Empty seats. Fewer television appearances. Unknown players.
The Florida Marlins? No, the Chicago Bulls.
Just like the Marlins after they won the World Series, the Bulls have been dismantled. But unlike the Marlins -- who were basically a one-year wonder -- the Bulls have been the dominant team in the NBA with six championships this decade. Watching a Chicago team that will have sunk to the level of, say, the Toronto Raptors, will be tough to stomach.
"They're obviously planning to bottom out and rebuild," said guard Steve Kerr, who signed with the San Antonio Spurs.
The honor of an NBA champion with the biggest nose dive the next season is held by the Boston Celtics. In 1969 the Celtics won the title after a 48-34 regular season. The next season, Boston finished 34-48, which prevented it from making the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
Boston declined because player/coach Bill Russell retired. With Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen and coach Phil Jackson gone -- the key components to Chicago's success -- the Bulls will likely make a bigger drop.
"That's where this 50-game season comes in handy," said reserve center Bill Wennington. "If there ever was a good time to be bad, this is the time because you won't be able to be bad as long as you otherwise would."
Despite having only 10 players under contract Friday, the Bulls went through with a free public scrimmage at the United Center. About 18,000 tickets were given away in 31 minutes. The Bulls open the preseason against the Indiana Pacers today.
Credit Anfernee Hardaway with the Orlando Magic's landing free-agent center Isaac Austin at the bargain rate of $15 million over five years.
Hardaway, who has played on an Orlando team that has not had a dominant center since Shaquille O'Neal left for Los Angeles, worked on Austin for the entire summer. When teams began informal workouts, Austin was at the Orlando practice facility, staying the week at Hardaway's home.
Austin could have made more money elsewhere.
"If Penny ever needs another profession," said Orlando coach Chuck Daly, "he could go into sales. And do well."
Hardaway has missed 86 games over the past two seasons because of two knee surgeries. The fifth-year point guard could opt out of his contract and become a free agent after this season and realizes the team's success will determine his worth next season.
Austin, a physical center, will help take the pressure off Hardaway.
"This team is going to be pretty scary," Hardaway said in Orlando after Austin signed. "We're going to get respect around the league again. We haven't had any respect since Shaq left. I think now we're among the top three teams in the Eastern Conference.
"I think you can arguably say we might have the best backcourt in the league," Hardaway added. "If Nick [Anderson] and I are playing well, I don't know if there is a better backcourt."
The Phoenix Suns are reeling over the defection of Antonio McDyess, wondering why the team's second-leading scorer from a year ago would leave a playoff situation to rejoin the rebuilding Denver Nuggets.
When Phoenix executives got word that their young star was seriously thinking about the move, they tried to reach McDyess' agents -- but both apparently changed their cell phone numbers. A frustrated team president Jerry Colangelo even called McDyess on Tuesday night, the day before teams were supposed to have any contact with players.
There's word that McDyess may have been unhappy with playing just over 30 minutes a game for Phoenix during the regular season.
"He did not believe that I thought he was a great player," Phoenix coach Danny Ainge said of the impression he got after speaking with McDyess. "A lot of that was based on the fact he only played 30 minutes a game.
"Antonio had every opportunity to tell me that during the course of the season. He never did. I never once had an inkling he was dissatisfied with his role."
Around the league
Charles Oakley, who was used to winning in New York, handed out T-shirts that read "Strictly Business" to his new teammates in Toronto. The Raptors won just 16 games last season. "If you come out being serious, you'll be taken seriously," Oakley said at the team's first practice.
The very first deal that went through the NBA office at the start of business on Thursday: the trading of Latrell Sprewell to the New York Knicks. "That was the first on our docket this morning," Golden State Warriors general manager Garry St. Jean said of the deal's becoming official.
Rapper Master P is on the 15-player Charlotte Hornets' training camp roster. "P," one of the top rap artists and a former CBA player, is also an agent representing Boston's Ron Mercer, Cleveland's Derek Anderson and Hornets rookie Ricky Davis.
So much for Derrick Coleman's wish to play alongside a dominant center. Coleman signed a five-year, $40 million contract with the Hornets, where he will play center, instead of his desired power forward position.
Bad trade rumor of the week: Charlotte forward Glen Rice for Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley. "As much as I love Shawn, I'd do that one," Dallas coach Don Nelson said. "Tell the guy that made that one up that it's done on our end."
Here's a rare, classy move: Joe Dumars, who made $3 million last season, signed with the De- troit Pistons for the 10-year-veteran minimum of $1 million to give the team increased cap room. "I'm just doing what's necessary for them to get guys signed in here," Dumars said.
Brian Williams will not be on the Pistons' roster this season. That's because the eccentric center changed his name to Bison Dele (Bison is a Western Cherokee name; Dele is from the Yoruba tribe in present-day Nigeria and Benin and means "come home").
"That's the fullest that arena is going to be for almost two years."
-- Shawn Kemp, while watching the crowd at the United Center for the Michael Jordan news conference.
"I just had a bad day."
-- Sprewell, on his attack on Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Pub Date: 1/24/99