Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION Where will Webber wind up?
Chris Webber will soon be a Detroit Piston.
Just as he always dreamed.
Phil Jackson or Pat Riley or Isiah Thomas can somehow talk him out of it.
Amid a growing belief that the NBA's new hot free agent is a lock to wind up with his hometown team, Webber was planning to speak directly to the Lakers, Heat and Knicks on Friday. Maybe Minnesota as well.
Orlando is another team he's listening to, according to NBA front-office sources, although Webber has not wavered from his stated desire to join a title contender that will give him the chance to start.
The Pistons thus remain an overwhelming favorite, but neither Detroit's pole position nor external skepticism about how much game (or health) the 33-year-old has left seems to be discouraging suitors.
The Webber Landscape as of Friday afternoon, with no firm decision expected before Saturday according to agent Aaron Goodwin:
Webber wants to play significant minutes, compete for a title and resuscitate his career before re-entering the free-agent market in July. The Pistons are widely considered his clear-cut top choice because they potentially offer all of that and something bigger that Webber can find nowhere else. The chance, namely, to rebuild his relationship with the community that watched him grow up.
Webber is well-removed from his days as a local icon and openly shunned by the university where he became a famous name. I'm told he badly wants to reconnect with Detroit at large and sees this opportunity -- helping a splintering team regain its standing as an East beast -- as a golden opportunity, in spite of any initial public resistance he gets and the Pistons' less-than-harmonious mood lately.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
You surely heard Webber in his TNT interview. He barely mentioned the Pistons and sounded more excited about playing for the Lakers than anyone else. Webber is admittedly mesmerized by the bright lights of David Beckham's town as well as Jackson's triangle offense.
Since Webber can't actually sign with the Pistons or anyone else until Tuesday -- he's restricted to verbal commitments between now and then -- Jackson might have enough time to convince the ex-King that he'd be better off returning to California, scene of his greatest pro successes.
The Lakers, furthermore, have a need for Webber now and later, with Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown injured at present and a squad short on playoff experience, Bryant aside, even when their starting big men are healthy.
The Heat have some interest and the wherewithal to outbid Detroit and L.A., teams that can only offer Webber a pro-rated share of the $1.2 million veteran minimum for the rest of the season. Yet as covered in Box 6, you question how much playing time Miami can really promise Webber if Shaquille O'Neal will indeed be back this month to rejoin a frontcourt rotation that already features Alonzo Mourning and Udonis Haslem.
Orlando would seem to be the better Florida fit, with Webber and Dwight Howard sharing Goodwin as an agent and with the Magic looking even younger and greener than the Lakers apart from Grant Hill. But the Magic, sources say, remain a long shot, even though the Howard connection is strong, because Webber targeted the league's elite teams from the start.
The Mavericks and Spurs were prominent on Webber's initial five-team wish list. But Dallas never had the minutes to be a top contender, canceling out any edge Mavs coach Avery Johnson had after playing with Webber in Golden State.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, meanwhile, also has a Warriors link to Webber, as a former Don Nelson assistant in the Bay Area. Yet Pop made the call fairly quickly that he had no interest in pursuing a reunion, keeping faith with the big men and combo forwards who play alongside Tim Duncan -- Fabricio Oberto, Francisco Elson, Robert Horry and Matt Bonner -- and preferring to focus on their ongoing search for a jolt of youth and athleticism at the swing positions.
• Webber and Isiah Thomas have been tight for years, but you suspect even Thomas realizes that Webber will field the Knicks' proposal purely out of respect for one of his boyhood heroes.
• Kevin Garnett wants Webber in Minnesota, so Kevin McHale is obligated to pursue it, but that won't go any farther than a Webber-McHale chat.
• The Cavaliers could seemingly use a big man with an eye for the pass, but decided early that they have no room in their frontcourt.
• The Nets, by contrast, do want Webber to give them a look, but face two obstacles:
1. After trading Jeff McInnis to get under the luxury-tax line last week, New Jersey doesn't want to use any of the $3.8 million it has available from its midlevel salary-cap exception because it'll be a tax team again if it spends more than $1 million.
2. Orlando is the only new team on Webber's list, sources say, getting any serious consideration.
Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images
Iverson is gone. Webber is gone. Cheeks is ... still the coach of the Sixers. Unless, Larry Brown has a change of heart. (Read below.)
I know, I know. Larry Brown just said he has no intention of coaching the Sixers.
Pardon me if I don't write that one down in permanent ink.
Brown, for starters, didn't exactly submit the most ironclad denial in response to persistent speculation that his new front-office role in Philly -- combined with Allen Iverson's exile to Denver -- will lead to Larry's sooner-rather-than-later return to the Sixers' bench.
Larry's own words: "At this moment, no. I didn't come here to be involved in the coaching. After last year, I think I need to step away from coaching for a while, and I'm 66. I don't know if that's what I'm looking to do."
