Originally published in SLAM 83
The 6th Man: We can sum up the past NBA summer in a single word: Silly. Multi-million-dollar deals got thrown around like Paul Allen owned the whole damn League, comeback talk flew around about everyone from Jayson Williams (!) to Clyde Drexler (!!!) to Michael Jordan (!!!!!), and entire franchises got traded, or so it seemed. I was going to say that Hawks fans would have trouble recognizing their team without a program but a) I’m not sure if there are any Hawks fans left and b) I’m not sure that they wouldn’t have needed a program even if they didn’t make any moves. (No offense, Toine and Big Al.)
Which brings us to the two guys who split our cover(s) this month. It was clear pretty early on last season that Tracy McGrady wanted out of Orlando. Things were going from bad to worse, and with Grant Hill’s status still up in the air (and that God-knows-how-many-millions a year still tied up in his contract), the cavalry wasn’t coming anytime soon. Mac wasn’t gonna be satisfied when his ppg average was topping the team’s win total every year, and even the possession of the overall No. 1 pick didn’t promise immediate relief.
Meanwhile, in Houston, Steve Francis had to be feeling a little bit conflicted. It was clear that his buoyant style of play clashed with the philosophy of new coach Jeff Van Gundy and that he would have to make some major adjustments in his game. But it was equally clear that 7-6 Yao Ming was making strides, and at 24, was not long from being a dominant force in the League. A change was coming, one way or the other.
The League’s leading scorer rarely gets traded, but on June 29th, that’s exactly what happened as the Magic and Rockets agreed to a seven-player deal, changing the faces, and perhaps the fortunes, of both franchises (and one Franchise). Between that deal, the one that relocated the Diesel, and the divisional realignment that dumps the Hornets in the West (ouch), you’ll need our NBA Preview (page 107) this year more than ever. You can expect a whole lot to be different when this season kicks off in a couple weeks. And, well, a whole lot to be the same. (Sorry, Hawks fans.)
P.S. We’ve got our annual Rookie Most Likely To’s (page 41) this issue, and I almost picked Darko to be Rookie of the Year again, just because.