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10-05-2004, 03:45 PM
ESPN NBA Insider - 10/4/04

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Monday, October 4, 2004

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider


Stop calling the Eastern Conference the Leastern. The Pistons are the reigning NBA champions, and this year, the Eastern Conference's top two teams Detroit and Indiana may be the best two teams in the NBA, period.

Remember when we used to claim that the Western Conference Finals was the real NBA Finals? This season, the Eastern Conference Finals will be the series to watch. The West has gotten weaker, while the Pistons (the champs) and Pacers (the league leaders in wins last year) both got better. Add Shaquille O'Neal to the mix in Miami, and the East is as buff as it's been this century.

Let's not get carried away either. After the Pistons, Pacers and Heat, pick any team in the East that could qualify for the playoffs in the West. The Knicks? Celtics? 76ers? Nets? Please.

This year in the East, there's the very good, the so-so and the ugly. The gap between the second-best team and the fifth-best team is stunning. Short of the Pistons, Pacers and Heat, it's a stretch to guarantee any other team will make the playoffs.

It's pretty safe to predict who will be the worst team in the league, however. The Charlotte Bobcats' likely starting five has a combined 23 starts in their NBA career. If they don't challenge the 76ers' record 73 losses no one will.

NBA training camps start today. Over the course of the next few weeks, some of our assumptions here will have to be changed, but if you want a sneak peak into who looks good and who doesn't going into camp -- on paper at least -- Insider provides a primer.

THE CONTENDERS

Key Additions: Antonio McDyess, Carlos Delfino, Derrick Coleman
Key Subtractions: Mehmet Okur, Corliss Williamson, Mike James
Skinny: The defending champs are bringing back virtually the entire team intact with one important addition. Pistons president Joe Dumars thinks that teams may have slept a little on McDyess. His knee is reportedly 100 percent healthy, and sources claim he's looked great in offseason workouts. If he can stay healthy, McDyess gives the Pistons a proven low-post scorer, something they really lacked last season. And don't forget about the team's two first-round picks in 2003: Darko Milicic and Delfino. Word is that coach Larry Brown wants to steepen Darko's learning curve, giving him 10-15 minutes a night this season. Delfino, who played in the Euroleague Final Four last year and on the Olympic gold-medal team, is experienced enough to step right in as Richard Hamilton's replacement off the bench another option the team sorely lacked this year. The only question for the Pistons? With Brown coming off an emotional spring and a brutal summer, will he stick around if the team gets off to a rocky start?

Key Additions: Stephen Jackson, David Harrison
Key Subtractions: Al Harrington
Skinny: The Pacers took a calculated risk this summer by swapping Harrington for Jackson. Larry Bird realizes Reggie Miller is on the downside of his career and wanted a big, athletic two guard whom Rick Carlisle could groom into the role. Bird also believes that Jonathan Bender is ready to take over Harrington's sixth man duties. Bender has more size, talent and versatility but can he stay healthy for 82 games? If Bender delivers, the Pacers will be tougher than they were last year. And don't overlook the rookie Harrison, like 28 other NBA teams did. The Pacers were so impressed with Harrison's play this summer that they believe he'll see real minutes backing up Jeff Foster and Scot Pollard at center this year.

Key Additions: Shaquille O'Neal, Christian Laettner
Key Subtractions: Lamar Odom, Brian Grant, Caron Butler, Rafer Alston
Skinny: Shaq changes everything. He's the most dominant big man in the East by a mile. Dwyane Wade is coming off a heroic rookie playoff performance, and rookie high-school phenom Dorell Wright turned heads in the summer. But realistically? If Shaq and Kobe couldn't get it done with Karl Malone and Gary Payton, how are Shaq and Wade supposed to run the gamut with their supporting cast? It looks like a lot of '90s stars have decided to retire in Florida; Laettner, Eddie Jones and Wesley Person will try their best just to stay in front of somebody. But the truth is that the Heat are so thin they're one Shaq or Wade serious injury away from the lottery.

Key Additions: Jamal Crawford, Jerome Williams
Key Subtractions: Dikembe Mutombo, Othella Harrington, Frank Williams
Skinny: The Knicks paid good money to get this high up in the rankings. For $100-plus million, you better be able to win some games in the East. Had they landed Erick Dampier, they would've been a force. Without him, they're all perimeter with a super-soft core. To top things off, there are some in New York that suggest Allan Houston's days as a superstar are over after last year's serious injury. Still, a starting five of Stephon Marbury, Crawford, Tim Thomas, Kurt Thomas and Nazr Mohammed along with Penny Hardaway, Vin Baker and Jerome Williams should have enough cash to bribe somebody into laying down for them.

ON THE RISE

Key Additions: Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson, Kelvin Cato, Tony Battie, Hedo Turkoglu
Key Subtractions: Tracy McGrady, Juwan Howard, Tyronn Lue, Drew Gooden
Skinny: No team has changed their roster or image more in the course of a summer. Last year, the Magic had the league's worst record despite being the home of one of the league's top-five stars. With T-Mac out and the Franchise in, GM John Weisbrod is trying desperately to change the way the Magic play basketball. Weisbrod has jettisoned off the softies and brought in players he believes will play the right way. We'll see if it works. Francis, Cato, Turkoglu, Battie and even rookie Dwight Howard have a history of underperforming when the going gets tough. The Magic hope that a new team, different philosophy and hungry head coach will get the team going in the right direction. But if things start off rocky, watch out. Stevie can pout with the best of them. The X-factor this year, like every year this decade, is Grant Hill. He's reportedly healthy and playing his best basketball since he hurt his ankle. If it's true, and he stays that way, the Magic have a great shot of making the playoffs. If Hill is on crutches by November, it could be another long year in Orlando.

Key Additions: Eric Snow, Drew Gooden, Luke Jackson, Aleksandar Pavlovic
Key Subtractions: Carlos Boozer, Tony Battie, Eric Williams
Skinny: GM Jim Paxson made the dumbest move of the summer when he let Carlos Boozer out of the last year of his deal with a wink-wink, below market value contract extension promise that he knew he couldn't enforce. When Boozer bolted for Utah, the sky looked like it was falling in Cleveland. But Paxson has rebounded nicely. The team played much better when they traded for a real point guard, Jeff McInnis, before the trade deadline. Snow's an upgrade from there and a perfect mentor for LeBron James. Gooden is an adequate replacement for Boozer if he can keep his head in the game. Both Jackson and Pavlovic have a shot at being nice wing men for LeBron. But let's not kid ourselves. The Cavs' season hinges on one guy. If LeBron continues to improve, he's going to carry the Cavs to the playoffs on his back. He looked like the best player in the world when he was on the floor for Team USA this summer. Paul Silas won't make the same mistake Larry Brown did and leave LeBron on the bench waving towels.

Key Additions: Antawn Jamison
Key Subtractions: Jerry Stackhouse, Christian Laettner
Skinny: Injuries and new offense were too much for the Wizards to overcome last season. But there's hope that former Nets offensive guru Eddie Jordan has the tools he now needs to make the Wizards one of the hottest offenses in the league this year. Jamison is a scoring machine who can play both inside and out. The Wizards have longed for a guy who can score in the paint. Put him on the floor with a healthy Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes in a contract year, and a reportedly buffed-up Kwame Brown, and the Wizards may have just enough juice to get out and run this year. There aren't many guarantees in the East this year, but with two of the worst teams in the league in the Southeast Division with them, they should be able to run up enough wins to have a good shot at a playoff seed.

Key Additions: Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, Frank Williams, Eric Piatkowski
Key Subtractions: Jamal Crawford, Jerome Willams, Scottie Pippen (retirement)
Skinny: Why is GM John Paxson smiling after a disastrous rookie season heading the Chicago Terri-bulls? One, Eddy Curry is off his Big Mac and Kool-Aid diet and reported to camp in shape for the first time in his career. Two, both Curry and Tyson Chandler who were drafted straight out of high school together in 2001 are in contract years, meaning that for the first time in four seasons, their future isn't guaranteed in the millions. Third, he dumped several perceived problems this summer and swapped them for two rookies, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng, who have the requisite toughness and winning pedigree he's been looking for on his team. Finally, he made himself a nice free-agent coup, getting the best and toughest international player not in the NBA, Nocioni, to agree to leave the Euroleague for the Bulls. What he has now is perhaps the most talented, albeit youngest, squad the Bulls have had since MJ hung up his sneakers. Of course, we've said that before with little to no results (we picked the Bulls to finish sixth in the East last year). Why will this year be different? A tougher coach, fewer egos, more winners and plenty of incentive to play the right way. Forty wins this year and Paxson can finally sleep easy knowing that his team still has plenty of room to grow. Anything less and either Curry or Chandler will be wearing a new uniform next season if not sooner.

