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John (Hot Rod) Williams has four children, named John Jr.,
Johnfrancis, Johnpaul and Johnna, which indicates that when he
finds something he likes, he sticks with it. That's the way
Williams felt about playing for Cleveland for the last nine
seasons. He was comfortable with the Cavs, and there was no
reason to change until they embarked on a youth movement and
began trading away their older and higher-priced talent during
the off-season.

After dealing Mark Price to Washington, the reconstructing
Cavaliers sent Williams, 33, to the Suns for guard Dan Majerle,
forward Antonio Lang and a first-round draft choice. Although
Williams will miss Cleveland, he realizes the Cavs did him a
favor. "They sent me to a place where I have a chance to win a
championship," he says. "I'll be playing with one of the most
talented teams in the league. How can you not feel good about

The Suns feel pretty good about it too. Although he's more
suited to power forward, the 6'11" Williams will be the Suns'
starting center. He should give Phoenix, which finished next to
last in the league in blocked shots last season, the kind of
presence in the middle it badly needs. Against Orlando, New
York, Houston and San Antonio--the teams with the league's top
four pivotmen--the Suns were 8-11 last season (including the
playoffs). Against everyone else they were 57-16.

Before the Suns completed the Williams deal on Oct. 7, Charles
Barkley criticized the front office for not addressing the
team's need for a quality inside player. But after the Williams
trade, Barkley wasn't pleased that Phoenix had given up Majerle,
one of the three players (the other two were Joe Kleine and
Danny Manning) he had wanted on the team "no matter what." "You
can't have it both ways," countered Sun president Jerry Colangelo.

But it's a safe bet that Barkley will come to like the deal once
he sees how Williams's shot-blocking ability toughens the Sun
defense. "Last year when a player got in the lane against us, it
was a layup," says senior executive vice president Cotton
Fitzsimmons. "We couldn't allow that to continue." Williams
isn't the second coming of Bill Russell, but he will definitely
be a presence on defense. His 101 blocked shots last season were
one fewer than the combined totals of Barkley and Manning, the
top two Suns in that category.

Williams can also take some of the low-post scoring burden off
Barkley, especially while Manning continues to recuperate from a
torn anterior cruciate ligament that is expected to keep him out
until December or January. But Manning has already made a major
contribution by helping persuade Barkley to return for his 12th
season. Last summer it was Phoenix guard Danny Ainge who was
mainly responsible for persuading Barkley to drag his
deteriorating body back for another season. This time it was
Manning who subjected Barkley to friendly harassment, calling
him regularly during the summer to encourage him not to retire.

The Suns have plenty of talent to complement Barkley--even
without Manning for the start of the year and despite the
retirement of Ainge, who will be a TNT analyst this season.
Ainge won't pull in the $2 million he made with Phoenix last
year, but he's not worried. "I plan to supplement my income by
continuing to take Charles's money on the golf course," he says.

Phoenix is hoping for a healthier year from Kevin Johnson, who
played in only 47 games last season and has suffered a series of
injuries over the last three years. KJ's medical history is part
of the reason the Suns re-signed his backup, Elliot Perry, to a
six-year, $12 million contract. Perry, a CBA veteran, was one of
the league's best success stories last season when he filled in
superbly for Johnson and suddenly turned himself into a valuable
commodity. "Elliot was playing really well for us last year,"
says Colangelo, "and I went up to him in the locker room and
told him, 'I wish there was something I could do for you right
now, but the time will come.'"

Majerle's departure creates an even bigger role for Wesley
Person, and the Suns are hoping that at least one of their two
first-round draft choices, 6'7" swingman Michael Finley and 6'9"
forward Mario Bennett, will make as immediate an impact as
Person did.

But the biggest difference in the Suns will be Williams, who
wants to win an NBA title before he retires just as badly as
Barkley does. "It's not like my life won't be complete if I
don't get a ring," Barkley says. "But every year I want it a
little bit more." If Barkley, KJ and Manning are healthy at
playoff time, the addition of Hot Rod could give the Suns the
horsepower they need to get Sir Charles his jewelry.

--Phil Taylor

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH With Hot Rod in gear, can Barkley (dunking) and the Suns drive to the Finals? [Overhead view of Charles Barkley]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 110.6 (2) .482 (5)
DEFENSE 106.8 (26) .477 (21)


The Cal Ripken of the NBA? Right now it's A.C. Green of Phoenix,
who last season surpassed Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes and moved
into third place on the league's alltime iron-man list. By
season's end Green had played in 731 consecutive regular-season
games. He would need to keep the streak going through two more
full seasons and into November 1997 to catch Randy Smith, the
alltime-record holder.

Alltime NBA Consecutive
Iron Men Years Games

Randy Smith; Braves, 1971-83 906
Clippers, Cavaliers,
John Kerr; Nationals, 1954-66 844
76ers, Bullets
A.C. Green; Lakers, 1986-present 731
Dolph Schayes; 1951-62 706
Harry Gallatin; 1948-58 682
Knicks, Pistons


Last year, rookie guard Wesley Person won the starting off-guard
spot from Dan Majerle and, as the 23rd pick of the first round,
proved to be the steal of the draft. Person's role will expand
even further this season with the trade of Majerle to Cleveland
and the retirement of Danny Ainge. Person is now the Suns'
primary three-point threat--even in late-game situations, when
Ainge was usually the man. Person's 43.6% accuracy from beyond
the arc last season, seventh best in the league, indicates that
he is worthy of the role. He was the Suns' sixth-leading scorer
in '94-95, with 10.4 points per game, but since he'll have to
help fill the offensive hole created by the absence of injured
forward Danny Manning for the first month or two, look for him
to move up the list this year. "Wesley was everything we hoped
he would be," says team president Jerry Colangelo. "He was
poised and confident. He got better and better as the season
went on, and we have every reason to believe that process is
going to continue. He has a great future in this league."



SF Danny Manning* 17.9 ppg 6.0 rpg 3.3 apg
PF Charles Barkley 23.0 ppg 11.1 rpg 4.1 apg
C John (Hot Rod) Williams 12.6 ppg 6.9 rpg 1.36bpg
PG Kevin Johnson 15.5 ppg 7.7 apg 1.00 spg
SG Wesley Person 10.4 ppg 1.3 apg 43.6 3FG%


F A.C. Green 11.2 ppg 8.2 rpg 50.4 FG%
G Elliot Perry 9.7 ppg 4.8 apg 1.90 spg
F-G Michael Finley Rookie; 21st overall pick,
from Wisconsin

*Will begin season on injured list