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When Dennis Rodman packed up his nose rings, hair dyes and
myriad distractions and slouched off to Chicago in the trade for
center Will Perdue on Oct. 2, a collective sigh of relief swept
through San Antonio. "It was like a zoo last year," says center
David Robinson. "Now we'll be able to just focus on basketball.
There won't be any of that other garbage. Everyone is relieved."

Everyone was feeling something else, too: regret over what might
have been had Rodman, who missed 33 games and numerous
practices last year due to sulks, suspensions and injuries, been
more of a team player. "We had a championship-caliber group of
guys with Dennis," said Robinson.

So what do the Spurs have now?

They have essentially what they had before they got Rodman from
the Pistons in a trade for Sean Elliott (page 124) two years
ago--a rosterful of players who show up to practice on time, work
hard and retain their natural hair color, but who lack a certain
physicality and nasty edge. "We are a quiet bunch," says
Elliott, who rejoined the team in the summer of '94. "We are
probably the best team, getting along-wise, in the league."

The fact that the Spurs were willing to trade Rodman and his
16.8 rebounds a game to the Bulls for Perdue, a center whose
eight points and 6.7 rebounds a game are less distinguished than
his league-leading size 21AAAAA feet, shows that harmony is of
paramount importance to the organization. But unlike the
pre-Rodman Spurs, this team has seen the promised land and feels
it was turned back prematurely. In the Western Conference Finals
the Spurs lost 4-2 to Houston, a team they had dominated in the
regular season. "I think our guys were a little in awe when they
reached the conference finals," says coach Bob Hill. "They'll
know what to expect the next time. I think to a man we still
think we should have defeated Houston."

One man who has probably thought that often is Robinson. Just
weeks after winning the league MVP award for leading the Spurs
to an NBA-best 62 regular-season wins, he was dismantled by
Rocket center Hakeem Olajuwon. Afterward, Robinson said, "For
the first time in my life, I felt like I let my teammates down."
If that feeling lingers, it may give Robinson what some critics
feel he has lacked: an Olajuwon-like commitment to winning.

After a year in exile with the Pistons, Elliott returned to the
Spurs in '94-95 with a new appreciation for winning. His
scoring, which had taken a dip in Detroit, made a rebound to
18.1 points a game. Speaking of rebounds, though, Elliott
doesn't get many. His 3.5 boards a game will have to increase
this year.

In his first season with the Spurs, the well-traveled Chuck
Person stoked the offense with 10.8 points a game before his
touch inexplicably disappeared in the playoffs. Like Elliott,
Person has never displayed a lust for rebounds; his 3.2 boards a
game won't do much to fill the gap left by Rodman's departure.
Most of that burden will fall to J.R. Reid and ex-Rocket Carl
Herrera, who will time-share the power-forward spot. They are
both better scorers than Rodman--who isn't?--but their combined
rebounds per game last year (9.5) were hardly Wormlike.

San Antonio's backcourt was its most improved feature last year.
Freed from point-guard responsibilities by the return of Avery
Johnson (who had spent a year with the Warriors), Vinny Del
Negro had his best season yet, connecting on 49% of his shots
and scoring 12.5 points a game. And Johnson, with his 13.4
points a game, became just the fifth player in NBA history to
improve his scoring average in each of his first seven seasons.
But his other contributions, including his 8.2 assists and his
fiery pregame prayers, were just as notable. Says Hill, "Avery
had a tremendous year, but he can still elevate his game and
become more effective."

Johnson will find further backcourt inspiration in the wisdom of
34-year-old backup Doc Rivers and in the youth and tenacity of
rookie Cory Alexander, the 29th overall draft pick, from
Virginia. Alexander, a versatile passer and hard-nosed defender,
missed his junior year and the last 14 games of his senior
season because he broke his right ankle, twice. He's ready to go
now, and G.M. Gregg Popovich says, "Cory always figures he's
better than the guy he's going against. He has the right
attitude to make it in this league." That's the attitude the
post-Rodman Spurs need.


COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Bested by Olajuwon, MVP Robinson is gunning for revenge--and a ring. [Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson]



PPG (Rank) FG% (Rank)

OFFENSE 106.6 (4) .484 (4)
DEFENSE 100.6 (12) .454 (7)


When the Spurs hired Bob Hill as coach in '94, it raised a few
eyebrows. Many figured that San Antonio, fresh from a
disappointing first-round loss in the '94 playoffs, would go for
a marquee name. Instead they hired a coach with a 133-154
lifetime NBA record who had never led a team out of the first
round. But Hill had the last laugh, not only leading the Spurs
to the best record in the league, but also becoming only the
sixth coach in NBA history to win 60 or more games in his first
year with a team. If history holds true to form, Hill should
have another successful season; three of those previous five
coaches also won 60 games in their second year with their teams,
and the two others won at least 54 games.

Coaches Who Won 60 or More Games in Their First Year with a Team

1966-67 Bill Russell, Celtics

First year W-L (Pct.)
60-21 (.741)

[First year] Playoff result
Lost conference finals

Second year W-L (Pct.)
54-28 (.659)

1971-72 Bill Sharman, Lakers

[First year W-L (Pct.)]
69-13 (.841)

[First year Playoff result]
Won NBA championship

[Second year W-L (Pct.)]
60-22 (.732)

1979-80 Bill Fitch, Celtics

[First year W-L (Pct.)]
61-21 (.743)

[First year Playoff result]
Lost conference finals

[Second year W-L (Pct.)]
62-20 (.756)

1983-84 K.C. Jones, Celtics

[First year W-L (Pct.)]
62-20 (.756)

[First year Playoff result]
Won NBA championship

[Second year W-L (Pct.)]
63-19 (.768)

1992-93 Paul Westphal, Suns

[First year W-L (Pct.)]
62-20 (.756)

[First year Playoff result]
Lost NBA Finals

[Second year W-L (Pct.)]
56-26 (.683)

1994-95 Bob Hill, Spurs

[First year W-L (Pct.)]
62-20 (.756)

[First year Playoff result]
Lost conference finals

[Second year W-L (Pct.)]


With Dennis Rodman gone, J.R. Reid will finally have a chance to
fulfill the promise that inspired Charlotte to select him with
the fifth overall pick in 1989. Last year, Reid's scoring
average (7.0) nearly matched Rodman's (7.1), but his 4.9
rebounds were a far cry from Rodman's 16.8. "Nobody is going to
think that I'm a rebounder like Dennis," says Reid. "But I can
bring different things to the team." With Rodman benched for
insubordination in Game 4 of the Spurs' second-round playoff
series against the Lakers, Reid stepped in and scored eight of
his 15 points in a game-breaking 11-0 run. Now the Spurs will
need that spark from Reid all season long.


STARTERS 1994-95 Key Statistics

SF Sean Elliott 18.1 ppg 3.5 rpg 40.8 3FG%
PF J.R. Reid 7.0 ppg 4.9 rpg 50.8 FG%
C David Robinson 27.6 ppg 10.8 rpg 3.23 bpg
PG Avery Johnson 13.4 ppg 8.2 apg 1.39 spg
SG Vinny Del Negro 12.5 ppg 3.0 apg 40.7 3FG%


F Chuck Person 10.8 ppg 3.2 rpg 38.7 3FG%
F Carl Herrera 6.8 ppg 4.6 rpg 52.3 FG%
G Doc Rivers 5.1 ppg 2.6 apg 1.03 spg