Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2 p.m. ET

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Ivan Carter and Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008; 2:00 PM

Post staff writers Ivan Carter and Michael Lee were online Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 2:15 p.m. ET to discuss the Washington Wizards this season and what stories to follow from around the NBA.

From The Post:

Wizards Coverage

The transcript follows.

Discussion Archive

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Baltimore: What is your take on the reasons for the Wizards' defensive improvement this season? How much seems to be tactics, how much is effort/attention? Or, is it mostly a matter of having an active 7-footer on the court more?

Ivan Carter:1. Brendan Haywood and his backup, Andray Blatche, a long guys who play with major energy and rotate very well. 2. The addition of assistant Randy Ayers has made a big difference. It's not that Eddie and company weren't preaching defense in the past - they were - but a fresh voice has made a difference. He really preaches the basics: getting over/under screens, rotating to the most dangerous shooters, identifying cutters etc. 3. Gilbert is a great player but has never made a true commitment to playing great defense and that had a trickle down effect in my opinion.

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Michael Lee: Wassup, people. I'm at the Amtrak station, ready to get out of New York. I know you guys have a lot to talk about - how the Wizards OWN Boston, the Bulls are going toe-to-toe on a daily, the Lakers are about to get ready for life without Bynum. So much to talk about, let's go. . .

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Reston, Va.: Ivan,

If you were the GM of the Wizards would you give Gilbert a max contract? According to this blog, he wants a 6-year deal. Would be nice if he played some defense for that kind of money. That kind of deal would limit the Wizards on acquiring other players in the future since Abe will never go into the luxury tax zone.

Also, how come Brendan doesn't get a lot of 4th quarter minutes, I could understand it in the past, but not this year.

Ivan Carter: That's a question Ernie Grunfeld has to answer and it will obviously have a major impact on the future of the franchise. For what it's worth, I think Ernie will give it to him. After that, he's going to have to be very intelligent as he puts pieces around Gilbert. Is Gilbert a max player? If the market says he is - and I think it does _- he is. That said, a lot of teams have screwed up by giving max money to non-max players (Michael Redd for instance). However, my feeling is that Ernie is one of the best gms in the biz and he'll know what to do going forward. We'll see how it plays out.

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Washington, DC: What massive gash in the space-time continuum caused the Wizards to lose to the Knicks?

Ivan Carter: Not having Antonio Daniels obviously hurt. It's difficult playing basketball without a real point guard. Also, the Knicks hit some big shots every time it appeared that the Wiz were going to get back in the game. If they played like that every night, Isiah would be coach of the year.

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D.C.:"I got buckets son" was on fiyah last night. Maybe this means more minutes for him since he seems to be the only one on the bench who gives a darn right now.

Ivan Carter: One thing about Pecherov: dude is not afraid to get in there and chuck it up. He's also a pretty good rebounder. If I were Darius Songaila, I'd be very worried about "buckets son" stealing my minutes. They're going to have to come from somewhere and Eddie obviously likes the kid. One thing he does is open the floor up because the other team's five man has to respect that long range shot.

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Washington, DC: Hey, guys, I know you agree with me that the Zards do not have as much potential to go deep in the playoffs without Gilbert versus with. But they're unquestionably playing a great style of ball right now with good movement and tougher D. If Gil comes back this season, do you believe he's watching the way this team's playing and preparing himself to come back to be a part of this better style including a commitment to D? Or is he just building a monster chip on his shoulder to come back and prove all those naysayers wrong by himself, which might have effect of breaking up this team's good flow?

