Updated: Feb. 27, 2006, 10:47 PM ET

SPECIAL MIDWEEK EDITION Never-ending Knick nightmare

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

If Trading Deadline 2006 was too quiet for you, don't fret.

Free-Agent Season 2006, which was looking rather lackluster with Ben Wallace and Al Harrington as headliners, is certain to be spiced up by forthcoming weeks and months of trade speculation involving Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson and Paul Pierce ... all because no one in that illustrious (but frustrated) trio came close to moving before Thursday's trade buzzer.

Only one deal that did happen this week demands deeper inspection, which follows here with Dimedom's answers to five big questions you've surely heard in the wake of the Knicks deciding that they had to have another ball-dominating guard.

1. Someone said the Knicks could actually be the biggest winner at this trade deadline?

Yes. I found one such executive.

But even that guy doesn't really expect it to happen.

In the modern NBA world, where contact on the perimeter has been virtually outlawed, guards can be bigger than ever. Look at what New Orleans has been able to achieve just by putting Chris Paul and Speedy Claxton together. Surely Stephon Marbury and Steve Francis are capable of driving and kicking and morphing into a dynamic duo. The aforementioned executive actually said that the Francis acquisition -- a former All-Star for essentially two guys who weren't even playing -- could someday be remembered as "the steal of the deadline."

Of course, that presupposes three things.

A) The chemistry between the guards has to be right; B) The team environment has to be right; and C) The coach has to be right.

I'm betting on 0-for-3.

Isiah Thomas has tried to give Larry Brown what he wants: The best available veterans, because Larry doesn't have the patience to coach kids. But now it's up to Larry to help make those things happen. Larry has to nurture these two into a partnership that takes advantage of the new rules and gets their teammates involved.

Given how much he has already grated on this group of Knicks with negativity -- and how morose Brown looked at Francis' introductory news conference -- it's hard to believe that he's that coach.

The scary part for Knicks fans isn't that Isiah keeps adding salaries; Isiah's bosses can afford it. The scary part is that many more executives around the league suspect that the Knicks will be stuck with these two guards (and others) if/when this doesn't work out.

Of all these stockpiled Knicks "assets" you keep hearing about, only rookies Channing Frye and David Lee are coveted as we speak, with forwards Jalen Rose and Maurice Taylor becoming trade chips after July 1 when they enter the final year of their respective contracts. That's about it.

2. Starbury and Franchise can be a modern-day Isiah and Joe Dumars?

Stop it. Please.

We covered some of this ground before, but these guys haven't proven anything together or even individually. Neither has won much in the NBA. Neither has a great locker-room reputation. Both possess lucrative long-term contracts that only the Knicks would touch. So you can't talk about their potential as a tandem until we see some evidence that starts to chip away at their mirrored reputations.

This is even more of a stretch when you remember that Isiah was one of the greatest crunch-time players in history and that Dumars is a former NBA Finals MVP who is also remembered as one of the finest perimeter defenders of his generation. Marbury and Francis haven't gotten anywhere near those stratospheres.

3. The Knicks would have been better off sending Penny Hardaway's expiring contract to Denver for Kenyon Martin or to Portland for Darius Miles and Theo Ratliff?

If Larry's your coach?

Definitely.

Miles and Ratliff could have provided athleticism and interior defense. Martin, assuming he eventually heals fully from microfracture knee surgery, potentially provides both.

But once Orlando held out for Hardaway's contract instead of taking back Jamal Crawford, there was no chance of dealing with Denver or Portland.

The Nuggets and Blazers, mind you, miss out here as much as the Knicks. Denver has to proceed with lingering locker-room tension after Martin learned that coach George Karl pushed for his exile . . . and with sources close to the situation saying Martin is now equally eager to get away from Furious George. The Blazers, like Denver, wanted Hardaway's last-year salary (plus a good young piece and/or a good draft pick) in hopes of creating significant salary-cap flexibility to start over yet again.

4. All Orlando has to show for its Tracy McGrady trade is Darko Milicic, Carlos Arroyo and Trevor Ariza?

Not exactly. You're forgetting the cap space that comes with Penny's contract.

And if you're still not impressed, you don't remember where the Magic were two weeks ago.

You have to remember, firstly, that the McGrady trade was made by a previous regime. Can't blame the new management tandem of Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik for that one.

Secondly ...

The Magic have some hope now, which didn't exist before the Darko Milicic trade. Darko is still worlds away from justifying his status as the No. 2 overall pick in the LeBron James Draft, and there is still no indication when last June's first-round pick (Fran Vazquez) plans to leave Europe for the NBA, but Orlando now owns the rights to three highly coveted 7-foot kids. They'll also have cap room next season to pursue pieces that should help convince Dwight Howard to stay.

