There was something a little unseemly about the wide smile and the I-can't-believe-how-happy-I-am demeanor of Maverick general manager Norm Sonju as he escorted No. 1 pick Jim Jackson into last Thursday's press conference at Dallas's Reunion Arena. It wasn't too long ago that the mere mention of Jackson's name and that of his agent. Mark Termini, would have brought on indigestion for Sonju and his boss. Maverick owner Donald Carter. The word Dallas had much the same effect on Termini and Jackson, the All-America swingman from Ohio State, so intense was their dislike for the Mavericks, who had offered Jackson "only" a four-year, $10.8 million contract during acrimonious negotiations. At least Jackson had the good sense to look a little tentative as he announced his intention to give his all for those fine folks who just days earlier were the subject of his scorn.
Well, it just shows that you can't believe everything you hear, particularly during a contract negotiation.
Jackson ended four months of rancorous and tiresome debate with the Mavs because he started to hear a few magic words: "six years," "$20 million" and " Quinn Buckner." Although both Sonju and Buckner (the NBC announcer was named Dallas's new coach, also on Thursday, but won't take over until the end of the playoffs) denied that Buckner's hiring and Jackson's signing were a package deal, Buckner and Jackson had had several conversations since Buckner's name was floated as the favorite for the Mavs' job. At the very least, one signing was certainly the catalyst for the other.
Jackson will receive $3.6 million ($2.6 million in salary, $1 million in signing bonus) for playing 28 games this season. And once he joined them, the Mavs (4-52 at week's end) were immediately a better team. Jackson, with six and 19 points last weekend against the Rockets and the Suns, respectively, in his first two games, both home losses, became Dallas's second-best player the moment he signed on the dotted line. Fortunately for the Mavs, their best player, Derek Harper, who will earn about $1.5 million less than Jackson this season for slogging through the first 54 games with the franchise on his back, warmly welcomed the wayward rookie.
"I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it," said Harper, referring to the paycheck disparity. "But the Mavs have always been fair to me. They've taken care of me. We need Jimmy. I need Jimmy. Only my family and I know what a burden it's been carrying a team mentally and physically, and now I have help. As far as the money goes, Jimmy was just in the right place at the right time."
Can the same be said for Buckner, who signed a reported five-year, $2.5 million contract? Hard to tell. Obviously the Mavs made their choice with one eye to the south, where another heady, high-profile former NBA point guard—Spur coach John Lucas—is getting the job done. But Lucas has a team to support his indefatigable supply of energy and enthusiasm; Buckner does not. One wonders if the Mavs' coach-in-waiting, who has been out of the game since 1986, his last year as a player, and has never coached on any level, has the know-how to be a mighty Quinn.
WHO CAN EXPLAIN IT?
The NBA game usually is defined by X's and O's, triangle offenses and illegal-defense calls, but on some nights it seems to free itself from all rules of logic. How else to explain the events of March 3? That evening the 76ers' 7'7" Manute Bol, whose shooting range is usually infinitesimal, made six three-pointers against the Suns, while two time zones away Heat center Rony Seikaly, not known for his tenacity, had 34 rebounds against the Bullets, four more than Washington had as a team.
Seikaly's Windex job, which surpassed his old career-rebounding high by 10 and was seven more than the previous season high established by Dennis Rodman on Dec. 23 against the Hornets, can at least be partially explained. The Bullets, who lost to Miami 125-106, were playing without center Pervis Ellison, so Seikaly was opposed for most of the evening by rookie forward Tom Gugliotta, who had last regularly played the pivot in high school.