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Friday, February 3, 2006
SPECIAL WEEKEND EDITION
Boozer: 'It's been agonizing'


By Marc Stein
ESPN.com

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

Valentine's Day 2006 is forthcoming, but no one has to remind Carlos Boozer.

Reason: Boozer knows better than anyone that he hasn't played in a game for the Utah Jazz since Valentine's Day 2005.

The culprit, according to Boozer and Jerry Sloan (see Box 6), is not a mere hamstring strain. Player and coach told ESPN.com that hamstring tears are responsible for keeping the power forward shelved since training camp, after Boozer recovered from a foot injury that cost him the final 31 games of his debut season with the Jazz.

Boozer, though, expects to return to practice any day now in hopes of finally getting back into the rotation this month. Amid ongoing rumblings that the Jazz will seek to move the 24-year-old as soon as he can reestablish some trade value, Boozer discussed his comeback in this One-on-One:

Q: This is obviously not what you envisioned when you came to Utah. How are you dealing with it?

A: It's been difficult, man. It's tough when you're a competitor and you can't do anything to help your team win. I'm just anxious to get out there and try to help. Hopefully everything will go good this time around. Things are getting better. I'm crossing my fingers that there are no more tweaks.

Q: Do you think Jazz fans will welcome you back?

A: I hope so. I think when I'm back out there doing my thing and putting up my numbers, that'll all take care of itself. The fans are just as anxious as I am to see me play. It's one of those situations where I've been hurt and it's been tough on everybody. It's been agonizing for everybody.

Q: You've been waiting for almost a year to get back on the floor. How do you keep from ...

A: Going crazy?

Life is still a beautiful thing. I've got a great family behind me. They keep me sane. And for the most part, I see progress every day. I know I'll be back, it's just a matter of when.

Q: Do you sense that there are people rooting against you or even enjoying what's happened to you because of the circumstances surrounding your departure from Cleveland?

A: I'm not worried about that. Not at all. In Cleveland, they've got great fans there and they were great when I was there. Obviously they were upset when I left, but I tell people this all the time, "For every hundred people that like you, there's another hundred people who don't." That's just how our business is.

Q: Karl Malone and John Stockton were famous in Utah for almost never missing games. Does that put pressure on you to try to play hurt?

A: It comes with the territory. On one hand, no one should be compared to Hall of Famers, especially those two guys. But it comes with the territory. Like you said, they were almost never injured, or if they did miss games it was because of suspensions. So it's tough in that regard. But if people have never had a hamstring tear, it's one of those things that can pull or tear at any moment. Mine has been in the same spot and so it's like going over the same spot over and over. You've got to be careful with it.

Q: We've heard your name in trade speculation since last season. But when you're around town, do you get the feeling that Jazz fans want you to stay?

A: The people here have been great. Everybody just asks me when I'm coming back; everybody says they can't wait till I'm back out there. I think people understand that that's probably the reason why I've ended up tearing it four times -- because I was trying to come back too soon. You see your team [struggling] out there and you want to rush back to help them. That's human nature and I'm no exception to that.

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

Dimes Past: Jan. 27 | 28-29 | 30 | 31 | Feb. 1 | 2 | 3




Copy 'Cats
Raymond Felton, Brevin Knight
Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
Speaking of injury-riddled teams, it's only a matter of time 'til Ray Felton (left) becomes Charlotte's top Cat, especially now that he has Brevin Knight's mannerisms down pat. (See below.)



Eastern Conference
Still at a stage in its infancy in which management can make such goodwill gestures without affecting the future, Charlotte has publicly promised point guard Brevin Knight that it won't trade him somewhere without Knight's consent, like the Bobcats did last season with Steve Smith before sending Smith to Miami.

However ...

With rookie Raymond Felton looking increasingly competent playing next to Knight, Charlotte might be unable to resist parting with the veteran before the Feb. 23 trading deadline, lest anything happens to start decreasing Knight's value after a solid season and a half with the expansionists.

At a salary of less than $4-plus million this season and the next two seasons, Knight holds appeal to teams looking for reasonably priced know-how at the point. With Charlotte's season in ruins anyway -- with Emeka Okafor expected to miss another five to seven weeks and the Bobcats carrying an injured list as long as anyone's -- dealing Knight during the next three weeks makes more sense as Felton progresses.



The calendar flipped to February with what seemed like a pretty nice compliment to the Eastern Conference.

The East, through January, could claim four of the league's five highest-scoring centers in terms of total points.

But you just knew there had to be a disclaimer .. and here it is:

The most prolific of those four East centers is Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who began the new month ranked No. 44 overall in total points with 681.

Because Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal (No. 39 with 730 points) refuses to relinquish his PF label, like San Antonio's Tim Duncan, this was the top five in total points among centers entering February: Ilgauskas, Sacramento's Brad Miller at No. 48 with 658 points, Charlotte's Primoz Brezec at No. 67 with 557 points and Miami's Shaquille O'Neal and New Jersey's Nenad Krstic tied for 75th with 540 points.


Doc Rivers was one of the first to say that the five Detroit starters should all earn All-Star berths. And since coaches can't vote for their own players -- meaning Doc can't pick Paul Pierce for reserve duty in Houston -- I don't doubt that he'll use five of his seven reserve votes on Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace.

Trouble is, if any of his East coaching colleagues follow Doc's lead, Pierce will have an even tougher time getting to All-Star Weekend than he already faces in a conference where Vince Carter, Gilbert Arenas and Michael Redd are also among those not guaranteed selection.

If all the Pistons get in and Doc is credited for leading that movement, that might not be so great for coach-player relations.



