"If it was something I did or could do—work harder, say—I'd be at practice right now," Theus says. "But I know that whatever's going on is out of my hands entirely."
Although Loughery says he would rather not rotate five guards, which he would have to do to give Theus playing time, the principal reason for Theus' inactivity may be Loughery's resentment of Kovler's interference. But Theus must take some of the blame for his demotion. Had it not been for Theus' preseason holdout, Wiggins, his replacement, probably wouldn't have gotten enough playing time to prove himself.
The 6'4" Wiggins, who attended Florida State, has been the league's second-highest rookie scorer, with 14.3 points a game, behind Houston's Ralph Sampson, and since becoming a starter he has played with a flair that reminds many of Milwaukee's All-NBA guard Sidney Moncrief. Thorn saw those similarities during the NBA's predraft camp for college players in Chicago last June, when Wiggins came up short in many other observers' eyes.
"Everyone got down on him then because he came in with a reputation as a scorer, and he didn't score," Thorn says. "I already knew that he could score and rebound, but when he played well on defense I thought he could be the total package, like a Moncrief."
One difference between the two, however, is that unlike the almost self-deprecating Moncrief, Wiggins has a confident, even cocky, demeanor on the court. "You can't tell me that Mitchell doesn't think he's a better player than anyone else on the team," says one Bull who requested anonymity. "But he knows he can't go around acting like it."
"Am I as confident as I look?" Wiggins asks rhetorically. "No doubt about it. I know I'm going against great players every night, but I fear nobody."
Whatley, who left Alabama after his sophomore season, is just as sure of his ability, but before the draft Thorn wasn't sure he wanted to take him. As it turned out. Thorn didn't have to. After drafting forward Sidney Green, the Bulls traded forward Mark Olberding to the Kansas City Kings for Whatley, that club's top pick. Minutes later Thorn would complete a triple coup by trading his second-round choice, guard Sidney Lowe, to the Indiana Pacers for Wiggins, the Pacers' first-round selection.
After a brief training camp holdout, the 6'3" Whatley almost immediately displaced Lester as the Bulls' starting point guard. "I really wasn't surprised at how well I did because I know my talents," says Whatley, at 21 the youngest player in the league.
Nor was he upset upon being benched when Theus was put in the starting lineup. "The coaches kept telling me that I'd get another chance," Whatley says. "We weren't winning, so I knew some changes had to be coming."
One change was in the players' attitude, which became: You'd better work hard because if an All-Star like Theus can be benched, you can be, too. "The new coach came in and said, 'You have to do this, this and this or else you wouldn't play,' but Reggie didn't comply, and he played anyway," says one Bull. "Now, with Reggie on the bench, everyone's busting their butts because they think Kevin must be crazy."