being rejected by Elton Brand isn’t nearly as galling as failing to shoot over Nate Robinson.

With Stephon Marbury getting some love from the MSG rim last night, Jim Doh’lan’s decision to extend Isiah Thomas’ contract received a thumbs-up from an interested observer, as quoted by the New York Times’ Howard Beck.

œCome on, this city deserves a playoff team, LeBron James said. œIt doesn™t make sense for them to have all that talent and not be able to make it to the playoffs. I think Isiah™s definitely got them on the right path.

Newsday’s Ken Berger
follows an interesting exchange betweeen James and Marbury that suggests the former might not be a future guest on “Stars On Stars”.

Before the game, James took a little shot at Marbury’s $14.98 kicks, saying he couldn’t imagine endorsing a sneaker that cheap.

“No, I don’t think so,” James said. “Me being with Nike, we hold our standards high.”

Marbury, who is friendly with James, was lacing up his Starburys before the game when informed of LeBron’s comment. He thought about it for a moment and said, “I’d rather own than be owned.”

Behind 31 points from Tim Duncan and a stirring display of clutchiness from Brent Barry, the Spurs won their 18th out of their last 20 with Wednesday’s 92-88 home decision over New Orleans. San Antonio coach Greg Popovich, however, is $15K poorer this morning, writes the Express-News’ Mike Monroe.

According to an NBA source, the league fined the Spurs and Hornets $15,000 earlier in the day for published comments the coaches made about players who have not declared their eligibility for the draft.Popovich’s comments ” references to Ohio State center Greg Oden ” appeared in the March 18 Boston Herald. Scott’s comments about Oden and Texas freshman Kevin Durant appeared in the March 19 edition of the Oklahoman.

Popovich responded to a question from a Boston Herald reporter about whether it would be fair for the Celtics to land the No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft with Oden potentially available because Boston had lost out on the chance to take Tim Duncan in 1997.

“That would be the fair thing, wouldn’t it?” Popovich said. “That would be the fairest thing. If they could get him, that would be great. It would mean there is some fairness in an unfair world.”

Popovich, who never said Oden’s name but was clearly talking about him, then made what seemed to be an off-the-cuff comment about Ohio State’s near loss to Xavier that same day. Two other reporters present at the time didn’t report the remark.

“If they’d lost, I thought, is this going to make that kid want to stay in one more year?” Popovich said. “I don’t know, maybe he’s just collegiately oriented, and it’s a big disappointment, and he wants to come back and get it done.

“What would that do? I mean, everybody would just die. The bottom five teams would just croak. Then they came back and won.”