Agent provocateur David Falk made Stephon Marbury a Nets gain.
Stephon Marbury, who's been chanting "There's no place like
home" for months now, clicked his heels three times and finally
got his wish. The Coney Island native forced the Timberwolves to
trade him to New Jersey last Thursday after providing them with
a short list of acceptable destinations: New York, New Jersey or
Los Angeles. Marbury, through his agent, David Falk, forced
Minnesota's hand by threatening to walk at season's end and sign
with the Bulls.
"Go ahead," was general manager Kevin McHale's initial reply. He
couldn't believe Marbury would forsake a team that was
developing into a championship contender for a dynasty in ruins.
Upon hearing that McHale was prepared to call Marbury's bluff,
Falk, who refused to deal with McHale, informed Minnesota owner
Glen Taylor, "I can put together my own team in Chicago." The
implication was that Falk would dump his stable of free
agents--among them Marbury, Nets guard Kerry Kittles and
Cavaliers center Vitaly Potapenko--into the lap of Chicago
general manager Jerry Krause. When Taylor became convinced that
Marbury was a lost cause, he told McHale to make a trade.
Both McHale and coach Flip Saunders wanted to seek a package
from the Nets that included Kittles, but Falk told them Kittles
had no interest in playing for Minnesota. The Timberwolves
believe Falk promised to deliver Marbury to the Nets in exchange
for a lucrative extension for Kittles, who, by the way, signed a
six-year extension last Saturday worth $52 million.
Minnesota then decided that it had to get a high first-round
draft pick and an All-Star-caliber point guard for Marbury. The
Lakers and the Knicks, who were both very interested in Marbury,
could provide neither. Ultimately, the Timberwolves pulled the
trigger on a three-way swap: New Jersey point guard Sam Cassell,
Nets power forward Chris Gatling and Minnesota center Paul Grant
to Milwaukee; Bucks guard Elliott Perry, Marbury and two other
Timberwolves, forward Bill Curley and guard Chris Carr, to New
Jersey; and Milwaukee point guard Terrell Brandon, Nets forward
Brian Evans and a conditional package of first-round Nets picks
to Minnesota. In announcing the trade, a bitter McHale told
reporters, "Falk told Steph those five words: 'I'm going to help
you.' Whenever an agent says that, the player should grab his
wallet and run like hell."
What most bewilders the Timberwolves is that Marbury would
rather play on a team in turmoil (the Nets were 3-17 as of last
Monday, when they fired coach John Calipari) than stay with a
team that seemed destined for greatness. McHale, however,
concedes that Marbury has the skills to turn New Jersey
around--fast. "The kid can flatout play," says McHale. "That's
why we got him in the first place."
There is no denying Marbury's talent, but there is room to
question his priorities and his commitment to winning. Marbury
told SI in January 1998 that he was thinking of bolting
Minnesota when his contract was up because of the weather and
because he missed his New York friends. This news stunned the
Timberwolves' front office, which later discovered that Marbury
had made those comments just days after a local night spot
refused to serve him alcohol because he was underage. "They give
me my own table in New York!" Marbury reportedly fumed between
At his press conference last Friday, Marbury insisted that
reuniting with friends and family was his main objective in
forcing the trade. Minnesota says Marbury believed he was
missing out on endorsements because he was playing in a
small-market city, and that he couldn't accept being paid less
than teammate Kevin Garnett because Marbury views himself as the
better player. Garnett signed a seven-year, $126 million
extension before the new collective bargaining agreement went
into effect; under the new deal, the most Marbury could make in
Minnesota was $70.9 million for six years, which New Jersey
gladly gave him last Friday.
The departure of Marbury left his ex-teammates shell-shocked.
They had no trouble overlooking his mood swings because of his
exceptional skills. "Steph changed like the wind, from one day
to the next," McHale says. "Even on the court, there was the
good Steph and the bad Steph. The bad Steph thought only about
his game. The good Steph moved the ball, got others involved,
took big shots. We got him up to being that guy around 80
percent of the time near the end, which was up from 25 percent
when we first got him."
The Timberwolves are left to ponder what happened to their
promising foundation of Garnett, Marbury and Tom Gugliotta, who
took a lot less money to sign with Phoenix in January. Saunders
says Gugliotta had told Minnesota he would re-sign with the
Timberwolves--if they agreed to trade Marbury.
