Inside The NBA

Feb. 26, 2001
Feb. 26, 2001

Table of Contents
Feb. 26, 2001

Daytona 500

Inside The NBA

Indecent Behavior
The Suns are facing up to a series of recent incidents that have
tarred their reputation

This is an article from the Feb. 26, 2001 issue Original Layout

Suns chairman Jerry Colangelo likens it to watching three bullets
being pumped into the body of his franchise. In a three-month
span, a complaint was filed against former All-Star guard Penny
Hardaway for using a gun to intimidate the mother of his
eight-year-old daughter; Dream Team point guard Jason Kidd was
charged with hitting his wife; and Cliff Robinson, the team's
leading scorer, was arrested for driving under the influence and
possessing less than a gram of marijuana. "I'm getting mail
insinuating that I'm responsible for it," says coach Scott
Skiles, "like I'm a college coach running a dirty program."

Colangelo spent the last decade rehabilitating the team's image
after its involvement in the biggest drug scandal in pro sports
history. Five active and former Phoenix players were indicted
near the end of the 1986-87 season on marijuana or cocaine
charges based on the grand-jury testimony of teammate Walter
Davis. Though all charges were either dropped or reduced, the
stain left Colangelo no option but to dismantle the team. Over a
two-year period he unloaded every player but Jeff Hornacek (who
was not implicated in the scandal), rebuilt the Suns around point
guard Kevin Johnson and followed up a 24-58 season in 1987-88
with a 55-27 record in '88-89, the fifth-biggest turnaround in
NBA history.

Colangelo would like to provide another happy ending--without
having to trade his best players. To help improve the team's
standing in the community he announced last week that
season-ticket prices on 6,322 seats will be dropped by 2.5% next
year, the first decrease since the 1992 opening of America West
Arena (now known by some fans as America Arrest Arena). "What we
have are random, individual incidents," he says. "When my players
have a problem, I have a problem. When I have a problem, I try to
fix it."

Rather than whitewash the incidents, Colangelo has insisted his
players accept responsibility for them. The most upsetting
occurred the evening of Jan. 18, when Kidd--the team's leader and
best player--was arrested for hitting his wife, Joumana, a popular
local TV reporter. According to police, they were arguing about
feeding their two-year-old son, T.J., when Kidd spit a french fry
in his wife's face then struck her, giving her a swollen lip and
a bloody mouth. Joumana retreated to the bathroom after Jason
kicked open her bedroom door.

The couple have said they intend to stay together and to work out
Kidd's anger problems. Kidd, who pleaded innocent, missed the
Suns' next four games before he rejoined the team--along with
Joumana and their son--for a game in Boston, where he was booed
every time he touched the ball. At Colangelo's behest, Kidd
apologized to fans after the next home game. Crowds at America
West have been supportive since then.

When Robinson was arrested in his yellow Porsche on Feb. 5 for
driving under the influence--police say that he admitted smoking
marijuana earlier in the evening, and that his blood-alcohol
level was 0.146, .046 over the legal limit--Colangelo appeared at
a press conference with him, promising that Robinson would be
held accountable. (His court date and Kidd's were scheduled for
Thursday.) "I was extremely disappointed in myself because Jerry
has shown a lot of belief in me," says Robinson, 34, who is in
the second season of a four-year, $29 million free-agent
contract. "He let me know I'd let him down."

Colangelo says he will make sure Kidd and Robinson become
involved in charities against domestic violence and drunk
driving, respectively. "I definitely want to see these players
step up in the community with their pocketbooks and tell others
not to make the same mistakes they've made," Colangelo says.
"The fans are offended. When something like this happens, you
have to do something to earn back their trust."

Prosecutors have dismissed the misdemeanor intimidation charge
against Hardaway, who in November had confronted Latarsha McCray
with a gun outside his suburban Paradise Valley home. (She did
not accuse him of pointing the weapon at her.) The Suns' concerns
about Hardaway have since turned to the microfracture of his left
knee, which has failed to heal properly despite two operations
since last May. Hardaway played four games in January before
returning to his rehab regimen. "Next year there is a great
possibility he will come back," Colangelo says. "But if he can't,
if he has worked his tail off and he can't get it done, he may

If so, his salary could come off Phoenix's cap at the end of next
season. (Insurance is currently covering 80% of Hardaway's
salary.) The team's options are limited by commitments to
Hardaway ($10.1 million this season, signed through 2005-06);
forward Tom Gugliotta, who at week's end was averaging 4.9 points
while recovering from last year's reconstructive surgery on his
left knee ($9.4 million, signed through 2003-04); rarely used
center Chris Dudley ($6.2 million, signed through 2001-02); and
guard Rex Chapman ($3.5 million), who retired in November. "It's
not over till I say so," Hardaway says. "There's been so much
negative speculation, but nobody can say I'm giving up except

Despite all these travails, the Suns have remained in playoff
contention. Through Sunday they were 30-21, in eighth place in
the powerful West but only 3 1/2 games out of the fourth spot and
home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs. They
have been aided by the emergence of 6'7" second-year forward
Shawn Marion, the team's leading rebounder, who last week scored
career highs of 28 and 38 points in successive games, and by the
rapid development of 21-year-old rookie center Jake Tsakalidis,
the 25th pick of the first round, who joined Phoenix after a
contentious arbitration hearing with his previous club in Greece.
Colangelo says the 7'2", 285-pound Tsakalidis could become the
first dominating center the Suns have had in their 33 years.

