HAIL AND GOOD RIDDANCE
Two summers ago, when Jason Kidd was paired with Michael Jordan
in a celebrity golf tournament, a casual acquaintance of
Kidd's--Danny Ainge--saved him from a potentially grueling
afternoon. "Playing with Michael is almost like being on the PGA
Tour," Kidd says. "He just piles on the pressure, but Danny
helped me through it."
Now Kidd, who was traded from the Mavericks to the Suns on Dec.
26, is paired with Ainge, Phoenix's rookie coach. And Ainge's
task will be to get his new point guard comfortably installed
with the Suns after a trade that has left Phoenix hopeful and
Dallas under fire for yet another questionable transaction.
(Remember Detlef Schrempf for Herb Williams? Dale Ellis for Al
The on-court impact of the deal won't be evident for a while;
Kidd suffered a hairline fracture of his right collarbone 20
minutes into his first game for Phoenix, a 103-98 win over the
Grizzlies, and is expected to be out for at least a month. But
this much is already clear: The trade that sent Kidd, guard Tony
Dumas and center-forward Loren Meyer to the Suns for guard Sam
Cassell and forwards Michael Finley and A.C. Green--whose
contract (three years remaining at almost $15.8 million) had
become a salary-cap albatross for Phoenix--left the Suns with a
franchise player and some valuable room under the cap. While
Finley is a budding talent and Cassell a tough, savvy player,
neither has the skills or the potential of Kidd, co-Rookie of
the Year in 1994-95. Moreover, Cassell will almost certainly
become a free agent this summer. Knowing Dallas must re-sign him
to prevent an already suspect trade from becoming a disaster, he
is hinting that he wants $50 million for seven years.
So why did the Mavericks send Kidd packing? Dallas sources say
the enthusiastic rookie they had selected with the No. 2 pick in
the 1994 draft had soured into an unhappy player whose
leadership qualities always were tepid and whose work ethic had
faltered. Kidd feuded with backcourt mate Jimmy Jackson last
season, and this season he openly questioned the controlled
offensive system of first-year coach Jim Cleamons. Yet observers
around the league remain puzzled about why the Mavs gave up on
Kidd, who's just 23.
Had Dallas moved earlier, it might have gotten more from Phoenix
for Kidd. When the Suns were trying to trade Charles Barkley
last summer, they called the Mavericks to inquire about Kidd and
were told he was untouchable. About six weeks ago, sources
around the league say, when the Mavs offered shooting forward
Jamal Mashburn to Phoenix, the Suns reiterated their interest in
Kidd. The answer was still no. But as Kidd's relationship with
Cleamons deteriorated, the Dallas brass changed its thinking.
"Is Jason Kidd a talented player?" Cleamons said last weekend.
"Yes. But we needed other qualities as well."
Kidd is convinced that the Mavs are trying to make him look bad.
He says that after the trade they leaked information that he had
been in an early-morning car accident--as a passenger--on Dec.
11, the same day he began suffering from shoulder and neck
problems that hindered his play in his final weeks in Dallas.
Kidd insists a hit he absorbed in a game against the Clippers on
Dec. 10, not the accident, caused his injuries.
Ainge says that leaving Dallas is a blessing for Kidd. "When I
first saw Jason play, I never saw anyone more passionate about
the game," he says. "This year I didn't see it. We think a
change of scenery will rejuvenate him." The deal should help
rejuvenate the Suns too. They have added a blue-chip talent
whose contract runs for six seasons after this one, but they
still will have close to $8.6 million to spend when the members
of the first rookie salary-cap class become free agents in the
summer of 1998.
Meanwhile, at week's end Dallas was continuing to test the value
of Mashburn (talks with the Pacers involved forward Derrick
McKey) and Jackson (the Clippers were eyeing various packages
that would revolve around their re-signing and then trading
free-agent center Brian Williams to the Mavericks).
SO SUE THEM
It used to be simple: If an NBA coach got fired, he would be
fully compensated for any time remaining on his contract. No more.
When the Knicks sacked Don Nelson last March after only eight
months on the job, they owed him $3.7 million on a three-year,
$5 million deal. But New York ceased paying him in October after
learning from Hornets ownership that he had made some
disparaging remarks about then Knicks forward Anthony Mason when
Charlotte coach Dave Cowens called soliciting his opinion last
summer. New York informed him that by making such comments he
had violated his contract. (Charlotte acquired Mason anyway.)
The Knicks, who declined to talk about the specifics of the
case, and Nelson settled their dispute just before the holidays.
Nelson's take is now only $3.2 million. "I'm going to kill
Cowens," says Nelson. "That phone call cost me $500,000."
Nelson tells SI he is also being sued by another of his former
clubs, the Warriors, who hope to retrieve the $1 million buyout
they paid him when he resigned under pressure in 1995. Nelson
says Golden State is claiming that once he was hired by the
Knicks he was no longer entitled to the money. In a prepared
statement Warriors counsel Robin Baggett confirmed the club was
"in disagreement over coach Nelson's obligation to repay certain
"It's a disgrace," Nelson says. "Teams don't want to pay up, so
they try to get you to make a bad deal. Either that, or they
drag you into court so you can ring up some legal fees."
Last summer when the Lakers cleaned house to create salary-cap
room to sign center Shaquille O'Neal, there was concern that
their bench would be too thin this season. It hasn't been
because help has come from two surprising rookies--big man
Travis Knight, out of Connecticut, who has provided limited yet
valuable minutes backing up Shaq, and poised point guard Derek
Fisher, the 24th overall pick out of Arkansas-Little Rock. In a
Dec. 29 win against the Sixers, Knight had 13 points and 10
boards in 24 minutes, and Fisher had 12 points in 15 minutes.
Five nights later Knight, playing 25 minutes because O'Neal was
out with a sprained right ankle, scored 12 points as the Lakers
beat the Kings 100-93.
Lakers general manager Jerry West grabbed Knight after the
Bulls, who had picked him 29th in the draft, released him when
he wouldn't agree to go overseas to develop his game. The
success of Fisher and Knight has cut into the playing time of
the Lakers' third and most celebrated rookie, 18-year-old Kobe
Bryant. "He's a sensational prospect," West says. "It's scary to
see what might be out there for him." The Kings got a
frightening glimpse in the Lakers' win last Friday when Bryant
contributed 21 points in 22 minutes. Our L.A. spies tell us the
6'6" Bryant has been spending extra practice time working on his
ball handling skills and that West is grooming him to be the
Lakers' point guard.
LINE OF THE WEEK
Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell, Jan. 3 against the Sixers: 50
MIN, 13-26 FG, 39 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists. In leading
Golden State to a 122-114 overtime win, Sprewell evinced only
one weakness--going 1 for 8 from beyond the three-point line.
AROUND THE RIM
Forget about Charles Barkley trying to "fit in" with fellow
Rockets superstars Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. Barkley
has already become indispensable. Consider that through Sunday,
Houston was 22-5 when he played and 2-3 when he didn't....
Already J.R. Rider's tally with the Trail Blazers includes four
missed shootarounds and two suspensions.... The Celtics would
like to move guard Dee Brown to the Pistons for swingman Stacey
Augmon, who is buried at the end of coach Doug Collins's bench.
COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH/NBA PHOTOS In his first appearance as a Sun, Kidd had a tantalizing nine assists and seven rebounds in 20 minutes. [Jason Kidd]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Cool-handed Fisher looks to be another steal for West. [Derek Fisher]