Minnesota must now try to pick up the pieces, beginning with
Brandon, who can become a free agent this summer. Both sides say
it's quite possible that Brandon and the Timberwolves will agree
on a contract extension, although the terms will depend on what
Minnesota gets with its newly acquired draft pick. If the
Timberwolves draft a point guard (they, along with every other
team in the league, love Maryland's Steve Francis), they might
make an amicable sign-and-trade deal involving Brandon. Why such
optimism about a potential free agent, in light of their recent
experiences with Marbury and Gugliotta? Maybe because Brandon is
represented by Bill Duffy, McHale's former teammate and roommate
at the University of Minnesota--"a guy who really does have his
client's best interests at heart," says McHale.
Falk scolds McHale for his "unprofessional comments" regarding
Marbury's departure. "Can you say my fingerprints are all over
this? Absolutely," Falk says. "I negotiated a deal to get my
client where he wanted to go--home. I helped [the Timberwolves]
out of a potentially disastrous situation.
"Did this work out better, or worse, than the Gugliotta
situation? If Kevin McHale had called Stephon's bluff, Minnesota
would have ended up with nothing."
McHale is clearly dismayed. "We live in a Nintendo world," he
said last week. "If you don't like the game, press the restart
button. Steph wants better endorsements, more TV exposure. I
tried to tell him, it's not where you are, it's whether you win.
The Clippers are in L.A. How often are they on TV? And these
days you can't get Indiana off the tube because it's winning all
the time. I wonder if Steph has noticed the Nets are 3-15. If he
wants to be on TV with them, he better get cable."
RICE MAKES NICE?
The Lakers finally consummated their long-awaited, much-debated
blockbuster trade with Charlotte on March 10, acquiring Glen
Rice, the shooter they so desperately wanted. They gave up big
man Elden Campbell and shooting guard Eddie Jones, a talented
player deemed expendable because of his penchant for going south
in the postseason.
Even though Los Angeles is stocked with premier players and had
won nine straight when it got Rice, the mood in the organization
was surprisingly downbeat. Front-office boss Jerry West is
distraught over recent changes, including the signing of Dennis
Rodman--who left the team indefinitely last Saturday to deal
with personal problems--and the firing of his friend Del Harris.
Sources say meddling by owner Jerry Buss has West thinking about
retirement again. Says one player, "We might be the unhappiest
team ever to win nine straight."
West, who refused to discuss his own future, agrees with that
assessment. "I don't want them deceiving themselves," West says
of his players. "We're still not a very good basketball team."
THE TERRELL IS GONE
The Bucks underwent a midseason overhaul last week even though
they were fighting Indiana for the top spot in the Central
Division. Not the best time for major surgery, but they had
Milwaukee reluctantly dealt Brandon because it sensed
(correctly) that its chances of re-signing him when he became a
free agent were slim. The team moved moody power forward Tyrone
Hill to Philadelphia because he reportedly clashed with coach
George Karl and was threatening to exercise an out clause in his
five-year, $35 million contract and walk as a free agent,
especially if Brandon was traded. So the Bucks made the best of
a bad situation, replenishing their roster with veterans Cassell
and Gatling and young forward Tim Thomas, who had a long-term
lease on Sixers coach Larry Brown's doghouse.
Karl loves emotional players, which means he and Cassell are
about to embark on a passionate and probably tumultuous
marriage. One big reason Cassell and Gatling were so attractive
to cost-conscious Milwaukee is that they are both signed to
long-term deals. Thomas's contract will be up after next season,
but by then Karl will have determined whether he can unleash the
talent Brown tried so hard to tap. As recently as last month,
Brown said he didn't want to trade Thomas, adding, "I want him
to be great here." But Thomas wilted in his early-season
starting role, and Brown replaced him with George Lynch. As
Lynch flourished, Thomas sank down the depth chart. Brown wanted
Thomas to focus on rebounding and defense, but Thomas, an
offensive star at Villanova, showed little interest in
developing the rest of his game.