Skiles believes his players deserve credit for what they've done
on the court, if not for their behavior off it. "I keep hearing,
'How can Sacramento win games without Chris Webber?'" he says,
referring to Webber's recent absence because of a sprained left
ankle. "But here we are, doing what we're doing without Penny and
Googs, two guys from the Olympic team. I think that people are
selling my guys short."

The Mavericks' Coaches
Vindication for Both Nelsons

As of Sunday, Donnie Nelson was scheduled to hand back the keys
to his father on Tuesday, proud that he hadn't put so much as a
dent in the family car. When 60-year-old Don Nelson left the team
on Dec. 30 to undergo surgery for prostate cancer, the Mavericks
were 20-12 (.625). At week's end Dallas was 13-8 (.619) under
interim coach Donnie Nelson. "I didn't want to make him feel he
had to hurry up the healing process and get back to save the
ship," says the 38-year-old Nelson.

The proof of Donnie's success is that his players took
responsibility for making sure the team stayed on track, an
attitude every NBA coach hopes to instill. All-Star forward
Michael Finley, in particular, became a leader. When the
Mavericks went to the locker room trailing the Hawks 50-36 at
halftime on Feb. 5, Finley uncharacteristically excoriated his
teammates while Nelson and his staff sat in their office trying
to listen through a cement wall. Dallas rallied to win the game.

No one should doubt Donnie's coaching credentials. He created the
game plan that Lithuania used to nearly upset the Dream Team in
Sydney. His time in charge of the Mavericks has helped remind
G.M.'s that Nelson was one of the league's most coveted
assistants until January 1998, when he left the Suns' bench to
join his father in Dallas with the understanding that he would
succeed his dad. The reputations of both Nelsons were tarred as
the Mavericks struggled. They were blasted for a pair of trades:
one for point guard Steve Nash, who had been backing up Jason
Kidd in Phoenix, and the other for forward Dirk Nowitzki, who had
been drafted No. 9 by the Bucks in 1998 from a small club in

"I think back to the first couple of years, when it looked as if
Dirk couldn't play--it was to the point where he was thinking
about going back to Europe," says Donnie. "Then I think about
Steve Nash, being booed by the fans in his own building in
Dallas. I'd come out onto the court and I'd see Steve pitching
balls to Dirk, helping him work on his shot. With all Steve was
going through, he was working to get Dirk's confidence up."

When Mark Cuban bought the team in January 2000, the Nelsons
assumed they would be fired before they could see their
rebuilding experiment through to the end. "I remember like it was
yesterday," says Donnie. "We were in Denver and we read in the
paper that this new guy had bought the team. The coaches all went
out to lunch, and it was like the last supper. In all likelihood
this guy is going to want to start from scratch, tear it up and
do things his way."

Instead, Cuban signed the elder Nelson to a 11-year, $21 million
extension last June. With the Mavericks now on the verge of
making their first playoff appearance since 1990, Donnie--who
serves as director of player personnel as well as assistant
coach--says he won't necessarily jump should another team call
with an opportunity to be a head coach. "The last two years were
the hardest of my career," he says. "We were called every name in
the book. After going through all that, I'm not going to leave
this situation for another half-million dollars with some other
team. I would listen, but it would take a lot for me to leave the
Mavericks. The most rewarding thing I could do would be to help
my father win a championship."

Toronto's All-Star Center
This Davis Tries Harder

Raptors center Antonio Davis was in Washington a couple of weeks
ago, reminiscing about the high school coach who thought he had
no future in basketball, when a reporter approached with good
news. "Did you hear you're starting in the All-Star Game?" he
asked the 32-year-old Davis.

Davis looked for a moment like a figure in a wax museum. "I don't
believe it," said Davis, who had been surprised enough a day
earlier, when he was named as a replacement for the injured 76ers
center, Theo Ratliff. Two days later he was playing 20 minutes,
scoring eight points and grabbing nine rebounds while helping the
East to its 111-110 upset.

It's the kind of story you don't hear often. Most All-Stars are
first-round picks who were handed guaranteed, multimillion-dollar
contracts--which is to say they were given every chance to prove
they could play. The 6'9", 230-pound Davis came from the other
side of the tracks. After the Pacers picked him out of UTEP in
the second round of the 1990 draft, he played two years in Greece
and another in Italy before coming to the States for good in
1993. "One thing I'm proud of is never giving up," he says.

After five years of steadily improving play off the bench with
the Pacers, Davis asked the team to give him an opportunity to
start. To satisfy that wish, Indiana amicably traded him to
Toronto for high schooler Jonathan Bender before last season. At
week's end Davis was averaging career highs in points (13.5 per
game), rebounds (10.9) and blocked shots (2.04).

