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Inside The NBA

Soaring Market
In the midst of a superb year Grant Hill weighs the options
awaiting him

Maybe it's his lean, unmarked body. Maybe it's because even when
he's turning the ball over, he does it with surpassing grace.
Whatever the case, we've become so accustomed to the stylish way
Grant Hill plays that we've been lulled into believing it's
effortless. But after five All-Star seasons with the Pistons, the
27-year-old Hill admits, "There are already things I can't do
that I could when I was 19. O.K., maybe I can still do them, but
they hurt a lot more."

He acknowledges that his place in the NBA hierarchy has changed.
The player who seemed destined to lead the league into this
millennium no longer inspires teen-idol hysteria. The adoring
fans have moved on, wooed by the ferocity of Vince Carter's dunks
and the dazzle of Kobe Bryant's reverse layups. Attendance in
Detroit is sagging, even though Hill is in the midst of his
finest season, at week's end averaging 26.3 points, 6.7 rebounds
and 5.6 assists, while shooting 47.1% from the floor and 82.5%
from the line. Hill has added range to his jumper, hitting 10 of
30 threes through Sunday (he was 0 for 14 last season), and has
perfected a baseline spin move.

"Here's how I look at it," Hill says. "I got too much credit and
too much attention when I was young, and I probably don't get
enough now. It all balances out."

What's certain is that Hill and Spurs center Tim Duncan will get
the lion's share of attention when they become free agents this
summer. Hill is amused by the rumors that he and Duncan, who have
the same agent, Lon Babby, will sign in tandem with either the
Bulls or the Magic. What are the chances of the two stars wearing
the same jerseys next season? "I don't know if Tim would come to
Detroit," Hill says, adding quickly, "I'm joking." Hill will not
tip his hand on his plans until the summer, when he'll be forced
to make a decision.

Here's what SI can tell you that Hill won't. First of all, forget
about Chicago. Pistons and league sources say Hill has no
interest in being part of a rebuilding project. Orlando? Even
with him the Magic would be a long shot for a title, and, sources
say, Hill has questions about why the two best players in
franchise history--Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway--skipped
town. Hill has also told friends and teammates he would prefer to
remain in the East, so ignore the inevitable rumor that the
contending Lakers will sign him for less than market value. The
Raptors may take a run at Hill, but he and Carter are small
forwards, and while Hill is the ultimate team player, his ego is
healthy enough that he won't take a backseat to a younger star.
That's why, even though the 76ers fantasize about ways to clear
some cash to land him, the presence of Allen Iverson makes that
prospect unlikely.

So whom does that leave? Why Detroit, naturally. Yet the Pistons
are also a flawed choice. At week's end the team's record since
Hill arrived in 1994-95 was 209-198. Detroit has neither a true
point guard--with all due respect to Lindsey Hunter, who gives a
valiant effort every night--nor a true center, since Bison Dele
announced his retirement before the season.

Dele's departure gives the Pistons more than $6 million to
recruit new players, yet Hill privately frets over how the money
will be spent. The front office, with its decision-by-committee
approach, hasn't exactly excelled in free-agent signings. (See
Loy Vaught, if you can find him way down the bench.) Pistons
officials also worry about what another blue-chip player would do
to the psyche of guard Jerry Stackhouse, who is having a career
year now that Joe Dumars is retired. Another uncertainty is the
future of coach Alvin Gentry, who is in the final year of his
contract. If Gentry doesn't return, Hill could be playing for his
fourth coach in seven seasons.

Hill can recite all his team's shortcomings, but he'll also tell
you he believes in loyalty and considers the desire to play for
one franchise for his entire career an important factor (as does
his father, Calvin, a major influence). Grant's wife, Tamia, is
from nearby Windsor, Ont. Hill also knows that if he leaves
Detroit, he does so as the guy who couldn't get it done there.
Yet if he stays, he could wind up trapped in mediocrity. "If I
dwell on this stuff, it takes away from what I'm supposed to be
doing now," says Hill, "and that's not fair to anybody."

Hey, Grant, take this free advice: Sign a one-year deal with the
Pistons this summer. With another year of service you will be
eligible in 2001-02 for a contract beginning at $11 million a
season (as opposed to $9 million a year after this season). In
the meantime, you give the franchise that drafted you one more
year to get its act together and assemble the supporting cast you
deserve. If Detroit doesn't, you can move on, perhaps to a new
suitor (San Antonio?) that will have more cap room two summers
from now. You might wind up playing with Tim Duncan after all.

