Inside The NBA

April 11, 1999

GETTING THE POINT
Will Terrell Brandon and the post-Marbury Timberwolves tie the
knot?

Stephon Marbury fled Minnesota for New Jersey a month ago, yet
his shadow still falls halfway across the country over the
Timberwolves' efforts to rebuild. You can't scrap one blueprint
and then draw up a new one overnight.

When Minnesota constructed its offense, it was designed around
Marbury, a penetrating point guard who dominates the ball, plays
with reckless abandon and wants--or even demands--the final
shot. But now the point guard is Terrell Brandon, and he's
trying to run a team built to showcase Marbury's talents, not
his. Brandon, who came from Milwaukee in the three-way deal that
sent Marbury closer to his beloved Coney Island, is not a
slasher; he relies on a sweet midrange jump shot. He's not an
ankle breaker; he likes to work the pick-and-roll, a two-man
game Marbury has little interest in. "It's hard," Brandon
admits. "I'm still trying to get adjusted to my teammates. And I
can feel them looking at me as well."

The lack of familiarity was evident in his first couple of
weeks--the Timberwolves lost four straight after the
trade--although it would be unfair to blame that solely on the
new guy. "The biggest problem was that our entire backcourt was
demolished," says Minnesota general manager and coach Flip
Saunders. "We traded Stephon, and at the same time we lost
[Anthony] Peeler and [Malik] Sealy to injuries. So not only was
there no practice time to help Terrell get acclimated, there
wasn't anyone in the backcourt who had been there and could help
him."

Brandon is nevertheless adapting to his new team. He capped off
a strong week with a career-high 16 assists in a win over
Sacramento last Saturday, the Timberwolves' fifth victory in six
games. Each time he and star forward Kevin Garnett take the
court together, they learn something new about each other, and
with Sealy (sprained left ankle and right thumb) due back this
week and Peeler (strained left calf) expected to return shortly
thereafter, Minnesota is looking to make a run in the playoffs.

The Bucks were willing to trade Brandon because he will become a
free agent after this season. Brandon never told the Bucks he
wouldn't re-sign; he simply wanted to keep his options open. New
Milwaukee coach George Karl, however, was determined to
establish stability. "I felt it was going to be a distraction,
and why should I start out without a committed team?" Karl says.
"Ray [Allen] had committed to us. Glenn [Robinson] had
committed. And now we have Sam [Cassell], who will be here for a
while."

If Brandon signs with the Timberwolves, the team will
undoubtedly bring in personnel that complement his strengths.
That's an attractive scenario for a player who has suited up for
four coaches (Saunders, Karl, Ford and Mike Fratello) in the
past three seasons, but Brandon plays on without tipping his
hand. Minnesota, meanwhile, is also keeping its point options
open. The courtship is going nicely, but neither side is quite
ready to commit.

The Hornets Sale
WILL MICHAEL BEAT OUT BET?

The news that Charlotte owner George Shinn was negotiating a
50-50 ownership deal with Michael Jordan surfaced on March 27,
but Shinn decided in mid-February that he needed a partner in
order to hang on to his faltering franchise. That, team and
league sources say, is when he paid a visit to commissioner
David Stern to ask for help finding someone wealthy and
charismatic enough to inject new life into the Hornets.

Stern had an immediate, and emphatic, suggestion: Michael
Jordan. Stern arranged a mid-March meeting between Jordan and
Shinn, whose popularity has plummeted in Charlotte because of
his penny-pinching management style--which has led to the
departure of many of the Hornets' best players as well as
respected coach Dave Cowens--and allegations by a local woman
who is suing him for assault and false imprisonment. (Shinn
denies the allegations and has filed a countersuit.) The owner
also recently went through a divorce and could probably use an
infusion of capital as well as a little positive p.r.

The odds on Jordan's becoming an owner are growing shorter by
the day. One sticking point will be Jordan's insistence that
Shinn agree to remain deep in the background (i.e., at his
Florida residence) and allow Jordan to be the primary decision
maker.

This proposed marriage would leave everyone living happily ever
after--except for Bob Johnson, the CEO and founder of Black
Entertainment Television (BET), who has been quietly putting
together a possible bid for the Hornets. Johnson, who in recent
weeks refused to comment on his company's interest in buying the
team, broke his silence in an interview with SI last Thursday.
"We have made a decision to bid aggressively for the Charlotte
Hornets, given the chance," Johnson said. "If Mr. Shinn
announces he's holding an auction and everyone should show up
with their money, we'll be there in the front row.

"But if it's going to be a no-bid business, controlled by a
network of insiders like David Falk and Michael Jordan, then we
won't have much of a chance, and that's disappointing."

Stern's motives in encouraging the Shinn-Jordan partnership are
self-evident. The NBA has not been pleased with Shinn's recent
legal troubles and the bad publicity they have generated, nor
have league officials been encouraged by the feeling among
prominent Charlotte businessmen that a new arena could be built
only if Shinn is out of the picture.

Johnson can only speculate on why Stern hasn't offered him the
same helping hand he has offered Jordan. Two years ago BET
televised games of the now defunct ABL--the direct competitor of
the WNBA--but Johnson has another theory about why his company
is getting no favors. "I've been told by other parties that
commissioner Stern does not want BET involved in the NBA because
one of our original investors and partners is John Malone,"
Johnson says.

Malone is a cable television maverick who is chairman of
Tele-Communications Inc. In a partnership with News Corporation
chairman Rupert Murdoch, he runs Fox Sports Net/Liberty Media,
which has systematically bought the local rights to 26 NBA
teams. League observers say that Fox/Liberty has irked NBA
officials by giving the impression that, like NBC and Turner
Sports, which have paid the league exorbitant fees for national
broadcast rights, it is an official network of the NBA.

