LOADED FOR ONE MORE RUN
The not-so-odd couple. Sorry, Oprah, but don't expect All-Star
guard Michael Jordan, who unretired last March, and All-Weird
forward Dennis Rodman, who arrived from the San Antonio Spurs
this fall in a trade for center Will Perdue, to provide you with
a lot of juicy material. On the court Rodman is the consummate
team player and, more important, the game's most relentless
rebounder. Rodman should dovetail nicely with Jordan, whose
avowed goal is proving that he's still the most exciting and
unstoppable player on the planet. Throw in All-Star forward
Scottie Pippen, and Chicago has three players who are the best
in the league at their positions.
The weak link. Plodding center Luc Longley. He's often out of
sync with his high-octane teammates.
The urgency factor. Of the core players, only Longley and
swingman Toni Kukoc are less than 30 years old.
Outlook. The Bulls are the favorites to run to the title.
IT'S NOW OR NEVER
Best additions. Newcomers but old-timers Eddie Johnson and
Ricky Pierce, both 36, can come off the bench and produce
instant offense with their outside shooting. This should enable
Indiana to take pressure off All-Star guard Reggie Miller,
heretofore its sole long-range threat, and the Pacers' strong
inside players--center Rik Smits and the Davis forwards, Antonio
The point of no returns? Like Miller, point guard Mark Jackson
has had his differences with coach Larry Brown, who says Jackson
lost his intensity somewhere between L.A., where Brown coached
him as a Clipper, and Indiana. "Reggie and Rik are capable of
making the big shot at any time," Brown says, "but they need
someone to get them the ball." If Jackson isn't that someone,
maybe rookie Travis Best is.
Stat that can't be repeated. The Davises' total of 45 games
lost to injury in 1994-95.
Outlook. After two years of teasing their fans with Game 7
losses in the conference finals, the Pacers know they must
'ZO IT GOES
No mourning, please. The Nov. 3 trade sending All-Star center
Alonzo Mourning to the Heat for forward Glen Rice, center Matt
Geiger and guard Khalid Reeves makes the Hornets a different
kind of team but not necessarily a lesser one. Their
center-by-committee--Geiger, Robert Parish and pleasantly
surprising rookie George Zidek--won't hurt them too much in a
Rice is nice. The Hornets will make up for Mourning's loss on D
by stepping up their offense, with Rice (19.3-point career
average) and guard Kendall Gill (a former Hornet reacquired from
the Seattle SuperSonics) bombing from outside while forward
Larry Johnson shoulders more of the load around the hoop.
Added dividend. Reeves. He can spell point guard Muggsy Bogues
(out until mid-December after knee surgery), which allows coach
Allan Bristow to keep Gill in the shooting-guard spot, his
Outlook. Higher scores but probably at or near last season's 50
RESTARTING THE ENGINE
Best acquisition. Doug Collins. He last coached in the NBA in
1989 (with the Bulls), but Collins says he kept up through his
analyst's job with Turner Sports. Says former Detroit coach
Chuck Daly, "I think you can project him as coach of the year."
Second-best acquisition. In veteran Otis Thorpe, the Pistons
got from the Portland Trail Blazers a powerful rebounder and
defensive stopper. "We've got enough finesse players," said
Collins. "We need some dirty-work guys." If that sounds like a
message to small forward and last season's co-Rookie of the Year
Grant Hill, so be it. Rugged rookies Theo Ratliff and Lou Roe
give Hill plenty of banging in practice.
Breakthrough player. Third-year shooting guard Allan Houston.
He led the Pistons in scoring in 13 of the team's final 24 games
last season and moved his scoring average from 8.5 to 14.5.
Outlook. Under Collins, the Pistons won't regain their Bad
Boys' image or level of success, but they also won't be a team
that can easily be pushed around.
A POSTSEASON AT LAST?
Top dog. No, it's not 1994's No. 1 overall draft choice, small
forward Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson, despite last season's
team-leading 21.9-point average. Rather, it's All-Star power
forward Vin Baker, who led the NBA in minutes played (3,361),
mainly because Milwaukee's glaring weakness at center forced him
to pull extra duty in the post. Coach Mike Dunleavy hopes to
give Baker more rest this season, even though the Bucks are
still weak in the middle. Eric Mobley can rebound and block a
few shots, but his offense is woeful.
