washingtonpost.com
Wizards/NBA

Ivan Carter and Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 5, 2008 2:00 PM

Post staff writers Ivan Carter and Michael Lee were online Wednesday, March 5 at 2 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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Luray, Va.: Arenas went through his first practice yesterday. Now the million-dollar question is, how does he feel today?

Ivan Carter: I'll check in with Gilbert before tonight's game. And yes, that will be an ongoing thing to follow. As he slowly increases his level of activity, it will be interesting to see how his knee responds. If all goes well, he could test in games near the end of the month and they'll just take it from there.

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Fairfax, Va.: Big game tonight vs. Orlando!

Guys, I got a question. It seems to me that Gilbert is extremely hesitant about returning to the court. He said that he won't come back before Caron does. I have a feeling that it's not really the injury that he's concerned about but its actually the fact that he is in his last season of his contract and he doesn't want to jeopardize his BIG contract next year, with whichever team he signs.

Ivan Carter: Actually, the two things are closely related. He clearly was shaken by how re-injured the knee early this season and he knows that this summer is huge for his financial future. He'd be very wise to make sure that the knee is fully healed before going back out there. It's bad enough having two surgeries on the same knee within eight months but what if he rushes back out there and hurts it again?

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Washington, D.C.: Ivan,

I know you have to be a homer since you cover the Wizards but....

what other NBA teams do you personally like?

I root for New Orleans when I'm not cheering on the home team myself.

Ivan Carter: I watch a little bit of every team in the league when I can. Obviously, Kobe and the Lakers are especially fun to watch right now. I really like the way they are playing off of one another and moving the ball. Steve Nash and the Suns always get time on my tube. Ditto for KG and the Celtics. I guess I just like watching ball. I grew up a Timberwolves fan but since I started covering the league, I don't think that way anymore.

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Rockville, Md.: Is there any update on Caron Butler yet?

Ivan Carter: Nothing new. I hear that he's feeling better since the decision was made to have him shut it down completely but we won't know anything of substance until the team takes a look at the hip. That is supposed to happen at some point this week. I'll learn what I can and update accordingly. I was told that it could be another week or two before he even tries to test it in a game situation but that was just a hunch.

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Michael Lee: I'm sorry I'm running late. But I'm feeling like Kobe and LeBron in the fourth quarter. Fire away. You got questions. I hope I've got answers. Let's go. . .

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Annapolis, Md.: Hi guys,

So you got a chance to see Hibachi-lite yesterday. How did Gilbert look? Boy, it looks like Ernie will have a tough decision to make in the offseason, whether Arenas looks good, bad, or a work in progress.

If Gilbert is resigned for the max and turns out to be Penny Hardaway, what is the long-term impact on the franchise?

Ivan Carter: From what I've observed of Gilbert while doing shooting drills, playing one-on-one games and in yesterday's practice, he isn't close to being the old Gilbert. I have yet to see him really shove off of that left leg and explode the basket like he used to. Then again, he wasn't doing that before going down on Nov. 17 and he was putting up 22.4 points per game. Right now, I would say work in progress. Signing a healthy Gilbert to the max would be risky in my view and after the two injuries, it becomes very risky. Gilbert obviously thinks he's a max player but so does 35 percent of the NBA.

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Rockville, Md.: Will the Rockets play better without Yao Ming going into the playoffs or will they miss his presence?

Michael Lee: It would be foolish to think that the Rockets will play better without Yao, but they will undoubtedly have to play different. With Yao inside, you could just throw it inside, let him go to work, get out of the way or take the open shot he surely was going to get you. Now, the Rockets have to play much faster, let Tracy McGrady take over from time to time, let Luis Scola flash his skills and hope that Dikembe Mutombo can keep turning back the clock. They will definitely miss his presence, but I don't think they'll miss the playoffs.

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Rockville, Md.: What do you think about the return of Etan? Do you think he can do it? Do you think he takes his old role of physical enforcer off the bench, or will he try to play more of a finesse game due to his heart surgery??

Ivan Carter: Etan was back practicing at full speed yesterday so that's a good sign. We still have no idea when he will be cleared for game activity so it's impossible to speculate on what kind of role he could fill. I will say this: If he's right, Etan could help in a first-round series against Orlando because he's done well against Dwight Howard in the past. However, we have to remember that the guy hasn't played in a game since last spring, underwent open heart surgery and lost months of weight room work and conditioning work. That's a lot to overcome but he's clearly motivated to try.

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Silver Spring, MD: Really enjoy your columns - keep up the good work guys!

In your honest opinion, do you really think that both Arenas & Butler are going to play in the playoffs?

