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Knee injury threatens forward's career

NEW ORLEANS -- The Hornets are moving to the Western Conference without forward Jamal Mashburn ... for at least one season.

Mashburn will miss the entire 2004-05 NBA season because of a knee injury,
Mashburn and the team said Monday.

The injury kept the 2003 All-Star out of all but 19 games last
season. Mashburn said that strenuous activity causes the knee to
swell as badly as last March, when his past season ended. He
averaged 20.8 points per game.

During a news conference, Mashburn acknowledged the injury could
end his career, which began in 1993 as a first-round draft choice
with the Dallas Mavericks and included a stint with the Miami Heat
before joining the Charlotte Hornets in 2000.

Mashburn, 31, said retirement is a possibility, but he was holding
out hope that he might be able to play.

"I have to remain optimistic," he said. "Hopefully, I can get
better with rest. This is my livelihood. I have to stay positive.
There's no other outlook I can tell."

The Hornets' insurance will cover about 80 percent of Mashburn's
salary of about $18 million over the last two years of his contract
if he is not healthy enough to play. Mashburn's salary will count
against the Hornets' as far as the NBA's salary cap is concerned.
The cap is currently around $44 million.

Trading Mashburn remains a possibility because the insurance
will follow him to another team.

Hornets general manager Allan Bristow said that while it's clear
that Mashburn cannot play this season, he would not rule out a
return later.

Team trainers said that several MRIs this summer indicated that
Mashburn has worn out cartilage in his right knee, causing bones to
grind together, leaving a bruise and an irritation. Mashburn and
the Hornets said that with rest, the irritation could heal, but
they acknowledged there would be a good possibility of
re-aggravating the injury if he tried to play again.

"I'm hoping with a rest and a lack of pounding, things will
heal themselves and maybe there's a possibility in a year or so,"
Mashburn said. "I just have to take a wait-and-see approach.
There's not a particular thing I can do. I've been trying
everything. It's a frustrating situation."

While the announcement does bring some clarity to the Hornets' plans for their first season in the West, the realization that his season is already over is a big blow for a team moving to a conference with no fewer than 13 legitimate playoff contenders.

With Mashburn out, Rodney Rogers and George Lynch will compete to start at small forward, Hornets new coach Byron Scott said.

Scott can still build around the talented twosome of point guard Baron Davis and center Jamaal Magloire, but Mashburn's knee troubles rule out the possibility that he might be traded for an asset. Upgrading the roster is a priority for the Hornets in the wake of Davis' recent request to be traded.

Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein contributed to this story.