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SILENCE IS NOT GOLDEN WHEN IT COMES TO DEALS

By all accounts, January was one of the NBA's quietest months ever in terms of trade talk. Nobody even wanted to engage in idle chatter, much less go so far as to entertain a potential offer.

But February made me shiver, with every paper I delivered. Bad news on the door step, I could not take one more step. . . .

Sorry about that flashback. I'm still having a hard time coping with Don MacLean's five-game suspension for steroid use.

At any rate, executives throughout the league and player agents now report that dialogue has greatly increased this month as the Feb. 22 trading deadline rapidly approaches. Of course, this was also true last season, resulting in one obscure deal involving Anthony Johnson for a second-rounder. It was so obscure I don't even recall the two teams involved; I think the New Orleans Jazz might've been one of them.

Consequently, there's no guarantee any of this latest conversation will lead to anything exotic, particularly since so many teams are teeming with base-year contracts that considerably handicap player movement.

Nevertheless, I'm sensing at least several teams will go strong to the transactions column. It starts with the Hawks, who admit interest in Dikembe Mutombo has heated up significantly in the wake of his intimidating 22-rebound, multi-bshot-changing All-Star performance.

"Dikembe showed everybody what he's capable of when surrounded by good players," stressed GM Pete Babcock, who felt his center absolutely deserved to share the MVP award with Allen Iverson, another former Hoya.

Babcock is quick to deflect the notion Mutombo isn't going anywhere this season. "That's what (agent) David Falk said and I'm glad he feels that way," he said. "I'm also glad everything he says is positive. He and Stan (Kasten, the team's president) enjoy an excellent working relationship.

"But, truthfully, I don't know what's going to happen. A week or so ago, I would've guessed Dikembe would be with us for the remainder of the season and that we'd try to re-sign him this summer if we could surround him with better players. But now I'm not so sure. We have no problem with him finishing the season with us and we have no problem making a trade by the deadline if it makes us a better team."

The only problem the Hawks have is their record and their roster.

Despite being gently pushed and prodded, Babcock refused to reveal any specifics regarding which teams are currently on the prowl for Mutombo and what they're proposing. As if I need a secret clearance to know the Knicks are prepared to do something big.

Dave Checketts hasn't been collecting abuse (for not having a done deal for Mutombo at the moment the Garden president traded Patrick Ewing) and assets, in duplicate and triplicate, for nothing.

You don't need a reliable source to know the Knicks must reliquish at least one player (if it's not Marcus Camby, they can immediately log off their fantasy) from their Big & Tall Man Shop and one official scorer, almost certainly Glen Rice.

If you're wondering, the combined salaries of Camby and Rice ($14.15 million) match Mutombo's $14.4M almost to perfection.

As far as I can tell, the only reason the Hawks would not accept such a proposition is if they can do better elsewhere. There is at least one new team (the Bucks?) in the hunt for the free agent-to-be Mutombo and at least one team (the Blazers) who swear they'll make it up to the Hawks if they wait for summer to trade him.

Moreover, there's a slight chance Vancouver may be willing to package Shareef Abdur-Rahim for Mutombo and draft picks. That would give the Grizzlies some cap flexibility to start fresh wherever they decide to migrate.

At the same time, it'd give the Hawks the established young frontcourtman they are looking for to lead them back to a monument of mediocrity.

Trade talk

It came as no surprise to learn the Lakers are shopping Horace Grant. Sources say the Raptors rejected an offer of Grant and Devean George for Charles Oakley. Numerous teams have inquired about Oakley, only to be summarily rebuffed. Makes sense to me. Meanwhile, if the Lakers harbor any serious thought about upgrading their rebounding, they may have to move Robert Horry or Rick Fox for someone like Chicago's Brad Miller. Or else make up with Dennis Rodman.

It came as a complete surprise to learn the Grizzlies' offer of Mike Bibby and Tony Massenburg for Darrell Armstrong and Michael Doleac was turned down by the Magic. Again, numerous teams covet the consummate leader of Orlando, but Armstrong's virtually untouchable. Originally, I'd been told Vancouver insisted Bryant Reeves be included in any deal involving Bibby or Abdur Rahim. Clearly, that's not the case as far as Bibby is concerned.

It comes as no surprise to learn the Pacers have reached out for Mookie Blaylock. Nobody misses Mark Jackson's precision passes more than Reggie Miller and Blaylock has proven adept at getting the ball (visualize Steve Smith coming off screens in Atlanta) to the right man, at the right time, in the right place. Sources say the Warriors are agreeable, but don't want Derrick McKey or Sam Perkins. A third team (Chicago) may have to be included for a deal to happen. The Bulls wanted Austin Croshere this summer, own cap room (to wash away the forward's base year salary) and have players (Miller, Ron Artest, Khalid El-Amin) the Warriors may want.

Oh, yeah, the Knicks offered the usual suspect, Chris Childs for Blaylock. The Warriors hung up.
(Peter Vecsey is an analyst on NBC's NBA coverage and a columnist for the New York Post.)

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