Daly Reflections

Coach Chuck Daly's contract with the Pistons expires on June 1, and so far he has had no conversation with the Detroit hierarchy about his future. Meanwhile, the Spurs will finish the season with an acknowledged stop-gap guy—Bob Bass, San Antonio's vice-president of basketball operations—calling the shots on the bench. Don't Daly and the Spurs sound like a match? Consider these ingredients:

•It is no secret that Daly does not have a good relationship with Piston general manager Jack McCloskey, and Daly is not particularly close to Detroit owner William Davidson. Moreover, the Pistons have never been the easiest team to coach, not even during their heady championship seasons back in 1989 and '90.

•If he left Detroit, Daly would only consider coaching a contender; he will turn 62 on July 20 and doesn't have the inclination to work with second-line talent.

•According to sources close to the Pistons, Daly and Bass arc old friends. Daly would want considerable, if not final, say in personnel matters, and that could be worked out more easily with Bass.

•Spur owner Red McCombs likes and respects Spur assistant Gregg Popovich. who was retained after Larry Brown was fired last week. But if McCombs is really serious about Popovich, why didn't he promote him right away? Chances are McCombs will go for a marquee name to replace the marquee name he dismissed.

But Daly could have plenty of choices other than San Antonio, because job opportunities will be plentiful around the league. Even given that an NBA coach has the shelf life of a banana, the number of them perched on the edge nearly defies belief; it is easier, in fact, to name the coaches who will not be fired at the end of the season. They are Rick Adelman of the Trail Blazers, Cotton Fitzsimmons of the Suns, Chris Ford of the Celtics. Phil Jackson of the Bulls, George Karl of the Sonics, Kevin Loughery of the Heat, Don Nelson of the Warriors, Pat Riley of the Knicks, Jerry Sloan of the Jazz, Wes Unseld of the Bullets, Bob Weiss of the Hawks and Lenny Wilkens of the Cavs.

What about everyone else? Well, the Bucks' Frank Hamblen and the Kings' Rex Hughes may have been temporary hires. And there's talk that the Lakers' Mike Dunleavy may end up in his old home. Milwaukee. Except for Loughery. the expansion coaches—Allan Bristow of the Hornets, Matt Guokas of the Magic and Jimmy Rodgers of the Timber-wolves—have not won nearly as many games as their owners and fans would like. And there has been turmoil in Dallas, Indiana and Philadelphia that might spell trouble for, respectively. Richie Adubato, Bob Hill and Jimmy Lynam. (Don't count out Brown as a candidate for the Indiana job; he is still close to his old North Carolina chum Donnie Walsh, the Pacer president.) Don Chaney did such a good job last season in Houston that he may have raised expectations too high. Paul Westhead was on thin ice in the thin air of Denver when the season began, although the Nuggets have improved. And who knows what will happen in the confusing kingdoms of the Clippers and the Nets? Not Mike Schuler and Bill Fitch, that's for sure.

Some Choice Thoughts

Choose two or three players from this list of Eastern Conference forwards: Horace Grant (Bulls), Larry Johnson (Hornets). Scottie Pippen (Bulls), Dennis Rodman (Pistons), Dominique Wilkins (Hawks) and Kevin Willis (Hawks). Choose two or three of these Eastern guards: Michael Adams (Bullets), Joe Dumars (Pistons), Reggie Lewis (Celtics). Reggie Miller (Pacers) and Mark Price (Cavaliers). Last week those were the kinds of tasks facing the NBA coaches, who are charged with completing the rosters for the Feb. 9 All-Star Game in Orlando.

Only the starters, voted for by the fans, had been announced by Sunday. For the East they will be forwards Charles Barkley (76ers) and Larry Bird (Celtics), center Patrick Ewing (Knicks) and that fun couple Michael Jordan (Bulls) and Isiah Thomas (Pistons) at guard. The starters for the West: forwards Karl Malone (Jazz) and Chris Mullin (Warriors), center David Robinson (Spurs) and guards Clyde Drcxler (Trail Blazers) and Tim Hardaway (Warriors). The Lakers' Magic Johnson, who retired Nov. 7 after announcing that he had tested positive for HIV, beat Hardaway in the popular voting, but Hardaway, the third-leading vote-getter among Western Conference guards, was named to the team by commissioner David Stern. Magic will play as a special-addition 13th man.

