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MIKE PENNER

Expansion, Big Men, Clippers and Other Theories

November 04, 1994|MIKE PENNER

The state of the NBA, circa Opening Night, 1994-95 Season. All trends, idle thoughts and crackpot theories considered . . .

* International expansion, the NBA's first step toward its own manifest destiny--i.e., world domination--sounds like a good idea in Canada, where watching old TV clips of Don Cherry interviewing Doug Gilmour has become the national pastime. Smog levels being what they are in Mexico City, an air-conditioned indoor game should be a hit there, too. But booking two games between the Clippers and the Portland Trail Blazers in Yokohama, Japan--tonight and Saturday--is one fine way to ensure the everlasting popularity of sumo wrestling.

* What's the difference between the Clippers playing their home games in The Pond of Anaheim or the L.A. Sports Arena? About 12,000 paying customers. With a roster that might place them in the middle of the CBA, the Clippers drew 18,000-plus to an exhibition at The Pond last month. Clip and save: The Clippers will lead the league in average attendance for the six home games they play in Anaheim, will finish last for the other 34 they play in L.A.

* The best pro basketball player in the world? It's still Michael Jordan.

* Unless it's Magic Johnson.

* What does it say about a league when two retired guys would finish 1-2 in the MVP voting if they decided to wage twin comebacks? Welcome to the NBA's Bronze Age.

* Among non-retired guys, the best player out there, aching back and all, remains Charles Barkley. He's also all but cornered the league's current market on charisma, no matter how many units of the "Shaq-Fu" video game get sold before Christmas. Give Dream Team I a week to loosen up and they'd beat DTII by 15 to 20 points.

* The best player in Los Angeles-Anaheim? Excluding the smiling, nattily dressed, 6-foot-8-inch minority owner sitting behind the Laker bench? All together, Titan fans: Ced-ric Ce-ball-os.

* What was that about L.A. being a city of superstars? With Wayne Gretzky and Mike Piazza on temporary-to-permanent sabbatical, the preeminent sports star in the greater Los Angeles basin is . . . Jeff Hostetler?

* The era of the big man is upon us, as you might have heard. Supporting evidence: Hakeem Olajuwon wins a championship for Houston, Patrick Ewing loses in the final, Shaquille O'Neal could win a playoff game this season. You might also have heard that Phoenix is favored to win the title this season. Phoenix, with Joe (The Dream) Kleine starting at center.

* Then again, if Don Nelson can be moved to scrap his Doughnut-By-The-Bay playbook and trade for Rony Seikaly, maybe there is something to this big-man momentum swing. When fully assembled, the Golden State Warriors are the most intriguing team in the league--Seikaly in the middle, flanked by Chris Webber and Chris Mullin, with Tim Hardaway and Latrell Sprewell in the backcourt, and Ricky Pierce coming off the bench. However, as of opening tipoff, Webber is holding out, Mullin is out with a knee injury, Hardaway is just back from knee surgery and rehab, and Pierce is approaching, what, his 53rd birthday? Could win 60, or 35, without surprising a soul.

* A friend and I were running down the Clippers' starting lineup--never a difficult thing, I know--when he asked, "Who do they have at shooting guard?" To which I replied, "Terry Dehere." To which my friend began to laugh hysterically over the phone. The Clippers have become the Bill Murray of basketball. Just one look--they don't have to do a thing--and you're biting your cheeks and holding your sides.

* Seriously, now, the Clippers' starting five, on a good night, should be Dehere and Pooh Richardson at guard, Loy Vaught and Lamond Murray at forward and Elmore Spencer at center. In 1972-73, the Philadelphia 76ers went 9-73 while starting Fred Carter (20 points per game) and Freddie Boyd (10.5) at guard, Tom Van Arsdale (17.7) and Leroy Ellis (13.7) at forward and Manny Leaks (11.0) at center. A 22-year-old NBA record teeters on the brink.

* How about those ex-Clippers? Danny Manning, Dominique Wilkins, Mark Jackson and Ron Harper all left the Donald T. ranch in the last eight months. Find this group a center and they win the NBA Central, easy.

* Seventy million dollars, guaranteed, for Glenn Robinson? Big Dog's got to eat.

* And Robinson might not be the best rookie in the league. Detroit's Grant Hill, an off-the-rack bargain at less than $50 million, completely overshadowed Robinson in Duke's NCAA quarterfinal victory over Purdue last spring and has done nothing this preseason to suggest that performance was a fluke.

* Dick Motta, Bill Fitch, Del Harris. Unlike the league's superstar quotient, the league's old boy network has never been stronger. Credit, or blame, the work of such recent rookie coaches as Quinn Buckner and Sidney Lowe, who nearly toppled franchises in Dallas and Minnesota. Better retread than dead, the wise NBA owner--or even Donald Sterling--says.

* Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward could push the New York Knicks over the top. They already had the linebackers and the pass rush.

* Dennis Rodman. More proof that fact is stranger than fiction.

* A Phoenix-Orlando final? Sounds nice, except the Suns need three basketballs and the Magic needs 11 playoff victories to get there.

* A Houston-New York rematch? Hockey, help us.

* Speaking of hockey, remember that Sports Illustrated cover last spring proclaiming the NHL to be hot and the NBA to be not? Can we have a recount?

* You don't suppose David Stern could have hornswoggled his old first lieutenant by assuring Gary Bettman (wink, wink) that he'd lock out his players if Bettman locked out his--strength in solidarity and all that--and then pulled the rug out from under Bettman after the NHL's first month was shot, leaving an action-starved public ready to embrace the NBA again? A future film study for Oliver Stone, I say.

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