Updated: Jan. 12, 2006, 4:55 PM ET

One-On-One ... With Manu

Editor's note: As part of his around-the-league edition of the Daily Dime every week, Marc Stein will go one-on-one to five -- five questions, that is -- with an NBA newsmaker.

This week's subject is San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, who has been trying to play through a bruised right quadriceps suffered just three days before the start of the season.

1. Stein: We saw you miss your first nine shots [last weekend in Dallas], including a wide-open layup right at the rim. How much is the injury holding you back?

Ginobili: I don't know if it's more my body or my head, but something is holding me back.

2. Stein: Maybe one thing leads to the other.

Ginobili: It's probably a little bit of both. I'm out of rhythm, like I'm still on vacation. The good part of it is, it's only been a few games.

3. Stein: This was your first summer off from Argentina's national team in years. Is it a case where the extended break might be hurting your sharpness now but help your freshness later in the season?

Ginobili: For me, it's something strange. I've never had this time off in my career, so I really feel like I'm a couple steps behind. But it's not too worried. Obviously I don't like playing that badly, but I know it's going to get better.

4. Stein: There's a theory out there that your long hair used to help you get to the foul line because it flew all over the place whenever you absorbed contact. Aren't you worried that your new, shorter cut will cost you some free throws?

Ginobili: I went to the line 10 times [against the Mavericks]. So, no.

5. Stein: Whose decision was it to cut it? Yours or your wife's?

Ginobili: I was tired of it already. But it's going to grow again.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com.

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

Taking Time Out
Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images
Terrell Owens has got plenty of time on his hands nowadays. And since he can't get up close and personal with the Eagles anymore, he's grabbing front row seats at the Clippers-Hawks game. Yeah!

Slams and Dunks

1. The season is gone for Denver's Nene, but he hasn't lost his free-agent value. Hardly. The burly Brazilian is only 23 and Stein Line medical experts insist that the injuries suffered in his right knee -- often referred to as the "terrible triad" of ACL, MCL and meniscus damage -- aren't as daunting as they sound and shouldn't prevent a full recovery.

Nene is too young and too big not to generate significant interest next summer as a restricted free agent, even though he also missed 27 games last season with knee and hamstring trouble in the other leg.

The bet here remains that the Nuggets, no matter how many Nene trade rumors you've heard, will instead move one of their three point guards (Andre Miller, Earl Boykins or Earl Watson) between now and next summer to create the flexibility to re-sign Nene ... unless they package Nene with one of those point guards in a future sign-and-trade instead.

(Sidebar: Denver isn't a lock to use the $1.5 million injury exception it expects to receive from the league in the wake of Nene's season-ending surgery because the Nuggets are already carrying 15 guaranteed contracts.)

2. League officials, I'm told, are generally quite pleased with initial player response to the dress code. The only thing close to a violation that I've seen -- if you still care -- is an untucked collared shirt with jeans. While dress jeans (whatever that means) are allowed, shirts are supposed to be tucked in.

Yet so far, anyone falling short of the new wardrobe standards first receives an unpublicized warning from the NBA's offices in New York, which monitors the players in a variety of ways -- TV images, newspaper accounts and reports from NBA security personnel stationed in every building. Commissioner David Stern, meanwhile, has not established a punishment scale regarding fines and suspensions for dress-code violators.

Although suspensions have been threatened for repeat offenders, it appears Stern will be assessing penalties on a case-by-case basis instead of locking into a set number of fines before a player is subject to suspension.

3. Wondering where former Sacramento Kings summer-league invite and surprise Atlanta Hawks fan (see above photo) Terrell Owens will play next? It's just a rumor at this stage, but I hear the Heat are interested.

-- M.S.

Scout Chatter

About Joe Johnson's early struggles playing point guard for Atlanta, which led to a move back to shooting guard after an 0-4 start:

"He has his hands full. Running the point is one thing when [Steve] Nash is on the wing and you only have to do it for a few possessions here and there. To be out there constantly handling the ball is exhausting, especially at his size against pressure -- and when you have to go back down to the other end and guard [a primary scorer].

