As a 17-year-old point guard from Abraham Lincoln High in
Brooklyn, Stephon Marbury spent two weeks in Minneapolis,
training under University of Minnesota coach Clem Haskins before
the 1994 World Games in Buenos Aires. "I hated the place,"
Marbury says. "And that was in the summer! It was culture shock.
By the time we were done, I couldn't wait to go to Argentina,
and who ever thought I'd say that?"
Two years later, in June 1996, Marbury was picked fourth in the
draft by the Bucks, who then dealt him to the Timberwolves. The
T-Wolves hoped that Marbury and forwards Kevin Garnett and Tom
Gugliotta would form the nucleus of a dynasty. After that trio
led the team to the playoffs for the first time last season,
Minnesota re-signed Marbury's friend Garnett to a six-year, $123
million deal. Timberwolves fans felt the team had cleared the
most imposing hurdle to keeping its nucleus intact.
They were wrong. Marbury tells SI that he still hasn't warmed to
Minneapolis and its frigid winters, and that he daydreams about
returning to New York to play for the Knicks. One thing Marbury
made abundantly clear: He isn't sold on signing away his career
to Minnesota, which will try to extend his contract next summer.
"People are talking about me taking less for the good of the
franchise," Marbury says. "I'm not taking less for nobody. This
is a business."
Even though Gugliotta is the Timberwolves' most polished player
and Garnett has the most potential, Marbury makes Minnesota go.
Before their loss to Boston last Friday, the T-Wolves (16-15 at
week's end) had won six of seven, including victories at Detroit
and Seattle and a home win over the Bulls. Marbury averaged 19.6
points and 10.1 assists during that stretch. "On our team,"
Marbury says, "everyone knows that in the last minute, Stephon
Marbury is going to take the last shot, like MJ. It's not Kevin
doing it. That's not how our team works."
Garnett's huge payday followed months of acrimonious
negotiations between agent Eric Fleisher and the Timberwolves.
Fleisher also represents Marbury, guaranteeing another tense
summer in Minnesota. "I know they won't be offering me KG
money," says Marbury. "Is that all right? I don't know. I don't
want to come across as some cocky guy. I'm just speaking truth.
"They know Minnesota isn't the greatest place for me. I'll never
say I like living in Minnesota. No one likes living in 20-degree
weather all the time, where you have to walk through tunnels to
get everyplace because it's so cold."
What kind of deal would it take to keep him in the Twin Cities?
Marbury himself doesn't seem to have a clear answer to that
question. "It's not that simple," he says. "All the money in the
world won't matter if you're losing. We can win a championship
in two years if we do things right. Me, Kevin and Googs are
playing together real well right now, and God help the NBA if we
get to a level higher. I wouldn't be thinking so much about the
cold if we were winning 70 games."
Minnesota's 8-12 start was the result of what Marbury calls a
"slight chemistry imbalance" caused in part by the departure of
free-agent center Dean Garrett (also a Fleisher client) to
Denver. Yet the T-Wolves also grapple nightly with the
inconsistency that is inevitable while talented young players
such as Marbury learn what they can--and can't--do on the job.
"Our guys are guilty sometimes of trying to do too much," says
team vice president Kevin McHale. "Steph is getting better at
looking ahead. He can get by his own guy almost anytime he
wants, but now he's realizing there's no sense driving in there
if two 7-footers are waiting for him."
Marbury was dazzling in Seattle on Dec. 23, scoring 35 in a
112-103 win over one of the best defensive teams in the league.
But his thoughts keep returning to the night of Dec. 11, when he
poured in 22 and dished out nine assists in a 107-103 loss to
the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the venue of all his
boyhood dreams. "[Before the game] I was stretching in the
middle of the court, and I caught myself looking down at the
logo, and I felt like I was playing at home, where I belonged,"
Marbury says. "But then I had to smack myself upside the head
and get myself back to reality."
Many of Marbury's friends and relatives, including his mother,
Mabel, would love to see him stay in Minnesota, where he can
remain focused on basketball. Even Marbury concedes that
advantage to the Twin Cities. "I concentrate better here," he
says, "because there's nothing else to do but play ball."
WHO LIKES IKE?
While center Alonzo Mourning was recovering from surgery on his
left knee, the Heat went a respectable 15-7 thanks largely to
backup Ike Austin, who averaged 18.2 points and 8.7 rebounds and
shot 50.8% from the field. But sources last week confirmed that
Miami coach Pat Riley has placed Austin on the trading block.
The reason: Because Austin has been with the Heat only two
years, he is a year short of qualifying for the so-called Larry
Bird exception--which enables a team to pay its own free agent
whatever it wants, even if it's over the salary cap--when his
contract comes up this summer.
Although Miami has no shot of re-signing Austin, the team until
recently toyed with the idea of keeping him beyond the February
trading deadline because he might help the Heat win the title
this year. But that was before Riley concluded that Austin is
too valuable to lose without compensation--and before Zo
returned and Austin's productivity fell off (8.7 points, 4.7
rebounds and 38.0% shooting in his last nine games through
Sunday). Sources in Miami say the team wants to move Austin soon
and was considering the Nets' offer of swingman Kendall Gill
late last week.
LET'S MAKE A DEAL
Pick a Raptor, any Raptor, and Toronto's front office will make
him available for the right price, though the team still hopes
to persuade point guard Damon Stoudamire, who can become a free
agent this summer, to stick around. Stoudamire, surprisingly,
says that he's willing to consider staying, but that there have
to be personnel changes--soon.
