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December 06, 2001

Lyrics, contracts dog NBA
By Dan Patrick

The NBA is in full swing now in what I expect to be a challenging year for the league. I can't remember when a pro sports league faced four tough PR problems like the NBA is facing right now. Let's look at them one by one and then do a little prognosticating.

Joe Smith
Joe Smith is at the center of just one of the controversies plaguing the NBA.
Joe Smith's contract -- The effects of this mess may reverberate for years. Aside from being flabbergasted at huge NBA deals, we now have reason to question smaller, sweetheart-seeming deals. John Amaechi turns down decent money to play for the Lakers, an elite team in a huge market with the league's best coach, so he can stay in Orlando. Why? Other odd NBA decisions were made by Maurice Taylor and Gary Trent. The Joe Smith contract gives us all the right to wonder what is really happening here.

It isn't just the NBA either. We all know that Roger Clemens had a sneaky side deal with the Blue Jays a few years ago. Former Jays' owner Paul Beeston, ironically now a top guy in the MLB office, was fined for doing an illegal deal with Clemens. Roger was handed the right to demand a trade if he didn't like the shape the team was in, a huge advantage for the Blue Jays over the other teams looking at Clemens. We also know that the 49ers and Broncos played dirty with the salary cap in the NFL.

Just how prevalent is this stuff in professional sports?

Sydney Olympics -- Boorish behavior by NBA players even had Americans rooting for Lithuania and France. We wanted the US team to be humbled.

Allen Iverson's CD -- Unfortunate lyrics bring criticism and controversy to 76ers' guard and the league.

Alonzo Mourning -- Kidney ailment to star center weakens highly-regarded Miami Heat and throwing all semblance of balance to the NBA's Western Conference.

That's a lot of bad news, folks. This season will be a stern test for the PR powers of the NBA commissioner.

NBA 2000-01 Season Predictions
Pacific Division -- The Blazers may be deeper than the Lakers. I don't know if they are better. Until the Blazers decide who their go-to guy is, this team will be unsettled. The Lakers are essentially the same as last year and that was good enough. I pick the Lakers because I just don't like the Blazers.

Midwest Division -- The Spurs are the team here. Derek Anderson is probably the best off-season pickup by a contender this year. His speed and athleticism on the point will mesh well with Tim Duncan and David Robinson.

Atlantic Division -- It's a make or break year for the Allen Iverson-Larry Brown tandem in Philly. The absence of Patrick Ewing and Mourning, though, means the 76ers win the division. How they fare in the playoffs will depend on Brown and Iverson figuring out a way to co-exist.

Midwest Division -- I like Milwaukee here. This is a nice four-headed monster. Most teams have two big stars, but the Bucks have four legitimate stars in Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, Tim Thomas and Glen Robinson. George Karl and this young, fast team will scare people. Rookie Joel Przybilla will have to emerge as a defensive force for the Bucks to pick up where they left off last year.

Awards and Other things
NBA Finals -- Spurs over 76ers

MVP -- Tim Duncan

Breakout Player -- Derek Anderson

Rookie of the Year -- Stromile Swift

Coach of the Year -- Greg Popovich

Leading scorer -- Allen Iverson

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