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06-21-2001, 10:24 PM
Emerging dynasty might be future of NBA
June 19, 2001
By Mike Kahn
SportsLine.com Executive Editor

New stars began to glitter from coast to coast, a dynasty is in the making and new rules might change the face of the game next season.

What else could the NBA want for the 2001-2002 season as it inches its way back into good stead with basketball fans turned off by the lockout of the 1998-99 season and the retirement of Michael Jordan?

Allen Iverson has matured into one of the NBA's brightest stars.(Allsport)

The league bragged about the best attendance figures ever in the postseason and NBC boasted it had the best viewing audience since pre-lockout days. That's all well and good, but not the point.

It's all about basketball and whether we really like what the past season wrought.

The Los Angeles Lakers have established themselves as the team of the new millennium. After polishing off the Philadelphia 76ers in five games, setting an NBA record by stomping through the playoffs at 15-1, and featuring two of the best and most popular players in the game -- Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant -- coach Phil Jackson has established himself as one of the greatest coaches in all of sports, now owning eight titles in 11 seasons.

Still, nothing makes more sense than if they win a third consecutive title next season to begin referring to it as the Shaq Dynasty, considering the self-proclaimed "Big Historian" claimed his second consecutive NBA Finals most valuable player award last week.

That said, the Sixers were remarkable in their own right, beginning the season 10-0 with Allen Iverson maturing before our very eyes as a player and person to win the scoring title, the steals title, the All-Star Game MVP and the regular season MVP award. Larry Brown finally earned a much-deserved coach of the year award, and this team stood toe-to-toe with the Lakers for the better part of five games despite suffering from numerous broken bones and being woefully undermanned.

We also saw Tracy McGrady single-handedly carry the Orlando Magic into the playoffs and gave us the revelation that Vince Carter now is known as Tracy McGrady's cousin, rather than the other way around. McGrady, who chose to leave Toronto with free-agent status, did not have the good fortune of Grant Hill at his side, despite both bolting for Orlando to play for Doc Rivers. Hill required a second surgery on his ankle, but is expected to be in grand shape for next season.

Carter did lead the Toronto Raptors into the second round, only to lose in Game 7 to the Sixers, and Carter drew criticism for attending his college graduation at North Carolina the morning of the decisive game. More important is the future of the franchise as center Antonio Davis seems determined to be yet another free agent on the move this summer.

Coach George Karl took the Milwaukee Bucks to a Central Division title and gave his team every chance to knock out the Sixers, but couldn't compete with the way Iverson kept raising his game. Nonetheless, Ray Allen proved he's not just an actor with game, he's an NBA superstar with plenty of weapons, and this will be a fun team to watch as Karl carries a new contract of $7 million a season plus ownership of the Bucks to set a new standard for coaches.

Along the way, Charlotte coach Paul Silas silenced his critics -- including Pat Riley who had accused Silas of being a lazy assistant with the Knicks -- and stunningly swept Riley and the Miami Heat in the first round. Jamal Mashburn also earned a measure of satisfaction with his new team after all the, uh, heat he took as an underachiever in Miami. Young point guard Baron Davis is the emerging star on the Hornets.

It was encouraging to see Alonzo Mourning healthy enough to return late in the season and for the playoffs despite missing virtually the entire regular season with a kidney ailment. But Tim Hardaway's knees are shot, and plenty of questions loom for Riley and the Heat over the maximum contracts that were given to good but not great players Brian Grant and Eddie Jones.

The Portland Trail Blazers completely fell apart in March and never responded. The team that blew Game 7 in the fourth quarter of the 2000 Western Conference finals to the Lakers never got off the mark this spring, losing 17 of their final 25 games. Rasheed Wallace broke the record he set last season for technical fouls, Shawn Kemp went into cocaine rehab, Bonzi Wells tore up his knee, and aging Arvydas Sabonis looked ready to call it a career. So losing to the Lakers in the first round this time around was almost a relief and then coach Mike Dunleavy was fired. Whew ... talk about how the mighty have fallen.

The Sacramento Kings finally did make it out of the first round -- with the clock ticking on the final year of Chris Webber's contract -- and they too were swept. But the Kings shared the Pacific Division crown with the Lakers, have two of the best young European players in the game in Peja Stojakovic and Hidayet Turkoglu, and show promise where there was none before.

And just when everything looked bright in San Antonio with the return of Tim Duncan to full health from knee surgery, and they arrived at the Western Conference finals armed and ready to show their top seed was no fluke to the Lakers, there was a complete collapse ... getting swept by an average of 22.3 points a game. We'll have to see the ramifications for next season, with young guards Derek Anderson and Antonio Daniels the keys to building around Duncan, with everyone else aging rapidly.