Michael Lee: I think Gilbert is paying attention. Most definitely. I don't think he'll disrupt much. There might be a slight drop off defensively, because the tempo and pace will change with a 25-point scorer in the lineup, but the Wizards' D had improved from last season WITH Arenas, too. I spoke with a knowledgeable basketball guy last night about the Wizards. He said the Wizards are playing great basketball right now - better ball movement, more balanced scoring, more focus defensively - and he was of the belief that the team is unquestionably better with Arenas because when Arenas is on the floor, the whole attitude of the team changes. He said having Arenas gives his teammates more confidence that they can beat the big dogs. He said that right now, the people don't have any expectations of the Wizards. They have a built in excuse if they lose, and every win is celebrated with - in the words of Arenas - Gatorade showers. He said he thought the Wizards would be even more dangerous when Arenas gets back. He called Arenas one of the top 15 players in the league. "How can you be better without one of those guys?" he asked.

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Oakton, Va.: Deshawn Stevenson was drafted directly out of high school, yet this gets very little mention from you guys. Does he offer any tips to Andray based on his experiences? I believe he had a rough spot in Utah with Jerry Sloan, but eventually came to respect him a great deal. Then again, I don't know for sure because neither of you have written about it.

Also, why was he considered so talented coming out of high school? As a solid but unspectacular NBA rotation player, I doubt he met those early expectations/projections out of high school, wondering his thoughts on this?

There's a good story there to be told. With the Redskins season over and much less to write about Gilbert than last year, surely there's room for a feature on DeShawn as a disappointing high school draft pick that is still a bonafide success?

Ivan Carter: I have spoken with DeShawn about his experiences coming right and he says that his time with Sloan and the Jazz was valuable because he learned how to be a pro. And yes, he does give Andray tips but he has the feeling that what he says tends to go in one ear and out of the other. I wouldn't call DeShawn a disappointing draft pick. He was the 23rd overall pick and has been a solid starter for several seasons. That ain't bad. I mean, look at some of the guys taken ahead of him: Donnell Harvey, Speedy Claxton, Mateen Cleeves, Courtney Alexander, Jerome Moiso, Chris Mihm, Marcus Fizer (fourth) etc.

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Alexandria, Va.: How is it that the NBA Schedule is so unbalanced? What I mean is that when a league starts on the same day, and ends on the same day, one expects all the teams to be fairly close in the number of games played on any given day. Baseball with its rainouts is the exception.

This morning I see that Orlando has played 40 games so far, Washington 37, and the LA Clippers 34. How does the schedule maker allow such a big difference to occur?

Michael Lee: So many things have to be taken into consideration when planning an NBA schedule. For one, the schedules have to take into consideration special events (i.e. the circus, ice skating tours), sporting events or concerts at the arenas - and match up the teams accordingly. The thing is, this all evens out. Like you said, everybody plays 82 games, but Orlando will get some more room between games the second half of the season. That's why you always see teams go on runs of some sort. They usually are in line with a nice homestand. The losing streaks usually occur during those long road trips with a lot of back-to-backs. But it all evens out.

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Washington DC: Please tell me that I will never have to see Darius Songalia launch another 20 footer or fail to get any rebound which isn't right to him again now that Pecherov is playing.

Ivan Carter: As I said before, minutes for Pesh are going to come from somewhere.

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Phoenix: How would Randolph fit in with the Wizards? He would give us a great low-post option, but there is all that baggage. Would he be a good fit? What say ye?

Michael Lee: Who would Randolph replace? Jamison or Butler? He wouldn't be a good fit here because Randolph, for all of his talent, is a ball stopper and a bad passer. If you feed him in the low post, forget about seeing the ball again. If he's doubled, he doesn't always kick it out to the shooters.

Like I said, I think Randolph is really good, but is Portland really struggling without him right now?

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Dupont Circle, DC: Hey guys, I really enjoyed your analysis of the Wiz and Rockets re: missing their respective star players, and I was wondering if you could comment on whether you envision Gilbert adapting to some of the positives the team has shown without him (unselfish play, ball movement, improved defense, etc). Do you have any insight or indication that Agent Zero is learning something from his team's new focus, or will he be back to his old ways when he returns, good and bad?

