- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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Editor's note: As part of "The Stein Line" every Monday, ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein gives his take on things in "Slams and Dunks."
Pardon the skepticism, but Utahns are being cautioned here to avoid the assumption that Andre Miller is a fail-safe successor to John Stockton. Miller is coming off his worst season, having returned to his hometown as the Clippers' supposed savior -- Best Point Guard In Franchise History! -- and then struggling in a variety of areas.
Going after Miller certainly makes sense. The Jazz is one of the few clubs that might be able to make an offer rich enough that Clippers owner Donald T. Sterling will decline to match for the restricted free agent, since Sterling apparently is committed to matching any offer for Elton Brand.
Just remember that the pressure on the guy who has to slip into Stockton's short shorts, whether he's a Rick Majerus grad or not, is going to be intense. Miller is going to have to prove he can handle that better than he handled a lost season in Clipperdom.
Some quick picks:
Lakers over Spurs in six.
Kings over Mavericks in five.
Nets over Celtics in six.
Pistons over Sixers in seven.
Szczerbiak and Smith have the longest contracts on the Wolves' roster, making both prime targets for criticism when they don't give Kevin Garnett the support he needs, but Szczerbiak isn't going to be the All-Star seen last season without a set-up man like Terrell Brandon to help him get open looks.
Szczerbiak is notoriously limited when it comes to creating his own shots, but the Lakers' devotion to stopping him added to his struggles. The Wolves were wise to exploit the matchup that was considerably more favorable -- Troy Hudson vs. the Lakers' porous pick-and-roll defense -- but getting others involved was not one of Hudson's assignments.
If Jermaine O'Neal means what he says -- that he won't re-sign in Indiana if Isiah Thomas is not the coach -- the Pacers have to listen. They have to do whatever is necessary to keep O'Neal happy, to make sure they keep him in the land of the glorious St. Elmo's Steakhouse. It's the same situation in San Antonio, where the Spurs are obliged to go after Jason Kidd if Kidd is the free agent Tim Duncan wants most.
In the Pacers' case, though, figure on Donnie Walsh pursuing other changes aggressively if Thomas and O'Neal are still together in Indy come fall. There's no way the Pacers can bring back the same team, especially since there's little chance any team will be trying to pry Ron Artest away.
Besides the ever-available Austin Croshere, Jamaal Tinsley and free agent-to-be Brad Miller are the most logical candidates for departure. Ron Mercer, entering the last year of his contract, will also draw trade interest because of his contract situation. As for Reggie Miller, given his playoff struggles, you'd like to think Uncle Reg will be reasonable in his contract demands to make all this at least somewhat less complicated.
Let me guess. You're looking for the official Stein Line over/under on game-winning tip-ins by Keon Clark at the buzzer in the Sacramento-Dallas series. Right?
Let's say two.
If an L.A. homecoming didn't help, then why would a return to Utah benefit Andre Miller?