Updated: Feb. 22, 2006, 4:47 PM ET

SPECIAL MIDWEEK EDITION: One Franchise still available

It is often said that Larry Brown, at any given moment in any given season, wants to trade just about every player on his team.

This might be the season that a Larry-coached team actually comes close.

That was certainly the vibe coming from the Knicks as Tuesday bled into Wednesday. With the NBA's annual trading deadline looming Thursday at 3 p.m., and New York mired at 15-37 in Brown's disastrous debut season with his hometown club, Knicks president Isiah Thomas was working feverishly on yet another roster overhaul that would give the famously fickle Brown a whole new crew to work with.

The following is a rundown of where things stand with the Knicks and several other teams entering the final 36 hours of trading season, as gleaned from ESPN.com's various front-office sources.


You are undoubtedly wondering where Steve Francis winds up. Me?

I'm just as curious to see what happens in the Magic Kingdom if Orlando can't move him before the trade buzzer.

That's because, at this point, it's looking like Knicks-or-Bust for the Artist Formerly Known As Stevie Franchise.

Minnesota, I'm told, is no longer pursuing Francis. Denver appears to be pursuing a variety of trade targets not named Francis, with Baltimore's Carmelo Anthony said to be less than excited by the Nuggets' earlier attempts to bring the former Maryland man to the Rocky Mountains.

That leaves New York as the only known trade partner in circulation for Francis. In what would be an audacious double swoop -- even by Knicks standards -- it appears that Isiah will have an opportunity to package Jamal Crawford, Maurice Taylor and a youngster like Trevor Ariza for Francis . . . and then use Penny Hardaway's expiring contract (along with at least one first-round pick) to acquire Portland's Darius Miles and Theo Ratliff.

Of course, if the Knicks wake up Wednesday morning and realize what everyone else sees when you project Stephon Marbury and Francis playing together -- for Larry Brown, no less -- they could wise up and walk away from that half of their two-part makeover.

And if that happens, Orlando will then have to figure out what to do with the unhappy Francis for the rest of the season, after trying harder to trade him than any team out there has tried to trade any player.


Sources in Denver say virtually every member of the Nuggets' expansive brain trust -- except for general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, who brought Kenyon Martin there -- is prepared to part with K-Mart. Doesn't guarantee it will happen by Thursday, though. It's difficult to see who besides (surprise!) New York would take on Martin's contract given his season-long struggles to recover from microfracture surgery, which would obviously require the Knicks to abandon one of the two trades above.


More likely than acquiring Francis or moving Martin, for Denver, is finally completing a long-awaited Earl Watson trade. No player this season has been dangled on the market longer than Watson, and nothing has been finalized yet, but Seattle's interest in Watson remains serious. No surprise, then, that the Watson scenario mentioned most Tuesday had him going to the Sonics for Reggie Evans, Flip Murray and Vitaly Potapenko.


The Cavaliers can swap Oakland's own Drew Gooden for Warriors guard Derek Fisher, but sources close to the situation insisted Tuesday night that Cleveland continues to lean toward keeping Gooden, who becomes a restricted free agent in July.

The Lakers were never interested in swapping Lamar Odom for Francis and won't consider trading Odom until the summertime, with Phil Jackson averse to major changes at deadline time because of the time it takes to pick up his triangle offense. When the Lakers were chasing Ron Artest, remember, they were hoping to acquire him without giving up Odom.

Chris Paul and J.R. Smith are still serious buds, but they're no longer the Hornets' backcourt of the future. New Orleans/Oklahoma City is dangling Smith this week in hopes of acquiring the front-court depth it lost when its Steven Hunter trade with Philadelphia was annulled.

Milwaukee continues to get calls for every big man on the roster besides untouchable rookie Andrew Bogut. The Bucks, though, remain unlikely to consider parting with Jamaal Magloire, Dan Gadzuric or Joe Smith until the off-season, believing they need all three to make sure they reach the playoffs.


And perhaps the juiciest nugget, literally and figuratively, comes from my ESPN The Magazine colleague Ric Bucher.

I wrote Friday in our blog from All-Star Weekend that the Sixers, if not actively shopping Allen Iverson, were indeed exploring their Iverson options before the deadline.

