Everybody loves an underdog
Updated: Friday June 15, 2001 1:12 PM
Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor will answer your NBA questions every week during the season. Click here to send him a question.
Many mailbag questions became moot after the Sixers took Game 1 of the Finals last week. Some people, such as Armend Verbovci of Mitrovica, Kosova (get out the atlas, folks) wanted to know if I thought the Lakers would go 15-0 in the postseason. (I'm going to go out on a limb and say they won't.) Others, like Kimani Gayle of Kingston, Jamaica, wondered if these Lakers could beat the Bulls team that went 72-10.
But, obviously, before we start comparing Shaq, Kobe and Co. to past champions, they'll have to handle the 76ers, which has proved to be no easy task. Philadelphia may not win the title, but it has already done something fairly amazing. It has stolen the spotlight from the glamorous Lakers. Even though the Sixers trailed 2-1 after their 96-91 loss on Sunday, they were the team everyone was talking about, and Allen Iverson was the most compelling character in the series, not Bryant or O'Neal.
And, by the way, with every inspired performance Philly gives, the lame efforts of the Lakers' previous playoff opponents look even worse. The Spurs, in particular, should watch tapes of the Finals to learn how a team needs to scratch and claw and give every ounce of effort in the playoffs. Even if the Sixers don't win the championship, by making the once mighty Lakers look very human, they have already won the public's respect.
If the Lakers can keep the team they have, do you think they'll be a dynasty like the Chicago Bulls? Also, if Phil Jackson wins another NBA title, how would you rank him with the all-time great coaches?
I would go with Red Auerbach and Pat Riley as the two best NBA coaches ever. Jackson isn't far behind, but I don't think he can be considered the tops in league history until he shows what he can do with a team that doesn't have Michael Jordan, O'Neal or Bryant. It's true that Shaq never won a championship until Phil showed up, but to me, Jackson's resume will be incomplete and he'll be kept from being considered the best ever until he rebuilds a team the way Riley did with the Heat and Knicks, for example.
If you were the Sixers, would you double-team Shaq? It was actually the
Lakers' outside shooters (Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Robert Horry) who beat
L.A.'s previous opponents. Fisher hits 3-pointers just when they need them
Having Dikembe Mutombo makes it unnecessary for the Sixers to double Shaq as often as most teams do, which was a key in Game 1 of the series. When teams don't have to send two defenders at O'Neal, it allows them to stay home on the other Lakers, so guys like Fisher, Fox, Horry and Brian Shaw aren't left with wide-open jumpers when Shaq kicks the ball out. As long as Mutombo can keep O'Neal reasonably under control, the Sixers aren't going to send waves of defenders at him.
I believe the NBA needs a new name for its championship series and redesign of its title trophy. The NFL has the Super Bowl. Baseball has the World Series. The NHL has the Stanley Cup. The NBA has ... the NBA Finals? It sounds so cheesy. They should throw away the word "NBA" and make it something like "Finals Court" or "Finals Series" or "Finals Trophy." The title trophy should be big like the Stanley Cup trophy, so you could raise it over your head and drink champagne from it. Such a change would surely boost ratings. What do you think, Phil?
You're right. The league has tried to come up with catchier names, but so far no one has thought of anything that really worked. I think they've even considered the "Finals Series," but rejected it. Maybe just "The Finals" would be better, or maybe, since the players are more fixated on the jewelry than the trophy, the "Ring Series." If anybody has any better ideas, I'd love to hear them.
Is Dikembe Mutombo going to be a free agent after this season? And, if so,
where do you see him going? I think the Jazz should consider him since Olden
Polynice is a free agent and Greg Ostertag doesn't want to play in Utah
Mutombo's a free agent, but the Sixers' trip to the Finals all but guarantees that he will be back in Philadelphia next year. He says he loves the city and he loves playing with Iverson. I'm sure the Jazz would love to have him, but that's a fantasy. Even if he were going to leave Philly, he wouldn't go from a championship contender to an aging team with which he'd have to face Shaq more often.
I know Tim Duncan has too much class to admit it, but do you think he regrets
re-signing with the Spurs when he could have owned the East with one of a number
of teams that pursued him? During the Western Conference finals, Duncan looked as if he caught a glimpse of the next five or six seasons and it was not pretty.
The Lakers are playing like they are a dynasty.
I wouldn't be surprised if that has crossed Duncan's mind. But remember, he signed only a three-year deal with the Spurs, so he's not locked in forever. If the Lakers continue their dominance in the West, and if the Spurs keep looking as soft as they did against the Lakers, I wouldn't be shocked to see Duncan bolt.
Who do you think will be the Blazers' new head coach? I hope it's John Lucas. He's the best choice because he would work well with the complicated personalities on the team. What other personnel changes do you think Portland should make?
Lucas has a good shot at the job, although it appears the Blazers are making progress in trying to convince Chuck Daly to come out of retirement. Lucas might be the kind of coach the Blazers need. He's almost as much a counselor as he is a coach, and if any team ever needed therapy sessions, it's Portland. Lucas has been through drug treatment and he's worked with several other players who have had substance abuse problems, so he'd be a good person to have around if Shawn Kemp returns after his stint in rehab. Beyond that, Lucas is very good at making players feel he's on their side, which is half the battle these days. The rap on him is that he's not especially strong on the X's and O's, but after several years as an assistant in Denver, that may not be a valid criticism anymore. Even if it is, he can always hire a veteran aide to help him in that area. Lucas may not be the right coach for a lot of teams, but he might be a good fit for the Blazers.
What will the Heat do this summer to get younger legs? Can they get Gary
Payton, Mike Bibby or Shareef
First of all, if you want to see the Heat get younger, you're going to have to say goodbye to Brian Grant. He and Eddie Jones have, by far, the most trade value of anyone on the team (Anthony Mason's a free agent), and Riley's not going to give up Jones, the one athletic player in his starting lineup. I'm not sure Grant and some throw-ins will be enough to get Payton, but that's where I'm sure Riley is going to look first. Payton is the guy Miami has the best chance of getting, because the Heat don't have the kind of young, athletic players that Vancouver is going to be looking to obtain in return for Bibby or Abdur-Rahim.
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