SLIPPING?

Key Additions: Nenad Krstic, Eric Williams, Ron Mercer, Jacque Vaughn
Key Subtractions: Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles, Rodney Rogers
Skinny: Don't blame GM Rod Thorn for the literal dismantling of a team that played in the Finals two of the past three seasons. New owner Bruce Ratner, focused only on the bottom line, shipped Martin to Denver when his asking price became too high and then shipped Kittles to the Clippers to get even further under the cap. Their replacements, Williams and Mercer, don't really inspire confidence. Factor in that Jason Kidd will miss training camp and the start of the regular season rehabbing from offseason knee surgery; Richard Jefferson, the one guy Ratner was willing to pay, looked awful in the Olympics; and Alonzo Mourning's comeback has serious questions, and the Nets could be in for one of the biggest free falls of the season. If Kidd demands a trade (it's probably only a matter of time) it will only get uglier. As much as we love Jefferson, he isn't MJ and can't challenge the NBA to a 1-on-5 contest.

Key Additions: Mike James, Maurice Williams, Zaza Pachulia
Key Subtractions: Brian Skinner, Damon Jones
Skinny: The Bucks were the East's Cinderella team last season, so why are they stuck all the way down here without any significant changes to their roster? Two things stand out. One, the future of T.J. Ford is very much in doubt. Ford was the motor in the Bucks' upbeat offense last season. When he went down with a serious back injury, the Bucks stumbled. GM Larry Harris's two major free agent additions, James and Williams, are the best indication yet that the Bucks aren't confident that Ford will return this season. James and Williams are decent replacements, but neither player gives the Bucks what Ford did. Second, the Bucks lost some toughness up front when they let Skinner go. They'll try to replace that with second-year international big man Pachulia, who showed a lot of promise this summer but doesn't have the experience or grittiness that Skinner had. The bottom line is that the Bucks are stuck in the toughest division, by far, in the East. Detroit and Indiana are elite teams. Cleveland and Chicago continue to improve. The playoffs are still a good possibility in Milwaukee, but it's going to be a difficult feat to recreate.

Key Additions: Corliss Williamson, Andre Iguodala, Brian Skinner, Kevin Ollie
Key Subtractions: Eric Snow, Derrick Coleman, Greg Buckner
Skinny: The Sixers have a new head coach, Jim O'Brien, a new offensive and defensive philosophy and a happy Allen Iverson. So what's wrong? O'Brien is really going to be relying heavily on four young players to produce this year. Whenever we hear that, the red flags start popping up. GM Billy King traded away Snow after O'Brien said he'd prefer to play Iverson at the point and young players like Willie Green, John Salmons and the rookie Iguodala at the two. All three are talented, all three have looked good in the summer league, but they're also very unproven. Snow was the rock that counterbalanced Iverson's huge mood swings. As much as we like these guys, I'm not sure they're ready for that just yet. The one young player we do have more confidence in is big man Samuel Dalembert. Toward the end of last season, he looked like he was ready to turn himself into a big-time center. If he does, the Sixers front line will be very strong, especially with the addition of Williamson and Skinner. If he struggles, as young players sometimes do after coming off breakout years, the Sixers could be in trouble. The Sixers are the toughest team in the league to get a handle on. They've got the coaching and the talent to be very good. But there are huge question marks. And if Iverson's body breaks down after taking a pretty good pounding in the Olympics (there's a definite trend here pointing in that direction), things will go downhill very fast.