Ivan Carter: My gut feeling is that yes, both will be available in the playoffs but I can't base that on any medical opinion. It all depends on how Gilbert's knee comes along and on whether that slight tear in Caron's hip is a bigger issue than they are saying right now.

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Toronto, Canada: Aren't the Wiz better off finishing 6th and facing Orlando than finishing fifth and facing Cleveland? It looks to me that both Toronto and the Wiz would like to avoid Cleveland...

Ivan Carter: The Wiz would be better off playing Orlando in my view. With a healthy Caron playing like he was earlier in the season, they could take a couple of games off of the Magic and make it interesting. With a healthy Gilbert, they could win the series. But, those are some major what ifs.

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Newton, Va.: Something I've noticed and always wondered about... Brendan never daps anybody up after they hit a free throw. Whoever is shooting seems understanding, like it is expected. Does the team have some kind of understanding that Brendan just needs that time to stand with his arms on his waist and catch his breath or something?

Ivan Carter: I've never noticed that. I'll ask him.

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Potomac Falls, Va.: Hi,

What did you think of Larry Hughes recent comments regarding leaving a "bad" situation in Cleveland for Chicago? I found it kinda funny that he was so miserable in Cleveland.

Wasn't this the same guy that was so happy to take the big money and leave D.C. where he felt disrespected? He should be grateful for that big pay day considering he only plays half a season from all his constant injuries.

Michael Lee: Money - and now it seems, wins - cannot buy you happiness in this league. I totally understand where Larry was coming from because the past three seasons in Cleveland, the only time I thought he was happy there was the first month or two with the Cavs. The rest of the time, he was completely unhappy. He dealt with the health issues with his brother and a series of injuries that made him less effective. More frustrating, was that he could not play with LeBron James.

Now I know people say, how can you NOT play with LeBron? Well, playing with LeBron would be a problem if your style of play gets in the way of his style - i.e. slashing to the basket and dominating the ball. Larry can't play off the ball, and he was asked to play out of position his entire time there. Making matters worse, he was one of the most despised players in Cleveland as his time wore down. Fans made negative websites about him, fans begged him not to play during the playoffs, fans blamed him for all of their losses. It was a terrible situation for him, no matter what the record said for the team. The folks in Cleveland are claiming that he had a loser mentality because he'd rather have fun and get 20 points than win games; the problem with Larry, though, was that he couldn't win and have fun in Cleveland. How can you have fun if you're winning, but everything about the game is negative?

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Norfolk, Va.: I'm not saying Mike Woodson does not deserve to be fired because his record speaks for itself, however I think Billy Knight's blunders have been just as bad if we can move down the list....passing on Chris Paul and Derron Williams, giving Speedy Claxton the full mid-level exception, drafting Shelden Williams over Brandon Roy or maybe even Rajon Rondo, etc. I know GMs can't fire themselves and the Hawks ownership is a difficult situation but if its me if Woodson goes Knight goes too.

Michael Lee: That might very well happen. I like both of those guys personally, since I got to cover them (Billy much longer) when I worked in Atlanta, but it's not working out. Woodson doesn't seem to be the right coach for a young team, and Knight hired him, so they both are at fault. This could be the end of the road for both. The fact that Billy wasn't able to fire him might've been the final nail for both.

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Alexandria, Va.: Ivan,

You kinda dance around the question of whether Arenas is a Max Contract Player. You always anwser if a GM thinks he is then he is a MAX player. But what do you think? If you were a GM would you sign Arenas to a MAX deal(pre-surgery)?

Ivan Carter: I go back and forth on that all of time. On the one hand, this is a guy just entering his prime who can put up 30 points a night, make game-winners with the best of them and fill up seats. Plus, he's a worker so you don't have to worry about him getting paid and going into the tank.

On the other, he's coming off of two knee injuries, he's something of a loose cannon so you never know what he's going to say or do and he's taken his team out of the first round only once. In my ideal world, there are only four max players anyway: Garnett, LeBron, Kobe and Howard. That's it.

But, as well know, things don't work that way so a guy like Gilbert has every right to survey the landscape, see what some of these guys are making and ask for max money.

The key is figuring out how to satisfy Gilbert while also keeping Antawn Jamison and still leaving flexibility for future moves.

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Reston, Va.: What chance is there that we see Arenas, and Jamison leave after this year (Arenas via sign and trade) and the team reconstructed around Caron and all the youngsters?

Ivan Carter: It's always a possiblity but you have to remember that sign-and-trades are very difficult to pull off. Also, Jamison has been the heart and soul of this team this season and he's one of a handful of guys who can give you 20 and 10 every single night. You really want to let that just walk away for nothing?

