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The sad thing is, market still exists for Sprewell

It's not the way the NBA would have liked to have made front-page news, the incident last week when former Golden State Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell choked, threatened and allegedly punched coach P. J. Carlesimo. And the league's get-tough policy of suspending Sprewell for a year has drawn near universal praise.

But was the league's action based more on a policy of non-tolerance, or to escape the embarrassment of having Sprewell back in uniform by Christmas?

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You see, less than 24 hours after Sprewell was suspended for 10 games for grabbing Carlesimo by the neck, teams were calling the Warriors, attempting to get the three-time All-Star guard at a bargain-basement price. And right after the Warriors announced Wednesday that they were voiding the rest of his four-year, $32 million contract, there were already teams ready to sign Sprewell once he cleared waivers. That's when the league stepped in with its one-year ban. Two days later, Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin said that he'd consider signing Sprewell if the player "would open his heart and ask for forgiveness."

If the NBA really wants to get tough, it at least has to be consistent. Two years ago, an intentional elbow delivered by J. R. Reid had A. C. Green picking up two of his teeth off the court. One of the ugliest on-the-court incidents got Reid only a two-game suspension.

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And just last month Tom Chambers, then of the Phoenix Suns, punched out the team's strength and conditioning coach. Few details were released, but Chambers was not suspended -- he was eventually traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Although Sprewell has pretty much thrown away $25 million (who knows what he would have done to Carlesimo had he known how much it would have cost him?), don't cry for him long. There's a bad team out there somewhere -- and there are a lot -- that might be ready to throw an even more lucrative contract his way when his suspension is over.

Just like bad coaches are constantly recycled, so are talented, problematic players.

Hill's troubles

A few years ago, a magazine story asked whether Grant Hill could save the league. Seems the Pistons forward can't even save his own team.

There is nothing more perplexing in the NBA this season than the inability of the Detroit Pistons to win basketball games. Looking to build on last season's 54-28 record, the Pistons have dropped 12 of their past 17 games, have the lowest-scoring team in the league (89.2 points per game) and are in next-to-last place in what may be the most competitive division in the league -- the Central Division.

As the franchise player, Hill is taking a lot of the blame. The three-time All-Star is shooting just 38.5 percent from the field -- well below the career-best 49.6 percent of a year ago. Aside from his play, (he's averaging 20.4 points per game), the biggest knock against Hill is that he hasn't demonstrated leadership qualities.

But the biggest problem is that the players seem to despise coach Doug Collins, whose strict, combative style got him chased out of Chicago after the 1988-89 season and could get him fired soon in Detroit.

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Collins has blamed the recent stretch on the players, saying, "It's not coaching. I've put my heart and soul in this thing for 2 1/2 years."

Said Collins about last Sunday's loss to Vancouver: "Our team should be able to win that game without a coach. You could bring Red Auerbach in here right now, and nothing would change."

When a player was quoted anonymously recently that Collins was "bailing out on us," the coach furiously entered the locker room demanding who was "not man enough" to stand up and make the comment publicly.

Brian Williams, a newcomer this season in Detroit, said "I would say the crisis level is high, and the mood is low."

With so much dissension, it seems it might take Collins' departure (he switched his deal to a one-year contract before the season) before the Pistons are able to address their current problems.

Around the league

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Except for Thursday, when Glen Rice scored 27 points in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Charlotte Hornets are 10-0 when he scores more than 20 points and 0-6 when he doesn't. The normally quiet Rice apparently is not to thrilled with the "balance" that came along with newcomers Bobby Phills and David Wesley.

"I definitely will not go any more stretches without getting the ball," Rice said. "I'm not sitting back waiting for the ball coming to me anymore. If we're going to lose, we're going to lose with it in my hands."

When Wesley went down with a bruised thigh in a recent game and when backup point guard B. J. Armstrong proved ineffective, coach Dave Cowens turned to Phills to run the team. Charlotte scored on 19 of 21 possessions and had no turnovers with Phills, a forward, at the point. He hadn't played that position for more than two minutes since college.

In three disappointing seasons before this year, Golden State forward Donyell Marshall had never averaged more than 5.6 rebounds a game. Marshall's 10.8 rebounds ranked 10th in the league, with his 69 offensive rebounds ranked fourth. Marshall is probably attacking the offensive glass because that's the best way to get shots -- the Warriors ranked 23rd in the league in assists (20.3) and last in field goal percentage (40.0).

Portland Trail Blazers forward Rasheed Wallace, fined $2,500 and threatened with a suspension for wearing his shorts too long, made a statement to the league during a recent game: He wore his shorts so high above the knee they resembled boxers.

Of Portland's first 14 games, J. R. Rider was suspended for five of them. The latest suspension, served over the final three

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games of a recently completed road trip, was the result of Rider spitting at a fan during halftime of a game in Detroit on Nov. 20.

Sacramento Kings rookie forward Lawrence Funderburke, a Christian, says he believes the world will end soon. "Most people probably would be shocked if I told them that I honestly don't believe that I'm going to fulfill my career," he said. "That's because I believe the world will come to an end. That's just because of the prophecies I've read and the signs I've seen."

Quotable

"Nobody can stop me. Once I make up my mind, nobody's going to stop me from going to the hole." -- Denver Nuggets 7-foot-2 center Priest Lauderdale, who averages 4.1 points and 2.5 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game.

"We're like a dual-piston engine running on one piston. We've gone from a Ferrari to a Mack truck." -- Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, after a recent loss.

Jerry Bembry's power rankings

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Top 10

1. L.A. Lakers: Shaq may be back in two weeks.

2. Atlanta: Franchise-record 13 wins in November.

3. Seattle: Not missing Kemp.

4. Miami: Alonzo who?

5. Portland: 7-2 on the road.

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6. Houston: Won seven straight without Olajuwon.

7. Utah: Stockton returns soon.

8. New York: Dallas loss shows inconsistency.

9. Phoenix: Success with "small ball."

10. Chicago: Rodman, Kukoc stepping up.

Bottom 5

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25. Dallas: Remember 3-0?

26. L.A. Clippers: League's worst defense.

27. Toronto: League's longest losing streak.

28. Denver: League's worst assist team.

29. Golden State: "Spree fall."

Jerry Bembry can be reached via the Internet at Jeryol.com

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Pub Date: 12/07/97



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