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Pippen's a Pip

Opponents of the Bulls have long feared exactly what seems to have happened in Chicago—the transformation of forward Scottie Pippen from a gifted but erratic athlete into a player of near-Michael Jordan ability and consistency. Since Feb. 22, after he finally made public his long-simmering resentment over his $765,000 contract for 1990-91, Pippen has been playing as well as anyone in the NBA, averaging 20.5 points on 67.1% shooting, 6.5 rebounds and 6.7 assists over 12 games. During that time, the Bulls won 11, and at week's end they boasted the best record in the league (48-15).

But what about Pippen's complaints? Because Jordan and backup center Stacey King have already leveled shots at Bulls management this season—Jordan decried the Bulls' lack of depth and King griped about lack of laying time—does Pippen's outburst complete a portrait of a team in turmoil?

Absolutely not. On Monday, The Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls and Pippen were near agreement on a lucrative contract extension. Beyond that, what the little-used King (who makes about $1 million a year) thinks about his lack of minutes is not of much concern to anyone. Finally, the most wrongheaded theory of the year is the one that says the Bulls are adversely affected by Jordan's feud with general manager Jerry Krause.

As one Bull who desires anonymity says, "Jerry isn't around us nearly enough to be a factor." Dissatisfaction with the Chicago front office, particularly its pursuit (probably fruitless) of Yugoslavian guard Toni Kukoc, has united the players more than it has torn them apart.

A potentially more damaging situation for the Bulls is Jordan's tendency to criticize his teammates for lack of support and, in turn, their sniping at him for taking too many shots. The Bulls have discussed both subjects in team meetings, and reports that team harmony has broken down are vastly overblown.

The fact remains that the Bulls have had only one big failure: Like everyone else around the league, they haven't been able to beat Detroit. The Bulls have probably been the NBA's second-best team in the last two seasons, and it's painfully obvious that what they need to become the best is more consistent postseason play out of Pippen. This might be the year they get it.

Glad to Be Here

Gone are the days when the NBA looked to the CBA call-ups solely as emergency 12th men. Now CBAers frequently find that their services are actually needed when they report to the big clubs. Steady, dependable backcourt play seems to be particularly in vogue. Here are our choices for an all-star team of players who began the season on CBA rosters.

Mario Elie, American International, forward-guard, Warriors. The ex-Albany Patroon played high school ball with Warrior star Chris Mullin in New York. Now, Warrior coach Don Nelson has found a scorer off the bench in Elie, who was signed Feb. 28 not only for the rest of this season but also for '91-92, albeit on a make-good basis.

Anthony Frederick, Pepperdine, forward, Kings. A 1986 Nugget draft pick, Frederick was called up from Oklahoma City and has recently begun to make an impact for the Kings, scoring 22 points and grabbing seven rebounds against the Warriors on March 10. The Kings have signed him for the rest of the season.

Henry James, St. Mary's (Texas), forward-guard, Cavs. The almost unknown swingman, who moved up from Wichita Falls (Texas) on Dec. 31, still finds steady time in an injury-depleted rotation.

Jim Les, Bradley, point guard, Kings. An Omaha Racer when the season began, Les is now a sometime starter for the Kings. He had 17 assists against the SuperSonics on March 2.

Andre Turner, Memphis State, point guard, 76ers. He is player of the year on this all-star team, averaging 5.5 points and 4.3 assists as the backup to Rickey Green. Over the past five seasons Turner has been shuttling between the CBA and the NBA, having had stints with the Celtics, Rockets, Bucks, Clippers and Hornets while keeping a kind of home base with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Catbirds. If point guard Johnny Dawkins, out with a knee injury, is back next fall, Turner might find himself in LaCrosse again. But only for a while.

Attacking the Mailman

Is Karl Malone of the Jazz a dirty player? That was the charge made by the Hawks' Dominique Wilkins after Atlanta lost to Utah 116-105 on Jan. 29 at the Salt Palace. The allegation was noteworthy because NBA superstars generally refrain from public catfights. "You don't usually see that kind of thing at our level," said Malone last week.

The incident that started the fuss occurred when Malone sent Sidney Moncrief sprawling late in the first period. After the game, Wilkins told reporters that he marched up to the Mailman and uttered words to this effect: "You're a cheap-shot artist. You're not a man. You always go out there to hurt somebody smaller than you."

Malone and Wilkins spoke at the All-Star Game—at 'Nique's request, says Malone—and Wilkins apologized for being too harsh. But what he said was so strong that it continues to bother Malone.

"I consider myself a hard, physical player who takes a lot of punishment and gives some out, too, but I'm not a dirty player," Malone said last week.

The league office subscribes to that view. Rod Thorn, the NBA's director of operations, viewed a tape of the Moncrief incident and said he saw nothing malicious or deliberate in Malone's actions. Is the Mailman getting a bum rap? "He does a lot of things other guys do," says Rocket forward Otis Thorpe. "He just has more power behind it."

Still, controversy will continue to follow Malone. There are players who feel, as Sonics forward Derrick McKey does, that Malone steps over the line. "Sometimes they [physical players like Malone] may do things without knowing it, but other times they do it intentionally to intimidate you," said McKey. "They are aware of what they are doing and guys can get hurt because of it."

As the focal point of Utah's offense, Malone is engaged in a never-ending struggle to get position near the basket, while his opponents are engaged in a never-ending battle to keep him away. He's the source of punishment, but he's also the recipient, and he gets frustrated and sometimes lashes out.

NBA guidelines on how much and what kind of contact is allowed in postup situations need to be refined and universally applied. Now that there are three referees on the court, that should be possible.

Speaking of which....

The Third Ref

Concerned about overly physical play and fights that began away from the ball, the NBA went to a three-referee system at the start of the '87-88 season. And though it now costs about $2 million extra (in salaries, benefits, travel costs, etc.) to have six eyes watching every game, league officials say they would not consider going back to four eyes.

Thorn lists two major advantages to having the extra ref: better court coverage to make calls and more opportunity to bring along younger officials. Surprisingly, personal fouls have gone down (about one per game) since the third ref was added. "Players adjust and know they can't get away with as much," says Thorn. Furthermore, incidents of fighting have been cut almost in half. At the same time, detection of some violations has increased under the new system. Illegal defense calls are up 15%, and traveling and three-second calls are each up about 10%.

"All in all," says Thorn, "we think the third ref has been a big plus."

Do the coaches and general managers agree? Well, yes, according to the results of this week's poll. Asked whether the three-ref system had a positive or negative effect on the game, 12 voters said positive, six said negative, three said it had a mixed effect, and one abstained.

The response of one of the "mixed" voters, a Western Conference coach, speaks to both sides of the issue. "It has definitely cut back on hard, dirty play off the ball," he said. "But the thing I don't like is there's too much passing of the buck. With two refs, if a guy saw it, he called it. In this system, somebody's always saying, 'Hey, it wasn't my call.' "

Most of the "positive" voters praised the added coverage provided by three refs and said that initial resistance to the third official, who tends to be younger and less experienced, has eased. "I would hate to see us go back to the old system," said Clipper coach Mike Schuler. That doesn't appear to be likely.



Pippen (33) has been a raging Bull this season on the court and in front-office talks alike.



Constantly battling for position, Malone (32) gives punishment and takes it in equal measure.