The Rockets would prefer to keep together a young team that learned to win last season in only the second year of a rebuilding campaign. Their chances of reaching the playoffs improved with the acquisition of Eddie Griffin, the seventh pick in the draft, in a draft-night trade with the Nets. Although Griffin is a small forward, his strengths as a rebounder and shot blocker provide the option of playing him inside while Taylor, a power forward, plays on the perimeter.
Recognizing that negotiations with the 38-year-old Olajuwon could be sticky—he may have to accept a salary cut of $10 million or more—coach Rudy Tomjanovich phoned the Dream's house at the start of the signing period, at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. "He wasn't there, and I woke up whoever answered the phone," Tomjanovich says. "I just wanted to tell him how I felt about him. I would love for him to be with us next year."
In the new tax-conscious marketplace, the demand for elderly centers isn't great—look at the reported two-year, $5 million deal that Patrick Ewing accepted from the Magic. Ewing, Olajuwon and all their colleagues will feel the pinch in other ways as well: In a provision of the 1999 agreement, every player in the league must give back 10% of his salary to the owners next season.