Huge questions remain about the team's future in Orlando, with an arena issue that has loomed for years. For the actual team, though, you can finally see a future again. Magic fans have heard that before, of course, and have to be fearing the worst after the heartbreak of Shaquille O'Neal's departure was followed by the disastrous double-investment in Grant Hilland McGrady. Yet things looked a lot worse on Feb. 1. Now Orlando has a chance to keep Howard and put something helpful around him.

5. Trading for Steve Francis can actually help the Knicks trade for Garnett this summer?

Sorry. There's a better chance Marbury and Francis will become Thomas and Dumars.

This was an inevitable post-trade spin from Madison Square Garden, but the Wolves were only interested in Francis or Marbury in the past two months because they still have Garnett. Those two have zero appeal to Minnesota if Garnett is no longer there.

Don't forget, furthermore, that the Wolves already passed on the opportunity to acquire Francis in January when they dealt Wally Szczerbiak to Boston instead for Ricky Davis, Mark Blount and Marcus Banks.

The Wolves are obligated to explore the possibility of trading Garnett in the offseason because they're having so much trouble rebuilding around him. And Garnett intimates say he is fond of New York ... as a city. But that's as far as it goes, no matter what the spin is. Teams that can package youth with upside, cap-friendly contracts and good future draft picks -- Chicago and Golden State are on the list -- will have the best shot at Garnett.

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

Dimes Past: February 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24


Rocket Man
Mavs
AP Photo/Danny Moloshok
The Rockets haven't given up hope of a Tracy McGrady-led playoff push, so they weren't prepared to give up David Wesley, left, before Thursday's trade deadline. See below for the full story.


Western Conference
The Houston Rockets still believe they can make the playoffs.

That's even though they began the weekend 13th in the West, five games out of the eighth spot, and dealing with whatever is troubling Tracy McGrady besides back pain.

How do we know for sure?

Because they didn't trade David Wesley.

According to one Rockets insider, Houston received numerous trade calls for the veteran guard, with several teams looking for backcourt help. Wesley is attractive because of his experience and because he's in the final year of his contract at just over $5 million this season. But at an encouraging 8-3 since getting Yao Ming back from a lengthy absence following toe surgery, all with McGrady openly burdened by undisclosed personal troubles, Houston decided that it would keep its best 3-point shooter at the deadline if it thought a playoff push was still possible.


Fifteen points in just 21 minutes in the All-Star Game amount to a breakout performance for Tim Duncan these days. Plagued by plantar fasciitis, Duncan has only three 20-point games for San Antonio since Jan. 1. He scored a whopping nine points in Saturday's victory over Golden State.

The flip side for the Spurs: Nazr Mohammed has finally won back his starting job after fears in San Antonio that he would never shake a season-long funk that even Mohammed admits was tied to his decision to turn down a four-year contract extension (in the $25 million range) last summer. Nazr needn't worry about his future if he keeps this up: 12.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks over the past four games.


Golden State's Derek Fisher is another guard who drew considerable interest at the deadline, even though Fisher has four seasons left on his contract after this one at more than $26 million.

Reason being: Fisher is a vet with championship experience who'd be a strong Sixth Man Award candidate if the Warriors weren't fading out of playoff contention.

A line for Fisher, though, is nothing new since he left the Lakers to sign with the Warriors. Miami was foremost among the teams disappointed last summer after Golden State elected not to use the one-time "amnesty" clause on Fisher to waive him and thereby avoid the down-the-road risk of paying luxury tax on his contract. NBA front-office sources say the Heat, at Shaquille O'Neal's behest, were eager for a shot to sign Shaq's former L.A. teammate.



Question Marc
Duncan

From the Stein Line e-mailbag:

Garrett (Twin Falls, Idaho): Why don't the Spurs just shut Tim Duncan down until he can get 100 percent? They're going to make the playoffs, but they can't beat Detroit without a healthy Duncan.

Stein: I know that sounds logical, but plantar fasciitis is a different deal. To be honest, lots of guys play through it -- Duncan's case is just getting more media attention because he's Tim Duncan. From everything I've learned about the injury over the years, you keep playing if the pain is manageable because doctors say that the condition generally doesn't worsen to the point of serious injury. The Spurs' medical staff, like pretty much every NBA team in this situation, would also tell you that there's no guarantee extended rest will make Duncan feel any better. I'm told that the Spurs are still exploring various day-to-day treatment methods, but there's probably more to lose than gain by sitting Duncan for, say, a month.




Knick Name
Francis
Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images
You've probably already figured this out, but, well, there's an 'I' in Francis.


