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ROD MAY BE SPARED A SEASON OF SITTING

After going months without being propositioned, Rod Strickland's sullied services suddenly are in hot demand. Saturday, the 98-proof free spirit, er, free agent was expected to make up his mind (otherwise known as his happy hour of decision), pick up on one and leave the other behind.

Strickland went from an orphan to two adoption offers within hours. No sooner had the 76ers reached out to him in the wake of Eric Snow breaking a thumb than the Heat offered him an identical $1 million contract.

Naturally, though, all things are not equal.

Strickland never has been especially fond of practice, much less perspiring for long periods of time. I think we know where Pat Riley stands at the pulpit on this precept. Interestingly, Larry Brown, in recent years, has compromised his values for certain pampered players, both past and present.

Another element in Philadelphia's favor, it seems, is the city's proximity to Strickland's home and heritage. His permanent watering holes are located in the D.C. area, while his family still lives in New York. In other words, fewer double yellow lines to cross.

Most appealing of all, you would think, is Brown's promise to start Strickland at the point. There's an affection, connection and covenant between the two that began years ago in San Antonio; Larry told Rod throughout the summer, if he had the room, he'd beam him on board.

Voila!

Meanwhile, Strickland could've/should've been imported to Miami the moment it was decided Tim Hardaway wouldn't be invited back. Riley can overpay Anthony Carter ($24 million) as much as he pleases, but it's still obvious the team craves a certified caretaker if it plans to get out of the first round.

Riley -- having gratefully abandoned his experiment to set up Eddie House at an alien position -- would never extend himself like Brown. Strickland's superiority notwithstanding, he must prove he's the Heat's most qualified point guard rail before Riley entrusts him with being his assistant coach on the floor.

One team or the other, Strickland has made a solemn pledge to David Stern: Wherever his next full stop is, he'll participate in the NBA's new "Stay in Traffic School" public service campaign.

Penny for your thoughts

The Grizzlies would've liked nothing better than to treat the City of Memphis to a Penny Hardaway homecoming. Bottom line: His contract ($57M over five years) is deathly prohibitive. Especially since the Suns are unwilling to take Bryant Reeves' $39M, three-year liability.

Your 4-0 Grizzlies signed Jason Williams to six-year, $43M extension.

The Suns are trying to lop off a guarantee or two in hopes of getting under $54M luxury tax number.

Money changes everything

Saturated with no-cut contracts, Raptors are attempting to trade two-for-one. Michael Stewart (owed $17M over four), Tracy Murray ($3.4M, $3.7M), Mamadou N'diaye (793G, 848G), Eric Montross (12M for four), Brian Skinner ($1M) and Keon Clark ($1.97M) are exceedingly extraneous.

Only surprise is 7-foot Clark, a more offensive, healthier version of Marcus Camby. He's available for two reasons: Raptors have determined they don't want to pay what Clark'll be asking to re-sign for and apparently he's got some baggage. Hey, as long as he doesn't carry it on the road.

Rim shots

The Kings are latest team to take a run at free agent Anthony Mason, by way of Miami, in sign-and-trade. Not surprisingly, Riley rejected offer of Brent Price. In grand display of generosity, Miami mogul said he'd do Bucks big solid by taking Sam Cassell for Mason. Ernie Grunfeld and George Karl were touched. . . . Nuggets have offered to send Kevin Willis to Miami, then reroute him to Milwaukee for Scott Williams . . . Lest we forget, should any team acquire Matt Geiger, it'll cost them $26M, excluding a $3.9M trade kicker. Sixers are willing to pick up portion of it. . . . I'm unsure if this is news, but it's news to me: Final year ($6.28M) of three remaining on Charlie Ward's contract is not fully (only $1M, in fact) guaranteed. The bad news is, he, too, owns 15 percent trade kicker. It gets worse; Ward has been the Knicks' best point guard during preseason. Howard Eisley looks lost and Mark Jackson looks his age. . . Magic's Mike Miller out four to six weeks with chip fracture. Last season's rookie of the year sustained the injury in Friday night's game with Houston.

"Had I known these guys were so brittle, I never would have come here," said Grant Hill. . . . Sources maintain 76ers are talking to Hornets about obtaining conspicuously shaped-up Derrick Coleman. Paul Silas denies interest in dealing insurgent understudy macho forward (starting at center these days while Elden Campbell recovers from eye injury), but insiders swear team doesn't want D.C. and he wants out. "If they can get players in the last year of their deals for Coleman, they'll do it," claims a rival executive. That would open up $9.38M worth of cap space this summer. . . . Nuggets are offering to take Geiger (if knees are deemed salvageable) off Philly's cap. In return, the 76ers would take Tariq Abdul-Wahad and Charlotte would take Voshon Lenard and Willis. If you think that's complicated, Jazz would then swap Greg Ostertag and John Starks for Geiger. . . . Stephon Marbury on Byron Scott: "He doesn't have a clue," the exceptionally clueless Suns guard confides to friends. . . . Props to Chris Webber, who has finally figured it out: Better to disable in the preseason than disappear in the postseason.
(Peter Vecsey is an analyst on NBC's NBA coverage and a columnist for the New York Post.)

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