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ON THE NBA

Hornets Haven't Created Much Buzz

November 03, 2002|Mark Heisler

After escaping Sacramento last spring, the Lakers talked privately about Charles Oakley. Then they stomped the New Jersey Nets and their sense of urgency seemed to dissipate, along with their appetite for a mouthy tough guy on his last legs.

Meanwhile, big men went every which way, especially to rivals who knew they had to attack in waves. The Kings got Keon Clark for the $4.5-million exception. The San Antonio Spurs added Kevin Willis and Mengke Bateer on minimum-salary deals.

Last week Phil Jackson, exuding calm, as usual, joked about going 0-7 but it was more like advance notice just in case, hoping to avert panic in the streets.

Of course, by now Phil can handle these things in his sleep.

"We played the last year ... in Chicago without [Scottie] Pippen until January and we anticipated the same thing," said Jackson. "We started off slow. We ended up still tying Utah for the best record in the league."

Pippen got back so late because he was angry with management, which wasn't going to re-sign him, and postponed his surgery until just before camp.

The spring before, Jackson, also estranged from the front office, was given a window to entertain offers from other teams and actually did -- while the Bulls were still playing.

The Bulls started that last season 12-9 while Pippen called owner Jerry Reinsdorf a liar.

Now that was a mess.

On the other hand, the Eastern Conference didn't have challengers as good as the Kings or Spurs. You remember how hard it was for the Lakers to get out of the West last season? It hasn't gotten any easier.

Of course, problems are one thing. Hopelessness is another.

The Clippers, composed mostly of young players inevitably fixated on long-term contracts, was dismayed en masse when owner Donald T. Sterling failed to re-sign Michael Olowokandi or Elton Brand.

Time will tell if they can get past it, and not much time either. Their season is two games old and already teetering.

Faces and Figures

Not that Bill Walton isn't capable of saying something that hurt O'Neal's feelings, but weight is the wrong issue to get defensive about. It's true that even at 350 to 360 pounds, Shaq can play at pretty close to his usual level, suggesting to him that it's OK. However, there's no way that the extra stress on his feet and joints can be anything but destructive. This isn't likely to be the last time he's hurt.... Hello, Dark Ages: The New York Knicks, who ran their sellout streak to nine seasons by whatever accounting means necessary, now have tickets available for all games. The end of the streak -- 433 after Saturday's home opener -- is expected Monday.... Don't do the crime if you can't do the time: These days, it takes a few games before all the guys who were suspended over the summer are back. Dallas Maverick Coach Don Nelson and his assistant/son Donnie, had to miss the opener for watching draft-ineligible players work out in Yugoslavia. While the team cruised in Memphis, owner Mark Cuban sponsored a party at a Dallas restaurant, which the Nelsons attended in black-and-white-striped prison suits.... The Knicks' Antonio McDyess suffered his season-ending knee injury with 1:55 left in an exhibition, after playing 38 minutes. Said Net Coach Byron Scott: "I'd just never play my guys a lot of minutes in the preseason. If that's going to happen to my guys, it's going to happen in the first quarter because they're not going to be in it in the fourth." Fumed Knick Coach Don Chaney: "I run this team the way I run this team."

That's so both of you: In a Utah Jazz intrasquad game, Karl Malone, claiming his team had been short-changed, harangued a PR aide into putting two more points on the scoreboard. Then John Stockton, playing on the other team, got so upset, the aide gave his team two more points too.... At a symposium of commissioners, the NHL's Gary Bettman praised his owners, at which point his old boss, Stern, joked, "Quit sucking up to your owners." Replied Bettman: "I learned that from the master."

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