Bucher took it a (big) step further on Tuesday night's NBA Coast to Coast on ESPN2 when he reported that the Nuggets tried to acquire Iverson with a package built around Nene and Watson (and presumably including draft picks as well). The Sixers briefly considered it, Buch says, before declining.

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

Dimes Past: February 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 20 | 21


Let The Sideshow Begin

Tony Dejak/AP Photo
Cavs fans donned "Wild Thing" Anderson Varejao wigs during Tuesday's 105-92 win over the Magic. Sideshow Bob played eight minutes, hauled in two boards and made his only shot.


One On One . . . To Five
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Five questions with Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas:

Q: Have the Wiz officially turned a corner?

A: I think we turned the corner about a month ago, after we lost that game in New York [on Jan. 6]. We turned a new leaf after that. When Antawn Jamison started hitting shots, that started opening up the floor and we started gaining confidence.

Q: You guys are 15-7 since that New York game. So what are reasonable expectations for this team now?

A: We're going to be in the same spot we were last year. For some reason, I'm feeling that same fifth spot.

Q: Have you gotten over Larry Hughes' departure?

A: Oh, man. That's one of the guys I've been playing with for my whole career. The night before it was like, "We're going to get the job done." The next morning Larry called me and said, "Yeah, man, I'm going to Cleveland." That was hard to swallow. But we're enjoying the pieces we have here now. We have six new pieces on this team. You add six new pieces to any team and it's going to be hard to gel at the beginning.

Q: Did you try to find out why the East coaches passed you over for the All-Star team?

A: They lost me on the theory part after they picked two guys from teams that were way under .500 [Boston's Paul Pierce and Toronto's Chris Bosh]. They had me going with, "We're going to take winners, we're going to pick the five Pistons." But then they pick two players from losing teams. That's when you kind of lost me. Now I'm saying, "What is the criteria for the All-Star Game?" I'm judging you guys now. If it's about winning, give me Bruce Bowen. Give me Josh Howard.

Q: Ever since you were drafted in the second round, you've always tried to feed off disappointments like this. But then the commissioner picked you to replace [the injured] Jermaine O'Neal. Will that make it harder for you to remember this whole episode and use it as motivation?

A: Not at all. I was an All-Star last year and I felt somebody had to come in beat me for my All-Star ring. There's a lot of good guards in the East, but I don't feel like I was beaten this year. I feel like it was taken from me. I don't want to say I hate [the coaches], but I won't forget that.



Chat Excerpt
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Chauncey (Teaneck): Will Allen Iverson be traded?

Marc Stein: Not before Thursday. As I wrote during All-Star Weekend, there are louder-than-ever rumblings that the Sixers are open to moving him. One team insider whom I trust unflinchingly told me that the Sixers are indeed exploring their pre-deadline options, but no one is prepared to give up a lot for Iverson at this point. Atlanta and Orlando are two teams that I've long expected to jump at the chance because AI is the sort of showman who could fill their empty seats.

But one executive I spoke with in Houston pointed out that even those teams are trying instead to build something with youth and cap flexibility and would thus be very reluctant to break up their current cores for a 30-year-old little man . . . no matter how well he's playing and no matter how freakishly durable he's been. As with Pierce -- and ditto for Kevin Garnett, before you Wolves types even start asking -- the complexities involved in trading AI pretty much ensure that it's a summertime project.

See the full Marc Stein chat transcript Insider


Motion: Dallas Holds On
The Clips were determined to snap their three-game losing streak. But the Mavs extended it to four, and captured their 12th straight home win.

Simply Mav-ah-lous



Frontin' Center: Darko Debuts

Tony Dejak /AP Photo
Darko Milicic's four-minute Orlando debut included getting fronted by Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Z went for 24; Darko countered with one reverse layup in Cleveland's 105-92 win.


Extreme Behavior
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Tuesday's Best
Nets F Vince Carter: Scores over half his team's points -- including its last 14 -- in an 89-85 comeback win over the Bucks. Vince gets 45 and nine boards.

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Tuesday's Worst
Those Expecting Instant Darko Action:
New team. New haircut. But the kid drafted No. 2 behind LeBron James in 2003 couldn't change everything in one night, earning just four minutes off the bench in his Orlando debut.

