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Ivan Carter and Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007; 2:30 PM

Post staff writers Ivan Carter and Michael Lee were online Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss the Washington Wizards and the NBA.

The transcript follows.

From The Post:

Wizards Season Preview

Discussion Archive

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Michael Lee: We're back! Another week, some more news. How about Philly firing Billy King and the Cavs finally signing Anderson Varejao? The Magic is looking pretty good, Caron Butler is looking like Reggie Miller, the Heat looks awful and the Cavs really need terrible without LeBron. Okay, enough with the intro, on with the show. Let's go...

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Ivan Carter: I'm a little late so let's get started

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Delaware: Man, I watched the Heat play the Nuggets on NBA TV on Sunday, and I have to say they look like a lottery squad. Do you guys think they can right the ship?

Michael Lee: I don't see if happening unless Pat Riley makes a trade. Dwyane Wade isn't healthy enough to carry the team right now. He doesn't have that same energy and flare. He can't take over like he has in the past.

Shaquille O'Neal has been analyzed all season, but you have to be concerned when he and Riley get into heated arguments. That makes me worried about this bunch -- unless Riley can bring someone like Ron Artest, Mike Bibby or Andre Miller to Miami. He has to do something. He also has a nice expiring contract (Jason Williams) to make something happen. Otherwise, the Heat will lucky to be average this season.

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Gilbert: Hi Ivan and Michael. I have read a hundred articles indicating Gilbert will be out three months. My question: Is that three months until he can start rehabbing, three months until he can start practicing, or three months until he will be in a game? If it is three months until game time, then he should be back for the playoff push and then the playoffs at full speed. Thanks.

Ivan Carter: It's roughly three months before he can return to "basketball related activity." My interpretation is that he would be able to get on the court for shooting and lighter-type practice stuff, then at least two or three weeks of practice and then, it will be determined whether he's game ready. There is no real hard timeline though.

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Washington: Any new rumors on the Kobe trade front, or is he staying in Los Angeles for the season?

Michael Lee: Those rumors died once Jim Paxson said they were done talking. The casket on those rumors was kicked when Phil Jackson signed that two-year, $24 million extension last week. It looks like he's staying - unless something crazy happens (and, let's be honest, crazy stuff happens in L.A.).

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Washington: Hey Ivan -- big fan of your blog. Is the perception of Caron Butler as a sidekick rather than a bona fide centerpiece starting to change with his emergence this year? If he continues playing the way he has, does that diminish even a little Gilbert's max status?

Ivan Carter: My personal feeling is that Caron's play doesn't have an affect on Gilbert's value. It just serves as a reminder that Ernie Grunfeld made a steal in getting Butler from the Lakers for Kwame Brown and then had a the wisdom to lock him up with a long-term contract. Caron is only getting.

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Oakton, Va.: Who would you rather have locked up for the next five years: Darko Milicic or Andray Blatche?

Ivan Carter: Put it this way: I'd rather have Blatche at his money than Darko at his money. Makes far better financial sense and he's way more tradable.

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Philadelphia: Do you guys think the new general manager in Philadelphia is going to make drastic changes this season?

washingtonpost.com: 76ers Fire King, Hire Nets' Stefanski (Post, Dec. 5)

Michael Lee: I think new GM Ed Stefanski will make one or two little moves if he does anything. He might try to move PG Andre Miller since he's a veteran player and the only piece that other teams want and probably have a chance to get (Andre Iguodala is a keeper). It sounds like Maurice Cheeks is going to stay for the rest of the year and that's best. The team isn't going anywhere, and if Stefanski can get an expiring contract in exchange for Miller, Philadelphia will have significant cap space next summer to lure some free agents. And, the class next summer looks pretty awesome.

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Hanover, Pa.: Is Eddie starting to embrace "small ball" again? I've noticed he's starting to use Songaila at center more often in the past few games, and it's having the same disastrous results as last year; the second Eddie does it, the lane to the basket parts like the Red Sea and it becomes a layup drill for the other team. I realize that it will be hard to play a lot of "tall ball," with Haywood at center, Blatche at power forward and Antawn at small forward until they get Pecherov back, but I'm surprised that Eddie still has long stretches with neither of his shot-blockers in the middle.

