MITCH RICH MAN?
On the night of Feb. 19, Mitch Richmond was too busy thinking
about the next day's game against Miami to focus on the fact
that the trade deadline had come and gone and he was still
wearing a Sacramento uniform. He's had ample time since then to
dwell on his status. When the Kings completed a winless
five-game Eastern swing last week, losing by an average of 15.8
points, reality smacked Richmond in the face. He will finish the
season--his 10th in the league and seventh in Sacramento--with a
team on the fringe of the postseason picture, instead of with a
contender like the Hawks, the Heat or the Lakers, all of whom
tried to land him. But Sacramento's 11th-hour deal with Atlanta
for guard Steve Smith fell through, Miami coach Pat Riley's
attempts to get Richmond in a three-way swap involving the
Celtics proved fruitless, and L.A.'s decision not to acquire
Richmond for swingman Eddie Jones was sealed more than a month
ago. Sources say Lakers owner Jerry Buss wouldn't pull the
trigger because he didn't want to ante up for a player who will
be 34 when his contract expires after next season. Why should he
reward Richmond for years of loyal service with another club?
That sentiment, privately echoed by other teams, has led
Richmond to a somewhat belated realization: The team that
could--and should--pay him is Sacramento. Richmond told SI last
week that despite his standing request to be traded, he would
consider staying in Sacramento if the Kings were willing to rip
up his current deal, a seven-year contract that will pay him
$3.1 million this season and $2.8 million next, and grant him an
extension. Sacramento will be under the salary cap (possibly by
as much as $13 million) on July 1 and thus, under NBA rules,
will be able to renegotiate Richmond's contract. But Sacramento
has not yet agreed to do that.
"I've driven myself crazy wondering, Am I in the Kings' plans?"
Richmond said. "They say the ball is in my court, but I say it's
in theirs. You're asking me if I would stay if they gave me a
new contract, but that's never been presented to me. You get to
the point where you wonder what else you can do for this
organization. People say, 'Hey, you signed the deal, you've got
to live with it,' but the rules have changed. We were supposed
to have an escape clause, but the league wouldn't allow it. You
wonder why [the Kings] haven't said, 'Mitch, you're underpaid,
we'll take care of you.' The only thing they've ever said is,
Asked if Sacramento would be willing to sign its six-time
All-Star to a new deal, Geoff Petrie, vice president for
basketball operations, replied, "All the various issues and
scenarios have been discussed many times over the past two years."
Sources say that Kings owner Jim Thomas discussed a new contract
with Richmond as recently as last fall but that specifics have
never been addressed, in part because Sacramento is not under
the cap this season. Richmond would like a three- or four-year
extension averaging around $8 million a year. That would leave
the Kings ample funds to sign free agents, including their
third-year forward Corliss Williamson, who is having a solid
Williamson will be a free agent on July 1 and is monitoring
Richmond's situation closely. The same is true of two rookie
surprises, center Michael Stewart and point guard Anthony
Johnson, who could walk this summer. As one Sacramento veteran
said, "These young guys are saying to themselves, If the Kings
don't take care of Mitch, who will they take care of?"
Aside from a brief stretch in the preseason, when Richmond's
frustrations clearly affected his attitude and his performance,
he has handled his uncertain status admirably. "Those negative
thoughts are creeping in again," admitted Richmond. "Even so,
I've never blasted ownership. I never said, 'Get me the hell out
of here.' And I still won't. I want this to work out."
So does Sacramento coach Eddie Jordan. He's acutely aware how
difficult it would be for his young club if its leader, top
scorer (23.8-point average through Sunday, third highest in the
league) and main symbol of respectability were shipped
elsewhere. "We would struggle," concedes Jordan, whose team was
24-35 at week's end. "It's not a stretch to say Mitch could
account for a difference of 20 wins. Would we end up being a
Dallas or a Denver? Hopefully not that bad, but it's possible."
When Chuck Daly signed on as coach of the Magic last June, he
was given this scouting report on forward-guard Nick Anderson:
Confidence is shot, won't drive to the basket, permanently
scarred by missing four consecutive free throws in the final
seconds of Game 1 of the 1995 Finals.
To Daly's surprise, however, Anderson was the best player in
preseason camp. So why the sudden drop in performance when the
games started for real?
"The lights went on," Daly answers.
The glare of professional basketball had become unbearable for
Anderson. The missed free throws, an injured left hand and a
style so devoid of aggressiveness that his team put incentives
in his contract that would reward him if he went to the line
more often had left him wondering if he should quit. "It put me
in a shell, and I couldn't find my way out," Anderson says.
But after the All-Star break, a new Nick Anderson--or rather,
the old one--emerged. On Jan. 23 Anderson became the starter at
shooting guard, and his game ignited. In a five-game stretch, he
averaged 27.2 points on 48.6% shooting. He dropped 37 on the
Pacers on Feb. 20, then torched the Lakers for 30 two nights
later. Equally significant, Anderson averaged 8.2 trips to the
line, a sign he's taking it to the hole again.
The trade to the Nets of the Magic's main operator down low,
center Rony Seikaly, has opened up the block for Anderson's
trademark post-up moves. When (or is it if?) injured guard Penny
Hardaway returns to the lineup--he had missed seven consecutive
games through Sunday--Hardaway will play mostly point, and
Anderson will remain at the two spot. "Nick got 50 against me in
post-ups while I was [coaching] in New Jersey," says Daly. "He's
back to that kind of confidence. I just hope it lasts."
