Into the second round...
Posted: Wednesday May 19, 1999 04:42 PM
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Well, the first round of the playoffs didn't expose me as a complete fraud. I called six of the eight series correctly, which probably means I'm about to get all four of the second-round series wrong. That would bring my average back to where it usually is. My apologies to the Lakers and Knicks for underestimating you. Or maybe I overestimated the Rockets and Heat.
Speaking of the Heat, I think they and the other Florida team, Orlando, will have the most eventful offseasons of any of the first-round losers. There has been a lot of talk about Miami rebuilding, possibly without Tim Hardaway, who came up small in the New York series. Speculation has it that Gary Payton, who's unhappy in Seattle, or Damon Stoudamire, who has been biting his tongue about playing time in Portland, could wind up in Miami in deals for Hardaway and P.J. Brown. I don't think either trade is going to happen, because both the Sonics and Blazers would rather take their chances on making their current point guards happier rather than go for Hardaway, who seems to be beginning the downside of his career. Pat Riley is going to move heaven and earth to find another scorer, however. I could see him talking to Los Angeles about Glen Rice, however, or trying to clear cap space to pursue free agent Mitch Richmond. I don't think there's anyway the Heat goes into next season depending on Jamal Mashburn or Voshon Lenard to be consistent scorers.
In Orlando, I think the Magic will pursue some sort of sign-and-trade deal for Penny Hardaway. The entire organization is tired of his immaturity and thin skin. Penny seems to want to be treated like a superstar whether he plays like one or not. I don't think he's the kind of player to build a team around. He needs to be the second star, the way Pippen was with Jordan, because he can't take the heat that comes with being No. 1. It's a little early to handicap Penny's most likely destination, but I'd be surprised if he was back in Orlando next year.
And now, for my second-round guesses -- I mean, expert -- analyses:
Indiana over Philadelphia in 5 -- The Pacers won't beat themselves, and their team defense will keep Allen Iverson from torching them too badly.
New York over Atlanta in 6 -- The Hawks are very thin, and the Knicks' confidence grows daily. Latrell Sprewell is getting his all-around game back at just the right time. New York might play a stinker or two in this series, but will still have enough to win.
San Antonio over Los Angeles in 7 -- Here's where the Lakers miss -- believe it or not -- Elden Campbell. Without him, they have a very tough time matching up with the Spurs' twin towers, and that will be the difference in the series. L.A. won't fold the way they did last year against Utah, but the Spurs are finally tough enough to beat a good team when it matters.
Utah over Portland in 7 -- On paper, the Blazers should win, but somehow the Jazz always seems to find a way. I gave up on Utah too early each of the last two seasons, and I'm not going to do it again. But the Jazz have got to get more out of their big men in this series, especially Greg Ostertag, than they did in the Sacramento series or they might not survive.
And now on to the Mailbag:
After watching the Jazz-Kings Game 5 on Sunday, I would love your
opinion: Is the Jazz's abilities to draw fouls the heady play of savvy vets
or the trickery of unsportsmanlike floppers?
I lean toward the heady, savvy point of view. Utah is clever, and yes, sometimes even dirty. Stockton and Malone are especially good at pinning an opponent's arm next to their body in a way that makes it look like the other guy is initiating the contact. And there's no question that they both use their elbows much more than they should. But I see all of that -- flopping, trying to trick the refs -- as part of the game. You can bet Sacramento would have done the same things if they had known how to do them as cleverly. The only problem I have with the Jazz is when they start to complain about other teams' tactics or about the officiating. If they're going to play the way they do, then I don't want to hear Malone whine about getting hacked inside. I don't want to hear Jerry Sloan moan about dirty play when Chris Webber flattens Stockton on a pick. The Jazz have no business complaining about what other teams get away with, because no one gets away with more than they do.
Did either Kurt Rambis or Jeff Van Gundy save their jobs for next
season by advancing out of the first round? If not, is there anything
either can do on that front short of winning the unlikely NBA title?
Neither one of them has definitely saved his job yet. First-round wins won't convince either franchise not to pursue Phil Jackson this summer. I'd say that both Rambis and Van Gundy need to reach at least the conference finals to feel at all secure, and for Rambis, I get the feeling that even that might not be enough. Dave Checketts definitely feels better about Van Gundy than Jerry Buss and Jerry West feel about Rambis. Van Gundy and Rambis are just lucky that Jackson can't replace them both.
