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Kobe can

Bryant's emergence has West all but wrapped up for L.A.

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Posted: Friday May 25, 2001 3:43 PM

Sports Illustrated senior writer Phil Taylor will answer your NBA questions every week during the season. Click here to send him a question

OK, so I'm not exactly Carnac the Magnificent. It looks as if my prediction that the Spurs would beat the Lakers in seven is going to be about as accurate as San Antonio's 3-point shooting in the first two games of the Western Conference finals. Greg from Denver asks if I'm going to change my position on the Lakers in light of their two wins in the Alamodome, but it's not as though I thought they were cream puffs to begin with. If anything, I slightly underestimated Kobe Bryant, who I'm now convinced is the best all-around player in the league. I knew he could get his shot on the perimeter anytime he wanted, but the way he's successfully taken it to the hoop against David Robinson and Tim Duncan has been shocking. Kobe's going to have to play as intelligently as he has of late over the course of an entire season before he'll truly be worthy of some of the Michael Jordan comparisons that have been flying around, but Bryant can worry about that later. For now, he and the Lakers have only to worry about where to hold this year's championship celebration. As for me, the only prediction I'm prepared to make is that the next question will be from Craig in Toronto.

I was just looking at the playoffs format. Let's assume the Lakers emerge as the Western Conference champion, and the Sixers as the Eastern Conference champion. Both teams had identical regular-season records of 56-26, both teams won their respective divisions and the clubs split their regular-season meetings. Which team would get home court advantage for the Finals?
--Craig, Toronto

The Lakers would get home court against the Sixers because the next tiebreaker is record against the other conference. Los Angeles was 22-16 against the East and Philly was 16-12 against the West. Want a little second-guessing? Sixers coach Larry Brown sat Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo in the final regular-season game, against the Bulls, and Philly lost, 92-86. If Brown hadn't treated that game as meaningless, the Sixers would have had home court against the Lakers.

Why is it that the results of the NBA draft lottery are shown on television, but the draft lottery itself is not? Could there be some conspiring by the NBA bigwigs that we don't know about? Wouldn't showing the draft live on television quash of any suspicion of a conspiracy? Furthermore, what has happened to the stock of Maryland's Terrance Morris and Arizona's Loren Woods? If they had declared for the draft last season, they would have gone in the top five. This year, Woods is projected to go at the bottom end of the lottery and Morris isn't even expected to be a first-rounder.
--Jason Lazo, Toronto

The lottery rules are complicated because teams don't necessarily pick in the same order that their ping-pong ball is chosen. For instance, the team with the worst record can pick no lower than third, so if its ball isn't one of the first three to come up, it still gets the third slot and whichever team's ball pops up third slides down to the fourth spot. The feeling is that this would all be extraordinarily bad television, and I can't say I disagree. But don't worry, there's no conspiracy. The proceedings are overseen by a major accounting firm that's not going to be party to any shenanigans, and the league wouldn't risk its credibility by rigging things to make sure the Nuggets get the fourth pick instead of the sixth. Is a conspiracy possible? Anything's possible. But you've got to trust somebody. You're right about Woods and Morris, they definitely hurt their draft standing by finishing up seasons that were inconsistent at best. They would seem to be an argument for leaving school early. But I tend to believe that teams don't really decide about players until they've seen them in pre-draft workouts. Woods' and Morris' flaws probably would have shown up then, and they might not have gone in the top five as projected. That's why the notion that a player can help himself or hurt himself greatly with his play in the NCAA tournament is a fallacy, in my opinion. Teams don't make up their minds about a player until they see him up close and personal.

What do you see the Raptors and Hornets doing this summer to get over the hump and win that seventh game?
--Hamed Hoshmand, Toronto

The good news for both those teams is that they need time to mature more than they need changes in personnel. The Raptors need to convince Antonio Davis and Jerome Williams to re-sign (keeping Williams will be easier than keeping Davis). Toronto could use a defensive specialist on the perimeter, but, for the most part, if they can keep their nucleus together (guys like Alvin Williams, Keon Clark and even Vince Carter are going to continue to improve) the Raptors can hang with any team in the East. Same with the Hornets. They have size on the front line, emerging stars in Jamal Mashburn and Baron Davis, and no key players who are past their prime. If anything, Charlotte could use a pure shooter, especially with the new zone rules that go into effect next season.

Phil, what is all this talk I hear about the top three teams in draft wanting to trade down? Why not wait a few years on an Eddy Curry or a Kwame Brown to develop into a superstar? Don't you think the Nets regret passing on Kobe and taking Kerry Kittles? Message to the top three teams: Keep the pick!
--Eric, Glen Ellyn, Ill.

