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Suns' Kidd sees a shining future with Penny

Nobody pushed harder for the Penny Hardaway trade than Jason Kidd. It's likely no one will benefit more from Hardaway's move to Phoenix than Kidd, either.

"Jason does not have to carry the full burden that he did last year," Suns coach Danny Ainge said Friday. "Last year, Jason had to create the offense for himself and everybody else. Penny is a guy you can go to down the stretch. He creates double-teams. They complement each other very well."

Kidd was on the phone once or twice a week to Hardaway, explaining how the two could form one of the NBA's great backcourts.

"Jason, he did a great job," Hardaway said. "Like they said, he was the assistant general manager. He called me all the time. When he was in Puerto Rico (with the U.S. team), he was calling. He never pressured me to make a decision, but he just said he'd love to have me and he'd love to play with me."

Last season, it often seemed that the always energized Kidd was playing the game at one pace, while the rest of the Suns were at another. Those around him couldn't keep up with a player Hardaway calls "by far the best point guard in the NBA."

Hardaway says he can keep up.

"All I have to do is run, he's going to find me," Hardaway said. "I know that."

With Hardaway standing 6 feet 7 and Kidd 6-4, the backcourt is one of the NBA's biggest, and that means big matchup problems for the opposition.

"When you look at his game and my game, they're really very similar," Kidd said. "It will be very difficult for other teams to match up with us."

Ainge said he never thought for a second about any problems he might have dealing with Hardaway, despite the perception that he was trouble for his coaches in Orlando.

Instead, Ainge relishes the versatility that Hardaway will give the Suns next season.

"I'm talking about a guy who can dribble," Ainge said. "He can play point guard. He can play the two spot. He can play the three spot. He can shoot threes. He can post up. He can pass. He can defend. He has the best all-around skills of any player."

The Suns were the only team willing to pay Hardaway the maximum seven-year, $86-million contract he wanted.

But, along with owner Jerry Colangelo's checkbook, it was the presence of Kidd that did as much as anything to lure Hardaway to the desert.

"To play with a guy like that is heaven," Hardaway said, "and I can't wait until the season starts."

RICHMOND STILL SEARCHING: Mitch Richmond held out hope he could somehow be traded to Miami, and with Seattle, Golden State and Sacramento out of the Richmond sweepstakes, Miami was believed to be the only team still trying to make a sign-and-trade deal with Washington.

But the problem was that a third team _ Toronto, Chicago or the Los Angeles Clippers _ was needed to facilitate a Richmond trade under the salary-cap rules. And with the Heat unwilling to part with P.J. Brown, it was looking less likely that Richmond would be moving on to Miami, his destination of choice.

"I still give it some hope, but all these deals are very hard to do," Richmond's agent, Mike Sharpe, said. "It's a tough situation, but we haven't stopped trying."

Richmond, who has been offered $30-million over three seasons by the Wizards, would accept less money if it would get him traded to the Heat, Sharpe said.

Golden State had been interested, but the Warriors could only pay him less than half of what Washington has offered.

Seattle also tried to get Richmond and would have paid him more than Golden State could, but Wizards general manager Wes Unseld turned down the Sonics' sign-and-trade proposals.

"The economic package has to be weighed against everything else, and Mitch has said that if he can't get the right economic package he wants to go someplace where the team will be competitive," Sharpe said. "We haven't given up yet."

CLIPPERS: Free-agent G Eric Piatkowski opted to remain with Los Angeles, signing a four-year, $12-million contract. He averaged 10.5 points and 2.9 rebounds last season, becoming the club's career leader in three-pointers made and attempted in his fifth season.

HEAT: Swingman Dan Majerle was re-signed to a one-year contract with an option. Miami also signed free-agent Gs Mark Davis and Anthony Carter.

KNICKS: John Wallace rejoined the Eastern Conference champions under a three-year contract worth $6.4-million. Wallace was traded by the Knicks to the Raptors in 1997. He averaged 9.5 points and 3.6 rebounds last season.

SPURS: San Antonio re-signed free agent G Jaren Jackson to a three-year contract, retaining its top three-point shooter from the playoffs. Jackson, 31, appeared in 47 games last season, averaging 6.4 points and 2.1 rebounds. Terms were not disclosed.


MINNEAPOLIS _ The Los Angeles Sparks held Minnesota to one basket in the game's final 11:37, and Lisa Leslie scored 29 points as the Sparks won 77-59.

The Sparks led 57-56 when Minnesota went dry. The Lynx didn't score again until Trish Fallon hit a three-pointer with 1:16 left. By that time, Los Angeles had scored 16 straight points.

It was a bitter loss for the Lynx, who came into the game trailing Sacramento by two games for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Neither team could take charge of the game through the midway point of the second half. There were 21 lead changes just before Minnesota stopped scoring.

The Lynx were held without a point for 10:21.

Mwadi Mabika added 15 points for Los Angeles. Tonya Edwards and Katie Smith each had 13 points for the Lynx.

The Lynx took a 16-6 lead in the opening minutes when Leslie keyed an 11-0 run, scoring eight points to give the Sparks a 17-16 lead. Minnesota surged to a 40-35 halftime lead, thanks to Brandy Reed, who scored seven points in the final two minutes of the half.