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Bethesda, Md.: Who is on you MVP short list? And how awesome is Lebron James, he has lived up to every expectation and more since he arrived in the league, as a player and as a representative of the NBA. Just thought I would add that, not saying I think he should MVP this year.

Michael Lee: My MVP short list, in no particular order because my opinion changes each week, are Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul. I don't even know who I'd put fifth, especially since the Shaq trade has taken some of the thunder out of Steve Nash's campaign.

I've been going back and forth with LeBron and Kobe.

I remember being in Las Vegas this summer and saying that it won't be long before LeBron is the best player in the game. I've been the main trumpeter for Kobe the past three seasons - I still think he should've been MVP that year he scored 81 points (no way that team he played with made the playoffs, with Smush Parker as option No. 3? And Kwame Brown as option No. 4? Are you kidding?) - but I think LeBron has been the MVP of the league this season (I was with KG the first half, but he hasn't been the same since he got hurt). Unfortunately, it seems like most people are just ready to give Kobe the MVP because they feel like he deserves one and the Lakers are the top seed - not that Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher had anything to do with it. Think those guys are an upgrade over Kwame and Smush? One would think so.

But I cannot ignore what LeBron is doing this season - especially when the team is 0-6 without him and the losses weren't even competitive. He's just up against the Kobe-Never-Got-One, Bron's-Young-He'll-Get-One-Later people. It's sad. But that's how it is. People used the similar arguments when it came to Kobe. I mean, the championship is a team award, the MVP is an individual award. The Cavs aren't a team without that individual.

I say Kobe gets it, although LeBron is having the better overall season.

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Washington, D.C.: You ever hear any buzz about Veremeenko? How is he doing in the Russian Super League. Are the Wiz planning to bring him over next season, at least for summer league. The Wiz could use some more depth at SF.

Ivan Carter: Ernie Grunfeld was in Europe recently and saw Vladimir Veremeenko (the team's second-round pick in the 2006 draft) play. Believe it or not, Veremeenko hurt his shoulder when Ernie was watching him. I swear, I'm not making that up. Anyway, I haven't heard what the team's plans for VV are but I'll ask a bit and update accordingly.

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Fort Washington, MD: Do you think the Wizards can still make it to the Finals this year?

Michael Lee: No. Either Boston, Detroit or Cleveland comes out of the East.

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Warwick, NY: Gentlemen: Your hunch at this time: Does Ernie let 'Twan walk this summer in order to start Andray at the 4 spot next season?

Ivan Carter: Andray has shown signs that he can start in this league. For awhile there, he was putting up 14 and 10 on a regular basis. I hear that he's working harder than in the past and I have to say that his overall approach has come along nicely. Would I take him in my starting lineup right now over Antawn Jamison at a reasonable new contract? No. Not yet. But your question raises an excellent point: Ernie Grunfeld has some huge decisions to make this summer.

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Luray, VA: Totally agree on the Hughes point. Ask someone who has a job that they hate, but it pays great. They're miserable.

That being the case, does Larry's trade to Chicago make more sense for him?

Michael Lee: I don't know. That is a strange mix of talent in Chicago. They have a lot of good players, but no great players, and when there is little separation between the top dog and the bottom dog, you have problems - especially if one of those players thinks he's head and shoulders above the rest.

The best part of the trade for Larry, though, is that he can play like he did here. That Cleveland offense was painful to watch with him camping out on the perimeter and clanking jump shots.

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Washington, DC: What role does Ernie Grunfeld play in determining when Caron and Gilbert return to game action, and how many minutes they are played as they are eased back into action?

Ivan Carter: Great question and an real mystery. Ernie is around on a consistent basis and I promise you that he's in regular contact with the team's doctors and athletic training staff. However, he's not going to tell Eddie how many minutes a guy should be playing once he's been cleared medically. At least, that's what I gather. Eddie says he bases it on a combination of what the medical staff tells him and what the player tells him.

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Virginia Beach, VA: Michael,

A couple weeks ago you had a story that the Hornets might be looking to move, maybe to Oklahoma City, if their average attendance does not rise before the end of the year. How would this effect the Sonics relocation plans? If the Sonics move to OK City first, what other cities are options for the Hornets? Las Vegas? It's Vegas, right? Oh god please say it's Vegas!

Michael Lee: I don't think they really affect each other now. It seems like Stern and the NBA are committed to keeping the team in New Orleans. The attendance has picked up in recent weeks - although it's still far below the modest goal of 14,375.

At the end of that story, I quoted George Shinn saying that his first option is to negotiate a new deal with the state before he looks to move.