Key Additions: Gary Payton, Tom Gugliotta, Al Jefferson, Tony Allen, Delonte West
Key Subtractions: Chucky Atkins, Chris Mihm, Jumaine Jones
Skinny: Danny Ainge has burned Jim O'Brien's Celtics to the ground and within a span of less than 18 months, turned the Celtics into an unusual mix of veterans (Paul Pierce, Mark Blount and Payton) combined with a plethora of young players (Jiri Welsch, Marcus Banks, Kendrick Perkins, Jefferson, Allen and West). How a team like that will mesh under new head coach Doc Rivers is really anyone's guess. They probably don't belong in either the "On the Rise" or "Slipping" category. If we had a "Who Knows", they'd be at the top of the list. The potential problems seem to outweigh the upside . . this year at least. . . which is why the Celtics ended up here. Five players on the roster have one or less years of experience in the league. Two of the big guys they'll rely on (Perkins and Jefferson) never played a game of college basketball. Pierce, Welsch, Blount and Raef LaFrentz (if he can ever stay healthy) are all capable of putting together a nice run. But several of the veterans on the roster, read Payton and Ricky Davis, have a history of causing problems if things don't go their way. The Celtics are the wild card in the East. If things come together for Doc, they could be a surprise contender. If they go poorly, it could get very, very ugly.

LOTTERY BOUND

Key Additions: Rafer Alston, Rafael Araujo, Loren Woods
Key Subtractions: None
Skinny: Want to know why Vince Carter wants out of Toronto and a slew of higher profile GMs turned down the job in Toronto before ownership finally settled on Rob Babcock? The Raptors are capped out and have few assets to make the enormous changes this team really needs to make. Babcock did the best he could this summer: drafting a center that could step in and play immediately and adding a point guard coming off a successful playoff run. But everything depends on Carter. At this point, that's scary. Nowithstanding his history of injuries when the going gets tough, is his heart really in it this year? (Has it really ever been?) The future in Toronto is power forward Chris Bosh, who reportedly has bulked up this summer in an effort to help the Raptors out in the middle. If everything goes right in Toronto Carter stays healthy, Bosh can play center, Alston plays well at the point, Marshall has a repeat of last season the Raptors have the talent and depth to be a playoff team. But since when has everything went right in Toronto?

Key Additions: Antoine Walker, Al Harrington, Josh Childress, Peja Drobnjak
Key Subtractions: Jason Terry, Stephen Jackson, Bob Sura, Alan Henderson
Skinny: The Hawks blew up their roster last February when they traded two staples, Theo Ratliff and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, for what ended up to be a load of expiring contracts. They finished the process this summer: swapping Terry for Walker, who just happens to have an expiring contract of his own, and refusing to spend their money in free agency. If fiscal responsibility won you basketball games, the Hawks would be atop the East right now. As it stands, they should be decent. Walker and Harrington will give them a nice one-two scoring punch on the front line. Walker is highly motivated. He's coming off the worst season of his career into a contract year. Harrington is finally getting his first chance to be a full-time starter and has much to prove. But center and the backcourt are huge question marks. Tony Delk and Kenny Anderson are manning the point, a position neither has played well in years. Rookie Josh Childress has a promising future, but he'll be drinking from a fire hydrant in Year One. Drobnjak was the starting center for the Clippers last season. We all know how that went. The Hawks are heading in the right direction, but it's going to be a slow slog.

Key Additions: Emeka Okafor, Melvin Ely, Gerald Wallace, Jason Kapono
Key Subtractions: None
Skinny: GM and head coach Bernie Bickerstaff used to coach the Harlem Globetrotters. But after seeing the roster he put together for the Bobcats' inaugural season, you wonder if it wasn't the Washington Generals that he's trying to invoke. Okafor was a great pickup in the draft a solid, respectable big man to build the team around. The expansion draft yielded several young, promising but highly unproven players, and the trade for Ely will help shore up the front line. But without a solid starting point guard (Jason Hart and Brevin Knight will share the responsibility) and only one solid perimeter shooter (Kapono), where will the points come from? Bickerstaff has put together a young athletic team that will play hard every night, turn in some highlight reel plays and be capable of playing sound defense. However, if they win more than 10 games this season, it will be a miracle.

Chad Ford covers the NBA for ESPN Insider.

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Thursday, September 30, 2004

By Dr. Jack Ramsay
ESPN Insider


This past summer, my wife, Jean, and I, along with another couple, took a trip west. I wanted to become more familiar with the Lewis and Clark Expedition; to see the four presidents (Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt) carved into Mount Rushmore; to see the sculpting of Chief Crazy Horse; to learn more about the culture of Native Americans; and to travel through the mountains and plains of our great country.

