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Inside The NBA

March 12, 2001
March 12, 2001

Table of Contents
March 12, 2001

Inside The NBA

Hot New Jazz Duo
In Donyell Marshall, Karl Malone has found an unlikely partner in
his quest for a title

This is an article from the March 12, 2001 issue Original Layout

After Utah's second consecutive second-round loss in the
playoffs, Karl Malone almost believed that his Jazz had reached
the end of the line as a title contender. That didn't last long.
I know I can play better, Malone told himself last summer, and
he returned to his El Dorado, Ark., summer home, determined to
work his body harder than ever--quite a task for one of the
best-conditioned athletes ever to play the game. Predictably,
Malone was in the finest shape of his 16-year career when he and
John Stockton met last September in Salt Lake City for an
informal training session with their supporting cast.

Among the newcomers was Donyell Marshall, a 27-year-old small
forward who arrived from the Warriors over the summer in the
four-team, nine-player trade that sent Jazz guard Howard Eisley
to Dallas. Marshall had developed a reputation as an
underachiever in his six years in the league, all with losing
teams. As the players paired off for weight training, Malone
announced in the tone of a drill sergeant, "Donyell, you're with
me!"

"If you're not lifting with perfect technique, Karl says, 'You're
not doing it right; you've got to do it all over again,'"
Marshall says. "Afterward we had a scrimmage, and Bryon Russell
was laughing about letting me take every jump shot I wanted,
because he knew I wouldn't be able to lift my arms over my head."

Marshall has turned out to be a quick study. Not only has he
revitalized his career, but he's also given Malone new hope that
all the Mailman's hard work will at last bring him a championship
ring. At week's end the ever-competitive Jazz (40-18) was in
second place in the West, a game behind the Trail Blazers. "This
team has better talent than our teams that went to the Finals [in
1997 and '98]," he says.

Through Sunday the Jazz had gone 20-5 since the 6'9" Marshall
became a starter in place of Russell, who was out with an ankle
injury. Marshall averaged 18.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in that
stretch, taking a massive burden off Malone. "I don't feel, going
in, like I have to get 30 [points] and 10 [rebounds]," Malone
says. "I've never played with a guy who can do so much,
offensively and defensively, every night."

Marshall's production should not surprise anyone: He averaged
14.2 points and 10.0 boards last year with Golden State. The
revelation is that he could fit in with a winner so quickly after
years of unrelieved losing. "People labeled me as a bust because
I started with a year and a half of bad basketball, but I always
felt I was a team player," says Marshall, whom the Timberwolves
made the fourth pick in the 1994 draft, then traded to the
Warriors midway through his rookie year for Tom Gugliotta. "At
Golden State we played a lot of one-on-one, but on this team we
play a system." With Stockton's pinpoint passing and the double
teams commanded by Malone, Marshall has shot 49.0% this year, a
huge upgrade from his career 40.5% mark.

Marshall is surprised that they have hit it off so well. Since
Malone drove the lane with his knee high and broke Marshall's rib
in a game in 1998, Marshall had considered him a dirty player. He
didn't realize how much their relationship had changed until he
hugged Malone during an important victory at Portland on Feb. 22.
"My mom saw that and said she wanted to send Karl a card to thank
him for getting me into the good situation I'm in now," Marshall
says.

With a collection of senior citizens--Stockton, 38; Malone, 37;
Olden Polynice, 36; John Starks, 35; and Danny Manning,
34--playing unselfish basketball, the Jazz could become the
people's choice in the West. Malone, who is making a conscious
effort to enjoy his final years, hopes he is entering what he
calls the Nolan Ryan phase of his career. "He wasn't popular
either," Malone says, "but then in the last four or five years,
everybody pulled for him."

Malone sounds optimistic about signing another contract when his
four-year, $66.5 million deal expires after the 2002-03 season.
At week's end he was 6,016 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's
alltime scoring record of 38,387. He would need at least three
seasons after this one to break the mark. "I think about it a
lot," Malone admits, "but I want to do it the way I'm playing
now. I will not stick around and play 10 or 12 minutes coming
off the bench."

His decision may be linked with a similar one facing Stockton,
who at week's end was second in the league in assists (9.3 per
game) and whose contract expires this summer. "I'll believe John
is going to retire when I hear it come out of his mouth," Malone
says.

Here's one thing Malone is counting on: Marshall has agreed to
join him next summer for his annual two-week boot camp in the
miserable Arkansas heat. Asked how many players usually attend,
Malone says, "Just me."