"He just doesn't have the same kind of guys he had around him in Phoenix. The Hawks have a bunch of small forwards, but it's hard to play small ball if you don't have good shooters. Johnson is their only good shooter, and I don't think he can pass it to himself.

"I hope he's happy there because he's going to lose a lot of games."

-- M.S.

Not So Funny Feeling
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
No, Manu Ginobili isn't pretending to be Harry Potter. It's just that injuries have robbed the lightning-quick guard of his magic touch.

Eastern Conference

Qyntel Woods (right), perhaps the most talented swingman available on the free-agent market after Latrell Sprewell, is working out in Cleveland and starting to generate a few feelers after his release by the Celtics before camp began. Woods played in only three games for Miami last season after suspensions for violating the league's drug policy and after being charged with animal abuse, but the Heat did pick up his option for this season before shipping 2002's No. 21 overall pick to Boston as part of the five-team, 13-player megadeal which netted Antoine Walker, Jason Williams and James Posey. ...

Anyone else notice how many close games we've had already this season? They certainly have in Boston and Chicago, where the Celtics and Bulls are the first teams in NBA history to begin a season with four straight games decided either by one point or in overtime.

-- M.S.

Western Conference

The Rockets have resisted the urge to pursue Latrell Sprewell (right) -- so far. They might be forced to revisit that stance even if Tracy McGrady can shake his latest back injury and the knee troubles that have plagued him with pain since training camp began, after what by all accounts was McGrady's most serious summer of off-season preparations.

Without McGrady, and with Yao Ming still prone to fade in the second half, Houston hasn't been able to crack 85 points and can't score in the fourth quarter. The Rockets, early as it for firm conclusions, appear to lack self-belief without both of their franchise players on the floor and don't have a clear-cut No. 3 scoring option even at full strength. If Sprewell backs off his demand for a two-year deal, he's undoubtedly the best available option for the Rockets, given Jeff Van Gundy's unwavering status as a huge Spree fan. ...

The Hornets' Desmond Mason, who initially blasted Milwaukee for trading him, calmed quickly after arriving in Oklahoma City. "It definitely does make it a little bit easier," said the former Oklahoma State star, "coming to a place where people have so much love for you." ...

The Spurs' much-hyped depth at the guard positions has been tested already with Manu Ginobili (quad, ankle), Brent Barry (back) and Michael Finley (groin) all ailing. They haven't lost their humor, though. Referring to Ginobili's hobbled start to the season, and the myth about what hair loss can do to one's strength, Barry said: "We've been thinking a lot about the Samson effect. Is it the haircut?"

-- M.S.

Rumor Has It

No Knick is untouchable, and that was true even before Larry Brown started complaining openly about the composition of New York's roster.

Word is, though, that they're shopping center Jerome James harder than any other Knick, with James eligible to be traded as of Dec. 15 after signing an ill-fated $29 million contract before Brown was hired.

James and Brown have clashed already over conditioning, with the late arrivals of Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis helping to push the ex-Sonic to the outskirts of Brown's rotation ... even before a hamstring injury that now makes James an even tougher sell to other teams.

-- M.S.

Quote Of The Week
"I won't have to make that decision. I think you guys in the media will probably help me make it, because everyone will know if the situation [in New Orleans] is ready."

Hornets owner George Shinn, when asked if his team's move to Oklahoma City for this season really is temporary.

-- M.S.

Line Of The Week
12 1 0 4 0 5

Why would we spotlight a four-rebound showing? Because Fortson's four rebounds in 12 minutes tied Vitaly Potapenko for the team lead in Seattle's 112-85 loss Wednesday to the Cavaliers. No surprise, then, that the Sonics were outrebounded by a whopping 56-21 -- Cleveland had 21 offensive rebounds, incidentally -- in absorbing their second of three consecutive blowout defeats. Dare we say Bob Weiss is already be struggling to reach these guys.

-- M.S.



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