An All-Star Is Not Born
Isaiah Rider's Blowup

About two weeks ago Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens began quietly
lobbying his colleagues around the league on behalf of his
shooting guard. His pitch: Isaiah Rider, while combustible, is a
top 10 scorer worthy of All-Star consideration.

Talk about a wasted effort. In a span of 24 hours last week Rider
squandered any chance he had of making his All-Star debut next
month in his hometown of Oakland. His latest blowup began on the
afternoon of Dec. 29 after a 116-89 home loss to the Pacers.
Rider, who says he was incensed by teammates "laughing and
giggling" as Atlanta got hammered, sat on the court after the
buzzer sounded, a towel over his head. Wilkens waited 10 minutes
in the locker room before starting the postgame meeting but
finally began without him.

When Rider finally did join his teammates a few minutes later, he
embarked on an expletive-laden tirade to reporters in which he
charged, "People don't care, man. I care.... That's why I was
reluctant to come [to this team]." He proceeded to show his
commitment to the team by missing its 6 p.m. flight to Detroit,
blowing off the shootaround the next morning and showing up 55
minutes before the game that night. He was then shocked to learn
he had been suspended.

Instead of apologizing for his mistakes, Rider went on the
offensive, claiming the media had "twisted my words" regarding
his criticism of the team (much of which was captured on
videotape), then accused vice president and general manager Pete
Babcock of ordering the plane to leave without him because "he
was mad about what I said."

"We never leave on time," Rider said. Funny how everyone else was
on board.

When asked why he blew off his coach while Wilkens addressed the
team after the Pacers' loss, Rider said, "Let me tell you
something about postgame talks in the NBA. The coach says, 'The
second unit didn't get it done.' Then he says, 'I need a better
effort from the starters.' Then he tells us to shower. I didn't
miss nothin'."

In fact, his two-game suspension was reduced to one--the Detroit
game--after the other 11 Hawks told Babcock they wanted Rider back
on the court. They understand it's counterproductive for Rider to
feel alienated. In a players' meeting shortly before tip-off
against the Pistons, only co-captain Bimbo Coles challenged Rider
on his behavior. That was disappointing to some Atlanta players,
who were hoping center Dikembe Mutombo would exhibit leadership
the team so desperately needs. Instead, right after the meeting,
as Rider held an impromptu press conference under the stands,
Mutombo gathered the other Hawks in the runway and said, "Don't
worry about the snake in the grass!"

Rider insists there are no problems with his teammates. Coles
says he is ready to move on. Babcock and team president Stan
Kasten knew of Rider's dark side when they signed him. Rider will
be a free agent next summer, and it's hard to imagine Atlanta
retaining him, though it has not been ruled out. If the Hawks
don't sign him, someone else (Pat Riley?) will. So Atlanta
proceeds with caution, understanding that the emotional Rider
could blow again at any moment. When he does, the Hawks--who were
11-18 at week's end--will look the other way again because of one
undeniable fact: He can fill it up.

The Worm's Agent Turns
Legal Woes for Rodman

The new century brings new legal woes for Dennis Rodman, who is
being sued by his former agent and friend Dwight Manley for
alleged unpaid commissions on endorsement and personal-appearance
contracts that Manley negotiated for Rodman from January 1995 to
January 1999. Manley is seeking more than $500,000.

The lawsuit adds to the mounting problems for one of the most
brilliant rebounders in NBA history. After being waived by the
Lakers last season, he vowed to resurface, and while league
sources confirm that he has offered his services to, among
others, the Pistons and the Clippers, there have been no takers,
primarily because of Rodman's partying lifestyle. On Dec. 22 he
was arrested in Costa Mesa, Calif., and charged with driving
under the influence. (He is scheduled to appear in court on Jan.

It was Manley who helped re-invent Rodman as a tattooed hellion
with chameleon hair colors and outrageous attire. The two bought
a home and a car together, but their friendship soured when
Manley questioned Rodman's lavish spending habits and his
relationship with actress Carmen Electra, whom Rodman married in
November 1998. She subsequently filed for divorce.

Manley and Rodman finally split in January 1999. Manley
maintained he had merely been trying to secure Rodman's future,
though Rodman clearly disagreed. In fact, the final contract
Manley negotiated for Rodman with the Bulls included deferred
payments to Rodman of $3 million this August, $2.2 million in
August 2001 and a total of $6 million over a 15-year span
starting in 2018.

Efforts to reach Rodman were unsuccessful. Manley declined to
comment, other than to say, "It's sad that it's come to this."

