West is extra large and in charge
By Ralph Wiley
Page 2 columnist

'bout time! So my boy R-Dub finally lets me express myself about my league. But instead of giving me the East, like he shoulda, Dub sends me out West. Bum. Be-atch. And then he insists on coming too, "translating" for me. Like I need translating or something.

I just got one thing to say. Brrrr!

Not the cold. The size! It's Land of the Giants out here!

Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire
Welcome to the West, where Yao and Amare are the future.
I'm not just talkin' Shaq. Yeah, there's Shaq. There's Chairman Yao. There's Tim B. Dunkin. There's a rumor of Chris Webber. There's 'Sheed, Zack and D-Miles along the same front. There's the Man-Beast Stoudemire. Who built him? There's even Shawn Bradley.

At the end of the day, there's Big Ticket, also known as Big Ticker, also known as the Walking Death, Mantis, the Sweet Swatter from Git-chie-goom-mee. KG. All looking back at me. Spread 'em out wingspan-to-wingspan, it's the Great Wall of the West. Any one's enough to beat the Least of the East.

Maybe.

Maybe? Please.

*****

We hit the ground running in Ore-gon. Way too much space out here. Way too green. Not enough concrete. Haven't heard a siren or a car alarm or a halfway decent blood-curdling human scream in days. Creepy quiet. Keeps me up at night. The air is way too clean and fresh and crisp. It's foreign to my corrupted lungs. Makes 'em hurt. Ore-gon. No wonder any incoming Blazers tend to go crazy.

But first, before that, we hit Seattle in the great Pacific Northwest. The Emerald City. Then we went south of there to Ore-gon, where the once-best beloved Trail Blazers have come to be known as the Jail Blazers, behind Rube Patterson, Jumpy Rider and 'nem. Me, I wouldn't lump 'Sheed and Mighty Mouse in with the Oz convicts-in- waiting, but even they can't be allowed to ruin Zach.

Not if it was me running things. Which I admit it ain't.

Now, check, I don't be meaning to put it all on 'Sheed's and Mighty Mouse's backs, just because they might like to fire up a spleef to unwind. Hell, Bob Marley did that, too. Look what it did for him.

Anyway, come to find out Ore-gon is just due north of Eureka, Cali; and in the counties just below that, Mendocino and Humboldt, they grow the finest sensemilla on the planet. But it is not encouraged for hoopers, not in-season, except by the farmers, hangers-on and others with a vested interest in corrupting season ticket plans. It ain't like ain't nobody enabling the Jail Blazers. I wouldn't encourage it for them, though, if they asked me. Mighty Mouse even went through an airport metal detector, reportedly with an aluminum foil tube full of erbini. Tinfoil, through a metal detector? I'd move him just for that. Not for the sense, but for the lack of it, the common kind.

*****

Dub here, translating and playing devil's advocate for the Dogster. I don't mind Rasheed venting and sounding all French-intellectual and everything, either; but I sort of do mind paying him 17 mil a year for it, and apparently, so does the new GM, John Nash.

Rasheed Wallace
A change of conference might do Sheed some good.
To Paul Allen, it's all a drop in the bucket, anyway.

Do you suppose Paul Allen would rather own the Sonics than the Blazers, deep down, in his heart of hearts? Oregonians consider him the Pacific Northwest version of a carpetbagger, probably.

Getting back to Rasheed, the thing is, he should be a true Goliath. Should've never let the Blazers lose that NBA Conference Finals seventh game at the Stapler four years ago that kick-started this last Laker run. That never should've happened. Come to think of it, when he was at Carolina with Stack, what did they do? Nothing.

'Sheed is still getting paid for his potential. With that much talent, he should be averaging, oh, 27 and 14, night in and night out. Hey, he can sue me. He should. Once he decides to play, he's a monster. He got together with Zach and a Stealth-fighter guard named D. Anderson the other night and beat the Kings at Sacto in OT, and was roaring, slapping guys on the back. Made you wonder. Well, it probably didn't make you wonder, but it sure put a smile on Chi-Chi's face.

Maurice Cheeks deserves better than half-ass. And he deserves better at least every other night. So do the wet people in the Rose Garden. But then, knowing 'Sheed, he'll just go on a week-long walkabout and then where are you. So what does Nash do? He moves Jeff McInnis and Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje for D-Miles, who Dog loves and I like. Gotta pair him off with Zach. Gotta protect Zach. Can't have Zach being corrupted ...

*****

R-DOG: Dub, you crazy. I'll take 'Sheed in a heartbeat.

