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The wacky, wacky West

Page 2

Chemistry, as any high school student can verify, is difficult, whether studying it in the classroom or searching for it on the hardwood.

Damon Stoudamire
Damon Stoudamire couldn't have felt too good when Portland brought in Rod Strickland.
You can put together pinpoint shooters, strong rebounders, cool ballhandlers and clutch role players, but you will wind up with a mere fantasy team if you don't include sufficient chemistry to bind them together as a team. The trick is finding it -- team chemistry isn't listed on the periodic chart of the elements.

When you have it, however, it's as apparent as Karl Malone's bald spot. And when it's missing, well, you've got the Portland Trail Blazers.

The Blazers are hardly alone in the NBA's Western Conference, where for all their many strengths, most teams are as dysfunctional as a season's worth of "The Jerry Springer Show." Thus, the won-loss record is no longer sufficient to measure each team. What is needed instead, is Page 2's Dysfunctional Ranking System, which you can use to pick the short-term future (this year's playoffs) and the long-term future (next year's playoffs):

Here's how the 14 teams in the West stack up (ranked from most dysfunctional to most cohesive):

1. Portland Trail Blazers
The past couple months have been more chaotic than Father's Day at the Kemp household. General manager Bob Whitsitt keeps sticking coach Mike Dunleavy with players he doesn't need (Damon Stoudamire, shake hands with Rod Strickland), Shawn Kemp packed himself into rehab and, as good as he is, Rasheed Wallace apparently learned nothing from that anger management course he took from Bobby Knight.

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Welcome to Los Angeles, a city that seems to stretch from San Jose to Baja, a city where you can drive mile upon mile and still not get anywhere. But alas, a city that isn't big enough for both Shaq and Kobe. Meanwhile, coach Phil Jackson has a book list longer than Oprah's and is oddly frustrated by Kobe's reading habits. And if that isn't enough, there is always Isaiah Rider. Or at least, there is sometimes Rider. The man has all the punctuality of the cable TV guy.

3. Denver Nuggets
When coach Dan Issel, whose team nearly mutinied earlier in the season, asked Nick Van Exel to be the Nuggets captain, Van Exel said he didn't want the job. Apparently, Van Exel was worried he would not only have to call team meetings, he might have to attend them as well.

Gary Payton
Gary Payton and the Sonics are always leaders in the dysfunction department.
4. Seattle SuperSonics
Patrick Ewing, one of the greatest players in the game's history, came to town and no one cared. Gary Payton essentially fired Paul Westphal. Vin Baker is Vin Baker. And former coach George Karl can't stop ripping everyone all the way from Milwaukee. But change is on the way. Starbuck's CEO Howard Schultz bought the team in January, which means Tully's will buy the Blazers and move them across the street.

5. Los Angeles Clippers
So young that teenage rookie Darius Miles lives with his mother, this franchise is improving but in some ways still remains Team Rimshot. Case in point. Owner Donald Sterling fired Bill Fitch two years ago and now is suing him for not looking for another job.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves
Just when it appeared Kevin Garnett and the Wolves were about to step up to the next level, the club signed Joe Smith to a double-secret illegal contract. Busted by NBA commissioner Vernon Wormer, owner Glen Taylor and Kevin McHale wound up suspended while the team lost four future first-round picks. Almost makes you long for the golden days of Pooh Richardson.

7. Dallas Mavericks
The team is fine. It's the owner who is out of control. Billionaire Mark Cuban was suspended two games for running onto the court and fined $400,000 over the course of the season for criticizing referees. He makes George Steinbrenner look shy and reserved.

Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd and the Suns have made too much news off the court this season.
8. Phoenix Suns
Cliff Robinson was arrested for DUI. Jason Kidd was charged with hitting his wife. And Penny Hardaway had a complaint filed against him for intimidating the mother of his daughter with a gun (the charge was later dismissed). Ah, life in the NBA.

9. Vancouver Grizzlies
Forget dysfunctional players, these guys have bigger problems. Big Country's team doesn't even know which big country will be home next season, Canada or Tennessee. Either way, the losses will continue.

10. Golden State Warriors
Things were looking up when Antawn Jamison scored 51 points in two games earlier this season. The outlook wasn't so bright last week when he said he "can't be associated with all this losing again. I won't be associated with it. I can't do this again."

11. Houston Rockets
Actually, they're in pretty good shape, except when 17-year-vet and team icon Hakeem Olajuwon asked to be released so he could play somewhere else.

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan and the Spurs are a little short on dysfunction.
12. Utah Jazz
One good thing about playing for the oldest team in sports is you never need to worry about a police escort to the arena -- just have Olden Polynice flash his badge.

13. Sacramento Kings
If they aren't the best team in the league, they could be the most entertaining. And despite an international cast, there is no lack of chemistry here. Of course, all that will change when Chris Webber, bored to death in Sacramento, leaves over the summer.

14. San Antonio Spurs
With Tim Duncan and David Robinson working together without jealousy and the team playing as well as anyone, the Spurs appear to be completely functional. We must be missing something.

Jim Caple is a regular contributor to Page 2.

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