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INSIDE THE NBA
As the Feb. 19 trading deadline approached, many Knicks fans were furious that one deal, for point guard Damon Stoudamire, had fallen through and another, for shooting guard Mitch Richmond, remained a pipe dream. They were especially enraged at what killed both trades: the refusal of New York's front office to part with off-guard Allan Houston. Sure, he's a nice guy and, as Pacers scout Al Menendez notes, "a picture-perfect shooter when he's on." But at week's end Houston was averaging 16.2 points on highly imperfect 43.0% shooting from the floor, and he had too often demurred rather than delivered at crunch time. Allan Houston untouchable? Has general manager Ernie Grunfeld gone soft?
No. Grunfeld is doing exactly what he should do: hold tight to one of the best young two guards in the league. SI asked NBA scouts and executives to assess Houston's value, and while some, such as Nets G.M. John Nash, feel Houston is too passive to be regarded among the elite shooting guards, most believe he is a star in the making.
Here's why Houston is so coveted: He's only 26, has good size (6'6", 200 pounds), is sound defensively, makes intelligent decisions, steers clear of trouble off the court and, despite his placid demeanor, competes ferociously. He's also locked up for another five seasons at $8 million per, an eminently reasonable sum in today's NBA. What's more, Houston has shown he can rise to the occasion. In the playoffs he has scored 20.7 points per game, 6.3 more than his career regular-season average.
"People question Allan, but he's not afraid to take the big shotand take the criticism if he misses it," says Grunfeld. "In a city like New York, you can't do that without some toughness."
Quickname the most lethal marksmen in the game. Michael Jordan, Glen Rice, Richmond, Reggie Miller, Jeff Hornacek and Dale Ellis have one thing in common: They're all over 30. Who, besides Houston, has the touch to succeed them? Second-year men Ray Allen and Kerry Kittles are possibilities, but they're unproven. Wesley Person strokes it well, but Houston is the more complete player.
So why hasn't he performed better for the Knicks? Houston does not like to discuss his right wrist"Nobody in New York wants to hear excuses," he saysbut it hasn't healed fully since last June, when he had surgery to repair partially torn ligaments. He can bend the wrist only halfway, which has cut down his shooting range by as much as three feet. "You kind of get used to it," Houston says. "Sometimes I hit a couple of shots, then miss a couple and find myself saying, 'If my wrist was 100 percent, I'd be on fire right now.' But there's no point to that. It's not healthy."
Many players, including Detroit's Grant Hill, believe Houston erred when he fled the Pistons as a free agent in 1996. The Knicks do not have anyone who can penetrate to draw the defense and then kick the ball back out to Houston as well as Hill did. And Houston hasn't stepped up his scoring in Patrick Ewing's absence because it's hard for a perimeter player to thrive without a post-up threat who attracts double teams. As Utah's vice president of operations, Scott Layden, says, "If a team doubles Chris Dudley [Ewing's replacement], it should seek counseling."
Houston concedes that he had to adjust to playing in New York, where every winand lossis colossal. "The other night I had a stretch where I missed a few shots, and some of our fans starting chanting, 'We want Mitch, We want Mitch,'" he says. "Last year it would have rattled me. This year I laugh it off."
Issue date: February 23, 1998
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