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Net gains under a wiser Calipari Heavy trade winds Agents rate execs

Feb. 02, 1998
Feb. 02, 1998

Table of Contents
Feb. 2, 1998

Faces In The Crowd
Hockey

Net gains under a wiser Calipari Heavy trade winds Agents rate execs

HARD LESSONS

This is an article from the Feb. 2, 1998 issue Original Layout

He coaches every play as though his life were hanging in the
balance. When the Nets' John Calipari watches a Kerry Kittles
16-footer roll off the rim, he screeches as if he's been
impaled, then windmills for guard Lucious Harris to check into
the game. "You're going down, babe!" he shouts as Kittles jogs
past him. Four possessions later, Harris absorbs that same rage
when a bounce pass eludes his grasp. "Sherm, get in for him!"
Calipari barks. As Sherman Douglas rises from the bench, Cal
yanks him by the jersey to speed him along. "Go!" he screams.
"Gooooo!"

This is the new and improved John Calipari? Yup. "Much calmer
than last year," says point guard Sam Cassell. But still
frenetic, abrasive and thirsting for victories.

Cal's volatility cost New Jersey a possible home win over the
Bulls last Friday, when he pulled rookie Keith Van Horn and
swingman Kendall Gill with less than one second left in
overtime, the game tied at 98 and Chicago inbounding from
midcourt. The strategy was sound: Both had five fouls, and
Calipari wanted to save them for a second OT. But after
frantically instructing the Nets that they had both a foul and a
delay-of-game warning to give, he sent only four players back
onto the floor. Inbounder Toni Kukoc, left unguarded, lofted a
pass to forward Jason Caffey, who streaked to the hole alone.
Caffey, amazingly, botched the open slam, and New Jersey center
Jayson Williams, who had sprinted desperately back, swiped at
the ball. He was whistled for goaltending as time expired. Ball
game, Chicago.

A shattered Calipari apologized to the team, told the press he
was to blame and retreated to his office, where friends and
family found him inconsolable. His staff has urged him to stay
calm on the sideline; it was the latest lesson he's learned the
hard way.

Since coming to New Jersey, Calipari has been fined $25,000 by
the NBA for calling Newark Star-Ledger reporter Dan Garcia "a
f------ Mexican idiot," endured a 26-56 rookie campaign and
found himself skewered as a yapping martinet in a GQ article
written by Williams. Rumors were rampant last season that Cal
would return to the college ranks, where he could expect
reverence from his players. The truth is, he prefers pro
coaching. "Here's why," Calipari says. "Back at UMass, I'm on
the road recruiting, and there's an emergency call from a
player. I know I can't get to him right away, so for three
gut-wrenching hours, I'm torturing myself, wondering. Finally I
get the kid. He says to me, 'Coach, do you mind if I miss my
workout tomorrow? I gotta get a haircut.'"

So Calipari adjusted his coaching style and reinvented the Nets,
who were 23-19 at week's end. He and general manager John Nash
acquired Cassell, Van Horn and Chris Gatling for Shawn Bradley,
Robert Pack and Tim Thomas in a pair of huge deals. When he took
the job, Calipari called each of his players to deliver a pep
talk; only two returned his call. Now he has abandoned the hokey
motivational tactics. Calipari is not universally loved by his
players--Who is?--but last year that ate at him. This season he
has learned to accept it, which may explain why he and Williams
are comfortably coexisting.

"I never hated the man," says Williams. "He came in and changed
everything, and after being here five years, I thought I should
have had an opinion. But my daddy said to me, 'I don't want to
hear no problems with you and Cal. I run a construction company,
and you don't see any of my bricklayers telling me what to do.'"

In fact, Williams, who was averaging 13.4 points and 14.2
rebounds at week's end, now dismisses his differences with
Calipari as the normal friction between "two guys with big egos
and big stubborn streaks," and says he'd like to re-sign with
New Jersey next summer. True, Calipari's players wish he would
loosen his verbal choke hold on them once in a while. But
Cassell, who spars with Calipari during games, says all is
forgotten after the buzzer. "Cal is the perfect player's coach,"
Cassell insists.

To which another Net says, "I'd say that too if he was giving me
18 shots a night."

A DEAL UNDONE

On Jan. 21 the Rockets were this close to acquiring Toronto's
Damon Stoudamire, a dynamic 24-year-old point guard who could
rejuvenate their franchise. Some news organizations reported
that the deal had been struck. But by day's end, nobody had
changed uniforms. Here's a blow-by-blow account of the trade
that didn't happen.

