NBA

MONROE: Charlotte sitting pretty for new team

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Mike Monroe

 
   
 
We're two weeks into training camp and about two weeks from the first games of the regular season.

So what's going on around the NBA?

Let's have a preseason look ...

The biggest news of the preseason involves the potential return of the league to Charlotte.

If there had been any doubt the league would look favorably on expanding back into Charlotte before the Board of Governors met in New York last week, it ended when the were sold for $360 million.

Everyone I've spoken to about the probable expansion believes the entry fee will be $300 million. That's a very neat figure to slice up: $10 million each to the 29 existing teams, plus a share to the league office, which has been tightening its belt a lot for the last couple of years, letting lots of talented people walk without hiring replacements.

I say that makes a favorable vote a slam dunk.

Even at the steep buy-in price there are three different potential ownership groups. The front-runner is the group headed by Boston-based entrepreneur Steve Belkin. It includes Hall of Fame Larry Bird, which gives it instant credibility.

owner Jerry Colangelo, who headed the committee that approved the ' departure, now heads the committee to examine the wisdom of bringing a team back to Charlotte.

I wonder how the folks in Charlotte feel about owner George Shinn being on Colangelo's committee? Shinn and co-owner Ray Wooldridge are pariahs in the Piedmont.

I see some back-alley intrigue about team names that might play itself out over the next year or so.

See, the now play in New Orleans, where the Utah got their start and had one of the great nicknames in sports ... as long as they were in New Orleans.

Well, Wooldridge says he would love to get the nickname back for his team and owner Larry H. Miller told Bloomberg News' Scott Soschnick during the Board of governors meeting — Soschnick does a better job covering the business issues of the league than anyone — implied he might be willing to sell it to the for the right price.

(Regular readers may recall my suggestion, made months ago, that the and simply swap nicknames, Utah being the Beehive State and all, and a hornet being a type of bee and all.)

So let's say, just for the sake of argument, Miller sells Shinn and Wooldridge the nickname for, oh, about $1 million. Of course there would be a contest to give Utah a new name, and then there would be millions of dollars of new logo merchandise for Utah to sell.

Then things could get really interesting. Shinn and Wooldridge would retain their NBA right to the nickname "Hornets" and — voila! — sell that nickname back to the new Charlotte franchise for, oh, about $1 million. This, of course, after first selling millions of dollars worth of new logo merchandise in New Orleans after getting the nickname back.

I don't care what spokesman David Allred says about the team's identity after 18 years in Salt Lake City being too firmly ingrained.

In pro sports, nothing talks as loudly as money.

New look Rocket offense

Best news of the preseason?

Rudy Tomjanovich insisting he's going to eighty-six all that isolation junk the have used for years.

Tomjanovich hates the new defensive guidelines, but he's one of the reasons the league went to them.

Having Stevie Francis to run what he calls his "five-man offense" doesn't hurt, of course.

Rudy's players seem to like the change, too.

"I think it's a big plus for the team to have a motion offense," forward said. "When we do the standstill thing — well, look at the record. It just hasn't been good at all. Change is good."

Said Francis, who usually was involved in the "isos:" "I think it's the best thing for us. For three years, we've been basically stomping ourselves in the foot trying to do one-man things. I really don't think it works. I think continuity in our offense means not only getting our good players shots, but a lot of players shots.

"It's good for me. Regardless of the offense, I'll be able to contribute."

Oh Canada

Here's my favorite quote of the preseason, from GM Glen Grunwald:

Commenting on recent discussions at the highest levels of the Canadian government about decriminalizing marijuana and keeping an eye on free-agent recruiting advantages, Grunwald said: "Geez, we could be the hot spot of the league."

Heck, the might even have been willing to re-sign under such circumstance.

Translation please

The had planned to send Brazilian power forward rookie 's interpretor, Joe Santos, packing by mid-season.

The thinking: Hilario needs to learn English well enough to really be able to communicate with coaches during practice and games, so he needs to stop leaning on Santos sooner than later.

After 's latest injury, though, they may want to keep Santos around a while longer.

Camby had hip surgery, conducted Thursday, that is going to keep him out until January, at the earliest — with his history of slow recuperation I'm predicting February — so Hilario just became a regular member of Denver's front line rotation. They're going to need Santos behind the bench to translate during time outs, perhaps longer than they had anticipated.

Meanwhile, Hilario is working hard to master English. He has a tutor, does lots of homework exercises that include basketball lingo and watches lots of English-language TV to immerse himself in the language.

One thing is clear: Hilario is going to play a lot more this season than fellow rookie , both out of need and readiness for the NBA game.

World Championships aftermath

The subject of the U.S. failure at the World Championships won't go away for . Everywhere the go, pesky media types want to ask him about it. "Indianapolis, hmmm," he said last week when the issue was raised yet again. "It's something I really can't explain. When you put together a team like that, there shouldn't really be any excuses because the teams in the past were put in the same situations. We've got to realize that we're representing a whole country. And for us to go out there and play that type of basketball, it's just mind-boggling for me. Take sixth place? It just seemed like everybody wasn't into it like they should have been. That's probably why we lost three games."

I've spoken to several members of Team USA's inner circle who insist Pierce was one of the reasons it had trouble coming together as a team because he wasn't interested in team play.

At least Team USA's failure has most of the NBA's best American-born players — , and , among others — interested in representing next time around.

Garnett had a great quote for Minnesota reporters at Wolves training camp: "What's so funny is, the world thinks they're good now. So we might have to get together and spank that ass and put everybody back into perspective."

The quiet leader

It's bad enough for the that the are the best team that plays within a few hundred 3-pointers of the Hudson River.

Now anyone heading to a game at Madison Square Garden down 7th Ave. will have to see a 30-foot looming down from a billboard at 49th St. It's a promotion for a new video game in which Kidd stars.

It could be worse, of course. At least isn't on the billboard.

coach Don Chaney, meanwhile, told the reporters who cover the he is going to look for to fill the leadership void left by Sprewell's forced estrangement from the club.

McDyess is going to lead the on the court this season, to be sure, but Chaney is nuts if he thinks McDyess is going to be a vocal leader in the locker room, too.

I know McDyess well from his days in Denver, where I covered the for the Denver Post. He's as nice a young man as I've ever encountered in pro sports, but he's too quiet to be a leader. You can't ask someone to be something they're not.

Hill sharp in Orlando

Last season I went to the 's training camp and wrote a column about how well was doing in his comeback attempt.

A few weeks later, he was done for the season with another ankle fracture.

Well, I hate to jinx him again, but it is beginning to look like Hill is repaired, good as new, and ready to make it through this season.

So far, so good, and now he just has to learn how to mesh his game with Orlando's unquestioned top dog, .

Hill says he is prepared to defer and just wants to fit in well with McGrady and , another talented perimeter player.

I'm happy to report that McGrady, as happy as he is to have Hill healthy, knows what's what and who's who.

"I'm not going to change anything as far as my game," McGrady told the Orlando Sentinel. "I've worked too hard to do that. Then again, I've got a guy that can help me out."

Honesty. You've got to love it.

Mike Monroe can be reached at his e-mail address, mmonroe@foxsports.com.

Tagged: Celtics, Pelicans, Nuggets, Rockets, Lakers, Timberwolves, Nets, Knicks, Magic, Kings, Jazz, Raptors, Paul Pierce, Antonio McDyess, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, Nene Hilario, Grant Hill

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