5. Who will be Comeback Player of the Year?
No comeback, of course, will draw as much attention as that of Golden State Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell, who was suspended last season for assaulting coach P.J. Carlesimo. The Warriors are widely rumored to be ready to trade Sprewell to the Miami Heat for forwards P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn when the lockout ends, but that deal isn't a sure thing. Sprewell and Miami point guard Tim Hardaway feuded when they were Golden State teammates, and a source close to Hardaway says that Hardaway isn't nearly as willing to make peace with Sprewell as he has indicated publicly.
The summer's loudest buzz, however, was about Orlando Magic guard Penny Hardaway, who appears to be back in good health after battling knee and calf injuries for most of the past two seasons. Hardaway has been spectacular in informal scrimmages since he began playing at full speed again in August, and he was particularly impressive in a charity game sponsored by Seattle's Gary Payton two weeks ago. "Everything feels good," Penny says. "I feel healthy and strong again. I know a lot of negative things were said about me the last couple of years, but I'm not coming back with the idea that I need to prove anything to anybody. I'm just coming back with the idea of being the old Penny Hardaway again."
The Magic considered trading Hardaway at midseason last year and had been expected to listen to offers for him again when the lockout ended. However, that was before his encouraging summer performance. Moreover, free-agent center Ike Austin, who finished 1997-98 with the Clippers, says the chance to play with Hardaway is one of the reasons he is seriously considering signing with Orlando. Hardaway is now almost certain to be back in a Magic uniform when the season starts. Whenever that is.