The trip took us by air to St. Louis and to Rapid City, S.D.; then by car through part of Wyoming, across Montana, into Idaho and finished at Spokane, Wash. It was a fascinating, exhilarating tour.

Before we reached Spokane, I decided to hunt down John Stockton's father, Jack, who owns a saloon in that city near the Gonzaga University campus. We had met before, and I learned that his place was called Jack and Dan's Tavern. I found its street location, and drove over unannounced to pay a visit.

On entering, I found the place to be in a state of renovation. Power saws were whining through wood panels; carpenters were banging nails in place; and plastic sheets separated the workers from the immediate bar area. There was a bartender on duty and a couple of patrons. I asked if Jack Stockton was in and was told that he had just left. I said I'd try back later and had turned to leave when I heard a voice call out, "Is that Dr. Ramsay?" I turned and saw Jack Stockton approaching with his hand extended.

As we shook hands he said, "I thought I recognized your voice. We met at Butte, Montana, in a preseason game in John's rookie year." That was 20 years ago, but I remembered the game. John was just getting a feel for the NBA game and hadn't really asserted himself, but his coach, Frank Layden, told me, "Stockton's going to be terrific." ... something I already knew.

The elder Stockton and I chatted for a while, then he said, "John's here. Would you like to see him?" I didn't expect that. I knew John had a home in the Salt Lake City area and thought that he'd be there.

Jack returned with John, who had his youngest child 5-year-old Samuel in tow. John looked game-ready yet. His body was trim, and he had the bright eyes, ruddy complexion and vibrant appearance possessed only by well-conditioned athletes. As we greeted each other, I was reminded again of his unusually large hands and firm grip God's gift to a great playmaker.

When I commented on his obvious fitness, he said, "I'm still running with the guys. We have our own group that plays 'rat-ball,' and now that the college guys are back, I often go over to Gonzaga and run with them. It keeps me in shape."

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Stockton (center) and Barkley (right) were part of an elite 1984 draft class; Jazz teammate Karl Malone (left) joined the league the next year. Here, they are pictured as 1992 Dream Team members.
The 1984 NBA draft has been judged by many to be the most productive of all time. Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and John Stockton are certain future Hall of Famers. Kevin Willis, Alvin Robertson and Otis Thorpe joined them as All-Star Game participants during their careers; and Sam Perkins, Sam Bowie, Jay Humphries, Vern Fleming, Tony Campbell, Michael Cage, Jeff Turner, Ron Anderson, Jerome Kersey (the 46th pick overall) and Jim Petersen (the 51st, a third-round pick) all made solid contributions to teams. It was indeed a tremendous harvest of basketball talent.

I've been questioned more about that draft than any other, because that was the year Portland, the team I coached at the time, passed on Jordan to select Bowie with the No. 2 overall pick. MJ reminds me of that oversight each year I see him at his Senior Flight School in Las Vegas, where I serve as a staff member.

Of course, had we known Michael was going to turn out to be the greatest player of all time, we would have taken him and perhaps used the players we already had at his 2-guard position Jim Paxson and Clyde Drexler to trade to fill our needs at center. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But I vividly remember that draft for another reason. It was the year I thought we were going to get Stockton ... but didn't. I had become an avid Stockton fan after watching him at the 1984 pre-draft workouts in Chicago. Typically, players who attend that camp are there to solidify a draft spot or move up in the order. They are not the high lottery picks, whose positions already have been pretty much determined.

Stockton had just completed a nice, four-year career at Gonzaga University, a small, Division I member of the West Coast Conference. His Zags teams were good during his tenure (64-45), but not great. They never won a conference championship, and in his senior year, the Zags were 17-11, fourth in the conference. His career numbers didn't knock your eyes out either 12.5 points, 5.1 assists and 2.4 steals. But he shot .559 from the field over his career and averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists as a senior. John Stockton was not a household name, and his stats proved to be just the tip of the ice berg.

The pre-draft camp format is to give physical exams, including accurate measurements of heights and weights, and then, over a four-day period, put the players through fundamental drill work under the direction of active NBA assistant coaches and divide them into teams for game competition with NBA rules and prospective league officials. The drill work is informative, but the most true insights into a player's chance of making the grade in pro ball emerge during the games. Those games typically break down into a lot of one-one-one action as players, intent on impressing their NBA evaluators, focus on individual efforts rather than team play.

