View Full Version : Team USA can be occupational hazard

08-09-2002, 03:13 PM
Friday, August 9

Team USA can be occupational hazard

By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com

Does it come as any surprise whatsoever that Jason Kidd has bailed out of the World Championships in Indianapolis in late August?

The wear and tear of the Olympics caught up with Gary Payton in the 2000-01 NBA season.
Yes, he suffered some sort of groin injury in the playoffs and aggravated it in some recent training, but it certainly didn't look like it affected him that much during the NBA Finals, when he was the only member of the New Jersey Nets to play at a consistently high level against the Los Angeles Lakers.

It doesn't matter what the injury really is, does it? Kidd could have been suffering from a hangnail and it would have been a good excuse to bail.

Look, here is what Kidd is facing. Nine straight months, from October's training camp to June's run to the Finals, of hard-core basketball that culminated in the most intense ball of all, playoff basketball, where there never is a night off.

The Nets get swept by the Lakers, Kidd gets a month and a half off, and then he goes straight into training for the World Championships, where he competes until Sept. 8, just in time to get ready for, you guessed it, the beginning of training camp a few weeks later, where he plays at least another eight straight months, and possibly another nine if the Nets return to the Finals. That's a lot of basketball with no breaks, especially for a guy like Kidd, who at this stage of his career has some mileage on his legs.

Kidd has his Olympic gold medal, so why waste his time, energy and possibly another run to the Finals on the less-then-magnanimous, foregone-conclusionist World Championships?

A few years ago, Gary Payton had competed in the Olympics in Sydney, Australia. That next season, Payton had played in 356 consecutive games, the best streak in the league. But in the first game of the season, after getting virtually no time off from the end of the Olympics to the start of camp, he ripped his groin, which ultimately led to back problems which then led to a strained abdominal muscle.

Payton had missed only two games his entire career. The guy is notorious for ignoring pain. One of Nate McMillan's favorite stories is about how Payton got his foot caught up under the rotating advertisement signs on the sidelines during one playoff game. His ankle swelled up to more than twice its size, and guys like Hersey Hawkins said they were suprised Payton could even attempt to walk on the thing. Still, he came out two days later and led the Sonics to a victory, playing the entire game.

But that 2000-2001 season, McMillan finally forced Payton to the bench because of his abdominal muscle. (Of course, as a caveat, Payton's consecutive-games streak was broken when McMillan suspended him for conduct detrimental to the team, but that's another story.) For two games, Payton sat. He had missed two games his entire career to that point, but missed two straight because of an injury he suffered that could be traced directly back to the his participation in the Olympics.

It is a once-in-a-lifetiime experience, one that most players would love to have the opportunity to go through. But this is why you are seeing younger rosters being put together by USA Basketball, because the oldsters have realized that the additional toll it takes on their bodies is not worth it.

And Payton, who never complains -- at least not about his own health -- even admitted that the additional competition took its toll on his freak body. When Scottie Pippen was playing, he often said that his back problems were a result of all the additional time he spent competing in the Olympics.

It is an honor, to be sure. And it is a once-in-a-lifetiime experience, one that most players would love to have the opportunity to go through. But this is why you are seeing younger rosters being put together by USA Basketball, because the oldsters have realized that the additional toll it takes on their bodies is not worth it when it comes to what essentially amounts to two straight seasons of basketball with very little break.

And don't be surprised if you see guys like Ray Allen and Michael Finley and Andre Miller and Paul Pierce suffer some nagging injuries this coming season -- though they are fortunate that the World Championships are taking place in Indianapolis and not half a world away, like the 2000 Olympics.

As for the reason Reggie Miller is still on the team?

I guess he needed to babysit Jermaine O'Neal.

Frank Hughes, who covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

08-09-2002, 03:36 PM
Four Business Days, Four Trades

Consider the age-old question answered — NBA execs do get weekends off.

In five business days in August, NBA GMs have made five trades. And the best part is that the dealing is far from done.

August 1, 2002: Magic trade Don Reid and a future first-round pick to Denver for a 2004 second-round pick.

This trade is a yawner and barely deserves mention.

Little by little, the Magic are cleaning out some room under the luxury tax threshold. They saved around $1 million by waiving Jud Buechler. Dealing Reid relieves them of another $1.1 million. When they put the finishing bullet in Patrick Ewing, the Magic will probably negotiate another $1 million savings.

