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The Inside Track | The Morning After

Bruin Fans Can Learn From Kapono's Decision

May 15, 2000|TIM KAWAKAMI

The high points, low points and ticklish talking points of the weekend that was:

At a certain stage, after a certain awkward amount of motor-mouthing and neglectful decay, a basketball program and its supporters surrender the right to lay judgment on anyone--including quirky teenage NBA wannabes--from a moral, logical or financial perspective.

On Saturday, UCLA, hoop fans, the media and sharpshooter Jason Kapono all seemed to reach that moment together, and not proudly.

Sure, on the face of it, Kapono's choice to test the NBA waters after a single season at UCLA seems oddly premature.

He leaves next season's Bruin team badly and baldly on the hook, totally dependent on Coach Steve Lavin's fascinating ability to survive impending doom, if not his underutilized coaching powers. But this isn't the UCLA of John Wooden or even Jim Harrick, and maybe this once and for all decides it. . . .

* Don't be naive: Kapono did not come to UCLA to blossom under Lavin's steady hand or pave his future with an undergraduate degree.

Kapono was an unabashed pro-in-waiting, and that's basically how he landed in Westwood in the first place. He figured it was the fastest path to the NBA, and turns out, it was.

* Don't be foolish: Kapono, the youngest but the savviest Bruin last season, isn't ruining his life or career.

He won't be a first-round pick? Cal Bowdler was a No. 1 last season; Tim James was too; Kenny Thomas . . . Kapono is better than all of them, with far more upside potential, and this is a weaker field.

He'll get three years of guaranteed millions, become a free agent years earlier than most, and maybe turn into a very good player.

* Don't be anxious: With every downswing in UCLAVIN-land, there is always a corresponding and equal upswing due to arrive, probably in the form of a few huge recruits.

* Don't be fooled again: This is what UCLA got when it hired Lavin--constant turnover, lots of bright talents but little structure for them, or reason to stick around for very long.

THE BIG PICTURE

Do you have to be a born-and-bred hockey person to decode the many mysteries of the NHL playoffs?

I admit to closely monitoring Puck Heaven only every May, when the playoffs are in full gear, the Stanley Cup engraver starts to sweat and many complicated questions come to mind:

* If Larry Robinson was too soft as a man and coach when he was behind the boards for the Kings, why are the New Jersey Devils hard-edged, footloose and almost invincible with him now?

* Am I being heretical, stupid or a loud combination of both, if I suggest that the Devils are flourishing under Robinson because they are blessed with solid leaders more than they are with raging talent and that, gulp, King defender Rob Blake may never be the leadership force he was expected to be?

* Was the failing more of the Kings' internal makeup, and the front office's inability to fix it, than it was of Robinson's coaching and motivating skills?

* Is Eric Lindros the Charles Barkley of hockey?

* Why is Wayne Gretzky being offered (and deeply considering) a major ownership position with the Phoenix Coyotes, and not the Kings or any of the Canadian teams you would assume would slice off major appendages to attach his name to theirs?

* With Michael Jordan running the Washington Wizards and Gretzky negotiating with Phoenix, what's next . . . Joe Montana in charge of the Tennessee Titans?

WEEKEND TALKING POINTS

1. Bob Knight, under fire: He broke a vase near the head of a secretary. He whomped on several Indiana officials. That's not a temper problem, that's just life with a diva. You go, guy!

2. 1988: It was Orel Hershiser's glory season. But it's nearly this season's ERA.

3. Rickey Henderson, released: He can still play, he says. For a contending team, he could be a social-security blanket.

4. The Lakers: NBA conventional wisdom now tilts toward Portland. But NBA conventional wisdom is always goofy. What have the Trail Blazers done to Utah that the Lakers couldn't?

5. NBC's implausibly delayed Sydney Olympics: Network announces it will televise almost nothing live. Kind of like its NBA playoff coverage.

6. My predictions: Yes, I guaranteed the 76ers would beat Indiana. And smack the Pacers. And knock them down. And get suspended. And lose the series.

7. Cheryl Miller: Why should she get heat for interviewing her brother when Ahmad Rashad has interviewed someone far dearer to him-- Jordan.

8. That over-the-backboard Anthony Carter shot: Sure, it was illegal. But with the Knicks and Heat, just about every possession violates multiple laws of physics, logic and good taste.

9. Your men's world No. 1 tennis player: It's Magnus Norman. I think the ATP made this guy up to see if we were paying attention. We're not.

10. Fred Hickman: CNN anchor considers his MVP vote for Allen Iverson his right to free speech. Actually, the Constitution applies only to NBA rookie of the year.

LEADING QUESTIONS

OK, after watching Roy Jones Jr.'s 11th-round technical-knockout devastation of Richard Hall, isn't it time for drastic measures?

To make things interesting for the sport's best pound-for-pound fighter, do we have to blow up Felix Trinidad to 165 pounds, hand him $20 million and send him at Jones?

Do we have to put Jones in the ring with Mike Tyson or Evander Holyfield?

Maybe ask Oscar De La Hoya to graze the Las Vegas buffet line for about four months and then come after Jones at 160 pounds?

How can boxing keep our attention if its most glorious product is bored out of his skull--even when he's demolishing someone else's?

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