Before last Thursday night's game at Houston, Sun coach Paul Westphal had just finished diagramming a play designed for Negele Knight when Danny Ainge spoke up. "Get it off quick, Negele," Ainge said. "You've only got 20 minutes."
It was a bit of gallows humor directed at Knight's head, which was one of many on the NBA trading block. However, the 8 p.m. (CST) deadline came and went, and Knight was still a Sun. More significant, Dennis Rodman was still a Piston, Danny Manning was still a Clipper, and Jimmy Jackson was still the unsigned property of the Mavericks.
The Clippers had backed off of full-scale efforts to trade Manning a couple of weeks ago, though they still would have dealt him to Detroit if Rodman were the prize (the Pistons weren't interested). Talks between Detroit and Phoenix, however, were hot and heavy. At one point on Thursday, in fact, the Suns thought they had Rodman in exchange for Knight and forwards Cedric Ceballos and Jerrod Mustaf. But the Pistons, according to one source, "kept changing the deal." As the clock moved toward the deadline, for example, Detroit asked Phoenix to replace Mustaf with starting center Mark West.
The real hang-up: The Pistons wouldn't part with Rodman unless the Suns gave up hot rookie Richard Dumas, a demand that, as had already been made clear to Detroit, Phoenix was not about to meet.
The Mavs had at least two good opportunities to unload the rights to Jackson, the Ohio State All-America whom they picked No. 4 in last spring's draft and have since been unable to sign, but Jackson's Cleveland-based agent, Mark (Turndown) Termini, scuttled both by making it clear that his client wouldn't sign with either of the proposed teams. The most intriguing of those deals was a three-way arrangement involving the Lakers and the Bucks. For the rights to Jackson, L.A. would send center Vlade Divac to Milwaukee, while Dallas would get, from the Bucks, Fred Roberts, Moses Malone and Jon Barry. Laker general manager Jerry West gave Jackson two options: 1) If Jackson played the remainder of the season, he would receive about $1 million (the amount Divac's departure would open up for L.A. under the salary cap), and 2) if he stayed in school, Jackson would still be paid $190,000, the league minimum for first-rounders. In either case, the Lakers would offer Jackson a contract for next season at what one source described as "Christian Laettner-type numbers," about $11 million for four years. Termini says he nixed the deal on the grounds that Jackson needs to recoup the nearly $2 million he has already lost by not accepting the Mavs' last offer—about $10 million over four years. Good luck.
Another Jackson scenario involved the Warriors, who would have given Dallas guard Sarunas Marciulionis and forward Chris Gatling for the rights to Jackson. Termini also terminated that one.
The Knicks, too, would have taken Jackson, along with the heart and soul of the Mavericks, point guard Derek Harper, in exchange for guards Greg Anthony and Hubert Davis, forward Tony Campbell and center Tim McCormick. Wisely, the Mavs gave a thumbs-down.
The Mavs can still deal Jackson between the final playoff game and draft day, June 30, on which Jackson would become eligible to be picked by any team.
What can one now conclude about the Termini-Jackson strategy? No one in the NBA has any idea. If Termini is looking for more than $2 million for his client to play this season, there's only one place he'll get it—Dallas. Team owner Donald Carter would still sign Jackson. If that happens, the NBA's single-season record for irony would surely be shattered.
C'MON, COACH K
After Duke beat visiting Georgia Tech 73-63 on Feb. 10, Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked why his team, which trailed at halftime, had started slowly. "We were playing NBA defense," said Coach K. "No help."
Such a ludicrous statement might be expected from someone who has never been around the pros or from someone like Bobby Knight of Indiana, who likes to trash the NBA. But as an assistant U.S. Olympic coach, Krzyzewski spent part of last summer with defensive demons like David Robinson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, so he should know enough not to perpetuate a myth that deserved to die long ago.
Concerned about the sorry state of the Mavericks, who were 4-48 at week's end? Worried that those 13-38 Timberwolves are still light-years from the playoffs? Discouraged by a dilution of the NBA talent pool? The league office isn't.
It's a virtual certainty that at least one team and possibly two will be added to the league, probably after the conclusion of the 1995-96 season. And it's a lock that Toronto will get a team. The NBA already has one application from Toronto, and at least three other groups in that city are mustering their resources to make a bid for a franchise.
The fee for each new team will be somewhere between $80 million and $100 million. The NBA has kicked around the $100 million figure, but Canadian sources believe it will be closer to $80 million, which is still $5 million more than the recent selling price of the playoff-bound Spurs. The last four teams to join the league—the Heat, the Hornets, the Magic and the Timberwolves—each paid only $32.5 million for the privilege.
Why Canada? Because it's ripe for a new game. The NBA was not in what commissioner David Stern calls "an expansion mode" until it received an application from the Toronto investors known as the Palestra Group, headed by local businessman Lawrence Tanenbaum. Soon came avid expressions of interest from the other Toronto groups—all of them on firm financial footing in the eyes of the NBA—and even some nibbles from groups representing Vancouver.
All of that interest set off the magic two-word bell in Stern's head—global market. Further, the league was impressed by Toronto's baseball success (the Blue Jays drew 4,028,318 fans last season, tops in the majors) and by the fact that Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson consistently finish ahead of hockey players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux in Canadian popularity polls.
Can you whistle O Canada!?
Several of SI's panelists answered this week's question—who is this season's most surprising rookie?—with a question of their own: "That Richard Dumas guy," they asked. "Is he a rookie?"
He is. And the Suns' starling small forward got five of the 16 votes—by the Bullets' Michael Adams, the Pistons' Joe Dumars ("And not because my name sounds like his," Dumars said), the Sonics' Eddie Johnson, the Kings' Wayman Tisdale and the Hawks' Dominique Wilkins. Dumas would've gotten Danny Ainge's vote too, but panelists can't vote for a teammate. Seven other players got at least one vote; only the Bullets' Tom Gugliotta (three votes) challenged Dumas.
Shaquille O'Neal of the Magic and the Rockets' Robert Horry each got two votes, though the Jazz's Karl Malone insisted on casting co-votes for Horry and the Kings' Walt Williams.
Among the yearlings to get one vote were the Suns' Oliver Miller, the Timberwolves' Laettner, the Spurs' Lloyd Daniels and the Hornets' Alonzo Mourning, the top rookie—Shaq aside.
Schayes had the best line, nudging the unsigned Jackson: "He's really the biggest surprise. I expected him to be a dumb rookie, but he's way past that."
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
The Lakers dangled Divac to lure Jackson to L.A., but Jackson said he would rather pass.
DAVID E. KLUTHO
Coach K gets an F in NBA D.
Surprising rookies? The Kings' Williams (left) is one of many.