We watched as the reconstructed Dallas Mavericks made an improbable run as the fifth seed upsetting the Utah Jazz in the playoffs. Led by their new owner Mark Cuban (also know as the Mouth that Roared), the Mavs are a young group that will be dangerous for years to come in the West. It left the Jazz wondering out loud if the run with 39-year-old John Stockton and 38-year-old Karl Malone is over, and if it's time to move on.

The Phoenix Suns had more off-court problems than they've had for years, with coach Scott Skiles doing an exceptional job keeping the team together and challenging the Kings in the first round before bowing out. Penny Hardaway allegedly brandished a gun at his girlfriend, Jason Kidd admitted hitting his wife and Cliff Robinson was picked up for DUI. And Hardaway played all of four games.

The New York Knicks have the look of a team in transition, too. Larry Johnson, Luc Longley and Charlie Ward all had whispers of retirement surrounding them, and that was before Dave Checketts was given the boot as president of Madison Square Garden (the Knicks and the Rangers). Considering Allan Houston will opt out for free agency, there's no telling what teammate Latrell Sprewell will be looking at next season.

And of all the name players who could be moved this offseason, none come with a better track record than Gary Payton. Payton means everything to the Seattle SuperSonics, but they haven't made the playoffs two of the past three seasons with him, and new owner Howard Schultz wants to transform this team with a completely different look that will require more than just unloading the albatross better known as high-pay, low-play forward Vin Baker.

We'll wonder what will become of not only Stockton and Malone, but two more aging superstars. Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing are free agents and will attract what is expected to be the $4.5 million mid-level exception. And what will happen in Washington? Now that Michael Jordan has broken two ribs, pushing hard to make a comeback after a three-year absence, will he bring in Olajuwon or Ewing to play with Charles Barkley and himself?

On the flip side, we watched Alvin Gentry take a Los Angeles Clippers team with five players 20 or younger as the season began and more than double their victories from last season. The next step will be tougher, but the concept might even be solid this time around for the Clippers. The Indiana Pacers also went young around Reggie Miller as Hall of Fame player Isiah Thomas made his debut as an NBA coach. Thomas had problems unloading the Continental Basketball Association of which he was owner, and the league disbanded, but he did prove not all of his basketball genius is wasted as a coach. They were predictably erratic at .500 with three players who skipped college for the NBA, but made the playoffs, and figure to be even better this season.

NBA commissioner David Stern, who had previously been an advocate of anyone good enough to play in the NBA once they graduated high school, now has realized the built-in problems and tried to convince the Players Association that an age limit of 20 would be beneficial to all. It didn't fly. But the new NBA-sponsored Developmental League that starts this fall with eight teams will have an age limit of 20.

Stern also helped the NBA Competition Committee implement some rules changes for next season, including the elimination of illegal defenses, touch fouls that have no bearing on the game, and teams will now have eight seconds instead of 10 to cross midcourt. The big change, of course, is any defense will go, and that should speed up the offenses and eliminate the isolation offense that has so often had four players standing around watching the stars try and win games single-handedly.

Vancouver Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley made it clear early on the $25 million that was predicted he'd lose this season actually was more like $40 million and the NBA said it was OK to move. Unless something unforeseen happens in the next couple of weeks, they are bound for Memphis next season, with money coming from at least AutoZone and Federal Express there to help him out of the mess he's in.

The other major mess of the season was in Minnesota, where it was learned that owner Glen Taylor and executive vice president Kevin McHale made a surreptitious seven-year contract with Joe Smith in January 1999 that guaranteed he'd have the maximum $93 million deal after he made it through three, one-year deals at the mid-level exception. Taylor and McHale were suspended by the NBA; Smith's contract was voided and he went to Detroit as a free agent; and coach Flip Saunders interviewed with Portland before deciding to stay in Minnesota. Stern was so angry with the Smith contract that five first-round draft choices were taken from the team (he will probably end up stopping it at three) that dwarfed the multimillion dollar fine.

So where does that leave All-NBA forward Kevin Garnett?

Questioning the future of the NBA just like the rest of us.

Four of the top seven picks in next week's NBA Draft are likely to have just graduated from high school this month. The league keeps getting younger and younger with the talent coming at us in different waves. It's still the best basketball played in the world and will continue to surprise us each year.

But if you're looking for one thing to hang onto, the most likely consistency will be the "Shaq Dynasty." There is symmetry to it ... big symmetry.

Flying Tiger
06-21-2001, 10:28 PM
Thanks man! Good article...I'm very excited about the young talent in the NBA, but not too young. I think that the high school players are ruining their future.