Seattle's Shawn Kemp had fouled out nine times in 82 games last season. And yet in the Sonics' first five preseason games, Kemp failed to go the distance in three.
The problem? Many are saying the replacement referees, who are working in place of the regular officials locked out by the
league. And with the season now just a week away, more and more players are becoming vocal in their criticisms of the replacement crews.
"It's not very good," Kemp said. "I'm not trying to discredit them, they have to learn the game. You can't come in and referee a game if you haven't done it before."
They've done it before, but in the Continental Basketball Association.
How bad is the problem? During a Washington-Toronto game last week, Bullets guard Doug Overton signaled for a 20-second timeout. The hands-on-shoulder sign seemed foreign to the officials, who let play continue.
Making matters worse, the NBA has gone with two-man crews instead of the usual three. That amounts to fewer eyes that are less experienced, a huge mistake in a game as physical as the NBA's.
And the more physical play that is allowed, the more fights that occur. Already in the preseason we've seen Chris Webber vs. Luc Longley (with a cameo by Rasheed Wallace), Kemp vs. Dennis Rodman, and the Spurs against the Houston Rockets.
"The officiating is horrible," Patrick Ewing said. "That's not to knock all of them; some can be NBA refs. But not all of them at once. The NBA needs to go back and get the officials back."
With so much dissent and the possibility of injuries to main attractions (Shaquille O'Neal and Webber are out for extended periods due to physical plays), perhaps the league will wise up and get the real crews by opening night.
"I feel sorry for the CBA," said Indiana guard Reggie Miller.
Nelson's honeymoon short
The start of the Don Nelson era in New York didn't get off to a good start this week, with the new coach debuting at Madison Square Garden with losses to Utah and Philadelphia.
"There's no way it's going to work," said a scout at a recent Knicks game. "[Mason's] just not smart enough, not good enough."
Nelson defends the experiment.
"I'm probably overdoing it at this point, but I want Mase to feel comfortable," Nelson said. "It's not what's going to happen in the regular season -- we'll put him in other positions on the floor. But I want to do it early and make him comfortable."
And what does point guard Derek Harper think of his lesser responsibilities?
"Time is running out at this point," he said. "We have to try to be more consistent with what we're doing offensively. Right now everyone is scrambled and unsure of what we're trying to do."
Did the Pacers swipe the Bullets' plane last weekend?
Following their game in Evansville, Ind., last Saturday, the Bullets boarded what they thought was their Champion charter only to find the Pacers already aboard for a brief flight to Indianapolis.
"It seemed kind of fishy," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam.
Instead, the Bullets, who were to fly the Champion charter for their entire 10-day road trip, were forced to take a less spacious Midwest Express plane.
Bullets trainer Kevin Johnson, the former assistant trainer with the Pacers, said it was simply a case of a mixed-up itinerary.
Around the league
Hakeem Olajuwon, recovering from surgery on his left elbow, will be ready for the season opener. . . . Guard Walter Bond, trying to make the Timberwolves, ran into Minnesota coach Bill Blair on a fastbreak last week, sending the coach sprawling and causing his nagging back to flare up. Later that day, Bond was cut.
Quote of the week
Orlando backup center Jon Koncak, on the pressure to step up with O'Neal hurt:
"Pressure to me is being in an airplane and the pilot dies and they ask me to fly the plane. I can't do that. But playing basketball is something I've done for 10 years."