Two dissatisfied teams made a surprising swap of All-Star guards
"What would it take to get Gary Payton?" asked Bucks G.M. Ernie
Grunfeld on the eve of last Thursday's trade deadline.
"Ray Allen," answered Sonics G.M. Rick Sund, who doubted that
Milwaukee would swap its 27-year-old star shooting guard for a
free-agent-to-be point guard who's seven years older. But the
next morning Sund and Grunfeld were back on the phone, and within
five hours they'd put together a stunning midseason deal: Payton
and 6'5" sixth man Desmond Mason for Allen, guards Kevin Ollie
and Ronald Murray, and a conditional 2003 draft choice.
The two leading men were available because each posed an
intractable problem for his team. The Sonics were convinced
Payton wouldn't accept a substantial cut in his $12.6 million
salary this summer, while Bucks coach George Karl saw Allen as
one-dimensional--a scorer with little interest in sharing the
ball or playing defense. Allen is a three-time All-Star and was
among the first four players named to the 2004 U.S. Olympic team,
but he has been limited by ankle sprains and tendinitis in his
left knee for the last two seasons. "When my team pisses me off,
it's because we don't play hard," said Karl in a discussion of
Allen last Friday, implicitly accusing him of being at the root
of that concern.
Karl took great pleasure in snatching a Hall of Famer from his
former boss, Seattle president Wally Walker, who fired Karl as
the Sonics' coach in 1998. Before the two teams met last Friday
night at KeyArena (an ugly 88-58 Sonics win for which the traded
players, awaiting medical clearance, did not suit up), Karl was
greeted with a huge cheer, like a triumphant Huey Long returning
to Louisiana. Disaffected fans held up signs that read trade
wally and the glove is worth more than 3 bucks. "Gary is the
greatest competitor I've ever coached," said Karl with a big
smile. "About a month ago Jerry Sloan said there were only eight
or nine men in basketball, and I think Gary is one of them."
It will be asking a lot of Payton and 33-year-old Sam Cassell to
coexist in the Milwaukee backcourt; both prefer to set up on the
left side and dominate the ball. Still, the Bucks will become an
instant contender for the Finals if Payton is able to do what
Karl could not: change them into a go-for-the-jugular team. If
the trade fails to result in an extended playoff run this spring,
will owner Herb Kohl--who admits the team is for sale and knows
each dollar he pays Payton could be doubled by the luxury
tax--shell out more than $7 million a year to re-sign him?
(Payton is more likely to accept a pay cut from a team other than
Seattle, where he believed his 12-plus years of service entitled
him to a lucrative deal.)
The trade's value for the Sonics will take longer to assess,
depending on whether they're able to replace the toughness they
lost in Payton and Mason, their best defenders. They'll look to
thin their ranks at center (they have five, including Elden
Campbell, acquired from the Hornets for Kenny Anderson, a
potential luxury-tax savings of $5 million) and use their lottery
pick for one of the many point guards available in the June
draft. Seattle would have had about $6 million in cap room after
this season but now will have to use a mid-level exception to
sign a free agent.
Though Allen's arrival will relegate team leader Brent Barry to
the role of point guard or sixth man, he likes the trade. "Gary
wasn't going to come back, and if we were going to try to sign a
free agent, we weren't going to get anyone better than Ray
Allen," says Barry. He also believes that young teammates such as
Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmanovic have a better chance of
flourishing with Allen than with Payton. "[Allen] is a
pat-on-the-back guy, [Payton] is a swift-kick-in-the-ass guy,"
Barry says. "When you have a player of Gary's stature, who's
still playing well and is the focus of the offense, it's hard to
develop other guys. This change is only going to accelerate the
learning process for our younger players."
Another Late-season Roll?
Hornets' Hopes Hinge on Davis
Time is running short for the Hornets if they want to retain
popular coach Paul Silas, who is in the last year of his contract
and had broken off talks with owner George Shinn. "I wasn't going
to accept less money than a lot of other guys who aren't doing as
good a job as me," Silas says. "The players want me to stay, but
they know the situation--they've got to win."
