Slow starts may put Rivers, Chaney on fast track out door

ON THE NBA

Pro Basketball

November 16, 2003|By MILTON KENT

The NBA season isn't even a month old, but already there is a collection of coaches on the hot seat. The heat is hottest in the Eastern Conference, where a slow start could doom a team, even in a conference in which a .500 record should get a club into the postseason, and nowhere is the pressure greater than on Orlando Magic coach Doc Rivers, who was the league's Coach of the Year three years ago and has never had a losing season, but could be out of work by the end of the month.

The Magic went 42-40 last year, grabbing the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. Orlando took a 3-1 lead in the series against the Detroit Pistons, only to lose the final three games and get bounced from the postseason.

The Magic, which dealt former Rookie of the Year Mike Miller to the Memphis Grizzlies for Gordan Giricek and Drew Gooden during the season, made more offseason acquisitions, picking up former Washington Wizards Juwan Howard and Tyronn Lue as free agents.

Precious little has worked. Besides injuries to Tracy McGrady, Giricek and forward Pat Garrity, Gooden and Howard, who essentially play the same power forward position, haven't meshed, and the Magic, winless at home so far, is on the road for five games. By the time they get home, Rivers may be looking for other employment.

Meanwhile, things looked shaky for Chicago Bulls coach Bill Cartwright as his young team, with two high schoolers in the starting lineup, got blown out by the Wizards and Houston at home and by Milwaukee on the road in the opening week.

Cartwright, who was facing a mutiny, benched two starters, point guard Jamal Crawford and forward Jalen Rose. The Bulls responded by winning three of five, including a big road win at Boston, and Cartwright, the center on the first trio of Bulls' title teams in the 1990s, appears to have righted the ship, for now, at least.

The ugliest scene might be in New York, where the already hapless Knicks are in disarray, having dropped five of their first seven, thus placing coach Don Chaney in distress.

Forward Antonio McDyess, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, is expected back in December, but there are no guarantees, and no one knows whether he will be as effective as he was before the injury.

Meanwhile, the Knicks, who gobbled up center Dikembe Mutombo, after the cross-river Nets essentially gave him away before the season, are discovering why New Jersey was so willing to let the four-time Defensive Player of the Year go: He can't guard anyone.

Chaney, who lobbied general manager Scott Layden to get Mutombo, went off on reporters before a practice last week, when they asked about the 7-foot-2 center's waning defensive ability.

"He can guard just about anyone in the league, but he can't guard a forward who's mobile," said Chaney. You guys [reporters] are not getting it, and it drives me crazy. Let's talk about something else. Every day it's the same thing. I study the game. I know the game. He cannot guard smaller, quicker guys. Next time we play a game, watch the game. Watch him and his matchups. Please do that. And write what you see, not what you hear."

Quiz

New Los Angeles Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy squared off against his namesake, a second-year forward for the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. According to league records, a father has faced his son only once in NBA history. Can you name the participants in the other father-son duel?

O'Neal the greatest?

Seven years ago, when the NBA released a list of its 50 greatest players, the inclusion of Shaquille O'Neal, who, at the time had just four years of experience, touched off a minor controversy. Well, that furor may be nothing compared to the discussion that will emerge from a new book that contends that O'Neal is the greatest player in NBA history.

According to Elliott Kalb, the lead statistician at NBC for 15 years, O'Neal earns the top spot over Wilt Chamberlain, his choice for second-greatest player, because his dominance over the current field of centers is greater than anyone else's.

"He has scored like Chamberlain, won like [Bill] Russell and [Kareem] Abdul-Jabbar, and been as dominant as any of them," wrote Kalb, who is currently providing stats for ABC and ESPN.

After O'Neal and Chamberlain, Kalb lists, in order, as his top 10 players, Michael Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Tim Duncan and Bob Cousy.

Let the debate begin.

Wizards won over coach

Either new Wizards coach Eddie Jordan is blowing smoke or he really was close to taking the Philadelphia 76ers' job, which was open at the same time that the Washington slot came open.

Jordan, who was the lead assistant with New Jersey, said he interviewed twice in Philadelphia with general manager Billy King.

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