1999: A Team-by-Team Pre-Season Review

1999: A Team-by-Team Pre-Season Review

February 5, 1999


- Coach: Pat Riley.

- Last year's record: 55-27.

- Roster: C - Alonzo Mourning, Duane Causwell, Marty Conlon, x-Amal McCaskill; F - P.J. Brown, Jamal Mashburn, Dan Majerle, Keith Askins, Clarence Weatherspoon, Mark Strickland, x-Terry Mills; G - Tim Hardaway, Terry Porter, Rex Walters, Mark Davis, x-Voshon Lenard.

- At a glance: El Presidente resisted overhauling his team and is back with basically the same gang that won the division title and then flamed out in the playoffs. Riley is concerned about Lenard's stress fracture - he should be - and even has toyed with the idea of bringing in Dennis Rodman. "It's going to be a revealing year for us," he said. Another backcourt bomber would help. You can count on these guys coming to play, playing hard, and playing, er, rough. That's their trademark, and it ain't gonna change.


- Coach: Jeff Van Gundy.

- Last year's record: 43-39.

- Roster: C - Patrick Ewing, Chris Dudley, Herb Williams; F - Larry Johnson, Marcus Camby, Kurt Thomas, Dennis Scott, David Wingate, Ben Davis; G - Allan Houston, Chris Childs, Charlie Ward, Latrell Sprewell, Rick Brunson.

- At a glance: "We're looking forward to a successful year," Van Gundy said the other day. "Otherwise, I won't be here." He may be right. The Knicks made some big changes and have no idea how they'll pan out. They know now that their rebounding needs to be improved - the Nets crushed them on the boards in the two exhibition games - but that their scoring options are more and varied. Sprewell and Scott are both scorers, with Spree adding defense and toughness to the mix. Johnson supposedly has embraced religion and lost weight, both of which should be beneficial. But they'll still go only as far as Ewing can go.


- Coach: John Calipari.

- Last year's record: 43-39.

- Roster: C - Jayson Williams, Jim McIlvaine, Rony Seikaly; F - Keith Van Horn, Kendall Gill, Chris Gatling, Brian Evans; G - Sam Cassell, Kerry Kittles, Lucious Harris, Eric Murdock, Scott Burrell, Earl Boykins.

- At a glance: The Nets improved by 17 wins last season in Coach Cal's second year at the helm. They should be right in the thick of things this season provided they don't get hurt - always a concern here - and they don't get too impressed with themselves. This team, when healthy, can hurt you in any number of ways. The Nets were second to the Celtics in shots taken last season, and they will rebound and, with McIlvaine, block shots, too. It's not a stretch to see them claiming the title, but we feel something will happen somehow to prevent that.


- Coach: Chuck Daly.

- Last year's record: 41-41.

- Roster: C - Ike Austin, Danny Schayes, Jonathan Kerner; F - Horace Grant, Bo Outlaw, Michael Doleac, Derek Strong, Matt Harpring, Dominique Wilkins; G - Anfernee Hardaway, Darrell Armstrong, Gerald Wilkins, Nick Anderson, Doug Overton, Miles Simon.

- At a glance: Is there anyone more on the spot this year than Penny? He has had two unproductive, injury-marred, coach-complaining, non-Shaq seasons in a row. Not too long ago, he was seen as the second best all-around guard in the game. He is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, so it behooves him to start playing again. If he does, Orlando will be better than last year's .500 unit. Austin gives the Magic a post presence they haven't had since Shaq, and Anderson seems to have snapped out of his long funk. Outlaw is a workaholic, and Grant can still put up decent numbers when the spirit moves him.


- Coach: Rick Pitino.

- Last year's record: 36-46.

- Roster: C - Andrew DeClercq, Tony Battie, Eric Riley, Dwayne Schintzius, x-Pervis Ellison; F - Antoine Walker, Walter McCarty, Bruce Bowen, Paul Pierce, Popeye Jones, Greg Minor; G - Kenny Anderson, Dana Barros, Ron Mercer, Marlon Garnett.