Reserve Judgments
Gasol

OK, then. On we go to the rest of the argument.

The annual debate about who should and shouldn't be starting in the NBA All-Star Game gives way now to an even more contentious debate. Namely, who deserves to be an All-Star reserve.

Coaches in both conferences will receive a memo from the league office Friday with voting instructions, with the seven-man East and West benches to be announced next Thursday. Since ESPN.com can't wait another week, these are the benches as selected at Stein Line HQ, based on the same voting guidelines that the coaches must follow.

Those guidelines require the selection of two forwards, two guards, one center and two wild cards ... but the coaches are not locked into voting for players based on the positions at which they're listed on the All-Star ballot. West coaches, in other words, are given the freedom to choose a deserving power forward to spell Yao Ming if they like that option better than picking a more traditional center.

Marc Stein's full list of All-Star reserves


Suiting Up
Carlos Boozer
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
Carlos Boozer has been forced to take full advantage of the NBA's new dress code.


Western Conference
If you figure Jerry Sloan is losing patience with Carlos Boozer after an absence that has lasted almost a full year, Sloan says you figured wrong.

And if you figure Jazz fans won't welcome Boozer back after all that time, Sloan says you're wrong there, too.

"We've got to be fair with [Boozer] to start with," Sloan said. "I don't want to put him out there until he's healthy enough to play. His career is worth more than mine and I've believed that with any player I've ever coached. If he gets himself healthy, we will bring him back, but if he doesn't, we can't do anything about that. It's a tough break, but every team has those.

"But I think our fans will accept him. I've seen guys that have been in drug rehab that have come back and get standing ovations for that, and everybody gets behind them. I think if he comes back and works hard, people will accept that.

"He's been close twice and then he's had an unfortunate thing happen. You can't do anything about it if [Boozer's hamstring] tears. I don't care who you are. If it's a strain, that's a different story, you might be able to fight through it. But that isn't what he's had. People have obviously questioned us, but we want to do the right thing for Carlos."



The Warriors are still exploring trade possibilities after declining to part with rookie forward Ike Diogu as part of a package for Ron Artest, but they're working from a different deadline than the Feb. 23 trade buzzer.

Golden State has a sizable trade exception ($5.3 million) from last year's Clifford Robinson deal that would allow it to absorb more salary than it gives away, but the exception expires Feb. 14.

The size-craving Warriors remain interested in Milwaukee's Jamaal Magloire after pursuing him hard in New Orleans, but the Bucks -- trying to avoid the slip from playoff contention that has befallen Golden State -- aren't expected to consider offers for Magloire until the offseason.


Three more reasons why Minnesota was moved to break up the Kevin Garnett-Wally Szczerbiak partnership after 6 ½ seasons:

1. The Wolves got three rotation players for one if Marcus Banks can consistently offset his QB deficiencies with his defensive prowess.

2. The Wolves haven't had a great athlete in the backcourt since Stephon Marbury, which is why -- even though the roster is overloaded with guards -- they're tempted to resist outside trade interest in Banks.

3. The Wolves believe Garnett minimizes Mark Blount's chief weakness (rebounding) and maximizes Blount's ability to step out on the floor and score. Offense is what Garnett needs most from his center to dissuade defenses from swarming him, and Blount does just that.



Question Marc
From the Stein Line e-mailbag:

Chris (New York City): The Spurs can't put their best guys on the court for two games straight, and Detroit hasn't had so much as jammed a finger in two years. How long do the Pistons need to go uninjured before we should start seriously wondering if they've made some sort of nefarious pact for their souls?

Stein: You might be overstating it just a tad, but your point is noted. It's amazing how Antonio McDyess, after a season and a half in Detroit, suddenly seems durable.

The Spurs, though, are increasingly hopeful that their main guys will be sufficiently sturdy in the springtime. Shock-wave foot treatments seemed to have helped Tim Duncan's mobility -- at least he looked pretty spry last weekend up against his old pal Kevin Garnett -- and I'm betting that Manu Ginobili will gradually start to look like the All-Star he would have been if not for a variety of leg injuries.

Dallas and Phoenix naturally see what's happening with Duncan and Ginobili and privately believe San Antonio is more vulnerable than anyone anticipated when the season began. But the Spurs are known for their second-half surges and chances are that'll apply to their health as well.



Film Session

Marc Stein appears solo in this week's edition of the NBA Writers' Block to take issue with the contention that the Kings had nothing to lose by gambling on Ron Artest. Watch ESPN Motion



Marc's Quote

"Listen. They're an elite team."

Indiana coach Rick Carlisle, responding to skepticism about the Dallas Mavericks' 36-10 record.


A Fine Line
FEB. 1: BEN WALLACE VS. TIMBERWOLVES
MIN FGA-M FTA-M REB PTS
36 0-4 0-2 17 0

With the Pistons facing Flip Saunders' old team Wednesday night, perhaps Ben Wallace wanted to show the Wolves just how much he enjoys Flip's system these days. Or perhaps we're reaching for a theory to explain the quirk we saw from Big Ben against the Wolves: 17 boards and zero points in Detroit's 90-74 triumph.

It was just the fourth time in the past 10 seasons that a player grabbed at least 17 rebounds without scoring a single point, putting Wallace in an exclusive club with Seattle's Reggie Evans (0 and 17 in January 2005), Chicago's Dennis Rodman (0 and 21 in December 1997) and Denver's Ervin Johnson (0 and 17 in April 1997).

Since the NBA began tracking rebounds in 1950, there have only been 24 games in league history in which a player went scoreless while collecting at least 15 rebounds. Rodman accounted for half of those games.