Spurs get rings; Is a new arena next?

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The San Antonio Spurs are getting their championship rings from NBA commissioner David Stern today. By gametime, they might know if they are getting a new arena.

The San Antonio Spurs are getting their championship rings from NBA commissioner David Stern today. By gametime, they might know if they are getting a new arena.

The Spurs open defense of their title against the Philadelphia 76ers on election day, when voters decide whether to fund a new $175m arena. Without approval of the stadium referendum, the Spurs could look for a new home. And there are plenty of candidates out there.

"I don't want to talk about teams leaving cities at this time," Stern said on the eve of opening night when 13 games will tip off the new season.

"Both (San Antonio and Houston) are not playing in arenas that are state of the art. We would like to stay in the cities we are in, in state of the art arenas. I would rather focus on the honey rather than the flyswatter. I have no reason to believe the voters won't respond in a positive way."

Coach Gregg Popovich hopes the Spurs do the same with a slightly retooled roster from the one that delivered last season's championship.

Tim Duncan and David Robinson remain in place, a Twin Towers installation that led the Spurs to last season's championship. Sean Elliott is missing from the lineup after a kidney transplant and San Antonio has four new faces - Terry Porter, Chuckie Brown, Samaki Walker and Felton Spencer.

San Antonio opens against a 76ers team led by scoring champion Allen Iverson. Philadelphia added Billy Owens and Stanley Roberts in the offseason.

Tuesday's other openers have Atlanta at Washington; Detroit at Miami; Orlando at Charlotte; Cleveland at New York; Indiana at New Jersey; Boston at Toronto; Milwaukee at Houston; Golden State at Dallas; Phoenix at Denver; the Los Angeles Lakers at Utah; Seattle at the Los Angeles Clippers; and Portland at Vancouver.

Stern, who heads for Japan later this week for two games between Sacramento and Minnesota, looks forward to a full season after the lockout reduced the 1998-99 season to 50 games.

"We're delighted to be having a full season focused on basketball," he said.

On many fronts, the league has a new look.

Phil Jackson is back coaching, this time in Los Angeles with the Lakers, not Chicago. He has one of his old Bulls buddies with him, too.

No, not that one.

Ron Harper joins the Lakers newcomers along with AC Green and retread John Salley.

The league's other new coaches are Gar Heard at Washington, Doc Rivers at Orlando and Randy Wittman at Cleveland. Dan Issel returns to Denver while interims Don Casey in New Jersey and Paul Silas in Charlotte got full-time appointments with the Nets and Hornets.

They will be coaching hands-off basketball with new rules that penalize overly aggressive defense from the baseline to the foul line. The stricter rules are designed to reduce clutching and grabbing and encourage more scoring in a league where points are no longer quite so easy to come by.

Many of the teams retooled their rosters, adding high-profile draft choices like Elton Brand and Ron Artest in Chicago, Wally Szczerbiak and William Avery in Minnesota and teen-ager Jonathan Bender, acquired by Indiana from Toronto in exchange for Antonio Davis.

Another big name draft pick, Steve Francis was unhappy with being picked by Vancouver and forced a trade to Houston that changed the face of both teams dramatically.

The Rockets' new look includes Francis, Tony Massenburg, Don MacLean, Shandon Anderson, Walt Williams, Kelvin Cato, Carlos Rogers and Kenny Thomas. New Grizzlies are Brent Price, Michael Dickerson, Othella Harrington, Antoine Carr, Dennis Scott, Grant Long and Obinna Ekezie.

Orlando sent away three of its long-term players, with Penny Hardaway going to Phoenix, Nick Anderson to Sacramento and Horace Grant to Seattle. The SuperSonics also added Vernon Maxwell and Brent Barry.

Portland redesigned its roster with major trades that imported Steve Smith from Atlanta, Scottie Pippen from Houston and Detlef Schrempf from Seattle.

Other players with new addresses include Mookie Blaylock (Golden State), Ron Mercer (Denver), Olden Polynice (Utah), Calbert Cheaney (Boston) and Danny Manning (Milwaukee), and Hersey Hawkins (Chicago).

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