© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2003
Memo to the Lightning: Tap into the vault and acquire a veteran defenseman to bolster the quest for a playoff berth. What are you waiting for?
The tight-fisted ownership has said it will allow GM Jay Feaster some monetary leeway to make moves if the team is in the playoff chase. Well, to borrow from New York Jets coach Herman Edwards, "Hello!" Halfway through the season the Lightning is immersed in a playoff fight.
Despite a spate of injuries, Tampa Bay's 45 points are sixth in the Eastern Conference. It is a few points from falling to 10th. Eight make the playoffs.
The past three seasons, the Lightning has improved in the standings (54 to 59 to 69 points) and stands (557,618 to 611,172 to 644,610 in attendance). Meanwhile, payroll has flat-lined, ranking No. 26, 26 and 25 out of 30 NHL teams. Do the math, ownership, and give Feaster the mandate to turn the inspiring first half into a playoff berth.
Feaster has said he is working on a deal. Make it a bold one.
It will reap much more than the $4-million to $8-million it will cost.
-- PETE YOUNG
Of the two front-runners for NBA rookie of the year, one arrived straight from China -- China -- the other from the hallways of six high schools throughout the southeast.
Welcome back to the NBA, Hubie Brown. Things have changed a bit.
Yao Ming (13.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg) and Amare Stoudemire (12.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg) are emblematic of the NBA's startlingly rapid evolution. Remember when foreign players were novelties? When the league's youngest guys were "hardship" collegians who had -- gasp -- only three years of college experience? That's ancient history, which in the NBA is anything before 1995.
That's when Kevin Garnett went straight from high school to the NBA. Garnett, Tracy McGrady, et al, have proven superstardom does not require a college apprenticeship. But like every high school-to-NBAer, they absorbed their lumps as rookies.
Stoudemire is a little older -- he turned 20 in November -- and has an Adonis physique, accelerating his transition. The Lake Wales native also is accustomed to the travel after his rootless prep experience. Yao's instant cultural assimilation has been remarkable.
A new generation has altered the landscape of the NBA, and Yao and Stoudemire are its vanguards.
At least until LeBron James arrives.
-- PETE YOUNG