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One Player Away
Phil Taylor
November 13, 1995
In the tradition of teams seeking the last piece to the title puzzle, Chicago and Phoenix have dealt for men who could put them on top
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November 13, 1995

One Player Away

In the tradition of teams seeking the last piece to the title puzzle, Chicago and Phoenix have dealt for men who could put them on top

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Occasionally a team is so desperate to address a shortcoming that it will gamble on a player who fits its need even though he has other drawbacks. Take the Bulls' decision to deal for Rodman: He has little scoring ability, and as he proved with the Spurs last season, his eccentricities can be damaging to a team's chemistry. But his great strength, rebounding, was Chicago's big weakness. "We weren't going to win a championship the way we were before, so why not take the risk?" says Bull guard Steve Kerr.

Hot Rod Williams fits Phoenix's situation as neatly as Rodman does Chicago's. He is a solid player who was especially attractive to the Suns because he is one of the better shot-blocking forwards in the league and he can play center. Phoenix, which finished 21st in the league in blocked shots last season, plans to play Hot Rod in the middle. "I may not be a Hall of Fame-type player," says Williams, "but what the Suns need, I can give."

The Search for a Leader.

This is the boldest, and rarest, kind of trade because it requires a general manager who is willing to reconfigure a contending team. "You have to swallow hard and pull the trigger," says Pat Williams.

Accordingly, Phoenix dealt center Andrew Lang, guard Jeff Hornacek and forward Tim Perry to the Philadelphia 76ers for Barkley in 1992, and though they haven't won a title, the Suns clearly got the better of the swap. Barkley has won an MVP award and taken Phoenix to the Finals, while Perry is the only one of the three players Philadelphia acquired who is still with the Sixers, and he has a minor role.

Preparing for a Rival.

Some contenders make deals with a particular opposing player or team in mind, as the 76ers and the Boston Celtics did when they were battling for Eastern Conference supremacy in the early 1980s. Boston acquired defensive stopper Dennis Johnson in '83, largely to do battle with Sixer guard Andrew Toney, a streak shooter whose best performances seemed to come against the Celtics in the postseason. The move could not have worked out better for Boston, which won the championship in Johnson's first year in the Hub, or for Johnson, whose number 3 was eventually retired by the Celtics.

Perhaps no player has influenced general managers' decisions more than Jordan. The Cavaliers, tired of being devastated by Jordan in the playoffs, signed guard Gerald Wilkins as a free agent in 1992 largely because as a Knick, Wilkins had guarded Jordan well in the playoffs the season before.

"I made Michael think, something not many players can do," Wilkins said. But Jordan gave Wilkins and the Cavs something to think about in the '93 playoffs, leading the Bulls to a four-game sweep in the Eastern Conference semis.

"I've seen more than a few teams make moves with Michael in mind," says Chicago general manager Jerry Krause, "but in the end, Michael has more moves than anybody."

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