Attention, NBA Western Conference coaches! Run, don't walk, to cast your ballots to add four—that's right, four—point guards to the conference's All-Star roster. They are Tim Hardaway of the Warriors, Kevin Johnson of the Suns, Terry Porter of the Trail Blazers and John Stockton of the Jazz. You know these guys. Chances are, they've already broken your hearts, not to mention your zone traps.
After the fans select the Ail-Star starters for the Feb. 10 game in Charlotte, a process that was to have been completed this Wednesday, the coaches in both the Western and Eastern conferences will vote on the roster additions. The coaches, who cannot vote for their own players, will select two guards, two forwards, one center and two so-called wild card players. Thus, behind the West's starting guards—who will be Magic Johnson of the Lakers and Clyde Drexler of the Blazers if their places in last week's balloting hold up—here is room for the aforementioned point guards.
Yes, they are all short guys—Porter is the tallest, at 6'2"—but who cares if the West's backcourt roster looks like something from the World Basketball League? This is an All-Star Game for the league's best players, and the regular-season play of those six guards demands that they all be included. And, coaches, don't worry that there's only one true shooting guard (Drexler) in the bunch. Nomenclature doesn't matter much in All-Star games, and, besides, the two Johnsons and Porter can all play the two-guard position.
January 28, 1991
I also hereby offer the following additional suggestions to the coaches in both conferences:
WEST—The center behind starter David Robinson of the Spurs should be Kevin Duckworth of the Blazers. (Akeem Olajuwon of the Rockets and Roy Tarpley of the Mavericks are out with an eye injury and a knee injury, respectively.) Behind projected starting forwards Karl Malone of the Jazz and Chris Mullin of the Warriors, the coaches should add Tom Chambers of the Suns and James Worthy of the Lakers.
Regrettably excluded from my list are guards Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper of the Mavericks, Jeff Hornacek of the Suns and Mitch Richmond of the Warriors, as well as forwards Xavier McDaniel of the Suns and Buck Williams of the Blazers.
EAST—Three guards, three forwards and one center should be added to back up guards Michael Jordan of the Bulls and Isiah Thomas of the Pistons, forwards Charles Barkley (due back from an ankle injury this week) of the 76ers and Larry Bird of the Celtics, and center Patrick Ewing of the Knicks. I recommend guards Joe Dumars of the Pistons, Reggie Miller of the Pacers and Ricky Pierce of the Bucks; forwards Bernard King of the Bullets, Kevin McHale of the Celtics and Dominique Wilkins of the Hawks; and center Brad Daugherty of the Cavaliers. If Bird can't perform because of his ailing back, which had kept him out of six straight games at week's end, King should start at forward and Dennis Rodman of the Pistons should be awarded the other spot on the roster.
Players who don't seem likely to make the game and have good reason to be disappointed include forwards Rodman (perhaps), Larry Nance of the Cavs and Scottie Pippen of the Bulls; center Robert Parish of the Celtics; and guards Jay Humphries and Alvin Robertson of the Bucks and Reggie Lewis of the Celtics.
And who will be disappointed without good reason? Charles Oakley of the Knicks. He always is.
One player who will not be part of the All-Star Weekend festivities is Gerry Wright, a 6'7" swingman for the Rockford Lightning of the CBA. Wright is known—well, sort of known—as Sir Jamalot, in recognition of his dunking ability in general and his signature "cartwheel" dunk in particular. It would have been a nice gesture if the NBA had invited Wright to compete in the slam-dunk contest on Feb. 9, if only to reward the CBA for the years it has fed talent to the NBA. After all, a Soviet player, Rimas Kurtinaitis, was invited to compete in the three-point shootout at the 1989 All-Star Game in Houston. (He finished last.)
Sir Jamalot last publicly performed his cartwheel dunk during last season's CBA All-Star festivities. The move is exactly what it sounds like. Wright, a southpaw, holds the ball in his left hand, takes a running start, goes into a cartwheel near the foul line and springs out of the cartwheel into a dunk, (WARNING: Don't try this at home.)
Wright's maneuver would have been a showstopper in Charlotte. But the league says it never considered inviting him to the contest, since it has enough trouble whittling down the list of NBA dunking worthies. Wilkins, Shawn Kemp of the Sonics, Kenny Smith of the Rockets, Rex Chapman and Kendall Gill of the Hornets, Otis Smith of the Magic, Dee Brown of the Celtics and Kenny Williams of the Pacers will be in this year's dunk field. Jordan decided to skip the competition.
Wright says he never had much hope of being asked to compete in Charlotte. "Sure, I would've liked to have been invited," he said. "The thrill, the competitive spirit of going against all those guys. But I'm not going to carry it around with me. Anyway, dunking might be the most exciting part of my game, but it's not the best part." Unfortunately for Jamalot, most NBA scouts do not agree, and he is considered a long shot to make The Show.
