ALL-STAR REALITY CHECK
Quit pouting, Chris Webber. Sorry you didn't make the East
All-Star team, and, yes, I did notice that you're a 20-and-10
guy (20.0 points and 10.0 rebounds a game through Sunday, to be
exact). I also duly noted that you've played in 44 of your
team's 45 games without so much as a hangnail, after having
missed 86 games because of injuries in the last two seasons. All
of that is promising--very promising.
I can understand why you would be ticked off that Hawks forward
Christian Laettner was chosen ahead of you. You're right if you
believe that most NBA general managers would take you over
Laettner any day. But making the All-Star team isn't about
having potential; it's about right now, and guess what?
Right now Atlanta is one of the league's top half-dozen
teams--the Hawks were 30-14 through Monday--and the primary
reason is Laettner, who was contributing 18.8 points and 9.0
rebounds a game at week's end. Meanwhile your team, the Bullets,
is the league's most puzzling. With a nucleus of Juwan Howard,
Rod Strickland and you, the shoulda-been All-Star, how can
Washington be hovering around .500? If you want to focus on
numbers, the Bullets' 21-21 record at the All-Star voting
deadline did you in.
Besides, I'm saving my tears for somebody else. You want to know
who really got rooked? Joe Dumars of the Pistons. Remember Joe?
Quiet guy, future Hall of Famer with two championship rings, a
two-way game and a temperament and work ethic that most coaches
would kill for in a player.
The Pistons were depressed last summer when they failed in their
attempts to sign Howard and another free agent, Dikembe Mutombo,
and then watched the Knicks steal the Pistons' young stud of a
shooting guard, Allan Houston. Surely this spelled catastrophe.
It didn't, because Dumars knows how to play a little 2 guard,
too. His numbers--14.5 points and 3.8 assists a game through
last weekend, both second in Detroit to Grant Hill's--aren't
gaudy, but when did individual numbers ever tell the whole
story? One number that should have spoken volumes to the voters
was Detroit's record at the All-Star balloting deadline: 30-11.
It was enough to anoint Doug Collins the East All-Star coach,
and it should have been enough to put a second Piston on the
roster, along with starting forward Hill.
When I asked Dumars if he was disappointed he wasn't picked, he
replied graciously, "All the guys who made the All-Star team
deserve to be there."
I'm not suggesting Dumars should be on the East team instead of
Tim Hardaway or Terrell Brandon. They belong. Substitute Dumars
for Mutombo and leave only one Hawk on the team. So what if
there would be too many guards? It's an All-Star Game, not a
battle for the NBA championship.
It's nothing new for Dumars to be slighted. It was a common
occurrence during his glory years with the Pistons in the late
1980s, when he was overshadowed by megapersonalities Isiah
Thomas and Bill Laimbeer. Dumars did enjoy a brief moment of
individual recognition when he was rightfully named MVP of the
'89 NBA Finals.
When the NBA in October released its list of its 50 greatest
players, Dumars was not on it. Upon hearing that, Shaquille
O'Neal, who did make the honor roll, offered Dumars his spot.
I recently ran into one of the distinguished electors of the
NBA's 50 best and asked him if Dumars was one of his choices.
"Wow, Dumars," he replied sheepishly. "I confess. I forgot him."
Evidently the coaches who picked the All-Star reserves did too.
I'm just wondering how.
Despite his shortcomings at the foul line, Shaq never locked up
the title as the Magic's worst free throw shooter under
pressure. That dubious honor belongs to guard Nick Anderson, who
bricked four consecutive free throws in the last seconds of
regulation of Game 1 in the 1995 Finals. His misfires led to a
120-118 Orlando loss in overtime and set the tone for a Houston
Some observers around the NBA believe Anderson has never been
the same since that fateful June night, even though his numbers
last season (14.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists) were
reasonably healthy and he converted a passable 69.2% of his free
throws. But this season through Monday, he was making only 36.2%
of his foul shots. The battle cry of Magic opponents in the late
stages of a close game is no longer "Hack Shaq!" (in case you've
been sequestered with a jury for the past six months, O'Neal now
plays for the Lakers) but "Quick, grab Nick!"
Orlando general manager John Gabriel doesn't buy the theory that
Anderson's errant shooting against the Rockets permanently
spooked him. "I don't believe it's all mental," Gabriel says.
"Does he think a little too much when he's at the line?
Probably. But he's not thinking about Houston. He's thinking
about developing a rhythm, and he hasn't taken enough free
throws to establish one."
Gabriel has a point. At week's end Anderson, who had missed 15
games this season with a sprained right wrist, had attempted
only 47 foul shots. At that pace he will take only 117 free
throws, compared with a career average of 274.
So why doesn't Anderson get to the line anymore? Gabriel thinks
one reason is habit. Before O'Neal was drafted in 1992, Anderson
muscled for points, often posting up smaller defenders, but when
O'Neal came aboard, Anderson drifted to the perimeter to help
take pressure off Shaq. O'Neal is gone, but Anderson keeps
playing long ball. At the end of November, Gabriel says, 97 of
Anderson's 192 field goal attempts were three-pointers. As of
Monday, Anderson had taken 327 shots from the floor, and 180 of
them had been from three-point range.
Who cares about this? Anderson should. He's a free agent this
summer, and some general managers believe he has become fearful
of contact. Others think he's still favoring a sore wrist. You
can be sure Anderson's free throw woes are a source of amusement
to O'Neal, who, after becoming a Laker, traded insults with
Anderson. At week's end Shaq was shooting a sparkling 46.8% from
LET'S MAKE A DEAL
In a meeting with the Warriors' front office on Jan. 20, Golden
State's frustrated veteran forward Chris Mullin (SI, Jan. 27)
listed five teams he would like to be traded to: the Bulls, the
Hawks, the Heat, the Knicks and the Magic. The Warriors want a
big man in return for Mullin and, according to sources, have
asked Chicago for Toni Kukoc. Forget that. Atlanta is willing to
give up Kenny Norman and draft picks; the best bet for a deal
with Orlando would be Mullin for Dennis Scott (they're a perfect
match salarywise); New York isn't biting; and at week's end the
Heat was considering offering a Sasha Danilovic-Kurt Thomas
package, but Thomas is on the injured list after having
fractured his right ankle when he fell off a step in a
restaurant. The Pacers would love to dangle Derrick McKey before
the Warriors, but Mullin doesn't want to change his address to
LINE OF THE WEEK
Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, Jan. 30 against Denver: 43
minutes, 24-40 field goals, 0-0 free throws, 48 points, 10
rebounds, 2 blocks. When asked why, incredibly, he never got to
go to the line, Olajuwon said, "I kept looking at the ref for a
foul, and he said when he saw one, he'd call one."
AROUND THE RIM
As of Monday, Nets coach John Calipari had coached 42 pro games
but still hadn't signed his contract. The issue: whether there
would be a reduction in his salary if he were terminated by New
Jersey and accepted another job... The Sonics don't know whether
to be more concerned about Shawn Kemp's showing up late for
practice last week or about their 0-6 record against Western
rivals the Jazz, the Lakers and the Rockets....
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Webber (4) is having his best season as a pro, but the Bullets are barely breaking even. [Chris Webber in game against Philadelphia 76ers]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Anderson has been dismal at the line, hitting 33.3% before injuring his wrist and 40.0% since. [Nick Anderson missing free throw]