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Original Issue


The numbers lie--or so the Sonics say. For the season, Denver
center Ervin Johnson has outscored his successor in Seattle, Jim
McIlvaine (6.9 points a game to 4.0), outrebounded him (10.6 to
3.8) and outswatted him (2.6 blocks to 2.3). And he has done it
at a bargain price. The Sonics signed McIlvaine, 24, to a
seven-year, $35 million deal in the off-season, while Johnson,
29, jumped to the Nuggets for $15 million over seven years.
"Ervin is playing up to his potential better than any player on
our team," says Denver coach Dick Motta.

But the Sonics insist they have no regrets about their spending
spree for McIlvaine, who, at 7'1" and 260 pounds, has two inches
and 15 pounds on Johnson. "We played Indiana and did not have to
double Rik Smits," says assistant coach Bob Weiss. "Even when
you're going to double a guy like him or Shaq, you have an extra
second to do it. People who don't know what's going on think
we're unhappy with Jim." Adds forward Sam Perkins, "We needed a
bigger body than Erv, somebody who could guard the big centers
and wear them down, and Mac's brought that ever since training

Around the league most believe the Sonics did well for
themselves. "I love Ervin," says Portland coach P.J. Carlesimo,
"but when you look at Jim, with his youth and defensive
capabilities, giving them an eraser, it's more what they need."
One Western Conference center says, "They wanted to sign
McIlvaine for defensive purposes, and I do think he's the better
shot blocker."

Still, McIlvaine has a glaring weakness that could haunt the
Sonics in the playoffs: He's a 46.2% foul shooter. Says Boston
forward Frank Brickowski, "That means you can't play him near
the end of the game, and that's when you need your defensive
stopper on the floor."


COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS McIlvaine's defense has delighted Seattle. [Jim McIlvaine in game]