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He's not going anywhere right now

No matter how dreary things might get on the court, how restless Twin Cities basketball fans grow or how many future draft picks get tossed into trades like fortune cookies into a takeout bag, one thing we know now with certainty: Glen Taylor will never, ever fire Kevin McHale.

"It won't work that way," said Taylor, the Timberwolves owner. "I would never embarrass Kevin. We'll both agree when it's time."

To fans or (gulp) former fans of Taylor's basketball team, McHale, as vice president of basketball operations for the past 11 seasons, must appear to have job security worthy of Bizarro World.

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It's probably win or walk this season

Rookie head coaches get honeymoons. Second-year head coaches get heat.

Dwane Casey has been around the block often enough, and around the league long enough, to grasp his situation: If the Timberwolves miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season, and second under Casey, he probably won't become a third-year head coach in Minnesota.

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How's the résumé?

Perhaps no other coach will feel the heat this season like Flip Saunders.

In his first year coaching Detroit last season, the Pistons flirted with winning 70 games before falling to Miami during the Eastern Conference Finals. That puts the onus squarely on Saunders, who replaced Larry Brown after Brown guided the Pistons to the NBA Finals twice, winning it all in 2004.

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NBAlmanac

5 Sixers questions

1. Can a leopard change its spots? Coach Mo Cheeks has talked about nothing but defense for months, but the preseason showed the same inconsistency that made them a sieve in front of their basket last season.

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5 Key Concerns for the Clippers

5 KEY CONCERNS FOR THE CLIPPERS

The Clippers opened training camp with five key concerns. A month later, here's where they stand in those areas on the eve of the regular season.

1. Old Man Sam Cassell, who turns 37 on Nov. 18, started 75 games and averaged 34 minutes last season. Backup point guard Shaun Livingston's development will probably cut into that playing time and should keep Cassell fresh for late in the season. And Sam's mouth, as usual, will run on overdrive, which isn't a bad thing.

2. Juggling the bigs

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Ridnour gets his extension

The Sonics signed guard Luke Ridnour to a three-year contract extension on Monday, avoiding free agency.

The team's sale to Clay Bennett and the Professional Basketball Club stalled talks between Ridnour and the Sonics, but general manager Rick Sund and Ridnour's agent, Lon Babby, reignited negotiations over the weekend and were able to reach a deal. Had a contract extension not been signed, Ridnour would have become a restricted free agent at season's end.

Ridnour, the team's starting point guard, is currently playing under the fourth-year option of his rookie deal, earning $2.4 million this season. He now is signed through the 2010 season.

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Heat eyes Jalen Rose

The Heat is considering signing 12-year veteran Jalen Rose, who was waived by the New York Knicks on Monday.

Rose, a 6-8 guard-forward who was scheduled to make $16.9 million this season, is expected to clear waivers on Wednesday.

The 33-year-old Rose could back up Heat point guard Gary Payton, even though he primarily has played small forward during the past several years with Toronto and New York. He would have to consider his role with the Heat once Jason Williams returns and the team has its regular rotation intact.

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Hill sees a top Sonics team developing, but no job, including his, is safe

On certain bright days at the Furtado Center, there is a slight glare coming from the coach's office on the second floor. The reflection is a deep green, and it sometimes entices players on the north side of the court to raise their heads for a glimpse.

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Hawks 2 ‘fantastic’ players away

So what must the Hawks do to make the NBA playoffs for the first time during this millennium?

Glad you asked. The answer lies somewhere between this historically baffling franchise needing seven of the Eastern Conference’s other 14 teams to fold (eight make the playoffs) to hoping Harry The Hawk joins the cow in jumping over the moon (you know, a miracle).

Let’s start with the Hawks’ current predicament, and then we’ll move to how they can become relevant again before the next millennium. Courtesy of finally getting a decent point guard and more experience for what was the league’s youngest team, these Hawks actually are better than last season’s bunch, who doubled the franchise’s win total from the year before to 26.

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Higher expectations

With only three days left before the start of the Raptors' regular season, Sam Mitchell was spotted on the practice gym floor at the Air Canada Centre, hunched over and in pain.

Someone cracked that the Raptors head coach was fine, that it was just the weight of the team's expectations on his shoulders causing him to walk like a 90-year-old man.

As it turns out, Mitchell did hurt his back during practice, demonstrating defensive positioning to rookie forward Andrea Bargnani.

"That's the last time I do that," Mitchell said, grumbling, as he prepared to take questions about the upcoming NBA regular season, a season that undoubtedly will make or break his career as an NBA head coach.

Mitchell is in a precarious situation, to say the least. The third-year head coach is in the final year of a contract that the new GM, Bryan Colangelo didn't sign. It's the classic lame-duck scenario.

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Kobe: Knee is 'really good'

Judging from how many times he used the word "really" to describe how good his knee felt, Kobe Bryant will be in the starting lineup and wearing his new No. 24 jersey when the Lakers open the season tonight against Phoenix.

Bryant passed his biggest test Monday at practice when he was running the middle on a fastbreak drill and decided to challenge guard Shammond Williams, who was trying to take a charge on defense.

