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A cool move by the Heat

Walker trade should help Riley's cause

You hesitate to call it a GIGO deal (garbage in, garbage out), but a lot of folks in Miami are stunned that anyone would take Antoine Walker while just as many folks in the Twin Cities are equally shocked that anyone would take Mark Blount.

But the former Celtics, along with another ex-Celt, the peripatetic Ricky Davis, are once again on the move. Who says the exhibition season is meaningless? Pat Riley took a look at his 0-7 Miami Heat, saw his 2002-03 Miami Heat, and pulled the trigger on the biggest deal of the preseason.

The immediate beneficiary appears to be Miami. Davis is proven as a scorer, which Miami desperately needs with Dwyane Wade still on the mend and Shaquille O'Neal still, um, on the payroll. If and when everyone gets back on the floor, the Heat could be significantly improved. Blount can spell Shaq, and Davis can be a second or third scoring option. For now, he'll be No. 1 with Wade still hors de combat and Shaq, um, on the payroll.

Riley had Davis for a season (in which Davis played 70 minutes over seven games) early in Davis's career (2000-01).

"I made the mistake of trading him," Riley said. "He's a very talented kid. He was not a problem here. We just needed to move and get bigger players at that time. Over the next six years he has been very efficient."

Davis, still only 28, has now been traded for the fifth time, and from Minnesota, we saw the code phrase "strong personalities" mentioned in the Wolves' reasoning for the deal. Hmm. Whatever are they talking about?

That also applied to Blount, and there had to be concern in Minnesota about the Blount-Al Jefferson relationship, given Big Al's strong comments after Blount was traded in December 2005. The Timberwolves still have roster work to do, but they did get a first-round pick out of the deal.

"There's still dust in the air," Minnesota hoops boss Kevin McHale said. "Any more dust in the air is not going to bother anything. These next few days always will be interesting. Then we'll let it settle and see what it is."

Which leaves Employee No. 8. He has been traded five times in the last five years, and this one probably hurts as much as any of them. He made the mistake of irritating Riley with his lack of conditioning, and he wasn't dealing from a position of strength. Heck, he wasn't even playing. That's how you get yourself traded; tick off the coach when you're not contributing.

"It was a good trade for Miami; I didn't think it was a good trade for Antoine," said Paul Pierce "He doesn't want to be a part of rebuilding. He's got a taste of what winning would be like. I know if I was him, I'd be disappointed. I know he probably is. I know him and Riley had their rifts and he probably wanted out of that situation. But I know there could have been a better situation for him out there."

Like maybe Boston? There's a roster spot open. (Just kidding.)

Chances are McHale (who actually got some rare credit in Minny for this one) knows that as well. The last thing he or coach Randy Wittman wants or needs on a young, impressionable team is an out-of-shape, out-of-sorts veteran with an undeniably strong personality.

The Wolves already saved some money by shedding Blount's silly contract. They might want to consider a buyout with Walker and let him see what's out there.

"It's tough just knowing him," former Heat teammate James Posey said of Walker. "He's a competitor."

As for Miami, the Heat averaged 85.9 points in the exhibition season and shot a wretched 42.8 percent. Their leading scorer was Udonis Haslem at 11.8 points a game. Riley is all about the here and now and, clearly, he didn't like what he saw.

"I think the preseason showed that we didn't have what we needed at that position [swingman] even though we have players that can help us," Riley said.

Apparently not enough. Give Riley credit. He's not afraid to stir the shake, so to speak. And, in so doing, you have to like the Heat's chances a lot more now than you did a week ago.

Artest case to be heard

The NBA season starts this week, and it's also the week when the Players Association will finally present its case to an independent arbitrator to have Ron Artest's seven-game suspension reduced. The union thinks it has a good chance, even though it is representing an NBA serial offender. (Artest's list of priors was a factor in the seven-game hit.)

Artest pleaded no contest last May to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence stemming from an incident in March. He was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and a 10-day work project.

In July, the NBA hammer came down on both Artest and Golden State's Stephen Jackson, who also was hit with a seven-game suspension stemming from an incident when he was still with Indiana. (The two were also involved in the infamous brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004 while both were members of the Pacers.)

Jackson decided not to appeal his suspension and will take a hit of around $515,000. Artest's suspension, if upheld, will cost him upward of $575,000, not to mention rob the Kings of one of their best players for almost 10 percent of the season.

The Artest case will be presented to arbitrator Calvin Sharpe of the Case Western University School of Law in Cleveland.

The Kings open their season Wednesday. Their seventh game is Nov. 12. But even if a decision isn't reached by then, the arbitrator could reduce the financial penalty.

