New Tricks For Big Dog
The Bucks' Glenn Robinson, once deemed one-dimensional, is
flashing an all-around game

Bucks coach George Karl, who has spent many a day this season
ripping his best players, ceases and desists when the subject is
Glenn (Big Dog) Robinson. "Right now there's no better small
forward in the East," Karl says.

The fans have been slow to agree: At week's end Robinson wasn't
in the top 10 among Eastern Conference forwards in the All-Star
balloting--proof, perhaps, that the No. 1 pick of the 1994 draft
is still perceived as merely a jump shooter. The vote doesn't
take into account Robinson's leadership of the surging Bucks.
After a 3-9 start Milwaukee had gone on an 18-6 roll through
Sunday's games to close the Hornets' Central Division lead to a
half game. The 6'7" Robinson was Milwaukee's leading scorer (22.1
points per game) and rebounder (7.4), and he ranked second in
assists (3.7). He had even improved his defense, especially on
the perimeter.

That sort of all-around play has been awhile coming for the 1994
college player of the year, who was drafted out of Purdue ahead
of Jason Kidd and Grant Hill but didn't earn his first playoff
win or All-Star berth until last season. Big Dog attributes his
improvement to teammates who bring out the best in him. "I know
he appreciates me," says point guard Sam Cassell, Robinson's best
friend on the Bucks. "When he made the All-Star team last year,
he called me at 7 a.m.--before he called his mother, before he
called his agent--to thank me for pushing him."

Robinson's development as a pro was hindered in several ways. He
didn't make a good first impression in Milwaukee when he missed
his rookie preseason while holding out for what would be a
10-year, $68 million contract (which the Bucks extended in
December 1999 through 2004-05). He was slow to embrace the notion
of defense. Four sub-.500 years also set him back. "Glenn went
through a lot of losing, and he had to protect himself from the
criticism," Karl says. "Players in this league put on a layer of
armor to rationalize what they're doing, but the truth is, you
can't be special with that armor on. You've got to throw it away
and be willing to take the criticism as it comes."

If anyone understands how to deliver armor-piercing criticism,
it's Karl. In December he publicly scolded Robinson and kept him
out of the starting lineup for one game for missing a team
meeting. "Since then, Robinson's game has gone through the
roof," says 76ers coach Larry Brown.

Frustrated by Karl, Robinson vented to his longtime agent,
Charles Tucker, who doesn't believe in coddling his clients.
"He's come to me a little ticked off a couple of times," says
Tucker. "I tell him to make sure he's doing 100 percent of what
he's supposed to do--not 99, but 100 and then some. The first
thing you need to do is to be good enough to make up for the
mistakes of your teammates."

Robinson accepts similar admonishments from his mother, Christine
Bridgeman, who was an unmarried teenager when she began raising
him in Gary, Ind., and who watches every Bucks game. "She always
tells me she can't wait until I get to the free throw line,"
where the TV cameras show a close-up, Robinson says. "She says,
'I can tell if you've been staying up too late and not getting
your rest.' Sometimes I think I should steal some of my
girlfriend's makeup and pat it on, but she'd see through that
too."

His life off the court remains as simple as his quick-release
jumper. "He keeps to a budget of $5,000 a month, which isn't bad
for a guy who's making what he's making," says Tucker.

Last summer, when free agent Tim Thomas signed a $67 million
contract to stay with Milwaukee, his agent, Arn Tellem, said the
team promised Thomas that he would start at small forward--an
indication that G.M. Ernie Grunfield planned to trade Robinson,
whose career average of 21.1 points ranked third among active
forwards, behind Karl Malone (26.0) and Grant Hill (21.6). "I
didn't believe George and Ernie could make that promise, knowing
the player I am," says Robinson, who nonetheless spent the summer
working himself into the best shape of his career. Grunfeld says
he merely assured Thomas that he would have an expanded role,
which Karl recently supplied by starting him at power forward.

"Hopefully, Glenn can keep this focus for the whole year," says
Bucks center Ervin Johnson. Karl compares Robinson favorably to
his Eastern Conference counterparts, but the coach remains
frustrated that Robinson, Cassell and Ray Allen aren't more
devoted to playing disciplined D and spreading around the
offense. "Glenn is still a young player," Karl says. "Agewise, I
don't know if he is, but maturitywise he has room to grow."