Ivan Carter: Well, judging by his recent blog entry, I think he has learned a lot during his time away. Actually, it began before he went down on Nov. 16. Remember, in his last three or four games, he was moving the ball more, taking fewer forced shots and was talking about letting the game come to him. One thing about Gilbert Arenas: he is a highly intelligent basketball player. He's noticed how Butler, Jamison, Haywood, Daniels, Blatche etc. have played and he'll find a way to blend his game into the mix. The thing he'll give them is that end of quarter, end of game hammer to put a team away.

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Fairfax, Va.: Two years down the road, is a Blatche/Pecherov/Butler starting front line legit? And who plays center?

Ivan Carter: That is exactly what Ernie envisioned when he drafted Blatche and Pecherov but I still think that Brendan Haywood will be here. Either way, they have the potential to be a scary long front line that could present major matchup problems.

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Riva, MD: Why do some players seem to be perpetually injured while someone like the smallish John Stockton played a full schedule 17 of his 19 seasons?

Michael Lee: You cannot compare those eras. During Stockton's day, guys played hurt, all the time. They didn't want to sit. You always wouldn't see them take flops because their pride wouldn't let them. Now guys get any little knick knack injury and want to shut it down. You don't have many iron men in the league any more. The list is like Bruce Bowen, Tayshaun Prince, DeShawn Stevenson and. . .I don't know.

Players probably push their bodies even more nowadays. They work out more. They play all year long. But iron men have gone the way of the short shorts, Riva.

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Chicago: Ivan, should we be concerned that signing Gil to a max deal would threaten Caron's longevity with the team? I am not one to say that the Wiz are better without Arenas - they aren't - but I think the reason they're playing defense this year, and out-toughing soft teams like the Celtics twice in a row - is because this is Caron's team now.

I think Gilbert can make the Wizards a contender in the East - which they aren't without him - but only if he buys into the style of play the team has adopted without him. He needs to follow Caron's lead, and Ernie needs to make keeping Caron, not Gil, priority one. Is this possible?

Ivan Carter: Good thoughts. The good thing for Ernie is that he wisely locked Caron up to a five-year deal two summers ago so it's not as if he has them coming up at the same time ala Chicago with Deng and Gordon. The other factor is Caron himself. He is not the kind of dude who will see Gilbert get big money and suddenly get jealous. That's just not how he is and he also has no problem playing robin to Gil's batman as long as the wins are stacking up. Caron wants to win. Again, I refer to Gil's latest blog where he goes out of his way to praise Caron and Antawn. As I said, Gilbert is very intelligent and he knows what his going on with this team.

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D.C.: How is the new locker room arrangement working out? Still crazy or is Steinberg going to run out of Bog material soon?

Ivan Carter: As long as Oleksiy "I get buckets son" Pecherov is on this team, Steinberg will never run out of material. And the young guys are fine. They just needed a bit of a kick in the pants as we all did when we were that age.

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Boston: When did you guys get good at defense? From the moment Garnett knocked a rebound back into our hoop (when we were up by 15 or so), the Wizards took it to us. Our offense looked like the Billikens of St. Louis not a three first-ballot HOF NBA offense. Ouch...

Michael Lee: The Wizards got a good defense this season when they hired assistant Randy Ayers and the players finally bought in.

As for the Celtics, your offense should struggle with Tony Allen or Eddie House running the point. Boston needs Rajon Rondo, mostly because there isn't another legitimate ball handler on the team. They might want to sign a backup point guard because backcourt depth is their one real weakness. They are pretty thin back there.

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Oakton, Va.: Is Eddie an Obama or Clinton type of guy?

What percentage of NBA players do you think are Democrats versus Republicans?

Ivan Carter: Eddie's the kind of guy who probably wouldn't answer that question but I'll ask. And I'd guess that at least 75 percent of the players in this league would vote with the dems, 10 percent are repubs and the rest don't even know the difference. Seriously. I have yet to meet an outspoken repub in an NBA lockeroom. Then again, other than Etan Thomas, I haven't meet too many players who closely follow politics at all. I would imagine that some of them like the repub tax breaks though.

