What's the Latest Buzz in the NBA?

As the National Basketball Association prepares to begin a new season Halloween (Friday) night, here's a grab bag of questions.

What was Michael Jordan doing in Paris earlier this month?

Playing in the McDonald's Championship, a pro club tournament jointly organized by the NBA and basketball's international governing body. Jordan's Chicago Bulls won handily against mostly European competition. Now he and his mates hope to defend their NBA crown and complete their second three-peat of the 1990s. Jordan, who might permanently retire any year now, will have to shoulder the load while Scottie Pippen spends the first months of the season in rehabilitation after surgery.

What's new this season?

Two women referees will join the league's male-dominated officiating roster, a step (like last summer's introduction of a Women's NBA ) that should please female fans. In a notable rule change, the three-point shot line returns to its original location 23 ft., 9 in. from the basket. For the last three seasons, it was only 22 feet away, but attempts were up and accuracy down.

What was the biggest offseason trade?

A multiteam swap that sent Shawn Kemp from Seattle to Cleveland, Vin Baker from Milwaukee to Seattle, and Terrell Brandon from Cleveland to Milwaukee.

Which team will be the most improved?

Quite possibly the San Antonio Spurs. A year ago they sank out of sight, forced to play most of the season without star center David Robinson, who was injured. Now Robinson is back and joined in the front court by prize seven-footer Tim Duncan, the top pick in last June's college draft.

Will Larry Bird make a good coach?

Tolerating attitudes and work habits inconsistent with his own might be Bird's biggest challenge in directing the Indiana Pacers. At least for a while, this could be a happy marriage. Bird, incidentally, is part of the trend toward high-salaried, star-quality coaches who can command the attention of today's millionaire athletes.

Is Kevin Garnett worth $126 million?

The Minnesota Timberwolves think so. They went to the wall to sign him for the next six seasons. Garnett jumped directly from high school to the NBA three years ago and has shown signs of developing into a great cornerstone for the franchise.

Can Shaquille O'Neal lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship?

With the show-bizzy Shaq, one never knows if servicing his pop culture image will take precedence over his purely athletic pursuits, especially in the shadows of Hollywood. Last season, his first with the Lakers, the team turned in the league's seventh-best record. This time the expectations are considerably higher.

Which team has undergone the greatest transformation?

The Boston Celtics. There are only five holdovers from last year's squad, the worst in franchise history. Among the building blocks are Antoine Walker and rookie Ron Mercer, both of whom played for Rick Pitino, Boston's new coach, at the University of Kentucky.

Whatever happened to the Washington Bullets?

Beginning this season they will be known as the Wizards. The old nickname was a bad fit given society's gun-related violence.

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