Sometimes Robinson, who turned 28 on Jan. 10, wants to take his
coach aside and tell him he's learning as fast as he can. "People
wrote me off early in my career, but now I look at Elton Brand in
Chicago," Robinson says of another No. 1 pick stuck with a losing
organization. "He feels like it's never going to happen, but he's
going to experience winning in this league. It's just not going
to happen overnight."

Portland's Long-term Plans
Slash in Payroll Is Coming

To those who worry that billionaire Trail Blazers owner Paul
Allen intends to subvert the spirit of the NBA's salary cap and
buy his team a championship, the Blazers have a simple response:
Relax. In a surprising admission, Portland president Bob Whitsitt
says he will cut the club's payroll as soon as his current squad,
which at week's end had won 11 of 12 games to gain the best
record (28-11) in the Western Conference, is no longer a serious
championship contender.

"We hope to keep this run going with these players for two or
three more years," says Whitsitt, who is paying a league-record
$86.5 million in salaries this season. "When it's over, we're
going to bring the payroll down. It may take another year to
bring it all the way back down, and then we'll give ourselves
more cap flexibility, develop younger people and bring it back up
to make another run."

Whitsitt doesn't like the widespread perception that he is
playing by a different set of rules from the rest of the league.
"This idea that Paul's walking around with this wheelbarrow full
of money and laughing and seeing if he can give it all
away--that's all wrong," says Whitsitt. "Paul doesn't want to lose
money, and in the future we are going to do everything to avoid
paying [the luxury tax]." That tax, which is part of the 1999
collective bargaining agreement, will make its debut next season
at an estimated threshold of $57 million--meaning that a team will
owe the league a dollar for every dollar it spends on players'
salaries above that figure.

Whitsitt hasn't always been a big spender. After arriving in 1994
from Seattle, where he was the reigning NBA executive of the
year, he slashed the league's second-highest payroll by unloading
expensive veterans Clyde Drexler, Terry Porter and Buck Williams.
Whitsitt assembled a younger, cheaper team that maintained
Portland's streak of playoff appearances (approaching 19 years)
while netting profits reportedly in excess of $20 million in both
1995-96 and '96-97.

Those funds were meant to help bankroll the current team, which
Whitsitt began assembling when he used his cap room to sign Brian
Grant as a free agent in August 1997. That came during Whitsitt's
larceny spree, in which he acquired Rasheed Wallace, Damon
Stoudamire and Steve Smith in trades involving Rod Strickland,
Kenny Anderson and Isaiah Rider, respectively.

Amid that wheeling and dealing, though, the NBA negotiated the
luxury tax. "The rules changed on us overnight," Whitsitt says.
"We had to decide, Do we change our plan and slide down the pole?
Or do we suck it up and spend more to see our plan through to the
finish?"

Everyone knows their decision. Last summer the Blazers shipped
out Grant and Jermaine O'Neal and brought in Shawn Kemp, who will
make a staggering $71 million through 2003-04, and Dale Davis,
who is on the books for five years at $40 million. Those veteran
frontcourt players were acquired to help Portland match up better
against the Lakers and the Spurs.

While Whitsitt admits Kemp "might be our fourth-best big guy," he
bristles at suggestions that the Blazers are netting a small
return from such a large investment. Though Portland is the
league's 19th-largest market, its revenue reportedly ranks among
the top five teams. "People focus on our payroll, but I haven't
read one article on revenues," Whitsitt says. "The Rose Garden is
sold out. We have the highest local TV ratings in the NBA, and
we're having a record year for sponsorships. There are teams with
high payrolls that are not making the playoffs--New Jersey,
Washington. People talk about us paying the luxury tax, but a lot
of bad teams can't even make a deal because they're over the
cap."

Knicks' Record-Setting D
The Coach Was Not Impressed

Coach Jeff Van Gundy didn't want to give his team too much credit
for breaking a 46-year-old NBA mark last week when the Knicks
held the opposition under 100 points for the 29th consecutive
game--especially since New York went the final 3:19 of that game
without scoring and lost 76-75 to the Rockets. "We should move
[the threshold] down to 90," Van Gundy said. "It was different in
the '80s, when scoring was high. But now it's only when you hold
someone under 90 that you're doing a good job."

