Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2 p.m. ET

The Washington Wizards

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Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; 2:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Michael Lee was online Wednesday, Dec. 20, at 2 p.m. ET to field your questions and comments about the Wizards, his recent series about international player development, the Allen Iverson trade, the Knicks-Nuggets brawl and all the latest NBA news.

From The Post:

Wizards Coverage

The transcript follows.

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Michael Lee: I'm back. After an extremely long hiatus to work on this project on Eastern European hoops, I am finally back in my element: the NBA. And what in the world is going on? When I left the scene in November, the NBA had sworn to stay with its new microfiber ball for the entire 2006-07, Allen Iverson had declared that he would never ask out of Philadelphia and Carmelo Anthony had turned the corner and fully repaired his once-tarnished image. When I get back, two-time league MVP Steve Nash got some bloody finger tips and the players union filed a grievance forcing Commissioner David Stern to declare, "You're with me, leather" on Jan. 1, Iverson requests a trade and gets dealt to Denver and in the midst of one punch and rapid backpedal, Anthony may have lost his charm with both Madison Avenue and the "Stop Snitching" crowd. Crazy, I tell you. I just hope that now that I'm back in the NBA fold, the league won't be dull the rest of the season. I'm ready to talk about whatever today, from the state of the league, to my series on the development of players in Europe that ran on Sunday and Monday (which you may have understandably skipped over in the wake of the zany week in the NBA -- and I didn't even mention Gilbert dropping 60 Cent on the Lakers!!!). Enough with the intro, though, let's get down to the business at hand. Questions anyone?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi, could you please comment on Kobe's comments after Arenas scored 60 the other night? I almost couldn't believe what I was reading. I haven't heard much said about this and was wondering what your reaction was and if any players or coaches reacted as well.

Thanks.

Michael Lee: It's been a shame that Gilbert's brilliant performance on Sunday has been completely forgotten after the suspensions and the Iverson trade. But it cannot be overlooked. That guy scored 60 points in Kobe's house. That had to be rather humiliating for Kobe, especially with Gilbert giving it to him for most of the fourth period and overtime. Kobe got embarrassed, the only way he knew how to save face was to borrow from the Phil Jackson school of ref-bashing. I did find it hilarious that he made a comment about Gil's shot selection -- Gil learned from watching him! I really don't care about what Kobe said, though. I just can't wait until Feb. 3, when the Lakers come to Verizon Center. Fans will have more to boo than Kwame this time around.

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Laurel, Md.: Stern dropped the hammer on the thuggish behavior between the Nuggets and the Knicks. Many have said it's a racist thing because fights occur in other sports with non-blacks and it's not as big a deal.

Do you think Stern is sleeping with the devil? He embraces the thuggishness of the players by making sure hip hop and rap is part of the NBA culture. Hip hop and rap is often a venue where crime, violence, misogyny and materialism is glorified. This connection is especially evident during the All-Star break when that's all you see at the festivities. Now, when it manifests itself to the bad side of what it is, he's so quick to drop the hammer.

Michael Lee: Whoa, whoa, Laurel. What is your problem? You used the words "thuggery" and "thuggishness" like that is the reason for the fight on Saturday. That fight had as much to do with hip-hop music as country music causes NASCAR drivers to deck each other on the track. I don't understand the devil you claim Stern is sleeping with. Are you calling every player in the NBA a thug? I get sick of people taking isolated incidents and lambasting an entire league.

I must say that I am completely offended by this question because at no point did you ask yourself this question: How is an athlete supposed to react in a heated competition when he is body-slammed and agitated? Of course, you would hope that they'd shake hands, walk away and hug, but these are athletes with egos and pride. Chances are, the situation will result in something like this. I'm in no way defending what occurred on Saturday - it was wrong in every way - but I'm not going to call these guys thugs because they fought. It was just a fight that got caught on tape and was looped repeatedly on ESPN because it made for good video. Nate Robinson and J.R. Smith wrestled on the baseline, Carmelo threw a punch and Jared Jeffries ran after him. Was it any worse than anything we witness in baseball or hockey on a regular basis? In those sports, we can laugh off the violence as boys being boys, but when it comes to the NBA, we need to call social commentators to weigh in and call it a "black eye" on the league. Give me a break. Was it more disgusting than T.O. spitting on DeAngelo Hall? A couple of players let their emotions take over. Last I checked, that's been happening throughout history, long before "Rapper's Delight" hit the airwaves.

