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Bennett group takes over

At least for the short term, the Sonics will play at KeyArena, Bob Hill continues as coach, Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are the stars and the team colors remain green and gold.

"We're going to make some changes, but a lot of things, at least until we get our feet on the ground, will stay the same," said principal owner Clay Bennett, whose group, the Professional Basketball Club LLC, took possession of the Sonics and Storm on Tuesday.

Besides promoting chief financial officer Danny Barth to interim CEO, Bennett's first day on the job produced no major changes for the Sonics, who begin their 40th-anniversary season tonight against Portland at KeyArena.

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Blazers better able to handle Miles' absence

Opening day. Trail Blazers season. No better time to examine the case of forward Darius Miles, his slow-healing injured knee and his kind-of, sort-of love for basketball.

Have we seen the last of Miles in uniform?

Consider that Miles had arthroscopic surgery on the right knee in mid-December 2005, the same month that teammate Dan Dickau blew out his Achilles' tendon. So on Tuesday, Dickau was running up and down the court during the final practice like he was Teen Wolf. Meanwhile, Miles, who arrived to camp out of shape and insisting that he would let his play do the talking, was nowhere.

Cue the crickets, please.

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Cheeks, King deserve better from their team

PHILADELPHIA -- One is a franchise treasure, a known champion, a team-first competitor, a source for decades of 76ers pride. The other is a pristinely trained basketball man, successful as a player and an administrator, a team-first competitor, with the pride of the Sixers now in his hands.

By any plan, by any professional blueprint, they are where they should be, one coaching the Sixers, the other presiding over them. By any study of those credentials and achievements, the franchise should be expertly handled, with Maurice Cheeks as the coach, with Billy King as the president.


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Knicks notebook

Lame-duck Fratello

Like Isiah Thomas, Mike Fratello coaches this season in the last year of his contract. Like Thomas, he opens the season with the loss of a key player, a more important one than the Knicks' Jared Jeffries in leading scorer Pau Gasol, expected out until mid-December with a broken left foot suffered during this summer's world championships.

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Sixers step up? Yeah, off a cliff

This Sixers season will be fascinating.

Oh, the basketball could be shaky. The Sixers didn't do much to improve the roster in the offseason, except get older. But there is a major shake-up potentially coming to this team and this organization, and it should be interesting to watch.

Sixers GM Billy King is almost certainly on a very hot seat. Head coach Mo Cheeks -- after a season in which Allen Iverson admitted the players took advantage of him -- will try to win by being sterner and more demanding this season. Taking the same collection of ill-fitting pieces King put together last year, Cheeks emphasized defense in the preseason.

And the Sixers allowed 405 points in four stateside preseason games.

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This team cries out for time to develop

Somebody pays to get in. The joint was banged out last night even before people knew they would be there for a Red Auerbach tribute. But there has been no significant buzz about this team in this town for 15 years, again acknowledging that one brief fling in ’02. The ownership will tell you about business partnerships and gross revenue and all that stuff, and since I haven’t been invited to peruse the books, I’ll have to take their word for it. But you know what I’m talking about.

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Milicic must wait for new deal

As expected, Tuesday's NBA deadline officially passed without the Orlando Magic and Darko Milicic coming to a long-term contract extension. Talks can't commence again between the Magic and Milicic until July 1, 2007, according to the league's collective bargaining agreement.

Milicic originally signed with Detroit in 2003 after the Pistons drafted him at No. 2.


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It's Billups' team this year, as he takes reins from Big Ben

When the Pistons met on a sunny Saturday early in October for their annual open practice, point guard Chauncey Billups was able to quantify just how his stature had grown over the summer.

During the pregame introductions at all home games, including that informal scrimmage, the team dances and fist-bumps and hand-slaps its way through a memorized routine. The order of introductions never changed. Billups went first. Ben Wallace, the team's biggest star, was saved for last.

Not anymore.

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Nets’ Hopes Riding on Three Main Attractions

Vince Carter’s game face overlooks Eighth Avenue in Manhattan from a billboard on the side of a Times Square movie theater. Smaller images of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson appear in the background.

The three players are the Nets’ main attractions, but their future as a starring cast could rest with the 29-year-old Carter.

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King knows it's time to deliver

IT WASN'T THE 365 days that changed things in the life of Billy King.

It was the Sixers' 38-44 record last

season that has the team president

suddenly sitting 180 degrees away from where he was a year ago.

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Mitchell listens, learns

There are few men in the NBA more confident in their own abilities than Sam Mitchell, who truly believes hard work will be rewarded because it's been happening to him his whole life.

