Updated: Nov. 19, 2006, 5:24 PM ET
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.
It's time to trade Kevin Garnett
It's the story every NBA fan outside of Minnesota wants to read someday. It might even be the story frustrated Wolves fans are ready to read now.
Kevin Garnett is officially, legitimately on the trading block.
Numerous NBA front-office sources reiterated to me this week that we're still not there yet, and not especially close to being there. But personally? I've changed my stance on this one.
After years of resisting the natural NBA writer's instinct to demand that the Wolves trade Garnett and start over, I've given in. Not even 10 games into the new season, I don't see enough hope for Minnesota to continue down this path
assuming you can call it a path.
I simply struggle to see -- with the Wolves possessing such limited trade assets beyond KG himself -- how they can improve the cast around him to avoid slipping farther and farther away in a deeper-than-ever West.
Let's be realistic.
Even if Garnett opts out of his contract in the summer of 2008 as expected and walks away from an '08-09 salary of $23 million, he still will have banked more than $200 million by then. He'll be 32 that summer and, maybe more than any other player in history, could comfortably afford signing wherever he wants for the mid-level exception.
It's not like he needs another max deal. Chicago? Lakers? Maybe KG's willing to take a pay cut, in the tradition of Karl Malone and Gary Payton, to go to Phoenix and play with Steve Nash. Or, say, New Jersey with Jason Kidd.
Which would leave the Wolves with nothing.
I know it's difficult for Wolves diehards to envision such a catastrophe, knowing that: A) Garnett hasn't and probably won't ever tell the Wolves that he wants out, and that B) Garnett is so loyal to the frozen tundra he calls 'Sota that it seems highly unlikely he'd bolt without compensation.
But organizations have to protect themselves against worst-case scenarios. Organizations typically prosper when they're proactive. It seems awfully risky for the Wolves to go through another season (or more) of misery, not knowing how that might eat into Garnett's resolve or affect his determination to relocate.
The Wolves have missed the playoffs for two straight seasons. If that drought stretches to three or four -- not hard to envision given Minnesota's lack of depth, rebounding and dependable size apart from KG -- then what?
The longer the Wolves wait, if they're eventually going to have to trade him anyway, can only hurt them leverage-wise. Trading him this season, as opposed to delaying the inevitable until the February '08 trading deadline or scrambling to concoct a sign-and-trade in July '08, is more likely to net Minnesota the package of quality youth, size and draft picks it would naturally want in return.
The Bulls are the most natural trading partner because they're in a different conference and stocked with trade pieces: Tyrus Thomas, Luol Deng or Ben Gordon, P.J. Brown's expiring contract and the Knicks' first-round pick, for starters.
Contenders in the West, if the Wolves could stomach that, would be lining up as well: Phoenix, Dallas and certainly others. The Lakers' interest, furthermore, is no secret, with Kobe Bryant and Garnett seemingly an ideal tag team given KG's well-chronicled unselfishness
and Garnett maintaining an offseason residence in Malibu
and two tantalizing big men (Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum) for the Wolves to go after.
Not that I'm expecting my pleas to rouse the Wolves into action. Folks who've observed Garnett more closely and longer than I have insist that he yearns to be the Twin Cities' hoops answer to Kirby Puckett -- from a one team-only standpoint -- and finish his career there at all costs. Which only makes it tougher for the Wolves to contemplate moving him.
Will Garnett move off that stance if it puts his legacy at risk? If it means that one trip to the West finals and a scant playoff résumé beyond that is the extent of what we get from one of the most gifted 7-footers this game has ever seen?
In the interim? Doubts about Wolves coach Dwane Casey surviving the season have been in circulation for some time, but the Wolves' next big move, according to team insiders, is to transfer control of the front office at season's end from the under-fire Kevin McHale to Fred Hoiberg, one of KG's all-time favorite teammates. Perhaps that will brighten Garnett's outlook after an increasing frostiness in his relationship with McHale, who drafted him No. 5 overall out of high school in 1995.