I honestly believe that there is an element of race involved in the coverage of this little scuffle. It doesn't even come close to the Malice in the Palace in Auburn Hills and may not be as bad as the little tussle the Wizards got into with the Bulls a few preseasons ago. Are we really going to call Brendan Haywood a thug because he punched Antonio Davis? Let's get serious.

That being said, in the post-Palace brawl NBA, Stern had to send a message that fighting won't be tolerated in his sport. Mostly because it was the right thing to do, but also because, unfortunately, people like my man -- or woman -- Laurel will continue to miss the point.

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Washington, D.C.: What's your take on the penalties handed down by the league for the fighting? Shouldn't Isiah have been held accountable for his actions? No coach should be involved in that way, right?

Michael Lee: I thought the penalties were a little excessive, but understandable given the climate in the NBA nowadays. I don't think Carmelo's punch warranted any more than eight games or that J.R. Smith and Nate Robinson needed to get more than five. But if Commissioner Stern wanted to get the point across that he doesn't want fighting in his league, I think the message is coming through loud and clear.

What did Isiah really do? He told Carmelo not to go inside. Okay. Has that never been uttered before by a coach? Has a hard foul never be called for? Think Pat Riley ever wanted his Knicks to commit a hard foul? I don't see the crime in asking for a hard foul and I cannot imagine that he directed Robinson to shove and tackle Smith or Mardy Collins to take a punch in the face afterward. The fight was all on the players. Now, if Isiah was on the floor throwing bows, kick him out of the league for 20 games.

I guess if you use the example of a baseball manager ordering his pitcher to hit someone, leading to a one-or-two game suspension, then I guess maybe he could've gotten something, but Stern did the right thing fining the teams a half-mil. The Knicks and Nuggets were made accountable for creating such a volatile situation; with George Karl running up the score (regardless of what he says) and Isiah asking his team to respond.

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Washington, D.C.: Does Isiah think he's still a player? As a coach, shouldn't he be more worried about trying to win games, improving the Knicks' defense, and saving a franchise rather than jawing with other players or worrying about other coaches' strategies?

Michael Lee: You are very much correct, sir. I thought it was funny that Isiah said Collins fouled Smith because the fans at MSG didn't want to see another dunk? Did he talk to the fans? If my team is getting blown out by 20, at least the opponent should be allowed to entertain me. But Isiah is in trouble. The Knicks are 10-17 and he constantly finds other things to talk about except how bad his team is playing. We'll see how long he gets to do that.

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They are pros!: If anyone wanted to see the basis of the American economy is exploitation of labor need only look at our college sports programs. These football and basketball kids make billions in revenues for essentially room and board. Only 60 percent graduate, and how many of them really have a useable degree with all the general studies majors at these powerhouse schools? What are the blocks for modeling the U.S. programs after the foreign? Does the NCAA fear losing all the revenue that is building monuments and castles on campus?

Michael Lee: A big yes to your last question. There is too much money to be made by the NCAA to keep the United States from ever adopting a foreign model, plus the U.S. model isn't bad. In my opinion, it should be the best, because it provides players a chance to develop against their peer group at every level -- high school, college and the pros. But I think the NCAA could certainly loosen its rules on practice time and allow coaches to teach their players during the summers. The way the U.S. system is set up now, there is very little time committed to teaching the game, because coaches have to worry about wins and losses in order to win games. In Europe, from what I was able to observe, they spend more time on developing players than trying to win games. You have to ask yourself, what are you really trying build -- better players or better programs.

