Shinn has not made much effort to win over the public after admitting to sexual indiscretions during his trial, including an affair with a Hornets cheerleader; according to associates, Shinn says that if voters were willing to elect Bill Clinton twice despite his promiscuity, then why should the same behavior be held against a private citizen? Shinn and Wooldridge, who both declined to be interviewed, have backed off their Jan. 1 deadline to decide the team's future but continue to talk to five cities—Anaheim, Louisville, New Orleans, Norfolk and St. Louis—none of which, league officials say, is a more attractive market than Charlotte.
A recent poll conducted by The Charlotte Observer and TV station WCNC indicates that 20% of those opposed to the new arena would change their position if Shinn sold the Hornets. While there have been rumors of a bid by local businessmen, it has yet to materialize, and in any case Shinn is adamant that his remaining 65% share in the team—"my child," he calls it—is not for sale.
Cleveland's Master Plan
21 Feet of Center To Choose From
In a league hurting for size, the Cavaliers have staked their future on a trio of young 7-footers: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Chris Mihm and Desagana Diop.
The Cavaliers' high-risk, high-reward strategy began with the 7'3" Ilgauskas, who would have by now developed into the East's dominant center if not for the three foot operations that have marred all but one of his six seasons in Cleveland. Last February he underwent surgery to alleviate the stresses in his right foot that have caused fractures of the tiny navicular bone. Through Sunday, the Cavs were 71-56 when Ilgauskas played and 73-129 when he didn't.
Ilgauskas returned on Dec. 4 and steadied the team, providing a defensive and low-post presence, scoring 12.2 points per game. Rather than ask him to carry the team, Cleveland is limiting him to 24 minutes per game (mainly off the bench) and 40 minutes in back-to-back outings in hopes of getting him through the season without crutches. G.M. Jim Paxson says the 26-year-old Ilgauskas may face similar restrictions for the rest of his career. "It's awkward, because I know I need extra work," Ilgauskas says. "I would like to spend two or three hours a day on my game, but most of my work is being done during games."
Unable to rely on Ilgauskas, Paxson used the No. 8 pick last June to draft Diop, a 19-year-old, 7-foot 300-pounder who left his native Senegal three years ago to play for Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. It was a controversial selection because Diop was, like Ilgauskas, recovering from a broken left foot. Diop underwent surgery last February, and as a result he was overweight and unimpressive in pre-draft workouts. Unlike the mysterious stress fractures that have haunted Ilgauskas, however, Diop suffered a clean break of the fifth metatarsal bone.
A stress reaction injury to his left foot over the summer (unrelated to his previous fracture) and a strained left knee ligament in preseason had limited Diop to a total of 32 minutes in sue games at week's end, but Paxson believes that Diop's willingness to work will help him make up for lost time. He is blissfully free of an entourage, apart from a brother who has moved from Senegal. "He reminds me of Antonio McDyess," says coach John Lucas, who urged Cleveland to draft Diop. "He has a humility that's not common today, and that's the kind of guy a team can grow with."
Center and point guard are usually the toughest NBA positions to fill. Cleveland already has a star playmaker in Andre Miller, who in coming years may feed a front line of Diop or Ilgauskas alongside the 7-foot Mihm, a second-year man who starts at center now but feels better suited to power forward. When Paxson looks around the league for up-and-coming centers, he doesn't see much. After Shaquille O'Neal, the most prolific scorer among centers under 30 is the Bulls' 25-year-old Brad Miller, who was averaging 13.2 points through Sunday.
Indeed, most of the big men entering the league, including this year's No. 1 draft pick, the Wizards' Kwame Brown, want to be power forwards or perimeter hybrids like Kevin Garnett. "Kwame wants to dribble the ball, do the crossover," says Diop, a friend of Brown's. "I want to be a true center. Once I get my body right, I want to play even harder than Shaq. Why not?"