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Original Issue

Inside The NBA

With MJ finally out of his way, Utah's Karl Malone has had an
MVP year

It's time to cast votes--well, just one vote, actually:
mine--for league honors. It has been a stunted season marred
with sloppy play, in which All-NBA mainstays were bounced
(bye-bye Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen and David Robinson), in
which the Rookie of the Year has never been so easy to pick, and
the MVP has never been quite so hard.

After all that, there was still one more tough call: Much like
Magic coach Chuck Daly, I had a lot of trouble figuring out
where in my lineup to put Darrell Armstrong.

Most Valuable Player: Karl Malone, Jazz. While Alonzo Mourning
has had a career year for Miami, and Tim Duncan has turned San
Antonio into a bona fide title contender for the first time,
Malone is still the toughest player in the league to guard and
is the best player on the best team.

Coach of the Year: Pat Riley, Heat. Miami, not a deep team in
the best of times, played most of the season without two
starters, Voshon Lenard and Jamal Mashburn, yet Riley's team had
the best record in the East at week's end.

Rookie of the Year: Vince Carter, Raptors. Celtics forward Paul
Pierce has been strong all season, but Carter is the slam-dunk
choice because of an electrifying scoring style that is backed
up by old-school fundamentals. Carter has been the biggest
highlight in a too-often grim season.

Sixth Man Award: Rasheed Wallace, Trail Blazers. Wallace is the
catalyst for a second unit that has made Portland the deepest
team in the league. He noses out Indiana swing man Jalen Rose,
who sparks the league's second-deepest team.

Most Improved Player: Darrell Armstrong, Magic. He'll probably
get more votes for Sixth Man, but Armstrong was on target to
finish the year with 15 starts. Armstrong went from being a
well-regarded reserve last season to his team's MVP this year.

Defensive Player of the Year: Alonzo Mourning, Heat. In his best
season as a pro, Mourning improved all facets of his game and
finished the season as the league's top shot blocker with 3.98
per game.

All NBA/First Team

F- Karl Malone, Jazz
F- Tim Duncan, Spurs
C- Alonzo Mourning, Heat
G- Gary Payton, SuperSonics
G- Jason Kidd, Suns

Second Team

F- Grant Hill, Pistons
F- Chris Webber, Kings
C- Shaquille O'Neal, Lakers
G- Allen Iverson, 76ers
G- Tim Hardaway, Heat

Third Team

F- Kevin Garnett, Timberwolves
F- Antonio McDyess, Nuggets
C- Dikembe Mutombo, Hawks
G- John Stockton, Jazz
G- Stephon Marbury, Nets

Biggest Bang for the Buck: Forward Corliss Williamson, who
re-signed with Sacramento for a mere $500,000 and was averaging
13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds at week's end.

Smallest Bang for the Buck: Scottie Pippen, who got paid more
than $13 million this season by Houston in the hope that he
could deliver a championship. His scoring dipped 4.3 points per
game, to 14.8.

Best Crystal Ball: Former Lakers coach Del Harris, who told
reporters the day he was dismissed, "This team is better than
6-6, and is just as likely to go off on a 10-game winning streak
whether I'm here or not." The Lakers then immediately won 10

Cracked Crystal Ball: Dallas G.M. and coach Don Nelson, who
declared in February that Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki would
be Rookie of the Year. The 20-year-old German averaged 8.2
points, 3.5 rebounds per game and started 22 games.

Best Personnel Move: By Philadelphia coach Larry Brown, who
shifted Allen Iverson from point to shooting guard and went from
the lottery to the playoffs.

Worst Personnel Move: By Pistons executive vice president and
general manager of basketball operations Rick Sund, who signed
Clippers free agent Loy Vaught, fresh off spinal-fusion surgery,
instead of Suns free agent Clifford Robinson, who can guard
three positions, shoot threes and wanted to sign with the
Pistons. Vaught averaged 3.4 points and 3.9 rebounds per game
through Sunday; Robinson re-signed with the Suns and averaged
16.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.

Best Defense: The full-court press the Nuggets put on free agent
Antonio McDyess, preventing his former Phoenix teammates, who
flew on a chartered plane to Denver and sat for three hours
huddled outside McNichols Arena in a snowstorm, from seeing him
until after he signed.

