While word on the street from Crunchy’s Understudy is that noted cycling enthusiast D-Wade is Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman Of The Year (at least Chris Russo can stop campaigning against Greg LeMond). While not wishing to begrudge Flash this huge honor, Rebuilding Year submits an alternative candidate.

3 weeks ago, John Hollinger was calling the Raptors’ Andrea Bargani a bust. Today, Scott Carefoot hails the no. 1 overall pick, proclaiming “he dunks like I pull my underwear out of my ass crack.” The Toronto Sun’s Ken Fidlin isn’t nealry as pithy.

Last night against Boston was typical of the progress Bargani has made. He entered the game with a few ticks more than four minutes left in the first quarter and within a few seconds he had blocked an Al Jefferson shot, a rare but subtle flash of defence in a quarter when the Celtics shot an incredible 77% from the floor.

But there was nothing subtle about the monster dunk he authored halfway through the second quarter. Taking a pass from T.J. Ford, Bargnani thundered down the lane and elevated his seven-foot body a full two feet above the rim, slamming it home to give Toronto a 41-39 lead.

“I give it a 10 out of 10,” said injured teammate Mo Peterson. “He is so long. He got way up there.”

A few minutes later, Bargnani made a brilliant, leaping pass to Anthony Parker for an assist on an easy layup, another sign that Bargnani is learning. Passing the ball has not been his first instinct but this one was a beauty.

Hitting .333 will earn you crazy money on the baseball field. Apparently, it’s good enough for Stephen Marbury and Steve Franchise, too, as the 6-12 Knicks prepare to take on the Raptors at MSG tonight. There’s no shortage of reasons for New York’s ugly start, and Newsday’s Alan Hahn has one that not even Isiah Thomas has the audacity to submit.

Billy Hunter, the player™s union leader, will take time out to make trifled comments about the Ben Wallace headband controversy and also put up a useless front in speaking out against the stricter enforcement of technical fouls for acting out. But what does he have to say about a schedule that includes an overabundance of back-to-back games that have teams barnstorming the country right out of the gate?

The Knicks schedule was brutal in November, with five straight back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday. Four were road-and-home scenarios. The only other was consecutive road games in Houston and San Antonio, which isn™t a far trip but certainly is a daunting 1-2 punch.

Next week, the Knicks get their first Friday off since Oct. 20. Next Thursday and Friday will be the first consecutive days the Knicks are off at home without travel. But after that weekend, the Knicks are back at it with Friday-Saturday back-to-backs the following two weekends into Christmas. Overall, the Knicks will play 20 back-to-back games this season. Eleven of them come on a Friday-Saturday.

If Hunter wants to take up a cause, why not take on this insane compacted schedule? The NBA plays the same around of games (82) as the NHL, yet starts an entire month later than the NHL and finished just a week after the NHL season ends. It has to have an effect on the quality of the games, which people pay a lot of money to watch. Either cut the number of games, or start the season in October.