The Apple Turns

With the Knicks standing at an anemic 20-25 through Sunday, here are some questions surrounding one of the NBA's most disappointing teams:

Will general manager Al Bianchi be gone at the end of the year? Highly likely.

Almost to a man, general managers around the league defend Bianchi. They say that Bianchi is very much "in the circuit," making calls and trying to make deals. He is hampered by New York's being over the salary cap and by a $13.7 million payroll that is second only to Cleveland's $14.3 million. Clearly it is not a simple matter for Bianchi to make a deal.

But Bianchi's employers at Madison Square Garden, the Paramount Communications Inc. subsidiary that runs the Knicks, gave Bianchi only a one-year contract extension last summer, and he is nobody's candidate for executive of the year. His fatal flaw was overestimating his team in the preseason, mistaking New York's first-round playoff win over Boston last season as a sign of strength. Bianchi should have seen that the Knicks had to make a move or two to even come close to matching Eastern Conference powers such as the Pistons and the Bulls.

Will coach John MacLeod depart with Bianchi? Very likely.

Bianchi brought in MacLeod, an old friend, after Stu Jackson took the fall in December for the Knicks' getting off to a 7-8 start. But they've played even worse (13-17) under MacLeod.

Will New York try to change its team chemistry by making a deal before the Feb. 21 trading deadline? Likely.

But it probably won't be a blockbuster. The Knicks would love to get native New Yorker Chris Mullin from the Warriors, of course, but Golden State probably would not let that happen. More realistic possibilities are the Clippers' Danny Manning and the Timberwolves' Tony Campbell, players who would like to go to the Big Apple.

In return, the Knicks would gladly surrender one or more of the following: guards Mark Jackson, Trent Tucker and Gerald Wilkins and forward Kenny Walker. And though Bianchi says that he won't part with power forward Charles Oakley, he might need to move Oakley to get something of value.

Will Patrick Ewing play in New York next season? Likely.

If the Knicks do not redo his contract by the end of the season, the franchise center is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. Ewing's oddly structured deal, which pays him about $4.3 million this season but only $3 million in 1991-92, stipulates that he must be one of the NBA's four highest-paid players or he can say bye-bye. And when next season begins, at least six other players will be making more than $3 million. Certainly Ewing's dissatisfaction with a sinking team and the absence of a person in the organization with whom he feels close would seem to make him all too willing to take a hike.

Will John Thompson, who coached Ewing at Georgetown, get Bianchi's job? Possibly.

Nothing makes more sense, even though Thompson's representatives at Pro-Serv, the same agency that handles Ewing, say that no talks have taken place between Thompson and the Knicks. Last summer Thompson strongly considered becoming the Nuggets' general manager, and the New York position would present the kind of creative challenge Thompson would relish.

An alternative scenario, in which Rod Thorn, the NBA's Director of Operations, would take over for Bianchi, gained credence when the league hired Jackson for an executive's position right below Thorn's. But a Thompson-Ewing reunion makes more sense.

Mr. Larceny

When his career ends, the Bucks' Alvin Robertson, 28, will almost certainly be recognized as the best ball thief in NBA history. Robertson holds the league records for total steals (301) and highest pergame average (3.67) in a season, both set when he was with San Antonio in 1985-86, and he could eclipse those marks this year. At week's end Robertson had 164 thefts, for an average of 3.49 per game; closest to him was the Jazz's John Stockton (127 and 2.82).

Steals are made in three basic ways, and Robertson is expert in them all. He has the quick hands needed to swipe the ball. He has the anticipation to sneak into passing lanes and make interceptions. And he has the quickness and strength to double-down on a big man near the basket and pry the ball away from him.

"But the real key to Alvin is that he just works so hard at it," says Don Buse, a league leader in steals during his playing days (1972-85). ' "I don't think there's anyone else in the game who gets after it every single play like Alvin."

Civics Class

Some of the Pacers were sitting around the hotel lobby in Milwaukee discussing the Middle East situation when second-year guard George McCloud inquired, "What's their God's name over there? Isn't it Allah or something?"

Teammate LaSalle Thompson joined the group in time to get only a vague notion of McCloud's question.

"Alaa?" said Thompson, believing the conversation to be about Portland rookie Alaa Abdelnaby. "He ain't a guard. He's a forward."

Clear Mandate: It's Grant

At 6'10", Horace Grant is two inches taller than his twin brother, Harvey. That, however, is about the only way to tell them apart—unless they're in uniform.

"Let me get it straight," said Nugget coach Paul Westhead when asked to choose his Grant for this SI poll. "Horace plays for the Bulls, Harvey for the Bullets. Right?" Right, Paul. (Westhead took Horace by the way.) Also, Horace, shown below without the protective goggles he now wears, is the one with the bulked-up physique. He weighs 220 pounds to Harvey's 200.

On the court their games are similar but not identical. Harvey is the more versatile offensive player, while Horace is superior as a rebounder. But both can bang bodies underneath as well as run the floor. Harvey has gotten increased playing time this season (owing to John Williams' being overweight and plagued by injury) and has blossomed. Horace's trademark has been consistency, but, like most of his teammates, he sometimes has trouble forging an identity on the Jordan-dominated Bulls. "Horace is sort of lost because he doesn't really have a role in their offense," said one coach in choosing Harvey. Another coach, however, picked Horace precisely because of his quiet acceptance of a difficult situation. "Horace has shown a lot of character in the way he's handled himself," said the coach. "He's under a lot of pressure to produce, and he has in playoff situations."

When all the votes were in (Chicago and Washington weren't polled) and all the abstentions eliminated, the tally was—and isn't this just perfect?—10 votes for Horace and 10 votes for Harvey.

"As for which one is better looking, I'll take Harvey," said one Eastern Conference coach. "I don't like goggles."

PHOTONATHANIEL BUTLER/NBA PHOTOSIf the Knicks don't meet Ewing's money minimum, they could find themselves in a jam. PHOTONATHANIEL BULTER/NBA PHOTOSGranted, the choice between twins Harvey (below) and Horace is a difficult one to make. PHOTOCARL SKALAK[See caption above.]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)