Yet no matter who's running the personnel department, it's pretty safe to say that only one man can decide if we'll ever be reading about a tangible Garnett trade. The theory I'm borrowing from one Eastern Conference executive is that it'll take Wolves owner Glen Taylor coming out and telling all of 'Sota that it was his call
that it was in the Wolves' and Garnett's best interests to start anew.
I can't imagine McHale wants to make trading KG his farewell move after absorbing much of the blame locally for the Wolves' recent demise. Nor would trading Garnett be a very appetizing intro to GM-ing for Hoiberg.
Until Taylor is ready to move on -- and he recently told Minneapolis' weekly City Pages newspaper that he could only reach that point through mutual consent with Garnett -- the trade talk that tantalizes armchair GMs everywhere isn't much more than that.
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Big Ben is no longer in the picture. And so far, his absence looks like the overarching reason Motown has lost its mojo. (See Box 3.)
You have to look hard for early positives in Motown.
The Pistons -- who didn't lose their fifth game last season until Jan. 7 -- emerged from a three-day rest by dropping to 3-5 on Wednesday night against a Hornets team missing David West and Tyson Chandler and despite the fact that Detroit shot 52 percent from the floor, committed only eight turnovers and received quality production from its top four players.
The problems? Defense and energy, not surprisingly, are the two biggies, with the Pistons clearly struggling to adjust to the reality that their security blanket, Ben Wallace, is in Chicago now.
It's not just the fact that Big Ben was so adept at covering up his teammates' gambles and mistakes on D. Even though Wallace hasn't exactly been a huge spark for the Bulls yet, he undeniably supplied a good bit of Detroit's edge, as reinforced by the fact that the Pistons have led after the first quarter in just one of their first eight games.
The only positive I could find, actually: Rasheed Wallace, entering Friday's play, had quietly gone four games without incurring a technical foul.
I know it's already happening, but it's premature to throw Flip Saunders' name on the Budweiser Hot Seat list. Don't forget that he's just starting Year 2 of a four-year deal, months removed from a 64-win season and just eight games into a new era.
Back to the positive: Wallace was on a 41-technical pace for the season entering Friday's game against Washington, which would match his career high with the Blazers
but which sounds a lot more promising than the 82-technical pace Sheed was on after just four games.
The Pistons, while naturally hoping Sheed continues his current streak of lowering that pace, are realistic about the situation. Keeping Sheed to about 25 techs for the season is an informal target, given that the league's emphasis on eradicating post-whistle back talk affects Wallace more than any other player.
The problem, of course, is that a comparatively modest 25 T's would still result in five one-game suspensions based on the system introduced last season that hits players with one-game bans after technical No. 16, 18, 20, etc.
Maybe the league office, perhaps taking note of numerous pleas, including this one, to be a little less punitive, is easing up to a degree that will even help Sheed.
In the first five nights of the season, in a total of 39 games, 50 technical fouls were assessed to players.
In the 12 nights since, in a total of 79 games, only 56 technicals have been called.
If anybody out there needs to hear evidence that microfracture knee surgery isn't an NBA death sentence, it's Nets alumnus Kenyon Martin, even more so than Amare Stoudemire.
Expecting a more routine arthroscopic procedure this week, Denver's Martin instead found himself subjected to the most dreaded medical procedure in basketball for the second time in 18 months. So it appears he'll eventually try to become the first player to come back from double microfracture surgery.
Coming back from one of them is tough enough, as Stoudemire has discovered in Phoenix, but an old friend in New Jersey is trying to give Martin some hope.
The Nets' Jason Kidd, now nearly 2½ years removed from his own microfracture procedure, looks somewhat reborn at 34.
It's another reminder that you generally have to wait two seasons before judging a microfracture -- patients seem to need the first season just to shed rust and regain trust in the body -- but check out how Kidd has opened his third season since the operation:
Through seven games, Kidd was averaging 15.7 points, 9.3 assists and 8.4 rebounds in 38.1 minutes per game, while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and 37 percent on 3-pointers.
Now, granted, it's not a seamless comparison because the games of both Martin and Stoudemire depend even more than Kidd's on athleticism and explosion. But it's still inspiring to see what Kidd's doing, since he is playing one of the most demanding positions on the floor.
Why aren't we talking about this more?
