Top 10 stories of the season

November 01, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

1 After winning NBA titles in his past four full seasons, Michael Jordan is denied when the Chicago Bulls are beaten by the New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference finals. Upon completion of the season, Jordan, Phil Jackson and Dennis Rodman - all operating under one-year deals - say so long to Chicago.

2 An unhappy Shawn Kemp tosses his ill feelings aside to help the Seattle SuperSonics win their first NBA title since 1979. The four-time all-star is upset that his renegotiated seven-year, $24 million contract - plus a balloon payment of $14.5 million in 2002-03 - pales in comparison to recently signed mega-deals.

3 After Shaquille O'Neal helps the Los Angeles Lakers dominate the Western Conference during the regular season, the team falls flat during a second-round playoff loss. Los Angeles proves to be a good setting for O'Neal, although he does decide to boycott the Academy Awards after he's not recognized in the Best Actor category for his starring role in "Kazaam."

4 The Minnesota Timberwolves' Kevin Garnett emerges as a true superstar. His passing, ability to run the floor and expanded shooting range only figure to improve for the 6-foot-11 forward. The key for Garnett: Rookie point guard Stephon Marbury casts his ego aside and realizes this team belongs to "Da Kid."

5 Though the Orlando Magic definitely misses Shaquille O'Neal, Anfernee Hardaway steps out of the big man's shadow to establish himself as the league's Most Valuable Player. All Hardaway needs to do is play with an attitude and toughness, which he promises in his role as new team leader.

6 The new-look Washington Bullets return to postseason play. Aside from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies - three products of recent NBA expansion - no other franchise has experienced a longer postseason drought than the Bullets, whose last playoff appearance was in 1988.

7 It's winning time again in New York, where the Knicks - with key new faces - wrest the Eastern Conference title from the Bulls. With the additions of Allan Houston, Larry Johnson, Buck Williams and Chris Childs, the Knicks accomplish what no New York team has ever done - beat a Michael Jordan-led team in the playoffs.

8 One year after helping the Chicago Bulls to the championship, Dennis Rodman will wear out his welcome. Between movies to television shows to his weird attire, Rodman will lose focus of just what he is - a basketball player - and the team will suffer.

9 Tension grows in locker rooms, where there is a great divide in player salaries. What was feared with the new collective bargaining agreement was marginal players making millions (see Jim McIlvaine, and his seven-year, $35 million contract) and key contributors settling for a lot less. That's why Shawn Kemp and Mitch Richmond are unhappy and why Scottie Pippen ($2.2 million this season) has been unhappy for years.

With so many teams making off-season improvements in the free-agent market, the most competitive season in recent years results. There is no repeat of last season, when the Bulls rolled to a league-record 72 wins.

Most underrated

Clarence Weatherspoon, Philadelphia 76ers: From 16.7 ppg, 9.7 rpg last year to a fourth option on offense this year.

Ron Harper, Chicago Bulls: Turned himself into top-notch defender.

Popeye Jones, Toronto Raptors: Double-double almost every night.

L Brian Grant, Sacramento Kings: No recognition in Sacramento.

Dino Radja, Boston Celtics: Averaged 19.7 ppg, 9.8 rpg; now needs to learn defense.

Most overrated

Clifford Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers: Nice numbers regular season, no-show postseason.

Dikembe Mutombo, Atlanta Hawks: Sure he's a great defender, but this guy wants to score: and he has no moves.

Kenny Anderson, Portland Trail Blazers: NBA game is up and down, but Anderson's game is side-to-side.

Stephon Marbury, Minnesota Timberwolves: Lacks court vision, which will come in time.

Dominique Wilkins, San Antonio Spurs: Surprised he didn't make the top 50 in league history list.

Top rookies

Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Vancouver Grizzlies.

Marcus Camby, Toronto Raptors.

Kerry Kittles, New Jersey Nets.

Allen Iverson, Philadelphia 76ers.

Erick Dampier, Indiana Pacers.

Tune in

Los Angeles Lakers at Chicago Bulls (Dec.17): Defending NBA champs vs. new-look Lakers.

L Los Angeles Lakers at Orlando Magic (March 23): Shaq's back.

Washington Bullets at Miami Heat (Jan. 13): Juwan Howard may need a hard hat.

New York Knicks at Chicago Bulls (Jan. 21): New-look Knicks face biggest rival.

Portland Trail Blazers at Minnesota Timberwolves (Feb. 2): Parting shots by Isaiah Rider make this interesting.

All-Jenny Craig Team

Kevin Duckworth, Los Angeles Clippers: Reported to camp weighing 360 pounds.

Stanley Roberts, Los Angeles Clippers: Has to ride on opposite side of Duckworth on team charters.

Oliver Miller, Dallas Mavericks: A tremendous talent hidden in a massive body.

Thomas Hamilton, Chicago Bulls: When Sacramento worked him out, the team didn't have a scale big enough for his 360 pounds.

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