A little unnerved by the giant sucking sound emanating from New Englandís Hub? Join the club. The vacuum is no inexplicable meteorological phenomenon, no Steve Spielberg cinematic special effect. Nope. Itís just me and the rest of the Boston Celtic faithful, holding our collective breath, hoping that team GM and all-around good guy Chris Wallace didnít lose his mind when he dealt for mercurial Supersonic forward Vin Baker. Yeah, yeah, all the talk in the local press is about Vin being back home (heís a Hartford University grad), loving life with his homies, enjoying home cooking, looking forward to getting his 1999 game back. Trust me- the Green Team is bankrolling a small fortune (four years and $56.25 million) that he can. ĎCause, otherwise, the Celts run to the Eastern Conference Finals is gonna seem like a faded, jaded memory come springtime. See, the Cís now desperately lack muscle, and an inside presence (that, and someone to bring the ball up the court other than Antoine Walker). Rodney Rogers is gone, with team ownership unwilling to ante up the $3 mil per that itíll probably take to ink the big man with a soft touch. So is Vitaly Potapenko, who got shipped to Seattle along with guards Kenny Anderson and Joseph ďHave Attitude, Will TravelĒ Forte in return for Baker and guard Shammond Williams. Say what you will about Vitaly and his lumbering style, but you rarely saw folks pushing the rock-solid Russian around in the paint (Shaq accepted - no shock there). That leaves the Celts with 6-11 Tony ďStickmanĒ Battie, 7-2 free agent signee Bruno Sundov of Croatia, and 6-9 rookie widebody Darius Songaila (who appears to be earmarked for some European seasoning). With all due respect, thatís not a line-up thatíll instill fear in anybody. The 30-year-old Bakerís got great skills in a 6-11 package, but heís played soft since his Olympic appearance in 2000. If Baker finds his All-Star form, and a mean streak, and Williams shines outside of Gary Paytonís immense shadow, Wallace will be the toast of a fickle sports town. If not, heíll get roasted Ö
Speaking of Shaq and other assorted widebodies, hereís my Rant of the Week. Can someone explain to me why itís charging when you run face first into a guy with position, but itís OK to knock him off his pins with your 300-plus pound backside? You know what Iím talking about. Yeah, Shaq gets hammered routinely, but if youíre not allowed to establish position on him without getting steamrolled into photographersí row, what choice do you have? And I canít believe David Stearn and other NBA marketing types think that an endless parade of players backing down into the lane is what fans want to watch. So call it what it is Ė charging - and open the game up. Next week? Crossover, or palming ...
Am I the only guy who thinks that A.I. stands for Artificial Intelligence, especially when Phillyís All-World guard insists on living life by a different (read: warped) set of rules than everybody else, including his coach, his teammates, the fans, and society in general? OK, so the Philly cops and district attorney went overboard in their investigation of Allen Iversonís wife hunt (an almost comical episode for those on the outside looking in). But the incident shows, yet again, that Iverson thinks he can do and say pretty much whatever he pleases. Remember, this is the same spoiled superstar who slammed one of the gameís great coaches because Larry Brown insisted he practice. Think Michael Jordan, perhaps the gameís most competitive practice player ever (along with Bird and Magic), would cut A.I. any slack in that department. No, I didnít think so. Truth is, Iversonís got mind-bending talent, but his gangsta schtick is an embarrassment, both for the team and the league. I can just imagine Dikembe Mutombo shaking his finger at Iverson, giving him a good scolding, which is what A.I. needs Ö
Note to Big Dog Ė You thought playing for George Karl was tough? Wait until you get a load of all those empty seats in Atlanta. On paper, itís hard to think the Hawks didnít get the better of the swap that sent Toni Kukoc, Leon Smith and a 2003 draft pick to Milwaukee for 21-point per-game man Glen Robinson. But the 29-year-old Robinsonís gonna have to share the rock with Shareef Abdur-Rahim (another 21 ppg forward), and sharing hasnít always been his strong suit. Still, thatís a scary front line, with a rehabbed Theo Ratliff in the pivot.
Meanwhile, the Bucks got an unselfish front man to team with Ray Allen, Sam Cassells, Tim Thomas, Anthony Mason and their two-headed center Ė Joel Przybilla and Ervin Johnson. If the 33-year-old Kukocís knees hold up, the chemistry could be alchemy. Plus, donít forget that bonus draft pick, which might prove a real prize down the road. On a related note Ė wouldnít you love to be a fly on the wall for that first little chat between Bucks coach Karl and his new project, Leon Smith? Ö
I donít like the Lakers (hey, Iím a Boston boy Ė itís my birthright), but I know talent when I see it, and the three-peat champs have it in spades, from the court to the coaching staff to the broadcast booth. Thatís why I was crushed to hear about announcer Chick Hearns medical woes ...
Seems ex-Celtic legend Bill Russell is everywhere these days. Recently, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick brought the Hall of Famer in to chat with his Super Bowl champs during training camp and impart a few words of wisdom about what it takes to defend a title. Russell would know Ö
Saw that guard Chris Childs found his way back home to the Nets. Hereís a guy who should have never left New Jersey (Remember Scott Williams leaving Michael and the Bulls for greener pastures? Wonder how heís going to explain that gaffe to the grandkids!). Childs skipped across the George Washington Bridge following his breakout season in 1995-96 (almost 13 points, 7 assists per), but never reclaimed the same touch at Madison Square. In fact, his averages have slid almost every year since (finishing with 4 points per in Toronto last year). Heís a nice back-up to Jason Kidd, but I guarantee Nets honcho Byron Scott is scared to death that Kidd might go down (and you know he was thinking about that when Kidd was replaced on the US National Team in August due to a groin injury suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals) Ö