I vividly remember that draft for another reason. It was the year I thought we were going to get Stockton ... but didn't.
Jack Ramsay, recalling the 1984 draft that featured dozens of NBA stars -- and the ones that his Trail Blazers failed to nab, Michael Jordan and John Stockton

Stockton's team was different. His group played like it had been together all season. They defended, rebounded, ran the break and sharply executed their half-court offense. Stockton was the generator of it all. He was everywhere on defense anticipating the action, taking charges, stealing balls from unwary dribblers, and deflecting passes. On offense, once the ball was in his hands, he hit ahead to fast-breaking teammates, or threaded bounce passes to open cutters at the hoop in half-court. Because of him, his team played unselfishly and with a team spirit that was in sharp contrast with the other teams there. I was impressed.

Portland had a pretty good team at the time. We had just finished a 48-34 season but had lost to Phoenix in a five-game series in the first round of the playoffs. We had two quality point guards that I liked Darnell Valentine and Fat Lever. But I sensed something special about Stockton and talked about him to Stu Inman, Portland's director of personnel. Stu listened while I enthusiastically assessed Stockton's skills.

"I thought you'd like him," he said. "I don't think we have a big need at point guard, but he'll be there for us at No. 19 (our second pick in the first round) if you want to take him."

"I want him," I said.

We brought John to Portland for a meeting before the draft and liked what we saw and heard. He appeared to be intelligent, articulate and vitally interested in playing within a team concept. The meetings reinforced my decision to select him.

On draft day, after Houston selected Olajuwon with the first pick, we took Bowie next, and Chicago landed Jordan at No. 3. I then sat back and waited for Stockton.

There are always surprises in an NBA draft. Inman was an astute draftsman, with a good pipeline regarding players about whom other teams were thinking. He kept assuring me that Stockton would be available at 19, but I was nervous sitting in the Portland office as the draft worked its way toward our pick. The three teams ahead of Portland that most needed a point guard were Phoenix (13), Dallas (15), and Indiana (18). Utah already had starter Ricky Green and backup Joel Eaves, so I didn't consider them a threat to pick Stockton at 16. I was more concerned about Indiana, which picked just ahead of us.

I breathed a silent sigh of relief when Phoenix took Jay Humphries, then Dallas took Terrance Stansbury, and was hardly paying attention to Utah's choice, already thinking ahead to the Pacers. The Nets took big forward Jeff Turner at 15, and then I heard commissioner David Stern, who was overseeing his first NBA draft, announce, "With the 16th pick in the l984 NBA draft, the Utah Jazz select ... John Stockton, from Gonzaga University."

I was stunned. I looked over at Inman, but he already was preparing for our upcoming pick, now that Stockton was gone. (We took Bernard Thompson, a swingman from Fresno State, who had a brief, ineffective career.)

Since that time, I've had a warm spot in my heart for Stockton. I watched him grow as a player and marveled at the way he lifted his team to reach a level that was beyond its potential. He proved to be everything I thought he could be ... and more. Becoming the NBA career leader in assists and steals are worthy accomplishments, but they don't begin to indicate his value as a team leader. Although I rate Magic Johnson the best overall point guard in basketball history, no one has been the equal of John Stockton in orchestrating a half-court offense.

When I was coaching, I looked forward to seeing Stockton whenever our teams met. We always greeted each other warmly and had short chats when time permitted. When I became a broadcaster, John willingly did interviews with me although never on game day, when his attention was focused on his opponent. I did the radio broadcasts of Utah's two appearances in the NBA Finals against Chicago and would have loved to have seen him enter the winner's circle. But that was not to be.

* * *

Now entering his second season of retirement from the NBA, Stockton sponsors and helps to coach a number of YMCA youth football and basketball teams in Spokane and girls' teams in soccer, volleyball and basketball. John and his wife, Nada, have six children, many of whom play on these teams. The two oldest, Houston (16) and Michael (15) are beginning to play at Gonzaga Prep. I asked Jack if any of the boys showed John's potential in basketball. He shook his head negatively, and added, "The girls are more talented ... but I don't say that out loud."

