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Original Issue

Ga-Ga For Googs After being left at the altar by one free-agent forward, the Suns have fallen in love with another, newcomer Tom Gugliotta, who's hoping to seal the romance with a ring

Tom Gugliotta was manning an entrance at America West Arena on
Sunday, handing out programs to fans who had come for a Phoenix
Suns free-admission intrasquad scrimmage. Among the many who
were more interested in shaking Gugliotta's hand than in getting
a handout were two men and a little boy. "Welcome to Phoenix,
Googs," one of the men said, pumping Gugliotta's hand. Then he
turned to his friend and said, "Boy, he really saved the
Suns'...." At that point the man realized that the boy was
listening intently, and he swallowed the word he was about to
say, which almost certainly would have rhymed with gas.

Almost any word he could have chosen to end that sentence would
have been accurate. Gugliotta, a versatile 6'10" forward, saved
Phoenix's hopes for championship contention by signing with them
as a free agent. After having seen its title hopes apparently
erased by the defection of free-agent forward Antonio McDyess to
the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix may have improved itself by landing
Gugliotta, who at week's end was leading the Suns with 18.2
points and 11.3 rebounds a game. No less an authority than Utah
Jazz power forward Karl Malone has given his stamp of approval.
"I don't think they lost anything," he says. "Googs is a
well-rounded forward who can do a lot of things. Antonio is a
talented player, but I don't think they lost one step by getting

Although Phoenix, 5-4 through Sunday, has been inconsistent,
Gugliotta has been solid. He opened the season with 24 points
and 17 rebounds in a win over the Clippers and followed that
with 29 points and 13 rebounds in a victory over the Nuggets
that matched him up against McDyess, who had 28 points and seven
rebounds. Gugliotta may be a better fit for the Suns' offense
than McDyess because he's a superior passer, ball handler and
outside shooter, while McDyess is the more powerful inside
player. "You have to love Googs's game," says Phoenix point
guard Jason Kidd. "We like to play up-tempo and get good ball
movement, so we need big people who are comfortable with the
ball in their hands the way he is. Once we all get more used to
each other, we'll show people a lot more than we have so far."

Gugliotta has already shown quite a bit, not just on the court
but also in the current SI swimsuit issue. He posed with his
wife, Nikki, a cyclist who hopes to make the U.S. Olympic team
in 2002, on a boat off the Virgin Islands, but he stopped short
of showing as much as the photographer wanted. "They asked me
about wearing a Speedo," he says, "but that's where I draw the

That picture would have raised even more eyebrows than
Gugliotta's rejection of the Minnesota Timberwolves' seven-year,
$86.7 million contract offer did. That deal with his old team
would have paid Gugliotta more than he could have made with any
other club, but he passed on it to accept a six-year, $58.5
million contract with the Suns. He denies rumors that he left
Minnesota because he had a poor relationship with Timberwolves
point guard Stephon Marbury. "There were some moments of
frustration," Gugliotta says. "It wasn't really directed at
Stephon, just at the whole situation. He's a young point guard,
and that's the toughest position to learn in the NBA. There were
some decisions he made on the floor that I didn't agree with,
but there were no personal issues. It's not like we ever got
into any arguments or anything like that."

In fact, one reason Gugliotta left was that he wasn't sure
Marbury would re-sign with the T-Wolves when he becomes a free
agent this summer. "There was no way for me to know what Stephon
was going to do," he says. "They've offered him an extension,
but he hasn't signed it. Even if he stays, with the money he,
Kevin Garnett and I would have been taking up under the salary
cap, how were they going to sign other good players? Free agents
want to play in Phoenix, but not everyone wants to play in

But for all the reasons Gugliotta passed up the more lucrative
offer, the main one is simple: He's not greedy. Fans are used to
hearing an athlete say, "It's not about the money," but they
aren't used to an athlete actually meaning it, which Gugliotta
does. He realized that he was choosing between the penthouse and
the...penthouse. "I look at it this way," he says. "Unless they
figure out a way for humans to live about 400 years, I'm not
going to be able to spend the money I have now."

With money a lesser concern, winning became a greater one. In
Gugliotta's six NBA seasons, with the Washington Bullets,
Golden State Warriors and Timberwolves, his team has finished
with a winning record only once: last season, when Minnesota was
45-37. That's why, when he was deciding between the Suns and the
T-Wolves, he was more interested in comparing the numbers in the
won-lost columns than the ones behind the dollar signs.
Gugliotta decided that Phoenix--coming off a 56-26 season with a
veteran core of Jason Kidd, Danny Manning, Luc Longley, Rex
Chapman and Clifford Robinson--was more capable of contending
for a title right away. Even if Marbury were to stay with the
Timberwolves, there was what Gugliotta calls "the timing issue."
Garnett, 22, and Marbury, 22, are perhaps not yet mature enough
to take a team deep into the postseason, and Gugliotta, 29,
feared that when they were ready, he would not be able. "In six
years, when Kevin and Stephon are just getting into their prime,
I'll be in my mid-30s, probably near the end of my career," he
says. "That wasn't the most important issue, but it was a factor."

There's probably nothing Gugliotta can say to keep Minnesota
fans from feeling jilted and expressing their displeasure by
booing him when the Suns visit the Twin Cities on April 28. But
like everyone else, they will just have to accept the fact that
there are two things they'll never know: how far the
Garnett-Gugliotta-Marbury triumvirate could have taken the
Timberwolves, and what Googs looks like in a Speedo.