The SuperSonics on the other hand, are being shoved out of Seattle by Stern. I've never seen an owner work so hard to get a team out of such a great place. I'm not looking forward to trading Seattle for Oklahoma City. No offense to Oklahoma City, it's a fine city, but it is no Seattle. Seattle is a great city. I love going there.

Vegas could become an option for some team when Harrah's completes that new NBA-ready arena in a few years.

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Columbia, Md.: Ivan,

Could you review the Memphis draft pick situation again? With Les Grizz tanking it this season, the Wiz do not get their draft rights correct?

Ivan Carter: That's right. The pick is top-19 protected in the June draft, meaning the Grizz keep the pick. It's top-16 protected in 2009, top-14 protected from 2010-12, top-12 protected in 2013. If the pick hasn't been received by 2013, the Wiz get a second round pick and cash considerations.

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Knee Surgery: Although I am sure Gilbert has upcoming contract negotiations in the back of his head, we need to cut him a little slack on his comments the other day. Anybody that has gone through knee surgery would be able to relate to what he said. I certainly can. It takes some time to get over that mentally. Once he gets some confidence and gets knocked around a little, he will be fine.

Ivan Carter: I agree. After what happened earlier this season, he just needs to get his confidence back and trust that his body is not going to fail him again. Remember, this was the first serious injury the guy ever had.

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Luray, Va.: Ivan - looking forward to the 2008 Draft... I think the Wiz are relatively set for big men (Haywood is still young, Blatche looks good, Pecherov can certainly play).. I think they need a young point guard (Darren Collison comes to mind). What do you think is on the Wizards' shopping list?

Ivan Carter: I agree with you on getting a young point guard either in free agency or the draft. The problem with the draft is that it is so difficult to get immediate help anywhere below the lottery. It can happen but it's pretty hit and miss.

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Max players: Ivan, Chris Paul is not a max player? He is on Michael's short list for MVP!

Ivan Carter: Good point. Maybe. I wouldn't let him walk, put it that way.

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Columbia, MD: Any insight on other teams that could offer Gilbert a FA contract? Have any teams hinted they might take a shot, any teams that need a Gilbert type player and will have the $$ to make an offer?

Ivan Carter: That's an issue because the way the market is shaping up, very few teams are going to have money and those that will (Memphis and Philadelphia) aren't very good. I can promise you that Gilbert isn't going to a bottom feeder.

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New York:"Luis Scola for nothing" the second worst trade of the year?

Michael Lee: What is the worst trade? Kwame for Pau? Shaq for Marion?

The Spurs got what they wanted in the Scola deal. They got the cap space they needed to sign Ime Udoka and their first round pick from three years ago. They also have a nice young player named Tiago Splitter in the oven. Scola probably wouldn't have had the same affect on the Spurs that he has had in Houston. You have to wonder if the Spurs could've gotten more for Scola, but San Antonio seems to be doing just fine right now.

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DC: Whatever happened to PJR?

Michael Lee: Peter John Ramos is playing in Spain, last I heard. I spoke with him during the FIBA Americas Tournament when he was playing for Puerto Rico, and he told me that was where he was headed. I'd be lying if I said I've kept up with him.

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Burke, Va.: Give it to us straight: will Pech's psyche ever recover from Nocioni Stewie-izing him the other night in Chicago, or are we going to have to send him back to the Ukraine in a straight jacket?

Ivan Carter: Well, he came off the bench the other night and drained a couple of threes so I think he got over it pretty quickly. But man, that was a nasty dunk.

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Silver Spring, MD: Would it be possible for the Wizards to negotiate something into Gilbert's next contract, where he would get the max money IF he stays healthy, but if he were to get hurt during the contract (say, he hurts the same knee again, and not unavoidable injuries like sprains, etc.), his future salary gets bumped a little lower so that the team has more flexibility? I know that insurance will cover part of player salaries due to injuries, but that doesnt give teams more salary cap room... just a thought

Ivan Carter: I don't see that happening. The NBA players have a great thing going with the guaranteed contracts regardless of injury.

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Beltsville, MD: How did Etan look in practice?? Did he throw down any dunks??

Ivan Carter: Didn't see any dunks but he was moving pretty well.

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Baltimore: I haven't been keeping up with him but how's our old friend in Detroit doing (Jarvis Hayes). Is he helping or hurting the Pistons?

Michael Lee: Jarvis is having a bit of an up-and-down season, but he is helping the Pistons this season much more than he is hurting them. For what it's worth, Jarvis is shooting a career high 43.5 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three-point land. He's averaging 6.7 points in just 16 minutes. He isn't doing more than what's being asked of him, and he isn't doing less.