Worst Offense: The Chicago Bulls. Take away two legs of a
triangle offense and you have...a flat-liner.

Subpar Sonics

It's no fun being Wally Walker. The Sonics president and general
manager has been hammered by his former coach, George Karl,
whose cultlike popularity in Seattle grows with each Sonics loss
under new coach Paul Westphal. With Seattle struggling (23-25 at
week's end), such occasions have been all too frequent this

Walker has been blasted for pushing Karl out, overpaying
free-agent center Jim McIlvaine (who has since been traded) and
allowing free agent Greg Anthony to sign with Portland for $1
million, where he has become a valuable backup to Damon
Stoudamire. So the last thing Walker needed was for a local
newspaperman to overhear Gary Payton's postgame tirade after a
35-point loss to Portland on April 28, and write that Payton had
said, among other things, "I don't care about Wally." The
implication of the story was that Payton was blaming this season
on Walker.

Within hours, Payton angrily denounced the account (his
teammates backed him up), and said he does not have issues with
Walker. "If I did," Payton said, "I'd talk to him about it."
Payton also refuted a recent published report that he would
demand a trade.

Payton may not be railing against Walker or ready to walk, but
he is clearly frustrated by the Sonics' downward spiral. "Gary
is an emotional guy," says his agent, Aaron Goodwin. "He likes
Seattle. He just doesn't like losing."

Payton has made it clear he would like to see changes in the
Sonics' roster this summer, and Walker will try to oblige him.
Vin Baker will be a free agent, and even in the wake of his
injury-plagued season, re-signing him will be the Sonics' top
priority. Walker says he talked to his power forward last week,
and that "Vin told me he wants to stay here."

Goodwin, who also represents Baker, says, "We haven't talked
about anyone but Seattle."

As for the Sonics' other free-agents-to-be, center Olden
Polynice, who has grumbled about his lack of playing time, is as
good as gone, and veterans Hersey Hawkins and Detlef Schrempf,
who both suffered through subpar seasons and who are 32 and 36
years old, respectively, are both big question marks. Walker may
be inclined to pass on those two to make his team younger and
quicker, but if he is, he's not saying. Can you blame him? No
matter what he does, Wally Walker can't win.

A Fine Line

After a win over the Celtics in which Grant Hill scored 32
points, Detroit coach Gentry explained his strategy: "After we
went to Grant we tried to go back to Grant, and when they made
an adjustment, we went to Grant again, and after we went to
Grant and they made another adjustment, we tried to go back to

Send your NBA questions to Phil Taylor at

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Malone, who leads by example and with his elbows, is the best player on the league's top team.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Payton (right) has maintained his level of play despite his team's precipitous drop this season.

Around The Rim

Washington's search for a coach has included chats with Doc
Rivers, Dave Cowens, Mo Cheeks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and recently
retired Knicks forward Buck Williams, but sources say Charlotte
coach Paul Silas could still be in the running. Silas wants to
stay with the Hornets, but if owner George Shinn tries to
lowball him (as he did with Cowens), the Wizards would be a
lucrative alternative....

Minnesota boss Kevin McHale considered adding big man Radoslav
Nesterovic, the T-wolves' first-round pick last year, to the
playoff roster (his season in Italy ended last week), but says,
"I'm not sure it would be fair to throw him in and ask him to
play." As for those rumors McHale will step down at the end of
this season, he says, "There's a far better chance of me walking
away when we've got it turned around than when things aren't
going our way."...

With the Glen Rice experiment exacerbating the chemistry
problems in Los Angeles, the Lakers may explore a sign-and-trade
agreement with him....

The change in ownership in Denver, from Ascent Entertainment
Group Inc. to Bill and Nancy Laurie, heirs to the Wal-Mart
fortune, bodes well for vice president and general manager Dan
Issel and point guard Nick Van Exel, who will be re-signed to a
new deal this summer, but team sources say the future may not be
so golden for first-year coach Mike D'Antoni....

They say you should throw out regular-season results when you
get into the playoffs. That's good news for Miami, which is 3-20
in Madison Square Garden.