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Antonio's Line

by Jackie MacMullan

Posted: Wed May 6, 1998

Sports Illustrated With only Jason Kidd, Danny Manning and Steve Nash under contract for 1998-99, the Suns were headed for major off-season changes even if they hadn't been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year. Cliff Robinson disappeared in the team's 3-1 loss to the Spurs (he had a nasty habit of vanishing with the Trail Blazers, too), which means he'll probably disappear from Phoenix next season. Dennis Scott is telling friends that he's expendable because the Suns want to make a serious run at free-agent-in-waiting Scottie Pippen. While Rex Chapman will return, Kevin Johnson is likely to retire unless he can swallow hard and accept being paid about half of the $7 million he made this season.

The most important decision facing Phoenix involves 6'9", 220-pound Antonio McDyess, 23, perhaps the most athletic young power forward in the game. Though the Suns have doubts about whether he'll develop into a superstar who can win it all for them, they do believe in his upside. That's why they will give strong consideration to paying him as much as $80 million over the next seven years.

Antonio McDyess
McDyess must be more aggressive to justify the $80 million deal that Phoenix is considering.    (John W. McDonough)

"I would love to have this guy my entire coaching career, because of his talent and because he does whatever you ask," Suns coach Danny Ainge says. "He wants to get better. So many young guys don't care about that."

McDyess cares—perhaps too much for his own good. Nearly a year ago, after the Nuggets granted his request for a trade by dealing him to Phoenix, Denver officials declared that he would never be a franchise player. McDyess is still stung by that. He had hoped to leave the Nuggets without rancor, but instead he felt betrayed by the team's management. "I said nothing but good things about Denver," says McDyess. "Then I read all these comments. I couldn't believe it."

He lugged that baggage to Phoenix. McDyess struggled as he tried to adjust to a new role, a new system, a new coach. Before the All-Star break he averaged 14.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. "I put too much pressure on myself," he says. "I came in here thinking, I'll show the Nuggets they were wrong. I didn't want anyone in Phoenix to think they made a mistake by getting me. I was trying so hard to fit in. And then there was the money thing. Was I worth this or worth that? Sometimes, it got inside my head. Finally I just said, What have you got to lose? Just play."

McDyess's numbers in the playoffs: 17.8 points and 13.3 boards. More than anything, he needs seasoning—and a little more cockiness. Consider Game 1 against San Antonio. With 10 seconds to play, the Suns, trailing 100-96, ran a play that called for McDyess to receive the ball near the free throw line. He could look for a cutter in the middle, kick it back to the wing for a three or take the shot himself. McDyess wound up with both a wide-open 14-footer and a lane to the basket, but he was so intent on exploring the other options that he passed up the easiest and best ones: his own. He kicked it out to Scott, who missed a hurried three, and the Suns lost 102-96. "I didn't want to make a mistake that would cost us the game," McDyess says. "Next time, I won't think twice about shooting it."

"Look," Ainge said, "we don't need him to be a superstar overnight." True. But for $80 million, sometime soon would be nice.

Issue date: May 11, 1998

Antonio's Line

Public Enemy No. 1

Around The Rim

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