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Hyattsville, Md.: Michael,

Who knew powder blue could be so intimidating. With 'Melo, A.I., J.R. Smith, Nene, Najera and Evans, the Nuggets have to be the most imposing squad in the league, right? Are you as disappointed as I am now that K-Mart is hurt?

Michael Lee: Hyattsville, I am not afraid of powder blue. The Nuggets will be the most entertaining team, but they are not the most imposing squad in the league, the Western Conference and possibly not even the Northwest Division with Allen Iverson. I have always been an admirer of A.I.'s game and he will surely give them some offensive firepower while Anthony and Smith are out serving suspensions, but I am curious to see how that ball will move around when they get back. Do you play Smith and Iverson in the backcourt together? If so, who pushes up the ball and runs the offense for them? One of the reasons for dissension in Denver lately was that Andre Miller spent too much time pounding the ball and trying to get his own shots to be an effective floor general. Is Iverson really ready to defer? I don't know. You play the same way for 10 years, it'll be tough to try something else.

But are the Nuggets better than San Antonio, Dallas and Phoenix right now? No. And, I don't see that changing any time soon, with or without K-Mart. Denver might be able to catch Utah, but I don't see them cracking the top three in the West.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Just a comment on that great article Sunday.

There is a very interesting parallel in the world of football, with the British having invented it, then other countries such as Brazil, Argentina, Italy, etc. adopting the game and eventually surpassing the British in skill and tactics.

Now England hasn't won a World Cup in 40 years. Of course, I hope the same doesn't happen with U.S. basketball. It'll be very interesting to see...

Michael Lee: Thanks for the comment. Although the U.S. hasn't had the success in recent years, I still believe we produce the best players and that we will continue to for the foreseeable future. But you make an interesting point.

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Hibachi-town: Do you think AI would've been a good addition to the Wizards? Not sure what kind of package they could've put together, but obviously it couldn't have included Gilbert or even Caron.

Michael Lee: No. Iverson would not have worked in Washington. There is no way you trade Gilbert right now. He's seven years younger and hasn't even reached his prime. And, I certainly can't imagine that those guys could play in the same backcourt beyond an all-star game. It wouldn't be pretty.

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Speaking of the MSG fight:: The thing that stood out to me was Ragin' Jared Jeffries. Who knew? JJ barely seemed to have a pulse down here, but he gets to New York and he's dragging half the Knicks coaching staff across the court to get after 'Melo. What gives? Was he possessed by the sprit of Oakley?

Michael Lee: You're right. I had to rub my eyes a couple of times because I couldn't believe what I saw. My only two questions after I saw the footage was, what would Jared have done if he got close to Carmelo? And, why was Carmelo moonwalking from Jared Jeffries?

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What's next?: Now that the Iverson fiasco is over (or just starting in Denver) what other trades are on the forefront? KG..? Will our beloved Wiz make a move to legitimize the big man slot?

Michael Lee: Now that every sportswriters dream came true and Iverson got traded, I guess now we can focus on the KG watch. Minnesota played some fired up basketball when Iverson hit the market, but now that the Timberwolves are stuck in the middle of a deep Western Conference, you figure it's a matter of time before Garnett strolls into Kevin McHale's office and asks for his freedom. KG has constantly declared his loyalty to 'Sota, but Iverson, if you remember, was adamant about staying in Philadelphia not too long ago, too. KG isn't going to win a title in Minnesota and Minnesota won't win with him, so it might be a good time to see what the Timberwolves can get for him. I'm just waiting for the Chicago Bulls to make the phone call.

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Bad Loss in Denver: One of things that the Wizards need to learn how to do is to win the games they are supposed to win. Monday night in Denver was a perfect example. There is no way the Wiz should lose to such a depleted Nugget squad like that. They were never really into the game. What gives?

