Though Minnesota forward Kevin Garnett is generating deserved raves for his consistent, dynamic play, Toronto Raptors forward Vince Carter may be the NBA's next Michael Jordan-like gate attraction.

Carter's circus dunks--his breakaway jam against Washington in which he wrapped the ball around his body while ascending to the rim may have been the dunk of the season--are the stuffs fans love.

"Did you see that?" Wizards guard Mitch Richmond said of Carter's dunk.

As with Garnett, Carter's overall game is overshadowed by his high-rising theatrics. However, it won't take long for fans to understand what players know: Carter, last season's rookie of the year, is a complete player.

His 22.3 points per game rank 11th in the league. The 6-foot-6 swingman also is averaging 7.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals.

Though Carter is gifted, his development can be directly related to his work habits, Coach Butch Carter said. While in summer school at North Carolina, Vince Carter worked out at least three times a week for at least two hours a day.

Developing his ballhandling, particularly with his left hand, was the biggest concern.

"We gave him a list of things to do," Butch Carter said. "We told him if he wanted to be an all-star, there were things he had to do. He had to get better. He had to take it to another level.

"It speaks volumes how he's worked. He's investing in himself. He wants to be one of the league's best players. We're only seeing about 60 percent of him now. He hasn't felt enough pain. He hasn't been to the playoffs and lost. He hasn't had that thing to burst his bubble."

Productive Harrington

Former Georgetown standout Othella Harrington is flourishing since being traded to Vancouver from Houston. The power forward is averaging 17.2 points and 8.5 rebounds, and is starting to draw double teams.

The reason for his ascension, he said, is simple: playing time. Harrington spent his first three seasons with the Rockets getting limited action behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley.

"I always felt like I could be productive," Harrington said. "I was just playing behind two Hall of Famers. My three years there helped my game tremendously. My first year--just watching those guys, practicing against them--made me so much better.

"I was surprised when I got traded, but after a while my thinking was that this was an opportunity and I need to take advantage of it. The most important thing is I'm getting the playing time and I have some good players around me."

Stall Tactic

To foster better communication between point guard Jason Kidd and newly acquired shooting guard Penny Hardaway, Suns Coach Danny Ainge had guard Rex Chapman switch locker stalls with Hardaway so Hardaway could sit next to Kidd.

The starting guards' stalls were located across the locker room from each other, in part so each player could accommodate the media hordes that converge before and after games.

"Now we can talk to each other instead of screaming at each other," Kidd said.


Remember just a few years ago when rarely a negative word was uttered about the Chicago Bulls--or, at least about their on-court ability? Things have changed.

After Chicago put a scare into Milwaukee before succumbing, Bucks swingman Dale Ellis said, "I was a little disappointed. This was an opportunity for some guys to get off the bench and get playing time."

Suns Vice President Cotton Fitzsimmons was equally as candid. "When you need a win, the Bulls are like chicken soup." . . .

Pervis Ellison has emerged as a starter for the surprising Boston Celtics, but his elevation isn't so much a testimony to his rebirth in the league as it is a tactical ploy to save starting center Vitaly Potapenko, who is foul-prone, for the latter stages of games.

"Most of the officials call things tight in the first two or three minutes," Celtics Coach Rich Pitino told the Boston Herald. "Everybody knows that. And that's the time when Vitaly is more prone to get called for an illegal pick or an illegal reach."

CAPTION: Toronto Rapture: With his gravity-defying dunks, Vince Carter is NBA's most electrifying player.