Five questions with Bulls center Ben Wallace:
Q: Both you and the team are off to slow starts. What does it do to your confidence to hear people already questioning how you fit with the Bulls and the money they invested in you?
A: It doesn't bother me. No matter what, regardless of the situation, somebody is going to have something to say. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I think I put more pressure on myself than anybody or any situation can ever put on me.
Q: There have been rumblings that you strongly considered San Antonio in free agency. How close did you come to going somewhere other than Chicago?
A: We were looking at a couple teams, a couple different situations, but I'm in Chicago now. I'm happy with my decision.
Q: How closely do you still follow the Pistons? Are they the first box score you look for?
A: I still talk to those guys all the time. I really don't care about box scores, but I still keep in touch with them guys.
It's a little strange, but the conversations are still pretty much the same. We all know what's going on.
Q: If Chauncey Billups calls you for free-agent advice next summer, what will you tell him?
A: I don't know. We'll probably talk about something else other than basketball. I wouldn't necessarily try to give anybody any advice because it's ultimately your decision. You're going to have to live with it. I wouldn't try to sway him one way or the other.
Q: How surprised were you when Jesse Jackson took such an active role in getting you and Ron Artest to hug and talk out your differences?
A: It was a good gesture by Rev. Jackson to try to bring peace to a situation he thought was a little out of control or whatever. But I never thought it was that big of a situation. I didn't have a problem with Ron Artest. I was over it. He was over it. He's with a new team, I'm with a new team. I don't hold personal grudges like that.
For me it was over and done with. It wasn't like I was going to go out all summer, driving around looking for Ron Artest.
Stickin' It Out In 'Sota?
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
How much more losing Kevin Garnett can endure in Minnesota is anyone's guess.
It'll be a question asked often in Sacramento this season when folks aren't fretting about the Kings' uncertain future in town.
Whose team is it?
Ron Artest's? Or Mike Bibby's?
Artest was crowned "face of the franchise" over the summer by Kings co-owner Joe Maloof, but the question inevitably would have surfaced with or without such proclamations. That's because Bibby, at season's end, has the right to opt out of his contract and put himself on the free-agent market on July 1.
Making Bibby continue to feel a major part of the Kings' hierarchy, then, is a priority. You can't be surprised if he does decide to opt out, even if that means walking away from a tidy $28 million guaranteed on the final two seasons of his Kings contract, because he's only 28 and undoubtedly confident that he can score another long-term deal.
The good news? Unlike the arena issue, which is a lot tougher to forecast, there aren't any clear indications (yet) that there's a battle for control. Artest, Bibby and the onrushing Kevin Martin are playing off each other reasonably well, especially when you remember that Bibby probably shouldn't even be playing yet because of a thumb injury.
I asked Artest recently if he's been made to feel -- for the first time in his career -- that the Kings are his team. He insisted that's not what he's seeking, despite admittedly struggling to accept his sidekick status in Indiana alongside Jermaine O'Neal.
"I feel like I'm a major part of this," Artest said. "Not necessarily like [it's my team], but I feel like I've got some influence. I try to do the right thing and say the right thing, and it's been fun because I'm getting a good response."
Said Kings teammate Shareef Abdur-Rahim: "Ron, with his emotions and his toughness, I think he puts his stamp on this team. Ron's handprints are all over our team. But I think we go like Mike goes. The work ethic and energy that Ron brings is kind of transforming this team in that mode, but Mike is still the leader. He's the one that speaks up a lot."
Just wondering: What if Zach Randolph, Lamar Odom and Carlos Boozer keep playing the way they are?
I know what: We can brace for the loudest-ever arguments at All-Star time when it comes to picking West forwards.
It's been a nightmare for years, but this could be the most crowded field yet if Randolph, Odom and Boozer don't fade. Injury has already ruled Pau Gasol out, but that still leaves, in alphabetic order: Carmelo Anthony, Artest, Elton Brand, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki.
Yao Ming got a rough ride from the TNT guys Thursday night, with Reggie Miller (in particular) saying he needs to see Yao do what he's been doing for (close to) a whole season -- and, along with Tracy McGrady, win a round in the playoffs -- before he gets too excited.