Surely you noticed three phrases in there that offer plenty of wiggle room. At this moment. I think I need to step away from coaching for a while. I don't know if that's what I'm looking to do.
Of course, I really didn't need to hear Brown's first interview since rejoining the Sixers to reinforce my belief that there's no way he's going to let last season in New York stand as his farewell to coaching.
I'm giving more credence to the story I heard this week on the coaching grapevine suggesting that Brown can reclaim his old Philly post pretty much when he wants to -- most likely starting next season when the Sixers are playing for something more than a comfy lottery position -- with Mo Cheeks promised a front-office position with the Sixers that ensures he's not fired but merely reassigned.
The Nets have quietly awoken in the face of Jason Kidd's off-court turmoil, stretching their recent uptick to 5-1 on Thursday night with a comeback win in Chicago, giving them two wins over the Bulls in a span of six days to go with meritorious home victories over Minnesota and the upstarts from Toronto.
The Atlantic Division just might still be New Jersey's to lose.
Especially with Kidd playing like he has since news of his forthcoming divorce seeped out.
The Raps aren't backing off, though. As of Friday morning, they've played more road games (21) than any team in the league except Philadelphia (23) and Indiana (21), and believe their favorable second-half schedule gives them an outside shot.
The Raps also say they crave a playoff berth no less than the desperate Knicks, even if it costs them their first-round pick in the deep June draft.
The pick is only lottery-protected up to No. 15. It will wind in Charlotte if it falls any lower than 15th thanks to the long-ago trade of Yogi Stewart for Lamond Murray in September 2002. The Cavs then sent that pick to Charlotte for Sasha Pavlovic in an expansion draft deal.
It'd be a neat trick, then, if the Raps could win the Titanic and retain their first-round selection. Of course, as team president Bryan Colangelo quipped, winning the division and forfeiting the pick would be "a high-class problem."
For clarity's sake, Jermaine O'Neal was not demanding or lobbying for a trade last week when he responded to a fall-from-ahead loss in Dallas by saying: "If I can't take this team to another level, I truthfully believe we should go our separate ways."
O'Neal was merely repeating a sentiment he's been sharing privately with Pacers management for a while now. He has an arrangement with Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird to sit down at season's end to make a joint assessment on their shared future.
No one in Indy is expecting any O'Neal action between now and the Feb. 22 trade deadline. "We're going to play this season out and [then] see what happens," he says.
The Pacers don't even want to think about a move that big before the offseason anyway, still believing that steadiness in the backcourt -- if they can ever find it -- will make the most of the O'Neal-Al Harrington-Danny Granger frontcourt in an up-for-grabs East. As for O'Neal's play, Rick Carlisle has been thrilled. Especially with JO's defense and board work, which have never been better.
For his part, O'Neal insists that he wants to stay a Pacer, going so far as to tell Reggie Miller recently that he doesn't want to leave until he wins the title that always eluded Miller's Pacers.
"I want to do something he didn't have the opportunity to do," O'Neal said. "I can be totally happy not making another All-Star game as long we win a championship."
Yet if the Pacers suffer another early playoff exit, after four first-round eliminations in the past six seasons, chances are they'll be looking for a shakeup as much as O'Neal, who has the right -- in the unlikely event he's prepared to leave $23 million on the table -- to become a free agent after the 2007-08 season at age 29.
Mat Szwajkos/Getty Images for Prada Linea Rossa
C-Webb can flash a smile and a peace sign nowadays. Is a championship ring next?
From the Stein Line e-mailbag:
Los Ranchos Steakhouse (Miami): Is it true that the Heat can pay Chris Webber more than anyone else?
Stein: Theoretically? Of the teams Webber wants to play for, yes.
Miami is one of five teams in the league that, as of Friday morning, still had its full midlevel salary-cap exception available, along with Golden State, Indiana, Philadelphia and Portland.
Three disclaimers, though:
1. From its $5.2 million exception, Miami can't offer Webber more than $1.3 million for the rest of the season without straying into luxury-tax territory. The Heat, then, are unlikely to blow away the most that front-running Detroit or the Lakers could pay, which is a pro-rated share of the league's $1.2 million veteran minimum.
2. If we want to get technical, the value of any existing midlevel exception -- whether it's the full $5.2 million or just a portion -- is now reduced by 1/170 every day. That process began Wednesday, which was also the first day teams could sign players to 10-day contracts.
3. If we want to get even more technical, don't forget that Webber's new team -- assuming he signs somewhere for the veteran minimum instead of cutting into an exception -- would only be obligated to pay him a prorated share of $744,551, with the league office picking up the prorated difference on the $1,178,348.
If you actually prefer to put all that math aside, you still have to wonder if Miami really has the roster room for Webber, in spite of its well-chronicled depth issues.
