Mark Heisler:
Looking to Find Some Loose Changes
July 9, 2006

Showing what anyone knows, the locks weren't all locked up and the NBA's balance of power, which wasn't supposed to change much this summer, did.

While still waiting for Allen Iverson and his shoe to drop, here's what we've seen to date:

The Lakers kiss their salary-cap strategy goodbye.

This must have been the summer of their discontent for them to make their big move for Vladimir Radmanovic?

They will insist nothing has changed, but everything has. The Lakers are no longer hoping to sign a star in 2008 but trying to improve, one veteran's exception at a time.

For two seasons they carefully preserved cap space, first for 2007, then 2008. It cost them Antonio Daniels last summer, but that's the point. Does anyone think the season would have been a lot different with Daniels?

The key was bearing the pain, but that was hard for owner Jerry Buss, who had such high hopes two seasons ago, giving Rudy Tomjanovich a $6-million salary, which was what he paid Phil Jackson the first time around who won three titles for them.

In this year's playoffs, the Lakers were whipsawed emotionally, blowing that 3-1 lead in the first round, then watching the Clippers take over the town in the second and, for the crowning indignity, seeing Shaquille O'Neal win a title with Miami.

The Lakers might be better next season, but they'll have to be, just to do as well as they did in 2005-06. The Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets, who finished below them, will be better too.

I'm not even sure Vic the Brick has the Lakers as a lock to make the playoffs next year. In other words, the good times are over.

The Detroit Pistons say goodbye to elite status.

Standing on principle, they just kissed off Ben Wallace, the linchpin of their vaunted defense. Unfortunately, it was some puny principle.

Wallace did the right thing, agreeing to take four years. The Pistons, whose profit in the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons was estimated by Forbes magazine at $48 million, let themselves be outbid by offering Wallace $48 million and never budging while the Bulls offered $60 million.

After going through two coaches in three years and seeming to warm up on No. 3 when all the second-guessing of Flip Saunders surfaced, it suggests continuing palace intrigue in Detroit.

It goes all the way up to owner Bill Davidson, the beloved "Mr. D," who's so imperious he exiled Isiah Thomas, his favorite of favorites, for telling a newsman that Davidson was about to turn the front office over to him.

Wallace, whose occasional outbursts had always been forgiven (like Shaq's here), was ostensibly in the doghouse for refusing to go into a game. They also thought Ben was slipping, that the new rules didn't let them play their old defense and they had to retool.

Meanwhile, Rasheed Wallace made his silly guarantees as the Cleveland series went from a romp to a nightmare, refused to join a timeout huddle to glare at the referees, played badly and was forgiven because he had a sprained ankle.

Now the Pistons will merely be good and it will be between Flip and Rasheed to see who goes next.

The Chicago Bulls are back. Well, in the East.

Not that anyone is grieving for Plan A, building around preps Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry, but they just went to B, as in Ben Wallace.

Joining Wallace, 31, is P.J. Brown, 36. Leaving is Chandler, following Curry, both 23.

Under hardest-nosed Scott Skiles, they were the scrappiest little team around. Now their defense will be even better, which should get them into the top four in the East.

Where they go beyond that remains to be seen. The Bulls are still just jump shooters with no one who can post up, draw fouls or score a lot of points. As Dwyane Wade showed the Dallas Mavericks, it's still a superstar's game.

The Hornets put themselves on the map.

This was a major upset, because "player movement" had always meant they were leaving until owner George Shinn became the toast of Oklahoma.

Last season's amazing rise (29-23) was followed by the expected fall (9-21) after which they were expected to go back under their rock. However, adding Chandler, Peja Stojakovic, Bobby Jackson and drafting Hilton Armstrong and Cedric Simmons, they're bigger and deeper. If wonder-rookie Chris Paul keeps coming, they'll be fighting for a playoff slot.

The league is starting to tilt west again.

Despite winning the last two NBA titles, the Eastern powers seem to be slipping as the Western ones retool.

Miami, which just pulled off O'Neal's favorite trick, lying in the weeds all season, will try it again. As in Shaq's Laker days, it gets harder every time.

The Heat is now standing pat to avoid paying luxury tax, which means bringing back venerable Gary Payton to play the fourth quarter when Jason Williams sits.

Coach Pat Riley has yet to say he's coming back and if he's smart, he won't.

Detroit's sun is setting, and Chicago's hasn't risen yet.

The San Antonio Spurs, Mavericks and Phoenix Suns look as if they'll be better than any team in the East. For that matter, the Clippers might be too.

The line for Iverson starts here, or should.

Right now, the leading bidders look like Boston (offering Al Jefferson, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, or anyone but Paul Pierce), Atlanta (Josh Smith, Marvin Williams and/or Al Harrington) and Golden State (pick any three).

Having sat out the Ron Artest fire sale, the Lakers should consider Iverson. His playing for Jackson and alongside Bryant may sound wrong, but they'd better get into the habit of thinking the unthinkable.