Rumour mill churns

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:13 PM ET

All those players who supposedly were getting traded for Vince Carter might want to keep their bags packed. Months of Carter rumours finally culminated in a deal between the Raptors and the New Jersey Nets a week and a half ago. But what of the teams that were left at the altar in the Carter sweepstakes?

Here's a look at four clubs that were known to have at least mild interest in Carter, but still are facing some tough decisions heading up to the NBA trade deadline on Feb. 24:

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS

The first persistent early suitor for Carter, the Blazers were willing to part with a combination of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Nick Van Exel and Derek Anderson, among others, in some sort of multi-player transaction. Now Abdur-Rahim is battling an injury (hyperextended elbow) and Van Exel sounds as if he already has retired mentally.

"It's done, it's a wrap," Van Exel said recently. "This will be my last season. I've been thinking about it for a while over these past couple of months. Just getting up every morning, my body always aching -- knees, back, hip -- it just gets boring after a while."

Add to that the fact that most of the Blazers are upset about the selfish play of young star Zach Randolph and you have a real mess in Portland. Then again, what else is new? That local writers have dubbed the Blazers "Team Mediocrity" really is quite a compliment, relatviely speaking.

NEW YORK KNICKS

Big Apple hoops fans are starting to place bets on how long head coach Lenny Wilkens can last, even though the Knicks' record of 14-13 heading into play last night was good enough for first place in the embarrassingly weak Atlantic Division.

Knicks general manager Isiah Thomas tried to dump a collection of high-salaried ballast on the Raptors for Carter -- Allan Houston, Penny Hardaway, Tim Thomas, Jerome (Junk Yard Dog) Williams, etc. -- and luckily for the Raptors, they didn't bite.

However, Knicks guard Jamal Crawford is hurt now (turf toe, which always is more serious than it sounds), and if the Knicks start to sink, the notoriously impatient Thomas may get an itchy trigger finger.

NEW ORLEANS HORNETS

Okay, let's look for some good news in New Orleans. The Saints still are in the hunt for an NFL playoff spot. And Mardi Gras is coming up.

Other than that, there's not much you can say about a team that was 2-24 heading into play last night. In fact, as the Hornets hit rock bottom in their first season in the Western Conference, amateur mathematicians are starting to wonder if the Hornets are a threat to finish with a worse record than the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who set the NBA mark for futility by going 9-73.

There were rumours the Hornets were desperate enough to ship out Canadian Jamaal Magloire and perhaps injury-prone guard Baron Davis in a complex Carter deal. But Magloire still is sidelined with a finger problem and Davis just came back from a back injury. Davis presently is the Hornets' most tradeable commodity, but they aren't exactly dealing from a position of strength.

The Hornets traded David Wesley to the Houston Rockes yesterday for Jim Jackson and Bostjan Nachbar.

MIAMI HEAT

There still are rumours the Heat could be interested in acquiring Jalen Rose and Donyell Marshall from the Raptors (the Nets also are interested in Marshall), possibly for Eddie Jones and some throw-ins for salary-matching purposes. Then there's the Alonzo Mourning issue, although there have been suggestions the Heat has about as much interest in Mourning as do the Raptors (in other words, not much).

But if we were running the Heat, we would not touch this team. Shaquille O'Neal and Co., have the best record in the Eastern Conference, and with the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers struggling, hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

You have to figure at least a couple of those four teams -- Blazers, Knicks, Hornets and Heat --will change their rosters, perhaps significantly, in the next month and a half.

But only time will tell if their respective failures to land Carter will be considered a curse or a blessing.

UNWELCOME AT HOME

One team that had absolutely no interest in acquiring Carter was the expansion Charlotte Bobcats, regardless of his status as a local hero. Carter played his college basketball at the University of North Carolina.

"No," said Bobcats coach and general manager Bernie Bickerstaff when asked if he had inquired about Carter. "With us, as an expansion team, when you pay that amount of money, how many wins will it bring you?"

Good question.

MIGHT THIS STICK?

Reigning league MVP Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves has a nickname for LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

"I like to call him 'The Gift,' " Garnett said. "I'm happy not only for him, but for Cleveland.

"He definitely has been 'The Gift' for that town and also the league."


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