Three Observations From the Past Seven Days

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 30, 2005; 2:12 PM

1. Camby could open the door for Duncan

Denver Nuggets center Marcus Camby's fractured right pinky is terrible news considering the NBA's leading rebounder might be forced to miss the all-star festivities this season, his 11th, despite putting together a career year. Camby had pins surgically inserted into his hand will be forced to miss at least one month.

Camby, the NBA's leading rebounder, will probably go down as this season's Larry Hughes -- the player whose chance of being selected as an all-star for the first time was denied by an injury -- although Camby is even more deserving than Hughes. Camby is averaging career highs of 16.3 points and 12.9 rebounds and is second in the league with 3.12 blocks.

With Camby, Houston's Yao Ming (toe) and Phoenix's Amare Stoudemire (knee) sidelined, the Western Conference doesn't have a legitimate center worthy of starting the all-star game. Utah's Mehmet Okur is having a great season (17.8 points and 8.9 rebounds) and is listed as a center on the all-star ballot (he ranks third in voting behind Yao and Camby), although he has yet to start a game at that position this season. So, what does all of this mean?

The collapse of the West's skyscrapers will probably help San Antonio's Tim Duncan keep his string of consecutive all-star starts alive at seven. Crazy as it sounds, if all-star balloting ended today, the two-time MVP would have to be selected by the coaches for the first time since his rookie season. Houston's Tracy McGrady and Minnesota's Kevin Garnett currently lead all forwards in the West. The 7-foot Duncan wants to be classified as a forward, although his game is that of a classic, back-to-the-basket center. But unless Yao or Camby can return before Feb. 19, Duncan should be thrown in as the starter to amend for a major oversight by the fans.

2. Shareef Abdur-Rahim is the unluckiest man in the NBA

Sacramento Kings forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim is such a good guy that he is easy to root for. A devout Muslim, he's heavily involved in the community and was one of the first athletes to go to Mississippi to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina this summer. You'd like to see Abdur-Rahim succeed, and he has been an Olympian gold medallist and an all-star -- but he has the worst luck when it comes to playing for lousy NBA teams. Abdur-Rahim will never throw himself a pity party, but at some point he has to ponder why can't ever play for a winner. Abdur-Rahim is the active career leader with 699 games played without a playoff appearance and he appears headed toward his 10th consecutive season without reaching the postseason.

Abdur-Rahim's problems began when the Vancouver Grizzlies, a team in the early stages of expansion, drafted him. After five seasons of never winning more than 23 games, Abdur-Rahim was traded to the Atlanta Hawks, where he never won more than 35 games in 2 seasons. He thought his fortunes would change when he was traded to Portland in February 2004 -- but the Trail Blazers' string of 21 consecutive seasons with a playoff appearance ended once he arrived.

The New Jersey Nets tried to pry him away that offseason, but Portland never budged, holding on to his expiring contract for the entire season before letting him walk as a free agent. Portland made a return trip to the lottery. The Nets, by the way, went to the playoffs. Abdur-Rahim finally agreed to a contract with the Nets last summer, only to have the Nets balk over concerns about what they felt was an arthritic knee. So, Abdur-Rahim quickly jumped at the opportunity to play for Sacramento, which has made seven straight trips to the playoffs. And what happens? The Kings (10-17) have been a colossal flop this season and adding insult, Abdur-Rahim won't be able to help turn around the situation any time soon after suffering a broken jaw in the third quarter of a loss to Portland. Abdur-Rahim's mouth will be wired shut for six weeks after he undergoes surgery to repair his broken jaw and there has been no timetable set for his return. Good dude. Bad break. Again.

3. Ron Artest can thank Terrell Owens for remaining in Indiana

The talent/tolerance equation goes like this: As long as a player can produce, a team will put up with his quirks, self-absorption and distractions. But the talent/tolerance equation only goes so far. Once the line is crossed, there is no turning back. Terrell Owens helped the Philadelphia Eagles get to the Super Bowl but the Eagles decided that they would rather throw away the following season than deal with Owens' me-first antics. The Indiana Pacers are taking the same stance with Ron Artest, who has done nothing but sabotage their championship pursuits. Indiana would rather lose games than let Artest run the team.

The Pacers have lost three in a row, and a season that began with championship aspirations is unraveling with the focus now centered on when they will trade Artest and who they will get in return. It's been almost three weeks since Artest demanded a trade, but the Pacers are in no rush to move him. They want the best deal possible and several teams have tried to lowball Indiana, knowing that the risk may outweigh the reward of acquiring Artest, who has missed more than 100 career games because of suspension/deactivation. Teams appear to be more concerned with that last stat than Artest averaging 19.4 points and league-best 2.63 steals. And, a fact that is often overlooked when it comes to Artest is that he asked for time off to record an album before he received his 73-game suspension for igniting the brawl in Auburn Hills, Mich. If he couldn't be happy as the No. 2 option on a supposed championship contender, where will he find it? His lack of stability won't necessarily cha nge with a change of scenery.

Denver, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Lakers are three of the teams that reportedly have serious interest in Artest but the Pacers aren't in a rush. Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, the Pacers can leave Artest in on the inactive list for the rest of the season if they choose to, but the players -- especially Pacers captain Jermaine O'Neal -- are beginning to get restless. "It's going to take time. We can't get it done overnight," Pacers president Larry Bird told reporters in Indianapolis Thursday. "We're not dealing with one or two teams, we're dealing with 14 or 15."

Bird said not all of the offers are serious. "Some of it's B.S., some of it's for real. I don't think we ever felt we had to get something done in a week, or two weeks or three weeks. We'll see what happens. It could get done [today], but it could get done two or three weeks from now."

Owens proved that you can't say what you want do what you want without retribution. He gave a half-hearted apology for disrespecting the Eagles' organization and the face of the franchise Donovan McNabb, then tried to show some contrition during his agent Drew Rosenhaus's "next question" news conference. But it was too little too late. Owens was deactivated for the rest of the regular season. When Artest realized that the Pacers had given up on him, he tried to rescind his trade demand. Now he has accepted that his days in Indiana are done. Hardball is the only game professional sports teams are playing with knuckleheads right now.

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