THE HOT LINE
Drawing from itsnetwork of NBA insiders--including scouts, coaches and front-officepersonnel--FAST BREAK picked up this chatter from around the league.
"The NBA ishoping to persuade five or six CBA teams to buy their way into the D-League. Ifthe price is $100,000, the CBA teams like the idea; if it's $300,000, theydon't know." ... Guys like [LSU's] Tyrus Thomas (right) and [Texas's]LaMarcus Aldridge can talk about staying in school, but they have a chance tobe high picks in the draft--and in those situations guys almost always wind upcrossing the border for the money." ... "I'm hearing the one team thatmight be up for sale is the Warriors. In the meantime, the word is that theowner [Chris Cohan] won't make a coaching change unless Mike Montgomery agreesto a settlement." ... "The NBA has decided that the Las Vegas SummerLeague can have no more than 16 teams, so that means at least two teams aregoing to have to find somewhere else to play."
INTRODUCING ...ANDREA BARGNANI
One NBA teamexecutive predicts that 6'11" Italian forward Andrea Bargnani (left), whohas been likened to Dirk Nowitzki, will be the No. 1 pick in the June draft.Another exec, however, cautions that the 20-year-old from Benetton Treviso hasmore in common with Nikoloz Tskitishvili, who was a bust after the Nuggetsdrafted him fifth in 2002. Benetton G.M. Maurizio Gherardini dismisses thatcomparison, saying that while the 7-foot, 225-pound Tskitishvili was strictly apractice player in his one season with Benetton, "Bargnani has been playingfor more than a year."
Bargnani has beena consistent performer as well, averaging 11.3 points in the Italian league and10.9 points in the tougher Euroleague at week's end. Despite his skinny245-pound frame, scouts believe that Bargnani's skills are advanced enough thathe'll be able to contribute right away. "He has a very clear vision of whathe wants to accomplish," says Gherardini, regarded as Europe's top G.M."He shoots the three-pointer very naturally--he doesn't need extra time toprepare it. Not only can he jump, but he has the length and reach to beeffective. The guy has everything to become the first meaningful Italian playerin the NBA."
The big loser in the yearlong Ron Artest saga could be the Suns, whose rewardfor being the No. 2 seed in the West looks like a first-round matchup againstthe streaking Kings and their physically dominant wing combo of Ron-Ron andBonzi Wells.
Isiah Thomas is telling friends that he next wants to be a college coach--butthat he's in no hurry to leave as Knicks G.M.
He's 26 with a 52-year-old back: Tracy McGrady's chronic injuries are almost assad to see as were those of his former teammate and free-agent classmate of2000, Grant Hill.