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The NBA
Jack McCallum
February 04, 1991
ISIAH IS GROUNDED
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February 04, 1991

The Nba

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ISIAH IS GROUNDED

When Chicago failed last week to add veteran swingman Walter Davis to its roster, at least one Bull—a fellow by the name of Michael Jordan—was somewhat disturbed. More on that later. But even without Davis, Chicago has emerged with a clearer path to the best record in the East, and thus the home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs. That's because the Bulls' nemesis, two-time defending champion Detroit, will be playing for the next three months—and perhaps the remainder of the season—without its captain, Isiah Thomas, who was scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair ligament damage in his right wrist.

Let's see. In a conference that was not overly strong to begin with, the Celtics have been playing without Larry Bird (out with a lower back injury for an undetermined amount of time), the 76ers have been playing without Charles Barkley (who is expected back this week after missing seven games with a badly sprained left ankle), and now the Pistons will be playing without Thomas until at least the first round of the playoffs. At week's end the Bulls were only a game behind the Celtics (and tied with the Pistons) for the best record in the East, and Boston still has two West Coast swings. If the Bulls stay healthy, they should get those decisive postseason games in their raucous playground, Chicago Stadium.

The Pistons have adopted a dig-in-and-grit-your-teeth posture to deal with Thomas's injury. With their options being severely limited by the salary cap, they don't have much choice. Now, unless the Pistons free a salary slot by trading or waiving someone, all they can do is sign a player at the NBA minimum of $120,000. The Pistons did that last Friday when they signed veteran guard John Long, a perennial Piston stopgap who had been out of basketball since last season, to a 10-day contract. In all probability, Long will be signed for the rest of the season.

Of course, trade rumors have been swirling around Piston frontcourtman John Salley for more than a year. Detroit doesn't want to deal him, realizing his value as a halfcourt defender in the postseason. But Salley will be a restricted free agent after this season, and Piston general manager Jack McCloskey-is almost certain that some team will make him an outlandish offer. McCloskey will have to match it or cut Salley adrift for nothing.

In short, the feeling around Pistonland right now is to keep the team intact and hope that its toughness and experience hold up until Thomas returns.

SEEING CAROLINA BLUE

No one was surprised that the Denver Nuggets parted company with Davis or that the Trail Blazers let go of disenchanted 12th man Drazen Petrovic or that the Nets said goodbye to Greg (Cadillac) Anderson just a few days after they had acquired him from the Bucks. However, almost everyone was surprised that in last week's three-way deal involving those clubs Davis landed in Portland. If the Blazers have had a problem in the midst of their superlative season (they were 36-7 through Sunday's games), it has been finding court time for all their skilled and versatile players. Does Davis go in at small forward, taking minutes from Jerome Kersey and Cliff Robinson? Does he play shooting guard and cut in on Danny Ainge's playing time? And the Davis acquisition seems even more unnecessary because Ainge, Kersey, Robinson, Clyde Drexler and Terry Porter are all two-position players.

At any rate, back in Chicago the Davis trade left Jordan disgusted. He had been on a crusade to get Davis to the Windy City, and the failure of the Bulls' management to do so only widened the, uh, congeniality gap between him and general manager Jerry Krause. "I'm concerned with now," said Jordan when asked about the trade last week. "The G.M. can be concerned with the future. If I were the G.M., we'd have a better team." Privately, Jordan's words for Krause were even harsher, though that is nothing new.

The Bulls did express some interest in Davis this season but couldn't work anything out with the Nuggets. Krause and the Chicago coaches were of one mind about Davis—they considered him a possible asset, but not at too steep a price. Jordan, one must understand, has no weakness as a player, but he has a major weakness as an evaluator of talent. As a North Carolina product, he tends to love all former Tar Heels, of whom Davis is one. Were, say, 58-year-old Lennie Rosenbluth in reasonable shape, Jordan would probably want to see him in Chicago's black and red, too.

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