Bird is negative on the naysayers

You won't find many people predicting good things for the Indiana Pacers, who collapsed last season (6-23 in their last 29 games) and saw their 10-year playoff streak come to a crashing conclusion. Not one of ESPN.com's "experts" ranked the Pacers any higher than 12th in the East, and Sports Illustrated had them as No. 12 as well.

You probably aren't shocked to learn that one Larry Joe Bird, who happens to be responsible for putting together the Pacers, doesn't buy any of that.

"I think we're going to be a lot better than people think we are," Bird said. "We're going to run a lot more. We're going to move the ball a lot more. We have a whole new set of coaches. I think we're going to be all right."

The Pacers were the league's worst-shooting team last season, and new coach Jim O'Brien is emphasizing movement and 3-pointers. He's also intent on resurrecting Jamaal Tinsley. "When you look at [O'Brien], all of his teams get better as the season goes on," Bird said. "They really run things in a professional manner."

Left unaddressed, of course, is the elephant in the room; specifically, what the Pacers will do with Jermaine O'Neal. The team's performance will either hasten O'Neal's departure or secure his position as franchise mainstay.

One guy who won't be making a contribution is Courtney Sims, ex- of Michigan and Leo Papile's BABC teams. Bird said last week that Sims was behind almost everyone and would have a hard time making the team. The Pacers cut him Thursday.

Etc.

Delay of games
The qualifying tournament to select the last three teams for the 2008 Olympics has been moved back a week and will now will be held July 14-20, ending roughly three weeks before the start of the Games. The change came, according to FIBA, at the request of several national federations whose teams will participate. The extra seven days gives teams more prep time. The 12 teams are Brazil, Cape Verde, Canada, Cameroon, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Korea, Lebanon, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, and Slovenia. FIBA will select a site when it meets in early December in Chicago. This summer, the hot rumor was that Toronto would host the tournament.

Wrist shots
Last Tuesday night was a busy night for wrist specialists around the NBA. The marquee wrist ailment belongs to the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, who was hurt that night against the Jazz, and the Lakers, figuring discretion is the better part of valor, pulled him for the remainder of the exhibition season. The Bucks' Andrew Bogut sprained his left wrist Tuesday and Milwaukee immediately scrubbed him for its final two exhibition games. The news for the Mavericks' Josh Howard was more encouraging, although he's likely to miss more time than either Bryant or Bogut. His left wrist was moderately sprained Tuesday and he said he would be ready for the season opener. Only problem with that is that the NBA suspended Howard for the first two games of the season for his actions during an altercation against the Kings Oct. 16

Don't bet against Vegas
So how soon before the NBA moves into Las Vegas? An NBA-ready arena is going to be built. You have to think a couple of teams (Hornets, Sonics) will be in the mood to move sometime in the near future because commissioner David Stern says there are no immediate plans for expansion. "It's so premature because, if I were a Las Vegas resident, I don't know if I'd make a line on the over and under on the 2010 date," Stern said. The commish has always said that if the NBA ever were to have a franchise in Las Vegas, then NBA betting would have to be taken off the Sports Books. That is the case now at the Palms Casino, which is owned by the Maloof brothers, owners of the Sacramento Kings. Stern also said that there has been zero interest from Vancouver regarding a possible return to one of the great cities in North America. "I can tell you that we have not received any expression of interest from anyone who wants to own an NBA franchise in Vancouver. Sad to say but true," Stern said.

Stars aren't coming out
I may be wrong, but I can't remember an NBA exhibition season in which so many "name" players either were held out of games or played very, very sparingly. When the Nets played the Celtics in Worcester Oct. 19 - or tried to play before the slippery floor forced the game to be canceled at halftime - they did so without Jason Kidd, Vince Carter, or Richard Jefferson. When the Celtics played last week in New Jersey, they returned the favor by sitting Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen. In the Nets' first five exhibition games, only Josh Boone, Jason Collins, Robert Hite, and Jamaal Magliore played in every game. Shaquille O'Neal played in three of the Heat's seven games and played only 14.7 minutes, during which he inhaled 2.3 rebounds per.

No motion from Stern
So why hasn't Stern come down on the Knicks following the sexual harassment trial in which both coach Isiah Thomas and owner James Dolan were found liable? A lawyer by trade, Stern said he's waiting for the appeal to be heard, although, as a legal expert told the Globe recently, a successful appeal seems highly unlikely because an appeals court seldom overturns verdicts in these kinds of cases unless there is a misapplication of the law.

Another doc at Harvard
Celtics coach Doc Rivers is going Ivy League on us today. Rivers will be over at Harvard University, where he is the guest lecturer at the first Harvard Men's Basketball Coaches Clinic. The clinic, being put together by new Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and his staff, runs from 10:30 to 5 p.m. at Lavietes Pavilion and the cost is $75, which includes lunch.

Peter May can be reached at p_may@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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