Iverson for MVP? Mull that as races hit stride

With the All-Star Game a memory and with teams gearing up to make their playoff pushes, here are a few burning questions to be answered in the regular season's remaining two months:

Who will win Most Valuable Player honors?


Sacramento's Chris Webber, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and San Antonio's Tim Duncan are certainly worthy contenders, with Webber the favorite from this Western trio.

But, for now, the deck couldn't be more stacked in favor of Philadelphia guard Allen Iverson. His fourth-quarter performance in the All-Star Game last Sunday and his classy post-game news conference performance went a long way toward clearing his image with members of the media who will vote.


More importantly, with Eric Snow and Theo Ratliff missing substantial periods of time with injuries, the former Georgetown guard will have even more of a chance to carry the Sixers, who surprisingly have the league's best record, on his narrow back.

Can the Lakers repeat as champions?

It looks increasingly unlikely for reasons beyond the Shaq-Kobe feud. Simply put, the Lakers don't play defense nearly as well as they did last year, and their ability to make key stops was as much a reason for their success as the points that Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant put up.

Free-agent pickup Horace Grant will have trouble guarding Webber, or Duncan, or Portland's Rasheed Wallace in playoff matchups, and Isaiah Rider has not emerged as a credible third scoring option.

In addition, Bryant and O'Neal continue to snipe at each other, and their fussin' and fightin' won't stop until Phil Jackson earns some of that $7 million he's paid and actually coaches. Increasingly, it looks as if Philadelphia, Sacramento, Portland or San Antonio will wrest the crown away.

Who is likely to be dealt before Thursday's trading deadline?

Lots of things are rumored, but little may happen, because teams in need won't want to get stuck with someone else's driftwood.

For instance, more than a few general managers covet Vancouver's Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim, but because the Grizzlies are likely to insist that Bryant "Big Country" Reeves and his bloated contract be a part of any deal, no deal may happen.


Surprisingly, there's talk out of Chicago that the Bulls may want to package Elton Brand, last year's co-Rookie of the Year.

The Wizards, of course, want to get rid of recalcitrant Rod Strickland in the worst way but may have to be content with cutting him and buying out the final year, next year, of his contract for $5 million.

Where will the Vancouver Grizzlies end up?

More than likely, the Grizzlies, who got permission last week from commissioner David Stern to start looking for new digs, will move to New Orleans.

That's where a brand, spanking new arena with all those lovely luxury boxes the modern owner craves, is waiting, though the city is a lousy television market and doesn't have much to offer in terms of corporate support.

St. Louis, which nearly landed the Grizzlies a year ago, is neck and neck with New Orleans. It's a bigger market, but the NHL's Blues control the city's arena, and that probably won't fly with NBA owners. Likewise, the Pond in Anaheim could play host to the Grizzlies, but they would play second fiddle to hockey there, too.


If New Orleans becomes the Grizzlies' new home, the newly relocated franchise should negotiate a swap of nicknames with Utah, so that the Jazz name can return to where it belongs.

By the way, isn't it interesting that no one in Baltimore is talking about getting the Grizzlies, and that no one outside Charm City is mentioning Baltimore?


Utah's John Stockton is not only the NBA's all-time leader in assists, but, heading into today's game with Sacramento, is also tied for fourth in games played, with 1,307.

Name the three players ahead of Stockton and the player he's tied with. (Hint: All four are frontcourt players, and one of them is a former Maryland star.)

Jordan sighting


Washingtonians were treated last week to a rare sight: Michael Jordan, the Wizards' president of basketball operations, in the city.

Jordan, who has been to MCI Center for Wizards games only seven times this season, nonetheless wants long-suffering fans to support the team and to believe he will turn things around.

Despite his stated intent not to be a "show pony," Jordan couldn't stay away from the cameras last weekend for the All-Star Game, bouncing from ESPN to TNT to CNN with the same kind of ease that he shook off defenders during his storied playing years.

Too bad he doesn't seem all that comfortable or committed to doing the nuts-and-bolts things that someone in his position does to get a franchise off its knees.

Worse, Jordan gives the appearance through his oft-stated interest in running all of his businesses in Chicago of using the Wizards as training before moving on to run the Chicago Bulls if owner Jerry Reinsdorf decides to sell.

No one said getting the Wizards respectable was going to be easy, but no one outside Jordan's coterie believes it can be done with smoke and mirrors, either. Maybe Jordan can run things by phone from afar, as he says, but Wizards fans and the franchise deserve the personal touch.


Quiz answer

Stockton trails Robert Parish (1,611), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1,560) and Moses Malone (1,329). He is tied with Buck Williams (1,307).

Quote of the week

"You missed 10 dunks and still won the dunk contest. That's terrible."

Boston's Paul Pierce to Seattle forward Desmond Mason during a game last week.