Bouncing Around

Pro basketball: Aiming to dethrone the Spurs, the league's title-contending teams undertook some major roster shuffling in the offseason.

Nba Preview

October 28, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Once upon a time in the NBA, a kid could buy a replica jersey and be reasonably certain that the name on the back would stay with the team on the front.

But as the NBA raises the curtain on its new season tonight, the thought of seeing a familiar name in a new place shouldn't be such a foreign one, or did you really think you'd see the day when Karl Malone would play for a team besides the Utah Jazz?

Malone and Gary Payton, who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers as free agents, were just two of the splashiest moves in an offseason filled with several roster turnovers.

To wit, all of the eight legitimate title contenders in the league, from the defending champion San Antonio Spurs through the Indiana Pacers, undertook some level of roster upheaval.

The Spurs, who won their second title in five years, said goodbye to retiring center David Robinson and tried to grab point guard Jason Kidd from the New Jersey Nets, the team they vanquished in the Finals.

In the end, San Antonio signed former Minnesota center Rasho Nesterovic to replace Robinson, then traded for former Sacramento forward Hedo Turkoglu and Indiana forward Ron Mercer, as well as signing forward Robert Horry off the Lakers' bench.

The Dallas Mavericks, who finished tied with the Spurs for the division crown and lost to them in the Western Conference finals, tried desperately to get a center to shore up their porous interior defense.

Failing that, the Mavericks, the highest-scoring team in the NBA last season, went for more offense, dealing with Golden State for forward Antawn Jamison, then with Boston for forward Antoine Walker.

The Sacramento Kings, who had been considered the favorites to win it all last season before forward Chris Webber hurt his knee in the Western semifinals against Dallas, tinkered with their lineup. The Kings got center Brad Miller in a three-way deal with San Antonio and Indiana to bolster their middle.

The Minnesota Timberwolves, frustrated with being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for seven straight seasons, went for broke, surrounding star Kevin Garnett with a whole new cast.

The Wolves dealt center Joe Smith (Maryland) to Milwaukee for guard Sam Cassell (Dunbar). Then, the Timberwolves did a four-way trade, which landed them former New York forward Latrell Sprewell, and they signed former Clippers center Michael Olowokandi as a free agent.

"[General manager] Kevin McHale and myself sat down along with our owner and said now it's time to bring in people that can make KG better, to take pressure off of him," Minnesota coach Flip Saunders said. "So, when you look at that, you look at people that know how to win, that know how to play in situations and can take pressure off and have the ability to make big shots down the stretch."

In the East, the Nets, coming off their second straight trip to the Finals, re-signed Kidd, signed former Miami center Alonzo Mourning, who has missed most of the past two seasons fighting a kidney ailment, then bought out the rest of center Dikembe Mutombo's contract.

"What Alonzo has brought is an intensity every day in practice," New Jersey coach Byron Scott said. "Just the first four or five practices, you could see that he was going to have an impact on our younger players as well as the veterans. He's such a great locker room presence. He's had a big impact already and it should only get bigger as the season goes on."

Not to be outdone, the Detroit Pistons dumped coach Rick Carlisle, who had won 100 games and two division titles in two seasons, replacing him with the always active Larry Brown, who left Philadelphia. The Pistons took 7-foot Serbian forward Darko Milicic with No. 2 pick in the draft, then signed center Elden Campbell to man the middle, allowing Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace to play his more natural power forward position.

The Pacers, meanwhile, got former Sacramento center Scot Pollard as their part of the three-way deal with the Kings and San Antonio, re-signed power forward Jermaine O'Neal and added Carlisle as coach, dumping Isiah Thomas.

However, no moves were as heavily scrutinized as the Lakers' decision to get Malone and point guard Payton to join Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, as the team tries to make another run at a title.

The Lakers' joy in adding Payton, who was traded last season from Seattle to Milwaukee, and Malone, has been dashed by the legal troubles plaguing Bryant, not to mention the return of infighting between O'Neal and Bryant, which touched off over the weekend.

The blending of four Hall of Fame talents - and their matching egos - has made for lively speculation that has extended to all levels of basketball.

"The Lakers have very substantial news on the court," NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik said. "I think, for most basketball fans, that's certainly a prime subject of consideration, is to see how Karl and Gary mix with the existing stars on the Lakers and where that goes. Once the ball gets thrown up, except on occasional days, that will be the bigger story with the Lakers."

Gary Peyton and Karl Malone

New team: Los Angeles Lakers

Skinny: If Kobe Bryant can't go, Payton (left) and Malone give the Lakers two reliable, veteran scoring options to Shaquille O'Neal.

Alonzo Mourning

New team: New Jersey Nets

Skinny: Assumming Mourning stays healthy, the two-time defending Eastern Conference champs get a long sought-after inside presence.

Latrell Sprewell

New team: Minnesota Timberwolves

Skinny: Sprewell gives Minnesote another solid defender besides Kevin Garnett.

Brad Miller

New team: Sacramento Kings

Skinny: Miller should fill in the gap on the interior until Chris Webber comes back from injury.

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