Quote of the Day
"I'm happy to get another chance to play, to see what I can do. In Detroit, it was horrible for me. A nightmare."
-- Darko Milicic, reflecting on 2 seasons as a 7-foot spectator for the Pistons

See how all 239 who played stacked up



Stock Report
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A look at the most active movers, upward and downward, in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings:

Highest Rise: No. 18 Philadelphia 76ers
The rises and falls were bound to be moderate in a week shortened by the All-Star break, so one significant victory -- Wednesday's overtime triumph over then-No. 1 San Antonio -- was enough to bump Philly up three spots. Even with the Sixers in the midst of a 2-6 funk and even though they were routed at Chicago one night later.

Steepest Fall: No. 12 Denver Nuggets
At just 3-7 since January's seven-game win streak -- and having surrendered an average of 110.1 points in the seven games before Tuesday's home date with Charlotte -- Denver fell out of the top 10 with a three-spot drop. The good news? After Thursday, months of trade rumors will be hushed at last . . . if only until summertime.

Marc Stein's Complete Power Rankings



Rank Comments
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Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:

Chip (Cleveland): I'm not a Heat Hater. I'm not slobbering over the Pistons. I just want a 15-and-6 guy -- when there are a bunch of guys in the East putting up better numbers in those categories -- and a 21-3-3 guy who plays no defense to really earn their All-Star spots. Why did the Pistons deserve to get more All-Stars than the Spurs and Mavs combined? I have an idea: Let's reward the team with the best record with a big trophy -- we can call it the NBA championship. And to reward the GM who put it all together, we can give him an award, too: We can call it Executive of the Year. But we don't need to put Rasheed Wallace and Rip Hamilton in the All-Star Game just because they're having solid years on a very strong team put together by a shrewd front office. You want to punish Dwight Howard or Al Harrington because their GMs have no idea how to put together a competitive team? This whole All-Star thing is even more reason for me to root for this Piston team to stumble.

John (Germany): It's the Kings who are going to make a big playoff push in the last third of the season. They have three All-Star caliber players in Bibby, Miller and Artest and a good supporting cast. Sorry, Houston. Sorry, Utah. The Kings will rise in the standings and the rankings.

JDrew (Cleveland): Unless I read it wrong, you're saying that the Hornets are a better team than the Cavs. The Hornets? That stuff about Hughes is a little misleading. It's factual, but not everyone knows that right after Hughes' injury, Cleveland immediately went on a seven-game road trip to the West. They just needed some time to get used to playing without him.

Patrick (Oxford, Miss.) Someone finally said it. As a Jazz fan, it killed me to see them pass on Chris Paul and take Deron Williams. You can already see where that got them. They also let Mo Williams go and look at what he's doing for Milwaukee. Now we're desperate for some solid, consistent play at the point. They also need an athletic, quality shooter to help out the big men, but they let Kirk Snyder go, too, and now he's breaking out. I saw this coming and I'm glad I'm not the only one seeing it.

Allan (New York): I know you want to make the rankings "entertaining," but isn't 42-9 better than 41-11 no matter what?

Ed's note: Nope. Not in the Power Rankings. I think you're confusing us with a little something I like to call "the standings."



Thirty Games To Go, 13 Things To Know
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The biggest X-factor in the title race is not Amare Stoudemire.

It's Tim Duncan's health, even though Duncan refused to agree with me when I hit him with that theory here. His official response: "I don't know about all that."

But it's true. Duncan has been plagued by plantar fasciitis all season and is averaging just 15 points per game in February. He doesn't sound too confident about getting to full health before the playoffs, either. "I hope so" is all far as he'll go. Factor in Manu Ginobili's off-and-on health woes and it's no mystery why Dallas and Phoenix (even without Amare Stoudemire) each believes it can prevent a Spurs-Pistons rematch.

(Yet you'd also be wise to take note of the fact that the Spurs, for all their supposed vulnerability, are still on a 63-win pace.)

Don't get me wrong: Stoudemire remains, at worst, X-factor 1A.

It remains to be seen whether he can make his comeback from knee surgery in March or whether he'll have to wait until April -- "It'll probably be at least a month," one Suns source said -- and I'd still vote to keep Amare seated for the entire season if it were my franchise.

But I'm betting on a way-too-underrated Mike D'Antoni (with an assist from Steve Nash) to make sure their one-of-a-kind inside force is a playoff plus . . . after the inevitable early struggles to work him back into a revamped group that has learned how to win without him.

See the full Marc Stein story

 

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