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Peering into the crystal ball

It's already time to discuss next season

Click here for more on this story
Posted: Friday June 22, 2001 2:45 PM

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

Now that the season is over, the final tallies are in on the most asked question sweepstakes. In a very tight battle, "Can Shaq and Kobe get along well enough for the Lakers to repeat?" was beaten out by this year's winner: "Where is Chris Webber going?" (Actually, they finished behind the always popular, "Who are you and what makes you think you know anything about basketball?", but those questions were disqualified.) In any case, Webber's destination is still a mystery (although folks in Sacramento are encouraged by the fact that he's still in town, working out with some of his Kings teammates) but there are a few other questions about the future of various teams and players that we can take a stab at. Beginning with:

The Sixers enjoyed a great year in getting to the NBA Finals. What personnel changes do you think they'll need to make to return to the Finals and win the title next season?
--Sylvester, Charlottesville, Va.

First, of course, they have to re-sign Dikembe Mutombo. Then I think they should add a sharpshooter, a spot-up gunner in the Dell Curry - Dale Ellis mold, to make defenses pay for collapsing on Allen Iverson. A pie-in-the-sky dream scenario would be for Philadelphia to find a way to acquire free agent Allan Houston. A more reasonable acquisition would be someone like free agent Dan Majerle. There are a lot of people who think the Sixers need to upgrade at power forward after seeing Tyrone Hill struggle in the Finals, but I think Hill is solid enough for them to live with him. One more shooter to help generate a little more offense could lead to a significant improvement.

Allan Houston is now a free agent. Do you think he will definitely re-sign with the Knicks, or will he bolt the Big Apple? I've been surfing the 'net for the past couple of days and found that Houston is considering coming to play for San Antonio, since the Spurs have the cap space and all. What are the chances of this happening?
--Tim Chen, San Antonio

Very slim. Houston is looking for the maximum, and the Spurs would have a hard time making that work under the cap. They're already asking David Robinson to take a salary cut to avoid having to pay the luxury tax. Last year, to escape the Clippers, Derek Anderson came to San Antonio for relatively little money, but don't expect Houston to do the same. He'd be a great fit for the Spurs, especially if they lose Anderson to free agency, but it would take some major maneuvering.

How good will the Wizards be next year if Michael Jordan comes back and his fellow geriatrics (Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Hakeem Olajuwon, etc.) join him? Even if they are old, I think the Wizards could still seriously contend for the championship. What do you think?
--Charles Thun, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Nah. The Wizards would surely be the most fascinating team in the league with that crew, but I don't think they'd be one of the best. Even if Jordan came back anywhere close to his previous level, he can't change the fact that Ewing's immobile, Barkley can't jump anymore and Olajuwon should have retired already. I know it's risky to bet against M.J. Still, I think he might lift the Wizards to the .500 area, but no farther.

Who do you think has a better chance of getting to the NBA Finals next year, the Sixers or the Bucks?
--Matthew Simmons, Magee, Miss.

Right now I'd say the Bucks. Part of that has to do with the new zone rules coming into effect next season. They might make it harder for any one player to dominate offensively the way Iverson does for the Sixers, and anything that makes him less dangerous is bad news for Philly. Milwaukee, on the other hand, has a much more diverse offense, and they're mostly jump shooters, so a zone isn't likely to affect them as much. Obviously, no one really knows how the new rules are going to play out, and a lot can change in terms of personnel between this year and next, but at the moment, I'd put my money on the Bucks to reach the Finals.

Up here in Toronto, there is word that Vince Carter is actually considering signing a long-term contract with the Raptors this summer. Is there any truth to this rumor, or is it just another case of blind optimism?
--Adam Welsh, Oakville, Ontario

I wouldn't get your hopes up. A couple of years ago, before he became a free agent, the same kind of rumors came up about Tim Duncan signing an extension in San Antonio? It didn't happen, and Duncan tested the market, though he eventually re-signed with the Spurs. There's been speculation that Carter would agree to an extension because he realizes that it's hard for the Raptors to keep their own free agents and sign others when players aren't sure if Carter's going to bolt. But there will be too many interesting possibilities for Carter to consider once he becomes a free agent (Jordan and the Wizards? An endorsement mecca like New York? Back to his college stomping grounds in Charlotte?) for him to commit to Toronto now without exploring them.

I've looked over the mock drafts and Shane Battier consistently ranks in the Top 5, but I don't understand why he doesn't rate even higher. I'm not a Blue Devils fan by any means, but he's impressed me a great deal during the past four years. I think the guy can do it all. It doesn't make sense to me that teams draft a high school senior or a college freshman, because by the time the player begins to mature and spread his wings, he's lost to another team via free agency (i.e. Tracy McGrady). In a year or two, some team is going to be willing to trade a lot more than one first-round pick for Battier. He's mature, talented and works hard. Am I missing something?
--Holden, Austin, Texas

I feel the same way. I can't figure out what Battier's weakness is supposed to be. He can shoot, he can jump, he can handle the ball, he was a great college defender, and he's a model citizen. I think he's as close to a sure thing as there is in the draft. Even if he doesn't become a star, and I'm not saying he won't, he should be a solid pro for years. I can understand the infatuation with some of the high schoolers. Teams are looking for that next Kobe, McGrady or Kevin Garnett, and if they can find one, they're willing to gamble that they can keep him long-term. But the word I've heard is that this year's crop of underclassmen is particularly iffy, so if I were a GM with one of the top two or three picks, I'm not sure I could resist Battier.

The Lakers are a great team, but all other dynasties had other great teams to compete against. Though it isn't their fault, the Lakers have yet to play a great team. Magic had Bird, Russell had Chamberlain, Isiah competed against Magic, Jordan played against Drexler, Malone, Barkley, Stockton, and Magic. All other great players on great teams beat the best to be the best. Look at the league now, Shaq and Kobe do not have a true nemesis. The league is watered down. Don't you think there is just too much hype to this Lakers madness? Or do they truly deserve all the attention they get?
--Irving, Curacao

I agree that there's no other team out there at the moment to really test the Lakers, to be Frazier to their Ali. But part of that is because they've beaten down all the candidates. A year ago the Blazers were supposed to be a rival on the same plane, but the Lakers basically cut their hearts out with the fourth-quarter comeback that stole the seventh game of their playoff series and kept Portland out of the Finals. This year it was supposed to be San Antonio, but we all know what happened there. I don't think it's so much that there are no worthy challengers to the Lakers, it's that L.A. has made all the challengers look unworthy. But the league hasn't been so diluted that the kind of dominance they've showed the last two seasons can be dismissed.

After Game 5, Kobe Bryant mentioned in an interview that he was going through personal matters during the season that no one knew about. He also mentioned that they brought him to the conclusion that basketball is not the only thing in his life. Can you speculate on what these personal matters were that led him to this realization? I don't think that it is about him getting married, I think it is much more than that. Do you have any idea?
--Derrick Tillman, Miami

Speculating about someone's personal life is always a sensitive matter, but there's a pretty widespread rumor that Kobe had some sort of falling out with his family. Some people close to the Lakers say that some family members were very much opposed to his marriage, and supposedly, it's caused a rift. Kobe won't comment on anything remotely involving his marriage, so it's hard to know how much truth there is to those rumors. I think he's talking about family issues to a large extent, and some of those do revolve around his marriage.

Click here to send Phil Taylor a question or comment.

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