All the Right Moves
The Clippers' surprise selection of Darius Miles may pay big
A Western Conference general manager was on the phone with a
well-known agent a week before the June 28 draft. "Do you think
the Clippers will pick Darius Miles?" the G.M. asked. "They
should," the agent replied, "but they won't have the guts."
It was assumed that they wouldn't have the guts to oppose agent
David Falk, who had discouraged the Clippers from spending their
No. 3 pick on Miles, a senior from East St. Louis (Ill.) High and
the draft's most provocative prospect. At 6'9" and 202 pounds,
with dazzling athletic talent, a playmaker's mentality and
perhaps a few inches of growth left in his bones, Miles has been
compared to Kevin Garnett. But Miles will need to be brought
along in a nurturing environment, which is precisely why Falk did
not want him to go to L.A.
Contrary to reports, Falk says he was never planning to send
Miles to Europe if the Clippers chose him--as he did to free Danny
Ferry from their grasp in 1989. Nor could Falk frighten L.A. with
the threat that Miles would depart at the first opportunity:
Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, teams sign
first-round picks to three-year deals, hold an option for the
fourth year and have the right of first refusal in the fifth. The
best Falk could do was prevent the Clippers from working out
Miles, and threaten to obstruct any sign-and-trade involving his
client Maurice Taylor, a Clippers free-agent forward. "I knew a
week before the draft that the Clippers were going to take
Darius," says Falk, who believes team owner Donald Sterling was
hooked after both Michael Jordan and Jerry West endorsed Miles as
a future star.
All was not yet lost. The Clippers agreed on draft day to select
Miles and then ship him to the Magic for a package including the
No. 10 pick and Iowa State power forward Marcus Fizer, provided
Orlando selected Fizer with the fifth choice. That trade
collapsed when the Bulls snatched Fizer at No. 4, even though he
plays the same position as co-Rookie of the Year Elton Brand.
"From what I'm hearing, picking Fizer was a block by Chicago,"
says an Eastern Conference G.M. "It's like Chicago was in a
nuclear arms race with Orlando, and the Bulls decided they'd
rather have Miles be in the Western Conference than be playing
for their rival."
Coach Tim Floyd, who before coming to the Bulls had recruited
Fizer and coached him as a freshman at Iowa State, says the 6'9"
Fizer has the ability to play small forward when he isn't
substituting for Brand in the low post. He may well fill that
role; nonetheless, rival executives believe the Bulls will unload
Fizer for an established player if they can't land their free
agents of choice this summer. The same could be true of Michigan
point guard Jamal Crawford, the No. 8 pick acquired from the
Cavaliers for Chicago's seventh choice, Texas center Chris Mihm,
as part of a prearranged deal. In the second round the Bulls
stockpiled point guards A.J. Guyton and Khalid El-Amin, which may
provide them with flexibility if they ship Crawford.
Apparently the Bulls didn't want Miles badly enough to do what
was necessary to move up. Their interview with Miles did not go
well. He complained that Chicago questioned his intelligence.
According to Falk, general manager Jerry Krause also told Miles
that he would not be permitted to wear his hair in cornrows if he
played for the Bulls. ("Are we going to pass a rule now that says
NBA executives can't be overweight because they are an
embarrassment to their team?" says Falk, taking a shot at
Krause's girth.) Falk would not say how Miles felt about the
rule, though he said that Miles's mother, Ethel, was "very
"It was an inappropriate thing to say in the year 2000," Falk
says. "If you were to go to any summer basketball camp and see
players who are 17 or 18 years old, a high percentage of them
would be wearing cornrows or would have mousse in their hair. But
I want to make it clear that I don't think Jerry Krause in any
way, shape or form was attempting to be insulting."
In the end, Falk didn't feel too bad about Miles's draft-day
fate. With the No. 18 choice the Clippers wisely selected Miles's
best friend, swingman Quentin Richardson of DePaul, also a Falk
client. In between, the Clippers completed a backup trade with
Orlando in which they gained forwards Corey Maggette and Derek
Strong; No. 10 pick Keyon Dooling, a point guard from Missouri;
and an undisclosed amount of cash for a future first-round pick.
In forward Lamar Odom, center Michael Olowokandi and its new
haul, Los Angeles has youth and athleticism. A lot can go wrong
for a team so lacking in experience--L.A. could put out a lineup
of college-age players--especially when that team is the Clippers.
But for the first time in aeons they have players who are
reasonably happy to be there. Miles, who was proud to displace
his idol, Garnett, as the highest-drafted player out of high
school, showed no signs of disappointment at being a Clipper.
Also, Richardson has been friends with Dooling and Maggette for
Falk has now agreed to cooperate on a sign-and-trade for Taylor,
in part because what's good for the Clippers is now good for his
clients. He is also recommending a coach. "They should hire John
Lucas," Falk says of his former client.
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Toronto's New Direction
One Carter Left Must Lead
In other NBA cities the hiring of 62-year-old Lenny Wilkens as
coach might be seen as a step backward. Why hire yesterday's news
when recently retired players such as Doc Rivers, Byron Scott and
Scott Skiles are in vogue? But that's not the case in Toronto,
where Wilkens is being hailed as a savior. The league's alltime
winningest coach has brought instant stability to an expansion
team that has gone through three first-time coaches in five
years. "I'm really happy about Lenny coming here," says Raptors
power forward-center Antonio Davis. "It's hard to gain respect
around the league, and it's so easy to lose it. With one mistake,
all your credibility can be shot."
Davis had good reason to worry about the Raptors. Their bright
future seemed to be crumbling under Butch Carter even as he was
coaching the team to its first playoff appearance last spring.
