With another National Basketball Assn. season just around the bend, we have a few unusual questions to ask.
One is this: Is Detroit still the best team in the league?
This is not the sort of question one gets to ask every year.
Another is this: Are the Lakers going to be any good?
This is really not the sort of question one gets to ask every year.
We even have this incredible question: Are the Lakers going to win their division this year?
Now there's one you haven't heard for a while.
We also have a couple more. Like:
--Are the Clippers better than we think they are?
(To the tune of "My Boyfriend's Back," sing along: Benoit is back and there's gonna be trouble. He's been gone for such a long time . . .)
--Were the Cleveland Cavaliers for real last season?
--Does anybody realize how close the Chicago Bulls were to winning the NBA championship last season?
--Do we really have to watch Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota and Orlando this season?
--Shouldn't ESPN give us the Italian League scores?
--Are Moscow and Belgrade hooked up for cable so they can watch the Laker-Warrior games?
And so forth and so on.
First and foremost on the minds of Los Angeles basketball fans is whether the Lakers are going to continue to be worth those high-priced seats.
Chances are, yes.
Once again, as when they grabbed A.C. Green so late in the first round, Laker General Manager Jerry West appears to have shown that the best prizes are sometimes found at the very bottom of the Cracker Jack box.
Vlade Divac has, in practice, and exhibition games, hustled and muscled and sprinted up and down the court and brought a lot of enthusiasm to the Laker camp. He could be a real steal.
Besides, he keeps the whole team loose, going around barking like a dog and playing practical jokes on everybody in sight. This guy might turn out to make Mychal Thompson look like the most serious man in America.
As soon as he learns enough English to understand what the heck Chick Hearn is talking about so he can go on the postgame interview show, Divac could be the Laker everybody is talking about. Might even make people forget what's his name, the guy who wore 33.
The Lakers made one serious mistake during the off-season, signing Quintin Dailey, the former Clipper, to a guaranteed $400,000 contract.
The trouble with Dailey is that everybody who meets the guy likes the guy. He is a very nice person, face to face. But Quintin's track record is an ugly one, and there is nothing whatsoever in his past to indicate that he should be guaranteed payments up front. He cannot be trusted.
The Lakers happen to have an interesting policy regarding drug offenders. We have here a team on which the leading players, particularly Magic Johnson and Byron Scott, spend countless hours in anti-drug clinics, warning school children on the dangers of dope, only to go to work at night playing alongside ex-offenders such as Orlando Woolridge and, briefly, Dailey.
It is lovely that the Lakers believe in second chances. But they are also going to get burned from time to time if they keep it up.
There is a good chance that the Lakers will win only about 45-50 games this season. Pat Riley probably winces at the thought of this, and who can blame him? After all, he still has Magic, Scott, Green, James Worthy, etc., and the loss of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the loss of a player past his prime, in many minds.
Yet, unless Divac is even better than we think, and unless the Lakers can get off injury-free, we doubt that this is a 60-victory team. We would be delighted to be proven wrong, and would not put anything past Magic Johnson, including another NBA title.
The big thing holding up the Clippers is not Benito Benjamino and his special, reduced-fare, bed-and-breakfast, 48-hour scenic tour of Italy. Nor is it the now-you-see-him, now-you-don't drafting of Danny Ferry, when they could have had Sean Elliott or Glen Rice instead.
No, the main problem the Clippers have is when and if Danny Manning comes back. When Manning was in the lineup during his rookie season, the Clippers cooked. They had a fine front line and a couple of decent guards. No bench, but not a bad starting five.
With Manning in the lineup for, say, 60 games, the Clippers this season could win 30. That doesn't sound like much, but for the Clippers, it would be occasion for a parade past City Hall.
Detroit? Hey, L.A. people do not like to think in these terms, but the Pistons right now could be coming off championships back-to-back-to-back.
They had the Lakers beaten in Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals before it was taken from them, and nearly came back to beat them in Game 7. The year before, had Isiah Thomas not thrown that out-of-bounds pass into Larry Bird's hands, Detroit might have gone on to upset the Lakers in the finals. The Pistons were on a roll that year.