By this time usually there aren't more than three or four serious contenders for the championship. But this year is different.
"There are what, seven, eight, nine teams that could win this thing?'' said San Antonio's
I can't imagine he truly thinks it's great. Great for us maybe, but not for him. As close as the West playoff race is, his Spurs were one game out of the conference lead through Thursday -- and three games the other way from dropping into seventh place.
The rankings below aren't based on my preseason pick, to which I remain clung despite all reason -- Dallas over Detroit in the NBA Finals. Please consider what follows as an up-to-date appraisal that I'm sure will elicit much dissent. Which, of course, is why I'm doing it.
"I'm a little worried about them,'' an advance scout for an Eastern Conference team said. "Teams that have competed with Phoenix by running back at them are going to be successful now because the Suns have a guy that can't run now. If you have a mobile center, the Suns are going to be in trouble.''
"I didn't think they would ever do that,'' a Western Conference scout said of the Suns' trade for Shaq. "I don't think it helped them. They can't go to him in the last five minutes, because you're going to foul him. Also, teams are going to pick-and-roll them to death, and now they can't switch that stuff like they used to when they were going small. [
Yet I maintain (stubbornly, I admit) that the Suns will look better in the grind of the playoffs than in the regular season. Yes, their ups and downs are disturbing in comparison to the high standard they've established in seasons past. But think ahead to the playoffs when the games slow down and they'll have to tough it out in the half court. They'll be tougher in those games,
Defense has always been a concern in Phoenix. But those worries are more than offset by a lineup of Stoudemire, Shaq,
"It would be hard for them if their backup plan was to use
So long as players such as Cassell and center
"They aren't as deep offensively as some of these other teams,'' the East scout said. "If Ray Allen isn't on, then they're in a little bit of trouble, because he gets a lot of buckets in transition. Rondo won't be the worst point guard ever in the playoffs; he'll be OK. But they need that backup there ...''
That statement was made before Cassell was waived by the Clippers. Now it's a matter of achieving good health and peaking in time for the playoffs.
They are the one team in the East with a chance to win the matchups against Boston.
"When things get tight in the playoffs, who knows if the pressure gets to [rookie guard
But this scout nonetheless rates Detroit as the likely winner in the East -- indeed, the Pistons are his favorites to beat San Antonio in the NBA Finals. The Pistons claim to be building toward the playoffs as they failed to do the previous few years, and their anger from those postseason losses is simmering.
With the exception of
"You can't say they were overhauled -- they got somebody in [
The Lakers have been competing for the West's No. 1 seed while awaiting the return of center
"Their bench has been coming on,'' the scout added. "[
This has the makings of an extraordinary sequel. "L.A. and Boston, that would be the dream Finals,'' the West scout said.
What a story that would be. One year ago, few personnel bosses were as vulnerable or second-guessed as
"It's too close to not give them the benefit of the doubt in a seven-game series,'' the West scout said. "It's not only their experience but all of the time they've been playing together. I don't think they're too old. They've got two guys [in
"Ginobili is playing at top form right now,'' the East scout said. "They execute so well in the playoffs, and Duncan is just so good.''
The only question here is whether you think the Spurs are too gray. But note that their rivals -- including Phoenix, Dallas and Boston -- made trades to get older. It used to be that teams would acquire size in hopes of matching up against Shaq; now they trade for experience in to order to execute at the Spurs' level.
These teams are in the second tier of contention ...
"The Kidd trade will help Dirk and [
The Mavs sacrificed depth in the Kidd trade, and they'll miss the defense of
"Unbelievable elevation -- I mean
"O'Rei'' -- the King, as he was also known in his native São Paolo, Brazil -- exerted his talents in all phases of the game.
"Blocked shots, boards, screens, passes -- not unlike [former Italian star]
"He changed the shape of any game he played in. You could not drive on him or he'd block the shot. If you went to the offensive board, he'd take the rebound and outlet it and you'd be outnumbered. Coaching against guys like that is a nightmare.''
I've talked to
I have the sense that voters are waiting for the modern Brazilian star,
"The guy won,'' Peterson said of Ubiratan. "They talk about Oscar Schmidt. Please. Great shooter, great scorer, beat the U.S. in Indy [at the Pan American Games] in '87. That's about it. My comparison is this: Oscar scores 45 in a big game but loses; Ubiratan scores 12 in a big game but wins.''
To become a truly international Hall of Fame, a player like Ubiratan must be recognized. His legend tells the story of how Brazil grew as a basketball nation capable of producing Schmidt as well as current NBA players
"The guy was so good he played two years in Venice in Italy's Series A,'' Peterson said. "Back then, every single 'foreign' player, with few exceptions, was an American. He was one of the few exceptions.'' According to Peterson, Ubiratan averaged 18.9 points and 17.2 rebounds over those two seasons in Italy.
The Hall is serious about becoming a unifying force for world basketball. That is why it must double its efforts by recognizing historical giants like Ubiratan.
Chad was referring to the argument I made last week in reference to the idea of NBA overseas expansion: It's OK for a teenager from Serbia, Italy or France to travel here to play professionally, but it's asking too much for young Americans to move abroad in pursuit of their career?
Of course there are going to be problems if the NBA places franchise in Europe. Many American players will complain about playing overseas, but that doesn't mean they'll be in the right. The day will come when playing for the NBA is going to be an international experience, and it will go forward regardless of how some players feel about it.
I must disagree with Chad. Look at the rosters of the Euroleague clubs: Greeks are playing in Russia, Croats are playing in Spain and Americans are playing everywhere. The last 50 years of international basketball have proved that American players can adapt to any culture or environment.
The bigger issue is the dream of playing basketball at the highest level. If a player wants to achieve that dream, then crossing borders is going to be part of the mission regardless of whether the player comes from Italy or the United States. Some players aren't going to like it, but as always they'll be well-compensated for their trouble.
According to Cleveland owner
The owners negotiate the CBA to keep costs down, while the union negotiates to maximize salaries for active players. So how is it that this thick rule book compelled a salary of $4.3 million to be invented on behalf of a semiretired player like