MULLIN' OVER A TRADE
As if the Warriors didn't have enough problems--with a 1-15
record against winning teams through Sunday, forward Donyell
Marshall suspended for one game after an argument on Dec. 31
with assistant coach George Irvine, and guard Mark Price
storming out of practice on Jan. 2 after disputing a noncall in
a scrimmage--now forward Chris Mullin, the pillar of Golden
State for the last 12 seasons, wants out.
Team and league sources say that the 33-year-old Mullin, a
five-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist who has
never gone further in the post-season than the conference
semifinals, has asked the Warriors to trade him to a title
contender. The sources also say that probable playoff teams from
both conferences--include the Pacers and the Magic on that
list--have inquired about Mullin. But Golden State is intent on
getting what it considers equal value for its co-captain (with
guard Latrell Sprewell) and alltime steals leader, who at week's
end was averaging 14.3 points per game. That may not be easy,
given that since the 1992-93 season Mullin has missed 141 of 366
games because of a variety of injuries (among them, sprained
knee and torn thumb and finger ligaments).
Former Warriors center Rony Seikaly, whom Golden State traded to
Orlando in November, says Mullin's frustration is bubbling over.
"Mully wants out--badly," says Seikaly. "But the Warriors aren't
even showing him enough respect to let him go. A class guy like
Chris, who is all about team, and he's stuck there. It's sad."
Mullin would not talk to SI about his desire to leave Golden
State. When asked if Mullin had requested a trade, Warriors
general manager Dave Twardzik responded, "I'm sorry. Even if he
did, I'd never say."
While his Golden State teammates are hesitant to rock an already
shaky boat, two of them (who asked not to be identified) say
Mullin's unhappiness has been apparent for months. They say he
feels like an afterthought in the Warriors' offense. (He was
averaging 10.1 shots in 35.3 minutes through Sunday.) Moreover,
according to the two players, Mullin feels Golden State is
directionless, on and off the court. Last month he and other
players complained that the Warriors' practice facility, in
Moraga, is too long a ride (about 50 miles) from the San Jose
Arena, where the Warriors are playing this season while
renovations are completed on Oakland Coliseum Arena.
Although Sprewell and power forward Joe Smith are having monster
years, last Saturday's 108-93 loss at Minnesota left Golden
State at 15-23 and mired in fifth place in the seven-team
Pacific Division. The Warriors had surrendered 103.4 points a
game, the second most in the league. Twardzik insists that coach
Rick Adelman's job is not in jeopardy, although Twardzik
concedes being disappointed in Golden State's poor showing. "I
knew we might be taking a step backward," he says, referring to
the many personnel moves that have altered the roster and team
chemistry in the last three seasons, "but I didn't know we'd
take two steps backward." (Last week the Warriors were
discussing yet another swap, which would send guard B.J.
Armstrong to the Pistons for swingman Stacey Augmon.)
Golden State's reluctance to deal Mullin might be the result of
its recent history of ill-fated trades. They date back to 1994,
when Don Nelson was the coach and disgruntled forward Chris
Webber said he would re-sign with the Warriors only if they had
a trade for him worked out within 48 hours after the signing.
That November, Golden State duly shipped Webber to the Bullets
for forward Tom Gugliotta and three first-round choices. Three
months later Gugliotta was sent to the Timberwolves for
Marshall, who was the No. 4 pick in the '94 draft and has been a
bust. Last season, when point guard Tim Hardaway became
disillusioned with Warriors management, he and forward-center
Chris Gatling were dealt to the Heat. Last fall Seikaly, too,
openly campaigned for a trade and went to the Magic. It hasn't
helped the image of Golden State's management that at week's end
Gatling (now with the Mavericks), Gugliotta and Webber led their
teams in scoring and Hardaway was being mentioned as a potential
Mullin has not gone public with his disenchantment. He has been
a company man throughout his career in the Bay Area, and, team
sources say, he would rather not force a trade by resorting to
disruptive behavior. That's why the Warriors should follow the
lead of the Nets, who in 1989 traded their loyal, long-suffering
forward Buck Williams to the Trail Blazers for center Sam Bowie
and a draft pick. After all Williams's years of service, New
Jersey felt he deserved a chance to win it all.
So does Mullin.
THE TALK OF THE HAWKS
When Hawks guard Steve Smith learned last February that Atlanta
had acquired forward-center Christian Laettner from the
Timberwolves, he cringed. "Because of what I'd read, I was
expecting the worst," says Smith. "A whiner. A crybaby."
"You hear the stories," says Hawks center Dikembe Mutombo, a
Nugget at the time of the deal, "and you wonder if he could
really be that big of a jerk."
Laettner, aware that his image had preceded him, kept a low
profile. "I was hoping the Hawks would allow me to prove their
preconceived notions wrong," he says.
After Monday's 106-97 win over the Hornets at The Omni, Atlanta
had won 17 straight home games and stood third in the Central
Division with a 26-11 record. A key to the upward flight has
been Laettner. Mutombo's arrival as a free agent allowed
Laettner to shift from the pivot to power forward, his natural
position, and the results have been startling. Through Monday,
Laettner was leading Atlanta in scoring (19.5 average)
and--belying his reputation for selfishness--has been among the
Hawks most concerned about ball movement. "We definitely play
team basketball," says Laettner. "Some other teams play
one-on-one or two-on-two. I'd rather be here."
In his 3 1/2 seasons in Minnesota, Laettner played for four
coaches (Jimmy Rodgers, Sidney Lowe, Bill Blair and Flip
Saunders) and showed little regard for any of them. But his
criticism last season of rookie Kevin Garnett--criticism most
people in the Timberwolves' organization viewed as pure
jealousy--is what led Minnesota to trade him. In Atlanta,
Laettner has spoken more softly and carried the big shot. His
scoring and rebounding (8.9) have won his new team over.
"Chris's biggest problem was he wasn't used to losing," Smith
says. "That's not an issue here."
LINE OF THE WEEK
Sonics forward-center Sam Perkins, Jan. 15 against the Raptors:
23 minutes, 8-8 field goals, 26 points, 3 steals, 1 block. All
of Perkins's field goals were three-pointers, tying the NBA
record for most treys in a game without a miss, held by the
Jazz's Jeff Hornacek, who performed the feat against Seattle on
Nov. 23, 1994. Perkins's steals helped contribute to the Sonics'
total of 27, which broke the league record of 25 set by the
Warriors in 1975 and equaled by them in 1989.
AROUND THE RIM
Clippers guard Brent Barry was banged up early in the season
(sprained right thumb, sore back) and has not found his way back
into coach Bill Fitch's rotation. Fitch wants less showboating
(a reason, perhaps, that Barry has declined to defend his
All-Star weekend slam-dunk title?) and more defense from him.
"What's Fitch's problem?" asks the Hawks' Jon Barry, Brent's
brother. "Brent didn't play defense last year, either."...The
Celtics, whose All-Star swingman and captain, Reggie Lewis, died
of a heart ailment in 1993, and whose swingman, Eric Williams,
experienced an irregular heartbeat last fall, have purchased a
lightweight, portable cardiac defibrillator to keep
courtside....One overlooked detail of the Jan. 10 trade that
sent forward Robert Horry from the Suns to the Lakers: It
enables L.A. to give some rest to forward Jerome Kersey, 34.
After playing 27.8 minutes a night, which he was doing until
Horry arrived, Kersey averaged 20 minutes in Horry's first three
games as a Laker.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Mullin would like a shot at a title, but Golden State is wary of making another bad trade. [Chris Mullin in game]
COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER As a power forward, Laettner (32) has shown a winning touch. [Christian Laettner in game]