Something else was lost long ago: any respect that Aguirre's ex-teammates had for him. A deal in Dallas was overdue, both for the team and the player, a fact that even Carter, who was protective of Aguirre and often referred to him as "his son," came to realize after the gulf between Aguirre and his teammates widened over the past few weeks. The other Mavs were especially angry that Aguirre, pleading sore ankles, scratched himself from a home game against Utah on Jan. 31 and then all but disappeared—he scored no points—in the fourth quarter of a loss at Portland on Feb. 7. Considering that Dantley is a quality player and that Dallas also gets Detroit's first-round pick in 1991, the trade wasn't a bad one for the Mavs.
The deal doesn't seem to make any sense for Detroit. Why take a chance on a player with a reputation for being difficult? Why break up a team that extended the Lakers to seven games in last season's NBA Finals? Why tinker with a team that, at the time of the trade, had the NBA's second-best record (and, at week's end, still did, at 33-15)?
"For whatever reason, our chemistry is not what it should be this season," says McCloskey. "I'm not saying Adrian was the reason, but we haven't been the same team this year that we were last."
Amen. The celebrated Bully Boys have been meek and mild Woolly Boys against tough Eastern Conference rivals New York (0-3), Milwaukee (1-3) and Cleveland (0-2). There's a soft underbelly to their .706 winning percentage, and the Pistons needed to make a bold move. They don't worry about so-called difficult players, either. After all, for 214 seasons they got 20.3 points a game out of a difficult player named Adrian Dantley.
Still, if Dantley-less Detroit doesn't win the title, the trade will no doubt be pointed to as the source of that failure. "It's not fair—but it's that simple," says Piston center Bill Laimbeer.
Simple, too, is the idea that Thomas engineered the deal, a notion that was expressed on talk shows and in letters-to-the-editor columns for days after the trade. In fact, neither McCloskey nor Daly consulted Thomas about Aguirre—"for the very reason," says McCloskey, "that we knew there would be this reaction."
It would be ridiculous to think that Thomas would not rather have Aguirre on his team than Dantley, with whom he coexisted uneasily. But the impetus for this deal came from Daly, who believed even at the start of the season that the then 32-year-old Dantley would never again be as effective overall as he was last season, when he averaged 20 points a game. (He left averaging 18.3.)
As of last weekend, Dantley wasn't talking about the Detroit Pistons or Thomas, but someday he may break his silence—and it obviously won't be to sing the praises of Thomas. Less reticent was Dantley's mother, Virginia, who told the Detroit Free Press after the trade, "You shouldn't blame Jack McCloskey. He's not the one. It's that little con artist you've got up there. When his royal highness wants something, he gets it."
Thomas could only smile when asked about Virginia Dantley's comments. "I know my mom would be blowing off some steam too," he said. "I understand it." Nightline missed a good bet by not putting these two feisty moms on the air. Joining us from our Chicago affiliate is Mary Thomas....
Actually, there's one Detroit player who had a lot to do with the trade. Dennis (Worm) Rodman had begun to take minutes away from Dantley with his often spectacular play. Dantley saw how the Worm was turning in Detroit and didn't like it. He met privately with Daly after a Sunday-morning shootaround on Jan. 29 to express displeasure at his reduced role, but Daly wouldn't promise him that the situation would change.