Jason Terry was in the process of sinking his sixth straight
three-pointer during a break between drills at the Hawks'
training camp in Chattanooga when the challenge came. "Fifteen
hundred dollars from the concrete," barked swingman Jim Jackson.
"I'll give you fifteen hundred dollars if you make that shot from
the concrete over by the stands." Terry flashed a devilish grin
and waltzed over to the area in question, a good 28 feet from the
basket. "Make it two thousand," he yelled back.
Before Jackson could respond, Terry, eyes locked not on the
basket but on his challenger, fired a shot that hit nothing but
net. "You know, I've been taking money from these veterans all
week," said the 23-year-old Terry. "I'm ready, man. My game is
on, and you can tell I'm ready for this season. Who's next?"
Who's next? Youthful bravado is nice, but side bets are about the
only thing Terry will be winning this year as the starting point
guard on a team in swift descent toward rock bottom. In
1999-2000, Atlanta failed to make the playoffs for the first time
in eight years. "There were so many distractions and bickering
and plain nonsense," Terry says. "We just never got into a
Before last season, in an attempt to shake up a roster good
enough to win 50 games but not good enough to contend for the
title, general manager Pete Babcock swapped solid citizen Steve
Smith for problem child Isaiah Rider. The ensuing Rider-inspired
chaos helped lead to the resignation of Lenny Wilkens, the
league's alltime winningest coach, and a serenade of
I-told-you-so's directed at Babcock. "It was worse than I ever
imagined," says Babcock of the fallout from his gamble.
Rider signed with the Lakers as a free agent in the off-season,
which will make the Hawks more predictable--and less talented.
Under Babcock, Atlanta enters 2000-01 with a combination ripe for
failure: a coach fresh out of college and only three players who
have been in the league longer than five years.
At least the new coach, 48-year-old Lon Kruger, is no stranger to
rebuilding. After taking his alma mater, Kansas State, to four
NCAA tournaments in four seasons, he turned around the program at
Florida, guiding the Gators to a school record 29-8 mark and a
Final Four appearance in 1994. "This won't be much different from
starting any other season in the last 25 years I've had in
coaching," says Kruger, who was 81-48 in four seasons at Illinois
before joining Atlanta.
Alas, the Hawks' woes won't be solved by a good recruiting class
or two. But for now, the players are putting their faith in
Kruger's track record. "Lenny was used to being around a lot of
veterans and winning," Terry says. "Kruger knows how to deal with
young talent and winning."
The player who stands to gain the most from Kruger's knack with
youngsters is 20-year-old rookie swingman DerMarr Johnson, the
sixth pick in the draft, who left Cincinnati after his freshman
season. At 6'9" and 201 pounds, Johnson came into camp looking as
if he needed to be fed in a hurry. But in practice he proved
himself to be a pure shooter with passing and shot-blocking
skills, all of which should get him ample time under Kruger's
up-tempo game plan. "If DerMarr continues to improve, then of
course he's going to get some time," says Kruger. "But he's
awfully young, and we can't lose sight of that."
Kruger needs heavy contributions on the court and in the locker
room from his three five-plus-year men, Jackson, forward Alan
Henderson and center Dikembe Mutombo. But Mutombo, who contracted
a mild case of malaria in the off-season and could miss a week or
two, is in the last year of his contract and may well be dealt.
Terry doesn't even want to think about Mutombo's departure. "Man,
that's how we got messed up last year, all those rumors and idle
talk," he says. "I'm telling you, if we stay focused, we're going
to surprise some people."
That's not likely, Jason. Not by a long shot.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO UP AND AWAY? A free agent at season's end, Mutombo finds his future in Atlanta is uncertain as the Hawks rebuild.
In Lenny Wilkens's first year in Atlanta, 1993-94, his 57-25 mark
(.695) tied the franchise's alltime best. In his last season his
record of 28-54 (.341) was the franchise's worst since 1953-54,
when it went 21-51 (.292) in Milwaukee.
STARTERS 1999-2000 KEY STATS
SF Chris Crawford 4.6 ppg 1.8 rpg 0.6 apg 39.7 FG% 25.9 3FG%
PF Alan Henderson 13.2 ppg 7.0 rpg 0.99 spg 0.66 bpg 46.1 FG%
C Dikembe Mutombo 11.5 ppg 14.1 rpg 3.28 bpg 56.2 FG% 70.8 FT%
SG Jim Jackson 16.7 ppg 5.0 rpg 2.9 apg 41.1 FG% 38.6 3FG%
PG Jason Terry 8.1 ppg 4.3 apg 2.0 rpg 1.11 spg 41.5 FG%
BENCH 1999-2000 KEY STATS
C-F Lorenzen Wright 6.0 ppg 4.1 rpg 0.53 bpg 49.9 FG% 64.4FT%
F Roshown McLeod 7.2 ppg 3.1 rpg 1.2 apg 39.5 FG% 77.1 FT%
G Anthony Johnson  2.8 ppg 1.3 apg 0.59 spg 37.8 FG% 71.8 FT%
G Dion Glover 6.5 ppg 1.3 rpg 0.9 apg 38.6 FG% 26.7 3FG%
G-F DerMarr Johnson (R)12.6 ppg 3.8 rpg 1.4 apg 47.8 FG% 37.1 3FG%
New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 113)
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Hawks
"I would have traded Dikembe Mutombo to the Knicks for Marcus
Camby and Allan Houston, even if I thought Houston was going to
leave as a free agent after a year. At least then you're taking a
shot at something.... The East has become a conference for twos
and threes, and those guys are all going to run right past
Mutombo. He's a slow, plodding center, and he's only effective if
the Hawks can hold the tempo down. But I think their other
players want to run too.... Basically the Hawks are the same team
they were last year. Their top draft pick, DerMarr Johnson, isn't
going to help them right away. He's a nice talent, but he looks
lost.... Apart from Mutombo, there really isn't anyone who's
going to give you the same dependable effort every night. Jim
Jackson is so up-and-down, and Jason Terry is another schizo
guy.... The biggest thing Lon Kruger has going for him is his