- At a glance: The Celtics are already on some coaches' "Watch Out" list because of their youth and their style of play. Both might be advantages in a compacted season. But they also might be disadvantages, for Pitino knows he can't play that way night after night. The Celtics still appear to be a year or two away from being a must-see in the East. So much depends on Anderson staying healthy as well as someone emerging as a presence in the middle. They still will be the team no one wants to play, especially on back-to-backs. And that week off starting Wednesday will be a real plus.


- Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff.

- Last year's record: 42-40.

- Roster: C - Jahidi White, Randell Jackson, x-Lorenzo Williams; F - Juwan Howard, Tracy Murray, Terry Davis, Calbert Cheaney, Otis Thorpe, Ben Wallace, Etdrick Bohannen, x-Evric Gray; G - Rod Strickland, Mitch Richmond, Chris Whitney, Tim Legler, Jeff McInnis.

- At a glance: Like that center position? How about the point with a chastened Strickland? No wonder Abe Pollin was pushing for a cancelled season. The re-signing of Strickland avoids major chaos, but this team is still soft all the way across the front line. (Can you imagine what Bird, McHale, and Parish would have done to them?) Someone has to play center, and Otis (My Man) may be that guy when the dust clears. They've definitely got some guys who can score, especially from the perimeter. And, uh, do you think Howard might start to earn his hefty check, rather than simply cash it?


- Coach: Larry Brown.

- Last year's record: 31-51.

- Roster: C - Matt Geiger, Scott Williams, Benoit Benjamin, Casey Shaw; F - Theo Ratliff, Tim Thomas, Harvey Grant, George Lynch, Nazr Mohammed, x-Darrin Hancock; G - Allen Iverson, Aaron McKie, Larry Hughes, Anthony Parker, Eric Snow.

- At a glance: Brown sounded almost funereal when talking the other day. His team is too young. There's too much work to do and not enough time. The usual complaints. The Sixers may be a better team, but it may not manifest itself in the standings. They are stronger at center and, if Ratliff gets healthy, at power forward. Iverson is Iverson. Brown says Hughes is "mature beyond his years" (he just turned 20) and is a much better defensive player than Brown thought. It's gotten to this: Brown was seriously lamenting the loss of Derrick Coleman. It all adds up to another season in the cellar.



- Coach: Lenny Wilkens.

- Last year's record: 50-32.

- Roster: C - Dikembe Mutombo, Mark West; F - Alan Henderson, LaPhonso Ellis, Tyrone Corbin, Grant Long, Roshown McLeod, Chris Crawford, x-Scot Pollard; G - Steve Smith, Mookie Blaylock, Ed Gray, Anthony Johnson, Shammond Williams, Jeff Sheppard.

- At a glance: Everyone is picking Indy (including me, a week ago), but the Hawks have made two very big moves since then. Ellis was a huge signing, filling the black hole at small forward with someone who can score, rebound, and is a terrific locker room guy. The other improvement was getting Long back. All he does is work, and that's even more depth for a team that needed it. Wilkens is also high on rookie McLeod, who should know something after his years with Coach K. The backcourt is deeper with the addition of Johnson, who played well for Sacramento last year, and the improved Gray, who can score if he stays healthy. Even Mutombo has someone to play against in the veteran West. All the bases are covered, and, even better, the focus is on someone else.


- Coach: Larry Bird.

- Last year's record: 58-24.

- Roster: C - Rik Smits, Sam Perkins, x-Mate Slelin; F - Dale Davis, Chris Mullin, Antonio Davis, Mark Pope, Derrick McKey, Austin Croshere; G - Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, Travis Best, Jalen Rose, Fred Hoiberg, x-Haywoode Workman, Al Harrington.

- At a glance: The Pacers arrived last year. They took the Bulls to seven games and then spent the lockout working out together. They have chemistry, talent, and determination and the endorsement of just about everyone. The test will come in meeting those high expectations. They have a tough early-season schedule, they're still not the most athletic team, and, historically, they have gotten off to slow starts. If they do that again this year, there might not be enough time to catch up and get to the top.


- Coach: Mike Fratello.

- Last year's record: 47-35.

