A fact not better left unsaid

Jermaine O'Neal shows off his soft left-handed touch around the hoop. 

Quick. Name the righty most likely to make you think he belongs on the list with our favorite lefties.

On this special list of master craftsmen: Michael Redd, Nick Van Exel, Manu Ginobili, Lamar Odom and Zach Randolph ... with Toni Kukoc, Stacey Augmon and rookie Chris Bosh coming off the bench.

No, it ain't Kobe Bryant.

Kobe, remember, shouldn't even be playing, at least not if I had a vote. As good as he's getting with that left hand, and even though his banged-up shoulder is expertly wrapped up every night by the veteran touch of uber-trainer Gary Vitti, it's still my feeling that Kobe is back in the lineup way too soon and increasing the risk of another setback ... although I can't deny it was impressive to see video of No. 8 swishing a couple half-court shots with his left hand to make an Israeli reporter friend of mine crank out 400 push-ups for betting against him.

Anyway ...

The righty most likely to pull off masquerading as a lefty will be playing against Randolph in Wednesday night's ESPN game. Jermaine O'Neal is so polished with his left hand that, if not for his jumpers, you'd think he really was a lefty.

In his Portland days, when O'Neal played sparingly like Zach as a rookie and didn't get to shoot jumpers, I did think he was a lefty.

"Everybody does," Jermaine says. "Everybody thought I was a lefty. It's good for me, I guess.

"My jumper has always been right-handed, but I broke my right hand when I was a kid. I was falling behind in school, so my mom made me do everything left-handed."

There you go. Now you know.

Lots of Laker fans are writing in to rebut my contention that Kobe is back in the lineup too quickly, pointing to Monday night's 24-point fourth quarter as prime evidence to say that he clearly should be playing.


First of all, Kobe himself says he's not going to be fully healed for the rest of the season … so the more games he plays now increases the likelihood he makes it worse for the playoffs.

Secondly, if the Lakers need a 24-point fourth quarter from Bryant to beat Orlando at home with their other three stars in the lineup and with the playoffs a month away, they're in more trouble than I thought.

Let's not waste any more time talking about a Kobe-for-Tracy McGrady trade. Or a Kobe-for-Allen Iverson trade.

Neither trade can happen for the same reason: Kobe is going to be a free agent this summer. In other words, he'd have to be willing to sign a long-term deal with the team that trades for him.

If T-Mac, virtually an Orlando native, doesn't want to stay with the Magic long-term, you think Kobe would?

And after Philadelphians booed Kobe -- a Philly guy, remember -- in the 2002 All-Star Game, you think Kobe wants to leave the Lakers and go there for six or seven seasons after he clears his name in court?


If T.J. Ford didn't have a good case for feeling snubbed in January when he didn't earn a spot in the Rookies vs. Sophomores game at All-Star Weekend, he's got a great case now.

Even with Damon Jones filling in with some splendid assist-to-turnover numbers, and even after Milwaukee was able to sign a fairly seasoned stopgap (Brevin Knight) to add depth at the point, the Bucks just haven't been the same since Ford was knocked hard to the floor on Feb. 24.

Danny Ainge generally ignores his critics anyway, but if he ever needs to hear words of comfort, he should probably call Kiki Vandeweghe.

Kiki is proof that you can go from villain to hero if you weather the initial hit that follows an unpopular trade.

Kiki was widely skewered when he dealt away Nick Van Exel and Raef LaFrentz for Juwan Howard's soon-to-expire contract. Now look.

It might be asking a lot, but Ainge has to hope that his gamble that everyone rips -- trading Antoine Walker for LaFrentz and Jiri Welsch because he didn't think he'd get a better offer for 'Toine -- will work out somewhat like Kiki's dice roll.

As an unabashed Bruce Bowen fan -- and I'm pretty sure regular readers here know why -- I'd be just as upset as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich if someone put a bounty on this Titan's head.

But I'm not upset.

I'm not upset because what Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said about Bowen last week wasn't even close to bounty territory.

Cuban was fined $10,000 on Wednesday, but his advice to Mavs rookie Josh Howard -- "When you get up close, slap the ball right in his face and I'll pay the fine" -- sounds a lot more inflammatory than it really was. Cuban later insisted that he was merely advising Howard to try to create space away from Bowen's aggressive defense with a ball swipe.

Either way, that's not a bounty.

This is a bounty:

"I have a personal announcement, though. I am placing a personal bounty on the head of Tim McCracken. He's the coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team. ... One hundred bucks of my own money for the first of my men who really nails that creep."

Those, of course, are the immortal words of Reg Dunlop, coach of the Charlestown Chiefs. Dare I say Cuban, if he were really going to put a bounty on someone, would have said something salacious like that.

What really gets me upset is when those jokers at UT-San Antonio try to claim Bowen as one of their own, just because he took a couple of classes there to finish his degree. Don't get greedy, Roadrunners. You're lucky enough to be in the NCAA Tournament.

Did you see what getting routed by Cal State Fullerton almost did for Cal State Northridge? After we pounded the Matadors by 25 in the regular-season finale, they were so inspired that they almost won the Big West Tournament.

And, yes, Utah State got hosed by the committee.

And, yes, this will be our final college basketball discussion of the season.


It would be wonderful if Shaquille O'Neal and Kevin Garnett accept invitations from USA Basketball to play in the Athens Games. Serbia and Montenegro alone is good enough as a team to demand that we send our best squad to the Olympics.

Which is why LeBron James has to be there, too. And I think he will be. Veterans deserve first crack -- Dallas statesman Michael Finley is another good name for consideration -- but if injuries create the opening, the selection committee has to bow to the obvious and add LBJ to Team USA. He has done that much for the league in his rookie season to deserve the trip.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.