Inside The NBA

December 23, 2002

Van Hailin'
The Nets made Keith Van Horn a goat, but the Sixers sing his
praises

Keith Van Horn helped lead his team to the Finals last season,
but instead of getting a pat on the back he got shoved out the
door. Though he led the Nets in rebounding (7.5 per game) and
ranked second in scoring average (14.8 points), they shipped him
to the 76ers in August amid complaints about his leaky defense,
streaky shooting and lack of toughness inside. Van Horn still
wonders why New Jersey focused on his faults and discounted his
contributions. "It was frustrating because you felt like you gave
everything to an organization, you sacrificed a lot to get to the
championship level," says Van Horn, who was dealt with Todd
MacCulloch for Dikembe Mutombo.

Part of the problem, the 6'10" Van Horn believes, was that he
never fit into the Nets' Princeton offense. "It was difficult for
me to get a smaller defender into the post and take advantage of
mismatches," he says.

That's not an issue in Philadelphia, where coach Larry Brown
tells Van Horn loudly and frequently to play close to the basket.
While Brown admits that he made the trade mainly to give the
76ers more depth and payroll flexibility, he was eager to develop
the 27-year-old Van Horn as a post-up scorer who could relieve
pressure on Allen Iverson. The Sixers don't call many plays for
Van Horn, but he is rewarded with early shots in transition when
he races to set up on the block. "And at the end [of the shot
clock] there are a lot of plays for me to duck in and get a post
up," says Van Horn.

The early results have been promising. At week's end Van Horn was
Philly's leading rebounder (8.5 per game) and No. 2 scorer (16.1
points) while shooting 47.2%--all improvements over last season.
By establishing himself down low, Van Horn has found it easier to
pop out beyond the arc, where through Sunday he was hitting at a
career-high 39.1%. He has also earned the respect of Iverson,
who, unlike the Nets, appreciates that Van Horn battles on
defense and on the boards even when his shots aren't falling.

While the trade improved the 76ers offensively, it left them
without a dominant shot blocker for the first time in Brown's
six-year tenure. "We don't have any quickness with our big
people," he complained last Friday after a 99-91 loss to the
Suns dropped Philly to 15-8. But it must have surprised Van Horn
that for once he wasn't made the fall guy for a fourth straight
defeat. "I'm 99 percent of the problem," said Iverson, who seemed
to run out of energy in the fourth quarter. "I'm stinking out the
gym. I don't think I should even be getting paid for the way I've
been playing the last couple of games."

Asked how he likes the makeup of the team, including Van Horn,
Iverson said, "I love it."

Hot Prospect Darko Milicic
7-Footer May Be A Few Days Short

High school sensation LeBron James was spectacular during a
nationally televised game last week, but his 31-point
performance also raised concerns about the consensus No. 1 pick
in 2003. One scout counted at least 10 times that James failed
to get back on defense. Added one G.M., "You have to worry that
his sense of entitlement is so great after being spoiled by the
AAU system, the agents and all the publicity."

There are no such worries about the potential No. 2 pick, Darko
Milicic of Yugoslavia, who sleeps on a pullout bed, is warmed by
a space heater and earns approximately $20,000 for the small club
Hemofarm. A 7-foot lefthander with size-18 feet, Milicic can do it
all--score inside and outside, run the floor, pass and block
shots. His only shortcoming at the moment? His age.

Milicic will turn 18 on June 20, six days before the draft.
According to the NBA, however, to be eligible a player must be 18
by May 12, the deadline for applying for the draft. Milicic's New
York City--based agent, Marc Cornstein, believes that the
collective bargaining agreement is ambiguous on this point, and
he may go to arbitration to have Milicic declared eligible.

There may be another twist in the Darko Affair: One of Europe's
top G.M.'s says he's sure that Milicic has already turned 19. "I
know through a very well informed Yugoslav that Milicic was born
in Bosnia," says Antonio Maceiras, of F.C. Barcelona. "After the
civil war in Yugoslavia his family moved to Serbia, and they
registered him as born in 1985 when he actually was born in 1983.
They did not bring any papers from Bosnia, so their word was the
only documentation."

It is common in some European countries for young players to lie
about their ages in hope of making themselves seem more
precocious. But a scout who has met Milicic doubts that he is 19,
saying, "He isn't even shaving yet." Maceiras's assertion came as
news to Cornstein, who has been associated with Milicic for less
than a year. "I wish it were true," he says. "If it was, then we
wouldn't be having any problem getting him into the draft. But I
don't believe it's true."

Also affected by the league's draft eligibility guidelines is
Greek center Sofoklis (Baby Shaq) Schortsianitis, who will turn
18 two days after Milicic. His agent, Marc Fleisher, is also
prepared to go to arbitration over the NBA's interpretation of
its rule, fueled by the view of some scouts that Schortsianitis
will be a lottery pick in June. But one scout who has seen the
285-pound Baby Shaq says he is closer to 6'8" than his listed
6'10", and Maceiras is skeptical of his potential. "He has no
talent, just physical skills," he says. "For me it is
unbelievable that he could be among the top European prospects;
he won't even be a big-time player in Europe."

For the latest news, plus analysis from Jack McCallum, go to
cnnsi.com/basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Questions in New Jersey about Van Horn's toughness haven't followed him to Philly. COLOR PHOTO: ALEKSANDER DJOROVIC/GRAZIA NERI If the NBA's eligibility rule is successfully challenged, Milicic could go No. 2 in '03.

scout's Take
On the struggling Lakers, who were 10--15 at week's end:

"First, they're getting killed in transition. Part of it is that
Rick Fox, Robert Horry and Brian Shaw are a year older, and after
winning three titles they don't have that urgency to bust ass in
November and December. Another part is that you can't ignore
those role players at the offensive end, then expect them to get
back and do all the dirty work defensively. Plus, they're
probably tired of Shaq and Kobe saying that it's everyone else's
fault. With Shaq being overweight, he can't cover as much ground
as normal; teams are also figuring out ways to zone him. Put it
all together and it means they're more vulnerable than they've
ever been, but I still think they can get to the conference
finals from the seventh or eighth position, and I can see them
winning it all. They're in their comfort zone in the playoffs,
not during early-season games."

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)