Ironically, Wright wasn't able to defend his CBA title because the league scrapped the slam-dunk contest in favor of a one-on-one tournament at its annual All-Star Game, held last Friday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"It doesn't bother me, really," said Wright. "I'm ready to put all the dunking behind me, the cartwheel included. I'm not trying to be cocky or conceited, but, honestly, it's not that difficult of a dunk. Some of the things Jordan and Dominique do are much harder. Even I have better dunks."
CHANCE FOR REVENGE?
Should Detroit and Chicago meet in the Eastern Conference final for the third straight year, wouldn't it be ironic if Adrian Delano Dantley was a member of the Bulls? In the middle of the 1988-89 season, Piston general manager Jack McCloskey dealt Dantley to Dallas for Mark Aguirre, thus preventing AD from getting a championship ring. Dantley was deeply hurt by the trade and felt it was engineered by Detroit captain Isiah Thomas.
Now, Dantley, who will turn 35 on Feb. 28, is the most attractive of several unsigned veteran free agents (Joe Barry Carroll, Gerald Henderson, Dennis Johnson and Purvis Short are some of the others) whose experience becomes valuable at this time of year, especially to contending teams. There is strong interest in AD in Chicago. The Bulls believe that his low-post offensive game might be just what they need to knock off the Pistons.
This season the Nuggets are throwing up shots at the arm-wearying rate of about 112 per game. In comparison, the Blazers, Suns and Warriors, the NBA's next most frenetic teams offensively, get off only about 90 shots each. "Terrible," "ugly" and "awful" are some of the words used by scoffers to describe the run-and-gun system of Denver coach Paul Westhead.
It should be noted, however, that the runningest and gunningest team in NBA history was none other than the 1959-60 Celtics, who did not exactly have a wild-and-crazy reputation. That Boston team averaged 119.6 field goal attempts a game en route to a 59-16 regular-season record and an NBA championship.
"We fast-broke in every situation and never stopped," says former Celtic Tom Heinsohn, who attempted a field goal about every 91 seconds he played that season.
Boston was able to run so effectively for several reasons: the defensive rebounding and outlet passing of Bill Russell, the fast-break dribbling and passing wizardry of Bob Cousy, a deep bench and the run-run-run orientation of coach Red Auerbach. But mostly the Celts ran because, in those days, everybody ran. St. Louis, for example, was known as a deliberate team that depended on the inside scoring of Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan and Clyde Lovellette. But the Hawks averaged 109 shots a game. Shooting percentages were low in that era—in 1959-60, Boston shot .417, considerably lower than today's worst-shooting NBA team, the Nets, at .435—and the philosophy was, if you can get off more shots than your opponent, you will probably win.
Conclusion? There's more than a grain of truth to the view that the Nuggets are setting back basketball 30 years.
One of the better-kept secrets in the NBA last summer was that Bucks veteran Jack Sikma was contemplating retirement because of his aching back. Sikma, who along with the Pistons Bill Laimbeer, is one of the few centers in NBA history to be a genuine three-point threat, missed 10 games of the '89-90 season because of his back and continued to have trouble with it through most of the summer. It wasn't until late August that Sikma told Milwaukee coach Del Harris that he was sure he could come back.
By that time Harris had taken out two insurance policies on Sikma, getting forward-center Frank Brickowski from the Spurs and center Danny Schayes from the Nuggets. Many observers (including this one) thought it odd that Harris was stockpiling so many big men, but concern over Sikma was the reason. Things couldn't have turned out better for the Bucks, who have been surprising title contenders in the Central Division: Sikma is now healthy, Brickowski and Schayes have become major contributors, and last week Harris dealt his least productive big man, forward Greg (Cadillac) Anderson, to New Jersey for a decent fourth guard, Lester Conner.
Since the retirement of Earl Strom last season, the NBA's best-known referee has been Jake O'Donnell, who looks a bit like Jack Nicholson, particularly when he flashes his sly smile at a coach that he's about to hit with a T. But does best-known also mean best? To find out, we asked the coach or the general manager of every NBA team this question: Faced with a big playoff game, whom would you rather have as the lead referee, O'Donnell or Darell Garretson, who doubles as the NBA's supervisor of referees?
Of the 26 teams that replied, there were only two votes for Garretson. The rest picked O'Donnell. A sampling of the responses:
•"Jake in a heartbeat. This is the easiest decision I've ever had to make as a coach."
•"Are you serious? Is there really a question about this?"
•"I'd rather have Jake by himself 82 games a year."
•"Jake. This is a no-brainer."
You get the picture. A few coaches thought the poll would have been closer had another respected veteran—perhaps Hugh Evans, Mike Mathis or Joey Crawford—been offered in place of Garretson, but most said they still would have voted for O'Donnell.