Next coaches to go, come? Who'd have best trade value?

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

January 12, 2003|By MILTON KENT

It's time for three impertinent questions.

1. Now that Sidney Lowe and Lon Kruger have been fired, who will be the next NBA coach to qualify for unemployment?

All the signs point to Toronto's Lenny Wilkens being the next coach to get bounced, perhaps in the next few weeks. Even with the injuries to Antonio Davis and Vince Carter, the Raptors are a mess with an 11-game losing streak.

Wilkens, the winningest coach in NBA history, may be too laid-back for a Toronto squad that seems to need a firmer hand. Only a big, late push last season, without an injured Carter, got the Raptors into the playoffs and saved Wilkens' job, and Toronto won't sniff the postseason this time.

Alvin Gentry, who got the dreaded vote of confidence with the Los Angeles Clippers, could be next - or might get bounced ahead of Wilkens.

2. Now that Hubie Brown has had success coming out of broadcasting to lead Memphis, which former coach-turned-analyst will be the next to come back to the bench?

Rumors have former Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, now with TNT, all but ready to apply for a Canadian work visa to take over for Wilkens in Toronto. But former Portland boss Mike Dunleavy, one of a gaggle of analysts with San Antonio, is said to be tan, rested and ready to leap back into coaching.

3. What player carries the biggest trade value as the Feb. 20 trading deadline approaches?

The obvious answer would be Shaquille O'Neal, but no one in his right mind would dare let him go, right? Oops, sorry, Orlando general manager John Gabriel.

Actually, the guy who would bring the most bang for a team's buck, presently and in the future, is Seattle's Kenny Anderson. He's a proven, competent point guard who, behind Gary Payton, is begging for minutes and was a key cog in Boston's resurgence last year.

Most importantly, Anderson earns $9 million this season and is in the last year of his deal, meaning a team that takes him this year could use his salary figure to make a decent splurge on what promises to be a potent free-agent market next summer.

Quiz

Michael Jordan's 41-point performance against the Indiana Pacers made him the oldest player in league history to score 40 points in a game. Which NBA player had the most 40-point games in one season? No hints.

Foreign diplomacy

Don't be surprised if members of Houston's Chinese community protest Friday's Lakers-Rockets game in Houston in light of Shaquille O'Neal's latest insult of Yao Ming.

O'Neal, who has been poking at Yao since before the 7-foot-5 rookie was drafted in June, recently told reporters, "Tell Yao Ming, `ching-chong-yang-wah-ah-soh.' " While the phrase has no meaning in Chinese, it was delivered in, clearly, a mocking tone.

O'Neal later offered a half-hearted apology, which Yao accepted, showing a great deal more maturity than his Lakers counterpart.

But what O'Neal did was no different from a white player making fun of a black player's speech patterns. It was racist and wrong, and O'Neal should have his wallet lightened by commissioner David Stern.

Tempering Artest

The Indiana Pacers, who look as good a candidate to come out of the East as an NBA finalist as anyone, have a thorny problem, namely what to do about forward Ron Artest's temper.

Artest just finished a three-game suspension and had to pay a $35,000 fine for damaging a camera and a monitor after losing to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last week.

Add that to a court case from last summer in which the native New Yorker was sentenced to anger management classes for threatening a former companion, and you can get the impression that Artest is out of control.

"He's working on it," said Indiana coach Isiah Thomas last week before the Pacers met Washington in the first game of Artest's suspension. "There are things that we are doing internally and things that he is doing in his personal and private life to work on it. We try to help him as best we can, and he's got a network to try to help him. Sometimes, it don't work."

If the Pacers are going to make a deep run in the playoffs, it has to work.

Jordan's performance against Indiana came one game after he had scored just 10 points, and, no doubt, he took advantage of the absence of Artest, who would have guarded him. A suspension late in the season or during the playoffs could be disastrous for Artest and the Pacers.

"I think the league thinks, `Hey, this is a good guy, but this tendency he has could lead to his doing something real bad," Indiana president Donnie Walsh said. "So, they're kind of on pins and needles about Ron, and everything he does is going to be a big punishment. If he does it again, it'll be bigger. It's a tough-love situation."

One does wonder, however, how Artest could draw the same number of games for beating up a camera and a monitor as Golden State's Chris Mills did last month for following the Portland team bus after a game, presumably to renew hostilities with Bonzi Wells.

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