2:10 p.m. Rockets and Raptors sources tell SI they hope to nail
the deal down by game time. Houston would send Matt Bullard,
Emanual Davis, Mario Elie, Matt Maloney, Kevin Willis and draft
picks (two firsts, two seconds) for Stoudamire, Walt Williams
and Zan Tabak.

3:30 p.m. Stoudamire, on the phone with SI from Toronto, says he
is "numb with excitement" at the prospect of playing alongside
Charles Barkley. He has been told by Raptors general manager
Glen Grunwald that Toronto wants to solicit offers from other
teams one more time before closing the deal.

4:15 p.m. Stoudamire, on the phone again, is trying to avoid
going to the SkyDome for a 7:30 game against the Kings. "I don't
want to have to answer questions about the trade," he says, "and
if I'm going to be gone anyway, I'm not sure I should suit up.
How am I going to concentrate tonight?"

4:45 p.m. Maloney, sitting in his Embassy Suites Hotel room in
East Rutherford, N.J., calls his mother, Barbara, in nearby
Haddonfield. He tells her not to come to the Rockets' 7:30 game
against the Nets at Continental Airlines Arena because "I'm
getting traded."

5:52 p.m. Barkley, still wearing street clothes, reports that
his team's locker room "is like a morgue." Barkley tells SI he
became friends with Stoudamire during a trip to Tokyo last
summer for an exhibition game. "Great kid, but I'm just not sure
about this," he says. "It would be good for Houston's future, I
understand that, but does it help us now? It sure as hell ain't
helping us get ready for this game tonight."

6:10 p.m. Two league sources tell SI the deal is off. Other
clubs--the Grizzlies, Lakers, Knicks, Magic, Nets and Trail
Blazers among them--have made offers that have piqued Toronto's
interest.

7:30 p.m. Houston wins the tip, and Maloney buries a
three-pointer. He scores 13 points in the first quarter.

9:52 p.m. The Rockets fall 117-112 in overtime, their fourth
straight loss. In Toronto, Stoudamire has 36 points, including
the decisive basket, in a rare 99-98 Raptors win.

10:21 p.m. Barkley says the way his teammates were placed in
limbo "is the most horrible situation I've seen in my NBA
career. How can you prepare for a game under these
circumstances? What are you going to tell Mario and Kevin and
those guys? Win one for the team? [The front office owes] it to
this team to get this straightened out right away. But obviously
some damage has already been done."

2 a.m. The Rockets' charter arrives in Charlotte. Their bus
drops them at the wrong hotel. "Ain't that a perfect way to end
this day," Barkley says.

KNOW THE ENEMY

SI asked the league's executives and agents to tell us what they
thought of each other. The majority of team officials didn't
want to play, but 25 of the top agents were more than happy to
cast their votes for the best, worst and toughest front-office
honchos. Only one--Portland general manager Bob
Whitsitt--received votes in all three categories. The ballots,
and comments, please:

TOUGHEST

Whitsitt (10 votes): "Announces the bottom line, then says, 'Now
you figure it out.'"

Bulls vice president Jerry Krause (7): "A hard sell on almost
everything."

Hawks president Stan Kasten (5): "He's as immovable as a 10-ton
rock."

Cavaliers president Wayne Embry (2): "When he says no, he means
it."

BEST

Lakers vice president Jerry West (14): "Perfect blend of
business sense and instincts of an ex-player."

Suns president Jerry Colangelo (3): "His word is gold. One of
the few."

Pacers president Donnie Walsh (3): "Always empathetic to the
client."

Whitsitt (2): "Is willing to gamble."

WORST

Clippers vice president Elgin Baylor (7): "Disconnected,
uninterested, no authority."

Nuggets vice president Allan Bristow (5): "Can be abrasive."

Mavericks vice president Don Nelson (3): "Used to be great. On
cruise control now."

Sonics president Wally Walker (3): "Too shortsighted. Leaves
guys hanging."

Krause (2): "Living off Jordan and Pippen."

Whitsitt (2): "I've found him to be neither straightforward nor
truthful."

LINE OF THE WEEK

76ers guard Allen Iverson, Jan. 23 against the Trail Blazers: 37
minutes, 10-18 field goals, 2-2 free throws, 22 points, 6
assists, 4 rebounds, 5 steals. Iverson capped off 10 days of
exceptional play in a 98-87 Sixers win that had his fingerprints
all over it. His most impressive stat: 0 turnovers.