Philadelphia rebuffed the Bucks' initial bid for Thomas, because
the Sixers had zero interest in Milwaukee's offer of guard
Elliott Perry and forward Armen Gilliam. The Bucks called again,
offering Ervin Johnson, but Brown wouldn't relinquish Thomas
until Milwaukee offered Hill, who seems to wear out his welcome
wherever he goes, and agreed to take on Scott Williams, who has
stress fractures in both legs, makes $3.3 million (with two
guaranteed years left) and has been booed unmercifully by Philly
A Fine Line
JASON KIDD, SUNS
When told that he'd been selected to replace the Pistons' Grant
Hill on the 2000 Olympic team because Hill was taking the summer
off to get married, Kidd said, "I'll have to call his mother and
find out where he's registered. And it won't be at Target."
For the latest scores and stats, plus Marty Burns's exclusive
NBA team rankings, check out www.cnnsi.com.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Marbury says that his threat to sign with Chicago this summer as a free agent was no bull.
COLOR PHOTO: ANDREW D. BERNSTEIN/NBA PHOTOS Rice hit the ground running, scoring 21 in his Lakers debut last Friday.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
JAZZ AT HORNETS
Friday, March 19
Charlotte's Derrick Coleman once called Utah's Karl Malone an
Uncle Tom, which may explain why Malone regularly goes postal on
DC. In 10 head-to-head matchups, all Jazz victories, Malone has
averaged 26.6 points (on 52.2% shooting) and 11.2 rebounds while
Coleman has averaged 14.7 points (on 34.8% shooting) and 10.8
boards. Perhaps not coincidentally, Coleman has sat out five of
his team's last 11 meetings with the Jazz because of a variety
of ailments. If Coleman isn't on the court for the opening tip
on Friday, look for him under the trainer's table.
Go Fourth and Be Fruitless
Who's got legs? Or, put more specifically, which teams are in
shape and which ones will be dragging their baggy trunks along
the floor by April? We figured that performance at the end of
games is a good measure of conditioning, so we compared each
team's shooting percentage during the first three quarters of
games this season to its shooting percentage in the fourth
quarter. Eight teams have shot better in the final quarter, but
only two of them have shown a marked improvement (more than
1.8%). One is Milwaukee, which jumps from 43.4% to 47.5% in the
last 12 minutes. Bucks coach George Karl would no doubt
attribute this to superior coaching. But how to explain the
Clippers, who improve from 40.4% to 45.5%? A cynic would say
it's easy to shoot when you're down by 25 and playing against
scrubs. But we'd like to put a different spin on it: Finally,
the Clippers lead the league in a positive stat. Believe it or
Here are the teams with the biggest dropoff in fourth-quarter
shooting this season, for games through March 11. Draw your own
TEAM 1ST-3RD QTR. % 4TH QTR. % CHANGE
New York 46.6% 37.8% -8.8
San Antonio 46.4% 38.1% -8.3
Washington 45.4% 39.5% -5.9
Charlotte 44.8% 39.1% -5.7
Utah 48.8% 43.6% -5.2
Chicago 40.4% 35.3% -5.1
Detroit 44.5% 40.3% -4.2
Indiana 45.1% 41.4% -3.7
Atlanta 42.1% 39.4% -2.7
Vancouver 43.3% 40.8% -2.5
SOURCE: ELIAS SPORTS BUREAU
Around The Rim
Suns-watchers say Tom Gugliotta seems a tad frustrated with the
Phoenix offense. Point guard Jason Kidd rewards teammates in two
ways when he pushes the ball on breaks: He hits teammates
streaking ahead of the pack for a layup, or he penetrates and
then kicks the ball out for a trey. Gugliotta can do a lot of
things well, but outrunning people and knocking down threes are
not among them....
Scottie Pippen is also having trouble adjusting to his new team,
shooting a career-low 40.5% from the floor for Houston, and his
points (15.0 per game) are down. The Rockets offense is geared
around Hakeem Olajuwon, who passes the ball out when he's
doubled. That gives Pippen plenty of shots from the perimeter,
but his game is slashing to the basket, not spotting up....
Clippers veteran Rodney Rogers told the team he will not re-sign
when he becomes a free agent this summer, so the Clippers talked
to the Celtics about a Dana Barros-for-Rogers swap before
settling on forwards Tony Battie and Bruce Bowen, but the league
informed them that the trade could not go through, because a
player who has been acquired within the past 60 days (Battie)
can't be packaged in another deal....
Clippers forward Lorenzen Wright has also requested a trade, but
the Clippers still hope to re-sign him....
Players got one last kick in the wallet last week from the
lockout: Union dues have doubled from $5,000 to $10,000 to cover