TOO MUCH TALKIN'?
Trash talking is nothing new to the NBA. After all, Larry Bird was refining the art a decade ago. But there is a feeling in some quarters that a new mistiness has come into play—the Suns' Danny Ainge describes the woofing these days as "more vicious and mean-spirited"—and that it is at least a contributing factor, if not the root cause, of a recent spate of fisticuffs around the league.
"If we were allowed to step in right away and stop the talking with a technical foul, I think a lot of these physical situations wouldn't develop," says one veteran referee, who desired anonymity. "But it's not punishable under our current guidelines. Maybe that should change."
However, there is no consensus. Another top veteran ref sees no increase in trash talking and blames the boxing matches (bantamweights Greg Anthony of the Knicks and Kevin Johnson of the Suns fought on March 23; and on March 30, cruiserweights Derrick Coleman of the Nets and Armon Gilliam of the Sixers went at it, and heavyweight Shaquille O'Neal of the Magic met lightweight Alvin Robertson of the Pistons) on late-season pressure. "Guys are tired, edgy, dying to start playoffs," says the ref. "I feel the same way."
Some players don't see much of a change in the nature of the trash, either. "There's no more trash talking now than when Bird, [Kevin] McHale and [Robert] Parish were in their heyday," says the Pistons' Joe Dumars, a nontalker. And what does Parish have to say about it? "The only thing that's changed about trash talking is how many guys are doing it," says the Celtic veteran. "Before, you had only a few guys."
Others, though, believe yapping contributes to physical confrontations. And they blame it on the younger generation.
"More young guys are coming out of college talking and showboating than ever before, and that gets irritating," says Sonic guard Nate McMillan, a seven-year veteran. Says Nugget general manager Bernie Bicker-staff, "It's the playground mentality, the competitiveness. You even see it in commercials. My concern is that with some of the collegians, it's coming into the NBA."
All of the recent brawls did involve young players—Coleman (in his third season), Anthony (second) and O'Neal (rookie). But to paint all the fights with the stroke of impetuous, throaty youth is to use a brush that is far too broad.
Nevertheless, trash talking is on enough people's lips that the NBA may be forced to address the subject publicly before the playoffs. In the off-season the league will most assuredly discuss whether it should be controlled and how.
After all, Chris Webber & Co. will be here soon.
WHO'S IN? WHO'S OUT?
It's that time of year when the collars of many NBA coaches are real, real tight. Actually they're tight most of the year, but right now at least half a dozen unfortunates can hardly breathe. Public discussion of their job security might be cruel, but considering that 21 of 27 NBA teams have made at least one head-coaching change in the last four seasons, it's also unavoidable.
Unavoidable, too, is the conclusion that the era of the professional coach—the clipboard-carrying, film-studying, whistle-blowing, clinic-attending, X-and-O-ing red-faced screamer—is over. It has given way to a movement of hiring former players as head coaches, even though they may never have diagramed a play in their lives. Of the current head coaches, only five (the Nets' Chuck Daly, the Pacers' Bob Hill, the Lakers' Randy Pfund, the Pistons' Ron Rothstein and the Kings' Garry St. Jean) are not former pro players. And even if it's ludicrous to consider such longtime successful coaches as the Cavs' Lenny Wilkens, the Knicks' Pat Riley and the Bulls' Phil Jackson to be former players rather than proven coaches, three of the most recent hirings support the theory that owners and general managers now value pro playing experience more than clipboard experience, believing perhaps that former players can better relate to today's richer, bolder athlete. Neither the Nuggets' Dan Issel nor the Mavs' Quinn Buckner (who will take over next season) had ever coached at any level when they were hired, while the Timber-wolves' Sidney Lowe had been at the helm for only 34 games as an interim coach when he was given the top job last week.
Those moves have caused resentment within the ranks of the so-called lifer coaches, particularly the career assistants, who now appear to be waiting for opportunities that may never come. None of them is eager to express his feelings publicly, but the resentment is very real, particularly when it comes to Buckner.
Says an Eastern Conference assistant, "What I want to know is, how did the Mavericks come to say, 'Quinn's my guy,' when they didn't interview anybody else or apparently even consider any of the other qualified guys in the league? It's ludicrous." The answer, of course, is that the Mavericks can hire whomever they want and for whatever reason. And the reason, presumably, is that Buckner is a former player and can better communicate with his team.
The ranks of lifer coaches will most likely shrink even more at the end of the season. Rothstein is a near lock to get the ax in Detroit, and both Hill and Pfund are on the bubble. St. Jean's job is safe, and Daly is a hero once again for what he has accomplished with the Nets.
Other coaches in trouble? Well, the Trail Blazers and the Jazz are franchises that don't like to shake things up, but both Rick Adelman and Jerry Sloan may need strong playoff performances from their teams to save their jobs. Not that this qualifies as stop-the-presses news, but Larry Brown and the Clippers are likely to come to a parting of the ways sometime in May. One would assume that the Hawks' recent hot streak—they've won 14 of their last 21 games—has saved Bob Weiss's once-tenuous job, but you never know. And it's anybody's guess whether 76er owner Harold Katz will remove the "interim" from Fred Carter's title.
In Washington and Golden State, meanwhile, Wes Unseld and Don Nelson, respectively, enjoy unique relationships with their owners that will probably preclude their being fired. But the '92-93 season has been extraordinarily tough on the two coaches, and there are indications that one or both might call it quits and move into other front-office positions.
With the Bulls riding a roller coaster, we figured that Michael Jordan might have a tough time winning his third straight MVP award. In-I deed, the race would seem to be a wide-open one, considering the improvement that the Suns have shown with Charles Barkley; the resurrection of the Rockets and the Spurs behind centers Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson, respectively; the Shaquille O'Neal phenomenon in Orlando; the consistency of the Knicks' Patrick Ewing; the airborne renascence of the Hawks' Dominique Wilkins; and, of course, Jordan's ever-present brilliance.
If the thinking among the members of the media that vote for the MVP award parallels that of SI's weekly polices, however, we're in for a runaway: If the balloting were done now, all but four of our 16 voters would choose Barkley. (Ainge would've gone that way too, but our panelists aren't allowed to vote for their teammates.) The only other players to get votes were Olajuwon, who was selected by the Blazers' Clyde Drexler and the Kings' Wayman Tisdale, and Jordan, the choice of the Knicks' Doc Rivers and Ainge.
Though they expressed their reasons for choosing Barkley in different terms, his backers' thinking centered on a basic point: Barkley has taken a successful team and made it a championship contender. "It's hard to believe you could vote for someone in front of Michael," says the Nets' Sam Bowie, "but for what Charles has done, you have to go for him."
"Charles made the Suns tougher," adds Xavier McDaniel of the Celtics. "Tougher in the way they play basketball."
TIGHT IN THE COLLAR?
As the season winds down, some coaches should worry about job security
MOST LIKELY TO GO-Ron Rothstein, Pistons
ON THE BUBBLE-Rick Adelman, Trail Blazers; Bob Hill, Pacers; Randy Pfund (right), Lakers; Jerry Sloan, Jazz
RESIGNED TO NEW ROLES-Don Nelson, Warriors; Wes Unseld, Bullets
SAFE (MAYBE)-Fred Carter, 76ers; Garry St. Jean, Kings; Bob Weiss, Hawks