Phil, I know you liked the way Corey Maggette played during the NCAA
Tournament (I hope you still bask in the glow of your UConn over Duke
pick). What do you make of his decision to go pro? Opportunity or mistake?
I would never say that someone choosing to become a millionaire is making a mistake, but is Maggette making the move that gives him the best chance of becoming a top NBA player? No. As talented as he is, he was raw even for a college player last year. He definitely could have used at least another year of college to polish his game. With Elton Brand and William Avery already leaving Duke, this would have been a perfect season for Maggette to stay and get lots of playing time, which he didn't always get last season and which he might not get as a rookie in the NBA, depending on which team drafts him. I wish him lots of luck, but I don't see him making a Vince Carter-like impact right away.
After watching Miami lose to an inferior -- on paper -- Knicks team for
the second year in a row, I was wondering if you feel Pat Riley is really
as good a coach as everyone believes? Considering that he has not won a
championship since he left the Lakers, it would seem it was Magic and
Kareem and Worthy who really won the championships and Riley, like most
coaches, was just along for the ride.
I wouldn't be quite that tough on Riley the coach. He did take floundering teams in New York and Miami and turn them into 50-win ballclubs, and he did it with a completely different style than the one he coached in Los Angeles. I don't know of too many other coaches who have been so successful in such different ways. The guy is still one of the best, if not the best, coach in the league. The problem for the Heat is that Riley the GM has been just mediocre. He did acquire Mourning and Hardaway, but he's had two years to come up with that third scorer they obviously need, and the best he's been able to come up with is Mashburn and Lenard, who obviously aren't good enough. He got Terry Mills, who didn't help them at all, and he signed Mark Strickland to a multi-year contract, then buried him on the bench. Riley hasn't done too well in building a supporting cast, and that's why he'll probably make major changes this offseason. For the Heat's sake, I hope he does a better job than he has so far.
Now that the Lakers have disposed of the Rockets by playing great team
defense in Game 4 in Houston, will you give them some respect?
The only thing I respect about the Lakers is their talent. I don't respect their consistency, because they haven't shown any. They played great against Seattle in the playoffs last year, then folded big time against the Jazz, so I'm not going to jump on their bandwagon just yet. One of the Lakers' problems is that they start looking for respect and praise too early. If they realize that winning a first-round series is just one small step in the right direction and that it isn't proof that they've solved their problems, they have a chance to do more damage. If they beat San Antonio -- and I don't think they will -- then I'll be the first guy to change my tune.
Phil, your award picks were very good overall, but how can you place Shawn Kemp over Chris
Webber on your second-team All-NBA squad? Webber led the NBA in rebounding,
averaged more blocks, assists and steals per game, and scored about the
same amount of points as Kemp. More importantly, Webber led the Kings to
the playoffs, which is no small feat. Kemp led his team to a dismal 22-28
record. Please help me see the logic, Phil.
I certainly consider stats when I make these decisions, but they only tell part of the story. I've got nothing against Webber. He had probably the best season of his pro career, but I gave the nod to Kemp because he really carried a Cleveland team that had very few other scoring threats. I think teams could afford to load up on him defensively much more than they could on Webber, who had Vlade Divac, Jason Williams and Corliss Williamson surrounding him. Besides, Kemp deserves credit for playing through all those fat jokes at the start of the season, don't you think? That's the way I saw it, but I wouldn't argue with anyone who chose Webber instead.
How does the NBA view Golden State free agent Erick Dampier? Although
he is a true center and thus a valuable commodity, he's not worth anywhere
close to the maximum salary, in my opinion. In a contract year, he put up
numbers that were the essence of mediocrity. What do you think his value is
in the free agent market?
How do people view Dampier? As a tremendous risk. Guys who play as inconsistently and indifferently as he did during their contract year are always scary to personnel people. I don't think he'll get the maximum, but he'll get closer to it than he probably deserves, because a lot of teams who need big men, including Seattle, Denver and Chicago, are interested in him. Whoever signs Dampier would be smart to load his contract with incentives, and to give themselves an option to buy him out after a few years in case he turns out to be a guy who never lives up to his promise, which I think is quite likely.
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