The problem is that teams don't know which of these high schoolers is the next Kobe and which is the next Korelone Young. That's why NBA teams really want an age limit. They don't want to commit to paying these kids so early, when it's not clear how much they'll continue to improve. It's enough of a crapshoot with college players. It's hard for a team that's been terrible for years, like the Wizards or Warriors, to draft a high schooler knowing that if he does pan out it won't be until three years down the road. And if he doesn't pan out, you've wasted about $3 million and a draft pick.

What's your take on Vince Carter's handling of the media? I must say that I think his graduation was a non-story that the media made into something, but whenever I see a reporter talking to him, he's short and uninteresting. For one of the "next M.J.'s" he sure doesn't handle stardom well.
--R. Carroll, Los Angeles

I agree. I think Carter's a good guy, but he seems uptight about the whole superstar thing. I can only think of a handful of times I've so much as seen him smile during an interview. He seems to want the endorsements and other perks of being a star, but doesn't want to deal with the increased media scrutiny on and off the court that comes with it. Kobe, for example, does a much better job of having fun with the media madness. Maybe Carter will grow into it because he really doesn't seem very happy right now. On the subject of his graduation, I think it made for a legitimate debate, with both sides having some merit. I think Carter deserves credit for earning his degree, obviously, and I don't think it affected his preparation for the game. What bothers me is that it seems as if one of the reasons he went to his commencement ceremony was simply because he could. He knew that as the Raptors' star (and someone they desperately want to re-sign beyond 2002-2003) he could fly to North Carolina on the day of Game 7 and the Raptors would have no choice but to let him.

Can you please tell me how the NBA would allow a thug like Allen Iverson to receive its most presigious award? This guy has never done anything I would want my young children to copy. He should not be allowed to wear gangster-style stockings on his head during televised games. Does the NBA have no regard for what it is teaching our children and its future stars? Not only should Iverson be snubbed by the NBA, but also the press and the league itself should be ashamed for making him a star and the center of attention. Iverson is a disgrace to the NBA and to sports.
--Bob, Rockwall, Texas

Sorry, Bob. I'm not in the business of judging people on the basis of what they look like or how they choose to dress. I don't care if Iverson wears a stocking cap or a cowboy hat, and his winning the MVP award was based solely on his play, not how close he comes to anyone's idea of the boy next door. I haven't been crazy about all of Iverson's actions (the offensive rap lyrics, for example) but it sounds as if his cornrows and tattoos just rub you the wrong way. You should check out this week's, The Life of Reilly. Rick wrote it for people who think like you.

Everyone's fawning over Larry Brown as if he's some sort of coaching God, but if the Sixers don't win a the NBA championship this year, shouldn't someone in the media step up to the plate and question his strategy of building a team with only one scorer at a time when the truly great teams (Spurs, Lakers) have two? Can somebody say Jerry Stackhouse?
--Robert, Minneapolis

I go the other way. I give Brown credit bucking the conventional wisdom that said because of his size Iverson had to be a point guard, and that the Sixers needed another scorer to keep defenses from ganging up on The Answer. I don't remember Philly ever going to the Eastern Conference finals when Stackhouse was teamed up with Iverson. The Sixers probably aren't going to win the title this year, but you can't second-guess Brown for coming up with a system that transformed Philly from lottery regulars into arguably the best team in the Eastern conference.

I've been sending you questions since the era of Bird and Magic, but you've never bothered to reply. Since someone already asked for your thoughts on how the '95-'96 Bulls measure up against other championship teams, I'd like to know which you think was better: the '95-'96 Bulls or the '85-'86 Celtics? I'm going with the Celtics. Even though they won "only" 67 games, there were just 23 teams in the league at that time, so the talent pool was a bit deeper. Also, they won 40 home games, something no team has matched. What do you think?
--Sid Ventura, Quezon City, Philippines

Since the time of Bird and Magic? I hope you're just exaggerating for effect, because Al Gore hadn't even invented the Internet back then. In any case, I'd take that Celtics team over the Bulls, too. Boston had Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, and a fourth Hall of Famer coming off the bench in Bill Walton. The team wasn't exceptionally quick, but it had everything else -- post-play, outside shooting, depth, defense and, above all, intelligence. It was one of the greatest teams of all time. That Celtics club would have beaten the Bulls in six games, in my opinion. Then again, I'm the guy who said Spurs in seven.

Click here to send Phil Taylor a question or comment.

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