Rookies sparkle in playoffs, as franchises make changes

Sports teams and coaches love to come up with those motivational slogans to define a season. Now almost halfway through the NBA playoffs, here’s a good one for the Chicago Bulls for next season:

No More Excuses!

No more whining about not enough minutes or touches, that someone is too young or too inexperienced. These playoffs have shown that you can be young and inexperienced and be productive in the NBA, even in meaningful games.

Look at rookies Tayshaun Prince and Mehmet Okur of the Detroit Pistons, rookie Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs and 20-year-old Tony Parker of the Spurs. They’ve all made significant contributions without anyone making excuses for their age or inexperience.

Ginobili, 25, previously played in Argentina and Italy. Going into Sunday’s Game 4, he was averaging 9.6 points a game in the playoffs and 13.3 against the Lakers, including a reverse baseline dunk in Game 1 that seemed to give the Spurs energy.

“I had gone to the hoop a few times already,” Ginobili said. “I didn’t get all the way there and missed the shot. I told myself that if I had another chance I was going to finish hard.”

He had 15- and 17-point games as the Spurs went ahead 2-0. Parker, in his second season as Spurs point guard, averaged 13.5 points a game in the first round with a 29-point game in the pivotal Game 3 against the Suns and was averaging 12 points a game in the playoffs before Sunday.

For the Pistons, Okur, 23, is averaging 5.3 points a game in the first two rounds. But he came up big in a Game 1 victory over the 76ers with 16 points and six rebounds.

“Last year at this time I was in Turkey,” Okur said. “I watch NBA playoffs sometimes. But it is 3 a.m. when they are on TV. I am playing my own games. I must sleep. So I don’t see too many.”

Now he just helps change the outcome.

The Pistons shockingly went to Prince, a rookie who had played little all season, to carry them in a Game 2 win over the 76ers. He sent the game into overtime with a spinning drive to the basket, then scored the first five overtime points. “Coach kept running plays for me,” Prince said. “I just felt comfortable, got some good looks at the basket and just went from there.”

Getting Prince with the 23rd pick in the first round of last year’s draft and Okur in the second round in 2001 at No. 38 helped the Pistons’ Joe Dumars win this year’s executive-of-the-year award.

It also exposed perhaps the Bulls’ greatest failure in the last decade. The Spurs found Parker with the 28th pick in the 2001 draft. They got Ginobili, who might become an All-Star, with the 57th pick in the 1999 draft. That was well after the Bulls selected Michael Ruffin (No. 32) and Lari Ketner (No. 49).

However the Bulls’ international experience since finding Toni Kukoc in 1990 has been miserable.

A Big reunion: Shaquille O’Neal and Alonzo Mourning were the first two picks in the 1992 draft, and as improbable as it seems now, there once was a debate over who would be better. O’Neal’s Orlando Magic missed the playoffs in his rookie season, while Mourning’s Charlotte Hornets went to the second round. Mourning was regarded by some the better all-around player and tougher.

But the Lakers clearly need a power forward, and speculation has been they’ll pursue one of the role-playing free agents available, such as P.J. Brown, Keon Clark or Juwan Howard, or perhaps Karl Malone. But there’s an interesting scenario developing now that Mourning has been cleared by his doctors to resume his NBA career.

The Lakers will have the $4.5 million exception to add a player along with any veteran for $1 million. Perhaps they could persuade veterans such as Mourning and Scottie Pippen, both coming off contracts that paid them about $20 million last season, to split the $4.5 million, which is permitted. They could pair those two with O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in Phil Jackson’s final season on his contract and then add a veteran (maybe Horace Grant) for the $1 million exception for 10-year players. Miami will try to sign Mourning and then trade him, which could get the Heat a player in return and Mourning a bigger contract. But if Mourning wants to finally try for a championship, he might be able to do it with O’Neal if he accepts less money.

Drexler’s desire: Former Portland star Clyde Drexler says he’d like one of the two front-office jobs, general manager or president, open with the resignation of Bob Whitsitt. Portland has asked permission to speak with Boston general manager Chris Wallace. Former Blazer Dave Twardzik, a longtime team executive, also is interested, as is coach Maurice Cheeks, who says he’d like to hold the GM title too.

“I am definitely interested,” said Drexler, whose name is on the street leading to the new arena. “It would be a golden opportunity for me to get involved with the franchise that I was a part of for so many years.”

Heat index: The playoffs bring heat. It’s hottest in Boston on Antoine Walker, who symbolized the Celtics’ meltdown against the Nets when he tried to go into the stands to confront a heckler with Boston down 22. The fan supposedly shouted, “(Richard) Jefferson ate you for lunch.”

Kenyon Martin should get the credit for thwarting Walker, who is shooting under 30 percent in his last seven games against Martin. Walker is known to have a dislike for physical play, and one Boston columnist suggested new general manager Danny Ainge’s first priority should be trading Walker, whose statistics have been down the last two years in most categories except three-point shooting.

In Orlando, coach Doc Rivers is getting some heat. Rivers has raised questions about the team’s trade of Ben Wallace and Troy Hudson, but observers are wondering why Rivers rarely used either player if he thought they were so good.

Help wanted: Some Cavaliers players are lobbying for Jeff Van Gundy as coach if Keith Smart, as expected, isn’t retained. “Van Gundy knows what he’s doing,” Ricky Davis said. “I need someone who is confident in me, and I believe he would be. Van Gundy has proven he’s a good coach.”

Van Gundy reportedly told Hornets management that he isn’t interested because he is waiting to see if the Pacers’ job opens up. Another possibility in Cleveland is former Suns coach Scott Skiles. All these possibilities with the playoffs in full swing and the season far from over. Moves are being made in many franchises as of late; those that are active have rookies making many of them on the floor.