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Tampa, FL: Mr. Hopla, the shooting coach has had a profound impact on the team. I particularly see Brendan Heywood step to the line with confidence and drain free throws. Before it was a crap shoot and I'd close my eyes when he got a shooting foul. Can we keep Hopla long term and can he get some extra work in with Antonio Daniels and that flat J?

Ivan Carter: He's worked quite a bit with Antonio but that shot remains pretty much the same. Daniels has always been a worker and I remember really trying to iron out that jumper prior to last season but it hasn't really changed. I think we're the point in his career where he is what he is.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't think that Antawn's contract will be a purely basketball decision either. I mean, from what I understand Uncle Abe LOVES Jamison, and rightly so - he's a great guy, he helped pull this team out of their misery, great in the community ... I would be more surprised to see Jamison leave than to see Gil go. The question is, what do you pay a guy like 'Twan?

Ivan Carter: I'm not sure what it's going to take for the sides to come together (around $8 mill per?) but I see Jamison back here with a new deal next season.

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Baltimore, MD: Ivan, where do you get your clothes? I'm liking the sport coat, jeans look. You need to give the other writers at the WP a clinic in fashion.

Ivan Carter: That's funny. I put almost no thought into it. Now, Mike Lee? He's sharp. Always in a suit.

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Bennett Point, Md.: I would appreciate both gentlemen to name one rule change they would like to have changed in the NBA. Because of the athleticism of the players, I would widen the court two feet in each direction.

Ivan Carter: NBA beat reporters would be given back their seats on the scorer's table. That's my rule.

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San Antonio Spurs : With all the hype around moves made by Phoenix, Dallas, and the Lakers, the quiet effieciency of the Spurs gets no hype.

Until a team shows me different, I will still favor the Spurs. While I used the same logic for the Patriots in the NFL (oops), am I overrating the Spurs or has San Antonio showed some age, like the Pats, that other teams from the West could exploit?

Michael Lee: San Antonio has indeed showed some age, but they are so tough to beat. When Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are in the lineup together, the Spurs are something like 29-9 this season. The teams that they have struggled with this season are Golden State (a young team that loves to get up and down) and Houston (a team that will have to get up and down now that Yao is gone). But they had a great pickup (and a good buddy in Seattle's Sam Presti) with Kurt Thomas and Brent Barry is coming back. They should be alright.

The only thing San Antonio has going against it is that this is an even numbered season. In 2000, the Spurs lost in the first round. In 2002, 2004 and 2006, they lost in the second round.

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Arlington, Va.: Golden State was the talk of the playoffs last year, you guys ready to make a bold prediction in the field and call the surprise team of this year's playoffs?

Ivan Carter: How ironic would be if T-Mac and the Rockets finally got out of the first round and did so without Yao? I think it could happen.

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Ivan Carter: Thanks for stopping in folks. I have run. Game night.

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Luray, Va.: Michael,

The Shaq trade to Phoenix. So, it's been 7 games and Shaq is averaging 29 minutes 10 pt, 10 rebs with 52 percent shooting. Not bad numbers, but Phoenix is only 3-4 in those games.

We keep hearing that the trade for Shaq was not made for the regular season, but to make them a better team in the playoffs.

It may be too early to make a good assessment of the trade, but has your opinion changed at all?

Michael Lee: I thought it was terrible deal at the time. I haven't seen anything to make me change my mind. I still don't think the Suns had that much trouble playing defense in the playoffs. I thought they just had the worst luck the past three seasons (Joe Johnson's face and eye injury, Amare Stoudemire's knee injury, Stoudemire's suspension, etc.). I think it created more problems that it solved. That being said, it is too early to assess it. But it looks bad right now.

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Shenandoah Valley, VA: Michael,

Of all the trades that were made recently, I think the Cavalier's getting Ben Wallace may have been one that pays the second most dividends (other than the Gasol trade to LA, which was an absolute steal)...

Since the trade, he seems to be playing with more energy - like the Big Ben of old. I even think that playing Ben and Varejao together won't hurt - because Lebron takes most of the shots and makes most of the plays anyway.

Your thoughts?

Michael Lee: I don't think the trade will do much for Ben. I don't think he'll play any better than he did in Chicago. He didn't miraculously regain his athleticism or develop a post game. The difference for Ben is that he is playing with a game-changing, transcendent superstar who will make him look better. In Chicago, he was on a team with a bunch of good players, but nobody to make his job easier.

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Michael Lee: Alright, people. I've got to go. I had fun. We'll talk again next week. Peace.

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