R-DUB: I know you would but would I? Isiah isn't as crazy as you. He's not giving up Kurt and Van Horn for 'Sheed. Word is, 'Sheed has put the word out he won't be re-signing in Portland, so they're going to have to move him somewhere. Watch out for Billy King then. At least one Goliath might be heading back East ...

R-DOG: Who's telling this? Let's move on. I noticed we got offered a lot of different kinds of coffee up in Seattle, but nobody was talking about the Sonics. Guess they're still in mourning over GP. GP is still in mourning over GP. That look on his face never was what you'd call viewer-friendly, but now ... he could sell a lot of bitter beer with that face. His "I Didn't Sign Up For This" face.

R-DUB: Looks like the Lakers have become the Sonics. For now.

R-DOG: We'll get to the Lake Show later. Sonics had a reunion at the Garden the other day. There was Lenny Wilkins, now coaching the Knicks. Jack Sikma was in the house, doing radio, or whatever. A lot of pleasant ball-lovers from Seattle were there, writers and everything. Made made me think on back in the day when they were SuperSonics. Human Eraser Webster. Downtown Freddy Brown. DJ when DJ had ungodly lift. Lonnie Shelton. Gus from Mount Vernon. Like a streak of light. Now look. Just a bunch of jump-shooters. They get no layups, now that GP's gone. That was GP's genius. He got layups. Even in the half-court, he got layups.

Pau Gasol, Calvin Booth
The Sonics' chances out West are as slim as Calvin Booth.
R-DUB: Brent Barry's got athletic ability coming out the waz, but I just don't know if he's a 1. But he can play. The only question is, where? To what end? We know Ray can play. Seems like Vlad Rad can play. Seems like Rashard Lewis can play. I mean, they are definitely a doughnut team, a big hole in the middle, but ...

R-DOG: Freeze, Dub. This is my show. Rashard Lewis can score. But I don't know if he can play. Big difference.

R-DUB: All I know, Dog, is when you screamed out, "Ray! We (the Knicks) got us a squad now!" Ray kind of cocked his head to one side, and raised his eyebrows, and he knew.

R-DOG: And he knew we knew he knew. Then we went over to Jay-Z's spot on 25th. It was jumping off in the squad room. Jigga was shooting pool with Jermaine Dupri and watching the game on the big plasma with Zab Judah. Even Jay-Z knew. Guess he oughta know, now that he's got a piece of the Brooklyn Netpoppers. Hova say, "Team like that, a bunch of jump-shooters, they can run you out of the building one night, and next night crash and burn."

*****

R-DUB: The Great Pacific Northwest -- and it is truly, beautifully great, if a bit distant, as in whole other world -- has its own brief history of big-time in hoops, with a tradition that's fallen on ... well, not hard, more mediocre times than hard. The one Goliath up there, 'Sheed, is about to be out. The Sonics just need, say, Bill Russell reincarnated. That's all. But the Blazers have got to build around Zach, D-Miles, Anderson. If Paul Allen is going to pay somebody 17 mil, ought to make it an even 20, get together with Phil Knight on building another Nike wing and go after Kobe. I would. I mean, the Blazers already passed on Michael Jordan once. Not again.

R-DOG: Yep, all good calls.

R-DUB: That Pacific Northwest action does kind of grow on you. It will definitely clean out your sinuses, cool you out, and make you think on things, toggle-jog your memory chip, and also make your palate appreciate the taste of fresh Chinook salmon stuffed with dungeness crab (what is that crap I've been eating back East?) and the new lightning-yellow uni of the Ore-gon Ducks. Ernie Kent told us Red Ridenour probably wishes he was back with the Ducks, steada not playing with the Sonics, buried deep in the rotation ...

R-DOG: And when he does play, getting viciously crossed up and totally undressed by the likes of Steph, or A.I ...

R-DUB: It'll take him a year or so to figure out what he can and cannot do up here. That lightning yellow and the NBA will either blind you, or brighten up the grey days when the mist hits the green buttes and mountain tops. Somehow adds up to spectacular.

R-DOG: You really love it out there, Dub?

R-DUB: Put it this way -- I understand why certain Page 2 editors do. (Whaddup, KJ?). I know if this was my home, I'd love it.

R-DOG: I feel you. I came out here ready to scoff at the run and the turf and the weather. Left not wanting to do none of that.

R-DUB: Dog, You? Getting all emotional on me?

R-DOG: Didn't say that now. Back to reality.

