OF KINGS AND WORMS
If Net coach Chuck Daly has trouble down the road with recent acquisition Bernard King, he will have only himself to blame. Though it was New Jersey general manager Willis Reed's idea to take a look at King, a 36-year-old former All-Star, it was up to Daly to say yes or no. Daly said yes, his decision made solely because of the Nets' desperate need for scoring off the bench: New Jersey reserves are averaging an anemic 23.8 points per game. King, who averaged 28.4 points per game two seasons ago for the Bullets, can certainly supply scoring, even if his medical miracle of a right knee—a torn anterior cruciate ligament in March 1985; arthroscopic surgery in August 1991—is not 100%.
It's the bench part that's in question.
For now, all the right words—"role player," "contributor," "just happy to be here"—are tumbling from King's lips. But we'll have to wait and see what he says in March if he isn't getting major minutes. And if he is getting those minutes, we'll have to check the mood of Chris Morris, the incumbent small forward. Moreover, if King is getting major minutes and taking crunch-time shots, we'll have to train the pout-o-meter on go-to guys Derrick Coleman and Drazen Petrovic.
Only a secure coach would have picked the defiant King, who was released by Washington after tensions with the Bullets reached the boiling point. Daly obviously greeted the deal with open eyes. "I have concerns," he says, "but I don't know if we have great chemistry anyway."
Daly has long been known for his ability to handle difficult personalities—e.g., his unofficial second job as mentor and confidant to the Pistons' Dennis Rodman. Daly, who resigned as Detroit's coach last May after nine seasons with the team, returned to Motown last week with the Nets and spent much of his time with Rodman, who was expected to be activated this week after missing 13 games because of an injury to his right calf.
Last Thursday in Detroit, hours before Daly and his team arrived for a Friday-night game (New Jersey lost 106-97), Rodman was at the center of a disturbing incident. A friend of his, who had become concerned because Rodman was not home late into the night, called police around 5 a.m. and reported that Rodman was missing, as was a gun Rodman usually kept in the house. The friend said he was worried that Rodman, who has endured a number of personal trials in recent months—some related to Daly's departure and some to Rodman's pending divorce—might be contemplating suicide. Piston officials were notified, too; it was team president Tom Wilson who found Rodman shooting baskets in the deserted Palace at Auburn Hills at 6:30 a.m. The .22-caliber rifle was found in Rodman's truck, which was parked outside the arena.
"I'm O.K., I'm all right, I'm fine," said the Worm. Those who know him, Daly included, insisted that the situation had been overblown. Rodman has a license for the gun, and it is not unusual, believe it or not, for him to shoot baskets at The Palace in the early-morning hours. Actually, that's when he gets his best shots, since he rarely takes any during games.
Yet that afternoon Daly and Rodman spent two hours discussing Rodman's problems. The Pistons will come to a crossroads with Rodman at the end of the season, if they haven't already. They value his rebounding and defense but wonder if he will ever get his head together.
Daly, meanwhile, would love to add Rodman's toughness to the Nets. It will be interesting to see if Detroit would consider reuniting Rodman with the only coach he really respects.
THE MICHAEL MESS
Lost in the debate over the Michael Jordan-Reggie Miller Shooting Guard Square-off on Feb. 10 in Indianapolis was an interesting fact:
Neither Miller nor Pacer coach Bob Hill was fined for making extremely negative postgame comments about the officiating. Both suggested that the three officials working the game, Jess Kersey, Ronnie Nunn and Ted Bernhardt, blew it by ejecting Miller and not Jordan after the players' first-period fight; Miller and Hill claimed outright that calls are often made on the basis of the status of the players involved. "It just goes to show it's all about money," said Miller. Such explicit criticism of refs usually results in a hefty fine.
But this time league execs had to consider the extenuating circumstance: The refs did blow it—badly. A more experienced crew would have stopped the elbowing between Miller and Jordan long before it reached near-brawl proportions. And Jordan definitely deserved an early shower for his rage-filled reaction to Miller's shove. On Friday, after reviewing the tape of the game, the league gave Jordan a one-game suspension and fined him $10,000.
UNEASY IN PORTLAND
A severe case of the midseason doldrums continued on Sunday in Portland, where the Trail Blazers lost their fourth straight home game, 96-86, to the Clippers. Earlier in the week Portland's star player, Clyde Drexler, finally admitted what he and his teammates had been loath to acknowledge—that the recent publicity over alleged sexual misconduct by several players has adversely affected the Blazers' play.
"It's had a definite impact," said Drexler, "like a cloud hanging over the team. It was a case of young guys making bad decisions."
Portland's slide coincided with the widely publicized investigation of the Jan. 24 incident, which involved three teenage girls in Salt Lake City. The investigation was concluded on Thursday when authorities in Utah announced they would not file criminal charges against any players. The Blazers, however, fined and gave three-game suspensions to rookies Dave Johnson and Tracy Murray, who, according to police reports and interviews with the players by team officials, were the only players who had intercourse with the two 16-year-old girls. (A 15-year-old girl was also present, but she apparently did not have sex.) Another rookie, Reggie Smith, and starter Jerome Kersey were fined but not suspended for violating team rules, including curfew.
The disciplinary actions should have little effect on Portland; only Kersey is a regular contributor. But the Trail Blazers, as we have seen, are a fragile entity. The revelations were a public-relations disaster for a franchise that has always taken pride in its squeaky-clean image. The Blazers were 29-16 at week's end, [6/2] games behind the division-leading Suns.
We will see if, as Drexler says, "everything is behind us," or if the Salt Lake City incident becomes another psychological hurdle that the Blazers cannot clear.
THEY LOVE L.A.
The proud Lakers may not be much better than their mediocre crosstown rivals, the Clippers. The Lakers don't have Magic Johnson, there are empty seats in the Forum, and Dyan Cannon hasn't done much boogying in the aisles. But the franchise still has an allure, at least for five of 16 players on SI's panel, which answered the question: Excluding your own, which franchise would you most like to play for?
The Magic and the Suns got three votes each, the Bulls got two and the Heat and the Spurs each got one.
Why the Lakers? Well, the Kings' Way-man Tisdale almost couldn't contain his excitement. "The glitz. The glamour. The exposure. The thought of playing for the Lakers has always turned me on," he said. Other Laker lovers were Drexler ("They treat their players first-class"), the Bullets' Michael Adams ("They pay their players well"), the Mavs' Derek Harper ("They always get the players they want") and the Jazz's Karl Malone ("No long, drawn-out negotiations with their players").
Among the Sun worshipers—the Pistons' Joe Dumars, the Nuggets' Scott Hastings and the Bucks' Danny Schayes—Dumars complimented Phoenix coach Paul Westphal. "It would be great to play for a coach who can shoot with cither hand." he said, referring to Westphal's ambidexterity as a player.
Two years ago in this space, a poll of coaches and general managers named the Magic as the worst of the four expansion franchises. Funny what a dose of Shaq will do.
The Bulls got votes from the Warriors' Tim Hardaway, who voted in injured teammate Chris Mullin's stead, and the Sonics' Eddie Johnson. The Knicks' Doc Rivers favored the Heat, and the Hawks' Dominique Wilkins picked the Spurs, but Xavier McDaniel was atypically noncommittal, saying, "I just want to go to whatever team has the best chance of winning that wants me." The X-Man has played for the SuperSonics, Suns, Knicks and now the Celtics, so his possibilities are diminishing.