Ivan Carter: The problem with having Jamison and Songaila on the court together is that neither of them is a shot-blocking threat and, as you point out, the lane tends to open up. It's basically trading defense (the length provided by Brendan and/or Blatche) for offense (Jamison and Songaila can both shoot and play the pick-and-pop game). Small doses.

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Washington: Theoretically, after the Wiz win the game tonight against the LeBron-less Cavs, they'll be .500. Without Arenas, the rest of the media pundits claimed the Wiz would be awful; alleged NBA guru Bill Simmons claimed they wouldn't even win 30. Besides Wilbon, everyone pointed out how bad they were last year without Arenas -- curiously ignoring the bigger loss, Caron Butler.

Losing Butler was when last season starting slipping away, not Gilbert. It really makes me wonder whether these "experts" and "analysts" actually saw any other Wiz highlights besides Arenas (no offense to Gilbert). The bench is better, Songaila is healthy from the start, AD is playing well, and they've got Caron Butler, who can't miss from three anymore. While they're not a "contender" without Arenas, they're still in the hunt and should be hanging around until Arenas returns, if he even does...

Ivan Carter: I've always questioned how much some of the national folks actually watch the Wizards. They are not on national television much and once Gilbert went down, I have a feeling that a lot of people lost interest in checking them out on the package. I believe that this can be a .500 team if not a little better than that as long as everyone stays healthy, Caron and Jamison keep doing their thing and Nick Young keeps coming along as he has so far.

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Washington: Are the Wizards unusual in that they all seem to really like each other and enjoy each other's company, or are all teams like that? (After reading some of the stuff on the D.C. Sport Bog, I just have a hard time believing that all teams get along that well.)

Ivan Carter: It's a pretty fun group to begin with, especially when Gilbert is around, but the rookies have added a unique flavor. Young, McGuire and Pecherov all have fun personalities, they get along well and that has been a beautiful thing for Steinberg's blog. If Stein didn't have a baby at home, I would imagine that he'd be around the Wizards pretty much nonstop because there is so much to blog about.

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Alexandria, Va.: Others have commented on the Wizards' point guard and salary cap situations. Care to speculate on whether the roster we have now will be augmented if the team is looking playoff-bound in February? Failing the "open wallet" strategy, is it even possible to trade for a quality point guard, given what the other team would want?

Ivan Carter: I believe that Ernie's basic position is: if there is a player worth going over the tax for or worth putting together a trade for, he'll do it but he's not breaking the tax for a 12th or 13th man.

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Norfolk, Va.: Looks like another loss for our guys tonight, given that they are playing a team without its superstar...

Ivan Carter: Actually, a few teams have been saying that about the Wizards lately.

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Rockville, Md.: How much is Dave Hopla to thank for Caron Butler's newfound ability to shoot the three-ball? Man, if Hopla gets a little while longer to work his magic on DeShawn, Young, Pecherov, Mason, Jamison, etc., we could have a really good outside shooting team, couldn't we? Dan Steinberg said something the other day about how huge Hopla has been, but I haven't really heard you guys talk about him much -- what are your opinions of him?

Ivan Carter: Hopla is one heck of a shooter, I can tell you that and yes, he has spent a lot of time working with Butler and others. It helps that Butler has made up his mind that long range shooting is area that he needs to improve. He's putting the time in. Also, I know that players in Toronto liked working with Hopla last season and felt he helped them.

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Washington: Very touching story today. I was an intern with an MLB team a few summers ago and they, too, did much in and for the community without fanfare or the need for attention. We will really have evolved as a nation when someone in Ms. Scales's position does not have to go begging from near strangers to avoid eviction. In the meantime, it's good to know there are well-meaning people out there who are willing and able to lend a hand.

Ivan Carter: I thought it was a neat story as well.

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Laurel, Md.: How much of an impact is Ayers having on the team? I noticed the Wiz's opponents' field-goal percentages are way down from last year, which is a great sign. They still have hideous defensive lapses, but they're not nearly as frequent as in the past. Does Ayers have a big role during the games?

Ivan Carter: It probably helps having a fresh voice and Ayers is pretty active on the bench during games and in timeouts.