AROUND THE RIM

Sources say that the Warriors called Philadelphia about Joe
Smith and would have taken rookie Tim Thomas and a first-round
pick. But the Sixers have high hopes for Thomas and no interest
in paying free-agent-in-waiting Smith....

Phoenix coach Danny Ainge says Jason Kidd should be an All-Star
and cites Kidd's defense as evidence. Through the Suns' first 39
games, opposing point guards averaged 8.9 points and 4.0 assists
and shot 37.8% against Kidd....

Sources confirm that Nuggets governor Charlie Lyons has begun
soliciting names to replace the embattled Bristow. Among those
he'll consider: former Raptors G.M. Isiah Thomas, former Nuggets
coach Dan Issel and Hawks general manager Pete Babcock
(providing Atlanta gives permission). Lyons has also put a
premium on re-signing forward LaPhonso Ellis, who will be a free
agent next summer.

For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to
www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN The smooth-driving Gill has New Jersey eyeing its first playoff appearance in four seasons. [Vin Baker, Kendall Gill, Gary Payton and Hersey Haekins in game]COLOR PHOTO: BILL POLO At least six teams in need of a penetrating playmaker put in competing bids for Stoudamire. [Damon Stoudamire in game]

NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND

Coach Phil Jackson sent Dennis Rodman home to Chicago last
Friday after Rodman missed the Bulls' morning shootaround in New
Jersey, saying Rodman was "in no condition to play" against the
Nets after a night of partying. He fined the Worm $250, but the
penalty could be much greater. According to a clause in Rodman's
$4.5 million contract, once he plays in 59 games he will receive
a per-game bonus of $184,783 thereafter. Before Friday, Rodman
had appeared in each of Chicago's 41 games.

HOT SHOTS

For nine years Pacers center Rik Smits has battled inflamed
nerves on the bottoms of both feet. Smits says that the scar
tissue from two operations compounds the pain and that he has
considered retirement. But don't scratch him from the lineup
anytime soon. The 31-year-old Smits, who'll be a free agent next
summer, told team president Donnie Walsh in the fall that he
wants to re-up for at least two more seasons.

Wizards owner Abe Pollin is furious that his team's image was
further tarnished by Chris Webber's arrest in Washington last
week on a battery of charges including marijuana possession and
misdemeanor assault. (A hearing is scheduled for April 2.) In
the past 14 months the Wizards' top three players have been
arrested in D.C. In November 1996, Juwan Howard was charged with
driving while intoxicated and was ordered to undergo alcohol
rehab, and Rod Strickland was cited for DWI and disorderly
conduct in September.

As an assistant with the Nuggets this season and the Grizzlies'
head coach the last two years, Brian Winters was 26-140 at
week's end. Although Denver did stop its record-tying 24-game
skid with a 99-81 victory over the Clippers last Saturday, the
Warriors, who at week's end had dropped 14 straight, were next
in line to challenge that mark.

Point guard Robert Pack was acquired in February '97 to
orchestrate the Mavericks' new up-tempo attack. But after
breaking a finger on his left hand in the preseason, Pack
averaged just 7.8 points and 3.5 assists through Sunday. He was
a DNP-CD five times, and team sources say coach Don Nelson has
soured on him. It's a moot point for the moment: Pack tore a
ligament in his right thumb last week and will be out until April.

With Glenn Robinson having a career year, Tyrone Hill providing
tough rebounding and D up front, and Terrell Brandon dazzling at
the point, the question persists: Why aren't the Bucks better?
The answer may be center Ervin Johnson, who was averaging 7.6
points at week's end and hasn't been able to make short jumpers
when Brandon and Robinson get doubled.

On Tap: CHICAGO AT L.A. LAKERS, Feb. 1

Air Jordan meets Air Apparent--Lakers guard Kobe Bryant--in a
matchup of title contenders. In their first encounter, a 104-83
Bulls rout over Shaq-less L.A. on Dec. 17 in Chicago, Michael
Jordan scored 36 points, but the 19-year-old Bryant poured in a
career-high 33 and executed several high-flying moves eerily
reminiscent of a young MJ's. Although the teams will not meet
again in the regular season, Jordan and Bryant will square off
at least once more: as starters for their respective teams at
the Feb. 8 All-Star Game.