*****

Elton Brand, Kevin Garnett
If this weren't the West, the Clips could easily snatch a playoff spot.
Dog here, back on the solo trip for a minute. Far as I'm concerned, the Suns can do no wrong. They are to the Knicks what them Kansas City Royals or old St. Louis Browns used to be to the Yankees. A great farm club. They've got Stoudemire, every bit as phenomenal as LeBron -- well, naw, but at least as phenomenal as 'Melo. And Shawn Marion, too. But they're still caboosing in the Pacific. They'd be fighting for a playoff spot in the East. That's how unbalanced the league is right now.

Take the Clippers. Please. It just don't seem to matter what they do. You put that uniform on, you atuomatically become a candy-striper. You're automatically a nurse. And yet they're 17-22. Some nights, Spaghetti Maggette and Off-Brand will pull it off, if Q is feeling it and Jaric didn't have a late night at the Mondrian Skybar and House is on. This Matt Barnes kid shows up out of the minors and drops 13 and 10 in his first game, a Clip win, but it came against the Warriors so how can you tell anything from that?

Well, you can tell something from that.

You can tell that the Warriors, for lack of a better word, suck.

Mussel-Dome had to watch one game where skywalking J-Rich, who never met an opportunity for a highlight-reel play he didn't like and a stay-down D-up situation that he did, had 28 points and 10 boards; Speedy Claxton had 15 points, five boards, five dimes; Horse Dampier had 17 points, 18 boards, eight offensive, and three rejections; Uncle Cliffie had 14 points and six assists; and Mikhail Dunleavy (figure it might help if he pretended to be Serbian ... then again, look at Darko; never mind) had 16 points and 10 boards and two steals and the Worriers lost, 106-102 at the Stapler.

But that's how it goes out there in the Land of the Giants. There are some -- some? -- Eastern squads that would disappear like Amelia Earhart out here. They'd be rumors. Cautionary tales.

So, Pacific-time, it comes down, as it always does out here lately, to the Lakers and the Sacto Kings. Watch them Kings, my man. See, sometimes when guys get hurt, it helps other guys get well. We just watched Peja drop 37 on the Cavs the other night without even breaking a sweat. Peja has gone completely radar on us. Totally nuclear. Doesn't have a gun. Has the gun.

The best-kept secret in the whole league may be Bobby Jackson. He made Derek Fisher obsolete. When they go Bibby-Bobby-Christie (and Christie's wife's purse) with Peja running in and out behind screens and that Brad Miller guy doing things you don't believe he can do until it's too late, they can create havoc. So now we'll see what Webber's got come money time. No excuses, Web-head.

Sacto's definitely in the Western (read NBA) Final Four.

*****

R-DUB: Yep. Talked to my boy Shake N Bake from Denver and he's happy, or at least no longer blasé. I'd even forgotten where the Nuggets played. I asked him if McNichols was full. "It's the Pepsi Center, Dub," he said. "And there's always room for 'Melo."

Nene, Brad Miller
Nene's Nuggets won't get past the Kings if they meet in the playoffs.
The boy is awesome, right? Tremendous speed and mobility, laterally and vertically, for his size; got the deep shot, too. Camby is balling as long as his paper-clip bod holds up; well-fortified at point with Andre Miller and Tiny Boykins. Nene's figuring it out. If they make the playoffs, 'Melo's the Rookie of the Year ...

R-DOG: Please. Oh please ...

R-DUB: Figured that would set it off. You know who I'd get for the Knicks if I could add one guy who's not considered an All-Star but plays like one? Kirilenko. Boy falls out of the skies, Dog.

R-DOG: Yeah, Utah fooled me. What are they, a game under .500?

R-DUB: Yep. And still last in the Midwest.

R-DOG: Dammmmm! Look at Memphis. Seven games over, eight straight wins. J-Will is doing just what Jerry West say in his mind he could do, with the right driver. Old Man Hubie was obviously the right driver for him ... not to mention sick-ass Bonzi, and Gasahol, and ... to tell you the truth, I don't know how they're doing it, but they're doing it. There's another Kobe possibility, but we're talking about who's going to win in 2004, so let's cut to the chase. Nice as they are, nice little squad, nice little story, nice little piece of White Chocolate, they ain't getting past Beale Street.

R-DUB: You mean Graceland.

R-DOG: I said Beale Street.

R-DUB: Same difference.

R-DOG: Whatever. Let's get to what it comes down to. First, throw out Dallas. I can't see it, Dub. Mark Cuban's running the NBA's version of Ellis Island. Give me your tired, your ungodly rich, your gunner 2s in power 4 bodies yearning to be green-lit to put it up at will. You got Dirk and Nashiepoo and Finley upping the rock for you. You really needed Jamison and Walker to argue over who spells Antawn or Antoine right, and who's going to put up the most wild freaky shots? You needed that? Walker is kinda sad to me. That three-point line totally freaked him out, like it does a lot of dudes, and kept him from being a truly dangerous baller.

