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Basketball Notes

China has the inside shot

Stern envisions a league there soon

Got Mongolian Milk? The NBA does.

The largest milk seller in China represents one of six new NBA marketing partners signed since the start of last season. Why did that merit mention by commissioner David Stern during a recent press conference in London? Because the next great NBA frontier is the land of Yao and Yi. Stern envisions the country having its own NBA-sponsored league.

In contrast to suggested plans for a European division of the NBA incorporating cities such as London, Berlin, Paris, Rome, and Madrid, NBA China would be a separate league under the guidance of the NBA and the appropriate Chinese sports authorities.

Mongolian Milk symbolizes the rapidly growing partnership between the NBA and China. It's so rapid the Chinese will likely have a piece of the NBA on foreign soil before the Europeans.

"The time frame in China, if all things are happening well, would be some announcement coming out of the [2008 Beijing] Olympics," said Stern. "But we're not interested in doing it alone. It has to be with the Sports Ministry. It has to be with the CBA [Chinese Basketball Association]."

Stern wisely emphasizes an ongoing spirit of cooperation with China, knowing that even international sports diplomacy requires a delicate touch. The NBA allowed a Chinese team to participate in the 2007 Las Vegas summer league. Then the NBA entered a D-League all-star team called the Ambassadors in the Stankovic Cup, which took place in Guangzhou and Macao, China, in August. Additionally, when asked for advice about the design of the basketball venue for the Beijing Olympics, NBA representatives gladly served as consultants.

Meanwhile, the 2007 China Games - featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, and the Chinese national team - took center stage in Shanghai and Macao last week. The Games were designed to showcase NBA basketball and China as a potential marketplace.

As players walked to an NBA reception at a hotel in Shanghai, fans stood behind ropes shouting for LeBron James and Dwight Howard with the kind of enthusiasm once reserved only for Yao Ming. Stern described with considerable pride the large scale upon which China raises NBA awareness - games being televised on 51 stations including national channel CCTV this season, an anticipated 50 percent increase in retail sales of NBA merchandise this year, and 10 NBA Adidas stores slated to open by the end of this year for the 300 million Chinese who play basketball.

Ironically, the fact that China is 7,382 miles from the league offices in New York City and, according to Stern, stands as "a relatively undeveloped basketball market" works in the country's favor. Both factors preclude the NBA from establishing a China division similar to the one proposed for Europe. Both factors also put China on something of a fast track for an NBA-supported league by giving Stern & Co. more leeway to structure the venture the way they deem most effective.

"Because of things we have done, people will see that there's an increasing supply of basketball players on a global scale and money to be made," said Stern. "So, the questions will ultimately be asked: 'If not us, who?' and 'If not as soon as possible, when?' "

For China, there appears no time like the present. But within 10 years, Stern wouldn't be surprised to see NBA China, a European division, and D-League teams south of the border possibly affiliated with soccer clubs.

With such rapid growth around the globe, does Stern worry about diluting the product on the court? Not really.

"All over the world, basketball players want to go one place," said Stern. "They want to play in the NBA. That's the advantage we have now. As long as everyone knows where the mother lode is, all it does is grow the sport of basketball."

Green should consider Brown

The Celtics failed to coax Reggie Miller out of retirement, but they might have better luck with P.J. Brown. With Brown not officially retired and not officially looking for a new team, he presents an interesting case as Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers continue trimming the roster. Adding a veteran big man wouldn't hurt, especially one with Brown's credentials.

Brown, who turned 38 last Sunday, played in 72 games (49 starts) for the Chicago Bulls last season, averaging 6.1 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20.2 minutes. During a 13-year career, Brown has averaged 9.2 points and 7.8 rebounds and has reached the postseason 10 times, including last year, where he started 10 playoff games. He could also add veteran leadership and solid character to the Celtics.

"I'm not going to say he won't play, but it's not something he's really thinking about now," said Brown's agent, Mark Bartelstein. "He's enjoying time with his family.

"If P.J. decided to play, he would probably decide to play for a team that would be a championship contender, and the Celtics certainly fall into that category. But he has not put his mind into that thought process."

Asked if he contacted Brown, Ainge said no. Asked if he had considered Brown as a future option, Ainge kept quiet.

While the Celtics may have Brown on the short list to fill a final roster spot, word around Waltham is that they remain very happy with the players in training camp, especially given the progress made by rookies Gabe Pruitt and Glen "Big Baby" Davis.

New York is not the right place for Houston

Just when Reggie Miller and P.J. Brown might have led some to believe comebacks by 30-something and 40-something athletes had gone out of style, Allan Houston walked through the doors of the Knicks practice facility earlier this month. Free of the chronic knee pain that plagued him before he retired two years ago, Houston eagerly started a comeback attempt at age 36.

But yesterday, Houston called it quits. Again. Even with mind and body willing and able, he realized the situation wasn't right. With age and experience, Houston gained the wisdom to know when to stop for the sake of the team and the sanity of coach Isiah Thomas.

"After much consideration, I have decided to end my comeback with the Knicks," said Houston in a statement released by the team. "While my body and my knees, in particular, feel fine, I know what is required for me to be truly effective in the NBA again, and it involves a timing and progression that would not be fair to Isiah and the Knicks right now.

"With the season opening less than two weeks away, I think it is best for the team to move on without me. I appreciate the opportunity that Isiah and the Knicks have given me, and I wish the team nothing but success."