Well, yeah. It's tough to dispute any of that.
But I still say we're seeing a better-than-ever Yao, even if the Rockets are routinely blowing big leads and still crying out for an in-shape Bonzi Wells
which, incidentally, I'm told isn't that far off.
It's not, for me, strictly about overall stats
or hanging 34 and 14 on Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning
or how he compares to Shaq at this point. If I'm the Rockets, what would please me most about Yao's start is simply the way he's carrying himself.
He just looks like he believes, more than ever, that he belongs as a franchise player.
Yao joking with Shaq -- as an equal -- as opposed to showing too much respect before the opening tip. Yao ripping a rebound out of Juwan Howard's hands -- even though they were the only two guys in the area -- because he knows he's supposed to be Houston's leading board man. Yao responding to Shaq's early physicality -- and looking reasonably fresh in the fourth quarter -- instead of backing down or wearing out.
They're all examples of things we didn't see from Yao in his first few seasons.
One man's take on the Los Angeles Lakers, from Dimedom's web of front-office executives, coaches and scouts:
"As long as Kobe isn't at full strength, look for the Lakers to see more zones. [Andrew] Bynum has made fast progress -- and he definitely has some passing ability -- but zones can disrupt the Lakers' offense because of their inexperience and suspect outside shooting.
"Kobe isn't all the way back yet [from knee surgery], so he's not quite ready to carry the offense through a dry spell. The Lakers' other 3-point shooters would all have to be classified as 'streaky.' And [Vladimir] Radmanovic, who's supposed to be their new deep threat, hasn't got it going.
The triangle offense works well against zones, but the Lakers don't have Shaq in the middle any more. He was such a good passer, so good hitting the baseline cutters, that the old Lakers would have loved to see zones. It's something this team is still learning how to deal with."
Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Elton Brand and Carlos Boozer are not only fighting to keep their teams atop the West, they're competing for an All-Star spot.
"How we won 63 games, I don't know."
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, referring to San Antonio's 6-10 struggles last season on the second night of back-to-backs
an issue that has quickly resurfaced this season with home losses to Cleveland and Charlotte on the night after big come-from-behind road wins at Dallas and Houston.
From the Stein Line e-mailbag:
Terry O'Donnell (Las Vegas): Read your article about the "new Mark Cuban" and couldn't help but think back to when Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis was thought of as a maverick
but also a winner. Then a funny thing happened. Davis started suing the league, moving the team in and out of Oakland and his "Just Win, Baby" stuff grew tiresome. Now his team is a joke. How long before Mark Cuban falls into the same trap?
Stein: We all know I'm no NFL expert -- and we all know I have no desire to be -- but I actually did cover the Raiders for a short spell in my formative years and thus feel (somewhat) qualified to tell you that:
A) I think it's easy to gloss over Davis' successes with the Raiders, and B) I don't see Cuban's time with the Mavs playing out in a similar manner.
Both men have obviously tormented their respective commissioners, true. But I wouldn't expect Cuban to stick around for decades like Davis has, given all his outside business interests. And with or without those interests, I'm quite sure we'll never see Cuban like so many see Davis now
as a former cutting-edge renegade who lost his fastball. The loudest knocks on Davis at this stage, best as I can tell, are that he doesn't give enough authority to the good football men around him and scares off quality coaches because of his control-freak rep.
I struggle to imagine Cuban getting hit with such accusations. He has always given his basketball people (coaches Don Nelson and Avery Johnson and basketball operations chief Donnie Nelson) quite a bit of autonomy. He also strikes me as too proactive and curious -- and too self-aware of his limitations -- to let his team fade from relevance like the Raiders have.
Cuban might come across as a know-it-all when he's grappling with David Stern on various issues, and you might have issues with the volume and frequency of his bluster, but he's a serial sponge who's always looking for new ways to do it better.
I will say this, though: I'm sure Cuban hopes he's as reviled as Davis someday. That would undoubtedly mean that his Mavs had won a championship or two, which is really what made Davis such a public enemy. Would Davis receive the scorn he gets now if he hadn't won three Super Bowls?