NBA guards are like Hollywood actresses--their bankability as
stars seems to expire when they hit 35. However, at 38, an age
by which Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Magic Johnson and Michael
Jordan had all retired, Stockton remains at the top of his game.
Through Sunday he was second in the league in three-point
shooting (50.7%) and in assists (9.3 per game). He needs more
help on defense than he once did, but no other guard in league
history has been so effective at such an advanced age.
They've been hit with everything but famine and pestilence over
the last nine months, beginning with the death of guard Malik
Sealy and continuing with the loss of forward Joe Smith because
of improper contract maneuverings. The Smith fiasco resulted in
owner Glen Taylor and vice president Kevin McHale stepping aside
for a year, as well as the unprecedented stripping of four
first-round picks in the next five drafts. Yet the Timberwolves
reeled off 11 straight wins heading into the All-Star break and
are battling the Spurs and the Jazz for the Midwest Division
lead. Minnesota might not have been the best team in the first
half of the season, but it was the most resilient.
The Sonics' new coach (above) may be soft-spoken, but he's no
pushover. Last month McMillan slapped a one-game suspension on
point guard Gary Payton, his friend and former teammate, for
insubordination; Payton responded by apologizing and by raising
his level of play. McMillan's firmness let his team know he was
in charge, and it reminded other coaches that they don't have to
tiptoe around their stars.
The third-year forward-center from Kentucky was averaging only
2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds at week's end, but since his
insertion in the rotation on Nov. 11, the Bucks have gone 28-13.
It's not hard to imagine Pope generating positive vibes. "Every
day I'm here is a beautiful day," he says. "It might end
tomorrow, but if it does, it's been a beautiful experience.
Nobody can argue that this is not the best job in the world.
This is crazy, is what it is. To do what you love and get all
these perks, it's mind-boggling, just mind-boggling."
The Rockets aren't getting much production from the 38-year-old
Olajuwon for the $16.5 million they're paying him this season,
and they're getting even less loyalty. The Dream went public
with his desire to be released by Houston so he could sign with
the Heat. One reason he wanted to leave, he said, is that Miami
coach Pat Riley "knows how to use big men. He understands the
game of big men at that level." Intentional or not, the remarks
were a slap at coach Rudy Tomjanovich, who knew how to use
Olajuwon well enough to win consecutive titles, in 1994 and '95.
Olajuwon apologized, but he had already displayed an
uncharacteristic lack of class.
The rookie class
Of the 58 players taken in last June's draft, the only player
averaging more than 10 points at the All-Star break was New
Jersey center Kenyon Martin (11.0). Moreover, no first-year
draftee was averaging more than five rebounds. That's what
happens when most of the lottery picks should still be lugging
backpacks to English Lit.
Tim Duncan's foul shooting
After shooting a career-best 76.1% last season, the Spurs'
All-Star forward had dipped to a Shaq-like 55.5% through Sunday,
including games in which he was 11 for 21, 5 for 13, 3 for 10
and 0 for 7. Hack-a-Tim, anyone?
It's the worst fashion development since the Rockets changed
uniforms. Players who looked dashing in a headband: Slick Watts,
Wilt Chamberlain. Players who look goofy in one: everybody else.
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: ILLUSTRATION BY JOHN CUNEO