SLOWDOWN IN MOTOWN
Over the last five seasons, only the Lakers (283) and the Bulls (280) have won more games than the Pistons (274). Even last year, when it slipped to 48 wins, Detroit had to be taken seriously. But this year? It says here that even the Nets, the Pacers, the Heat and the Hawks will all win more games than the Pistons.
Some things remain the same in Detroit. Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars are still a formidable backcourt, and center Bill Laimbeer showed in the exhibition season that he's in top form: He was fined $7,500 for a flagrant foul. Rick Mahorn, Laimbeer's former partner in grime, may even re-sign with the Pistons as a free agent after being released by Il Messagero of the Italian League—if he doesn't hook up instead with the Nets, now coached by former Detroit head man Chuck Daly. But these Pistons could be a bad team, and one must wonder if they'll self-destruct before the end of the season.
Dennis Rodman's mysterious boycott finally ended on Monday when he arrived for practice for the first time since the start of preseason. His problem? "I'm not motivated to play" was his standard response. Why? Rodman is going through a messy divorce with his wife, Annie, who several weeks ago went public in The Detroit News with a litany of complaints about Dennis—particularly that he was unfaithful, and that he refused to get an AIDS test, which she had repeatedly requested. Dennis has not responded to her charges.
Despite his return, Rodman is still distressed about the breakup over the last two years of the two-time championship team (1989 and '90), specifically concerning the departure of those Pistons who were closest to him—John Salley, Vinnie Johnson, James Edwards and Daly. When he and Daly met briefly on Oct. 16, during a preseason game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Rodman broke down in tears. He is not tight with new Detroit coach Ronnie Rothstein or with most of his current teammates. And he's definitely not close to Thomas.
The Pistons have tried to trade Rodman, whose rebounding—a league-leading 18.7 average last season—and defensive skill are valued around the league. "Rodman would not fetch a superstar," says Knick president Dave Checketts, "but if a team gets him in the right role and if he can relate to the coach, he's terrific." A possible scenario still has Rodman going to the Kings in exchange for Wayman Tisdale. Rodman's daughter lives with her mother in Sacramento, and he has said he would like to live near her.
Perhaps Rodman is ready to forget his problems and play ball. Perhaps Rothstein's rep as a defensive master will enable Detroit to continue to win those low-scoring games.
Or perhaps we'll see an implosion at The Palace of Auburn Hills this season.
ROOKIES ON DISPLAY?
This just in from the Best Idea We've Heard in a While Department: The league might stage a Rookie All-Star game to replace the NBA Legends game during the 1993 All-Star Weekend, Feb. 20-21 in Salt Lake City. The game would be part of the Saturday lineup that includes the three-point-shooting and dunk events. Rookies who make the regular All-Star teams—Shaquille O'Neal, Christian Laettner, Robert Horry and Clarence Weatherspoon are the best bets—would not play in the rookie game.
This idea couldn't have come at a better time. After two Legends sustained fairly serious injuries last year—Norm Nixon ruptured a quadriceps tendon in his right knee and David Thompson tore a patella tendon in his left knee—it was clearly time to put that game out of its misery. The dunking contest has become a bit stale, too. A rookie game could give a boost to a weekend sorely in need of one.
Franchise player Hakeem Olajuwon, in case you haven't heard, does not care much for his franchise. He and Rocket general manager Steve Patterson have battled over money and Hakeem's attitude, money and Hakeem's supporting cast, money and Hakeem's health, and money. There are only three teams in the NBA—the Knicks, the Magic and the Spurs—that would not salivate over the prospect of having Olajuwon in the middle, but his $3.5 million-a-year contract presents salary-cap problems. Although the Clippers, the Heat and the Sonics all have made strong pitches for Olajuwon, no deal has been consummated.
That may be at least in part because Houston owner Charlie Thomas probably does not want to trade Olajuwon, the Rockets' most valuable player and only star attraction, no matter how bad things get between Olajuwon and Patterson. Thomas is trying to sell the team, and the selling price is certainly affected by Olajuwon's presence.
Houston is a playoff-caliber team, but it missed the 1991-92 postseason, partly because of the distractions caused by Olajuwon's disenchantment. You've got to wonder if Olajuwon has enough professionalism to ignore his problems with management and keep his team afloat.
Two things you didn't know about Bull general manager Jerry Krause:
1) Whenever he and Chicago owner Jerry Reinsdorf both attend a negotiating session, at least one agent refers to Krause as Jake to avoid the confusion of two Jerrys. Krause rather likes the name.
2) Krause does not list agents by name in his telephone book. Instead, he has them all listed under "A."
"That's not strange," says Jake. "I have my barber listed under 'H' for 'hair.' "
If Laettner (left) and Shaq aren't All-Stars, they could meet in a new all-rookie game.