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Washington: I'm a big fan of Pecherov, but watching him in the Summer League and preseason ... man, he sure looks to be a long way off from being ready to contribute. How much are they really expecting from him?

Ivan Carter: I asked Eddie about that the other day and his basic feeling was that yes, Pesh is young and raw but he's also 7-foot-0, likes to rebound and can knock down a three-point shot. Coaches like having the option of throwing that guy into a game here and there. Once Pesh gets back healthy, I envision him getting limited action. If he plays well -- like Young -- he'll get more.

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Fairfax, Va.: Any new updates on Etan Thomas? Has he been around the team at all this season, or has he just been resting at home?

Ivan Carter: Nothing really new. I haven't seen Etan around the arena for practices or games and I know he hasn't traveled. He pretty much asked that folks give him space so myself and other reporters who cover the team have done that.

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Washington: Can the Wizards really continue with Daniels as their only point guard? If Daniels is out for four games with an ankle sprain, that's almost guaranteed to be a four-game losing streak. Won't Ernie have to sign someone in January just to give Daniels a break?

Ivan Carter: Daniels can't get hurt. I repeat, Daniels can't get hurt. If he did go down for a three or four game stretch, Roger Mason and Nick Young had better be ready.

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Annapolis, Md.: How much basic drill does an NBA team go through during the regular season?

Ivan Carter: Quite a bit actually, especially the young guys in that period before the game starts. Before each game, I've noticed Young, McGuire and Pesh (before he was hurt) working on close-outs, positioning, footwork etc. with assistant coaches.

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Maryland: Yo Mike it looks like Portland is going to be back in the lottery again this year -- do you think they should keep the pick, or try and deal it for an established player who can help them get into the playoffs?

Michael Lee: It depends on where that pick is. If it's a high lottery pick, I say that keep it -- especially if they get somebody like Memphis point guard Derrick Rose (the franchise is still hurting after trading the third pick in 2005, which turned into Deron Williams and could've been Chris Paul, and getting Martell Webster).

But the pick next summer is anywhere from 8-14, maybe they move it. The Blazers are in good position to make a run for a long time when Greg Oden comes back from his knee injury. They are planning to build around LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Oden, but they could use a veteran wing man for sure. Right now, they have so many young guys getting great experience and they are really competitive -- especially at home. I really like what GM Kevin Pritchard is going with that team.

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McLean, Va.: How did the Sixers just get Stefanski away from the Nets? Any compensation?

Michael Lee: It looks like a clean split. Stefanski is a Philly guy to the core (he grew up there, attended Penn), and Nets president Rod Thorn didn't want to stand in the way of him getting his dream job.

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Hollywood, Md.: How long before Nick Young gets a starting role? He really is looking good, and more confident every game. Yeah, he provides scoring off the bench, but I think scoring with your starting five is pretty important too!

Ivan Carter: Nick can score, no doubt but DeShawn has played solid ball and Eddie Jordan likes having that scoring punch off the bench. I don't see him messing with the lineup anytime soon.

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Arenas: Any reason Arenas has not been with the Wizards at any of the games? Seems like he would provide a morale boost to help the club. And is it a club's or an injured player's decision to be with the team or not? Thanks.

Ivan Carter: He told me the other day that he's going to be at the game tonight as well as Friday night's game against the Suns. One issue is that he's still on crutches and getting around isn't exactly easy. He sort of went into a shell after getting hurt late last season as well but gradually came out of it and I expect that he'll do the same with this injury.

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Frederick, Md.: Is it just me, or do the Pacers play better without Jermaine O'Neal?

Michael Lee: It's not just you. The record doesn't lie. They are 4-9 with him and 5-1 without him. I don't know if it can be much clearer.

But to fair, O'Neal is still coming back from offseason knee surgery (he had the same procedure on his meniscus as Gilbert Arenas), so the O'Neal that has been on the floor this season is not the one we've been accustomed to seeing the past few years.

The Pacers like to run, and players like Mike Dunleavy, Jamaal Tinsley and Danny Granger are flourishing. When you mix a new style of play with an injury, it's obvious that O'Neal will look lost. But I was encouraged by what I saw out of O'Neal last night against Phoenix (30 points on 14 of 20 shooting, 11 rebounds). The Pacers easily could've won that game.

