Al Iannazzone Newsday Knicks beat writer Al Iannazzone.

Al Iannazzone joined Newsday in January 2012 as the Knicks’ beat writer, after covering the NBA for 11 years for The Record. Al covered the Knicks and Nets in that time, and also reported on the U.S. Open tennis tournament and other major sporting events. Al appeared regularly on the YES Network’s Nets pregame show from 2005-2011.

Follow him on Twitter @Al_Iannazzone.
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Rod Thorn was the man who drafted Michael Jordan and changed the Nets' franchise by trading for Jason Kidd, but he never saw Jeremy Lin coming.

Thorn wishes he did.

Thorn, now the president of the Philadelphia 76ers, was running the Nets when Lin was bypassed in the draft in June 2010. Thorn said the Nets never considered Lin in the draft or free agency.

"I wish I could say we were," Thorn said. "But the fact is no.

"Looking back at the scouting reports, back in the days when I was with the Nets, nobody was that high on him or felt he was going to be an NBA player."

Thorn has been a part of the NBA or ABA as a player, coach and executive for nearly 50 years. He said he's never seen a player come out of nowhere the way Lin has and can't say with certainty why he was overlooked.

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"Maybe it's because he went to Harvard, and so few players who come out of the Ivy League ever make any splash in the league," Thorn said. "Maybe that's part of it. There's never been an Asian guard in the NBA that ever made his mark up to this point. I don't know. I can't explain it because he is good.

"He's energized people all over the place. A bunch of casual fans now have what they call Lin-sanity. People want to talk about him. It's just remarkable."

Thorn laughed when he was asked if he has Lin-sanity?

"I watch him play," he said. "I just think it's an unbelievable story. With the humility he carries himself with, his interviews after games you couldn't script any better. He's a bright kid. It's an incredible story.

"I think about football with Kurt Warner. He was bagging groceries and the next thing you know, he's the MVP of the Super Bowl. It's a great thing to me that you can still have stories like that."


Howard the buzz of All-Star weekend

Carmelo Anthony's future was the topic of conversation during All-Star Weekend last year. This time, the biggest thing involving Anthony is whether he and Lin can play together.

Dwight Howard is Anthony one year later. Howard's future is a main subject while All-Star weekend is in his current home of Orlando.

"I'm glad it's not me anymore," Anthony said.

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Anthony was traded to the Knicks the day after the All-Star Game. Howard probably won't be moved until right around the March 15 trade deadline, if at all.

The Magic is weighing whether to play out the season and take its chances in re-signing Howard in July. Orlando can offer him more than any team, a fifth year at roughly $25 million. But it might not be smart to risk losing him without getting something back.

If he signs as a free agent to play with Deron Williams and the Nets in Brooklyn, Howard could make up that money in endorsements.

For now, Howard is with the Magic and trying to make this weekend about the All-Star festivities in Orlando.

"That's the only thing that matters right now," he said. "This is the moment. This is All-Star weekend. We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves. All that stuff can go on after All-Star weekend."

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The Nets and Lakers are leading candidates to trade for Howard. The Lakers probably will be among the most active teams heading up to the deadline. The Nets and Mavericks are the favorites for Howard in July.


Midseason awards

This is considered the midpoint of the NBA season, so here are some first-half awards.

MVP: LeBron James, Heat -- No one has played better than James, who is averaging 27.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists.

Runners up: Kevin Durant, Chris Paul.

Rookie of the Year: Kyrie Irving, Cavs -- He's been the best and most consistent rookie.

Runners up: Ricky Rubio, MarShon Brooks, Iman Shumpert.

Most Improved: Jeremy Lin, Knicks -- From almost cut to the covers of Time and Sports Illustrated is quite a leap.

Runners up: Ryan Anderson, Nikola Pekovic.

Sixth Man: James Harden, Thunder -- Also a Most Improved candidate, but won't win and thus far inches out some tough competition here.

Runners up: Lou Williams, Mo Williams, Thaddeus Young.

Defensive Player: Dwight Howard, Magic -- Even with everything going on with him, no one controls the game more on that end of the court.

Runners up: Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bynum.

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Spurs -- Age and injuries haven't stopped the Spurs from being one of best regular-season teams again.

Runners up: Frank Vogel, Doug Collins.

Executive of the Year: Neil Olshey, Clippers -- Acquired Chris Paul, Caron Butler, Chauncey Billups, Kenyon Martin and they're third out West.

Runner up: Larry Bird.


Happy Anniversary, Magic

Magic Johnson produced one of the greatest, most inspiring moments in All-Star Game history 20 years ago in Orlando.

Just a few months after retiring because he contracted HIV, Johnson won the MVP with a 25-point, nine-assist performance. That was celebrated this week with the All-Star Game back in Orlando. Many of you probably remember watching it, seeing Magic hit those threes late in the game and his ever-present smile brightening up your television screen and downtown Orlando.

"I think it had a great impact on the world," Johnson said this week. "The way I played and performed let people know that I could still play. Then winning the MVP, hitting those three three-pointers in the fourth quarter just showed people, 'OK, Magic is back. He can play. He's OK. Yeah, you can play against him. Nothing's going to happen.' Those type of things.

"So it did a lot for the world. It did a lot for HIV and AIDS all at the same time. It did a lot for people dealing with not just HIV but anything else, that they can go on and live a productive life. So the NBA, that All-Star Game in Orlando educated the world, and it was great therapy for me."