While Sampson and Carroll continued to play their way out of their fans' and coaches' affections, Patterson was scouting around for a playmaker. The price he didn't want to pay was Sampson—until a Dec. 10 game against Utah. Sampson missed his six field goal tries, went scoreless and had only three rebounds, although the Rockets won 98-93. Though both Fitch and Patterson deny it, there were published reports that Fitch issued a Sampson-goes-or-I-go ultimatum to Patterson. In any case, Patterson called Nelson within hours of the game's end and proposed the swap. Nelson would need a center if he jettisoned Carroll, and while losing Floyd would hurt, Sampson's skills had wowed Nelson since he first saw Sampson as a schoolboy. "Something was missing from Ralph in Houston," Nelson says, "but I knew he wasn't a dog."
For now, the trade seems to have done more for Houston than it has for Golden State. As of last weekend, the Rockets had won seven of their last nine and were 7-5 since trading Sampson. In Floyd, 27, they have a playmaker capable of picking up the pace of the offense. In Carroll, 29, the Rockets have a backup frontcourtman who is as effective a low-post scorer as there is in the league. And so far, he and Fitch are managing to get along. "But it's early," Carroll says.
Sampson was stunned at first by the trade, but he's excited now, despite his team's 5-23 record. He and Karl are hitting it off. Every game they wager $20 on whether or not Sampson will block at least three shots. At week's end, Sampson owed $80. (When Karl got wind of Carroll's comments about his intelligence, he offered to put up $1,000, for charity, on an IQ test-off.) But it's probably unreasonable to expect to see much improvement from the Warriors any time soon. They're playing hard, but they're hardly a settled team. Since acquiring Sampson, Nelson has engineered seven roster moves. And on the day Sampson came to Golden State, third-year guard Chris Mullin checked into an alcohol-rehab program. He and the Warriors hope his 17.6-point scoring average will be back in the lineup within two weeks. Mullin is also a good lob passer, and that could make Samspon more productive.
"This whole situation has brought a new beginning," Sampson says. "My wife and I are having our first baby, we're starting over fresh. The organization here cares about me. It's going to be a lot of fun." He stands by his vision of the complete playing style, the one that taps all of his skills and makes his team dominant. But neither he nor the Warriors will be that until Sampson has a much stronger supporting cast. "I expect myself to be better than what other people expect," he says. With that attitude, he will always face the tallest order in the NBA.