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Oakton, Va.: Any word on extensions for the assistant coaches? The longer this goes on, the more "lame duck" Eddie Jordan is, isn't he. Maybe Ernie hasn't completely made up his mind, but he's certainly leaving all possibilities open, isn't he? Also, can you confirm that E.J.'s contract is guaranteed only through next season, then the Wizards are off the hook? And how much is guaranteed for next season? Thank you.

Ivan Carter: Jordan's contract is guaranteed for the next three seasons (including this one) but the team has an option on the third season. The assistants signed one-year extensions over the summer. The total potential value of Eddie's extension was $12.5 million.

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Vienna, Austria: I still can't figure out why the Wiz went for DeShawn over Juan Carlos Navarro. I understand that they didn't want to disrupt the backcourt and DeShawn is supposedly a better defender, but the decision looks pretty lame now, no?

Ivan Carter: Ernie Grunfeld didn't feel that the Wiz needed another scorer thus he re-signed DeShawn Stevenson and Andray Blatche after drafting a future scorer in Nick Young.

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Fairfax, Va.: Do you see Orlando continue their hot start throughout the year, or do you see them faltering down the stretch like last season? I'm really surprised to see how good they've looked so far, especially on the road. Seems like the Wizards never can win the division.

Michael Lee: This is not the same Orlando team as last season. The Magic added Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu is playing some of the best ball of his career.

This is definitely not the same Dwight Howard as last season. Scouts and executive have been waiting for this guy to blow up for a few years, but he is figuring it out. He still doesn't have a post game and struggles making passes out of double teams, but my man is averaging almost 24 and 14 and is a slam dunk machine. He's a monster in the middle.

The Magic should be able to keep up, maybe not at this pace, but winning the division looks it should be no problem. It already has a 6 1/2 game lead, the largest in the league. And I have to say that it's good to see Stan Van Gundy getting some props. He's a really good coach.

But I'm with you, Fairfax. I had no idea the Magic would be this good on the road (11-2), but when a team does that you have to take them seriously.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: How would you assess Dominic McGuire's progress? In preseason he seemed more ready to contribute than Young, but now he seems to be buried on the bench.

Ivan Carter: I think he's going to be a solid pro and he's done nothing to hurt himself but a few of things have happened: Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison are playing heavy minutes, Darius Songaila has his role and so does Andray Blatche. Also, Nick Young has earned minutes and Roger Mason is getting a chance to be the shooter off the bench guy. So that has sort of made McGuire the odd man out. It's a long season though and I predict that he'll get his shot just as Blatche did last season.

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Southeast Washington: Michael, Varejao's getting over $5 million a year!? What do you think, has the Cavs organization grossly overpaid once again?

washingtonpost.com: Cavs Match Offer Sheet for Varejao (washingtonpost.com, Dec. 5)

Michael Lee: I don't know if they grossly overpaid or not. They were willing to pay more. The market determined he was worth less. So, the Cavs should be pretty pleased with how this was finally resolved. He's young, LeBron likes him.

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San Diego: Mr. Lee, the 76ers are paying Chris Webber almost $20 million not to play for them. They owe Dalembert, Korver and Evans about $60 million over the next three years. What can be done to fix the mess in Philly?

Michael Lee: I just addressed this earlier, but Webber comes off the books after this season and they will have to hope that they can lure some free agents next summer when they should have more than $12 million to play with (although some of that will go to Andre Iguodala and whatever high draft pick they get). They could have more if they get Andre Miller's $10 million off the books by getting an expiring contract. Miller doesn't need to be wasting his prime years on a lousy team, and the few 76ers fans remaining are already clamoring for Louis Williams to run point for the team.

Next summer's free agent class that could include Elton Brand, Corey Maggette, Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Ron Artest, Josh Smith and um, Gilbert Arenas (but we know he's staying right?).

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Fairfax, Va.: Who in your opinion is the Monte Ellis of this season (an unknown player who comes out of nowhere to have a breakout year)? The media is loving Jamario Moon of Toronto, but I feel like it could be Andray Blatche if he gets more playing time!

Ivan Carter: One difference is that those guys are scorers and that always catches the eye. Andray's input is a little more subtle. He block and alters shots, he rebounds and he can handle and pass for a big man. His jumper remains a work in progress and yes, his minutes have fluctuated. I think he's right on schedule.