In the only game of his comeback bid, Houston played six scoreless minutes (0 for 1) minutes against Boston last week at the TD Banknorth Garden. Thomas sounded far from enthusiastic about the prospect of Houston on the team from the start.

"He can really shoot the ball," said Thomas. "He's one of the premier shooters that this league has seen. I know how important that is today. But on the defensive side, he's got to be able to defend because defense is our primary focus."

Defense, and not nurturing sentimental comeback bids.

With Boston and New York set for a preseason rematch tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden, Houston won't even have a second chance to play against the Celtics.

Etc.

Screen shots were all good
The Celtics look good on paper and in virtual reality. After simulating the entire 2007-08 season, EA Sports NBA Live 08 predicted that the Phoenix Suns will win the championship, defeating the Celtics in seven games. In the virtual Finals, Phoenix point guard Steve Nash proved too tough for the Celtics to contain, averaging 20 points and 11.7 assists and winning MVP honors. For what it's worth, Kevin Garnett led Boston in scoring (25.9 points) and rebounding (11.8) during the regular season. But the game's predictive abilities come into question when you consider that the Celtics knock off the Nets in the Eastern Conference finals in six games. The Bulls, Pistons, and Cavaliers might have something to say about that.

Healthy bloke on the block
When the Celtics visited London this month, there were some impressive sights around the city. The Tower of London. Parliament. Big Ben. Westminster Abbey. Theo Ratliff blocking shots. The 34-year-old former Celtics center, who missed all but two games last season with a bad back and is now with the Minnesota Timberwolves, sounded confident that he would remain healthy. Last January, Ratliff underwent surgery to repair a bulging disk. "I'm doing great, but I'm still in the recovery," said Ratliff, who has averaged 6.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 3.0 blocks, and 18.7 minutes in three exhibition contests. "Any time you have that type of surgery, you still have to be on top of it, do your exercises, stretch, take care of yourself. That's the main thing. I sat out one of the two-a-days to try to keep everything calmed down, but I've been playing hard in practice and going through everything everybody else is going through. I've held up pretty well, so I'm pretty happy about that."

Hurting his cause in Seattle
For former Celtic Delonte West, a trade to a new team did nothing to help his injury-prone body. The Seattle Sonics guard missed an exhibition game against the Lakers because of lower back pain. While the Sonics traveled to LA, West remained behind in Seattle to see team doctors. With no major injury diagnosed, West was back practicing hard by the end of the week. West struggled with injuries and ailments during his time in Boston, including back problems last season. The most recent back problem marks the third injury West has suffered during camp.

Ainge wants to jazz up the Flash
Utah Flash owner Brandt Andersen visited Boston last week to talk with Danny Ainge about the franchise's D-League affiliate and to watch some of the players who could spend time with the Provo-based organization. Even if the 29-year-old Andersen and Ainge didn't share BYU as an alma mater, it still would be a good match. The Flash have patterned themselves after the Utah Jazz and the operation run by coach Jerry Sloan, going so far as to import staff from the NBA franchise. Ainge has long admired the Jazz and Sloan for how they conduct business on the court and teach professionalism in addition to basketball. He goes so far as to list Sloan as one of his favorite NBA coaches. "When I send players down to the D-League, I want them to learn to work and be professionals more than any specific skill," said Ainge. "I'm confident the people in the organization know the Jazz model and how to teach that."

Carlisle sees ex-factor with Pacers
ESPN recently added former Pacers coach Rick Carlisle to its broadcasting roster. Carlisle brought welcome analysis and more than a few humorous anecdotes to the 2006 playoff shows broadcast from Bristol, Salt Lake City, and San Antonio. Carlisle predicts strong seasons for both Indiana and Boston. "The Pacers have talent and depth," he said. "They are unselfish. With good health, particularly a healthy Marquis Daniels, and a training camp together, I believe they will push the top teams in the Central Division and compete for home court in the playoffs." Keep in mind that Indiana, which was 28-25 at the All-Star break, finished last season on a 6-23 run when a left knee injury forced Daniels to miss the final 27 games.

Plenty of bounce in their steps
When Carlisle coached the Pacers, they set a team record for wins in a season (61 in 2003-04). Now the organization has set its sights on a Guinness World Record, coming up with a creative way to win back fans after past legal transgressions by players. The latest attempt to foster good will takes place next Sunday when fans, members of the Pacers, and basketball legends including Larry Bird will try to set the record for the most people dribbling. Participants will form a dribble parade from Monument Circle to Conseco Fieldhouse. The record attempt is part of a larger celebration of the history of Indiana basketball.

Identity crisis
Call it an occupational hazard. When the Celtics played the Timberwolves Oct. 10 in London, Al Jefferson briefly forgot which team he played for when looking at the scoreboard. Jefferson was a key piece in the trade that brought Garnett to Boston this summer. "I looked up and saw Minnesota was ahead," said Jefferson. "I thought I was Boston for a split-second and was like, 'Oh, we're losing.' Then I caught myself."

New center of operations
It didn't take long for Esteban Batista to find a new home after the Celtics waived the 6-foot-10-inch center last week. Batista signed with Israeli champion Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he will likely back up center Nicola Vujcic and share the court with former NBA players Marcus Fizer, Vonteego Cummings, Terrence Morris, and Will Bynum.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.

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