Dispatches > The Buzz

In Brief: When better isn't good enough

Even with the retirement of David Robinson, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs should be better next year.

Issue: "Capitol stampede in Texas," Aug. 9, 2003

Even with the retirement of David Robinson, the defending champion San Antonio Spurs should be better next year. Even so, it might not be enough for a return to the NBA finals. This off-season, while the players started to shuffle through free agency, the strong have grown, well, stronger. The Lakers added perennial all-star point guard Gary Payton and bolstered the frontcourt with two-time league MVP Karl Malone. Mr. Malone may be 40, but the future hall-of-famer is still a credible force in the league. Now if the Lakers could be sure that their young shooting guard, Kobe Bryant, will be wearing purple and gold this fall and not some other uniform ...

But where there's a salvo fired, there's always a response. First came Minnesota, which signed Clippers center Michael Olowokandi after losing Rasho Nesterovic to San Antonio. But then the Timberwolves pulled off a four-way trade to acquire Latrell Sprewell for practically nothing. Sacramento and San Antonio fired back instantly in a three-way deal that involved Indiana. Suddenly, the Kings added an all-star center in Brad Miller and the Spurs received promising young forward Hedo Turkoglu and veteran guard Ron Mercer. San Antonio signed veteran forward Robert Horry soon after. Curiously silent is Dallas, with owner Mark Cuban foiled at every point by teams with a flexibility in the salary cap that he long since spent away.

Give credit to the Western Conference: When was the last time a defending champion improved so much and still didn't seem like next season's favorite?

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