By any standard New York is strangling opponents defensively. By
limiting teams to 83.5 points per game through Sunday--including a
91-78 win over the Trail Blazers last Saturday--the Knicks were
permitting 10.3 points less than the league average. If they wind
up the season with that differential, it would be only the eighth
time that a team has reached double figures in that department.
The only defenses to have accomplished it: the Cavaliers (four
times) and the Knicks (three).

Outside the Box Score
Pacers Capitalize On Riled Reggie

When Reggie Miller was hit with a technical foul for complaining
from the bench with 7:40 left in Indiana's Jan. 8 game against
the Clippers, coach Isiah Thomas rushed him back into the game.
"I've learned that Reggie needs to find artificial things to get
him going," said Thomas, whose Pacers were trailing 71-65 in Los
Angeles when Miller checked in. "If the crowd's not going at him
or he can't get mad at the other player, he uses the referees to
get mad and get himself going."

Miller responded immediately. He passed to Austin Croshere for a
three-pointer, drew a foul on the next play and made the only
shot he took the rest of the way--a 20-footer that helped the
Pacers recover for an 85-82 win.

For scores, schedules and stats, plus the latest news and
analysis from Phil Taylor and Marty Burns, go to
cnnsi.com/basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: GARY DINEEN/NBA ENTERTAINMENT Scoring has never been a problem for Robinson, who has averaged more than 20 points in six of his seven seasons. COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH In a few years, the Trail Blazers say, they won't be willing to pay huge salaries such as Kemp's.

Around The Rim

One of the reasons the Grizzlies might be interested in trading
Shareef Abdur-Rahim or Mike Bibby is Vancouver's need for another
first-round draft pick. To complete their 1997 acquisition of
Otis Thorpe from Detroit, the Grizzlies have the option of
sending the Pistons a pick this year that falls somewhere in the
top 18. Vancouver would rather acquire another team's choice,
deal that and hold on to its own, which will no doubt be a
lottery selection. If the Grizzlies don't complete the Thorpe
trade in 2001, they risk losing an even higher selection to
Detroit over the next two years: In '02 Vancouver's pick is
protected only if it's in the top five, and in '03 only if it's
No. 1....

David Robinson's 29-point, 22-rebound performance against the
Pistons on Jan. 6 was only his second 20-20 game since Jan. 26,
1996, two seasons before Tim Duncan joined the Spurs....

The best thing the Celtics can do to begin cleaning up the mess
left behind by Rick Pitino is to restore the title of team
president to Red Auerbach. G.M. Chris Wallace, whose one-year
contract expires after this season, continues to scout prospects
for Boston's three first-round choices....

Tracy McGrady joined Kobe Bryant and Vince Carter in bypassing
the slam dunk contest at All-Star weekend, rendering the
competition meaningless....

The 76ers will retire Charles Barkley's number 34 jersey at
halftime of their March 30 game against the Warriors. "The Lenny
Bruce of athletics," says Sixers president Pat Croce of Barkley.

Personal Choice
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett

"I wasn't the most confident kid, and I was trying to find
someone who was 'another me.' Not the best player, but someone
who played like me. Malik Sealy [Garnett's Minnesota teammate
who died last May in a car crash] was at St. John's at the time,
and I just related to him. He was quick, dark-skinned, had long
arms, and he mad-dunked. I think I was in eighth grade then, and
I said, 'If I make the team, I want number 21.'"

Scout's Take
On defending against the Mavericks' sharp-shooting trio of
Michael Finley, Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki:

"They want you to double-team the whole night while they move the
ball around and shoot the weakside three. You don't want to see
your guys come running out at them on the three-point line,
because then they've got you right where they want you with an
extra pass. You just have to play straight-up defense as long as
you can and make sure all their threes are contested. It's not
like you want them to go inside, either, because Nowitzki and
Finley can play that game too. They're not easy to prepare for,
I'll tell you that."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)