Carter's ludicrous filing of a $5 million defamation suit against
former Raptor Marcus Camby, which he quickly withdrew, was the
least of his problems. More damaging was the mutiny he inspired
among the Toronto veterans by citing their lack of leadership and
cutting back some of their minutes. Then, in an attempt to quell
dissent among the players, Carter shamelessly asked his bosses to
grant him the title of general manager. That move was perceived
as an attempt to undermine vice president and G.M. Glen Grunwald;
it also gave free-agent swingman Tracy McGrady more reason to
leave this summer for the Bulls or the Magic.
As Davis sat courtside watching the Finals last month, he
realized just how far he had moved from Indiana in the last
year--his former Pacers teammates had earned the respect of the
league, while his current team was threatening to become a
laughingstock. Though he admits he had serious issues with
Carter, Davis says many in Toronto jumped to the inaccurate
conclusion that he was calling for the coach's head. "I never
said I wanted Butch to be fired, and I had two or three
conversations with Butch when I told him that," Davis says.
The June 21 hiring of Wilkens helped put the Raptors on the
offensive. Grunwald drafted Michigan State swingman Morris
Peterson partly as insurance against McGrady's departure, and
next month Grunwald hopes to sign a much-needed free-agent point
guard. (Anthony Carter and Mark Jackson are among the
possibilities.) As for Davis, he is tentatively planning to sign
a long-term deal with Toronto next summer.
The next stage in the Raptors' growth will depend upon their
ability to sign 23-year-old superstar Vince Carter to a long-term
contract after the season. In the meantime Davis suggests that
Carter must show more leadership. "Vince is going to have to be
real vocal to keep this team strong," Davis says. "There was a
lot of pressure on him to do so many things last season, and I
guess he would show how he felt by his facial expressions and by
staying after practice to work on things. But he has to be the
one to say something when things aren't going right and to say,
This is how things are going to be. You don't have to be 100
percent right in what you say--the fact that you have an opinion
shows leadership and that you care."
Suns' Surprising Pick
Is Everything Jake in Phoenix?
The draft was two hours old, and Iakovos (Jake) Tsakalidis was
the only player left in the greenroom. Naturally, tears were
flowing--but not from the eyes of the 7'3", 283-pound Greek
center, who had been expected to go as high as No. 8 to Cleveland
until the Cavaliers and others were scared away by AEK of Athens,
which faxed a legal warning to teams that Tsakalidis has four
years left on his contract. "I admit, I was crying because the
whole thing is so unfair," says Steve Costalas, one of
Tsakalidis's Greek representatives. It might have been the first
time in greenroom history that a snubbed player had to comfort
For a player who had been virtually ignored by his Greek club--he
has taken fewer than five shots per game during his four-year
career with AEK--Tsakalidis, picked 25th by the Suns, is sure
causing a lot of turmoil. His lead agent in Athens, Gus Polites,
recently received death threats from Greek fans for trying to
guide Tsakalidis to the NBA. Such threats are not to be taken
lightly in Greece, where basketball fans can be soccer-style
hooligans. "I was trying to tell my wife that there was nothing
to worry about," Polites says. His comforting words were
interrupted by a TV news report that one of the top free agents
had left his Greek team for a rival club offering a better deal.
"They're showing this basketball star being chased by the Greek
fans in front of his own house," Polites says. "My wife is
saying, 'Yeah, sure, we have nothing to worry about.'"
Tsakalidis maintains that the contract is invalid because he
never signed it--that it is an illegal extension tacked on to the
original deal he signed with the club in 1996, when he was 16.
When Tsakalidis arrived in Phoenix last week, the Suns presented
him with a T-shirt that read FREE JAKE. The hope is that he can
develop to the point where he can someday contain Shaq. It helps
that Phoenix coach Scott Skiles spent 1996-97 playing and
coaching in Greece, where he was represented by Polites and
became familiar with Tsakalidis. Not only does Skiles have
insight into Tsakalidis's personality, but he also is unlikely to
be intimidated by the Greek club's tactics.
The Suns were considering two options. One would be to contest
the contract with an arbitrator in London--an all-or-nothing
proposition that could result in the AEK deal's being upheld. The
other would be to not dispute the contract's validity and to
negotiate Tsakalidis's early release, meaning he might have to
spend one more year at home in Greece, which is nothing to cry
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER While the Bulls weren't fond of Miles's cornrows, the Clippers have no qualms about a kid some deemed the draft's top prospect.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Davis thinks the Raptors can elevate their play under a proven coach.
Around The Rim
No. 1 pick Kenyon Martin of the Nets was unable to do a full
workout with any teams because of his leg injury, but he did
train privately for three weeks with Mavericks assistant Kiki
Vandeweghe, who has been working independently with young
players for five years. "He played one-on-one and did a little
full-court stuff," says Vandeweghe. "He's got all the talent in
the world, and he wants to be the best. If I were New Jersey,
I'd be really excited."...
The Trail Blazers flew in 7'3 1/2", 360-pound St. Mary's center
Brad Millard shortly before the draft, put his size 23 EEEE feet
through a CAT scan and discovered a stress fracture of the right
navicular bone that was possibly two months old. After he has
recovered from surgery to repair the fracture, which is expected
to sideline him for four to six months, the undrafted Millard is
weighing a comeback in the IBL....
Expect Indiana to be an intriguing player in the free-agent
market this summer. The Pacers not only will be looking to sign
or replace six of their free agents but will also have a rare
$4.5 million trade exception (a benefit of sending Antonio Davis
to the Raptors last summer) that makes them one of the few teams
capable of bringing in a sign-and-trade free agent after Aug.
Brian Grant opted out of the remaining four years and $42
million of his contract with the (unguaranteed) understanding
that Portland will re-sign him if there are no free-agent takers
or move him in a sign-and-trade.