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That's also why, even if they had drafted 'Melo, Bosh or Wade, it wouldn't necessarily be easier to choose a future course. Unless Pistons owner Bill Davidson was prepared to pay some serious luxury-tax bucks, Knicks-style, he'd eventually have to part with one of the young studs or someone in the hallowed starting five. Given how revered the Pistons' starters are in Detroit, that is no simple dilemma. NBA front-office sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday night that only one detail could unhinge the deal now -- bartering over the level of protection Orlando secures on the 2006 first-round pick it's parting with. Yet sources also say that the Magic's front-office tandem of Otis Smith and Dave Twardzik, still smarting from 2005 first-round pick Fran Vazquez's decision to spend this season in Spain, are nonetheless eager to inherit Dumars' gamble. They want to pair Milicic's face-the-basket instincts with franchise forward Dwight Howard's power game and see what kind of partnership develops. Throw in a favorable Steve Francis deal, a healthy Grant Hill and a Vazquez change of heart -- OK, granted, all that requires a lot of finger-crossing -- and Orlando's dreary outlook improves.
The first step there, of course, is a mood upswing from Darko. He has to take responsibility for the total lack of grit he consistently transmitted while surrounded by the game's hard-hat kings. There were some promising signs in training camp with Saunders replacing the unforgiving Larry Brown, but Darko's willingness to fight for minutes faded quickly. It has become clear in recent weeks that he's simply waiting for the chance to go somewhere fresh.
It hasn't exactly been a happy place for NBA folks since a certain S. O'Neal left town a decade ago, but maybe a move to the Magic Kingdom -- where Darko would find no unhappy memories and only one star power forward in the same locker room -- can transform the 20-year-old into something closer to what so many of us projected.
• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang
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Readers respond to the latest edition of the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings:
Seth (Houston): I was thinking this would be the best Monday of the 2005-2006 season. I thought I would come back from lunch and see my Mavs in the top spot. I thought you were going to make some trite statement about the committee (of one) making a call it should have made two weeks ago and Big D standing for defense . . . yada, yada, yada. How could you ever get something so wrong?Brandon (College Station): Why can't we get the rodeo in Dallas? With the five-day layoff dished out to San Antonio during this eight-game trip, what team wouldn't want its own rodeo? What's so special about winning three games in a row, then having time to fly to the moon and back and then winning five more games on the road against terrible teams. Since when does one team get two All-Star breaks? Brandon (Detroit): I think I'm becoming less insane this season. I partially agree with you dropping my beloved Pistons down a couple of notches. Are they really getting tired? Is my life really over? You cannot deny that they still have the best record in the league. Maybe dropping them one spot would suffice. But, then again, you are the committee. I only half-hate you now. Erik (Cleveland): While I don't dispute where you have the Cavaliers this week, I am getting tired of always seeing you write about "the second-half collapse" like it's something that is guaranteed to happen. There will be no second-half collapse this season; it's a totally different team. So find something else to write about. Scout283 (Plainview, Texas): Guess your rankings are suspect again since the Spurs took it on the chin against the Cavs. Your comments about Dallas said it best -- look at their record against the elite teams of the league. One of these days, the East Coast media will give the Mavs the respect they deserve. (Ed's note: One of these days this will sink in, since this is at least the 10th time I've written this: I live in a Western Conference city and have lived in a Western Conference city every season but one of my 13 seasons covering the NBA. Sorry to disappoint, but there are no regional biases here at Stein Line HQ.)
Heat G Dwyane Wade: There would be no post-Pistons letdown from the closer in Miami's stirring comeback victory over Detroit. Wade topped Sunday's 37 points with 38 in a 107-93 victory over Orlando.
Larry Hughes news: Cleveland didn't get much time to celebrate Monday's triumph over mighty San Antonio. The Cavs learned that Hughes' broken finger will likely keep him sidelined until the playoffs at the earliest, making this Hughes' sixth straight injury-shortened season. Which heaps even more responsibility on LeBron James, with the Cavs just 12-11 since Hughes got hurt.
Quote of the Day
"It's time for me to start picking it up. People are playing me a certain way, and I know what to do and when to do it."
I'm gullible enough to believe they're going to keep doing what they're doing. I know what Bucher said in his chat yesterday and it's tough to argue with the logic. Once we get into March and April and these kids start feeling the weight of expectations, they'll be ripe for some folding. But I'm going to take the opposite view and back the Hornets to hang on. Going 3-0 without the Rookie of the Year, especially given how the Hornets beat the Wiz last night in a game that looked over, has obviously swayed me.
Meir (Miami): I would have said the same about the Heat's heart -- until Sunday, that is. But we were both wrong and now you have to admit that. One game doesn't change everything that came before, but you predicted that Sunday's game vs. Detroit would be no different. Maybe this spark can set them ablaze. My only fear is that they now believe even more in their ability to "turn the switch on" come playoff time.Marc Stein: Sorry, Meir. Don't feel a need to admit anything. Shaq himself said it -- any team can do it once. I need to see what Sunday does for the Heat from here. As you mentioned, one potential consequence is that they believe even more in their ability to flip the switch and coast through the rest of the regular season.
Why do I (and Riley, incidentally) keep harping on this? Because some of us have been around long enough to know that a brand new team isn't going to beat a well-oiled machine like Detroit four times in the playoffs without some cohesion of their own. The Heat can't "turn it on" in the playoffs because this edition of the Heat hasn't established an "on."
These aren't the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers. We knew those guys had an "on." Even after getting Shaq's best game of the season and an otherworldly flurry from D-Wade at the finish, they were a wide-open Tayshaun triple away from losing at home anyway. If they can put together another good game or two against Detroit, maybe that will give them a bit of base to work from in the playoffs.If I regret anything about Friday's Heat critique, it's that I didn't separate Wade from the group when talking about Miami's soulless season so far. Wade has been brilliant and, sadly for him, overshadowed by his team's indifference. One last Heat point: Did anyone else notice that, in the fourth quarter, almost all of the big-name newcomers were spectators: Toine, J-Will and Posey? We've only been saying it since July: If Miami is going to beat Detroit, Shaq and Wade have to have the ball. Which is why I preferred tweaking the cast around them to a major overhaul.