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Odenton, Md.: I know it's only December, but if you were the Wizards GM would you bring back Jamison at his current salary? Before the season I would have answered no, but the numbers he has been putting up lately have me rethinking my position.

Ivan Carter: $16 million is a lot for any player and I don't see Antawn getting that anywhere next summer regardless of how well he does this season. First of all, very few teams will have money and second, teams have become a little more sane with their moves lately (we'll see if that continues). Antawn is going to get paid but not that much.

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Washington: You can't help the hype on the college freshman class this year; out of the ones you have seen, are any actually ready for the NBA (the kids at Kansas State, USC, Memphis, Indiana, or even UCLA)? Seeing as how that they all would be drafted at some point, which ones does the NBA covet the most?

Michael Lee: I think at the early point of the season, everyone is in love with Memphis' Derrick Rose, Kansas State's Michael Beasley and USC's O.J. Mayo. Those are the players scouts talk about the most.

I watched the Memphis-USC game last night hoping to see something special, I saw a really sloppy game. I was impressed with Mayo's defense on Rose but upset with his shot selection. The reason why I like Rose the most is because he's a point guard and he looks like a winner. Beasley is probably the best prospect of them because of his size, skill and the fact that he's left handed. But I think the debate over those three will linger all season.

You're right, though. Indiana's Eric Gordon and UCLA's Kevin Love are nice, too. It should be a fun year in college hoops.

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Washington: I know the Wizards are close to the salary cap and don't want to exceed it, but they're also only dressing 10 players and are thin at point guard. I thought Donnell Taylor did a decent job the past couple of years in his limited minutes, and he shouldn't cost very much. Any possibility they could bring him back?

Ivan Carter: Signing Taylor, who is in Europe right now, would cost the Wiz around $770,000. That would push them over the luxury tax so he would really cost twice that. Then, the Wiz would forfeit the money that is kicked back to teams that stay under the tax (that figure should come somewhere between $2.5 million and $3 million). So, Taylor would wind up costing a whole lot more than a minimum salary. That's not going to happen.

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Washington: Hey, this is a follow-up to the "small ball" question: You said it was kind of trading defense for offense, yet we've been getting little to nothing offensively from Songaila. Blatche had that break-out game and scored in double figures for like four games in a row, and then his minutes started declining inexplicably. Now they're down to about 20 minutes a game again.

Aside from Eddie allowing Gil to lead the league in minutes coming off of knee surgery, my only other major complaint with him, and I mean major, is his substitution patterns. Grunfeld made sure not to resign Jeffries or Hayes so that Jordan wouldn't even have the option of giving those duds 30 minutes a game. Clearly I am not the only one who thinks we are a much worse team with Songaila at center (as evidenced by the person who submitted the initial question), so can you please explain your defense of Jordan's decision to play Songaila at the 5, in light of the fact that Darius has given us very little on the offensive end?

Ivan Carter: I personally feel that Songaila is best suited for playing at the four. That's obvious. But you can steal minutes for him at the five from time to time because he sets good screens, makes open shots and fights for defensive position in the post. To me, the things that make him an effective player are not always obvious. That said, I also feel that the Wiz are better off with Haywood and Blatche playing major minutes at center.

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Germantown, Md.: I know that neither of you are in the "trade Gilbert" camp, but can you explain why it's not a good idea if you can get value for him? Daniels isn't the long-term answer at point, but a pass-conscious guard clearly works well in Eddie's system.

Ivan Carter: What's value for Gilbert Arenas? Not being wise, just asking a legit question and one Ernie Grunfeld would have to answer before even thinking about it.

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Luray, Va.: I'm confused about the Varejao situation. He turned down Cleveland's reported $6 million-per-year offer earlier this year. ... He also turned down Cleveland's $1.2 million qualifying offer that would have made him an unrestricted free agent after this year. ... But he signed an offer sheet with Charlotte for three years and $17 million, knowing that Cleveland would match? And they did!?

