Charlotte's Eddie Jones has schooled doubters
Charlotte guard Eddie Jones had been in the NBA for four years and had never missed the postseason. When it became apparent in the last week of the season that the Hornets would come up short in their mad dash for the last playoff slot in the East, Jones told the team doctor to schedule surgery on Jones's right middle finger, which he'd injured while trying to block a shot against the Nets on April 19, for the day after the season ended. "I told them I wanted it done right away so I wouldn't have to watch the playoffs," Jones says. "I was toe upset to have any interest."
What was expected to be a routine procedure last Thursday turned out to be a 2�-hour operation to reattach a nerve, a severed tendon and a severed artery After the surgery Jones was stunned to learn the extent of his injury. "I asked the doctors, 'How could I have played with all these things wrong on my shooting hand?' " says Jones, who hit a clutch double-overtime jumper on the last night of the season to beat Boston. "They told me, 'We don't understand it either.' "
The surgery was a fitting end to the most trying season of Jones's career. After 4� seasons with the Lakers, he thought he'd established himself as a cornerstone of a championship contender. But he had also been the subject of trade rumors for more than a year, and by the time L.A. pulled the trigger on the deal that sent him and Elden Campbell to Charlotte for Glen Rice, J.R. Reid and B.J. Armstrong on March 10, Jones was relieved, even optimistic about making a new start. He concedes that the distraction of his uncertain future affected his play with the Lakers this season. While he played for Charlotte, his shooting percentage jumped from 42.3 to 44.6, and his average from 13.6 points per game to 17.0. "I needed to be out of that place," Jones says of L.A. "Near the end I didn't enjoy it anymore. Look at my numbers. I went from 23rd in the league in steals with the Lakers to second with Charlotte. That's because I was loving the game again."
Jones wants to lock up a long-term extension with the Hornets. (Six years is the most he can sign for this summer.) "If they make me the right offer, I'll sign," he says. "I want to be here." He likes Charlotte's chances if Paul Silas re-signs as the coach, and he can't wait to play alongside Anthony Mason, who sat out the season with a ruptured right biceps tendon. Jones believes that even though Michael Jordan's negotiations with owner George Shinn hit a snag last week, His Airness will end up running the club. "We could be the best team in the East," Jones says.
There was a time when he believed the Lakers would be the best team in the West, and he finds no consolation in the fact that the trade he was part of has been a major disappointment for L.A. and a major boost for Charlotte, even though most pundits predicted it would be the other way around. "Lots of people had lots to say," says Jones. "I'm sure some of them are wishing now they'd never said a word."
Really Big Country
NBA scouts and agents burn up big chunks of their T&E budgets beating the bushes worldwide in hopes of unearthing an unpolished gem with the one thing you can't teach: size. That's why the announcement last week that Evergreen Sports, a Cleveland-based sports-management company, had signed 7'5" Chinese center Yao Ming sent several general managers scrambling for their checkbooks. Ming, who is 18 years old, played in a Nike all-star game in Indianapolis last summer and piqued the interest of scouts with his soft hands and touch. How well does Ming move? "That depends on who you compare him to," says Billy Knight, the Pacers' senior vice president of basketball operations. "If you compare him to Gheorghe Muresan, Ming's a ballet dancer."
The consensus among the NBA scouts was that with a few more years of experience, Ming could become an impact player. Mavericks assistant Dorm Nelson, who has been to China to watch Ming play, is certain he would be a first-round pick in this year's draft. To be chosen, however, Ming has to declare himself eligible for the draft by May 16. As of Monday he hadn't In fact, last Friday, Ming told the Chinese media, "I am not thinking about playing in the NBA. At least not now."
That was bad news for Michael Coyne, the president of Evergreen Sports, who claims he has a signed agreement with Ming to serve as his management consultant. Coyne also says he has documents from Ming's Chinese team, the Shanghai Sharks, releasing him from his contract.