Should Austin also get the official Most Improved Player award from the NBA, he would be the first bench player to do so. He says he would be thrilled to receive the honor—even after being informed that many of the award's winners have had disappointing, injury-plagued careers thereafter (chart).
"I don't want to hear it," Austin says. "I've got a summer ahead of me to get in condition where I can go for 36 minutes instead of 20. No more going backward. I'm going forward."
Nets ownership was disturbed when coach John Calipari called Newark Star-Ledger reporter Dan Garcia "a f——— Mexican idiot" last week, but it was further distressed to learn that Calipari did not apologize to the reporter face-to-face. Instead, he left a message on Garcia's answering machine.
Calipari insisted he was joking when he made the remark, but any hopes he had of minimizing the incident were dashed when commissioner David Stern slapped him with a $25,000 fine, a blow to Calipari's bank account and to his image.
The Nets, despite intense local media pressure, never considered firing their rookie coach, especially since they are on the hook for the remainder of his five-year. $15 million contract. Bui clearly Boy Wonder has become Boy Blunder. No one denies that he has made some effective moves, including the midseason. nine-player deal with the Mavericks. However, Calipari ha.' been the Nets' biggest selling point, and as one rival general manager says, "The) may want to rethink that strategy."
Line of the Week
Rockets guard Eddie Johnson, March 27 against the Cavaliers: 29 minutes, 10-15 FG, 4-4 FT, 27 points, 10 rebounds. The 37-year-old Johnson's double double was his first since Feb. 24, 1994, when he had 23 points and 10 rebounds as a Hornet.
Around the Rim
Philadelphia has reached the 50-loss mark for the fifth straight season, and sources say disgusted Sixers president Pat Croce wants a complete overhaul of his team and will use guard Jerry Stack-house and forwards Derrick Coleman and Clarence Weatherspoon as trade bait this summer....
Since only one of the top five picks of the '96 draft—Timber-wolves guard Stephon Marbury—appears to be playoff bound, Suns coach Danny Ainge says that he would take this year's top five minimum-salary players in a game against the top five rookies (the 76ers' Allen Iverson, the Raptors' Marcus Camby, the Grizzlies' Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Marbury and the Bucks' Ray Allen). "Match the rookies up against [the Raptors'] Walt Williams and Oliver Miller, [the Spurs'] Dominique Wilkins, [the Suns'] Rex Chapman and [the Lakers'] Jerome Kersey, and who wins the game?" Ainge asked. "Down the line might be a different story, but in their first season, rookies aren't going to win you anything."