|Friday, October 5
Updated: October 6, 11:33 AM ET
Hoops hotbed in California
By Scott Howard-Cooper
Special to ESPN.com
P.S.: The NBA season has started out West too.
It's like camps on the Left Coast are flying under the radar amid the intense focus on the return of Michael Jordan. Or the really, really Left Coast, since the Lakers have been in Hawaii, or at least what remains of the Lakers. Kobe Bryant missed the start because of the death of his grandfather, Phil Jackson returned to the Mainlaind early because of the death of his mother, Shaquille O'Neal is out with a toe injury and Derek Fisher is out with a foot injury, so your favorites to threepeat are just trying to get by for now.
This could all mean a grand total of nothing when things really start to matter in the spring -- see: Rope-a-Dope, 2000-01 -- but it's an interesting twist for now. The Lakers in the background. Up next: the Atlantic Ocean gets misplaced.
And it's not just them. L.A.'s first preseason opponent, the Golden State Warriors, are actually healthy for a change, at least except for the twisted logic suffered when they became content to let other teams decide the market value of Marc Jackson. That has a foundation in fiscal responsibility (why bid against yourself?) but just as much shows a passive approach to roster management. Determine how much a player is worth to you and negotiate off that, not whatever offer sheet comes in.
Beyond that, though, the Warriors are walking without a limp again. The biggest injury threat as camp opened was that Antawn Jamison was smiling so much from the max contract extension late in the summer that he might strain his ears. He also had a new running mate on the wing, promising rookie Jason Richardson. He had some might-as-well-be-new muscle on the other side, with Danny Fortson back after lasting all of six games in his first season in Golden State before being doomed by a a stress fracture in the right foot. He averaged 16.3 boards in those six and 11.6 in 59 games as a Nugget in 1998-99, and now really gets the chance to prove he can rebound.
The Warriors are talking about feeling optimistic and encouraged and enthusiastic. But that's nothing compared to what they are not feeling for a change.
"I'm healthy, other players are healthy," Fortson said. "That's never happened too much around here. I'm really hyped up about it."
Imagine how the Clippers are feeling. No contract hassles during the summer. No coaching issues. A successful 2000-01 of 31 wins followed by the offseason acquisition of Elton Brand, who brings dependability inside and a great attitude. Another season with the developing Lamar Odom and Darius Miles. An ally in ...
Just before word that farmers are in support of the locust swarm comes word that Falk has taken up for the Clippers, or at least found someone more fun to pick on these days. Rarely has management had a foil like the uber-agent, and goodness knows there have been plenty of other candidates, but Falk isn't spinning them over a Bar-B-Que spit anymore, unlike the days when he represented Ken Norman, Reggie Williams, Charles Smith and, in that ultimate Clipper moment of the past, Danny Ferry. Now, he's got Miles, Brand, Quentin Richardson and Corey Maggette and a supporting voice.
"I'm more apt to believe that he wants it now," Falk said of owner Donald T. Sterling. "I think at this point in his life, he's in a new building and they have a chance to win and challenge the Lakers. If this doesn't motivate him to keep it together, nothing will. I do believe him.... I'm optimistic that he'll keep it together, because I think Elgin (Baylor, the general manager) has done a great job of putting that team together, with an assist from Jerry Krause."
As in Jerry Krause, the executive vice president of the Bulls.
"I can recall that in 1999, we lobbied Chicago very hard to draft Elton over Odom," Falk said. "I think those were the two guys they were considering. So they (took Brand). The next year, we lobbied very hard for Chicago to draft Miles and Richardson, but they wouldn't give up the seventh pick (in a trade) to do that, and so they gave the Clippers Miles, Richardson and (Keyon) Dooling. And then they gave them back Elton. So anyone who says Jerry Krause can't build a team I take issue with. I think he's done an unbelieveable job building the L.A. Clippers." Thank you and drive safe! Don't forget to tip your waitresses!
Some 400 miles to the north, the Kings have already enjoyed their turnaround, of course. They got to 55 wins last season, finished a game behind the Lakers in the Pacific Division standings and then finished, um, four games behind the Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals. They got both key free agents, Chris Webber and Doug Christie, back and upgraded at point guard with the acquisition of Mike Bibby for Jason Williams. They have stability and depth.
Just in case no one noticed.
"Sometimes, that's the best thing, that you never let 'em see you coming," Christie said. "If the focus is someplace else, that's fantastic. That's just going to be less strife on us."
For now. Figure everyone will see them coming before Oct. 30 gets too close, just behind the Lakers, likewise out of sight at the moment. At least everyone outside of Washington.
Scott Howard-Cooper covers the NBA for the Sacramento Bee and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.