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Inside the NBA

Feb. 03, 2003
Feb. 03, 2003

Table of Contents
Feb. 3, 2003

Inside the NBA

A Talent Too Tempting
Despite his latest screwup, many teams still covet Rasheed
Wallace

This is an article from the Feb. 3, 2003 issue Original Layout

Is Rasheed Wallace a lost cause? The answer from many G.M.'s is
a resounding no. Though he was in the midst of a seven-game
suspension last week for allegedly threatening referee Tim
Donaghy--the longest suspension the league has ever handed out
for a case not involving violence or drugs--that hasn't soured
too many executives on the Trail Blazers' 6'11" power forward.
Says one Western Conference G.M., "There'll always be somebody
who will covet him because of his talent."

Wallace's suspension began only seven weeks after he and Portland
point guard Damon Stoudamire were cited for misdemeanor
possession of marijuana. (Both players pleaded not guilty and a
court hearing has been postponed until Feb. 18.) His run-in with
Donaghy on Jan. 15 came after Wallace had apparently reined in
his temper--five technical fouls through 37 games, down from 27
last season--and after a Portland victory over the Grizzlies in
which he'd scored a season-high 38 points on 16of20 shooting.
Still, Wallace confronted Donaghy, who had given him a T, on the
Rose Garden's loading docks. Eyewitnesses say Wallace cocked his
fist and, when the ref recoiled, said, "You better flinch, you
motherf------punk.... I am going to kick your f------ass."
(Wallace denies that he threatened Donaghy with his fist, and the
players' union plans to appeal his suspension, which, if it
stands, will cost him $1.26 million in salary.)

Wallace's suspension left the Blazers without their leading
scorer (17.4 points per game) and rebounder (8.1) at a time when
the team was surging. He currently makes $16.2 million, and his
contract will provide $17 million in salary-cap relief when it
expires after next season. There would be many takers if Blazers
G.M. Bob Whitsitt were willing to unload Wallace, but Trader Bob
(who did not return calls from SI) does not do fire sales. Nor
does Wallace want to be dealt, according to a close friend, who
notes that Wallace lives year-round in Portland because he and
his wife feel it is the best place to raise their three children.

Some rivals believe that Wallace would be helped greatly if he
moved to a franchise that provided him more guidance. They point
to Dennis Rodman as a player who won five championships when
demands were made on him but bombed when he was allowed to do as
he pleased. "Rasheed needs structure," says a rival team
executive who believes Whitsitt doesn't take enough of a hands-on
approach with his players. "He needs to know what's at stake and
that people [he works for] are there with him."

Some believe even that wouldn't help. When asked if he'd want
Wallace, one Western Conference general manager said, "Probably
not. It would be difficult for our guys to put up with. They
would feel he was putting himself ahead of the team." Another
G.M. concurs, saying, "There's enough poison in this league."

But those two represent the minority view. It shouldn't be
surprising that many teams would look past a player's bad
behavior if they thought he could improve their fortunes on the
court (see Latrell Sprewell). At 28, Wallace has the rare ability
to score in the half-court or on the run, on the block or from
the three-point line. He is unselfish almost to a fault, not
caring how many points he scores or even whether he starts or
comes off the bench. "Believe it or not," says one of Wallace's
former NBA coaches, "he is more likely to be upset by injustices
to other people than to himself."

Hawks at the Trade Deadline
Waiting to Explode

For the second time in three seasons, Hawks G.M. Pete Babcock is
hoping to make a major move before the Feb. 20 midseason trade
deadline. If he can't pull the trigger, though, he might be
forced to blow his team up and start over. "There's nobody more
aggressive than we are," says Babcock, who in 2001 sent Dikembe
Mutombo to the 76ers in a six-player deal that netted Theo
Ratliff, Toni Kukoc and Nazr Mohammed.

