What's the Deal, Dallas?
As the NBA's Thursday-night trading deadline approached, no team was in a more logical position to make a major deal than the Mavericks. They had two starters to use as trade bait—veteran guards Rolando Blackman and Derek Harper—and a 15-37 record that was as good a reason as any to start rebuilding the team. But when the Mavs finally made a deal, it was to send disgruntled 7'2" center James Donaldson to the Knicks for 6'8" Brian Quinnett, a solid but unspectacular role player. The Hornets and Bullets made the only other trade, Charlotte sending guard Rex Chapman to Washington for forward Tom Hammonds.
So what's the deal with the no-deals? NBA officials cringe when that question is raised, because, invariably, the overly-restrictive rules of the salary cap are blamed. And, to be sure, those rules were a major factor for several teams—the Bulls, Cavaliers, Celtics, Lakers, Pacers, Pistons, Sixers and Sonics—already so far over the cap that player movement was difficult. At least 10 teams whose hands were not tied by the salary cap could have made deals but chose to stand pat for a variety of reasons. Some teams, such as the Warriors, Trail Blazers and Jazz, like their rosters as presently constructed. Others, such as the Magic and Timber-wolves, did not have enough to offer to get something in return.
And then there were the Knicks, who felt they would move up to contender status in the East if only they had a big, physical guard who could wear out Michael Jordan for 40 minutes. Along came the Mavericks with an offer of the 6'6" Black-man, a classic big guard and four-time All-Star, in exchange for third-year guard John Starks and a No. 1 draft pick. The deal was perfectly doable under the salary cap since the Knicks were under their cap and in position to adjust to Blackman's $1.9 million salary. But ultimately New York president Dave Checketts and coach Pat Riley said no. Why? They looked at the comparative ages: Black-man turned 33 last week; Starks is 26. They looked at Starks's positive qualities: He's aggressive, a willing and able defender, and a versatile if not altogether consistent offensive player. ( Riley sees him as another Michael Cooper, though that might be too optimistic.) And they looked at team chemistry, which is great right now. To them the deal didn't add up.
More mystifying, though, is the Mavs' apparent refusal to move Harper to the Clippers. To be sure, Harper is the heart and soul of the club, but the Clippers were reportedly offering three first-round draft choices (they own four first-round picks over the next two years). Dallas denies that the Clips' offer was that rich, but two league sources say it was. Perhaps the Mavs' decision was an indication that Dallas intends to keep Harper and gear most of its off-season effort toward trading Blackman in a deal that would truly help the team.
The Dread Injury
The careers of several NBA stars ( Billy Cunningham and Doug Collins, to name two) were ended prematurely by the most feared of injuries: a tear of the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), the knee's primary stabilizing ligament, which prevents hyperextension and excessive rotation of the joint (SI, April 29, 1991).
These days, though, an ACL tear no longer necessarily spells the end of a career; indeed, there is a proud group of ACL-tear survivors playing productively. Here's a look at the NBA's best-known ACL victims and how they're doing.
? Bernard King, Bullets. The first player to become an All-Star (in 1991) with a reconstructed ACL, King has not played this season after undergoing an operation in early September to repair torn cartilage in his right knee. That is his ACL knee, but this injury is not related to the ACL surgery performed in 1985. There is no doubt that his slower-than-expected return from the September procedure is partially because of past wear and tear on his 35-year-old knee.
? Mark Price, Cavaliers. Without much fanfare Price, the Cleveland point guard, on Feb. 9 became the second player to perform in an All-Star Game with a reconstructed ACL. Price was injured on Nov. 30, 1990, and returned less than a year later, about six weeks ahead of original projections. Like King, he worked slavishly during his rehab, but he also had a better chance for a near-complete recovery for two reasons: He suffered no accompanying cartilage damage in the knee, and his playing style is straight-ahead and distinctly below the rim.