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NEW YORK — Who exactly were the Wizards bidding against when they awarded Jerry Stackhouse a two-year extension ($18 million) to piggyback the two years he could have escaped from before July 1?

Did Abe Pollin really believe another team was going to invest $33 million over four years in a guy who couldn’t get along with Michael Jordan and Doug Collins?

So what if he lost Stackhouse? He couldn’t deliver in the playoffs in Detroit when he was the Pistons’ leader and he couldn’t produce under pressure in Washington as a lead backup Jordanaire.

Oh, that’s right, this the same owner who turned over $105 million to Juwan Howard against the infinitely better judgment of then-GM John Nash. I wonder if Pollin knows he’s entitled to legal representation in contract negotiations.

That was quite a story Jim Gray “broke” on draft night; it seems, Kobe Bryant revealed to ESPN’s perpetually vigilant correspondent he plans to opt out of his Lakers’ contract at the end of the 2003-04 season.

Of course, the “exclusive” might have had a little bit more impact had the L.A. Daily News not divulged identical information almost two months ago.

As usual, ESPN, in its unprincipled determination to establish itself All Knowing, All The Time, thinks its audience is stone stupid and believes the competition is its unattributed, primary source.

As usual, its policy-makers have no shame, no conscience and no credibility; its guidelines to reporters are to attach the networks’ identity on other people’s stories . . . viewers simply won’t know the difference.

Let me guess, USA Today’s “Boob of the Tube,” Rudy Martzke, gave Gray Matter a “hustle award” for his flagrant rip-off and regurgitation.

Gray, by the way, offered a list of reasons for why Kobe intends to test the free agent market . . . and risk roughly $100 million (what if he becomes permanently disabled while shooting one of his commercials?) by rejecting a long-term extension.

Supposedly, Kobe’s unsure what will happen to Phil Jackson (several days ago, the L.A. Daily News reported he’s interested in signing a two-year extension to follow the 2003-04 season; look for Gray to present that info as his own on ESPN some time in August); he wants to see how the Lakers renovate their roster; and he needs to know how conditioned and motivated Shaq is next season.

While all of the above may possess some semblance of truth, they’re not remotely close to Kobe’s overriding factor for opting out; he has an almost fiendish craving to adopt his very own team and prove he can win a championship flying solo . . . without sharing the ball, or the glory with Shaq or any other celebrated franchise player.

As for Gray Matter’s other exclusive — that Jason Kidd has narrowed his choices to the Nets, Spurs, Mavericks and Nuggets — didn’t he think that disclosure was a little odd considering we have been repeatedly told this before?

How many times has Kidd insisted money isn’t an issue, he only wants to play where he can win it all?

Of course, if Kidd signs with the Nuggets, I guess “win it all” could mean the lottery.

Evidently, this business of breaking stories isn’t all that easy when you actually have to think them through by yourself.

Where do I think Kidd will wind up?

All along I’ve been saying San Antonio and I must be on target since Jason keeps referring to his two years in Jersey as “my transition game.”

Then again, in view of what Gray learned from Kidd’s wife Joumana (or the L.A. Daily News), I feel I must qualify my opinion; it appears she’s leaning toward whichever city boasts the most one-hour photo developing shops; you can never have enough shots of yourself.

Sanctimonious Gregg Popovich, who intimately knows a thing or two about cap circumvention and tampering, just called to explain about Kidd’s scheduled visit to San Antonio in early July. Says he just wants to apologize to Jason in person for him having to endure Kenyon Martin’s poor performance in the NBA Finals.

Just wondering: As part of the Sam Cassell-Joe Smith exchange (Anthony Peeler and Ervin Johnson will never suit up for their new teams), are the Bucks obligated to sign Jolt-less Joe to his next illegal contract?

Now we know how much George Karl loathed Cassell; how else do you justify trading a guy who averaged almost 20 points for someone (owning an extra year on his contract; 4-3) who couldn’t buy time in the playoffs?

Still, with Cassell and Troy Hudson in the same backcourt, Wally Szczerbiak has a better chance of seeing the second coming than the first touch.

You can’t make this stuff up: The first-round pick of the Portland Jail Blazers was Mississippi teenager Travis Outlaw. It’s the first time in franchise history they chose someone with “Outlaw” as a last name, not a last occupation.

I must confess I was stunned when I first heard (on ESPN, naturally) LeBron James was going to wear No. 23 with the Cavaliers. I figured for sure Cleveland retired those digits after Rowland Garrett hung ’em up.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge is no dummy, he knows he must peddle Antoine Walker and not for just a comparable All-Star, either.

Sources say the disastrous motorcycling decision by Chicago’s Jay Williams breached his contract and that the Bulls are under no lawful responsibility to continue paying him.

Only the uncivilized would cut off Williams while he’s in such distress, certainly not a noted humanitarian like ex-GM Jerry Reinsdorf.

And then, there’s Roy Tarpley. Banned for life from the NBA in 1995 for violating the substance abuse policy (not sharing with teammates), the now 37-year-old former Maverick has applied for reinstatement.

“If the league can embrace high schoolers” Tarpley reasoned, “then why not the high?”

This just in: The Clippers have tapered their coach search to two . . . Jim Harrick and son.

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