Perhaps the National Basketball Association is in trouble when one of its preeminent chroniclers can refer to the notorious Charles Barkley as one of the ""good guys."" Pluto (The Curse of Rocky Colavito, 1994, etc.) laments that this once fast, offense-oriented game is going ""through a period of taunting, brawling, and championship teams that can't shoot."" The games are low-scoring, there's too much trash talk, and the younger players, though superb athletes, fail to master the fundamentals. There are too many ugly situations involving guys who would destroy the game, such as Dennis Rodman, Chris Webber, Christian Laettner, Derrick Coleman, and J.R. Rider. While Commissioner David Stern dismisses the growing number of problems as ""media coverage that blows things out of proportion,"" Pluto has enlisted a panel of experts who claim otherwise. Cotton Fitzsimmons thinks the major problem is a lack of player discipline. Chicago's Phil Jackson is angry that the game has become so physical and points his finger at former Knicks coach Pat Riley. Willis Reed agrees, noting that there's too much contact under the basket. Doug Collins points to the ""gigantic, guaranteed, multi-year contracts"" given to rookies, making them almost uncoachable. The recent nastiness between Webber, a 20-year-old with a $74 million contract, and veteran Golden State coach Don Nelson resulted in the well-respected Nelson leaving the team. The game does have its hard-working team players, but professionalism as exemplified by Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson may, sadly, be a thing of the past. Pluto offers sound and interesting solutions--such as stiff fines for technical fouls and zone defenses to bring back speed--but the good ideas get buried in what occasionally sounds like a sports-bar gripe session.