-- Rick Majerus
After a week of marriage, Kelly drives off to her mother's house, 120 miles away. The cause of her flight isn't me, I trust, but the impending prospect of a Friday night sleepover party planned by Janie, my 15-year-old daughter. A weekend with Mom in the woods south of Waco tops a loud evening with five teenage girls and my hostile daughter.
I approach the event with a 19th-century laissez-faire world view. I don't try to organize games and make kids eat salads. I rent a couple of movies, pick up a few liters of Dr Pepper, and pay for pizza. In fact, it's the pizza issue which causes the most prolonged parental contact with the five girls. Ordering pizza is no longer a relatively straightforward parental decision. It provokes a heated, twisting, 15-minute discussion -- the sundry virtues and failings of Mr. Gatti's, Domino's, and Pizza Hut are discussed at length. At about the 7-minute mark, I shut upand sit down. Finally the girls (proving to be good, solid Americans, one and all) settle on a compromise candidate. No one has anything awful to say about Papa John's, so Papa John's it is. Most of my job done, I inform children of a different gender that they need to be on their way home by midnight, grab two slices of pizza, and retire to myroom. I emerge later (after pondering possible liability concerns) to make the teens get off the roof.
I agreed to this gathering many weeks past. How was I to know this Friday would be the start of the NBA season? From time to time, when I sense the girls' attention focused away from Garth Brooks and Tupac Shapur, I sneak into the TV room. My rooftop satellite is aimed, but with the kiddies scampering about on the roof like Santa's reindeer, my signal is bounding all over the place. Still, I was able to sneak in some viewing; after a weekend of many games, here are some impressions for the upcoming season:
Rick Majerus' analogy is quite apt for this season. The post-Bull NBA has no king. Into the vast vortex of this power vacuum come many a one-eyed pretender. One will be crowned king. Not, however, without some nasty cuts and bruises, some inflicted by the lowliest of NBA vassals. The biggest change in the league this year is that the traditional pond scum of the league -- Dallas, Vancouver, Sacramento, Denver, Milwaukee, Golden State, Philadelphia, Toronto -- won't be automatic W's for the league's predators.
The Mavs, with the addition of a legitimate point guard in Steve Nash, the potential of Dirk Nowitzki, and the star talent of Michael Finley, are clearly better than last year. They may equal their '98 20-win output in the 50-game season.Vancouver, winners of only 19 in '98, will roll over with more difficulty. Rookie Mike Bibby, teamed with last year's rookie sensation Abdur-Rahim, gives the Grizzlies a nice backcourt. Longtime bootlicker Sacramento lost Mitch Richmond but added experience and veteran leadership in Vlade Divac. Corliss Williamson is a tough player who has found a way to play in the NBA. Chris Webber could be many good things, though the sum has always been less than the parts; in any case, he can play. Denver -- which went, what, 0-82 last year? -- convinced free agent star Antonio McDyess to play with his homie, Nick Van Exel, who was exiled from L.A. The Nuggets are a totally different team this season -- far from good, but better for sure. InMilwaukee (the definition of NBA mediocrity), the biggest change is a new coach,George Karl. The Bucks already had decent talent. Karl will -- bet on it -- get the most out of it. Golden State, who basically lost every game they played last year, have a new, much tougher look. Addition by subtraction is the word in the City of Fog. With Sprewell gone and John Starks, Terry Cummings, Jason Caffey, and Chris Mills added to Donyell Marshall and rookie Antawn Jamison, P.J Carlesimo has a far tougher, way less selfish team than in years past. The Warriors are nobody's easy win any more. The 76ers sport the youngest team in the league. With Iverson a threat to blossom into a superstar at any time and the addition of veteran Matt Geiger to go along with an already decent starting lineup, Phillie won't lightup any team's win column. Another pathetic team, the Toronto Raptors, continue the theme: Tougher is better. Charles Oakley didn't want to be here, but he is. Oak knows only one way to play: hard and mean. He's a pro's pro. Kevin Willis, an Oakley mirror image, adds still more muscle. A 16-game winner last year, they'll pass that with 30 fewer games to play. Boston continues to improve under Rick Pitino's relentless hand.The Celtics created more turnovers than any team last year; that will continue. Rookie Paul Pierce fits Pitino's system perfectly. No one's going to look forward to playing Boston.
To give the fan a sense of comfortable continuity -- a sense everything's going to be all right -- the Clippers have done their part. With no improvement whatsoever, they're still the worst team in the league.
Next week: the winners and the myth of the "short" season.
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