So while some coaches would have panicked at the thought of a new general manager coming in with a mandate for massive change, especially a coach without the comfort of a long-term contract, Mitchell stayed calm.

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Ilgauskas, Cavs pick up new roles

One other change in the Wizards' starting lineup from the Game 6 playoff loss on May 21 is DeShawn Stevenson replacing Jared Jeffries at the shooting guard spot.

Stevenson, who has averaged 7.6 points in seven NBA seasons, was signed after Jeffries was lured to the New York Knicks by a five-year, $30 million offer.

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Wizards Q& A

After two years and two trips to the playoffs, the Wizards are still viewed in many parts as the underage guy trying to sneak into the club. How can they change that? Well, it has nothing to do with turning 21 and everything to do with making a real statement in the playoffs this year. By now, their postseason participation should be a foregone conclusion, and no one believes that more than the players. So what developments should you look for in the next 82 games starting with tonight's game against the Cavaliers?
Q: How big is tonight's game in run-down Cleveland?

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Tough road ahead

There were plenty of smiling faces at Sixers practice Tuesday.When assistant coach Moses Malone hit a 3-pointer to end practice at the Wachovia Center, Chris Webber and Samuel Dalembert hurried over to high-five and hug him.

Moments later, Steven Hunter, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, hit a half-court shot and raised his arms in triumph as his teammates hooted and hollered.

Just as it does in 29 other NBA cities, optimism reigned on the eve of another season.

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Traveling can be hazardous

The first injury case stemming from competing in the world championships appears to be Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh.

The Dallas native missed half of the Raptors' preseason games because of plantar fascitis in his left heel after playing for Team USA during the summer.

Although Bosh said the injury is not a problem, the Raptors have lightened his practice load.

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Sonics' Lewis won't talk extension

Rashard Lewis has been in contract limbo for months, anticipating the day when principal owner Clay Bennett assumed control of the Sonics and the two sides could begin discussions on a two-year, $25 million extension.

However, a few hours after the $350 million sale between the Bennett-led Professional Basketball Club and the outgoing ownership group was finalized, Lewis withdrew his demand for an extension, according to his agent, Kevin Poston.

The 27-year-old forward has the option of voiding the final two years of his deal after the 2006-07 season and becoming an unrestricted free agent.

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Timberwolves Report

Kevin Garnett was presented with the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award on Tuesday for his charitable contributions.

Garnett was named the recipient of the award, voted upon by the Professional Basketball Writers Association, in April. Last season, he donated $1.2 million to Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network to build a house a month for two years to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. Garnett also has been involved with the Minneapolis Urban League and assisted Katrina victims who have relocated to Minnesota.

Garnett said he doesn't like receiving attention for his contributions.

"A lot of the things I do I like to keep personal because I never want it to come off as PR," he said.

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Garnett's charity work earns him citizenship award

Normally, when Kevin Garnett gives his time and money to charity, he doesn't like to give his name. But sometimes, that can get difficult.

When you pledge $1.2 million to Oprah Winfrey's Angel Network to build 24 homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina, for example. Or buy computers for area schools.

For his work both here and across the nation, the Timberwolves star was given the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship award by the Professional Basketball Writers Association in an award ceremony Tuesday afternoon at Target Center.

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Smith: Nothin' But (Inter)Net

I have no idea how good these guys are going to be – and no one does, don’t let anyone fool you – but I do know this: More people are more intrigued by how this team is going to play than at any time in franchise history.

Even way back when the Raptors were good – and there are 4-year-olds out there who have never seen a Toronto playoff game, that’s how long it’s been – you sort of knew what you were getting each year: Vince Carter, some dunks, Vince Carter, some more dunks and the unique entertainment supplied by Our Man Oak.

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Heat still pursuing Jalen Rose

The Heat's pursuit of Jalen Rose continued Tuesday.

Miami very much wants to sign the swingman, but not before clarifying with Rose what his role will be if he chooses to sign with the team.

The Heat believes Rose can take on some of the point-guard duties while Jason Williams is out rehabbing his right knee. But when Williams returns, Rose could become this year's version of Derek Anderson, who saw spot minutes throughout the second half of last season but was relegated to the bench for most of his stay with the Heat.

Rose, who was bought out of the final year of his contract with the Knicks on Monday and will become a free agent today, is concerned about his contract for next season and wants to prove he's still worth more than a minimum deal. That might not make Miami the most appealing destination for Rose.

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