With Shaquille O'Neal due back sometime this month, Alonzo Mourning still playing at a high level at 36 and Udonis Haslem ranking as the most dependable Heater not named Dwyane Wade, there wouldn't appear to be a ton of frontcourt playing time available for Webber on South Beach. And Webber hopes to have a shot at starting with his next team.
All of which sounds like one more reason to like Detroit's chances, then.
P.S. -- Can't remember, so I have to ask: Have I mentioned Los Ranchos Steakhouse before? I'm guessing you're teasing me with that signature on your question because I brought it up in a chat or column recently. If I haven't and this is pure coincidence, thanks for reminding me how sumptuous my trips to Miami can be. Los Ranchos is a local chain of Nicaraguan steak houses with a location right across the street from American Airlines Arena. The churrasco steak with chimichurri a finer pregame meal you could not wish to consume.
It's a back injury. Which means there really are no miracle cures.
Yet Tracy McGrady thinks he's found the closest thing to a fix for his chronic back woes.
Which means almost as much.
That might be the key to McGrady's work with John Patterson, on top of the obvious physical benefits. The Waco-based rehab expert -- whose client list includes big-time names like Andy Roddick and Terrell Owens -- has McGrady believing in his body more than he has for years, thanks to Patterson's biomechanics-based treatment program which calls for four specialists working on T-Mac at once, all trying to get him in head-to-toe alignment as opposed to just focusing on the back.
McGrady's long-standing dread that something is sure to go wrong soon has been replaced by increasing confidence, as confirmed by his recent run of six straight 30-point games in Houston's 7-2 surge since losing Yao Ming on Dec. 23. If anything, Houstonians have been trying to keep T-Mac on an even keel, lest he get too giddy about his newfound spryness and set himself up for another major disappointment.
The Rockets, you see, know that the 27-year-old's problems are caused by a congenital defect in his back. It's something that has to be managed, since it can't be cured.
What the Rockets have found, then, is best described as a way, through Patterson's help, to manage T-Mac's health better than ever before.
Given what they've been through with T-Mac and Yao for the last season and a half, they'll take it.
Nor will Houston mind if Dikembe Mutombo's determination to prove that there really is a fountain of youth -- seven straight double-digit rebound games as Yao's replacement for the 40-year-old entering Friday -- lasts into February.
"I know he just wants some help," Cassell said. "He just wants a guy who can take some pressure off him, so who wouldn't want a guy like Iverson to take some pressure off?
"Kev is a guy he plays better when he knows that he [doesn't] have to take every big shot. The year Minnesota had Spree [Latrell Sprewell] and myself, KG could be a hell of a decoy. He sets a great screen. He prides himself on being the best screen-setter in the NBA. He had more joy in that than getting a basket or a rebound."
Denver's Iverson was quite contrite after suggesting that referee Steve Javie ejected him from Iverson's Jan. 2 reunion game against visiting Philadelphia because of a personal vendetta, issuing public apologies before and after the league tagged him with a $25,000 fine.
But I'm told there was an undisclosed element of Iverson's punishment: Commissioner David Stern demanding a one-on-one conversation with A.I. to admonish him for a crossed-the-line tone in his exchanges with Javie that night.
Chris Birck/NBAE via Getty Images
If you're wondering why Tim Duncan is averting his eyes, you'll have to read Box 10.
"No. We were still winning games, still above .500. Everyone has bumps and bruises. Right now we're the No. 1 team in the Eastern Conference. If we're still a disappointment, then so be it."
Cleveland's LeBron James, when asked if he shared the widely held view that the Cavs, before their 8-2 surge, were off to a disappointing start.
It's one of the readers' favorites and we do it every week: Trot out five (or so) responses to the latest edition of my NBA Power Rankings to make sure you have your say.
Straight from the rankings mailbag:
Michael Lopez (San Antonio): WHAT? The Spurs at No. 7? I have loyally read your rankings for years and I don't ever recall my Spurs being that low. Not that it isn't warranted or deserved, but can you have one of your minions look up the lowest ranking San Antonio has ever had? I'm not angry about this. I mean, they did lose three in a row last week. Just curious: What's the lowest you've ever ranked them?
Committee's counter: Sorry, Michael. No minions to foist this on. The good news, though, is that you can do this research yourself by clicking here, where we list how your Spurs have fared rankings-wise for each of the past four seasons.
The committee (of one) has been doing ESPN.com's NBA Power Rankings since 2002-03, so every season but one in the Stein Line Era is archived at the link provided. It appears, incidentally, that the Spurs did slip to seventh in Week 14 of the 2003-04 campaign. So this week's drop to No. 7, which we regarded as a bit of a wake-up call to snap the Spurs out of their recent funk, apparently ties their nadir.