Predictions otherworldly in NBA land

November 03, 1999|By John Eisenberg

With the NBA season opening last night, it's time to get some predictions on the record.

Only, because this is the NBA, the league that common sense forgot, predictions can't stop at the normal rundown of who is going to win, blah, blah, blah.

There are other, equally interesting issues to speculate about, such as how long it will take the Knicks to regret signing Latrell Sprewell to a $61.9 million contract just weeks after he blew off training camp and took a cross country drive in one of his 11 cars without calling the team.

The guess here is the Knicks will tire of Sprewell in January, after he tells them -- through his agent -- that he won't be making a key road trip because he has to buy a boat.

But the only team willing to deal for Sprewell will be the Hawks, offering Isaiah Rider in return in a straight-up, migraine-for-migraine deal ultimately seen by both sides as pointless.

After scoring 32 points for the Knicks in his first game back from his excused absence, Sprewell will ask for a raise.

On the subject of raises, who will win this year's Alonzo Mourning Award, annually given to the NBA player who most fails to understand that pro basketball players live in a financial Disneyland and not the real world? (Mourning was the one who explained that some players in a league with an average salary of $2.8 million were "struggling financially" during last year's strike because they "had a lot of expenses.")

The guess here is this year's Mourning Award will go to the Clippers' Lamar Odom, the league's probable Rookie of the Year, who will rail bitterly at the rookie salary cap that "limited" his first contract to $7.8 million even though he blew off numerous workouts and commitments before the draft and deserved $7.80, not $7.8 million.

Another big question mark as we head into the season is how, exactly, Charles Barkley's Farewell Tour will be marred. You know it will, given Barkley's history of spitting on little girls, tossing fans through windows, throwing elbows at Third World forwards and generally getting into trouble. But how will he do it this time, with fans feeling warm and fuzzy about him for a change as he nears retirement?

The guess here is some team will present Barkley with a motorcycle in a lavish pre-game ceremony, and Barkley will "accidentally" drive it over a referee's foot.

The big story of the season, of course, is Phil Jackson's arrival in Los Angeles, where he is now applying his Zen brand of coaching to a new team of players he recently described as "autistic." (Really.) That brings us to our next prediction: Shaquille O'Neal's exact response when Jackson tries to get him to read a book on Eastern philosophy.

"Send it to my agent," Shaq will declare.

The Lakers are thought to be a title contender if Shaq and Kobe Bryant can get along -- and more importantly, if their entourages can get along.

The guess here is they'll all do fine until one member of Kobe's inner sanctum, granted full locker-room access, counts two more mentions of Shaq than Kobe in one of Jackson's pre-game speeches in late December, setting off a firestorm.

Goodbye, chemistry. Hello, Portland in the conference finals.

Any forecast for the season wouldn't be complete, of course, without conjecturing on the Rodman Exacta -- a) the identity of the team so desperate and out of fresh ideas that it signs the faded, cross-dressing star, and b) the details of the incident that causes Rodman's new team to waive him three weeks after he signs.

The guess here? Miami's Pat Riley will sign Rodman as it becomes evident that the Heat won't make the NBA Finals again, and Rodman will be waived after telling reporters that he thought there was a clause in his contract saying he was excused from having to practice with the team, play with the team and travel with the team.

"I'm disappointed. I thought we were all on the same page," Rodman will say.

We could go on and on, speculating on such important items as Rick Pitino's annual excuse for why he's failing so miserably in Boston ("the cynical times we live in"); Don Nelson's latest, bizarre trade in Dallas (his starting backcourt for the rights to an 8-foot Spaniard who dribbles and shoots with his feet); and how many games it will take for Philadelphia's Larry Brown and Allen Iverson to start communicating during games only via fax (six).

But we'd better get some basic predictions in, too, seeing as some NBA players actually find time between their promotional commitments to care about winning and losing.

The Spurs and Trail Blazers will play in the Western Conference finals, and the Hornets and Pacers will meet in the East.

The Wizards will play .474 ball, miss the playoffs again and claim they're on their way.

Steve Francis will average 20 points and nine turnovers.

Scottie Pippen will continue to prove just how valuable Michael Jordan was to him.

Everyone except Tim Duncan and David Robinson will be misunderstood.

And the Spurs will sweep the Hornets in the Finals.

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