Whose Man Is Manning?
The long-simmering Danny Manning-Larry Brown hostilities have cooled, but they are far from over. A few weeks ago Manning finally aired an opinion he had expressed privately for some time—that he would like to put miles between himself and Brown, for whom he played through four seasons at Kansas before Brown became his coach again with the Clippers on Feb. 5,1992. "It's time for me to get away from Larry Brown," Manning said. "We've been together an awful long time. Too long, actually."
That statement came a day before an early-morning shouting match between Manning and Brown in the lobby of a Milwaukee hotel on Jan. 9. Manning has publicly backed off his assertion that he wants to be traded, but don't believe him. Most insiders think that he finds Brown suffocating. "Danny sulks a lot, and that is a problem," says one general manager.
Maybe Manning and Brown could get along if the Clippers were fulfilling their ambitious preseason expectations, but with a mediocre 20-19 record at week's end they were not, and frustration was eating away at both the coach and his budding superstar.
Frustration is a way of life in Clipper-land, of course, but Manning is in position to get out. His contract expires at the end of this season, and Manning wants to then sign a one-year qualifying offer. That would make him an unrestricted free agent as of July 1, 1994, and both Manning and his agent, Ron Grinker, believe many teams would open up their wallets for the talented forward. Maybe so, but perhaps not as wide as Team Manning suspects. Grinker has kicked around a figure of $6 million a year, astronomical for a mediocre re-bounder and an unwilling defender.
On the other hand, Manning's passing skills and offensive versatility stamp him as a future All-Star. "He's a lot like Larry Bird," says Knick guard Doc Rivers, a teammate of Manning's last season. "You have to double him because he shoots so well. But trap him and he hurts you [with his passing]."
Timberwolf general manager Jack McCloskey has openly coveted Manning for a long time. (A Manning for Christian Laettner deal, in fact, is reportedly being discussed.) But Manning wants to play for a contender, and any noncontending team like Minnesota that might trade for Manning before the Feb. 25 deadline runs the risk of losing him after the 1993-94 season. Clipper general manager Elgin Baylor still hopes to sign Manning to a long-term deal. Grinker wants to move his client to a proven franchise—read the Celtics—but Boston is well above the salary cap and would have to do some creative maneuvering to find space for him.
Why can't Manning and Brown, who both seemed so happy when they led the Jayhawks to the 1988 NCAA title, get along? Well, Brown's constant carping has always worn thin on his superstars; his riding of David Robinson was a major reason that the Spurs fired Brown midway through last season. And superstars get nervous when someone constantly reminds them that he knows more basketball than they do. The trick, as coaches like Chuck Daly have learned, is to keep some of your knowledge to yourself.
Bad Move by Big Cheese
The new breed of NBA referee doesn't talk to coaches, players, fans or mascots, and often leaves the impression of being smug and aloof. In fact, most of the young referees stand at attention, like wooden soldiers, during timeouts. This type of behavior is, if not exactly mandated, then certainly encouraged by Darell Garretson, the league's chief of officials. (One of that new breed is Garretson's son Ronnie, whose arrogance has already alienated several NBA coaches; one team's staff refers to the Garretson's as God the Father and God the Son.) Considering what sort of behavior Darell wants from his refs, his actions at the Jan. 18 Nets-Pacers game at the Meadowlands Arena were all the more objectionable.
During a third-period timeout, the Nets' mascot—a blue something or other known as Super Dunk—brandished an eye chart as he walked toward Bill Spooner, a young referee. It was not the most original of gimmicks, but, then, Super Dunk is not the most original of mascots. Spooner looked away for a few seconds, then walked unsmilingly toward Super Dunk, grabbed the chart, strode across the court and threw the chart on the scorer's table.
And what did Garretson, who was also working the game, do to help out his colleague? As a few boos rained down on Spooner, Garretson, with a look on his face that hinted disapproval, spread his arms for the guys on row and mouthed the words, "What's he doing?" Garretson then said out loud, "When he gets older, he'll think that's funny." Later, during another mildewed timeout bit by Super Dunk, Garretson was offered and accepted a pair of eyeglasses.
So, which is it, Darell? Do as you say? Or do as you do?
Which of the NBA's 27 teams are the most pleasant and unpleasant surprises this season? That was the question posed to SI's 16-player panel this week. As usual, players could not vote for their own team, which made Joe Dumars's initial response invalid. "Hmm," said Dumars, "I'd say the Pistons on both counts."
Actually, Dumars and six other voters helped the Nets score a clear victory over the Magic and the Sonics (both claimed four votes) for most pleasant surprise. The only other team to get a vote was the Kings, who earned Karl Malone's nod. "Let me tell you," said Malone, "they're building one tough team out there."
The Net boosters were clear on their reasons: They expected Chuck Daly to make New Jersey better, but it is still a surprise when a Net team plays with cohesiveness and intelligence, as this one does (most of the time, anyway). Ditto for the Sonics, about whom voter Sam Bowie said, "They can win it all." And though the addition of Shaquille O'Neal figured to vastly improve the Magic, voters Clyde Drexler, Scott Hastings, Chris Mullin and Dominique Wilkins nevertheless found the Magic (17-17 at week's end) surprising. Said Hastings, "They're still a team with only two or three good players."
The Heat (12-25) was deemed the most disappointing team, with six votes. While acknowledging that the injury to point guard Steve Smith (he joined the team on Jan. 20 after missing the first 34 games) has hurt Miami, Reggie Miller summarized the majority s opinion: "They looked to be a breakthrough team last year, but they've gone backward." Not surprisingly, the Mavericks (3-33) got three votes. "You knew they weren't a top team," said Wilkins, "but there was no way they could sink this low." More surprisingly, the 21-19 Celtics got two votes, one from ex-Celt Danny Ainge: "After Cleveland and Chicago, I thought Boston and New York would fight it out," he said. (The other Celtic voter preferred anonymity.)
Completing the voting with one each were the Warriors (Dumars), the Pacers (Malone), the Timberwolves (Drexler), the Knicks (Michael Adams) and the Bulls (Hastings).
The Bulls? The defending champs, who through last weekend still had the league's fourth-best record? "Obviously, winning another NBA championship isn't their main focus any longer," said Hastings in words that may soon appear on coach Phil Jackson's bulletin board. "Now, it's who gets the shots, who gets the points, who gets the money."