Reached last Friday, Stern said BET's connection to Malone would
have "no bearing whatsoever" on its chances of landing a
franchise, pointing out that Malone's network pays "enormous
sums to our individual teams" for the right to broadcast games.
"We have no problem at all with Mr. Malone," Stern said. "If
anything, we're trying to increase the business we do with
[him]. Let me make this clear: I would love for Bob Johnson to
be an owner in the NBA."

What Stern left unsaid is that it will not happen in Charlotte.
Sources close to the situation say that Shinn does not want to
sell the team--he only wants a partner. At least six other
groups besides Johnson's have contacted Shinn, but the sources
say he has told them all he's not interested.

It appears, however, that Johnson is not prepared to take no for
an answer. "We have the money to buy a team," said Johnson. "We
have the brand name to promote it in the marketplace. Many of
the young [NBA] players enjoy BET and would most likely
appreciate an association with it. We are a minority-owned
company, and this is a league that says time and time again it
would like to promote minority ownership. I find it a little
strange there isn't a place for us."

Detroit's Squeaky Wheel
LAETTNER BACK IN FORM

The conservative thinking was that Christian Laettner, who
ruptured his right Achilles tendon last September, would not
play this season. But Laettner, who came to Detroit in a
sign-and-trade deal with Atlanta on Jan. 22, made his Pistons
debut on March 17. His numbers were modest (8.5 points, 4.3
rebounds per game), but his impact was felt almost immediately.
He brashly called a team meeting less than two weeks into his
Detroit tenure to urge his new teammates to adopt a more
professional approach. The result: The Pistons won six straight
with him in the lineup. "He's different," says Detroit's
franchise player, Grant Hill, who also teamed with the
notoriously prickly Laettner at Duke, "but he wants to win, and
he knows how to win, and we needed some of that."

At week's end Laettner was on the shelf again, this time with a
broken rib he suffered on April 1, but he is expected to be back
before the playoffs begin. While Laettner is a true power
forward, he has logged minutes at center everywhere he has
played, and the Pistons hope that his return will spur center
Bison Dele into a more conscientious effort in games and
practices. Dele's lackadaisical style has frustrated his
teammates, including Hill.

Laettner knows plenty about being unpopular. His previous gig
was in Atlanta, where he averaged a career-low 13.8 points per
game and lost his starting job to Alan Henderson. Ask Laettner
what led to his departure from the Hawks and, predictably, he
pulls no punches. "[Atlanta vice president and general manager]
Pete Babcock told me the media ran me out of town," Laettner says.

Babcock says he never said anything of the sort, adding that the
Hawks were interested in re-signing Laettner and that trading
him was "a business decision based on a difference of opinion on
his value." In other words, Atlanta decided that Laettner's not
as good as he thinks he is.

Detroit thinks Laettner is plenty good and looks forward to
having him for the postseason, aware that his strong play comes
with his strong opinions. "As long as the guy backs it up," says
Pistons coach Alvin Gentry, "it's fine with me."

The Fine Line
KENDALL GILL, NETS

April 3 versus Miami: 40 minutes, 6-of-15 FG, 3-of-6 FT, 15
points, 10 rebounds, 11 steals. Gill, the subject of constant
trade rumors under former coach John Calipari, had the third
triple double of his career (his first as a Net) and tied the
NBA record for steals in an 88-77 New Jersey win. Gill also
blocked two shots and had no turnovers.

Send your NBA questions to Phil Taylor at www.cnnsi.com.

COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBA PHOTOS After a slow start with the Timberwolves, Brandon has his new team up and running again. COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Hill (above) is happy to be reunited with Laettner.

Brick of the Week

During his team's 100-98 victory over the Nets on March 30,
Magic power forward Horace Grant heaved--and missed badly--a
desperation half-court shot, only to discover there were still
six seconds left in the second quarter. "At halftime my
teammates wanted me to pee in a cup, like take a drug test,"
Grant joked. "Maybe I should start watching the clock a little
closer." Grant atoned for his mistake by hitting the
game-winning shot, this from a more manageable 16 feet, with
16.6 seconds left.

Around The Rim

UConn coach Jim Calhoun, riding high from his first NCAA
championship, has zero interest in any other college job but
admits to a fascination with the NBA. "[Former Lakers coach] Del
Harris has been bugging me for two years to think about it,"
says Calhoun, "but the only way it would happen is if someone
offered me silly money." Like what former Nets coach John
Calipari banked?...

Chicago players say veteran Ron Harper has practiced little but
harped plenty on the good old days, while Toni Kukoc, regularly
maligned by Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil
Jackson in those old days, is the team's leader and best player.
Kukoc's contract is up next summer, and the Bulls are concerned
that he'll return to Europe to finish his career with icon
status and a far easier schedule....

Sacramento point guard Jason Williams has been slapped back down
to earth by the usual suspects: rookie fatigue and attentive
opponents who don't want to show up on his SportsCenter
highlight reel. Williams has also been shooting poorly and
quickly for the last month; Kings coaches are imploring him to
at least glance at the 24-second shot before hoisting it up. In
a 10-game stretch through Sunday, Williams shot 28.2% from the
floor....

Everyone knows the surprisingly dim Suns miss the athleticism of
Antonio McDyess, but they also miss the one-on-one skills of
Kevin Johnson. While Jason Kidd has MVP-type numbers, no one
else in Phoenix seems able to create scoring opportunities.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)