"I felt like I could explode, so I took off," Bryant said. "I didn't know what I was doing. The ball slipped out of my hands, but I landed and I felt fine. It was like, `OK.' If it feels good (today), I'll be ready to go."

Bryant underwent right knee surgery 108 days ago, but his recovery has been slow. He did not play in any of the Lakers' eight preseason games and only recently started practicing at full speed with his teammates.

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A 'great day' has Bryant optimistic

Kobe Bryant was smiling, even though Darth Vader was lurking nearby.

The Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony for team owner Jerry Buss had just ended, and Bryant, for the first time this month, was ebullient while talking about his surgically repaired right knee.

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Knicks free Jalen Rose, tip off new payroll era

A year ago, if Jalen Rose had been on the Knicks roster, he would have been seen as a huge asset, that fat contract a juicy enticement to some other team to get under the salary cap in a trade for another player with a longer, more cumbersome contract.

But as the Knicks prepare to embark on the new season, they're also at the end of an old era: the expiring contract era. In other words, they didn't keep Rose -- or Maurice Taylor before him -- in order to then acquire someone like Baron Davis in February. Those days, most Knicks fans will be happy to hear, are over.

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Discussion Starter #15
Best of the best will test the rest

MVP

Tim Duncan
San Antonio Spurs
It looks like we're in the LeBron James era, what with his media popularity and the frequent airing of his highlights on TV. But Duncan showed how valuable he was even as the Spurs were losing to the Mavericks in seven games in last season's playoffs. There are any number of ways to judge the MVP, and James will deserve consideration: He's irreplaceable for the Cavaliers. But so are Kobe Bryant with the Lakers, Dirk Nowitzki with the Mavs and Dwyane Wade with the Heat. Duncan should be fitter without playing last summer and seems over his foot problems. He's still the first player I'd pick to build a team, and I can see a recovery from his poorest scoring season, the first in which he averaged under 20 points.

Coach of the Year

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Thomas faces long goodbye

Larry Brown was one month into his short-lived run as savior of the Knicks when Isiah Thomas came to him with a plan.

"We should try to play a more up-tempo game," the boss told Brown, according to a source, "like the Phoenix Suns."

Even if Thomas merely was trying to make a harmless suggestion, the meeting was the beginning of the end for the Brown-Thomas relationship, not to mention the 2005-06 Knicks. Incensed because he felt that Thomas already had broken his noninterference promise, Brown responded with a proposal of his own:

"Why don't you (bleeping) coach the team."

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Nuggets' tri-captain job won't be his, Miller says

Andre Miller isn't expecting a three-peat.

Miller was a Nuggets tri-captain the previous two seasons. But the point guard, who reported overweight to training camp, doesn't anticipate again being a captain.

"No, I'm not (expecting it)," he said Monday.

That doesn't bother Miller.

"Being a captain is not a big thing," Miller said. "I lead by example on the court. I'm a point guard. I get the guys going. . . . I don't have a problem (not being a captain)."

Miller said he's "talked about it a little" with the coaches, but he wasn't specific when asked if he has been told he won't be a captain or when asked who the captains will be. He said "Melo (Carmelo Anthony) and Marcus (Camby) are guys that are probably deserving of it."

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Taking the long view

Perhaps the Nuggets will stop the game at the Pepsi Center on April 9 and hand George Karl a silver cup.

Barring the unforeseen, Karl that night against the Los Angeles Lakers will have been the Nuggets coach for 199 consecutive games. For this franchise, that’s entering Cal Ripken Jr. territory.

Since Doug Moe was fired after the 1989-90 season, no Nuggets coach has lasted longer than the 198 consecutive games. Dan Issel was in command from 1992-93 until midway through the 1994-95 season. That’s not even three full seasons.

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Nets' clock ticking

Vince Carter doesn't want to worry about it. He certainly doesn't care to spend much time discussing it. When it comes to the question of whether he will be a Net next season, Carter would rather let others speculate while he concentrates on doing what he does best.

"I'm worried about going out there and playing my best basketball first," says Carter. "That'll take care of itself once the season is over."

Though the 2006-07 season doesn't begin until tomorrow night - when the Nets take on Carter's old team, the Toronto Raptors - the biggest question the Nets likely will face next summer already has begun to echo throughout the Meadowlands: Will Carter exercise his right to opt out of the final year of his contract, making him a free agent and leaving the Nets without one of their three biggest stars?

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West's pact worth $45 million

Three hours later, West was joined by team officials on a conference call to announce just how big of a deal it actually is.

West signed a multi-year contract extension with the Hornets on Monday afternoon, one day before the league-imposed deadline that would have made him a restricted free agent if an agreement was not reached. Per team policy, the Hornets did not release terms of the contract, but a league source said the deal is worth approximately $45 million over five years starting with the 2007-08 season. West is scheduled to make just more than $2 million this season, the final year of his original rookie contract.

West, the team's 6-foot-9 power forward, has a player option in the contract that allows him to get out of his new deal after the 2010-11 season. It's a measure that gives the 26-year-old West an opportunity to sign another lucrative deal at a time when most players are entering the prime of their careers.

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