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The NBA
Jackie MacMullan
February 07, 2000
Mr. Excitement Marcus Camby sends a charge through the Knicks and their fans
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February 07, 2000

The Nba

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East Is Least Up Front
The fans have voted in their starters for the Feb. 13 All-Star Game in Oakland. Now it's time to fill out the rosters. After sizing up its potential reserves, the East should be begging the West: Hey, brother, can you spare a forward?

EASTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR STARTERS: Raptors forward Vince Carter, Pistons forward Grant Hill, Heat center Alonzo Mourning, 76ers guard Allen Iverson, Hornets guard Eddie Jones

WESTERN CONFERENCE ALL-STAR STARTERS: Spurs forward Tim Duncan, Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, Suns guard Jason Kidd

 

EAST RESERVES (CHOSEN BY SI)
F
Dale Davis, PACERS
His toughness and rebounding held Indiana together when Reggie Miller couldn't find his stroke

WEST RESERVES (CHOSEN BY SI)
F
Chris Webber, KINGS
MVP candidate enjoying his finest season for league's most exciting team

F
Glenn Robinson, BUCKS
Milwaukee's leading scorer has upgraded his defense and at week's end was hitting 41.5% of his threes

F
Karl Malone, JAZZ
Hard to imagine him as a reserve, but the two young studs in front of him earned their votes

C
Dikembe Mutombo, HAWKS
Best of the rest of the, anemic crop of pivotmen in the conference

C
Rasheed Wallace, TRAIL BLAZERS
O.K., so he lines up mostly at forward. Is there another center in the West who's deserving?

G
Allan Houston, KNICKS
You could make a case for his evil twin, Latrell Sprewell, but New York players give Houston the nod

G
Gary Payton, SUPERSONICS
Plays both ends hard and makes everyone around him better--exactly what a point guard is supposed to do

G
Stephon Marbury, NETS
Explosive, competitive, often unstoppable and finally getting his props

G
Michael Finley, MAVERICKS
League leader in minutes is triple double waiting to happen every time he suits up

WILD CARDS: Pacers guard Reggie Miller (still one of the league's most lethal snipers) and Celtics guard Paul Pierce (less spectacular than Carter, but their numbers are close)

WILD CARDS: Grizzlies forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim (a budding star) and Blazers forward Scottie Pippen (a fading star whose game has been rekindled in Portland)

TOUGHEST OMISSIONS; Pistons guard Jerry Stackhouse, Cavaliers forward Shawn Kemp, Bucs guard Ray Allen

TOUGHEST OMISSIONS: Nuggets forward Antonio McDyess, Suns forward Cliff Robinson, Jazz guard John Stockton

Mr. Excitement
Marcus Camby sends a charge through the Knicks and their fans

The power surge in Madison Square Garden begins when 25-year-old Knicks forward Marcus Camby pulls off his warmup jersey. When he jogs to the scorer's table, the executives halt their business discussions, the diehards pound their chests and the little kids screech in anticipation of what Camby will do when he steps onto the court.

On good nights he treats the crowd to an electric slam off a loose rebound or a breathtaking weakside rejection. On bad ones Camby's in foul trouble early, drawing one call for going over the back, another for reaching in. Either way, fans will return to see Camby try to make something happen. Sports Business Daily published a list of the 20 best-selling NBA jerseys in the first half of this season; Camby's number 23 was more popular than Karl Malone's jersey or Eddie Jones's.

"I can feel the buzz," Camby says of the stir he creates at the Garden. "It's a lot better than last year, when the boo-birds were out. I wasn't even getting into the games, and they were still screaming at me, 'We want Oak! We want Oak!' Man, that was tough."

The buzz last season centered on Camby as a pawn in a power struggle between former general manager Ernie Grunfeld and coach Jeff Van Gundy. Grunfeld had traded popular power forward Charles Oakley to the Raptors for Camby despite the reservations of his coach. Van Gundy stubbornly benched the slender 6' 11" forward, who in his two seasons in Toronto had been branded an immature kid who wouldn't play hurt. Van Gundy contends that it was impossible to develop an immediate feel for a new player after a prolonged lockout and a shortened preseason.

Camby's vindication came in the playoffs, when his energy fueled New York's improbable journey to the Finals—and saved Van Gundy's job. This season Camby is averaging 26.7 minutes, up 6.2 from last year, and there's no longer any question of his importance in the rotation: He's a favorite for the Sixth Man Award.

Ask Camby if he's Van Gundy's guy now, and he laughs and says, "I don't think I'm one of his core guys, guys who've been here, like Larry Johnson, Allan [ Houston] and Pat [ Ewing]. But I think he's my guy. When his job was in jeopardy, I could have gone in the tank against Miami in the first round, and we wouldn't even be sitting here. But I played hard for him. I understand his philosophy now, and he respects me more."

It helps their relationship that Camby doesn't demand shots, which Van Gundy must delicately distribute among Ewing, Houston and Latrell Sprewell. The Knicks are a collection of complex factions. Camby's boys are Sprewell, forward John Wallace and guard Rick Brunson. The clean-living Houston and point guard Charlie Ward have been nicknamed the Christian Coalition, while Ewing, the proud old warrior, stands alone, his friends having been traded, his skills eroding, his stature on the team diminished. He doesn't talk much these days, and team officials wonder how it will end.

"Pat's used to being the Guy in this city says Camby, who has taken some of Ewing's minutes. "But I can't worry too much about him. He's still going to come in and get his number called. Hey, I don't get any plays called for me. I get my baskets off hustle plays. The one thing I do feel bad about is the injuries Pat's had. The Achilles [tendon tear] has set him back two to three years. His wrist is still messed up. He's playing through a lot of pain."

Even though New York was tied with Miami atop the Atlantic Division at 26-16 through Sunday, there are concerns. The Knicks were 10-8 against the top eight teams in each conference and 10-12 on the road. Sprewell, who demanded a starting role, is filling the small forward slot though he's better suited to play the two guard, Houston's position. The strain of being 190 pounds and trying to hold off threes such as 250-pound Juwan Howard is taking its toll on Sprewell, and Van Gundy frets about his wearing down.

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