26 teams have reloaded, shooting for Bull's eye THEY WANT TO BE LIKE MIKE

November 05, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

Judging by the massive upheaval in the NBA since the Chicago Bulls rolled to their second straight title last June, no one has seemed safe, with high-profile coaches and superstars caught in the switches.

Five-year plans went out the window, unless you were lucky enough to be the Orlando Magic and pluck Shaquille O'Neal out of a lottery drum.

"There hasn't been anyone to cause this kind of stir since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 20 years ago," said Sacramento Kings personnel director Jerry Reynolds.

The 1990s may prove to be the O'Neal era, but, as the regular season begins tomorrow, the immediate concern of 26 NBA teams is finding a way to bring Michael Jordan and the Bulls back to earth.

In trying to stem the Bulls' "three-peat" ambitions, nine teams hired new coaches. Chuck Daly (New Jersey), Mike Dunleavy (Milwaukee), Doug Moe (Philadelphia) and Ron Rothstein (Detroit) were recycled.

But there was also a willingness on management's part to try something new and untested.

San Antonio is banking on Jerry Tarkanian performing the same wizardry on the Spurs as he did in making Nevada-Las Vegas a college basketball power.

The Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings promoted assistants to head coach in choosing Randy Pfund, Paul Westphal and Garry St. Jean, respectively, and the Denver Nuggets gambled that Hall of Famer Dan Issel could make a smooth transition from the microphone to the sidelines.

But the turnover on the court has been even more dramatic, with 50 players changing uniforms since last June. Seven All-Stars were traded. Controversial Charles Barkley led the exodus in moving from Philadelphia to Phoenix in last summer's blockbuster deal.

Title contenders such as the New York Knicks, who almost upset Chicago in last season's conference semifinals, were willing to take risks to make a serious run at the Bulls. New York changed half its roster, adding Rolando Blackman, Doc Rivers, Tony Campbell and Charles Smith to provide depth and experience.

Said coach Pat Riley: "Last year was all about taking one step forward and developing a championship base of hard work and professionalism. Now, we have to climb even more. That's what climbing that mountain is all about."

Portland tried to beat the Bulls in last season's finals by outrunning and out-jumping them. But when reduced to a half-court game, the Trail Blazers did not have the pieces to match Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.

That is why Phoenix, a perennial contender, was willing to exchange Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry for Barkley, a 6-foot-5 powerhouse who is capable of breaking down any defense.

The Blazers, Cleveland, Golden State and Seattle are blessed with ample talent, but didn't take drastic off-season measures to overtake the Bulls.

Chicago's main concern is the well-being of Jordan and Pippen, who hardly had a chance to catch their breath after the NBA Finals before reporting for Olympic duty. Still, the Bulls' chances of winning a third straight title are rated better than those of the Lakers and Pistons, who failed in similar missions in the 1980s.

"This is the delineating year for the Bulls to stack up against the great teams of the past," said Chicago coach Phil Jackson. "I would say, for a team to be classified as great, it would have to win three championships. But there have been great teams that have won only two, but strongly influenced the league with their style of play, like Detroit. That's one thing we'll have to do."

Teams will continue to try to intimidate the Bulls' potentially vulnerable front line of Grant, Bill Cartwright (35) and Pippen. But Jordan always seems to find a way to overcome any obstacles.

Occasionally, teammates complain of Jackson's using a double standard for Jordan. But Jackson simply shrugs and says: "Michael is treated differently because he produces like no one else. And for this team to be successful, the rest of the players have to accept that."

And though Jordan says he is through gambling for big stakes with guys named "Slim," it's probably not a bad bet to put the Bulls down for another championship.

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