Babcock, who weighs a player's character heavily when contemplating a deal, was hesitant to take on Rider, whose transgressions have ranged from marijuana possession to spitting at a fan to repeatedly missing team flights and practices. Rider proved to be such a distraction with both the Timberwolves and the Blazers that his formidable talent as a scorer was deemed expendable by both. So Kasten began rattling off numbers: 2,400; 2,600; 2,600; 2,600; 2,800. "Pete said to me, 'What does that mean?' " Kasten says. "I said, 'Those are the minutes J.R's played in each of the past five full seasons.' My point was, the kid shows up for work every night. How bad could his problems really be?"
The Hawks, who made the swap on Aug. 2, will get to find out. The trade was one of several postseason moves Atlanta has made to get younger—and deeper. On draft day it peddled point guard Mookie Blaylock, a huge disappointment last season, with Duane Ferrell to the Warriors for Bimbo Coles and the 10th pick. The Hawks used that selection to choose Arizona playmaker Jason Terry, who has been solid in summer-league play, and with pick No. 20 they took 6'6" Georgia Tech guard Dion Glover, who may turn out to be the steal of the draft. Glover missed the 1998-99 college season after tearing both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, but Atlanta, which had three first-rounders, gambled on him after receiving a stellar report from its medical people. Glover, who averaged 18.4 points as a freshman in '97-98, has been cleared to play, but Kasten says the Hawks will hold him back until training camp.
Last Saturday, Atlanta also acquired Lorenzen Wright from the Clippers for a pair of picks. Wright joins a front line that includes center Dikembe Mutombo, power forward Alan Henderson, small forward LaPhonso Ellis and three-point marksman Chris Crawford. The same team that had trouble fielding enough bodies last May for its postseason run, which ended in a second-round sweep by the Knicks, suddenly has talent to spare.
Atlanta's biggest question mark now—aside from how Terry adapts to running an NBA team—will be the whereabouts of Rider. "I told him, 'J.R., this is your chance for a big-time contract,' " says Kasten. " 'Or you can take someone else's $2 million next summer.' "
That's because Rider is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $5.4 million this season. At worst, the Hawks will have cap room for 2000-01 if Rider leaves or doesn't work out. At best, they've corralled an inside-out scoring threat who swears he will walk the straight and narrow under coach Lenny Wilkens—the kind of coach, Rider claims, who can understand him. "I know, I know," Kasten says. "It's a gamble, but that's why we have Jimmy Jackson.
"Look. It's pretty simple. If you have talent, you have a chance to win. Of course you'd love to get character and talent. And I know there are plenty of examples where the flaws of some of these guys negate their talent. We'll take our chances."