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THE NBA / 1993-94 SEASON PREVIEW : WESTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW : Key Trades Give SuperSonics a Window of Opportunity


Coach George Karl of the Seattle SuperSonics thinks he has three years to win an NBA championship or look for a new job.

After coming within one victory of reaching the NBA finals last season, the SuperSonics acquired All-Star forward Detlef Schrempf from the Indiana Pacers and guard Kendall Gill from the Charlotte Hornets.

And Karl hopes they will keep him off the unemployment line.

"This puts us in a situation where we've got to produce," Karl said. "We've opened up a two- to three-year window to contend for the championship. If we don't win a championship in two to three years, we should be scrutinized very closely."

With the addition of Schrempf, who averaged 19.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and six assists last season, and Gill, who averaged 16.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists, the SuperSonics might be able to overtake Phoenix to win the Western Conference title.

The Suns, who posted the NBA's best record last season and came within two victories of winning the NBA championship, gave Charles Barkley two new teammates, signing former Laker forward A.C. Green and free-agent center Joe Kleine.

"Our minimum goal is we hope to win the championship," Sun Coach Paul Westphal said. "We won't be happy if we don't win it, but that doesn't mean we're not realistic about the fact that it's conceivable that we won't. There's a lot of great teams.

"I don't even consider ourselves the favorite. I say there's five teams in the West--Seattle, Portland, Houston, San Antonio and Phoenix--who, if you put them in a bag and pull out one, you have as good a chance of being right as anyone."

A team-by-team look at the Western Conference, in predicted order of finish:


* Coach: George Karl (third season).

* 1992-93 Record: 55-27.

* Outlook: After coming within one game of reaching the NBA finals last season, the SuperSonics think they can contend for the NBA title this season after making two key trades. First, the SuperSonics acquired Gill from the Charlotte Hornets for forward Eddie Johnson and guard Dana Barros in September. Monday, Seattle acquired Schrempf from the Indiana Pacers for forward Derrick McKey and swingman Gerald Paddio. Gill, who was nearly traded to the Clippers for Danny Manning on draft day, will start at shooting guard, moving Ricky Pierce, who has led the team in scoring the last two seasons, back to the bench, where he has flourished as a sixth man. Schrempf, the NBA's sixth man of the year in 1991 and 1992, averaged a career-high 19.1 points last season and is expected to replace McKey at small forward, joining Shawn Kemp and former Laker Sam Perkins in the front court. Kemp averaged 17.8 points and 10.7 rebounds last season as the SuperSonics posted the second-best record in team history.


* Coach: Paul Westphal (second season).

* 1992-93: 62-20.

* Outlook: If Charles Barkley's back holds up, the Suns could be back in the NBA finals this season. "The Barkley scare was a little bit overblown nationally," Westphal said. "He got thrown out (of an exhibition game in Atlanta last month) so things are back to normal." Barkley, who averaged 25.6 points and 12.2 rebounds en route to winning the MVP award, said the Suns could win 70 games this season. They probably won't, but if point guard Kevin Johnson can avoid injuries and Barkley has another strong season, the Suns have a chance to win the Western Conference title again. With forward Richard Dumas in drug rehab, the Suns, who didn't re-sign free agent forward Tom Chambers, added muscle by signing Green and Kleine.


* Coach: Rick Adelman (sixth season).

* 1992-93: 51-31.

* Outlook: Center Kevin Duckworth helped the Trail Blazers reach the NBA finals twice in three seasons, but he became disgruntled last season after losing his starting job and was traded to the Washington Bullets for forward Harvey Grant. With the addition of Grant and free-agent center Chris Dudley from the New Jersey Nets, the Trail Blazers could post their fifth consecutive 50-victory season. If Clyde Drexler, who sat out 33 games last season because of injuries, can stay fit, Portland has a shot at reaching the Western Conference finals for the fourth time in five years.


* Coach: Bob Weiss (first season).

* 1992-93: 41-41.

* Outlook: If Danny Manning and Ron Harper, who become unrestricted free agents at the end of the season, have good seasons, the Clippers could make the playoffs for the third season in a row. Loy Vaught will replace Ken Norman as the Clippers' starting power forward. Center Stanley Roberts, who lost 35 pounds this summer, gained some of the weight back before training camp opened and sat out much of training camp because of a back injury and a blister. The Clippers strengthened their bench by acquiring Mark Aguirre, who was waived by the Detroit Pistons, and free-agent forward Tom Tolbert.


* Coach: Randy Pfund (second season).

* 1992-93: 39-43.

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