While the Magic look to 2003 as their next window of opportunity, a bigger date may be looming in the summer of 2004, when its lease at the TD Waterhouse Centre expires. Team owner Rich DeVos, who claims to be losing $10 million annually, stopped campaigning for a $75 million renovation after the Sept. 11 attacks and has no plans to renew his efforts. An NBA source who knows DeVos says that rather than threaten to move the team, he is more likely to put it up for sale and let someone else fight for an improved building. If DeVos were to sell to an owner less willing to pay for top talent, that could set the franchise back as much as Hill's injuries have.
Adjusting to Zone Defenses
The Shrinking of The Guards
Fans of Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson won't like it, but here it comes nonetheless—a backcourt of miniature point guards. The trend is catching on in Philadelphia, Utah and Dallas. "I don't see any downside," says 76ers coach Larry Brown, who is intent on pairing 5'11" Speedy Claxton with 6-foot Allen Iverson as often as possible.
This shrinking of the guards is viable because of the new rules, which permit defenses to ignore players who can't score and swarm those who can. Play-making is at such a premium that coaches have lowered their sights, deploying anyone who knows how to attack the basket. "As much as they might have to give up at the defensive end," Brown says of the small backcourts, "they can make it up on the offensive end and in other areas, such as offensive transition."
The new rules have forced even the league's most predictable team to change its M.O. The Jazz's bread-and-butter two-man game with John Stockton and Karl Malone has become harder to execute because Malone can now be doubled before he gets the ball. "The rules have hurt our team the most," says coach Jerry Sloan, who has tried to take pressure off Malone by surrounding him with a small lineup of scorers and passers, including a back-court of the 6'1" Stockton and 6'2" John Crotty. Utah may appear vulnerable defensively with that lineup, but Crotty views it as an advantage for the Jazz. "Teams see the mismatch, and they'll start trying to attack me and shut down their normal offense," Crotty says. "It takes them away from what they want to do."
One of me most effective mini-backcourts is the Mavericks' tandem of 6'3" Steve Nash and 6-foot Tim Hardaway. The three-second rule prohibiting shot blockers from lurking under the basket has opened up lanes for Nash, who drove inside then kicked out to Hardaway for huge three-pointers in recent victories at Minnesota and San Antonio. Says Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders, "They put you in a bind because Nash can score on those drives so you've got to account for him. But he's actually more dangerous finding Hardaway for the three."
Last season the Hornets reached the second round of the playoffs despite pairing 6'3" Baron Davis with 6'1" David Wesley. Still, it's unlikely that a small backcourt will survive defensively in a playoff series against a team like the Lakers, with 6'7" Kobe Bryant, or the Kings, with 6'6" Doug Christie, or the Spurs, with 6'8" Steve Smith. "At some level you're going to have to pay on the defensive end," says Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who notes that small guards have trouble covering the court, switching and contesting shots. "You're going to see the big backcourt come right back into this league very soon. There's no doubt about it."
Antonis Fotsis of Memphis
It's Still Greek To Him
At 20, 6'10" rookie Antonis Fotsis is learning the NBA game from the end of the Grizzlies' bench. Fotsis is the first Greek native to play in the league and, in some respects, the Todd Marinovich of European basketball.
His father, Vangelis Fotsis, was a star 6'3" guard in Greece. Vangelis became one of the country's most respected basketball coaches, but he refused high-profile jobs that would have taken him from his family, especially his firstborn son. "Antonis was raised from the day he was born to become the first Greek player in the NBA," says his agent, Joel Bell, who insists that Fotsis will succeed where Marinovich failed because of the warm relationship between Antonis and his father. "Vangelis was intent on raising him as a son, not just as an athlete."