directly with Indiana than any active suitor ... barring a change of heart from Jerry West in Memphis and an 11th-hour willingness to part with Shane Battier.

The Warriors also have a GM known for dice-rolling; just go back to last February's trade deadline when Chris Mullin was willing to take on Baron Davis in spite of a contract and health history that scared many teams off.

One sticking point here: Indiana would undoubtedly want Ike Diogu (see Box 2) as part of any package, and the rookie bruiser is approaching untouchable status already.


The broken jaw doesn't hurt nearly as much as the cynics who'll point to a 17-point road win over the Clippers in Shareef Abdur-Rahim's first game out and say that Reef's absence, in karma terms alone, will spark a Sacramento turnaround.

Truth is, Reef has played reasonably well as a King given that he's not exactly a snug fit in Sacto's pass-and-cut offense of yore. He's averaging 16.5 points and 6.4 boards and shooting a career-best 54.7 percent from the floor.

Those, though, aren't the numbers Reef is known for. This is his 10th season and never has he played a full season with a team that made the playoffs or even finished .500.

The closest he came was late in the 2003-04 campaign, when Reef was traded to Portland and spent two months with the 41-41 Blazers. And now, with Bonzi Wells and Peja Stojakovic also out, Sacramento is a serious contender to miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons no matter how soon Reef makes it back.

Abdur-Rahim's Teams, Year-By-Year
Vancouver 1996-97 14-68
Vancouver 1997-98 19-63
Vancouver 1999 8-42
Vancouver 1999-2000 22-60
Vancouver 2000-01 23-59
Atlanta 2001-02 33-49
Atlanta 2002-03 35-47
Atlanta/Portland 2003-04 35-51
Portland 2004-05 27-55
Sacramento 2005-06 11-17 (thru Dec. 30)


About the only thing still intact with the Rockets is their ability to hold the opposition under 50 percent shooting from the floor. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, they had done so in 54 consecutive regular-season games entering the weekend, matching the longest such streak for any NBA team in 35 years.

However ...

In a season marked by their 0-8 record when Tracy McGrady is out injured and a toe problem that in the bleakest of scenarios could jeopardize Yao Ming's All-Star participation in Houston -- along with several other injuries -- even this seemingly positive development hasn't worked out quite right.

The only other team in the past 35 years to hold 54 consecutive opponents under 50-percent shooting is San Antonio in 1999-2000. The Spurs, though, went 38-16 in that stretch.

Houston? A mere 29-25.



One on One ... To Five
Armstrong

Marc Stein talks to Detroit guard Chauncey Billups:

Stein: Are you allowing yourself to get at least a little carried away with this good start?

Billups: It's been great. I'm very excited about the start. We're just trying to maximize these runs and, the few times we've lost, we try to minimize our down points and get right back on the horse.

Stein: The talk is getting louder about the Pistons winning 70 and I'm sure you've heard it. How realistic is it?

Billups: I don't know, man, but we're going to try to win 'em all. We're going to try to win every one we can and just see what happens.

Stein: How much does that attitude stem from losing Game 7 on the road in the Finals?

Billups: Home-court advantage, man. That's why we came back this season so focused. We want home-court advantage for the whole playoffs, so we're going to try to win as many games as we can.

Stein: You've often referred to Flip Saunders as an offensive genius. What specifically has the new coach added to the Pistons' offense?

Billups: He's brought in some offensive sets that allow us a lot of freedom, allow us to make reads and just play basketball as opposed to calling a play every single time and whoever we call that play for [has] to get the ball. It's not that way any more. We can play in transition now and score easy baskets, and when it's a tough grind we'll slow it down and can win half-court style basketball, too. He's just opened it up, man, and let us just play.

Stein: It looks like this won't be an issue for much longer, but does it still motivate you and Rip Hamilton that you've never been selected for the All-Star Game?

Billups: We have definitely been overlooked, but it's really not a big deal to me. Playing in June is what it's all about. All that All-Star stuff, if you're not playing in June, none of that really matters.



Marc's Quote
Williams

"It's still on your mind every single day. There's stuff going on in my life, stuff going on in my family's lives, stuff going on every time you turn on the television. There's just no way you can not think about it."

New Orleans/Oklahoma City forward and Louisiana native P.J. Brown, when asked if the hectic nature of the NBA season -- and the Hornets' better-than-expected start -- can help block out thoughts of the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina.



A Fine Line
DEC. 27: MIKE BIBBY VS. CLIPPERS
MIN FGA-M 3PA-M FTA-M REB AST PTS
41 10-20 4-8 14-16 4 10 38

There were gaudy numbers everywhere you looked Tuesday. Four of the top five picks in the 2003 draft, for example, all had huge nights: LeBron James (31 points, 10 boards, eight assists), Carmelo Anthony (45 points), Chris Bosh (37 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and four blocks) and Dwyane Wade (35 points).

Chris Webber, meanwhile, rung up 32 points, 15 boards and seven assists in Philly's win at Denver, all in support of Allen Iverson's 36 points and 10 assists.

However ...

None of the above could top Mike Bibby's 38 points and 10 dimes in Sacramento's 110-93 road rout of the Clippers. Especially not when Bibby and Brad Miller were the only regular starters available for the unraveling Kings, now that Shareef Abdur-Rahim (jaw) has joined Bonzi Wells (groin) and Peja Stojakovic (back) on the list of unavailables.

(Some bonus know-it-all trivia for your New Year's parties: If LeBron would have scored four more points in Cleveland's Tuesday loss at New Jersey, it would have been the first time in NBA history that four players younger than 24 scored at least 35 points on the same day.)

 

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