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Ian Thomsen's Fast Break


Dennis Rodman hauled in 14 rebounds in his American Basketball
Association debut in Long Beach, Calif., last Friday, but don't
expect NBA teams to line up for the 42-year-old Worm's
signature--unless it's as a p.r. stunt. "I really can't see
anyone signing him," says one Western executive. "He's such a
disruptive influence, and at his age you wonder how much he can
help. But you never say never." ... The continuing Palestinian
suicide bomber attacks in Israel have left many NBA executives
wary of attending the Euroleague Final Four in Tel Aviv in May,
but European officials remain committed to the tournament. "There
has been no talk of any backup plans or any alternative site,"
says a Euroleague insider, pointing out that Euroleague club
Maccabi-Tel Aviv has played its home games this season without
incident.... Despite the success of LeBron James and Carmelo
Anthony, Lakers coach Phil Jackson says most teenagers are too
immature for the pros. "It doesn't matter whether they can play
or not," says Jackson, who supports a minimum-age rule. "We've
ended up becoming a service for growth. Now it's, 'We'll hire a
chef, we'll hire laundry, we'll hire Mom, we'll hire somebody to
come and live with them so that they can perform at this level.'"
... Heat president Pat Riley hoped to succeed with a
nontraditional lineup of five medium-sized athletes, but he's
reverting to tradition. "I'm looking for the best big [center] I
can find next year in the draft or the best point guard that can
play," says Riley, who maintains that he'll stay on in his front
office role through next season.


On the Knicks, who won their first two games under new coach
Lenny Wilkens:

"After Indiana, Detroit and New Jersey, I can't think of any team
in the East with more talent. They fixed two of their big
problems by getting Stephon Marbury, who's one of the top three
point guards in the league, and Dikembe Mutombo. I thought
Mutombo was washed up, but he's shown flashes of the shot blocker
and rebounder he used to be while giving them the size they've
lacked since Patrick Ewing left. All of a sudden they can score,
they can defend better, and they have playoff experience. They
don't need Mutombo to score with Marbury, Allan Houston and Keith
Van Horn, who has been playing well the last few weeks. The thing
I don't get is why they had to fire Don Chaney, because he would
have coached this team to the playoffs if he'd been retained."


3. The Raptors will be making a huge mistake if they don't extend
the contract of general manager Glen Grunwald, whose deal expires
this season. He steadied an insecure franchise that was worried
about retaining star players and is committed to remaining in
Toronto despite a $750,000 base salary that ranks among the
league's lowest. Other potential G.M.'s may covet Grunwald's
job--but only as a stepping stone to a more lucrative position
with a franchise south of the border.

2. This looks like a bad year to rebuild through the draft, which
is going to be especially top-heavy with undeveloped and
unpredictable talent. "I'm usually the optimist, but this time
I'm really struggling to find a player that excites me," says one
well-traveled NBA scout. The dearth of ready-to-play talents like
LeBron James or Kirk Hinrich puts even more pressure on the
lottery teams to make the right guess.

1. Team to beat in the East? Keep an eye on the Nets, who after
an uninspired start have all but wrapped up the Atlantic and the
No. 2 playoff seed. New Jersey has returned to form defensively,
Jason Kidd remains the best player in the conference, and the
arrival of troubled forward Eddie Griffin should give the bench a
big boost.