- Roster: C - Vitaly Potapenko, Zydrunas Ilgauskas; F - Shawn Kemp, Johnny Newman, Danny Ferry, Cedric Henderson; Roy Rogers, Antonio Lang, x-Ryan Stack; G - Derek Anderson, Bobby Sura, Brevin Knight, Wesley Person, Mitchell Butler, Litterial Green.

- At a glance: This team surprised everybody last season. The Cavaliers went from lottery lock to playoff team with two key moves: the trades for Kemp and Person. Then the rookies blossomed beyond expectation and, presto. Can they keep it up? The Cavs should be just as tough this season. They go 10 deep, have an inside presence with their Eastern Euros, and have bombers from the outside. Plus, you know a Fratello team is going to play defense. The interesting test for this franchise comes when these young guys are eligible for extensions. Can the Cavs afford to keep them all?


- Coach: George Karl.

- Last year's record: 36-46.

- Roster: C - Ervin Johnson, Tyrone Hill; F - Glenn Robinson, Armon Gilliam, Robert Traylor, Jerald Honeycutt, Jamie Feick, x-Donny Marshall; G - Ray Allen, Terrell Brandon, Vinny Del Negro, Elliot Perry, Michael Curry, Dell Curry, Adonis Jordan.

- At a glance: This team has sneak-up-on-ya potential. It would have been nice to have seen what Chris Ford could have done had the Bucks remained healthy and focused. His team was neither over much of the second half. Karl has the hammer now, and the money, and his reputation as a master builder is on the line. This team is strong at four positions and so-so in the middle. Still, Karl says, "Our big guys are going to be a little better than people think." If that's the case, the Bucks could crack the playoffs for the first time since 1991.


- Coach: Alvin Gentry.

- Last year's record: 37-45.

- Roster: C - Bison Dele, Eric Montross, Don Reid, Mikki Moore; F - Grant Hill, Jerome Williams, Jud Buechler, Loy Vaught, x-Christian Laettner, x-Korleone Young; G - Joe Dumars, Lindsey Hunter, Jerry Stackhouse, Charles O'Bannon, Mark Macon, Steve Henson.

- At a glance: The Pistons went from 54 wins to 37 last season, changed coaches, pointed fingers, and failed to make the playoffs. That's almost criminal given their talent. Gentry has the reins now, and he has some more beef up front with Vaught and, eventually, Laettner. But Dele (Brian Williams) has to deliver; he was merely average last year. And Gentry is promising to take away some of the ballhandling responsibilities from the overworked Hill. There's plenty of firepower here. The Pistons have to do it at both ends, however.


- Coach: Butch Carter.

- Last year's record: 16-66.

- Roster: C - Michael Stewart, Kevin Willis, William Cunningham; F - Charles Oakley, Tracy McGrady, John Wallace, Reggie Slater, Sean Marks, John Thomas; G - Alvin Williams, Doug Christie, Dee Brown, Vince Carter, Mark Baker, x-Negele Knight, x-Michael Williams.

- At a glance: How can a 16-win cellar-dweller move up two notches? Easy. The Raptors can retool their entire roster and have two teams ahead of them disassemble. That could be the case here, although we're not talking national holiday stuff. Only two guys remain from the opening training camp roster last season. The additions of Oakley, Willis, and Stewart give the Raptors a semblance of an inside game, and Christie can fire away. Williams is an underrated point guard, and Vince Carter is a keeper. The challenge is to make them work together.


- Coach: Tim Floyd.

- Last year's record: 62-20.

- Roster: C - Bill Wennington, Andrew Lang, Charles Jones; F - Mark Bryant, Toni Kukoc, Mario Bennett, Dickey Simpkins, Keith Booth, Kornel David, x-Jeff Sanders; G - Brent Barry, Ron Harper, Randy Brown, Cory Carr, Corey Benjamin, Rusty LaRue.

- At a glance: A little different from last year, huh? The Bulls aren't making any pretenses about doing anything more than showing up, working hard, and taking the crowd-pleasing "L." They're looking ahead, not back, which is fine. It means Bulls tickets are no longer hard to get and Floyd has a honeymoon of sorts as he gets his first look at the league while the front office starts the rebuilding process. By season's end, what's left of the Bulls may not even be around or be a factor. This is a 50-game evaluation/nosedive by design.


