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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : After a Few Bumps, It's Time to Let Them Play

November 05, 1995|Mark Heisler

Whew!

Talk about your nervous off-seasons.

For a while it looked as if there wouldn't be a season and we would get to spend months asking millionaires' lawyers which of their clients was the victim. We reserve our right to criticize David Stern, Esq. (see below) but he gets high marks for dodging this bullet.

Then there was concern money and fame would turn this league corporate like the NFL, or surly like baseball. It will, of course, but it's nice to report that in the exhibition season, Chris Webber, Allan Bristow, Dennis Rodman, et al, have shown there's still nothing like the NBA.

To all of you who have filled up this column and will fill so many more, thanks for being.

LAKERS: THE CAVALRY IS COMING (SOMETIME)

Of course, it may not get here for a year or two.

And then, you can't tell who it's going to be: Dikembe Mutombo? David Robinson? Somebody else?

With the Laker name, Jerry Buss' largess, a roster of young players and the ability to go $9 million under the salary cap next summer, all they know is, they're in position to make something good happen.

In the meantime, Coach Del Harris and the guys have to keep it together. This may be tougher than it appears, seeing as how they won 48 games last season and might have challenged 55 if Cedric Ceballos, Eddie Jones and Sedale Threatt had not had injury problems.

They won't sneak up on anyone again. They are not only bad rebounders--26th on the defensive boards last season--they were also outshot from the floor, took fewer free throws than opponents and scored fewer points.

Harris notes that the Lakers, an open-court team, took some poundings on nights they didn't come ready, and blew out few teams themselves. Nevertheless, their margin of error was thin. They may be a coming team but, for the moment, they're a dominating player away from dominant.

CLIPPERS: DOCTOR, WE HAVE A PULSE!

It's always heartening when a man sticks his neck out as far as Bill Fitch did in trading Antonio McDyess to see that he knew what he was talking about.

Fitch said Brian Williams, a talented but flighty power forward, was really a center and this exhibition season proved him right. Williams has to show he can avoid the mood swings that have taken him to three teams in five years; potentially awesome Rodney Rogers is still tiptoeing around and promising Brent Barry is a rookie, but they have a chance to make it work.

(Myself, I'd have taken McDyess but Fitch and I proceeded from different assumptions. He thought they couldn't go through another 17-victory season. I thought that after letting their last nucleus depart, they were entitled to another one and it would increase their chances at Tim Duncan or Ray Allen.)

However, the new labor contract is a guillotine hanging over the reputationally challenged, freeing rookies after three seasons, so there's something to be said for breaking the cycle of despair.

In any event, the Clippers look a lot better. Now it's time for the boys upstairs to do their part: Where's that new arena we've been hearing about for the last five years? If they want to end any cycles, they'll need some bodies in seats.

BULLETIN: WEBBER'S UNHAPPY

Now 23 and going into his third pro season with a new $57-million, six-year contract, we find our hero has once again encountered hard times.

Once again, hard times are winning.

Webber, sidelined with another dislocated shoulder, is upset at Washington Bullet doctors, General Manager John Nash, the Mark Price deal, any deal he doesn't sign off on and anyone who construes his legitimate criticisms as complaints.

On trading a No. 1 pick for Price:

"We were going to make the playoffs with or without Mark Price. Don't get me wrong. He's going to make us a better team. He's going to make me a better player with his knowledge and experience. But he's not the ultimate piece. . . .

"The guy who is the starting point guard now might be the backup when we win the championship. I don't just want to win this year. . . . That's a steppingstone. I would rather build now and lose with guys like Rasheed Wallace and Juwan Howard."

On trading for Robert Pack:

"If you say Juwan and I are the backbone of the team, why wouldn't you ask the backbone before making a move like this? I don't have any opinion about the trade. There's no way Juwan and I can be compared to Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen--we're light years away. But they were consulted before Chicago traded for Dennis Rodman.

"I don't want to sound like I'm complaining and I know this is how it's going to be perceived."

Maybe they could trade him to some other promising young team, like Golden State.

DEAR 'EASY DAVE,' SEEN YOUR REFS?

According to the referees' figures, their salaries and benefits amount to 0.5%--that's half of 1%--of the NBA's $1.3-billion revenues, raising a question:

Why is a league that prides itself on labor peace (Stern once said to call him "Easy Dave") doing this?

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