For the second straight year the Hornets believe they can make a
late-season charge, provided a star player is able to return from
injury. Last year Jamal Mashburn recovered from a lower abdominal
strain to help the Hornets win 10 of 15 in March, but he was
sidelined by vertigo in the playoffs, and they bowed out in the
second round. This time the Hornets are waiting on point guard
Baron Davis, who was averaging 16.8 points and 6.9 assists before
undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Jan. 28. Last
week Davis was in Vancouver with renowned physical therapist Alex
McKechnie to alleviate chronic back spasms. New Orleans, which
was sixth in the East at week's end with a 31-27 record, hopes a
mid-March return by Davis will give the team time to pull
together before the postseason.
In the meantime New Orleans will rely on veteran playmaker Kenny
Anderson, acquired last Thursday from Seattle for center Elden
Campbell, who had been slow to recover from arthroscopic left
knee surgery in October. Though the deal weakened the Hornets'
traditionally deep frontcourt, Campbell had already lost the
starting position to 6'11" Jamaal Magloire, the 19th pick in the
2000 draft. "I think I can be an All-Star," says Magloire, who
was averaging career highs of 9.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in 29.5
minutes through Sunday.
While the ambitious Magloire has shown more fire than Campbell,
New Orleans wishes he had some of Campbell's finesse. Silas has
been working with Magloire before practices and believes his play
will improve when Davis returns. Together they could transform
the Hornets into a high-energy sleeper for the Finals. "Baron
makes the game so much easier for me," says Magloire. "He breaks
down the defense and knows how to find me in the seams and get me
easy looks at the basket."
When well-traveled forward Chris Gatling couldn't find work in
the NBA last summer, he moved to Russia and signed a $1 million
contract with the club CSKA Moscow. Gatling spent about three
months there before tiring of the hassles. "One day a cop pulls
me over and demands 500 rubles [about $16]," he says. "I said,
'I'm not paying.'" Instead he called a team manager and then
handed the cellphone over to the officer, who withdrew his demand
after learning who Gatling's employer was.
Gatling, 35, was granted his release in early December and has
joined the Italian club Scavolini, based in Pesaro. After
averaging only 19.7 minutes during his 11-year NBA career with
eight teams, he believes he is spry enough to play overseas until
he's 40. "The team is owned by clothes designers, so I can buy
suits at half price," says Gatling. "They really take care of
you--except that you have to wash your own gear and towels after
For the latest NBA news, plus analysis from Jack McCallum, go to
COLOR PHOTO: SAM FORENCICH/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES Payton scored 22 in his Bucks debut, a 93--90 win at Portland.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Van Exel
COLOR PHOTO: FERNANDO MEDINA/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES The rise of Magloire (far right) allowed the Hornets to make a deal for a point guard.
around the Rim
The Lakers are intrigued by Cavaliers power forward Tyrone Hill,
and Cleveland is willing to release him by the Feb. 28
deadline--as long as Hill negotiates a buyout of his $6.6 million
salary. The Cavs want Hill to pay a modest price for the freedom
to pursue a title shot in L.A. or elsewhere.... The players'
union lobbied hard to have 17year-old Yugoslav forward Darko
Milicic declared eligible to enter the draft. "In the past the
foreign players haven't really participated in the union," says
executive director Billy Hunter. "We have to be conscious of
another work stoppage and whether the NBA could appeal to the
foreign players to break ranks." Hunter says Vlade Divac has
helped persuade many of his 64 fellow international players to
support the union.... Though many teams are eager to slash
payroll, they didn't bite on the Timberwolves' offer of injured
point guard Terrell Brandon, whose $11.1 million salary will come
off the books next February. Says Minnesota G.M. Kevin McHale,
"At the end of the day a lot of teams said, 'I'd have a heck of a
time selling [fans on a trade that cost us] a guy who's playing
for a guy who's not.'"
On the Mavericks' decision not to trade backup point guard Nick
Van Exel for Heat power forward Brian Grant:
"They're better off keeping Van Exel. He fits in their style, he
makes big shots when the clock's winding down, and he and Steve
Nash work surprisingly well together. You can say that bringing
in a big, tough guy is going to revamp their defense, but the
Bucks tried that with Anthony Mason last year, and look how that
turned out. The best way for the Mavs to improve is to get Shawn
Bradley to perform as well as he did in the first 30 games. If he
plays with a lot of energy and blocks shots, he'll contribute
more than somebody like Grant, and it's not out of the question
for Dallas to make the Finals."