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Fairfax, Va.: Can you explain why Gilbert would opt out considering his knee is not 100 percent healed and he isn't playing right now?

Is there a team out there that would give him max money anyway?

Also, true of false: The Wizards would be a better team with Deron Williams at point rather than Arenas?

Ivan Carter: In a league where Pau Gasol, who is softer than duck butter, and Michael Red, who is one-dimensional player, got max deals why wouldn't Gilbert Arenas? My point is that it doesn't matter how I value Gilbert or how you value Gilbert or how Ernie Grunfeld values Gilbert. The point is that there are owners, team presidents and gms who hand out huge contracts to players who may or may not deserve them every summer. Look at what Danny Ferry gave Larry Hughes for instance. Look at what got Billy King fired in Philly. Look at what Orlando gave Rashard Lewis this summer. Have you noticed how much Wally Szczerbiak makes? If the Wiz don't pay Gilbert his price, some team will. I don't really know who right now but trust me, he'll get max money.

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Same old Story, Md.: I thought you NBA experts were predicting that this year there'd be greater parity between East and West. And yet looking at the latest standings it appears that the 8th seed in the East has a winning percentage of 0.486 and its counterpart in the West has 0.590. What gives? And speaking of expert predictions, will Chicago and Houston make the playoffs?

Michael Lee: A few things happened along the way. The Heat skipped mediocre and went straight to awful. The Bulls forgot how to play basketball. The Nets got older and Jason Kidd developed a problem with migraines. The Cavaliers didn't finish signing their two free agents until the middle of November - and didn't make any improvements. The Knicks added more talent but their chemistry got exponentially worse. It was terrible.

In the West, nobody saw the Portland Trail Blazers or the Lakers getting off to such incredible starts. A number of experts didn't even think Kobe Bryant would still be a Laker.

I don't know about Chicago or Houston right now. Since the Bulls are in the East, I'd say they have a better shot although I don't think they can turn it around. The Rockets are in the West and they need two teams that are currently in the playoff picture to fall. Portland is the most likely team to drop, but that isn't a safe bet. The Blazers are looking pretty dog on good.

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DC: Knowing the Wizards medical team, I'm more worried about Daniels' injury.

Ivan Carter: This team can't afford for him to be injured. They need a healthy Antonio Daniels to keep rolling at the current pace. The good news is that these next few games space out a little bit and the all star break is coming so if he can just hang in there......

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Abingdon, Md.: A Quick Hitter........

AD, AD, AD...Everyone take notice how important he is to the flow of our offense!

Ivan Carter: My point exactly.

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Washington, DC: Are there other all-star quality players in the league that have been able to return to an all-star level of play following the type of serious knee injuries Gilbert Arenas has suffered?

Ivan Carter: Jason Kidd underwent a far more serious microfracture procedure. So did Amare Stoudemire. Those are the most optimistic examples.

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Oakton, Va.: Ivan and Mike -- do you see Ernie making a serious push to trade Etan Thomas this offseason or is his contract too prohibitive and most likely not movable until the year after when his contract becomes a valuable expiring deal?

Ivan Carter: Ernie was open to moving Etan last summer (I heard that he tried to package Etan with the rights to Juan Carlos Navarro) but couldn't find the right deal (or couldn't find any takers, I'm not sure). It's hard to imagine him suddenly finding a real good deal now that Etan is coming off of open heart surgery and has missed so much time but we'll see. As you pointed out, Etan's deal will be more movable closer to the 2009-2010 season when it's in its final year.

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Better Without All-Stars?: No one is saying that the Wiz should just cut Gilbert and play without him.

The point is to trade a guy whose perceived value as a scorer is higher that his actual contribution to the teams current championship opportunity. Who cares if we get 75 cents on the dollar if those 75 cents will make them a better team overall.