- Coach: Dave Cowens.

- Last year's record: 51-31.

- Roster: C - Derrick Coleman, J.R. Reid, Charles Shackleford, Brad Miller; F - Chucky Brown, Chuck Person, Travis Williams, Joe Wolf, x-Glen Rice, x-Anthony Mason (out for year); G - David Wesley, B.J. Armstrong, Bobby Phills, Eldridge Recasner, Ricky Davis.

- At a glance: Gee, do you think Rice is going to rush himself back into action now that Mason won't be there? This was a playoff team when the lockout ended. Then Rice decided he needed elbow surgery and now Mason is gone for the season. Can you spell Sczerbiak? Not only that, but Cowens's only center is Coleman, who, surveying the landscape, is going to be having Philly flashbacks. This went from a decent team to a total mess in a very short period of time. Or, to quote the immortal Coleman, "There goes the season."

x-on injured list

Western Conference



- Coach: Gregg Popovich.

- Last year's record: 56-26.

- Roster: C - David Robinson, Will Perdue; F - Tim Duncan, Sean Elliott, Jerome Kersey, Mario Elie, Gerard King, Malik Rose; G - Avery Johnson, Steve Kerr, Antonio Daniels, Andrew Gaze, Jaren Jackson, Brandon Williams.

- At a glance: This may be a bit of a reach, but the Spurs appear to have upgraded in several areas, notably the (apparent) return of Elliott, a former All-Star. If he stays healthy - and so far he's been fine - San Antonio has a serious weapon it has lacked for two years. We know the big guys will come to play, and the additions of the playoff-tested Kerr and Elie can only help. Gaze is a situation-only player as of now, but he can shoot.


- Coach: Jerry Sloan.

- Last year's record: 62-20.

- Roster: C - Greg Ostertag, Greg Foster; F - Bryon Russell, Karl Malone, Shandon Anderson, Adam Keefe, Thurl Bailey, Anthony Avent, Chris King; G - Jeff Hornacek, Howard Eisley, John Stockton, Jacque Vaughn, Saddi Washington.

- At a glance: Geez, these guys sure look familiar, don't they? Utah should again be right in the thick of things and is the choice of many to finally break through. If the Jazz can repeat last year's performance and earn home-court advantage for the playoffs, they may well do that. The only question is, how much longer can these guys last, with Stockton turning 37 and Malone and Hornacek each 35? Other teams made improvements. Is it enough to stand pat?


- Coach: Rudy Tomjanovich.

- Last year's record: 41-41.

- Roster: C - Hakeem Olajuwon, John Coker,x-Antoine Carr; F - Scottie Pippen, Charles Barkley, Othella Harrington, Matt Bullard, Eddie Johnson, Anthony Miller; G - Matt Maloney, Brent Price, Michael Dickerson, Bryce Drew, Cuttino Mobley, x-Rodrick Rhodes.

- At a glance: It's a delicate balance here, for the key guys are 30-somethings and, unlike the Utah aged, all had injuries last year. Remember, this team had three of the top 50 last year, too, and won 41 games. Already Carr and Rhodes are out and Rudy T. wishes everyone would stop focusing on his backcourt. No secret here; the big three have to stay healthy, happy, and productive. If they do, almost anything is possible. If not, fugeddaboutit.


- Coach: Flip Saunders.

- Last year's record: 45-37.

- Roster: C - Dean Garrett, Paul Grant, x-Trevor Winter; F - Joe Smith, Kevin Garnett, Billy Curley, Malik Sealy, Tom Hammonds, Sam Mitchell, Andrae Patterson; G - Stephon Marbury, Anthony Peeler, Bobby Jackson, Chris Carr, Reggie Jordan.

