"I can see why O'Brien did it," says a Western Conference general manager. "Their one remaining asset was Mitchell, and he was probably concerned about something happening to him." Adds another front-office type, "I can control my own franchise, but I can't do that for anyone else, and on a league level things reflect on us and have a bearing on our success. I think O'Brien had a right to step in." Stepien says that no more deals were planned, and he is very unhappy with O'Brien's involvement, even though the commissioner's directive stated that Stepien was in accord with the action. "Maybe I should give him a call and ask him to give me some advice on how to run my advertising business," Stepien says. "When we talked, he guaranteed me complete confidence and secrecy. I don't appreciate his coming out with statements saying what he's going to do. Who's to say what's good or bad in a trade? Robisch was a stiff. I'm laughing at Denver."
Stepien is a self-described fighter who admires that quality in others. He once said he wouldn't mind having Billy Martin as his coach. He settled for Musselman, who's a tough cookie in his own right. When discussing the situation, Musselman's voice rises and his ice-blue eyes glaze over in anger. "People are acting like we traded away superstars for nothing," he says. "Were those deals so lopsided that we deserve this criticism? We got back what we gave up. And about the draft choices, where was the NBA when Stepien and I got here and didn't have a first-round choice of our own until 1983? We're trying to win today. No, Kim Hughes isn't a great player, but he's going to fit our needs."
Hughes, who had 66 steals coming off the bench last year, along with those blocked shots, could help the Cavaliers if he could boost those numbers in proportion to an increase in playing time. If so, Washington could move from reserve center to starting forward, where his outside shooting might take some pressure off Mitchell, as well as Guard Randy Smith. The pair are presently Cleveland's only scoring threats and are Nos. 1 and 3 in the league in minutes played. Both are having excellent seasons (Mitchell is in the top 10 in the league in scoring with 24.2 points per game, Smith is averaging 18.5), but having to play so much, they tend to tire in the fourth quarter. To their credit, they seem unaffected by the swirl of events around them. "It's pretty wild what's going on," says Mitchell, "but you just have to keep your head."
While the latest group of Cavaliers is getting acquainted, the team is playing erratically. In a 111-106 loss to Kansas City last Saturday night, Mitchell scored 34 points but didn't see the ball in the final two minutes. "It seems like there should be designated shooters in the last two minutes, but right now everyone wants to take the shot instead of the right people," he lamented.
Musselman, on the other hand, saw the game as a sign that his team was finally beginning to come together. "We had a shot at that game tonight. We've had shots at all but one of the last six," he said. "We're damn competitive, and I know we're not that far away from winning. I know it."
If they are, the rest of the league will be shocked.