Kick Shinn Now
George Shinn should sell the Hornets before he completely ruins
An open letter to Charlotte owner George Shinn:
Dear Mr. Shinn,
Pack up your keys to the city, the civic plaques and those cute
little teal-and-purple basketballs. It's time for you to go.
You've had your fun, but being an NBA owner means you have to do
more than take bows at half-court and give high fives in the
locker room. There's this little matter of building a contender.
Your team and your fans--what's left of them, anyway--are tired
of waiting, tired of your letting good players flee to better
teams. You and I both know that you have no intention of
cracking open your wallet, so do everybody a favor: Sell.
Your stinginess has destroyed the franchise. Your executive vice
president of basketball operations, Bob Bass, has kept his mouth
shut about the nearly impossible job you've given him. For two
seasons your coach, Dave Cowens, bit his lip, too, but he cut
loose last week. His team, decimated by injuries to its two best
players, Glen Rice (elbow surgery) and Anthony Mason (torn
triceps), was in a tailspin, falling to 1-7 by week's end, and
the prospect of being forced to trade Rice because of a salary
dispute, plus Cowens's own uncertain future (he's in the final
year of his contract), spurred him to lash out. He told the
Winston-Salem Journal he probably won't be with the Hornets next
season because "I just don't think they're prepared to pay what
I want. So I'm a lame duck. That's just the way it is." Cowens,
the league's lowest-paid coach at $675,000, is looking for the
league average--around $2 million a season--but is sure he will
not get it.
What Cowens didn't say, Mr. Shinn, was that he had signed an
extension last spring, but when he did not bow humbly and
express profound gratitude for a contract that still left him as
the lowest-paid coach in the league, Cowens's attorney, Dennis
Coleman, says you pulled the deal off the table.
There's no question Cowens's timing was ill-advised. It's
generally considered heresy for a coach to criticize management;
George Karl made a career of it in Seattle, which is why he's
now coaching in Milwaukee. Bass, who hired Cowens in 1996,
citing his refreshing candor, was shocked by his coach's
complaints. "I really feel it damaged our team," says Bass.
Meanwhile, Bass appears to be waiting for Rice to get healthy so
that he can ship him to the Lakers, along with B.J. Armstrong
and J.R. Reid, for Elden Campbell and Eddie Jones. The reason
Rice has to go: He wants an extension, and you don't want to pay
out superstar money. Not even for a superstar with the purest
shot in the NBA.
The word is out all over the league that Charlotte will not pay
top dollar for top players. So which free agents are going to
sign with Charlotte? Only second-tier players with baggage or
limited options, or both (see Derrick Coleman). As one of your
current players observed, "Even if we get Eddie Jones, what
chance do we have of keeping him?"
Tell us, Mr. Shinn. Would Eddie Jones, who will be a free agent
two years from now, be worthy of a contract extension that would
pay him his market value? Or would you let him walk away, the
way you did Kenny Anderson, Dell Curry, Vlade Divac and Matt
Mr. Shinn, I wish you had not declined my requests for an
interview, because I would have loved to ask you how you think
you can continue like this. I talked to business leaders in
Charlotte, and their message was clear: The only way the Hornets
will get the new arena you so desperately seek is if you sell
the team. You may have won over this city by bringing it an NBA
franchise, but you've done little to warm the people's hearts
since. Your personal problems--notably a civil suit brought by a
local woman alleging unwanted sexual advances (which you've
publicly denied and responded to with a countersuit)--have been
embarrassing both to your community and your league.
You are lucky in one regard. Bass will defend you because he
works for you, and he will put the best face he can on your
franchise. "You know what makes me sick?" Bass says. "We
wouldn't even be having this conversation if Mason and Rice were
healthy. I felt we had put together a nice little team before
they went down."
Maybe you are willing to settle for a "nice little team," Mr.
Shinn, but it's clear that your coach isn't. Cowens wants to
win. Maybe he has gone about it the wrong way. His comments
damaged his relationship with Bass, probably beyond repair.
So now speculation has begun on whether Cowens will be fired. On
another team, with another owner, Cowens's biting words would
probably have gotten him canned already. But you know what, Mr.
Shinn? I'm betting you wait until the end of the season to cut
Cowens loose. I can't imagine someone with your fiscal prudence
paying him to do nothing.
Sluggish in Seattle
If Not Now, Vin?
How did Seattle forward Vin Baker spend his summer? "Being
miserable," he says.
After an All-Star first season with the Sonics, Baker flamed out
in the postseason. He put up decent numbers (15.8 points and 9.4
rebounds per game) but admits that he didn't play well enough.
