SPORTS

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November 21, 2003

Few surprises in the NBA

While football and baseball have in recent seasons been maddeningly unpredictable, basketball fans have lacked the same level of unpredictability. The last 17 champions: Lakers, Lakers, Pistons, Pistons, Bulls, Bulls, Bulls, Rockets, Rockets, Bulls, Bulls, Bulls, Spurs, Lakers, Lakers, Lakers, Spurs. Kind of blurs together on the page, doesn't it? Quick: how many titles have the Lakers won? I sure lost count there, and I wouldn't believe you if you told me you kept track. This season will likely end the same way, so I'm dedicating this column to the random start to the season. Never has my column been so aptly titled.

The Orlando Magic have been tripping over themselves ever since they sent All-Star and Olympian Ben Wallace to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for the bum ankle of Grant Hill. The result: every year, the rest of the Magic get on Tracy McGrady's sore back and try to ride out the year, listening intently to how Hill's therapy is going. They've been predictably mediocre throughout this ordeal.

This year they are spectacularly bad. Their winning percentage is 0.091 after losing 10 straight games after a season-opening victory. That puts them on pace to go 7-75 for the season. Ouch. There was no way to predict that they'd be this bad. I'd also like to thank Doc Rivers for leaving NBA fans everywhere with such a memorable quote just before he was fired. Upset with rumors about his impending doom as coach, he railed at Magic management to ESPN.

"If you're going to judge me on 10 games after all that I have done for four years, getting the team to the playoffs and overachieving, shit or get off the pot." The Magic's play smelled like someone was doing more than sitting on the pot; the management shat, and Rivers is no longer a coach, just a Doc.

It was common knowledge that the Blazers were going to continue to be a volatile group this year, but did anyone expect them to do so many dumb things so early? Fine, I suppose it is just Bonzi Wells, who was suspended for two games after cursing and waving his arms angrily at coach Maurice Cheeks. Many people forget that Wells learned how to play in this league from none other than Isaiah "JR" Rider. Bonzi seems to now be mimicking the crippling stupidity that started Rider on the fast track to South American pro basketball. Quite honestly, I don't think there's a fan in Portland who would mind seeing Bonzi follow Rider's path, perhaps even taking Rasheed Wallace with him. Yesterday.

Then there's the home team. What's going on with the Bulls? This is their breakout year. Forwards Tyson Chandler and Eddie Curry are supposed to have learned by now to play in the league. As much as I like Bill Cartwright, I think it might be time for him to go. The man spent years as a successful big man in the league, and he has yet to demonstrate to the public that he is imparting any of that expertise to Curry and Chandler. The Bulls may be waiting to pull the trigger on a trade, and I would like to see them do it sooner rather than later.

For the Bulls to reach the playoffs and fight for the right to be massacred by whoever wins the West, I'd like to suggest the following trade: Eddy Curry and Jalen Rose (and some cap filler to makes salaries match up) to Portland for Rasheed Wallace and Bonzi Wells. I know I just trashed the Blazers' trade bait, but I think this helps the Bulls a lot. Scottie Pippin, who returned to the Bulls over the summer, knows how these two play and can often control their tempers. Rasheed would be the starting center for the Bulls and thrive against the weak frontcourts of the East. Bonzi would take over the starting shooting guard spot. The Bulls' starting lineup would be:

PG - Jamal Crawford

SG - Bonzi Wells

SF - Scottie Pippin

PF - Tyson Chandler

C - Rasheed Wallace

This would certainly be good enough to win the east this year or at least to get into the playoffs. I challenge the faithful readers of my column to come up with a better trade for the Bulls.