Two For II
The final two spots on the 12-man team that will represent the U.S. at the world championships in Toronto next August—the so-called Dream Team II—won't be announced until next spring, which means the 1993-94 season shapes up as one long audition for the vacancies. At the moment 76er guard Jeff Hornacek and Clipper forward Danny Manning appear to be the leading candidates. (There's actually a third opening, but Magic center Shaquille O'Neal is likely to fill that one when USA Basketball and Pepsi, with whom O'Neal has a multimillion-dollar endorsement contract, resolve their well-chronicled dispute.)
The U.S. lost a point guard when the Warriors' Tim Hardaway went down with a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 21, but that doesn't necessarily mean another one will be chosen, since U.S.—and Warrior—coach Don Nelson still has a pair of point men: the Cavaliers' Mark Price and the Heat's Steve Smith. Hornacek, the Suns' Kevin Johnson and the Kings' Mitch Richmond are mentioned most often as replacements for Hardaway, but Hornacek has the inside track because of his outside shooting and versatility.
You can probably forget about Isiah Thomas. There were those who thought the selection committee might pick Thomas, the 12-time Piston All-Star, to make up for leaving him off the 1992 Olympic Dream Team roster, but the consensus is that Thomas is past his prime and can't match the versatility of some of the other players. "Frankly, although he's a great player, Isiah just didn't get enough support," says a member of the USA Basketball commission that selects the team.
The Hawks' Dominique Wilkins is the only true small forward on the formidable roster, which is why Manning is the top candidate for the other opening.
But there is still plenty of time for NBA players—unlike the '92 team, there will be no collegian on this squad—to play themselves into or out of consideration.
Not So Great Scott
Amid all the commotion over Michael Jordan's retirement, several other NBA veterans who called it quits after last season were allowed to slip away without a proper goodbye, so let's take a moment to say farewell to such familiar faces as Kevin McHale (page 146), Bernard King, Tree Rollins, Sidney Green and Larry Smith. And then there's Scott Hastings, who announced the end of his 11-year career two days before Jordan's stunner.
Hastings, a joke-cracking, splinter-gathering backup center with a 2.8 career scoring average, says it wasn't just a coincidence that Jordan was so quick to follow him into retirement. "Most people didn't notice that at his retirement press conference, Michael's microphone went dead for a few minutes," Hastings says. "What he was saying during that time was that it made no sense for him to keep playing now that he no longer had Scott Hastings to compete against. There was just no challenge for him any longer."
Of course, Hastings is kidding, which is what he did best during a career that included stints with the Knicks, Hawks, Heat, Pistons and Nuggets. He quit the game to split his time between doing color commentary on Nugget telecasts and NBA analysis for the new ESPN2. "I'll basically be Jack Ramsay with a sense of humor," he says.
He'll no doubt tell viewers about his career highlights, which include earning a championship ring with the Pistons in 1990, but the lowlights will make for better stories, such as the time in Cleveland when he went to the bathroom at halftime and emerged to find that the entire team had gone out for the second half and accidentally locked him in the locker room. "The worst thing," he says, "was that when I finally got out there halfway through the third quarter and apologized to the coaches, they hadn't even realized I was gone."
But undoubtedly Hastings' greatest career accomplishment was that Jordan never dunked on him. "Never got the chance," says Hastings, proudly. "I always fouled him."
The NBA has installed storm windows for the upcoming hurricane season. Having seen the powerful force of nature that tends to blow in from Orlando from time to time, destroying rims, backboards and goal supports in its path, the league has taken some unique precautions against any recurrences of Hurricane Shaq.
Last Feb. 7 a particularly emphatic dunk by the Magic's 7'1" 301-pound O'Neal forced a hydraulic goal standard to crumple. Then on April 23, he also ripped down a backboard, which in turn broke a 24-second clock. "Whether it was Shaquille or someone else, with the size of these guys it was just a matter of time," NBA vice-president Rod Thorn says.
Shaq's acts prompted league officials to hire a structural-design firm to test the bolts and screws of each basket in every NBA arena during the off-season to make sure they could withstand the force of his most violent attacks.
Thorn seems satisfied that O'Neal won't cause another major delay (it took the Suns 37 minutes to replace the crumpled support during a nationally televised game), but we're not so sure. Maybe our reluctance has something to do with the new tattoo—a big Superman S—O'Neal is sporting on his left biceps.
At this rate the Rockets will soon be known as the cradle of coaches. Three former Rocket players—Robert Reid, Tree Rollins and Larry Smith—have joined the ranks of NBA assistant coaches for the '93-94 season. Reid is with the Bullets, Rollins with the Magic and Smith with the Rockets. The players are part of a sudden influx of recently retired players into the league's coveted coaching ranks.
When Reid ran into Rollins and Smith at the annual league meetings in Palm Desert, Calif., last September, they all looked at one another and laughed out loud. "We congratulated each other; and then we said, 'Can you believe we're here?' " Reid says.
They were there in part because of an increasing feeling among league executives that ex-players not far removed from active duty often have a much easier time reaching today's players. "There have always been former players as assistants," Reid says, "but I think the guys who have recently hung it up are getting more consideration now because motivating these young guys and relating to them is getting to be so important—and more and more of a challenge. Sometimes those of us just out of the league know just what buttons to push."
Can Bulls Bear It?
It's possible that the Bulls will shake off the effects of Jordan's retirement like a case of the sniffles and shock everyone by marching to their fourth consecutive NBA title. History, however, suggests that they're more likely to take, a tumble.
A look at five of the greatest NBA stars of the past 25 years reveals that their teams suffered significant slides the year after they retired (chart, below). Last season's Celtics made the best adjustment, winning only three fewer regular-season games after Larry Bird's retirement than they did in 1991-92. But the Celtics also advanced to the Eastern Conference semis during Bird's final season. Last season they were first-round-playoff losers.
Another Celtic team suffered the worst drop, from NBA champions in center Bill Russell's last season to a nonplayoff team the following year. But the situation that most closely resembles Chicago's was that of the 1991-92 Lakers, the first post-Magic team. Like Jordan, Johnson retired without warning shortly before the start of the season, leaving his team little time to compensate for his absence. The result? A 15-game decline in L.A.'s regular-season record and a first-round loss in the playoffs. In Magic's final season the Lakers had reached the Finals. "We'll do our best," says Bull coach Phil Jackson. "But I know we're bucking a trend."
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH