THE HOT LINE
Tapping its network of NBA cognoscenti--including scouts, coaches, front-office personnel and agents--Fast Break picked up these bits of chatter from around the league last week:
"The way things are going in Sacramento, coach Rick Adelman might not make it through the season. I'm hearing that a surprise--but credible--replacement could be John Whisenant, who recently led the Sacramento Monarchs to the WNBA championship. Whisenant is a former men's college coach and a low-key guy who has a longstanding relationship with the Maloof family." ... "The Raptors are obviously bad, but they should be happy with their rookies. [Forward] Charlie Villanueva (right) is playing hard, and José Calderón has turned out to be a really solid point guard as an undrafted 24-year-old from Spain." ... "Everybody knows that the Sonics are in rough shape financially. If they continue to slide, everyone will be watching to see if they'll dump Ray Allen's five-year, $80 million contract." ... "The Blazers obviously want to move Ruben Patterson, but no team is going to give up much in return, because the word is out that his agent, Dan Fegan, is trying to negotiate a buyout. I'm thinking that Patterson gives up $2 million from the remaining $13.2 million on his two-year contract, [gets released], then signs with a contender that will use his defense."
HOW TO ... SLAM A DUNKER
By Shaquille O'Neal's count only three players have successfully dunked on him in his 14-year career: Michael Jordan, Derrick Coleman and former 76er Tim Perry, who, says Shaq (near left), "caught me [napping] one time on the baseline." It's no secret that a big hurt will be put on anyone who dares to make a fool of the Diesel. "I put my body into you, and I'll deliver so much pain that you won't think about coming in again," he says.
Few players would disagree with that assessment. Trail Blazers forward Darius Miles recalls his Clippers days when he and his teammates were warned by Shaq, then with the Lakers, not to take him on. "Then Corey [Maggette] tried to dunk on him, and Shaq got him with the body," says Miles. "Quentin [Richardson] and me, we were looking at Corey laying there on the ground, and we were like, Man, we're not trying that."
O'Neal says there's a science to his smash. "There are, like, eight guys you have to meet at that oomph when they bend their knees and get up," O'Neal says, naming a few of these fliers. "It's Vince [Carter], Kobe [Bryant], T-Mac [Tracy McGrady], LeBron [James] and Josh Smith.... If you try to meet them in the air, it won't work. I try to meet them away from the rim and hit them with the body, make them fall--and then they know."
3 Given that the last 17 MVPs have put up exceptional individual numbers on teams that won at least 56 games (in a full season), the early leaders in the MVP race would be Tim Duncan, LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki. Hold off on adding Dwyane Wade and Jermaine O'Neal until their clubs start to show a little more consistency.
2 Imagine if the current rules banning contact on the perimeter had been applied during Michael Jordan's prime. He might have averaged more than 40 points a game.
1 This week's guest prediction comes courtesy of John Gabriel, the ex--Magic G.M. and current scout for the Trail Blazers, who has a surprise pick for this year's NBA title. "I'm going with the Cavaliers," says Gabriel. "They added some nice pieces this summer in Larry Hughes, Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones that have given them enough veteran depth to win the big games, and they've got one of the top three players in the league in LeBron."
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BILL FRAKES (O'NEAL)