It’s likely that the moves are being made so Orlando can throw a big one-year offer at Keon Clark. One look at the dreck they currently have up front should provide adequate incentive to pursue the wiry Clark.

August 2, 2002: Hawks trade Toni Kukoc, Leon Smith and a 2004 first-round pick to Milwaukee for Glenn Robinson.

We finally have a winner in the “Who’s the Milwaukee Scapegoat” challenge.

The Bucks are hoping the old addition-by-subtraction trick works. Apparently the Bucks see something in Tim Thomas the rest of the NBA has missed. Perhaps the Bucks should release a Special Edition Tim Thomas DVD that includes the deleted scenes that have them so enamored.

Kukoc has many talents, but forgot to pack them when he left Chicago two years ago. Save for a meaningless 17-game stint at the end of the 2000-01 season, Kukoc has been mediocre since leaving the Bulls. That trend will continue in Milwaukee with new teammates Sam Cassell, Ray Allen, Anthony Mason and Thomas.

Kukoc’s stint in Milwaukee may be brief. He doesn’t fit the Bucks' athletic mold and his defense will soon cause George Karl to invent new curse words. The Chicago Bulls were reportedly trying to bring Kukoc back to the Windy City. Swapping Kukoc for Eddie Robinson and a re-signed Travis Best may suit both teams.

The Hawks will get to see the object of Karl’s contempt. Robinson gives the Hawks their first legit small forward since that Human Highlight Film dude. He won’t make Hawks fans forget ‘Nique on the offensive end, but they may have déjà vu all over again on the defensive side.

To alleviate that concern, the Hawks should bring back Ira Newble for next season. And as long as the Hawks training room doesn’t look like a scene from Black Hawk Down next season, Atlanta could be an Eastern Conference surprise next season.

August 5, 2002: Spurs trade Antonio Daniels, Amal McCaskill and Charles Smith to Portland for Steve Kerr, Erick Barkley and a 2003 second-round pick (from last summer’s Derek Anderson and Steve Kerr for Steve Smith trade).

OK, someone has to ask: Why didn’t the Spurs and Blazers just save a transaction and put Daniels in last summer’s Anderson/Smith trade instead of Kerr and the pick?

Daniels decided to play with fire last season, declaring himself a shooting guard even though the point guard position was ripe for his taking. So the Spurs threw rookie Tony Parker into the role and he flourished. Daniels’ decision is a candidate for the forthcoming “Stupid NBA Player Tricks” special, coming to Fox this fall.

Portland is out to renovate a dilapidating home and their first major trade of the summer probably won’t be the last. Despite acquiring Daniels, the Blazers are reportedly still working to bring back Bonzi Wells and sign free agent Jeff McInnis. Damon Stoudamire could be shopping for a new home soon, preferably one with a locking attic door.

With the acquisition of Speedy Claxton and the signing of Emanual Ginobili, Daniels’ days in San Antonio were numbered. After wasting time trying to come to a reasonable deal with Cleveland, the Spurs decided to dump Daniels in favor of a familiar face with an ending contract.

Kerr becomes the fifth guard in San Antonio again. But he should replace the veteran leadership that the Spurs lost when Terry Porter joined the Kings as an assistant coach. The trade keeps San Antonio’s salary commitments loose for next summer so they can chase a major free agent to pair with Tim Duncan.

August 6, 2002: Nets trade Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch to Philadelphia for Dikembe Mutombo.

Every once in a while, the NBA sneaks up from behind and says “Gotcha!”

Mutombo would eventually get traded to Portland, remember? Dale Davis and Bonzi Wells would soon bring their games to the City of Brotherly Love. Mutombo and his 68-year old carcass would try mightily to counteract Shaq five times in the regular season and hopefully even more in the playoffs.

And Keith Van Horn was auditioning for the lead role in M. Night Shymalan’s new flick “Untradeable”. In fact, the only two teams that were said to have even a passing interest in Van Horn and his gluttonous contract were the Jazz (because of the obvious local connection) and the Knicks (because of Scott Layden’s fetish for acquiring anyone with a local connection to Utah).

I love a trade that happens without the press knowing about it five weeks in advance.

