Before last Thursday night's game at Houston, Sun coach Paul Westphal had just finished diagramming a play designed for Negele Knight when Danny Ainge spoke up. "Get it off quick, Negele," Ainge said. "You've only got 20 minutes."
It was a bit of gallows humor directed at Knight's head, which was one of many on the NBA trading block. However, the 8 p.m. (CST) deadline came and went, and Knight was still a Sun. More significant, Dennis Rodman was still a Piston, Danny Manning was still a Clipper, and Jimmy Jackson was still the unsigned property of the Mavericks.
The Clippers had backed off of full-scale efforts to trade Manning a couple of weeks ago, though they still would have dealt him to Detroit if Rodman were the prize (the Pistons weren't interested). Talks between Detroit and Phoenix, however, were hot and heavy. At one point on Thursday, in fact, the Suns thought they had Rodman in exchange for Knight and forwards Cedric Ceballos and Jerrod Mustaf. But the Pistons, according to one source, "kept changing the deal." As the clock moved toward the deadline, for example, Detroit asked Phoenix to replace Mustaf with starting center Mark West.
The real hang-up: The Pistons wouldn't part with Rodman unless the Suns gave up hot rookie Richard Dumas, a demand that, as had already been made clear to Detroit, Phoenix was not about to meet.
The Mavs had at least two good opportunities to unload the rights to Jackson, the Ohio State All-America whom they picked No. 4 in last spring's draft and have since been unable to sign, but Jackson's Cleveland-based agent, Mark (Turndown) Termini, scuttled both by making it clear that his client wouldn't sign with either of the proposed teams. The most intriguing of those deals was a three-way arrangement involving the Lakers and the Bucks. For the rights to Jackson, L.A. would send center Vlade Divac to Milwaukee, while Dallas would get, from the Bucks, Fred Roberts, Moses Malone and Jon Barry. Laker general manager Jerry West gave Jackson two options: 1) If Jackson played the remainder of the season, he would receive about $1 million (the amount Divac's departure would open up for L.A. under the salary cap), and 2) if he stayed in school, Jackson would still be paid $190,000, the league minimum for first-rounders. In either case, the Lakers would offer Jackson a contract for next season at what one source described as " Christian Laettner-type numbers," about $11 million for four years. Termini says he nixed the deal on the grounds that Jackson needs to recoup the nearly $2 million he has already lost by not accepting the Mavs' last offer—about $10 million over four years. Good luck.
Another Jackson scenario involved the Warriors, who would have given Dallas guard Sarunas Marciulionis and forward Chris Gatling for the rights to Jackson. Termini also terminated that one.
The Knicks, too, would have taken Jackson, along with the heart and soul of the Mavericks, point guard Derek Harper, in exchange for guards Greg Anthony and Hubert Davis, forward Tony Campbell and center Tim McCormick. Wisely, the Mavs gave a thumbs-down.
The Mavs can still deal Jackson between the final playoff game and draft day, June 30, on which Jackson would become eligible to be picked by any team.
What can one now conclude about the Termini-Jackson strategy? No one in the NBA has any idea. If Termini is looking for more than $2 million for his client to play this season, there's only one place he'll get it—Dallas. Team owner Donald Carter would still sign Jackson. If that happens, the NBA's single-season record for irony would surely be shattered.