Chatter Box
Frye

One man's take on Knicks rookie center Channing Frye, from Dimedom's web of front-office executives, coaches and scouts:

"Everything in New York gets blown out of proportion somewhat, so he's probably a little bit overrated. He's not the next Tim Duncan. But I do like him.

"He's the only young guy there with size and skill and upside. He can shoot the ball up to 17, 18 feet. He's active. He's got a lively body. He runs the floor well. He does a lot of interesting things. But it's really hard to put a finger on how good he's going to be because he's on a bad team right now. One night he plays 30 minutes, the next he plays four.

"I know that's all Larry [Brown], but that makes it hard to project how high his ceiling is. He's played better than I thought [coming out of college] -- he's having a solid rookie year.

"But if making a run at Garnett is the direction they're going, I don't know if they have enough ammunition. [Frye] gives them some ammunition, but it's going to take more."



Eastern Conference
As anticipated here more than once, Cleveland elected to keep hold of power forward Drew Gooden despite baseless suggestions that the Cavs were looking to trade the free agent-to-be before Thursday's trading deadline.

I'm hearing now that it would be another mistake to presume that Gooden is a lock to leave the Cavs in the summer.

He'll be a restricted free agent, don't forget, which means Cleveland will only part with Gooden if it wants to. The Cavs first want to see what happens in the playoffs -- how well they fare and whether Gooden (11.0 ppg, 8.8 rpg in 28.0 mpg) continues to produce and embrace his somewhat limited role -- before making any firm decisions.


Frye

After living through five ankle surgeries and this season's sports hernia with Grant Hill, Orlando is deciding whether to offer Hill a buyout or hang on to him until next season, which is the last season on Hill's original seven-year deal with the Magic.

Buying Hill out would give the 33-year-old a chance to sign with a contender if he holds off on retirement. But Hill could also become a trade asset this offseason through Trade Deadline 2007 with an expiring contract and a salary of just under $17 million.

A buyout or simply letting Hill's contract run out would give the Magic significant salary-cap space in the summer of 2007, but a trade involving Hill holds appeal because there are no guarantees that cap space can lure a marquee addition (or the right player) to join the group Orlando is trying to assemble around Dwight Howard.

Variable No. 3 is Hill's leadership qualities. With Howard still young enough, at 20, to benefit from Hill's presence, keeping him one more season makes sense as well.


They're not publicly gloating, because they did want him back, but the Wizards nod knowingly when someone brings up Larry Hughes these days. Reluctant as the Wiz were to break up the Gilbert Arenas-Antawn Jamison-Hughes trio, they privately insist that Hughes' injury history (significant time missed in four of the past five seasons) was the clincher when decided they couldn't carry three non-centers carrying contracts of $60 million or more.

With Hughes likely out for the rest of the season in Cleveland, no one is questioning the Wiz now ... although it also helps that Caron Butler, acquired from the Lakers in the Kwame Brown deal to help replace Hughes, has helped spark Washington's 17-11 turnaround after a 9-14 start by averaging 17.9 points since becoming a starter on Dec. 21.



Film Session
New York's Franchise
Stein visits the HotList on ESPNEWS to explain why "throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks" doesn't describe the infamous New York tabloid press ... it describes Isiah Thomas' apparent approach to assembling a roster.


Marc's Quote
Walker

"I'm going to come up with something new. I'm a trend-setter."

Detroit's Rasheed Wallace, revealing he will not re-issue championship belts to his teammates if the Pistons manage to win their second championship in three seasons. 'Sheed says he's peeved because he has since seen his boxing-style belts copied and sold without his authorization.



A Fine Line
FEB. 21: LAMAR ODOM VS. BLAZERS
MIN FGM-A REB AST PTS
41 9-21 17 6 20

Only one problem for all of you calling for Lamar Odom to be more selfish and hoist more shots:

The Lakers took an 0-8 record into the All-Star break in games where Odom attempted 15 shots or more: 0-4 in November, 0-1 in December and 0-3 in January.

However ...

That record is suddenly 2-0 since the All-Star break. The Lakers were hesitant to consider trade scenarios involving Odom before Thursday's deadline -- with Phil Jackson historically averse to major mid-season changes because of the time needed to learn his triangle offense -- and have been rewarded with Odom's best back-to-back performances of the season.

First came 20 points and a season-best 17 boards in a victory Tuesday over Portland, with Odom registering more field-goal attempts than Kobe Bryant (21 to 19) after a halftime scolding from Jackson about his passivity. Then Thursday against Sacramento, facing former Laker trade target Ron Artest on national television, Odom supplemented Bryant's 36 points with 19 points (on 9-for-16 shooting) and nine assists in L.A.'s 103-79 rout.

Yet if he wants to stay with the Lakers beyond this season, Odom is advised to make this week's developments his new norm.

 

Search Arrow