The girls are more talented ... but I don't say that out loud.
Jack Stockton, on who's more talented as basketball players, John Stockton's sons or daughters

John also owns a sports complex called The Warehouse an abandoned building he purchased that now houses six full-length basketball courts including the Jazz's original floor from the old Salt Palace in Salt Lake City; four batting cages and a pitching mound. The complex organizes basketball leagues and tournaments and is open for baseball workouts in the winter months. It is a busy, thriving activity center run by John's grade-school basketball coach Kerry Pickett and Kerry's wife.

John says he is happy to be back in Spokane, where he grew up, and to be able to spend time at home with his family. He loves working with young people and doesn't miss the hectic pace of the practice, game and travel schedule of the NBA.

John doesn't play a role in Jack and Dan's Tavern. There are no pictures of him nor references to the NBA. The bar, originally called Louie's Snappy Service, opened following the repeal of prohibition in 1933. Jack bought it in 1960 and took on partner Dan Crowley in 1974. When Dan left the business, Jeff Condill, a former Gonzaga teammate of John's, became a partner and remains in that capacity. Jack and Dan's is a warm, college bar where it's easy to feel welcome. Jack likes it that way. "We don't push John's name ... nor put any demands on him. I wouldn't do that to him."

As for the former NBA star, he's just one of the guys there and is treated as such. Would he consider getting back in the NBA in some capacity, perhaps coaching?

"I don't think so ... at least not now. I'm enjoying this too much."

John Stockton is still playmaking ... still helping his teammates the young people of Spokane to maximize their potential.

Dr. Jack Ramsay, an NBA analyst for ESPN, coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, he is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

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The game never changed Pippen

By Terry Brown
NBA Insider

Monday, October 4
Updated: October 4
5:10 PM ET

Scottie Pippen was here.

And now that word around the league is that the 6-foot-8 small forward from Central Arkansas is on the verge of announcing his retirement after 17 seasons in the NBA that has resulted in six titles, seven All-NBA selections, seven All-Star Games and seven All-Defensive first-team nods, does it really matter that he spent most of that time alongside arguably the greatest player to ever play the game?

As a Chicago Bull, Pippen played both with and without Michael Jordan. As a small forward, he began his career with a Boston Celtic as the best player at that position. His name was Larry Bird. As he ends his tenure at the position, another Boston Celtic is peaking at small forward. His name is Paul Pierce. In between, he played with and against the likes of Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Hakeem Olajuwon as a Bull, Rocket, Blazer and original Dream Teamer.

But through it all, Scottie Pippen never changed. His game never went through radical transitions to fit his teammates or coach or age simply because his game never needed any changing. His actions on the court seemed to always be in harmony with the way the game was meant to be played.

Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen was known for his soaring drives to the basket.
After 1,178 games, he stands now at 7,494 rebounds and 7,420 baskets. He has 946 blocks and 978 3-pointers. He was totaled 2,307 steals while grabbing 2,068 offensive rebounds.

In 1990, when Pippen became a full-time starter for the Bulls, he averaged one assist for every 1.2 buckets. In 1991, when the Bulls won their first NBA title in franchise history, he averaged one assist for every 1.17 buckets. In 1998, when the Bulls won their last NBA title, he averaged one assist for every 1.2 buckets. After 200 playoff games, Pippen has averaged one assist for every 1.2 buckets.

It should come as no surprise that after 17 seasons and 1,178 games, he has averaged one assist for every 1.2 buckets.

Take his seven consecutive seasons as an All-NBAer, and here are his numbers:

1992-98: 20.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 5.9 apg, 2.2 spg, 1 bpg, 1.1 triples on 47.8 percent shooting

Now compare those with the two seasons in between the Bulls' title runs when Jordan was either in full or semi-retirement, and not much has changed.

1994-95: 21.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.9 spg, 0.9 bpg, 1.1 triples on 48.5 percent shooting

Put those numbers in 2004 context and Pippen would have been the equivalent of Milwaukee Bucks leading scorer Michael Redd for 10th in the league in points per game. Pippen also would have been 19th in the league in rebounding alongside Bulls center Antonio Davis, as well as 19th in the league in assists alongside Kings point guard Mike Bibby. He would have led the league in steals, averaging almost a full steal more than Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest, while also placing 34th in blocked shots like Cavs center Tony Battie. And in three-pointers made, Pippen would have been 48th like Knicks point guard Stephon Marbury.

