Super six have shot to be next Jordan

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

February 16, 2003|By MILTON KENT

Beyond speculating on what their teams might do in the second half of the season, the NBA's All-Stars spent the biggest block of answering time last weekend in Atlanta responding to questions about what life will be like in the league post-Michael Jordan.

That, of course, assumes that this retirement will take as opposed to the previous two attempts by Jordan to hang up his sneakers.

Tucked neatly inside the question of what happens to the league after Jordan retires is who assumes his moniker as the NBA's ambassador. Jordan declined to identify one person as his logical successor, but instead tapped six players as having potential to carry the league's banner.

Here are the Jordan-anointed six with a look at their pluses and minuses:

Kobe Bryant

Plus: He is nearly as competitive as Jordan, certainly commercially viable and with three titles halfway to Jordan's mark.

Minus: Bryant seems a bit too programmed and too calculating to appeal to the casual fan. But then, so has Jordan.

Tracy McGrady

Plus: At 23, McGrady is young and energetic enough to be a force for a long time. He is already as good a scorer and perhaps a better defender than Jordan was at that age.

Minus: His bad back at such an early stage of his career does not bode well for the long term. And a playoff win or two would be nice.

Vince Carter

Plus: His body type most closely resembles Jordan's and he has been the top All-Star vote-getter for the past two seasons, so the fans like him.

Minus: Carter's tendency for shrinking from contact and for being brittle give him the reputation of being soft and his work ethic leaves a lot to be desired.

Allen Iverson

Plus: No one plays with more heart and no player has more street credibility than Iverson, perhaps the most popular player in the league with the younger set.

Minus: Older fans don't understand Iverson's appeal, and his appeal to Madison Avenue is next to nil. And it would help if he made more of his shots.

Shaquille O'Neal

Plus: Hands down, O'Neal is the most dominant force in the game since Wilt Chamberlain and people seem to have forgotten his appearance in the film Kazaam.

Minus: As Chamberlain once said, nobody likes Goliath. And at 31, O'Neal may not have too much longer in the spotlight. And there's a fear that he could release another rap album at any time.

Yao Ming

Plus: Yao will be the face of the international game in the future and he's already off to a good start as a commercial pitchman.

Minus: He's not the best center in the league and didn't he just arrive on the scene?

Quiz

Through the All-Star break, the Toronto Raptors lead the league in the number of games lost to injury. Which team led the league last season? Hint: It didn't make the playoffs, just as the Raptors aren't likely to reach the postseason this year.

Trade slowdown

Thursday's trading deadline may very well come and go without a major deal because of two words: luxury tax.

Unlike last year, when teams generated enough revenue to keep from triggering the dreaded tax, which imposes a dollar-for-dollar penalty for going over the cap, lowered television money and other factors are going to combine to make the tax a reality.

And, in turn, most owners - the Portland Trail Blazers' Paul Allen and Dallas Mavericks' Mark Cuban being the exceptions - are expected to be frightened off from making trades that could involve taking on big salaries that could exacerbate the luxury tax hit.

"It's almost impossible to get people to say yes," Miami Heat coach Pat Riley said last week to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I think there's a lot of people who want to say yes. I've seen people who wanted to say yes saying no, because they can't get exactly what it is they want. And there's been one reason why there's no player movement and that's the luxury tax. Period. It's so punitive and everyone's consciousness is about that. And that's it."

The two most probable players to change addresses are Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton and Philadelphia 76ers forward Derrick Coleman, as both can be free agents at the end of the season. Their big salary slots could be used by a new team to go after a big-name free agent this summer.

Stating his case

Even more rare than Jordan passing up a shot during an All-Star Game (he tied a record for most field-goal attempts) is an athlete making a political statement.

Yet, Dallas guard Steve Nash, a Canadian native, wore an anti-war T-shirt in Atlanta last weekend and questioned the wisdom of a conflict between the United States and Iraq.

"I believe that war would be a huge mistake and that people should really educate themselves on the situation," Nash said. "I think that war would have incredible repercussions, not only in the Middle East but also here in the States. In the Constitution it states that war is to be used in the case of self-defense. I don't think that this is self-defense or that it's necessary."

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