- At a glance: Saunders said that Marbury "looks like a boxer" and that Garnett, a small forward, is 7-2 "in shoes." (We're not sure if that also means sneakers, but we think it does.) Saunders also said this year's team already is better defensively and better at rebounding, some of that due to the acquisition of the inside-oriented Smith. Minnesota again should make the playoffs but is perhaps a player away from cracking the top four.


- Coach: Don Nelson.

- Last year's record: 20-62.

- Roster: C - Shawn Bradley, Chris Anstey; F - A.C. Green, Samaki Walker, Dirk Nowitzki, Gary Trent, Cedric Ceballos, Hot Rod Williams, x-Ansu Sesay; G - Michael Finley, Steve Nash, Hubert Davis, Robert Pack, Khalid Reeves, Erick Strickland.

- At a glance: Dallas no longer can be regarded as an automatic "W" for opponents. There's scoring here, Nowitzki is dazzling everyone, and Nash finally has settled the issue at point guard. The annual battle to get Bradley's fire stoked continues, but Anstey, according to Nellie, is playing much better and figures into the rotation. If Nellie can keep this group together, he may have something sooner rather than later.


- Coach: Mike D'Antoni.

- Last year's record: 11-71.

- Roster: C - Raef LaFrentz, Loren Meyer; F - Eric Williams, Antonio McDyess, Danny Fortson, Monty Williams, Keon Clark, Johnny Taylor, x-Mark Randall, x-Kelly McCarty; G - Nick Van Exel, Bryant Stith, Chauncey Billups, Cory Alexander, Eric Washington, Tyson Wheeler.

- At a glance: Here's another doormat that also is no longer an automatic "W" for hungry foes. It will take time to get the pieces to mesh, but at least there's some there. LaFrentz will get his official indoctrination early and often, but he also can get up and down the floor and hit shots. We know here what Williams can do, and McDyess is a huge addition. The backcourt is a big upgrade, too, with Van Exel and old friend Billups.


- Coach: Brian Hill.

- Last year's record: 19-63.

- Roster: C - Tony Massenburg, Bryant Reeves, Carl Herrera; F - Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Cherokee Parks, Pete Chilcutt, Michael Smith, J.R. Henderson, Jason Sasser, x-Makhtar Ndiaye; G - Mike Bibby, Sam Mack, Doug West, Felipe Lopez, DeJuan Wheat, x-Lee Mayberry, x-Dan Muller.

- At a glance: Ugh. Reeves reported to camp having been on the Shawn Kemp Exercise Program and likely will not start in the season opener. Mack is the starting shooting guard. The Grizzlies just can't seem to get i§anc0000t together and are due for another brutal campaign. The only solace is that Abdur-Rahim is staying put and Bibby might be the answer at the point. But they need Reeves to start playing like a big guy instead of eating like one.



- Coach: Del Harris.

- Last year's record: 61-21.

- Roster: C - Shaquille O'Neal, Sean Rooks; F - Robert Horry, Elden Campbell, Rick Fox, Corie Blount, Travis Knight, Ruben Patterson; G - Eddie Jones, Derek Harper, Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Tyronn Lue, Sam Jacobson.

- At a glance: The Lakers again start the season as the Flavor of the Month. But it's February. LA has the most dominant big man in the game and good perimeter bombers but, even with the aging Harper, is a bit shaky at the point and at power forward. The Lakers may have one more move to make, whether it's signing Dennis Rodman or trading for a legit 4-man. But even if they don't, they've still got the best talent. Do they also have the maturity and will?


- Coach: Mike Dunleavy.

- Last year's record: 46-36.

- Roster: C - Arvydas Sabonis, Kelvin Cato; F - Brian Grant, Rasheed Wallace, Bonzi Wells, Stacey Augmon, Jermaine O'Neal, Walt Williams, Carlos Rogers, x-Art Long, x-Nikita Morgunoz; G - Damon Stoudamire, John Crotty, Jim Jackson, J.R. Rider, Greg Anthony, x-Michael Hawkins.

- At a glance: The Blazers are basically back intact, but with Stoudamire there from Day One and with Jackson as Rider Insurance. They are young, athletic (Sabonis excepted), and explosive. Theoretically, they should prosper from the shortened season in that their team is still together, it's got a ton of talent, and it's mostly young and growing. Looking for a long shot in the West? This might be your team.