A Lifetime of Change in a Year
Detroit's Mateen Cleaves

Twelve months ago Mateen Cleaves had no idea how profoundly his
life was about to change. As a senior point guard he would soon
lead Michigan State to the NCAA title, becoming a national star.
He would become the first-round draft choice of his boyhood
favorites, the Pistons. He also would attend the funeral of his
older brother.

Cleaves couldn't believe his good fortune when he was drafted to
play in Detroit, only 50 miles from his hometown, Flint. He
thought his biggest obstacle as a rookie would be the flat
trajectory of his jumper. Since joining the Pistons, however,
the 6'2" Cleaves has shot for at least a half hour before
practice and an hour afterward. His shot's arc is hardly a
rainbow, but at week's end he was shooting a respectable 43.5%,
fifth best among rookies.

"I'm not worrying so much about getting down that so-called
perfect technique," says Cleaves, who was averaging 5.8 points
and 2.5 assists in 16.4 minutes coming off the bench. "I remember
Michael Adams used to make all those three-pointers, and he shot
the ball practically one-handed. Larry Bird looked like he was
shooting from behind the back of his head. It was probably about
a month into the season that I realized I can play with the guys
in this league, and now I'm learning where my open shots are
going to come from."

"I think he's going to be a Quinn Buckner type," says Pistons
director of player personnel Brendan Suhr. "He's strong, and he
can defend against either guard."

The proximity of Detroit to Flint allowed Cleaves to spend Feb.
17 with his brother. Herbert, 27--who had been in and out of
Genesee County Jail at least seven times since 1991 for drug
offenses and other crimes--was a gifted athlete who had taught
Mateen to play basketball. "We went to the mall, hung out, went
to eat," Cleaves said, recalling their recent Saturday together.
"He told me how proud he was of me."

Mateen dropped off Herbert in Flint at 10 p.m. "Then I got the
call late that night that crushed my heart," Mateen says. Herbert
had been killed in a drive-by shooting.

"My mother and father raised me to be a man, and now it's time
for me to be a man," Cleaves said last Saturday night in East
Lansing, where he had watched his alma mater thrash Michigan in
preparation for the NCAA tournament. During the game he rubbed a
new tattoo on his left shoulder--it reads SLUGGO, Herbert's
nickname--and he thought about the great distances he had traveled
while staying close to home.

A Warrior at Heart
Chris Mullin's Last Days?

On the surface it was just another in the seemingly endless
stream of injury reports from the Warriors this season. Yet when
the team placed Chris Mullin on the injured list with a strained
lower back last week to make way for the return of Erick Dampier,
it was more than a routine roster move. It was most likely the
end of Mullin's season--and his remarkable 16-year career.

Mullin says he won't decide whether to quit until the summer, but
if he does, it will be fitting that he retired with Golden State,
for which he was a five-time All-Star, from 1988-89 to '92-93,
and the closest thing San Francisco had to Joe Montana with a
jump shot. An original Dream Teamer and probable Hall of Famer,
Mullin, 37, holds franchise records for games played and for
steals. To Warriors fans his return this season was a reminder of
glory days past, when Mully was nailing lefthanded jumpers along
the baseline and Don Nelson was concocting quirky lineups like a
mad scientist.

Nostalgia aside, this wasn't how Mullin envisioned his final
season. At week's end he was averaging 5.8 points for the 16-44
team he chose after leaving the Pacers as a free agent. Actually,
Mullin hadn't even thought of returning to the Bay Area until
late September. In town to visit friends, he headed to the
Warriors' practice facility for some pickup games. Within days
general manager Garry St. Jean's office had received a stream of
players making pleas for the team to sign Mullin. "They were like
kids in a candy store," says St. Jean. "Everything Chris does
makes basketball sense, and he's so willing to help out."

With no offer from the Lakers, who had contacted him about a
possible deal, Mullin returned to the Bay Area with a one-year,
$1 million contract and the promise of a front-office position
upon retirement. He hoped to continue teaching younger teammates,
as he had in Indiana, and while he has been an inspirational
figure, it has proven difficult to tutor guys who are on
crutches.