Pippen was all these things while also being himself.

Love him or hate him, remember him for his soaring drives to the bucket or for his migraine headaches that benched him during the playoffs. Pippen was always Pippen.

He complained about his contract, whined about his treatment and once refused to walk on the court after a timeout and huddle because the play wasn't called for him despite the fact that it was Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Despite the fact that Toni Kukoc, the player who did get the call, made the shot and the Bulls won on that night with Pippen on the bench.

It only proved that his balance between points and rebounds and assists and steals and blocks and 3-pointers wasn't so much of a mental decision as it was physical instinct.

That was how he played the game.

He wasn't making a point or trying to earn All-Star votes. No coaches fawned over him. No offensive or defensive sets were called out specifically for him. He played in and out of the triangle, with and without Michael Jordan, and it was basically the same old Scottie Pippen.

His prime numbers compare favorably with the stars of today at small forward. He could score like Pierce, while shooting a much higher percentage. He didn't rebound as well as Shawn Marion but more than doubled Marion's assists. Andrei Kirilenko may someday be his defensive equal, but Kirilenko's got a long way to go to match him offensively.

Lamar Odom, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady.

Now take all of those names and put them in the same starting lineups with Jordan and Barkley and Olajuwon. See if their statistics change, see if the they way they conduct themselves on the floor alters, see if their impact on the game wavers with the addition of a Hall of Famer in the huddle and in the box score.

For Scottie Pippen, it didn't matter. He was just playing basketball.

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Monday, October 4 Updated 8:54 AM EST

Rumor Central

The comeback door's ajar, but recovery from knee surgery slow

WHO INTERESTED THE SKINNY
Karl Malone
Karl Malone
Lakers
Retirement?
Lakers
Oct. 4 - The Mailman has postponed delivery, perhaps forever. According to the Oct. 2 Los Angeles Times, Karl Malone has indicated to the Lakers that he is closer to retirement. Malone, recovering from June 29 surgery on his right knee, told Lakers owner Jerry Buss he's still a couple of months away from returning to the lineup.

"He's not closing any doors," Dwight Manley, Malone's agent told the Times on Oct. 1, "but he's going in a different direction that obviously is retirement-bound." The second-leading scorer in NBA history, Malone, 41, plans to play only for the Lakers if he does return. If he calls it a playing career after 19 seasons, Malone could have a job working in the Lakers' front office, Buss said.

According to a report in The New York Post on Oct. 4, Malone declined an invitation to join the Nets.

WHO INTERESTED THE SKINNY
Scottie Pippen
Scottie Pippen
Bulls
Retirement Oct. 4 - Scottie Pippen, a 17-year veteran who led the Bulls to six NBA championships, is expected to announce his retirement on Oct. 5, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The 39-year-old Pippen has one year ($5 million) left on his contract. The Bulls aren't expected to retain Pippen in any front-office capacity, but they plan to retire his jersey this season at a time to be announced.

WHO INTERESTED THE SKINNY
Ray Allen
Ray Allen
Sonics
Sonics Oct. 4 - After seven weeks of talks, Ray Allen and the Sonics are not close to finalizing a contract, The Seattle Times reports. Allen's agent, Lon Babby, reportedly is seeking a maximum extension, which would pay Allen $100.5 million through the 2009-10 season. The Sonics have countered with a five-year, $70 million offer.

WHO INTERESTED THE SKINNY
Gary Payton
Gary Payton
Celtics
Celtics Oct. 4 - Veteran PG Gary Payton will join the team Oct. 4 for media day and the start of training camp, the Boston Herald reports. The Celtics, whose regular practice facility is in this Boston suburb, will hold a six-day training camp starting Oct. 5 at the University of Vermont.

Payton exercised a one-year, $5.4 million option to stay in Los Angeles before the trade to Boston. He reportedly was upset because, among other things, he has a 16-year-old daughter about to start high school and is unwilling to relocate his family.

grndmstr_c
10-05-2004, 04:25 PM
Thanks for posting, Evil.