A line still worth repeating: Lakers will win NBA title

I know it's a little late to do an actual NBA preview, but, hey, I figure I'm weighing in long before John "Hot Lunch" Williams, and besides, the NBA season still has about 10 months to go.

So, let's get to it. As many of you know, I've been picking the Lakers in this space every year since sometime back in the late '50s, and I don't see why I should stop just because they haven't won in a few years. Not when they've added Sedale Threatt, and you know what that means. If you don't, not to worry, we'll get to it later in the column.


Other predictions:

* Knicks, off to a fine start, are most improved, and Pat Riley is Coach of the Year. Or, Knicks are a flop, and Riley is replaced by Bob Costas and goes on to be named New York's best-dressed cabbie.


* Michael Jordan is the MVP, but passes up ceremony, citing the need to spend "quality time" with his family and also a late tee time.

* Denver's Dikembe Mutombo is Rookie of the Year, edging Larry Johnson in a class that may be remembered as the best in years. Mutombo, who had 27 points and 17 rebounds against Hakeem Olajuwon, is being called a scoring machine, a la Patrick Ewing, and John Thompson once again looks on in amazement.

* Charles Barkley, who has already called the 76ers racists, adds "commies," "weenies," and "unreconstructed Thornburghers" and still can't get traded.

It should be quite an NBA season, unless, of course, you're the Bullets, who will win at least two games. Don't be fooled by those two wins, by the way. They prove only that Wes Unseld is a great coach and that Michael Adams will make the team more fun to watch.

Here's the truth: The Bullets' best player, Bernard King, is not only 35 and injured, but he is 35 and his injury is to the same right knee that nearly cost him his career. The Bullets' second-best player is John "Are You Going to Eat That?" Williams. What's the deal with this guy? He gets fined $500,000 for being fat last season and shows up, eventually, this season tipping the scales -- OK, tipping over the scales -- at 305 pounds. How much do you figure $500,000 figures out to in cheeseburgers? So, he's suspended again, and the Bullets are angry, and Williams is a troubled individual who needs a shrink and not just for his waistline. And let's not even get started on Ledell Eackles.

The problem with the trade for Adams is that it will help make the Bullets nearly mediocre. To get better -- will they ever get better? -- they need to be truly, transcendentally terrible. Remember, the only important difference between a 20-win season and a 30-win season is where you're likely to pick in the draft. The Bullets have done a nice job of putting together some of the pieces, with Pervis Ellison and Harvey Grant. What they need is a centerpiece.

Among the teams not worrying about the draft are da Bulls. They were great last season, winning the title while running and jumping and flying (it wasn't the shoes) over the Lakers, whom I, of course, had picked. Now, they are trying to self-destruct, and they may just pull it off. First, Jordan called his teammates his supporting cast. Then he refused to join them for the White House photo-op and played golf instead (he knew the Bushman would understand, since the prez is likely to play golf during, for example, wars). Then Horace Grant said there was a double standard on the team, and he is right. Will it matter? That's why they're playing the season.

Chicago's competition in the Central Division includes Detroit (Isiah, on a mission since being left off the Olympic team, is 5-for-28 in his first two games), Milwaukee, Cleveland, Atlanta, etc. In other words, no problem. The Pistons have added Darrell Walker, to replace Vinnie Johnson, but they have no inside game to speak of. I guess the worst thing you can say about them is that they are now relying on Mark Aguirre for important minutes. One division note: Larry Johnson had been signed less than a week with Charlotte when, in his second game, he scored 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. He's for real.


In the East, Miami continues to improve. The Celtics continue to be banged up and, in that spirit, signed Larry Bird, who's healthy for now, to a two-year extension. The 76ers continue to fall despite the return of Johnny Dawkins. New Jersey (New Jersey?) continues to be unable to sign Kenny Anderson. What a division -- I forgot Orlando -- and still the Bullets can't make the playoffs. It's all set up for the Knicks, who added Xavier McDaniel and have rehabilitated Mark Jackson, and they open with two losses in Florida.

I like Houston in the Midwest. I like Utah (maybe 55 wins in the regular season, maybe two in the playoffs) in the Midwest. I like San Antonio in the Midwest. And it doesn't matter. All these teams will play well only until the playoffs, unless San Antonio doesn't, which may happen because Larry Brown may be going nuts. Brown has said that holdout Rod Strickland has "stuck a dagger in the heart" of the organization and then says he's the best guard he's got. Meantime, Mr. Brown and Mr. Robinson trade public slights. My prediction is that Brown quits, unquits, requits, unrequits and then says if there's anyone he'd like to be in this world it would be Mario Cuomo.

In the West, Portland is the best team. The Trail Blazers were the best team last season. They should win. I said, they should win. Phoenix, which should finish third in the best division in the game, has already won at Seattle and at Portland, holding the Trail Blazers to nine points in the third quarter. My favorite team to watch is Golden State, which traded off part of Run TMC, the Mitch Richmond part, for rookie Billy Owens. It was the right thing to do, and the Warriors could be a team on the move. Seattle will be OK, another decent team in the west. The Clippers, this is easy, will be unlucky. The Kings -- don't they play hockey?

Which leaves the Lakers, who basically had six players last season. They've added Threatt, the kind of player who is barely noticed on a decent team but who can play point guard and shooting guard and will speed up the slow-time Lakers. So will Tony Smith and Eldon Campbell, who are getting some playing time off the bench this season to go with A. C. Green. And they've still got Magic and Worthy and Vlade and Perkins and Scott. They're better than last season, and I picked them then, so what choice do I have now?