Cassell has moment that is second to one


LOS ANGELES - Yesterday was just another day at the Southern California beach for Sam Cassell, with the usual drill, including hosting the family and playing point guard in the NBA All-Star Game.

Cassell (Dunbar), selected as a reserve for the Western Conference squad, said he spent the morning and afternoon relaxing with his family before coming to Staples Center for last night's game.

The hoopla of being the second-oldest first-time All-Star in league history rolled off Cassell's back easily. Unlike some Western veterans who hung out in the trainer's room before the game, Cassell sat down at his locker, between the lockers of Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant and Cassell's Minnesota Timberwolves teammate, forward Kevin Garnett.

"It's less stressful," Cassell, 34, said of the buildup of the All-Star Game compared with a regular-season game. "If we were playing against the Lakers today, No. 1, I wouldn't be talking to you guys at this particular time before the game.

"Eventually, you all [the media] are going to get me, so there's no need to hide from it. It's like going to court. If you're guilty, eventually the judge is going to sentence you."

The All-Star moment, though smaller than the ones when Cassell won two NBA titles with the Houston Rockets, was one to be savored.

"I have played at a stage that is one level bigger than this before. That's the NBA Finals," Cassell said. "This is a tremendous achievement that you can make and become. I'm not downplaying it at all. This is definitely more than I expected. What can I say? It's a heck of an honor. To be one of the top 12 guys in the Western Conference in 2004 is a big thing, in my eyes."

G. Johnson nominated

Former Baltimore Bullets great Gus Johnson was one of 16 men and women nominated yesterday as finalists for induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Johnson, who averaged 17.1 points and 12.7 rebounds during his Bullets career, has been a perennial finalist in recent years, but he has not been able to break through.

Other finalists include former Portland and Houston great Clyde Drexler, who was selected in 1997 as one of the 50 greatest NBA players ever; former coach and television analyst Dick Vitale; University of Connecticut men's coach Jim Calhoun; former Kansas University great Lynnette Woodard; former Lakers coach Bill Sharman; and former NBA All-Stars Chet Walker, Bobby Jones, Bernard King and the late Maurice Stokes.

The list of inductees will be announced at the NCAA's Final Four in April, and the induction ceremony will be in September at the Hall in Springfield, Mass.

Knicks wheel, deal

The New York Knicks continued to remake their team by pulling off a rare All-Star Weekend trade, dealing forward Keith Van Horn to the Milwaukee Bucks and forward Michael Doleac to the Atlanta Hawks.

The Knicks got forward Tim Thomas from the Bucks and center Nazr Mohammed from Atlanta. The Hawks also received Joel Przybilla from Milwaukee.

Since Isiah Thomas took over as president of basketball operations in December, the Knicks also have traded for guards Stephon Marbury and Penny Hardaway and hired Lenny Wilkens as coach.

"I look at our team and I wanted to put together a team that was exciting for the fans to come and watch, a team that had some character and some guts, but also a team that you can grab a box of popcorn and grab a soda and enjoy the game," Thomas said.

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