The seven other All-Stars for each conference will be named this week. To fill those spots, each coach votes for one center, two forwards, two guards and two other players, from any position, in his conference. In theory a team could end up with six players at one position, as happened last year when guards Drexler, Hardaway and Magic were joined by Kevin Johnson (Suns), Terry Porter (Trail Blazers) and John Stockton (Jazz) on the Western Conference team. This year the glut of talented forwards in the Eastern Conference would be eased if Bird, who has missed 13 games because of his aching back, decided not to play in Orlando. Bird has told friends and league representatives that he wants to play, believing that this might be his All-Star swan song—and that of his close friend Magic.

Here are the players whom SI considers to be All-Stars.

Eastern Conference starters: Barkley and Wilkins, forwards; Ewing, center; Jordan and Adams, guards. Eastern reserves: Pippen, Rodman and Willis, forwards; Brad Daugherty (Cavaliers) and Robert Parish (Celtics), centers; Price and Miller, guards.

Barkley and Jordan are the obvious choices. Ewing gets the nod over Daugherty by the narrowest of margins. Adams, in case you haven't noticed, is no novelty act. He's in the top 10 in assists and steals, he's averaging 20.3 points a game, and he's fun to watch. No, Wilkins is not as good an all-around player as Pippen—or Bird, for that matter—but he has averaged 28.6 points per game and, like Adams, has a high fun factor. Pippen's versatility mandates his inclusion on Si's roster, as does Rodman's big-time rebounding. It's a tough call between Atlanta's Willis and Chicago's Grant, but if Willis doesn't make the team with his current numbers (17.3 points and 15.9 rebounds a game at week's end), he never will. Larry Johnson? Next year, rook.

Miller and Lewis are awfully close, but Miller gets the nod because of his three-point shooting and his ability to get to the line. Adams over Price? Price missed the first two weeks of the season (knee injury), and Adams had a fast start. Dumars and Thomas? Too tough to call; they cancel each other out.

Western Conference starters: Malone and Mullin, forwards; Robinson, center; Drexler and Stockton, guards. Western reserves: Dan Majerle (Suns) and James Worthy (Lakers), forwards; Dikembe Mutombo (Nuggets) and Hakeem Olajuwon (Rockets), centers; Hardaway, Jeff Hornacek (Suns) and Mitch Richmond (Kings), guards.

Hardaway and Stockton are a coin flip, and the Jazzman comes up on our coin. While we're on the subject of guards, only one Western backcourtman, Drexler, is having as good a year as Hornacek, a .518 shooter who is comfortable both popping from the perimeter and slashing to the basket. And Richmond, with 22.9 points per game, is the NBA's best unknown big scorer.

Mutombo gives the West a genuine third center, so he belongs on the team, as does Worthy, who has kept the Lakers afloat. Majerle might seem a strange choice, but he is Pippen-like in his versatility and might be the most efficient player in the league per minute played.

Who Has Improved the Most?

The choice of the league's most improved player is often an afterthought. This season, however, the voting has drawn attention because of the large number of eligible candidates. SI's poll for this week bears that out. When asked whom they would choose as most improved if the ballot were taken today, 23 coaches and front-office execs named 10 different players. The winner, with seven votes, was Bullet center Pervis Ellison; he was followed by Sun forward Tim Perry (four votes), Nugget swingman Reggie Williams (three) and Warrior guard Sarunas Marciulionis and Hawk forward-center Willis (two votes each). Players receiving one vote were Sam Bowie and Drazen Petrovic of the Nets, Terry Davis of the Mavericks, Glen Rice of the Heat and John Starks of the Knicks.

Among those who voted for Ellison was Kings director of player personnel Jerry Reynolds, who traded Ellison in the summer of 1990 to the Bullets in a three-way deal that also involved the Jazz. "We always thought he was a player, but it didn't seem like he'd reach his potential here," Reynolds says. "We shouldn't have done the deal, but I'm happy for him. He's always been a good kid."

The consensus is that Ellison is happier under Unsold than he was under former Sacramento coach Dick Motta. "What I wanted Pervis to do was give the game the respect that it's due," says Unseld. Translation: Unseld wanted him to work harder. Ellison, who was averaging 20.7 points and 12.3 rebounds a game at the end of the week, apparently has.

PHOTOMANNY MILLANDaly, who has won two championships in Detroit, could be the spur San Antonio needs. PHOTOMITCHELL LAYTONAccording to our poll, it's no stretch to say that Ellison is the most improved player.
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)