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  Tue, January 6, 2004


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Instant contender
Deal with Suns puts Knicks in the hunt to win the weak East

By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

Apparently losing to the Raptors on Sunday was so unacceptable to the Phoenix Suns, they decided to throw in the towel on the season and rip apart their team.

However, the Raptors should be much more concerned with Isiah Thomas and the New York Knicks, who yesterday agreed to acquire Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and Cezary Trybanski from the Suns for Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Maciej Lampe, the rights to Milos Vujanic and two conditional first-round picks.

First reaction? The Suns obviously are looking to the future, and some have suggested they're clearing salary-cap room so they can make a pitch for troubled Los Angeles Lakers guard and free-agent-to-be Kobe Bryant next summer. But the Knicks have become an instant playoff team in the East this year with the addition of Marbury, a Brooklyn native who will form a killer backcourt with Allan Houston.

When Thomas, who was named president and general manager of the Knicks mere weeks ago, said he was not interested in a lengthy rebuilding process, he wasn't kidding, was he? It's a little surprising the Knicks gave up on McDyess so quickly, but they obviously concluded he never will be the same after missing two seasons with a serious knee injury.

It's clear what Thomas, the former GM and part-owner of the Raptors, is thinking: The East still stinks, so why shouldn't the Knicks try to win it?

Whether Thomas' vision works out in the long run or not, New York fans will appreciate the aggressiveness. And at the very least, the Knicks just became another team for the Raptors to worry about.

LAKERS GONE DRY

Bryant won't be facing his accuser tomorrow, but he undoubtedly will feel a lot of accusing eyes as his Lakers visit the Denver Nuggets for the first time this season. Bryant has been charged with rape in Eagle County, Colo.

The performance of Bryant's team lately has not provided much of an oasis from his legal woes. The Lakers still have an impressive 21-9 record, but they've lost six of their past nine games and appear to be coming a tad unglued, both mentally and physically.

Karl Malone is on the injured list for the first time in his career with a sprained right knee. Shaquille O'Neal has a strained right calf, a bad back and an increasingly poor and pouty attitude. And Bryant's frequent efforts to take most of the shots and try to win games on his own is rubbing his teammates and coaches the wrong way.

One could argue this simply is business as usual for the talented but dysfunctional Lakers. However, the one thing that genuinely could sink this club is injuries.

"It's a learning process for us without two guys like Karl and Shaq," Lakers guard Gary Payton said. "But we have to understand, we're not going to be with those guys for a while. We have to get it together quick."

COURT JESTERS

After a practice last week, Sacramento Kings centre Vlade Divac gathered his teammates and got them to scream "Happy New Year" in Serbian for the benefit of a Serbian TV crew. Kings coach Rick Adelman, who was being interviewed by reporters at the time, shook his head at the noise and commotion. "They were much more excited to do that than they were to practise," Adelman said. "I wish they talked with each other like that when playing defence." ... There are rumours that unless the Maloof brothers, who own the Kings, can come to an agreement with local government on the construction of a new arena in Sacramento, they might move the franchise to Las Vegas, where they own a casino. There have been suggestions the NBA unofficially has been reserving the Las Vegas market for owner-in-waiting Michael Jordan, but the league does not want to have a team from another pro sport -- say, the Montreal Expos -- crack the Vegas market first. The fact the NBA even is pondering a presence in the gambling capital of the world is ironic, given its petty war with the Ontario government a decade ago regarding the inclusion of NBA games on the nickel-and-dime Pro-Line sports lottery.

BUZZER BEATERS

The Raptors are rumoured to be one of the teams mildly interested in underachieving Denver Nuggets forward Nikoloz Tskitishvili, the fifth pick in the 2002 draft ... Former Raptor Carlos Arroyo could be on the trading block since the Utah Jazz is playing Raul Lopez at the point regularly in key situations ... Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said his players run back down the floor to play defence "like they're shopping for Dairy Queen." Not sure what that means, but we're betting Sloan hasn't splurged for a round of Dilly Bars lately.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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