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Inside The NBA

The game wasn't the only thing for the 16 stars at The Game

To say that 16 star players played an exhibition game in
Atlantic City last Saturday night just to show solidarity with
their union (or to assault the craps tables) is simplistic. Many
of them had ulterior motives. Consider Magic guard Anfernee
Hardaway. In December 1997, Hardaway underwent a second
operation in 13 months on his left knee and felt betrayed by
Orlando's front office, whose remarks he felt minimized his
injury. If the 1998-99 season ever gets started, Hardaway knows
he might be traded, and he used the charity event--The Game on
Showtime, as its organizers called it--to show interested
parties that he's not damaged goods.

"For me, the lockout has been both good and bad," Hardaway said
before the exhibition at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
"It gave me a chance to rest my knee and put some distance
between me and all the controversy of last season. The bad part
is, I haven't been able to prove to people I'm fine."

Hardaway accomplished at least that much last Saturday. Though
he scored only three points on 1-for-6 shooting, he appeared fit
and energetic. When he becomes a free agent next summer,
Hardaway will want a bundle--say, $15 million a year, assuming a
new collective-bargaining agreement will allow teams to pay a
player that much. He prefers to stay in Orlando, but he doubts
that the Magic owners will break the bank for him. "The reason
they left me out there on an island with this injury was because
they didn't want to pay me," Hardaway said, "but I can put that
behind me."

Penny was overshadowed in Atlantic City by the other Hardaway--the
Heat's Tim, who scored 33 points, including 19 in the fourth
quarter, to lead his team to a 125-119 win. He knocked down seven
three-pointers and goosed the fans with a killer crossover that
left even the man guarding him, Penny, grinning.

A crowd of 9,526, seemingly a generous count in the
12,000-capacity arena, greeted the players warmly. With the
exception of Cavaliers forward Shawn Kemp, who looked to be
carrying an extra 20 or so pounds, the stars were in good shape.

The most sobering aspect of the game was that it may have been a
preview of NBA All-Star Games to come: Michael Jordan wasn't in
uniform--or even in the building. Instead, he was honoring a
commitment he had made a year ago to play in a celebrity golf
tournament near Palm Springs, Calif. According to Charles
Barkley, who coached the winning team, the reason Jordan didn't
attend was because he has been retired for months. "Why do I
have to keep telling you people the same thing over and over?"
asked Barkley. "Michael has done his part. It's over for him
now. Can't y'all just leave the man alone?"

Not all the players were so understanding of Jordan's absence,
particularly after he had participated in collective-bargaining
negotiations and vowed to remain committed to the union cause,
regardless of whether he plays this season. "I'm disappointed
he's not here," said Karl Malone. "His agent [David Falk] is the
one putting this game on. It would be like my guy, Dwight Manley,
having a game in Vegas and me not showing up. There are other
things I could be doing, too, but once I make a stand on
something, I'm not going to do it halfway. It's my duty to be
here. If Michael is retired, then fine, I can handle that. But if
he's not...."

If he's not, it will thwart Malone's bid to become the NBA's
signature star, a quest that in part prompted him to make the
trek to Atlantic City. The Mailman acknowledged that he has
thought a great deal about wanting to assume that lofty position,
if, in fact, Jordan has played his last game.

Sprewell's Future

The word in both locker rooms in Atlantic City was that Warriors
guard Latrell Sprewell has been working out vigorously during the
lockout and that he recognizes he must be on his best behavior to
salvage his career. The lockout had no effect on Sprewell's
suspension, which was for a period of one year dating from Dec.
4, 1997, not for a predetermined number of games, so he can
resume playing whenever a labor agreement is reached. Sources in
the Bay Area say Golden State will unload Sprewell as soon as it

The Warriors have talked to the Heat about trading Sprewell for
forwards P.J. Brown and Jamal Mashburn, but Miami has also been
in discussions with the Celtics about forward Antoine Walker. If
a deal with the Heat doesn't happen, Golden State might ship
Sprewell to the Spurs, who desperately want him. But San Antonio
would have to put together a three-way trade, because the
Warriors have no interest in Spurs Sean Elliott, Will Perdue or
Chuck Person. Golden State will also check in one more time with
the Pacers, who covet Sprewell but refuse to part with Antonio
Davis. The Warriors would settle for Dale Davis, but Indiana
balked once before on that swap.

The Rockets' Plans

Last May the leaguewide assumption was that Antonio McDyess, a
third-year power forward, would re-sign with the Suns when he
became a free agent in the summer. That's no longer the case.
During the lockout McDyess, citing a desire for more attentive
counsel, replaced agent Arn Tellem with James Bryant and Tony
Dutt. He then told Phoenix he plans to test the market.

McDyess has told friends he wants to talk to the Nuggets, for
whom he played during his first two seasons in the NBA, and is
keenly interested in sitting down with the Rockets, who are also
high on free agent Scottie Pippen's list. Phoenix could still
re-sign McDyess, but the Suns no longer are the prohibitive

"The fact Antonio is unrestricted makes it foolish to say one
team should have the edge over another," says Dutt. "The Suns
have to understand that. If they felt Antonio was going to be
their main guy, they should have locked him up last summer."

Some league observers believe the addition of McDyess and/or
Pippen would signal the end of Charles Barkley's run with
Houston. But Sir Charles, who also is a free agent and whose
right triceps, which he tore last May, isn't fully healed,
insists the Rockets want him back. "I'd be just as happy to stay
in Houston, because I don't want to move again," Barkley says.
"But only if they get some help. You're right about McDyess; they
like him. If they got someone like him, I'd stick around. But
I've been talking to six other teams. I can't tell you who they
are, because it's illegal for me to talk to them, but I've told
them it won't be about money. I want to get me a ring."

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Gary Payton proved to Dan Majerle (9) and Tim Hardaway in Atlantic City that, despite the lockout, he hasn't lost his drive.


The Hawks are said to be the front-runners to sign free-agent
small forward Rick Fox, who played for the Lakers last season for
$1 million but will get a richer, multiyear deal this time....

Whenever there's a vote on a new collective-bargaining agreement,
it won't be a roll call of all the players. The union decided
during its pep rally in Las Vegas in October to give its
executive committee voting power....

Team sources say the Clippers have settled on assistant Jim
Brewer as their next coach, but they won't announce his hiring
until the lockout is over. That way they will be able to save
money by prorating his salary....

The free-agent boards on at least four teams show center Isaac
Austin heading to the Magic. "I've talked to him, and he wants
to come," says Orlando star Penny Hardaway....

Patrick Ewing denies that the Knicks are freezing out forward
Marcus Camby, who was acquired from the Raptors last June in a
deal for the popular Charles Oakley. Nor, apparently, is Ewing
rolling out the welcome mat. "Marcus and I work out at the same
place, and I don't talk to him all that much, but that's because
he's usually finishing up his workout just as I'm coming in, and
it's hard to have a conversation with someone when you are on a
treadmill," Ewing says. "Hey, we all know Marcus can help us.
He's a good shot blocker, and we're going to push him. But you
can only push a guy as far as he wants to be pushed."