Gil doesn't care about leadership, Gil doesn't care about defense. He cant increase scoring off the bench nor can he give us the toughness in the paint we haven't had until this year.

But if you trade Gil for Brand and maybe Livingston, or Gasol and Navarro, you are simply adding pieces to a 17-11 team and making it better.

The difference between the wiz trading Gil and Philly/Iverson, Minny/Garnett is that those teams were AWFUL teams with one star. We have two all-stars on the 4th team in the east that would only be adding another star in return. Gil is a cool dude, but he needs to go...

Michael Lee: Look to what you just said: "We have two all-stars on the 4th team in the east that would only be adding another star in return."

So why would they be worse off by adding Arenas back? Last I checked, he was a three-time all-star who could give a team 50 points any night. Last I checked, he was one of the top 15 players in the league, a member of the all-NBA team the last three years. These other guys you're talking about haven't done any more than Arenas in this league.

"Gil is a cool dude, but he needs to go..."

Based on what? Because when he is the lineup with Butler and Jamison, the Wizards win 60 percent of their games. You guys need to chill with all of this better without Gil talk. Can you please just think about how good they would be WITH Gilbert Arenas. I'm sure if you privately polled the locker room, they'd rather go on the floor with him.

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DC: In reference to Etan, have you guys seen/heard/spoken with him? Any sense of whether or not he'll make a 2008 appearance?

Also, what's the scoop on C-Webb? Boston, LA, Detroit have all been courting, right?

Ivan Carter: I haven't spoken with Etan since well before his surgery but the team said he has been cleared for non-contact work and is on schedule to eventually return. Neither the team nor Etan has made a firm decision on his status for this season. It's just good to see the guy coming along so well.

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Washington, D.C.: It's too bad the Wiz lost to NY last night, but when I was looking at the schedule last week I thought going 2-2 during these two back-to-backs would be acceptable, and they beat that by 1 game. Especially considering Antonio was out last night, I'm happy with what they have done.

And what is that guy talking about DeShawn as a disappointment? I love DeShawn. He won that game for us against Boston at home with his crazy intensity. We get so much better defensively when he and BTH are in the game.

Ivan Carter: Thoughts on DeShawn.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Ivan,

Do you think Dominic McGuire is going to really become more of a difference maker as we go down the stretch or do you think he simply needs more time to develop? Hasn't really gotten a lot of shots yet.

Ivan Carter: I have to admit: coming out of training camp and the preseason, I thought that Dominic would be a bigger factor than he's been so far. He hasn't played a ton so it's hard to really evaluate him as a player but it's way too early to pass judgment either way. Knowing Eddie like I do, Dominic will continue to get opportunities here and there so the important thing will be to continue busting it in practice and staying prepared. It's a long, long season.

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Oakton, Va.: Whenever the issue of going over the salary cap comes up everyone always says the Abe will not go over the luxury tax threshold. I thought Abe was an extremely wealthy developer and could afford spending money like Dan Synder -- is Abe a wealthy owner or just scraping by?

Ivan Carter: Abe is wealthy but he clearly doesn't want to touch that luxury tax if he doesn't have to.

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DC: Not sure how much of the national press either of you managed to leaf through following the home-and-home with Boston, but VERY little of the Wizards' success over the Celtics was attributed to how our boys played; rather, all the focus was on what could possibly be wrong with KG & Co. As representatives of our fine city, doesn't that just stick in your craw?

Also, in regards to Grill-bert's latest Blog entry, any reaction from Caron as to Agent Zero's raving endorsement of his legitimacy as a force to be reckoned with?

Michael Lee: I didn't talk to Caron about it last night, but I don't think Caron needed Gilbert's approval to give this season validation. I think Caron is confident enough in his ability and what he can bring that he doesn't need anyone to give him props. I'm sure Gilbert has shared that stuff with Caron before. It was just news to the people who read his blog.