As a result Seattle, which had reasonable hopes of reaching the
Finals, was bounced in the second round by the Lakers in five
games. "I put a lot of the blame on me," Baker says. "It was my
first time in the postseason. I was a little shell-shocked, and
by the time I got over my jitters and excitement, it was too
late." He spent his off-season aching for Vin-dication.
When the long-delayed 1999 season finally started, the Sonics
burst out of the gate with six straight wins. Point guard Gary
Payton staked an early claim to the MVP trophy, but Baker, a
four-time All-Star with career averages of 18.5 points and 9.2
rebounds a game, struggled to find his shot, his rhythm and his
swagger. The team's great start might have masked Baker's woes,
but he shot himself in the foot--and into sports-page
headlines--by missing his first 18 free throws. "I keep telling
myself, O.K., in this next game, I'm busting out," Baker says.
"I know it's going to happen." It hadn't happened by week's end.
Through Sunday, Baker was averaging 12.1 points and 5.9 rebounds
and was shooting 42.7% from the floor. A career 62.5% free throw
shooter before this season, he had made 3 of 25 from the line.
During the playoffs there were whispers that Baker was too soft
to bang inside, so he put on 15 pounds, thanks to a combination
of "weightlifting and home cooking." Now, some observers are
wondering if his slow start is due to those extra pounds. "I
don't think it's bad to get stronger, but I'm not sure he did it
the right way," says coach Paul Westphal. "He wasn't in the best
shape coming in, and it affected his confidence. He's a
thoughtful, sensitive kid. It bothers him when he doesn't get it
Baker will be a free agent this summer, and a team like Chicago
would undoubtedly love to rebuild around him, but Baker says he
feels an obligation to Seattle. He and Payton are close, and
Baker believes the two of them can lead the Sonics deep into the
postseason. But that doesn't mean he's a lock to re-up. He was a
Celtics fan while growing up in Connecticut and during his years
as a star at the University of Hartford. "I'm happy in Seattle,"
Baker says. "For the first time, I've finally had a chance to
win. But New England definitely tugs at me. My family is there."
The Sonics will no doubt put a premium on re-signing the
27-year-old Baker. In the meantime, despite its strong start,
Seattle has looked vulnerable. Payton is carrying far too much
of the offensive load, and the team becomes frazzled when
opponents double-team Payton and force him to give up the ball,
as Utah did last Saturday in a 110-80 win. Detlef Schrempf, like
Baker, has looked sluggish. Veteran Hersey Hawkins has been so
ineffective that Westphal has kept him out of the starting
lineup all season, replacing him first with Billy Owens and
then, when Owens broke his left pinkie, with rookie Rashard Lewis.
"We're going to be fine," Baker says. "It can't go on like this
NBA's Believe It Or Not
The Ultimate Double Team
On Nov. 8, 1978, guard Eric Money was concentrating on fitting
in with his new team, the Nets. He had been traded by Detroit
during the off-season, and on this particular night he listened
closely while coach Kevin Loughery discussed what his players
would have to do to slow down Philadelphia star Julius Erving.
"We were expecting Dr. J to take a lot of shots," Money recalls.
"But it just so happened that I was feeling it myself that day."
Philly won in overtime, 137-133, but Money scored 37 points for
New Jersey--or so he thought. The Nets protested the game,
claiming that referee Richie Powers had broken the rules. With
5:50 left in the third quarter, New Jersey star Bernard King was
called for his second technical foul, which meant an automatic
ejection. A furious King kicked a chair as he left the court,
and Powers slapped him with a third technical. An enraged
Loughery protested, and within minutes he was hit with his third
technical. The Nets argued that calling three technicals was
illegal, but Powers waved them off.
Two weeks later commissioner Larry O'Brien ordered the Nets and
the 76ers to replay the final 5:50 of the third quarter and the
entire fourth quarter as part of a doubleheader later that
season. Since Money had scored 14 of his 37 points after King's
ejection, his point total was reduced to 23. But that was only
half of the Money madness. By the time the two teams played
again, 20 years ago this March 23, Money and Al Skinner had been
traded to the Sixers for Harvey Catchings and Ralph Simpson,
which meant that Money would, in effect, be playing against
himself. "It was baffling," Skinner says. "Could our names
appear in the box scores of both teams? For a long time we
weren't sure they'd allow us to play at all." (As it turned out,
that wasn't an issue for Skinner, who never entered the game for
In the replay Money scored four points for the 76ers, who won
again, this time by a score of 123-117. "It was very bizarre,"
Money says. "I remember being in the locker room telling Dr. J,
'Look out for a double team anytime there's a clear-out.' That's
what we had planned to do when I was with the other guys."
Loughery doesn't remember too many of the specifics of that
historic game, other than how angry he was at Powers, who was
reprimanded by the league for his actions. "Richie was always
changing the rules," Loughery says. "I remember another game, a
few years later, when I was in Atlanta, and Hubie Brown was
coaching the Nets. We were both using a lot of junk defenses at
that time, so Richie came up to us before the game and said,
'O.K., guys, because of the way your two teams play, we'll let
you play zone, just for tonight.'
