Work in Sports
Few surprises in store
Posted: Wednesday April 26, 2000 04:01 PM
No long preamble this week. It's playoff time, so let's get right to the point. I like the Lakers and Knicks to meet in the Finals with Shaq, Kobe and Co. getting their first ring. Not exactly going out on a limb, but how can you pick against L.A.? My sleepers are Charlotte in the East and Minnesota in the West, with Miami and Portland in danger of making embarrassing early exits. Toronto is too trendy an underdog. I expect the Raptors' young guns to get their first lesson in how different the playoffs are from the regular season, courtesy of the Knicks.
I have two questions. First, who do you consider the most improved player in the league this year? Why doesn't Kobe Bryant ever get mentioned in that catagory? People tend to overlook how much he has matured this year. Thanks, have a good one!
I voted for Jalen Rose for the Most Improved Player award because he went from being a spark off the bench to being the best player on the best team in the Eastern Conference. That's a huge leap, especially considering that a couple of years ago people were calling him a bust. Dirk Nowitzki and Tracy McGrady also deserve a lot of consideration for most improved. But you're right about Kobe. He won't get a lot of mention for the award because his numbers were so good last year that there hasn't been a dramatic improvement in his stats -- but he's really made the jump this year from a highlight-film player to a player with an all-around game. As I wrote in this week's SI, his maturation is one of the main reasons the Lakers have dominated this year.
As a fan of the Grizzlies, I am upset at the prospect of Lionel Hollins getting fired and being replaced by Dick Versace. Is it me or would he have little chance of getting a head coaching position if he weren't buddies with the owner? Do you feel Hollins deserves to be fired?
I couldn't agree with you more. Dick Versace is an NBA re-tread who has never been especially successful but happened to know the right guy. There's a reason that no other teams were beating down the door to get him. In Lionel Hollins the Grizzlies have an up-and-coming coach who did the best with what he had to work with this year. He hasn't had anything remotely resembling a fair shot. Maybe Versace will do an incredible job and prove me wrong, but there's no particular reason to think so. If hiring Versace and firing Hollins are typical of the kind of moves that new owner Michael Heisley has in mind for the Griz, I think Vancouver fans are in for a lot more losing.
Do you think that the Knicks -- with a healthy Patrick Ewing -- have a chance at the Championship? In the duo of Spree and Allan Houston they have a great scoring threat that will make sure that Ewing will not get double-teamed. With John Wallace's scoring ability off the bench and Camby's energy I think they could go all the way.
All the way might be one step too far. But I am picking the Knicks to get back to the Finals for all the reasons you mentioned. Toronto is obviously no first-round pushover, but I think that with some time to prepare the Knicks will win. New York will find a way to slow down Tracy McGrady and Doug Christie and force Vince Carter to beat them by himself, which not even Air Canada can do. But even if they win the East, the Knicks haven't shown me anything to make me think they can beat the Lakers.
Here in Wizards land, the big talk is who will take over as head coach once the season is over. The names flying about include M.J.'s North Carolina friends Larry Brown and George Karl as well as St. John's Mike Jarvis. Also, how would cutting Ike Austin effect their cap room during the off-season? Nobody seems willing to trade for him, and he is the absolute last player off the bench.
Forget about Brown and Karl. Brown just signed an extension with Philly, and even if he wanted to go to the Wizards, there's no way they would let him out of his contract to go to a team in their division. Karl is in much the same situation. He's not likely to want to get out of his contract to go to a team that's farther away from winning than the one he's with, not even for the chance to work with M.J. Jarvis, however, is a real possibility. I think he'll be in the NBA within three years, even if he doesn't take this job. As for Austin, his contract is guaranteed, so he counts for the same $5 million against their cap whether they release him or not. I do think he's tradeable, though. Some team (maybe Utah) will look at what he did for Pat Riley in Miami and conclude that he can play when motivated properly. He's good friends with Karl Malone, so I could see the Jazz taking a chance on him. The Wizards would have to be prepared not to get much in return, though.
Looking at the NBA draft, would you consider this to be a weak year? It seems that it may be deep but it doesn't appear to have many immediate-impact players except for maybe Marcus Fizer and Kenyon Martin.
They're all weak drafts nowadays, with so many players coming out so early. A lot of people think the third-most promising player after Martin and Fizer is Darius Miles, a high school senior out of East St. Louis, Ill. But he's definitely a down-the-road kind of pick, not someone who can help much right away. My sleeper is Courtney Alexander, a guard from Fresno State. He's been hidden away, but he has an NBA-type of game and should go mid-to-late lottery.
What will happen to the Utah tandem of Stockton and Malone and the whole Jazz team if they don't win the championship this year?
They'll come back and try it again next year, same as always. You won't see any major rebuilding from the Jazz until Stockton and Malone are in wheelchairs. The retiring Jeff Hornacek won't be back, and Utah will be in the market for an athletic shooting guard (since Toronto is looking for a point guard, it makes you wonder whether the Jazz could pry Doug Christie loose for a package that included Howard Eisley) but for the most part, they'll be back intact next year regardless of the outcome of this postseason.
I'm interested by your dilemma in choosing the Coach of the Year. I think everybody would agree that both Phil Jackson and Doc Rivers should get the honors for Nos. 1 and 2 (not necessarily in that order). I'm just curious, who would be your choice for No. 3 ?
First of all, I voted for Jackson as Coach of the Year over Doc. Orlando falling short of the playoffs had a lot to do with it. It's hard to bypass the coach of the dominant team in the league for a team that didn't reach the postseason, no matter how great a job Rivers did. My third guy would be Paul Silas of Charlotte. He led the Hornets through a season of tragedy (Bobby Phills) and off-the-court problems with Derrick Coleman and Anthony Mason and somehow has them going into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the league. Jerry Sloan of Utah and Scott Skiles of Phoenix deserve special mention also.
How can the 76ers give Larry Brown a contract extension when it is obvious that he and superstar Allen Iverson don't get along? I feel Brown is an example of the problem of NBA coaches who are overpaid dictators and still believe they run the team not the players.
They gave Brown an extension partly because he has a lot to do with the Sixers' turnaround from one of the worst teams in the league to a 49-win team this year, and partly to send Iverson a message that he's not going to run Brown out of town any time in the near future. I agree with you up to a point about Brown -- he's one of those coaches who sometimes acts as if players know nothing about the game. He talks about teaching Iverson and the others about how to "play the right way" as if these guys haven't been playing non-stop for the last 15 or 20 years of their lives. Maybe they have a few ideas about how to play the right way, too. I don't think a lot of coaches realize how condescending they can sound when they talk about being "teachers." Still, I wouldn't go so far as to call them "overpaid dictators" -- at least not Brown. The coach does have to run the team, not the players. It really doesn't work to have a coach who defers too much to his players. Look at Shaq's career until this point for proof of that.
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