Michael Lee: Those things happen all the time. I was not surprised by that loss. The Wizards came off an emotional win, played 53 minutes against the Lakers, then were forced to play a back-to-back against a team that had to be fired up about their high-scoring backcourt getting suspended. The thing about depleted teams is that when the star is gone, it often gives other players an opportunity to prove that they should be getting more minutes - or more shots. And, George Karl, after tearing apart Isiah Thomas with some derogatory names, surely had enough fire to deliver an emotionally uplifting speech. Plus, the Wizards handed it to the Nuggets pretty good last week in Washington. The Nuggets didn't forget. That said, you're right. The Wizards should've played better, but like my man Chris Rock. . ."I understand."

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Herndon, Va.: Michael,

You have to like the consistency of Gilbert and Caron. Any chance Gilbert starts in the All-Star Game now that AI is out west? Any chance Caron gets a spot on the team?

Thanks.

Michael Lee: I don't think Gilbert will be able to start in the All-Star Game, with or without A.I. Now, Iverson's votes are now transferred to the Western Conference, but Arenas still trails Vince Carter by about 200,000 for the coveted third position in All-Star balloting. So, Arenas has a long way to go. Caron is certainly playing at an All-Star level, but he'd have to beat out Paul Pierce and Jermaine O'Neal to get there. That might be tough. LeBron James and Chris Bosh have the starting spots locked up.

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Largo, Md.: Mike, Would Ernie/Eddie ever consider moving A.J. for Zach Randolph? Yeah yeah yeah...Jamison's a stand up guy and Randolph is an absolute knucklehead. But his low-post game is stellar, and it's being wasted in Portland. That wide butt of his would like nice in the tacky black and gold...

Michael Lee: Zach Randolph is a great player, but that move would be a disaster. Really. Randolph kind of offsets his great play with his off-court behavior and Abe Pollin doesn't take kindly to players with questionable reps. He certainly wouldn't trade one of his favorite people -- Jamison -- to get Randolph. Kill that dream.

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Arlington, Va.: Michael -- Is there any way the Wizards would be able to pick up a lottery first round pick (other than qualifying by having a poor record) so they at least have a chance to be in the Greg Oden sweepstakes? Or is every team in the NBA taking the mentality of we must be lottery protected so we have a chance to draft this guy next year so first-round picks are not even considered in trade discussions?

Michael Lee: I don't see any way the Wizards enter the Greg Oden sweepstakes. Bad teams aren't going to surrender their high picks -- unless we're talking about the Knicks -- and the Wizards can't go around tanking the season in hopes of getting lucky. How'd that work out for Boston in 1997?

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D.C.: Agent Zero, who always complains that he doesn't get any respect and it's him against the world, likes to celebrate by throwing his jersey to the crowd and taking bows in front of audiences when he lights it up. Never mind the fact that he's a multimillionaire with a huge shoe contract and his face plastered everywhere. Is Agent Zero an exercise in contradiction?

Michael Lee: I think if you look back at Gilbert's life story, especially with him being abandoned by his mother, you will always see a person who is seeking to be loved. Add that with other perceived slights throughout his career -- overlooked in high school, slipping to the second round, ignored by coaches for the All-Star Game, dumped by the world championship team -- and Gilbert will always be someone in search of respect. Just appreciate that he is able to always find something to drive him toward greatness. Some folks have some success, sit back and get fat. Gilbert has only gotten better.

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Philly: Hi Michael -- any chance the Sixers move Andre Miller to a team like Cleveland or Miami, maybe for a young 4/5?

Michael Lee: I think the Sixers will hang on the Miller at least until his contract expires. He's a good player and is the best pure point guard that team has had - Iverson is not a pure point - since Maurice Cheeks was in shorts instead of a suit. It's just a shame the Miller doesn't really have anyone to pass the ball to. Miami and Cleveland certainly need help at the point, but I cannot imagine Philadelphia doing the honors. Plus, what could Miami and Cleveland really offer?

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Michael Lee: Alright, people. That was fun, but I've got to run. I'd love to get back with you guys soon. Maybe then, things will have settle down some in the NBA. Peace.

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