"We couldn't believe it. Neither could the league when it found
out about it. Richie Powers got fined pretty heavily for that
A Fine Line
Chris Webber, Kings
Feb. 17 versus Seattle: 23 points, 14 rebounds, three assists
and two blocks. On the road, playing its third game in three
nights, Sacramento handed the Sonics their first loss of the
season. At week's end Webber led the league in rebounding
(14.2), was tied for the lead in double doubles (eight), was
sixth in blocks (3.11) and was eighth in scoring (22.1).
For the latest scores and stats, plus Marty Burns's exclusive NBA
team rankings, check out www.cnnsi.com.
COLOR PHOTO: KENT SMITH/NBA PHOTOS Shinn's penny-pinching has set Armstrong (10) and the Hornets up for a fall.
COLOR PHOTO: KENT SMITH/NBA PHOTOS
COLOR PHOTO: GARRETT ELLWOOD/NBA PHOTOS Baker bulked up during the off-season, but he's finding that bigger isn't necessarily better.
More Bang for Your Bucket
Our working premise: It's not how many times you shoot, it's how
much you get out of each shot. Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal
leads the league in scoring (28.6 points a game), but we wanted
to know who the NBA's most efficient scorer is, so we cooked up
a rating based on points per field goal attempt. When total
points--including free throws, most of which are scored by
players fouled while shooting--are divided by field goal tries,
Cleveland's Shawn Kemp (14th in scoring, with 20.5 points a
game) ranks as the NBA's most efficient scorer. O'Neal (18th in
efficiency) and Jazz forward Karl Malone (fifth in scoring, 12th
in efficiency) were the only top-five scorers to crack our top
20. The league's second-leading scorer, Sixers guard Allen
Iverson, wasn't able to cross over. He ranks 35th in efficiency.
PLAYER, TEAM SHOTS FROM TOTAL POINTS POINTS
THE FIELD* POINTS PER GAME PER SHOT
Shawn Kemp, Cavaliers 93 164 20.5 1.76
David Robinson, Spurs 87 148 14.8 1.70
Steve Smith, Hawks 121 193 21.4 1.60
Reggie Miller, Pacers 119 189 18.9 1.59
Bryon Russell, Jazz 76 119 13.0 1.57
Derek Anderson, Cavaliers 62 94 11.8 1.52
Cliff Robinson, Suns 81 122 13.8 1.51
Othella Harrington, Rockets 91 136 13.6 1.49
Robert Pack, Mavericks 65 95 9.5 1.46
J.R. Reid, Hornets 80 116 14.5 1.45
*Minimum of 60 field goal attempts
HEAT AT PISTONS
Friday, Feb. 26
Miami point guard Tim Hardaway has taken Detroit point guard
Lindsey Hunter under his wing: They have the same agent and
often play together in the off-season. But Hardaway likes to
light up Hunter when it counts and in one game last season
outscored him 22-0. In their last meeting, on Feb. 17, Hardaway
went for 29 points and nine assists, while Hunter had two points
and two assists. Tiny Tim--mentor or tormentor?
Around The Rim
Orlando center Ike Austin was a coveted free agent this
off-season, but he's been benched during crunch time in some
games, primarily because coach Chuck Daly thinks Austin's out of
shape. This is power forward Horace Grant's biggest nightmare
since he wants to play as little center as possible. "I'm an old
guy," Grant says. "That's why I wasn't opposed to Dennis Rodman
coming here. I figured he'd absorb some of that wear and tear
and add a few years to my career."...
Nuggets new point guard Nick Van Exel, who sulked his way out of
L.A., has already been spotted pouting on the bench, but G.M.
Dan Issel insists he's not worried, adding that he loves Van
Exel's competitive fire....
After a hot start the Pistons threw a rod and started sniping at
each other in the papers. Grant Hill challenged Bison Dele
either to play hard or go graze elsewhere, and Jerry Stackhouse
declared that Hill needs to give the ball up more
to--surprise!--Jerry Stackhouse. "I want the ball," Stackhouse
said after going 7 for 33 from the field in a three-game
Joe Smith, who signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with
Minnesota, likes the team so much that he's talking about an
extension. Maybe he should see if Stephon Marbury sticks around
Nets coach John Calipari, who coached Knicks forward Marcus
Camby at Massachusetts, says Camby could be the key to New
York's season. "I believe in that kid," says Calipari. "If it
weren't for him, I wouldn't be coaching in the NBA. He's one of
those players who might need a push, but once you get him
pointed in the right direction, he'll go anywhere you ask him to