So what's next for Mullin? Most likely a position in player
development and evaluation. "I've gotten more than I expected, or
probably deserved, from this game, and I leave with a smile," he
says. "Who knows, though. If they put that 2-3 zone in, I might
just make a major comeback. --Chris Ballard

Is He Too Close To Michael?
The Deals of David Falk

When the Wizards released troublesome point guard Rod Strickland
on March 1, there were complaints around the league of a conflict
of interest involving team president Michael Jordan and the agent
who represented him as a player, David Falk. Falk's firm, SFX,
continues to handle Jordan's marketing interests. SFX also
represents Strickland.

Hogwash, says Falk. The settlement saved the Wizards $2.5 million
while they rid themselves of an unwanted player; it also freed
Strickland almost to break even by accepting a $2.25 million
contract exception from the Trail Blazers on Monday, which he
hopes will enable him to raise his value before he becomes a free
agent this summer. "The fact that we have a good relationship
makes it easier to do this kind of deal," Falk says of himself
and Jordan.

An NBA spokesman says the league did not see any conflict of
interest. An official from the players' union, which has the
power to decertify agents, said, "We are aware of the appearance
[of conflict of interest], and there has been an ongoing
dialogue" about it between Falk and the union.

Like many agents, Falk--who helped lead a failed charge to
decertify the union in 1995--has a contentious relationship with
Billy Hunter, the union's president since '96. Falk wants to
change that. "I want to be allies with Billy Hunter, because
we're both in the player business," he says. "Maybe sometimes
we're like two players on the same team who are struggling to
get our shots, but we have to come together." Hunter declined to
comment.

Press for Success
Outside the Box Score

The Warriors went to Chicago on Feb. 26 for their fifth road game
in seven days. They had lost eight in a row and were down 50-46
at the half when coach Dave Cowens ordered the perfect strategy
for an exhausted, disheartened team: full-court pressure the rest
of the way. The Bulls coughed up the ball on their next two
possessions without crossing midcourt, then committed eight more
turnovers as the Warriors pulled out an 84-78 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: ROCKY WIDNER/NBA ENTERTAINMENT Before he blossomed as a starter with Utah, Marshall was thought to be lacking in competitive drive. COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO In the year since he won a national championship at Michigan State, Cleaves has had his ups and downs in Detroit.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH At the end of his 16th season, Mullin will probably make a move to the Warriors' front office.

Around The Rim

Magic point guard Darrell Armstrong attributes his strong play of
late to the movie Remember the Titans, which he has been watching
in hotel rooms before road games since mid-January. What happens
when the inspirational flick is no longer available on in-room
viewing systems? "By then I hope Blockbuster will have it on
DVD," Armstrong says. "I'll take it on the road and pay the late
fee."...

The Lakers and Warriors may play two exhibition games in
Tokyo next October. While Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson believes
it would be a culturally enlightening experience for his players,
Shaquille O'Neal says, "I'm going to come back with a lot of
electronic gizmos."...

The most likely new home for the Grizzlies next season is either
Memphis or Anaheim. The league extended Vancouver owner Michael
Heisley's deadline for deciding where to relocate his team until
March 26...

Since promising on Feb. 13 to lift the Pacers out of their rut,
Reggie Miller had averaged 23.2 points and shot 49.0% through
Sunday's games...

Here's another reason to like Michael Finley: He doesn't care
that the Mavericks can pay him only half as much as they pay his
new teammate Juwan Howard, who will earn $18 million next season
and $20 million in 2002-03. "It's never been my thing to be the
highest-paid Maverick," Finley says. "It's my thing to help the
Mavericks be a winner."...

Is this where Kevin Garnett gets his energy? After diving onto
the press table while chasing a loose ball last week against the
Pistons, Garnett noticed a chocolate-chip cookie near
Timberwolves radio announcer Chad Hartman. He grabbed it and ate
it before going back on the court.

SCOUT'S TAKE

On the SuperSonics, who at week's end were 5 1/2 games behind the
Timberwolves for the West's final playoff spot:

"They looked as if they could be a very good team at the
beginning of the season, but they don't fit together. I have a
lot of respect for Patrick Ewing, but he doesn't give you four
good nights out of five the way he used to; now it's more like
one out of five. Vin Baker's better than he was a year ago, but
other than Patrick, he's the Sonics' only true 'big.' When Ruben
Patterson is at power forward, they become more of a dangerous,
running team, but he's only 6'5", and they end up having to trap
and double to help him on defense. From everything that I'm
hearing, the attitude in the locker room--all the fights they're
having, the change of coaches--has torn them down a little bit.
That shows on the floor."