- Coach: Paul Westphal.

- Last year's record: 61-21.

- Roster: C - Olden Polynice, Vladimir Stepania, Aaron Williams; F - Vin Baker, Detlef Schrempf, Don MacLean, Rashard Lewis, Jelani McCoy; G - Gary Payton, Billy Owens, Hersey Hawkins, James Cotton, Dale Ellis, Martyn Norris, x-Drew Barry.

- At a glance: They raided the Kings to improve. That might tell you all you need to know. Baker and Schrempf are fine, but Polynice is a handful even for the laid-back Westphal. Stepania, meanwhile, is, according to the coach, "lost," although he looks like Alvan Adams. The Sonics still have the best point guard in the game in Payton, and Owens may finally emerge. But can it be that their time has come and gone without them knowing it?


- Coach: Danny Ainge.

- Last year's record: 56-26.

- Roster: C - Luc Longley, Joe Kleine, x-Horacio Llamas; F - Cliff Robinson, Tom Gugliotta, Danny Manning, Pat Garrity, Chris Morris; G - Jason Kidd, Rex Chapman, Toby Bailey, Shawn Respert, George McCloud, Gerald Brown, Marko Milic.

- At a glance: The Suns didn't have the success in the open market they hoped to have, but they still added two big pieces: Longley and Googs. Once again, they should be able to put points on the board and Ainge will use his deep bench. Longley will help against the leviathans, giving them a viable center for the first time in years. They'll be entertaining and win their share of games, but they appear to be a bit short to battle with the big boys.


- Coach: Rick Adelman.

- Last year's record: 27-55.

- Roster: C - Vlade Divac, Oliver Miller, Peter Aluma, Jerome James; F - Chris Webber, Corliss Williamson, Lawrence Funderburke, x-Ray Owes; G - Jason Williams, Predrag Stojakovic, Tariq Abdul-Wahad, Terry Dehere, Vernon Maxwell, Jon Barry, Kevin Ollie, x-Chris Robinson.

- At a glance: The Kings almost completely overhauled their sorry roster from a year ago. Divac, if in shape, gives them an excellent pivot presence. Webber and Williamson are a potentially terrific forward combination. Everyone seems to like Stojakovic, and Williams's playmaking ability is drawing raves. Let's see if the Kings can improve and grow at the same time. If they do, they'll be ready should one of the Great Eight falter.


- Coach: P.J. Carlesimo.

- Last year's record: 19-63.

- Roster: C - Erick Dampier, Todd Fuller, Felton Spencer; F - Antawn Jamison, Donyell Marshall, Jason Caffey, Adonal Foyle, Chris Mills, Terry Cummings, Duane Ferrell; G - John Starks, Tony Delk, Muggsy Bogues, Bimbo Coles.

- At a glance: Think things will be a little less chaotic this year? They've overloaded at small forward and point guard, but with only so-so guys (Jamison excepted). Caffey's re-signing was big. They've got to find time for Jamison and also determine if Foyle is a player or yet another blown draft pick (see Fuller). The additions from the Knicks can't hurt unless they mentally pack it in by Valentine's Day. The team motto: "Thank God for the Clippers."


- Coach: Chris Ford.

- Last year's record: 17-65.

- Roster: C - Michael Olowokandi, Stojko Vrankovic, Keith Closs; F - Rodney Rogers, Maurice Taylor, Lorenzen Wright, Lamond Murray, Tyrone Nesby, x-Brian Skinner; G - Darrick Martin, Pooh Richardson, Eric Piatkowski, James Robinson, Sherman Douglas, Charles Smith, x-Scott Brooks.

- At a glance: There's some serious talent up front, but not a lot elsewhere. Olowokandi will need time, but at least the new rookie deal doesn't mean he'll be trade bait after his second year. (We think, anyway.) Ford may use Murray in the backcourt to get some firepower out of the otherwise inert position. Taylor can play and so can Wright, if he's healthy. This team won 36 games and made the playoffs two years ago. An aberration, no doubt.

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