There are more question marks facing the NBA these days than there are on the Riddler's bodysuit. The most pressing, of course, concern the league's increasingly messy labor situation. But there are plenty of others involving meat-and-potatoes basketball matters that fans probably care more about.
1. Why did the Chicago Bulls give B.J. Armstrong away?
Apparently the Bulls want to see how many key players from their 1991 to '93 championship teams they can lose without getting anything in return. When the Toronto Raptors took Armstrong, whom Chicago had surprisingly left unprotected, with the first choice of the expansion draft, he joined forwards Horace Grant and Scott Williams on the list of valued players who have left the Bulls without Chicago receiving any compensation.
That's not to say there weren't reasons to leave Armstrong unprotected. Here, according to Bull sources, was Chicago's thinking: The 6'2" Armstrong's difficulty in guarding quick point guards or taller shooting guards, and his inability to penetrate, had become unaffordable liabilities. At the same time he quietly made known his displeasure over dwindling playing time—from 33.8 minutes a game in 1993-94 to 29.9 after the All-Star break last season—and restrictions on his offensive role imposed by coach Phil Jackson after Michael Jordan's return in March. Armstrong made $2.8 million last season, to be essentially a spot-up shooter. Steve Kerr can do that just as well, if not better, than Armstrong and for far less money: He made $620,000 last year.
That's why Armstrong was expendable. Why was he sent packing via the expansion draft instead of by a trade? The answer: Unless the Bulls could get the established power forward they wanted for Armstrong, which they quickly found out they couldn't, they really didn't want another player. They would rather have Armstrong's salary slot to sign a free-agent big man, to re-sign unrestricted free-agent center Luc Longley or to renegotiate the contract of disgruntled All-Star forward Scottie Pippen, who earned a paltry (for a superstar) $2.2 million per season.
Don't feel bad for Armstrong. Toronto general manager Isiah Thomas is ready to fulfill his request to move to a contender by trading him, probably to the Golden State Warriors. One rumor had Armstrong heading to the Bay Area for a package including forwards Victor Alexander and Carlos Rogers.
2. If the Phoenix Suns aren't the smartest team on draft day, who is?
Let's just say you can make a very strong case for Phoenix as the team that does the most with the least. The Suns have long had a knack for uncovering gems, although they have rarely picked high in the draft, and they may have done it again this year with forwards Michael Finley of Wisconsin (21st overall pick) and Mario Bennett of Arizona State (27th). The 6'7" Finley could turn out to be a Cedric Ceballos-like scorer at small forward, and the 6'9" Bennett, who may have been overlooked by other teams because of an old knee injury, became the Suns' best shot blocker the minute he was chosen. The Suns, who are perennial title contenders, also have drafted Dan Majerle (14th, 1988), Kerr (50th, 1988), Ceballos (48th, 1990), Oliver Miller (22nd, 1992) and Wesley Person (23rd, 1994).
The New Jersey Nets, conversely, often manage to waste prime draft choices, but they may have picked a winner this year. Thanks to a potentially arthritic left knee, which scared off some teams, UCLA forward Ed O'Bannon was still available when New Jersey picked ninth, and for once the Nets did the right thing: They grabbed him. The Nets, a team of head cases, need sound minds as badly as sound bodies, and the mature, workmanlike O'Bannon is definitely one player who won't make coach Butch Beard reach for the Excedrin. But even if his knee does turn out to be troublesome, don't rip the Nets. This was a gamble they were wise to take.
The Philadelphia 76ers made a smart move by making no move. There was talk that the Sixers would trade one of their good young forwards, Sharone Wright or Clarence Weatherspoon, to move up from the No. 3 spot and take the player they badly wanted, North Carolina's Jerry Stackhouse. But Philly did nothing. The 76ers guessed correctly that the bumbling Los Angeles Clippers, drafting one spot ahead of them, would pass on Stackhouse. Sure enough, the Clips continued to bumble (more on that later), and the Sixers grabbed Stackhouse, a big guard who should be the next Rookie of the Year.