The Nets aren’t satisfied with the recent Eastern Conference trend of “One Finals Appearance and Collapse.” Not only do they want to grab the spotlight again next season, they also want to show Jason Kidd that the team is committed to success. After all, if Kidd bolts after next season the team would get set back like a company employing Arthur Andersen as its auditor.

Mutumbo will bring a defensive presence to the Swamplands next season. In addition, rising stud Richard Jefferson steps into the starting five. When Jason Kidd arrived in New Jersey he pushed for Shawn Marion to join him one day. Jefferson may not be in Marion’s bracket yet, but he’s moving on up.

(Pause for collective groan from the readers)

Van Horn will be known in six months as the next UTICA (Unable To Integrate/Co-exist with Allen). Iverson has gone through more second scorers than Liz Taylor has husbands. If Philly thinks Van Horn can complement Iverson now, why did they trade his rights to New Jersey five years ago? That would have saved them two UTICA’s (Jim Jackson and Tim Thomas).

MacCulloch is a player Philly didn’t want to lose a year ago. He was the first example of luxury tax fear when the Sixers declined to match New Jersey’s offer sheet. He’s not in Mutombo’s class, obviously. If he were, this trade wouldn’t have happened. But he is much underrated. In today’s NBA where stiffs and projects earn as much as the Canadian T-Mac, he’s a bargain.

On the Horizon

The Knicks should feel defeated in their attempts to trade Latrell Sprewell. They tried leaking a proposed deal with Minnesota to the press, which Kevin McHale slapped back like Venus Williams at Wimbledon. They tried swapping Sprewell to the Bucks for Robinson only to see him traded to Atlanta, who was an earlier subject of a make believe trade rumor. Trading Sprewell to the Nets for Van Horn is also extinguished.

Portland may eventually succeed in their attempts to trade Stoudamire. The Timberwolves have been mentioned as a possibility, but McHale is picky when it comes to point guards. If he finds too many warts in Stoudamire’s game, he may decide to try and make it through the season on Terrell Brandon’s gimpy knee.

New York is still in the market for a point guard and Nick Van Exel is the popular target. Don’t discount the possibility of moving Sprewell to Portland for Stoudamire. Ideally, the Knicks would also get Ruben Patterson in return. The Knicks would have a newly-created spot for him, and the Blazers may want to give Qyntel Woods playing time early in the season. .

Another former Knick, Marcus Camby, has been mentioned in a deal with the Blazers that would send Derek Anderson to Denver. If history is on any sort of loop, the Nuggets would trade Anderson a year later. After only five seasons in the league, Anderson looks like a UTICA himself, only he’s Unable To Integrate/Co-exist with Anyone.

Gary Payton is showing all the signs of being the next Disgruntled NBA Star to Demand a Trade. Though he may have to act fast to get in ahead of Karl Malone.

If the Sonics lose Rashard Lewis, it could be the last straw for Payton. Indiana might try to land Payton for a package of Jamaal Tinsley, Al Harrington and Ron Mercer/Austin Croshere and draft picks. With Payton, they'd be favorites to win the East. The Sonics would lose salary cap room for next summer but would have a pretty good group of young players.

The on-and-off again relationship between Malone and Jazz owner Larry Miller seems to be off again. Regardless of whether John Stockton returns for a 38th season, Malone could take a look at the prospective Jazz roster and ask for 11 new teammates.

That's easier said than done. Malone has a no-trade clause. The Jazz don’t want to give Malone away, nor do they want to just accept the first deal that our Trade Checker Okays. Few teams would be able to put together a package that would satisfy both the Jazz and Malone.

One sleeper team could be the Pistons, an Eastern Conference surprise last season. A package of Jerry Stackhouse, Clifford Robinson and Michael Curry is cap friendly. Malone would be the focal point of Detroit’s offense, which would still give him a chance to break the career scoring record. He could fit in well alongside Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace. The Eastern Conference fabric is delicate and such a deal could give the Pistons a legit chance to return to the Finals after a 12-year absence.

Stackhouse can opt out after the season, but Utah may not mind. Their salary commitments will be low and they could afford to max out Stackhouse, if they wished. Teaming Stackhouse with Andrei Kirilenko and Raul Lopez would be a quick rebuild.

Or maybe these five trades in five days have me a little overheated. Someone pass me a be…er…lemonade.