Why would Charlotte do that "favor" for Cleveland? And why would Varejao sign the Charlotte offer when he wouldn't sign the higher offer from Cleveland? If he wanted out of Cleveland, why didn't he sign the qualifying offer? Did his agent make a mistake in judgment, assuming Cleveland would cave? I'd like to hear your comments on the situation.

Michael Lee: I think Varejao signed the deal with Charlotte because it allowed him to make the most money while leaving Cleveland as soon as possible. He refused to sign the qualifying offer because he knew he was worth more than $1.2 million.

He wanted to sign a one-year deal for about $5 million so that he could be unrestricted next summer, Cleveland wasn't having it, so they came to an impasse.

Charlotte helped out, I heard, because Rod Higgins reportedly has a good relationship with Varejao's agent, Dan Fegan. I think the deal works out for both sides, since Varejao thinks he worth a lot and really wants to test the market. The Cavs get to spend less than they intended and will get to see exactly what he is worth the next two season. If he stinks, they let him walk. If he blows up (which I doubt) they have egg on their face.

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Reston, Va.: Gentlemen, we are very lucky to have two of the best journalists around covering the Wizards/NBA. How do you think the Wizards have held up so far without Arenas? Are we in danger of not getting him back at all this year, as I am sure he'll more cautious this time around with his recovery and maybe slightly paranoid about reinjuring his knee? Or does the three month period take some of that into account?

Ivan Carter: The timetable (if you can call it that) for Gilbert's return will almost entirely depend on how he brings himself back. He's admitted that he came back too hard and fast last summer and he swears that he learned a lesson so we'll see. I've spoken with a retired NBA player who had the same injury Arenas has and he told me that the injury is not a big problem as long as the player rests and lets it get back to strength. That's going to be the key.

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Washington: Michael or Ivan (whoever wants to weigh in), just for publicity one game, what if the Cavs dropped the rest of their NBDL-ish roster and put LeBron out there with Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance and Craig Ehlo? Could they beat the Knicks?

Ivan Carter: Yes.

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McLean, Va.: I love watching Steve Nash and the Suns, but they are a team that's clearly built for the regular season. It seems like their window to win it all is closing and I just don't see them getting past San Antonio. Please don't tell me the boring Spurs win it again!

Ivan Carter: They are going to win it again.

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Washington: Where do you see Andre Miller ending up? And what does Charlotte do now that it looks like Cleveland's going to match the offer sheet for Varejao?

Michael Lee: Off the top of my head, I think Miller could end up in Miami. It makes the most sense to me. Jason Williams has an expiring contract, the Heat needs a point guard bad - and Dwyane Wade has made it clear that he doesn't want to play point anymore (remember, he was a point his rookie season).

As for Charlotte, I think the Bobcats signed Varejao with the knowledge that the Cavs would match. They held out the hope that Cleveland wouldn't because their front line is in trouble -- Sean May is out for the year and Primoz Brezec stinks. All the Bobcats can do is keep on playing - and pray that this six game losing streak comes to an end sooner than later.

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Rockville: How's it going guys? Michael, what do you think of the Bucks, with their current record at 8-8? Do you think they'll be able to keep up it up for the rest of the year?

Michael Lee: On paper, the Bucks look okay. Michael Redd lost a lot of weight and looks like he wants to handle the responsibility of being real leader for the team -- not just by scoring, but through rebounding and passing better.

I watched part of that game against the Clippers last night and when I saw Desmond Mason on the floor, I forgot how deep Milwaukee is. They have depth and talent at almost every position. They should be in the playoff picture this season.

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Boston: Any early assessment of the one-year-in-college rule before teens can go to the NBA?

Michael Lee: I can see the argument from both sides -- how this program now allows for one-year rentals, which could lead to more corruption in college basketball when players don't even bother going to class the second semester of school; and how the extra year out of high school provides the league with more experienced players. I wish the age minimum was two years, though, both from an experience and academic standpoint. The one-and-done guys could make a mockery of the term "scholar-athlete" (even more than it already has been). The main problem is that it really forces the good kids to go pro because they have to, not because they want to -- Kevin Durant and Greg Oden were seriously conflicted (although with his knee injury, it looks like the best decision for Oden).

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Michael Lee: Wow. This was a great week, people. Good questions. Keep them coming. I've got to go get ready for the game, though. We'll catch up again in another. All right. Peace.

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