Cut Down
A Fine Line

Rockets guard Cuttino Mobley, Dec. 30 versus the Clippers: 35
minutes, 4-of-9 FG, 7-of-8 FT, 16 points, 11 assists, 7 rebounds,
4 steals, 1 turnover. Trying to compensate for the injured Hakeem
Olajuwon and Charles Barkley, Mobley led Houston to a 122-100

For the latest scores and stats, plus Marty Burns's NBA power
rankings, go to

COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Hill wants to hang in with the Pistons but wonders whether they will be able to contend.



COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Though Rider sulked and blasted his teammates, the Hawks supported him.

Around The Rim

Wondering how the Nets have turned themselves around--and turned
in a nine-game home winning streak--after starting the season
2-15? Look no further than shooting guard Kerry Kittles, whose
heart was questioned when he sat out 13 games with a sore right
knee. Since his return on Nov. 30 he has burned up the floor in
transition, scored 14.1 points a game, taken the offensive
pressure off Keith Van Horn and enabled coach Don Casey to move
Kendall Gill back to small forward, where he's more

One of the first changes Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins
implemented when he took over for the fired Brian Hill was to
allow point guard Mike Bibby to call most of the plays. The
result: Bibby had double-digit assists in four of his next five
games, as opposed to the two he had in his first 24....

Warriors forward Antawn Jamison sure has a short memory. He was
one of the first to dance on coach P.J. Carlesimo's grave when
Carlesimo was fired by Golden State last week, even though
Carlesimo spent much of last season defending Jamison's spotty
performance as a rookie....

Veteran guard Derek Harper has finally filed his retirement
papers and will soon take a job in the Mavericks' front office....

Here's one of the reasons 76ers coach Larry Brown keeps harping
on Allen Iverson to be creative but not at the expense of his
teammates: Through Sunday, Philly was 1-9 in games in which
Iverson had scored 40 or more points.

Put Me In, Coach
Playing time is of the essence in developing young players.
Each of the ones listed below is averaging at least 20 minutes
this season and has already logged more playing time than he
did in all of 1998-99. --David Sabino

PLAYER, POS., TEAM 1998-99 1999-2000 DIFFERENCE

Ruben Patterson, F, Sonics 6.0 26.8* 20.8
Former Lakers 12th man (left) is scoring in double figures as
starting small forward

Brian Skinner, F, Clippers 12.3 28.2 15.9
Was averaging 1.86 blocks and 7.5 boards before ankle sprain
sidelined him in mid-December

Dirk Nowitzki, F, Mavericks 20.4 36.3 15.9
Slow to develop as a rookie, he's now among top 25 scorers with
18.1 points per game

Al Harrington, F, Pacers 7.6 20.6 13.0
Averages of 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds, up from last season's
2.1 and 1.9, respectively

Austin Croshere, F, Pacers 9.2 20.3 11.1
Has doubled his totals of previous two seasons in points,
rebounds, assists and blocks

Othella Harrington, F, Grizzlies 22.0 33.0 11.0
A backup in Houston for three years, he's Vancouver's
third-leading scorer (13.5 ppg)

Kelvin Cato, C, Rockets 12.7 23.1 10.4
The Scottie Pippen trade has made this former Blazers backup
Olajuwon's heir apparent

Adonal Foyle, C, Warriors 14.0 22.7 8.7
Subbing for injured Erick Dampier, he averages 6.4 rebounds and
2.07 blocks

Troy Hudson, G, Clippers 21.0 28.9 7.9
Former CBA playmaker averages 9.8 points and a team-high 4.4

Bryce Drew, G, Rockets 13.0 20.2 7.2
Averaged 40.3 minutes, 15.3 points and 5.7 assists in his three
starts this season

*Stats through Sunday's games

Pick Six
Who wouldn't love to see an ACC-Big Ten Alumni Challenge? The Big
Ten has superior shooters, but we think the ACC's class in the
open court would propel it to a high-scoring, highly entertaining

ACC Big Ten

Grant Hill (Duke) SF Glenn Robinson (Purdue)
Dale Davis (Clemson) PF Juwan Howard (Michigan)
Tim Duncan (Wake Forest, above) C Chris Webber (Michigan, above)
Sam Cassell (Florida State) SG Michael Finley (Wisconsin)
Stephon Marbury (Georgia Tech) PG Steve Smith (Michigan State)
Vince Carter (North Carolina) 6th Glen Rice (Michigan)