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Original Issue

Inside The NBA

The biggest gamble in the draft may turn on a big man from France

There has never been a better time to be very tall. Look at
Vancouver big man Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, who just
completed the most embarrassing season of his young career after
showing up at training camp 40 pounds overweight. Despite his
horrid showing, the Grizzlies have no plans to shop him, because
they know that Reeves, love handles and all, is an infinitely
better center than anyone they can obtain with the No. 2 pick in
the June 30 draft.

The 1999 crop of NBA hopefuls is exceedingly short of impact big
men. The two best college prospects, Evan Eschmeyer of
Northwestern and Todd (Little Country) MacCulloch of Washington,
have the look, smell and lumbering gait of career backups. Both
are projected as late first-rounders. No wonder Sacramento is
monitoring the caloric intake of Oliver Miller, who has
reportedly dropped 40 pounds at a fat farm. No wonder scouts got
all tingly when it appeared that 7'4" Chinese center Yao Ming
might declare himself eligible for the NBA draft. (He didn't.)

While 7'3" Serbian center Aleksandar Radojevic has gotten the
most predraft ink, Frederic Weis, a 7'2", 22-year-old center for
a team in Limoges, France, may be the most intriguing gamble in
this year's draft. According to Dallas assistant Donn Nelson, an
avid follower of foreign talent, Weis is "soft but skilled," but
his most pressing problem is that very few NBA coaches and
general managers have seen him play. He has declined to work out
for NBA clubs and did not show up at the predraft cattle call in
Chicago last week for a physical, which is of critical
importance, since Weis had back surgery on April 1.

Atlanta scout Gary Wortman first saw Weis play four years ago in
the Junior World Championships in Greece. "If he was working out
for teams, he'd be a first-round pick," Wortman says. "But
there's so much mystery surrounding him. I'm not sure how many
teams would take a chance on him without giving him a physical,
because of his back."

Limoges owner Didier Rose, who doubles as Weis's agent, says the
player's surgery was successful. "Frederic is 100 percent
healthy," Rose says. Weis's decision on whether or not to play
in the NBA next season will be determined by his place in the
draft. "If we are at the top of the draft, we are ready to
come," Rose says. "If not, then perhaps we will want a little
more time."

The Hawks, who are in the market for a backup to Dikembe
Mutombo, are the team most likely to take a chance on Weis. They
have four first-round picks and can afford to gamble. Rose says
he will be disappointed if Weis falls below the top 15 in the
draft. "He is the best center in Europe," the agent says. The
question remains: Is that really saying a whole lot?

NBA Coaches' Work Fair

The party line: NBA coaches, scouts and general managers
convened at the Chicago predraft camp last week to evaluate
borderline talent. The hidden agenda: The annual gathering is a
job fair for coaches. The only people there who were able to
relax were the coaches with secure futures and the general
managers who have all their positions filled. Everybody else was
busily exchanging resumes.

New Orlando coach Doc Rivers spent his time accepting
congratulations--and applications for positions on his staff. He
also called pouty point guard Penny Hardaway, who exercised his
option to become a free agent but told Rivers that he was
willing to stay in Orlando if Rivers would give him a fair
shake. "He said he feels like he's been on an island by
himself," Rivers said. "I told him I wanted to get a boat and
bring him back to land."

Rivers's nautical maneuvers do not preclude a sign-and-trade
agreement with Hardaway, who would like to go West. The Clippers
want him, but Penny is thinking more along the lines of the
other Los Angeles team, the one coached by Kurt Rambis for most
of last season.

When Rambis arrived in Chicago on June 7, he was still coach of
the Lakers, but on June 10 his boss, Jerry West, jetted home
from Chicago to "attend to some business," and Rambis learned
that West and owner Jerry Buss were deep in negotiations with
Phil Jackson. With Jackson's signing apparently imminent, Rambis
stood against one wall of the gym where workouts were held,
wondering why he was there. "I can't worry about things I can't
control," he said softly. Ten minutes later he slipped out the
back door.

Detroit assistant Gar Heard, a candidate for the vacant
Washington job, knows the feeling. He was thrilled when he
discovered that Rivers was going to take the Magic job, because
Heard had surmised that the Wizards had narrowed their choices
to Rivers and him. A short time later news broke that Isiah
Thomas was in the mix for the Washington job. By last Saturday,
the suspense--and the sympathetic looks from fellow coaches--was
killing Heard. "Wes told me that nothing was done yet," Heard
said. "He told me to sit tight."

At least Heard has a job. For every three gainfully employed
coaches pressing the flesh, there was another looking for a
break. Former Bulls and Detroit assistant Johnny Bach was
sitting at midcourt, keeping an eye on the players--and on the
G.M.'s. Deposed Washington coach Bernie Bickerstaff popped in to
remind everybody that he was still alive. Axed New Jersey coach
John Calipari was working the crowd, while former Dallas coach
Jim Cleamons took a long walk with Rivers to discuss joining
Orlando's staff. Rivers has already decided to hire Lakers
assistant Dave Wohl, who knows he'll be out of a job if Jackson
takes over in L.A.

Jackson's employment status also had New Jersey's staff in
limbo. His rumored deal with L.A. was good news for Nets interim
coach Don Casey, who fretted in Chicago on June 8 and 9 but was
summoned back to New Jersey on June 10 to meet with majority
owner Lewis Katz. As word spread that Casey was about to have
the interim tag removed from his title, the buzzing began in
earnest: What about his assistants? Eddie Jordan and Jimmy Lynam
are expected to be retained--disappointing news for coaches
without a team or, with the predraft camp coming to a close,
without much hope.

Until next June.

COLOR PHOTO: J.F. MOLLIERE NBA scouts love Weis's touch and hands but worry about his toughness and his back.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Hill is likely to re-sign with Detroit, but only because he has few options.

Around The Rim

Think everything's hunky-dory for the Knicks in the wake of
their improbable run at the NBA title? Think again. Team sources
say Latrell Sprewell has told teammates he won't play for coach
Jeff Van Gundy again. If Van Gundy returns, Spree wants to be
traded to Atlanta....

The Timberwolves are mulling sign-and-trade options involving
point guard Terrell Brandon, who can become a free agent on July
1. One possible trade: the Clippers' Lorenzen Wright and L.A.'s
No. 4 pick (which Minnesota could use to take Steve Francis or
Baron Davis) for Brandon and the T-wolves' No. 6 pick. One
hitch: Brandon has to agree to the deal....

People close to Grant Hill say he's leaning toward re-signing
with Detroit. The Pistons are very lucky that Hill doesn't want
to play on the West Coast and that the only Eastern Conference
team with sufficient cap room to sign him is Chicago....

Those rumors about Cleveland hoping to hire Minnesota assistant
Randy Wittman to replace fired coach Mike Fratello have died
down. Jim Paxson, who will take over the Cleveland G.M. job July
1, did not speak to Wittman at the NBA predraft camp, and a
source close to the Cleveland job search says the Cavs have
entered into discussions with former Hornets coach Dave Cowens....

Boston G.M Chris Wallace says the best thing that could happen
to potential No. 1 pick Lamar Odom, is to end up on a veteran
club. "Lamar is a tremendous talent," says Wallace, "but I don't
think his personality is that of a dominating player. He'd be
far more comfortable as a setup guy on a team that has quality
scorers, instead of a team that will ask him to be the savior."