On the 11th day of his new job, Dallas general manager Don
Nelson swapped an entire starting lineup for four Nets. With
that deal Nelson purged the last two remaining Mavericks--guard
Jimmy Jackson and swingman George McCloud--from the team's
12-man opening day roster of 1995-96. The housecleaning in Big D
illustrates a dramatic change in the NBA: the high turnover rate
of players from team to team.
As of the Feb. 20 trade deadline, only eight of the league's 29
teams had kept more than half of their '95-96 opening day
rosters intact, while 13 teams had held on to just four players
or fewer. The league's overall turnover rate over the last 16
months is 58.6%. By comparison, at the trade deadline of
1984-85, only 43.9% of the players had been moved since the
start of '83-84--the last season before the salary cap and free
agency were instituted.
Pat Riley, coach of the Atlantic Division-leading Heat, has
retained only two Miami players from the '95-96 opener. His
plan--to clear room under the cap in order to sign free
agents--has become a blueprint for other teams struggling to
become competitive. But even Riley is shocked by the speed of
the merry-go-round. "This is ridiculous," he says. "I think
you're going to see two or three teams a year purge their
rosters for cap space."
Another factor in the turnover rate is the rookie salary cap,
which allows a first-year player to become a free agent after
his third season. "How can you have much continuity when you
draft a player today and in three years he can leave you?" says
Sacramento assistant vice president Wayne Cooper. "You're damned
if you do, damned if you don't."
For Chicago, the don't route has proved a winner. The defending
champion Bulls have 11 players left from last season's opening
day roster--only 43-year-old center Robert Parish is new--and
are on pace for 70-plus wins again.
--KELVIN C. BIAS