No one can accuse Babcock of sitting on his hands: Since the
Mutombo deal he has traded for forwards Shareef Abdur-Rahim and
Glenn Robinson, and on Dec. 26 he replaced coach Lon Kruger with
assistant Terry Stotts. Yet Atlanta was 16--28 at week's end
(5--12 under Stotts) and ranked 28th in attendance (11,858 per
game). The Hawks were averaging 17.5 turnovers, fourth-worst in
the league, and almost half of them were coming from their front
line of former All-Stars: Robinson (3.7 per game), Abdur-Rahim
(2.8) and Ratliff (1.8). "We often get the ball to our big men
out on the three-point line, and they wind up putting the ball on
the floor more than we'd like," says Babcock, who is trying to
acquire a complementary ball handler to take pressure off point
guard Jason Terry and settle down the offense.

These are trying times in Atlanta. The projected starter at
shooting guard, 6'9" DerMarr Johnson, suffered four cracked
vertebrae during a car accident in September and may never play
again. AOL Time Warner (the parent company of SI) has expressed a
willingness to sell the Hawks. Players show up each day wondering
if they will be traded. Ratliff is still recovering from the torn
hip cartilage that sidelined him for all but three games last
year. "Some nights I don't have it," Ratliff says. "I'll take a
hit early in the game and know I won't be able to jump as high as
I did before the injury."

If Babcock can't come up with a deal he likes, he will have no
choice but to shed salary in order to go far enough under the cap
to go after a topflight free agent this summer. He would have to
peddle several key players for one or more veterans with
contracts that are up this season, such as Portland's Scottie
Pippen (who is making $19.7 million this season), Philadelphia's
Derrick Coleman ($9.4 million), Seattle's Kenny Anderson ($9.2
million) or Cleveland's Tyrone Hill ($6.6 million). That would
doom Atlanta to a fourth straight lottery season.

There is a silver lining to losing. If the Hawks' No. 1 pick is
among the top three they keep it; otherwise, it goes to the Bucks
as part of the Robinson trade.

Foreign Affairs
Solid Footing

Though 6'10", 230-pound Anderson Varejao averages only 4.2 points
in 13.5 minutes for F.C. Barcelona in Euroleague play, the
20-year-old Brazilian will be one of the top big men taken in the
June draft. (Varejao's contract expires in 2005--06, but he can
buy his way out this summer for $1.2 million.) "He's playing
against grown men, which means he's farther along than young
players in our country," says an NBA executive who has scouted
him. A fan favorite in Barcelona, Varejao passes effectively,
runs the floor well and can create scoring chances around the
basket. "It's amazing how some of these big international players
can move their feet," says another NBA executive, who believes
Varejao could become an excellent defender. "It must be their
soccer training."

For the latest NBA news plus analysis from Jack McCallum, go to
cnnsi.com/basketball.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Wallace's suspension cost Portland its top scorer and rebounder for seven games.COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Acquired by Atlanta in the off-season, Robinson may be on the move again.

scout's Take

On Detroit's off-season acquisition of shooting guard Richard
Hamilton for Jerry Stackhouse:

"Hamilton hasn't missed a game this season, which is rare for
him; as long as he stays healthy the Pistons have the big edge in
this trade. Not only are they getting as much scoring from
Hamilton [20.2 points per game at week's end] as they got from
Stackhouse [21.4] last year, but also Hamilton is shooting better
than Stackhouse did [45.0%, to 39.7%], he's three years younger,
and he's going to be cheaper to re-sign. The Pistons need one
more star to become a perennial contender in the East, and if
they get that player, my guess is that Hamilton will be more
accommodating than Stackhouse--who wants to be 'the man'--would
have been."

around the Rim

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban believes that rising costs may cause
the salary cap (currently $40.3 million) to drop by $1 million
next season. "If ticket sales rally, or merchandise [revenue]
continues to increase and margins hold, the expected shortfall
could be overcome," says Cuban, "but I would be surprised." ...
The 76ers scrapped plans to attend a workout by 7foot Stanley
Roberts, who was reinstated last month after serving a three-year
suspension for drug use (SI, Dec. 23, 2002). Roberts, 32, is
recovering from ankle surgery and is reportedly carrying 330
pounds, 40 more than his last listed playing weight. Philadelphia
has his rights until Feb. 16; if the team doesn't offer him a
contract by then, he'll become a free agent.... Cavaliers G.M.
Jim Paxson has given his new coach, Keith Smart, two charges:
Play up-tempo to take advantage of Cleveland's youth and
rebounding, and establish whether 6'1" rookie Dajuan Wagner has
the ability to play point guard.