"I think everybody knows the losing is killing me," Stoudamire
says. "But I don't want to run out on the situation. What I want
to know is how are they going to convince new players to come to
The team's 4-28 record through Sunday is hardly a selling point.
The Raptors have been hindered by injuries (late last week,
Marcus Camby, Walt Williams, Popeye Jones and Carlos Rogers were
out), distracted by the resignation of former vice president
Isiah Thomas and frustrated by their inability to run the
triangle offense, which coach Darrell Walker finally scrapped a
couple of weeks ago.
Other than Stoudamire, Camby is the Raptor likely to attract the
most interest. The Nets have tried to land him but will have to
sweeten their offer of Gill. Still, questions persist about
Camby's durability and toughness. "Marcus is very talented, but
I don't think he'll ever play 82 games," Stoudamire says. "He's
got to take the off-season more seriously. He's got to dedicate
himself to getting stronger. I don't think that's unfair to say,
but some guys get so sensitive on this team it's hard to talk to
The Trail Blazers have already dangled point guard Kenny
Anderson in hopes of acquiring Stoudamire, who has been surfing
DirecTV to check out possible new addresses. "I'd love to play
in New York, but their style of play doesn't really fit mine,"
Stoudamire says. "I was looking at Houston the other night, and
they're desperate for a point guard--I don't care how much they
say they like the guys they have. And in San Antonio, Avery
Johnson is a good guy, a community guy, but they aren't going to
win anything with him."
LINE OF THE WEEK
Sixers center Theo Ratliff, Jan. 4 against the Lakers: 27
minutes, 8-11 FG, 4-5 FT, 20 points, 10 rebounds, 8 blocks.
Ratliff, recently shipped out of Detroit in the Jerry Stackhouse
trade, proved to his new team that he can play with the big boys
in Philadelphia's stunning 113-107 upset at the Forum.
AROUND THE RIM
One day the Slam Dunk competition was a mainstay of All-Star
weekend; the next it was replaced by 2ball, a shooting contest
between teams made up of one NBA player and one WNBA player from
the same city. The switch in events, which was made without
checking with the NBA Players Association, didn't sit well with
some players who do not have WNBA franchises in their cities and
were therefore automatically disqualified from participating....
As if forward Clarence Weatherspoon hasn't suffered enough,
having played with 73 teammates and lost 317 games during his
six seasons with the 76ers. On Dec. 19 he registered a DNP in
the first half of a loss to Miami when Sixers coach Larry Brown,
who had just completed a four-player deal with Detroit and had
been fielding offers for Spoon from the Raptors, forgot to put
him in. "I was teasing him," Brown says. "I told him, 'I thought
you were in Toronto.'" Weatherspoon was not amused....
While Michael Jordan should be commended for breaking Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar's record of scoring in double figures for 787
straight games, consider that Abdul-Jabbar had two of the top
four such streaks (his other run was 508 games).
For more NBA nwes from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to
NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND
Without question, the Bulls' recent resurgence owes a lot to the
board work of Dennis Rodman, whose 15.6 rebounds per game led
the league at week's end. But one Western Conference executive
believes the Worm's stats are not all they appear to be. "Look
at his rebounds at home versus on the road," he says. "There's a
big difference. When he tips a ball, it's called a rebound in
Chicago." We checked the numbers. In 17 games at the United
Center, Rodman had averaged 16.9 rebounds; in 15 road games he
had averaged 14.1.
SHAQ'S BACK Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal returned to the
lineup last Friday after missing 20 games with a strained
abdominal muscle and broken right wrist. The key to L.A.'s
championship hopes now is whether coach Del Harris can find a
way for O'Neal and Elden Campbell, who averaged 17.5 points and
7.6 rebounds in Shaq's absence, to be productive when they're on
the floor together.
SPRE VIEW Sources tell SI that a settlement between the league
and suspended Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell before Sprewell's
Jan. 27 arbitration hearing is unlikely. Contrary to reports,
union chief Billy Hunter and commissioner David Stern have not
met to discuss a deal.
NELLIE'S KIDS Mavericks general manager Don Nelson continues to
demonstrate his family values. Through Sunday, Nelson was 1-15
since replacing Jim Cleamons as coach, but he says he'll hold
the position through the 1999-2000 season. Then he'll turn the
reins over to his son, Donnie, whom he hired away from the Suns
in December. Last week Nelson also revealed that he has a
29-year-old daughter he only recently learned about, a
development he called "kind of neat." Wonder if he'll save her a
spot on his coaching staff.
TEAM HARMONY Once again, the Sonics are atop the Pacific
Division (and an NBA-best 26-6 through Sunday). But unlike last
season, when an unhappy Shawn Kemp kept his team in turmoil,
these Sonics get along famously. Says coach George Karl, "Sam
[Perkins] said I should give half my salary back because I don't
have to deal with any negative energy."
BOSTON RISING The Celtics surpassed their victory total for
1996-97 with win number 16 last Saturday. Second-year forward
Antoine Walker is putting up monster numbers (22.2 points, 10.4
rebounds), but will Boston sign Walker to an extension this
summer? Maybe not. Sources say that Walker chafes at coach Rick
Pitino's need for control, which allows for little input from
his burgeoning star.
On Tap: UTAH at HOUSTON, Jan. 10
Jazz point guard John Stockton returns to the Summit for the
first time since his buzzer-beating three-pointer eliminated the
Rockets in last year's Western Conference finals. Sir Charles &
Co. would love to exact a measure of revenge in front of the
home crowd, but Houston, we have a problem: The Rockets still
don't have anybody to guard Stockton, who scored a team-high 24
points in Utah's 107-103 win over Houston on Christmas day.