As for the national media's coverage of two regular season games? Who cares? The Celtics are THE story in the league this season. They earned the coverage by winning 30 of their first 34 games. You don't knock them off their perch until you catch them or you beat them in the playoffs. It really doesn't matter right now.

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Virginia: Are the Bulls imploding?

Ivan Carter: The more I see that team, the more I come to the conclusion that it way overachieved last season and Scott Skiles should have been coach of the year. They are awful and last night, they quit.

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Fairfax, VA: I know there is plenty of praise to go around, but I think the Wizards strong play can be attributed more to Ernie than Eddie.

When he signed AD, plenty of people scratched their heads at the amount and years.

The Caron-Kwame trade was outstanding, but the icing on the cake was that he had the foresight to lock up Caron right then and there for 5 years. I didn't get it at the time, why rush to sign him long term, but boy does it make sense now.

And now you have Blatche, a 2nd rounder, locked up dirt cheap. Regardless if he has an up or down game, there are 31 teams out there that would trade for him in an instant.

And the DeShawn is locked up for a heck of a deal as well.

The only bad contract on this team is Etan, and that's not even that bad. I think Ernie deserves a huge round of applause.

Ivan Carter: Praise for Ernie and I agree you. Two other wise decisions: not overpaying Larry Hughes and not matching New York's offer to Jared Jeffries.

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D.C.: Can the Miami heat be fixed before D. Wade can opt out or is he out of there when that the three-year deal expires?

Michael Lee: Yes, they can. First off, they need to go ahead and call it a season. Shut down Wade and let him get right. He's been playing hurt since he came back from that shoulder injury last season. They should just bank on a high lottery pick this summer and hope they can get another Wade-caliber player. That's a start.

I know Pat Riley will try to do something. If he doesn't, you have to believe that Wade is bouncing - especially since Shaq will be leaving then, too (if he doesn't retire before then).

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Do you think Eddie will go back to the bigger lineup that he tried earlier this year with Caron at SG, Antwan at SF, Andray at PF, and Brendan at C. They seemed to have some success early in the year but I haven't seen it lately.

Ivan Carter: It all depends on the matchup but yes, I could see Eddie doing that some. However, it appears that he kind of likes keeping Andray in that role of backup center. The other interesting thing will be how often he plays Blatche and Pecherov together.

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DC: Can Ernie sign Hopla and Randy Ayers to 50 year extensions? Please?

Michael Lee: Hopla and Ayers have made a difference, but I think that if Ernie did that, those guys would be on those Smuckers Jars with Willard Scott by then. I don't know if I want them coaching with a cane and a breathalyzer.

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Arlington, Va.: So if things don't work out with Eddie, is it safe to say he may get a look with another franchise considering the job he's done so far this season without Arenas?

And is Byron Scott proving Jason Kidd wrong? The guy can coach, huh? Or is he simply riding the talent he has?

Ivan Carter: Eddie won't have to worry about having a job put it that way but he's not going anywhere. As for B Scott, he's doing a heck of a job. It helps having one of the world's best playmaking point guards in Chris Paul but that team is playing very well and no one seems to notice.

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Arlington, Va.: Glad to see Joakim Noah put in his place by his teammates. He got away with acting like a fool in Gainesville, and apparently thought he could continue his immature behavior in the pros.

Michael Lee: I don't know if I fault Noah. He's a really competitive dude. I think it bugs the heck out of him that his teammates are treating these losses so nonchalantly. The Bulls have too many laid back players; they need a fiery guy in that locker room. That doesn't justify what Noah did and he deserved to be punished for going on an assistant, but the Bulls need somebody to wake them up. If firing the coach didn't work, then it's on the players.

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Michael Lee: Hey, I've got to catch my train. I'd love to talk some more, but I have to run. Enjoy your weekend. I know I will. Peace.

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Ivan Carter: Thanks for stopping in folks. Have a good day.

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