R-DUB: What about the Spurs? They're still awful good -- Tim B. Dunkin, Manu, the Wild Little Bird of the Pampas, Tornado Tony Parker. You can't take all that length Hedu and Horry and Nest Egg bring for granted, and Charlie Ward is going to help their second rotation, too. They're going to be a tough out for somebody ...

R-DOG: Yeah, but I still get the feeling that they're gonna go out. Houston, Dub. Chairman Yao, Stevie Franchise. Hammered my Knicks twice since The Trade. Seems like they've still got one piece missing, somehow, but it's good for them I can't really peep which piece it is. Some nights looks like Jim Jackson will fill it up nicely, some nights it looks like Cato will be the Missing Link. I just ain't feeling Mo Taylor, but then he'll drop 20 and 8 on you. Some nights looks like Cat Mobley can stack up at 2 with the best of them, when I know for a fact that's mostly a mirage. He's good, but not with the best of them. Kobe's a 2. Spree's a 2, really.

So it's all about Chairman Yao. They keep saying this Goliath's been figured out and all people have to do is push him out of there, knee him in the back of his knees, pound on his guts, give him a country fake and he'll back off, get all shrink-wrapped. But we sat there and saw him eat up Deek with 29 in 28 minutes. You better be able to bully him; that's all that's left for you to do. Yow! on Chairman Yao. The Tao of Yao is what? Maybe if he listens to Jigga's Black Album. Maybe if he uses Shao-lin principles. All I know is, like you like to say, Dub, everybody's whistling past the graveyard on this true Goliath. It's all in how he decides to handle what's upcoming. Does he shrink from the physical? Does it try to battle it with the mental? Does he rise above it, or step to the side?

R-DUB: You saying you like the Rockets in the West Final Four?

Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan
Shaq and Duncan represent the best of the West.
R-DOG: I guess I am. Not that the Spurs are going down without a fight. But if Yao's Tao is right, the Alamo ain't the only thing they'll be remembering in San Antone. Mandarin Akeem.

R-DUB: So that means ...

R-DOG: At the end of the day, and seven days in May? Means the Kings or the Lakers against ...

R-DUB: Whoa, whoa, nice shootin' Tex. You still on the Lakers?

R-DOG: I yam. Like I said, when guys get hurt, other guys find out what it is. At the beginning of the year, the Lakers had the All-Star squad: Shaq, Kobe, Mailman, GP, right? Then Shaq starts feeling that bone-on-bone, the wear and tear, but he's not really down for the count, they're just saving him. And as long as they line up Shaquille O'Neal, and Yao hasn't figured out that he can go over him and has a better pair of legs at this point, the Lakers are still in play.

The Mailman thing bothers me. Yeah, he got his leg rolled up on by a ham-and-egger like Scott Williams, but the old Mailman, or should I say the young Mailman, would've just walked that off. Not this guy. Kobe's the worry. He's dandruff shampoo. Head and Shoulder. Looks like he's got that Webber shoulder issue, which came from being too arrogant, cavalier, pronating it wrong; and now it's unstable even after surgery.

But while they're out, you got Cook and Rush and Walton and Medvedenko finding out what they can do. Seeing what it is. When the Big Run comes, they'll be able to play them guys, give the Big 4 a blow when they need it. Against the Kings, if they happen to draw them, which I'd be playing not to do, they'll be needing that blow. Big time. Sacramento ... is ... no ... joke ...

R-DUB: So Kings or Lakers rule the Land of the Giants.

R-DOG: Did I say that? You trying to put words in my mouth, Dub? Kings or Lakers get to face KG. KG ready to go Next Level.

R-DUB: You're serious?

R-DOG: I yam. KG, Spree, and Sam I Yam, to be specific. And if Candy Man wasn't such a bum, if he wasn't going 'Sheed, I'd pretty much guarantee it. I ain't into guarantees. Except one.

R-DUB: Which one is that?

R-DOG: I'll be watching. Close. Guaranteed.

Ralph Wiley has written articles for Sports Illustrated, Premiere, GQ, and National Geographic, and many national newspapers. He was one of the original NFL Insiders on NBC. His many books include "Serenity, A Boxing Memoir," "Why Black People Tend To Shout," "By Any Means Necessary: The Trials and Tribulations of the Making of Malcolm X" with Spike Lee, "Dark Witness," "Best Seat in the House" with Spike Lee, "Born to Play" with Eric Davis, and "Growing Up King" with Dexter Scott King and the children of Martin Luther King Jr. He contributes to many ESPN productions, and bats cleanup on a weekly basis for Page 2.





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