Trade day looms

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

With the national holiday known as the NHL trade deadline day out of the picture, perhaps the NBA can fill the void.

Mind you, we do not expect TSN and Rogers Sportsnet to have analysts bolting out of the studio to take cell phone calls Thursday in hopes of breaking one of those critical bench-warmer for bench-warmer deals.

Nonetheless, NBA general managers could make significant headlines. NBA trade deadline day never is as busy as its NHL counterpart because of its earlier arrival in the season and mandatory salary-matching, but plenty of big names are rumoured to be on the block.

Here is a look at some of the pre-deadline scuttlebutt:

- Fittingly, some of the more intriguing drama is taking place in Hollywood, where the Shaq-less Los Angeles Lakers (26-24) are in danger of missing the playoffs. Currently holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Lakers could be in panic mode.

Team officials denied they were shopping Lamar Odom this weekend after his name was linked to deals involving the Utah Jazz's Carlos Boozer and the Sacramento Kings' Peja Stojakovic.

"It's tough to say if we need to make moves," Kobe Bryant told the Los Angeles Daily News. "In the first half of the season, it's tough to gauge where we are as a team because of the situations we had to go through. It would be nice in the second half of the season just to have consistency."

The Lakers, by the way, make their lone visit of the season to the Air Canada Centre Sunday.

- Speaking of teams in trouble, the Minnesota Timberwolves (27-27) are in a three-way battle with fellow underachievers, the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, for the final playoff spot.

New Jersey Nets star point guard Jason Kidd has hinted he wants to play with Kevin Garnett, leading to speculation of a Kidd for Latrell Sprewell deal, but that's a long shot. Fresh off the firing of coach Flip Saunders, Minnesota could be looking to unload Sprewell, Wally Szczerbiak or Sam Cassell.

- The Milwaukee Bucks, another team going nowhere, has a marquee player in Michael Redd with a contract set to expire after the season. The Nuggets and the Cleveland Cavaliers have expressed interest in Redd.

The Seattle Supersonics (35-15) have the same problem, with Ray Allen's contract in its final season, but they are a championship contender and the all-star is not expected to be dealt now.

"I still feel like a Sonic. I am a Sonic," Allen told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "But in the back of my mind, I could be anything come this time next year. Who knows?"

Other players eligible for free agency in the off-season include, therefore making them the subject of rumours, include the Portland Trail Blazers' Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the Raptors' Donyell Marshall.

- Brawler Ron Artest, the suspended Indiana Pacer, has seen his name in several rumours. Meanwhile, the New York Knicks have made noise about acquiring Sacramento's Chris Webber and the Miami Heat is a possible destination for Portland's Damon Stoudamire.

NO GO FOR 'ZO

Alonzo Mourning, the ex-Raptors great, isn't ready to join the Miami Heat just yet.

Mourning, who refused to report to Toronto after he was acquired in the Vince Carter trade and then had his contract bought out, won't play in games tomorrow or Wednesday, but could be with the Heat by the end of the week. The team has to clear a roster spot to make room for Mourning.

BIG PLANS

Ivan Chiriaev, the 7-foot-1 forward who played high school ball at St. Thomas Aquinas in Oakville and signed a professional contract with Dynamo Moscow last week, was asked about his career goals by the Russian team's website.

"My professional dream is to become MVP in (the) NBA and to participate in the all-star (game)," he said.

Nothing wrong with setting the bar high.

TEAMS TO WATCH

The Detroit Pistons and the Houston Rockets, both slow starters, enter the second half of the season on serious rolls.

The defending champion Pistons (32-19), just .500 after 20 games, have emerged as favourites to reach the Eastern Conference final after winning nine of their past 10.

"They just keep squeezing you, squeezing you, and they know when to squeeze the life out of you and put you down," Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said of the Pistons after a recent loss.

The Rockets (32-21), 6-11 at one point, are on an eight-game winning streak.

FLIPPING TO NEW YORK?

When highly-respected coach Flip Saunders was fired by the Minnesota Timberwolves, his name was almost immediately linked to the New York Knicks, currently coached by Herb Williams on an interim basis.

Knicks guard Stephon Marbury, for one, wouldn't mind seeing his old coach in New York.

"He's a great coach. When I was there, it fit perfect. ... He's the dude who taught me the NBA game," Marbury told the Bergen Record.

"Flip is real. He's not like everyone else. He doesn't fall on the bandwagon of what someone else says. He knows what's real and he knows what's fake."

BITTER RIVALS

NBA rivalry week begins today with a game between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. The marquee game is Friday when the Lakers play host to the Detroit Pistons in an NBA final rematch.


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