This summer Davis plans to opt out of the last two seasons of
his seven-year, $38.5 million contract. He will seek what his
agent, Bill Duffy, calls "Brian Grant money"--the seven-year,
$85.7 million contract that Grant received from the Heat in his
sign-and-trade deal--before deciding whether to stay in Toronto
or to sign elsewhere.

Whatever happens this summer, he will again run the big man camp
he started three years ago in his hometown of Oakland. It lasts
three days and is free for 25 local high school and college
players. "This is a way for me to teach guys all the fundamentals
that I didn't have when I got to college--a drop-step, a
right-hand jump hook, how to dribble in the post" Davis says.

Helping them reminds him of the pivotal moment of his career,
when as a senior he asked his coach at McClymonds High for advice
on college recruiting. "He basically told me I was not good
enough to play Division I," Davis recalls. "He was just trying to
be honest, but that discouraged me a lot. Maybe it was what I
needed to make me work harder."

Outside the Box Score
86ed by the Stalling 76ers

With the Sixers down by five points with 1:12 to play on Feb. 13
in Milwaukee, Allen Iverson scored six straight points to give
Philadelphia a one-point lead. After inbounding the ball with
13.4 seconds left, the 76ers sewed up their victory with
brilliant teamwork. They stitched together 10 passes before one
of the Bucks could get close enough to the man with the ball to
foul. "The best stall I've seen in a long time," said Milwaukee
guard Ray Allen. Only .3 of a second remained when Aaron McKie
made his free throws to seal the 107-104 win.

For scores, schedules and stats, plus the latest news and
analysis from Phil Taylor and Marty Burns, go to

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH The league's assist leader, Kidd (far left) must continue to deliver as he comes to grips with his anger.COLOR PHOTO: BILL BAPTIST/NBA ENTERTAINMENT (MOBLEY)COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGHCOLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO By refusing to give up, Davis became an All-Star starter and is on the verge of a huge new deal.

Around The Rim

In the wake of the competition committee meeting during the
All-Star break, the league is planning to survey every team to
develop a plan for potential rules changes. While significant
changes--including a streamlining of the illegal-defense
rules--could come as early as next season, there's not enough
support to lift the ban on zone defenses. So far a consensus
exists only for adopting the NCAA's five-second rule, the intent
of which is to force players to advance the ball...

Disgusted to learn that Wizards season-ticket holders at the MCI
Center were pushed upstairs to accommodate the NBA's corporate
guests at the All-Star Game, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says he
is in no hurry to host the event at the American Airlines
Center, which opens next season...

Count Timberwolves G.M. and coach Flip Saunders among those with
a keen interest in the future home of the Grizzlies, who last
week were granted permission to leave Vancouver next season.
"I'd like them to stay in the West so that, if they do anything
with [realignment], we would get a chance to get to the East,"
Saunders says...

In a strange turn, it was 76ers coach Larry Brown who urged that
the Feb. 13 game in Milwaukee be stopped so that the Bucks could
honor Glenn Robinson for becoming the fifth player in franchise
history to score 10,000 points...

Among the books handed out to his players by Lakers coach Phil
Jackson last week during a long road trip was Cookie Cutter, a
murder mystery by Sterling Anthony about a racist killer. "I
think he gave me the book for a reason," said Isaiah Rider. "I
don't think he'd just give me a book about violence. It's
psychological. Horace [Grant] told me Phil's using all sorts of
psychology on me."

First among Seconds

"One of the best players in the league," says Rockets coach Rudy
Tomjanovich of his shooting guard, Cuttino Mobley (left)--high
praise for the 41st pick in the 1998 draft. Since becoming a
full-time starter on Jan. 6, the 6'4" Mobley had scored 22.2
points per game through Sunday, raising his season average to
19.7. That's tops in the league among players not picked in the
first round. --David Sabino


Cuttino Mobley, Rockets 1998 (2, 41) 19.7 27
Cliff Robinson, Suns 1989 (2, 36) 18.3 33
Nick Van Exel, Nuggets 1993 (2, 37) 17.9 35
David Wesley, Hornets Undrafted 17.8 36
Darrell Armstrong, Magic Undrafted 16.5 42

Personal Choice
Lakers forward Rick Fox

"I first took notice of number 17 because of John Havlicek--when
I came to Boston, a couple of Celtics legends told me he was the
player to model my game after. Also, the Celtics were all about
championships, and they had 16 when they renounced my rights in
1997. I was slightly immature and carrying some bitterness, so
when I signed with the Lakers I chose 17 as a reminder of what I
had left behind, the six years I played for Boston in search of
that 17th championship. It was also to remind me that I was
determined to get my first championship before the Celtics got
another one."

Scout's TAKE

On the Timberwolves, who after a franchise-record 11-game
winning streak lost four in a row last week:

"If you have an imposing front line you can work these guys,
because they're soft. But if you don't have a big man who can
match up with Kevin Garnett, it's even harder to double-team
him; he'll find the guys who are open, and they'll make jump
shots. Their bench has been big for them--it averaged more than
30 points over the last 30 games--and Terrell Brandon has been
very efficient. Most point guards either go straight to the rim
or pull up for the three, but Brandon has a 15-foot shot that
makes him tough."