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THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : New Kids Don’t Get Bullied by Anybody

They don’t make expansion teams the way they used to: Notice anything funny about the standings?

The Raptors, the new team from Toronto, have four victories, putting them even with or ahead of eight “established” teams, plus the Grizzlies, the new team from Vancouver.

The Grizzlies have two victories, as many as the Nuggets and 76ers, and one more than the Timberwolves, who come from another era, when expansion teams acted like expansion teams.

The Raptors had a recent three-game streak, beating the Timberwolves, SuperSonics and the Bullets at Washington, an embarrassment for all concerned.

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“You’ve got to understand,” Seattle’s Gary Payton said, “this is a new team, it ain’t new players.

“Alvin Robertson has been in the league how long? Oliver Miller has been in the NBA how long? Willie Anderson has been in the league how long? They’ve only got one new person on the team and that’s [Damon] Stoudamire.”

You’ve got to understand, this is a new time.

As sunset follows sunrise, expansion is followed by another word--"dilution"--but in this case, the salary cap did the diluting and it happened years ago.

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The days of the great, deep teams have long been over. Remember the ‘80s Pistons, bringing Vinny Johnson, Dennis Rodman, John Salley and James Edwards off the bench? The Lakers with Bob McAdoo and Michael Cooper? The Celtics with a backup center named Bill Walton?

The cap put an end to that, as money flowed to the superstars and teams ran out of money for reserves. The Raptors have Salley and Miller, who were starters last season but were let go because they were too pricey (Salley makes $3 million a year and is signed through 1997) or fat (Miller is estimated at 325 pounds and never got below 280 in Phoenix. Fortunately for the Raptors, they have one bright, young prospect. Embarrassed general managers note that Stoudamire has a total green light; he averages 41 minutes, can take any shot he wants and is making only 39% of them but his numbers are big time: 16 points, nine assists and, remarkable for a 5-10 smurf, six rebounds a game.

Stoudamire’s selection at No. 7 was the surprise of last spring’s draft. If Raptor General Manager Isiah Thomas wanted him, the story went, he could have traded down, got him lower and picked up something in trade.

Score a coup for Zeke in his first big decision.

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Someone asked Thomas last week if he wanted to say he told them so.

“No,” he said, laughing. “I don’t have to.”

IN CHARLOTTE, IT’S THE MOURNING AFTER

A week ago, Coach Allan Bristow said his Hornets were about to “form our identity,” but so far it isn’t the one he desired. The Hornets broke a five-game losing streak Friday.

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With Alonzo Mourning, they were a rising power, no matter how badly they were administered. Without him, they’re a bunch of schleppers.

Not that anyone will miss them. In their brief and modest heyday, the Hornets were exuberant to the point of being insufferable. Before the advent of the luxury-box age, owner George Shinn and President Spencer Stolpen reckoned their always-full 24,000-seat Coliseum cash cow made them the new elite, which was one reason they gave Larry Johnson that landmark $84-million extension.

It was poetic justice that the team they hurt most was their own. Mourning’s agent, David Falk, used Johnson’s contract as a starting point and, by the end of negotiations, almost doubled it.

At the end, Falk wanted $13 million a season and the Hornets were offering $11 million, plus $2 million in incentives. Had they merely committed $5 million a season to Johnson, they could probably have signed Mourning for $9 million per and they’d still be young and promising.

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“Any successful team has a good basketball mind running it,” says Frank Brickowski, a former Hornet now with the SuperSonics. “That’s just the way it is around the league.

“Spencer doesn’t know anything about basketball. But if you need to know where to eat, he can show you a good restaurant.”

WHY SO MANY EXECS ARE ON MEDICATION

Dikembe Mutombo, the free agent-to-be who first said he wanted to stay in Denver, now says he wants to stay under the right conditions.

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“I love this city,” he said. “I just built a new house in it. I don’t know, sometimes when it comes to business decisions, you have to do whatever it takes, but it’s just hard to leave everything behind and leave the city and go. I’m looking to stay here.”

Shaquille O’Neal, who first said he wanted to stay in Orlando, isn’t saying anything these days. However, recuperating from his broken thumb, he decided he’d like to spend a week in Los Angeles, home of the Lakers.

NAMES AND NUMBERS

The Bulls’ 10-1 start is the best in their history, impressive since they once won 65 games, the more impressive since Dennis Rodman has played in only three games. . . . Worm update: Now he has a twice-weekly radio show in Chicago, in addition to his upcoming weekly TV show. His second autobiography is coming out next year and is said to include details of his NBA fantasy of playing naked. Proving that no frontier remains, Dennis will also appear in a new Walt Disney movie called “Eddie” with Whoopi Goldberg. . . . Coach Pat Riley invited Miami Heat players to Thanksgiving dinner at his home. “We’ll probably run some 17s [conditioning drills] after dinner to work off the turkey,” said LeRon Ellis, laughing. “He’ll probably have us out in the back, working off the cranberry sauce.” . . . Mad Stork: Shawn Bradley’s roll is over and 76er Coach John Lucas is zinging him daily. The 7-6 76er closed last season by averaging 16 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks over the last 17 games. This season, he had one 22-rebound explosion against Charlotte, but aside from that, he’s averaging eight boards. Lucas, who has impatient owner Harold Katz to answer to, keeps calling Bradley’s performances “not acceptable.” Bradley is turning grumpy with Philadelphia reporters.

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Foreign intrigue: Sacramento’s Mitch Richmond flew to Toronto without a driver’s license or passport and was detained by customs on his way out of town. He was allowed to leave when he produced a program from the game against the Raptors with himself on the cover. He gave it to the customs agent with an autograph and went on his way. . . . QB or Not QB: In New York, they like to call Charlie Ward “the best quarterback in town,” but if he is, he’d better get to it. He has just been supplanted as the Knicks’ backup point guard by former Clipper Gary Grant, now averaging eight points in 15 minutes a game. “It makes it easy when you play with a bunch like this,” says Grant, perhaps meaning no disrespect to his former teammates. “They are veterans who have been around. I look in their faces at times in a close game and I see no worry at all. And I want to be a part of that.” . . . According to more New York hype, Derek Harper is the best player who has never been an all-star, but the real deal is Portland’s Rod Strickland, who is averaging 21 points this season after averaging 19 and 17 in the last two.

The Indiana Pacers’ Reggie Miller, Derrick McKey, Dale Davis and Antonio Davis can all be free agents next summer, a problem for the small-market team. “I know how far we can go,” says team president Donnie Walsh, “but I also know there’s only so far we can go.” For starters, he’ll have to choose between Davises. . . . Atlanta Hawk center Andrew Lang, who scored a career-high 10 points a game last season, is averaging 16 in this one. “To really appreciate how far he’s come,” says Phoenix scout Todd Quinter, “you had to see him coming out of college. He was so raw.” . . . Can’t-shoot Jalen Rose flunked his audition as the Nugget starting point guard. Shoot-first Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is starting again.

They never promised them a Rose Garden: The Trail Blazers’ 814-game, 18-year, regular-season sellout streak, the longest active in pro sports, ended when 20,381--1,020 short of capacity--came to see the Clippers in the new Rose Garden. The streak began on April 9, 1977, their championship season. . . . Aside from that, they’re doing OK: Charles Barkley on the Suns’ slow start: “We can’t score and we can’t stop anyone else from scoring. Those are the two little things stopping us from being the best team in the league.” . . . Barkley to replacement referees who called him for traveling five times against the Hawks, “I’ve been doing this for 12 years. What makes you think you can call traveling?”


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