The key move. Milwaukee's hoping that rookie Shawn Respert, who
played the point in high school, can make the transition from
shooting guard, where he was a star (21.3-point average) at
Michigan State. But so far Respert's efforts to upgrade his ball
handling and passing seem to have hurt his shooting.
Outlook. As Dunleavy enters the fourth year of an eight-year,
$8 million deal, he's on schedule to rebuild the Bucks. Barely.
Look for Milwaukee, 34-48 last season, to make a strong run at
NEW LOGO, OLD PROBLEMS
The five-ringed question. Will Lenny Wilkens, the coach of
Dream Team III in next year's Atlanta Olympics, be able to give
the Hawks his full attention? "My Olympic work is mostly done,"
says Wilkens. "It shouldn't be a problem."
New look. Was that a hawk or a Pac Man on Atlanta's old
uniforms? No mistake about it, that's definitely a bird soaring
across the redesigned Atlanta jersey.
Good points. Point guard Mookie Blaylock has few peers at
pushing the ball up the floor and distributing it, and shooting
guard Steve Smith, who worked out with a private trainer last
summer, should be stronger and more consistent. The Hawks hope
the return of 5'7" veteran Spud Webb from the Sacramento Kings
will keep Blaylock fresh.
The weak front. Wilkens needs to find an inside player who
regularly can fill it up. Center Alan Henderson, the first-round
draft pick out of Indiana, may not be quick enough.
Outlook. "We're not a contender yet," Wilkens says, "but we're
moving in that direction." They may arrive in time for the
Olympics--the 2000 Olympics.
FROM HERE TO THE LOTTERY
Movin' on down. The fire sale that sent point guard Mark Price
to the Washington Bullets for a No. 1 draft choice, and
forward-center John (Hot Rod) Williams to the Phoenix Suns for
shooting guard Dan Majerle almost certainly dooms coach Mike
Fratello's Cavs to the lottery.
The big hurt. Going into the season, center Brad Daugherty had
not played in 111 consecutive games after a pair of herniated
disks sent him to the sidelines in February 1994. He is not
expected to return to action until midseason, if ever.
Most intriguing newcomers (tie). After three frustrating years
with the Miami Heat, guard Harold Miner hopes to turn around his
career with the Cavs. And Majerle hopes to regain his lost
All-Rookie quote. "I consider myself to be sort of like a Clyde
Drexler," says first-round draft choice Bob Sura. "A guy who is
a great rebounding guard, who is able to start the fast break
and finish up at the other end. And also a great post-up guard."
Outlook. Cleveland might as well be an expansion team,
considering the rebuilding job in front of it.
IS SMALL BEAUTIFUL?
The gamble. First-year expansion franchise Toronto alienated a
lot of its fans by using its first draft pick to take diminutive
southpaw point guard Damon Stoudamire of Arizona, who's
generously listed at 5'10". The choice was greeted with a loud
chorus of boos in the SkyDome, site of the draft. "They weren't
aware of him, that's all," says Raptor general manager Isiah
Thomas, who made Stoudamire the cornerstone of his franchise.
Stoudamire may be short, but in the preseason he flashed some
tall talent, averaging 16.9 points and 7.4 assists.
Best candidates for the Expansion Hall of Fame. Forward Willie
Anderson, guard Alvin Robertson and forward Carlos Rogers.
Anderson could be Toronto's first All-Star, Robertson provides
leadership and intensity, and Rogers figures to improve his
numbers from last season with the Golden State Warriors (8.9
points and 5.7 rebounds per game).
Outlook. It will be a while before rookie coach Brendan
Malone's Raptors are scary enough to turn the SkyDome into
Jurassic Park. Their only realistic goal is to beat out
Cleveland for seventh place.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Onetime Hornet Gill is back shooting in Charlotte. [Kendall Gill]
COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBA PHOTOS Stoudamire (with ball) may yet enrapture Toronto fans. [Damon Stoudamire shooting basketball over opponent]