What triggered Anderson's turnaround was desperation. Last fall,
he turned to noted sports psychologist Jim Loehr, who has helped
other athletes, including golfer John Daly, speed skater Dan
Jansen and tennis player Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, overcome their
demons. "What we determined was that Nick was a person who
avoided conflict," Loehr says. "He was a peacemaker. So when the
dynamics of his team changed, he reacted with passiveness,
figuring if he merely hung in there, things would be all right.
Our goal was to get him to be as aggressive as possible in
taking control of his life."
Loehr persuaded Anderson to buy his own home (he had been
sharing a house with his mother, Alberta) and encouraged him to
hire a chef to cook his meals and help implement a nutritional
program. "As for the games, we told Nick to be an animal," Loehr
says. "We wanted him to go to the basket without fear, to put
himself in harm's way."
Anderson applauds Loehr's influence but says religion played a
bigger role in changing his outlook. In December, at the urging
of his mother, Anderson rededicated himself to his faith at the
New Covenant Baptist Church in Orlando. "When I walked out of
that church, I felt as if the world had been lifted off my
shoulders," Anderson says.
TRAVELS WITH HERB
What goes around comes around--at least if it's Herb Williams.
The 40-year-old center, who's the league's second-oldest player
(Rockets big man Charles Jones is 10 months his senior), has now
twice been traded by the Knicks, waived within days by the team
that acquired him and quickly picked up again by New York. His
Feb. 25 return to the Knicks had to be prearranged, right?
"No," says New York general manager Ernie Grunfeld. "We have
tremendous respect for Herb, but it's strange circumstances that
keep bringing him back to us."
On Feb. 18, 1996, Williams, then with New York, was thrown into
a trade that sent guard Doug Christie to the Raptors, who wanted
a veteran presence on their young team. But a heartbroken
Williams went to Isiah Thomas, then Toronto's vice president of
basketball, and pleaded to be released. Five days after the
trade, Thomas let him go, and five days after that the Knicks
scooped him up.
Almost two years to the day after his trade to Toronto, the
Knicks shipped Williams to the 76ers in a deal for center Terry
Cummings. Williams knew in advance the Sixers would immediately
cut him loose, so he began pitching other teams, speaking with
Miami and Houston, among others. Even so, says Williams, "My
agent asked me where I wanted to go. I told him, 'Back home.'"
Williams will earn the prorated minimum salary (approximately
$93,000) for the rest of the season. The Knicks have promised
their old-timer a spot in the organization when he finally does
retire, which he might do this summer. It's more disheartening
each season to be a 12th man. "I know I can still contribute,
but you've got to have minutes to do that," says Williams. "The
Knicks like me, but I guess not that much."
Line of the Week
BRADLEY FLUNKS THE BOARDS
Mavericks center Shawn Bradley, Feb. 25 versus the Magic: 18
minutes, 2-5 field goals, 0-0 free throws, 4 points, 0 rebounds.
Dallas coach Don Nelson was so disgusted with his 7'6"
pivotman's inability to get even one board (or trip to the line)
against 38-year-old journeyman Danny Schayes that he sat Bradley
for most of the second half of the Mavericks' 100-79 loss.
For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to
NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND
Teaching Tracy New Tricks
When Raptors coach Darrell Walker resigned on Feb. 13,
18-year-old rookie forward Tracy McGrady was firmly entrenched
in Walker's doghouse because of his poor work habits. But
Toronto's interim coach, Butch Carter, has thrown McGrady a
bone: If McGrady stays after practice every day for extra work,
Carter will give him an additional 10 minutes a game at small
forward and also use him for 10 minutes a game at shooting
guard. (At week's end McGrady, who had averaged 13.0 minutes per
game under Walker, was averaging 22.1 under Carter.) Carter has
also implemented a mandatory weight-room session before practice
for all players.
AROUND THE RIM
Wondering how Minnesota will be able to afford to re-sign
potential free agents Stephon Marbury and Tom Gugliotta while
forking over $126 million to Kevin Garnett? Here's part of the
answer: The Timberwolves announced an increase in ticket prices
next season, hiking $31 seats to $35, $46 seats to $58 and $73
seats to $97....
Orlando immediately waived Yinka Dare after acquiring him from
New Jersey, but even after being informed his services were no
longer required, Dare asked the Orlando equipment manager for
his uniform in hopes of stepping into the team picture....
When Mavericks coach and G.M. Don Nelson acquired Cedric
Ceballos from Phoenix for Dennis Scott, he called Ceballos and
told him not to hop a plane to Dallas because he planned to
immediately trade him. No such deal occurred, but Nellie never
called Ceballos back to tell him he would remain a Maverick.
Nevertheless, having made his way to Dallas, Ceballos wants to
become a fixture. "They might make me one of the franchise
players here," Ceballos says....
The Clippers have begun their campaign to re-sign newly acquired
(and free-agent-to-be) Isaac Austin by distributing buttons that
read, I LIKE IKE....
Just days before Brent Barry was traded from the Clippers to the
Heat, he noted that he would love to play for the Suns,
especially for coach Danny Ainge, who, like Barry, struggled
early as a player under demanding coach Bill Fitch. "I'm dying
to talk to Danny about that whole process," said Barry, a free
agent at season's end.
PORTLAND AT L.A. LAKERS
The Great Western Forum
The new-look Trail Blazers, now in the hands of point guard
Damon Stoudamire, meet Shaq and Co. in a key Western Conference
matchup. L.A. point guard Derek Fisher, subbing for injured
All-Star Nick Van Exel, must find a way to slow down the streaky
Stoudamire. Otherwise the Blazers, who have already beaten Los
Angeles two of three, will clinch the season series--and gain a
psychological edge should the teams meet (as is highly possible)
in the first round of the playoffs.