I was going to ask the 76ers' Charles Barkley Thursday whether he believed he deserved a first-team vote on the All-NBA team. There's still time to decide, because my ballot doesn't have to be in until the final day of the regular season.
I don't quarrel that Barkley is one of the five best players in the league, I don't question his ability to carry a team, to do the improbable or even the seemingly impossible, but I also know that the list of forwards having terrific seasons is imposing. And my other candidates are with teams having much better seasons.
I want Utah's Karl Malone on my ballot, because he is No. 2 in the league in scoring and No. 8 in rebounding, and the Jazz is leading the Midwest Division. But -- based strictly on this season -- do I want Barkley (No. 7 in scoring, No. 9 in rebounding on a team almost certainly bound for the lottery), or do I have to consider Golden State's Chris Mullin (No. 3 in scoring) and Chicago's Scottie Pippen (No. 14 in scoring in a lineup with top gun Michael Jordan)?
I don't have an answer yet, any more than the Sixers have an answer for why they were so terrible in Wednesday night's 89-71 loss to Detroit. I know the Pistons play fine defense, but I refuse to believe they "held" the Sixers to their lowest total since the franchise moved from Syracuse to Philadelphia in 1963-64.
Sometimes, when things sink that low, it's a natural reaction to use a deflection process, focusing on other issues or using gallows humor as a salve. Barkley -- and he's certainly allowed -- seemed to be using that process Thursday, which is why I didn't ask him anything at all.
I just listened to the following entertaining postpractice stream of consciousness:
* "Where's that strike when you need it? We should have a players meeting and say if we don't ban the salary cap by Saturday, the season's over."
* "Somebody's always going to be making more [money] than you. As long as I'm making more than 99 percent of them, it's OK."
* "I used to have roaches at home. They left, said [the Sixers] are in the lottery."
* "You know you're in the lottery when I have tickets left over. Now you have to call people and ask them if they want to go to the game."
* "When I go home to take a nap, I don't have to unplug the phone anymore. Nobody calls."
Loose lips: Witnesses say Sixers owner Harold Katz turned crimson during last Sunday night's annual Winners Ball at Garden State Park when Jayson Williams playfully grabbed a microphone and told the crowd it was "Charles Barkley's last Winners Ball as a Sixer."
"I guess," Williams said, "I'm back in the doghouse. I was just gettin' out, too."
He backs the Shaq: A year ago, Sixers general manager Gene Shue told us that if he had the No. 1 pick in the draft, he'd snap up Dikembe Mutombo, who wound up going No. 4 to Denver.
This time, Shue -- surprise, surprise -- loves LSU's Shaquille O'Neal.
"He has unbelievable, incredible talent," Shue said. "He could step in and be a dominant rebounder and defender right away.
"If you get the ball to him down low in our league, I think he could be
like Wilt Chamberlain, in that when he goes up to jam, if you don't get out of the way he'll break your arm. That's the way Wilt was. If you tried to block his shot, there was a good chance you could get hurt."
He'd have followed him home: What did Villanova miss when Pete Gillen decided to remain at Xavier, rather than become the successor to Rollie Massimino? "I was a nobody 'til I went to Xavier," said Tyrone Hill, now in his second season with Golden State. "I met [Gillen] at a Five-Star Camp when he was an assistant at Notre Dame and liked him. I'd have gone wherever he was coaching. If he had taken the Notre Dame job [as the successor to Digger Phelps], I'd have tried to go there."