Are the Nuggets Back on Track?
Say this for the Denver Nuggets: They can mea culpa with anyone. After a 1990-91 season that was an embarrassment both on and off the court, management was sorrier by a mile—and said so in a 10-minute videotape mailed to all season-ticket holders.
"We have learned from our mistakes, and we further realize a perception of instability has been created in our marketplace," managing general partner Peter C.B. Bynoe told his audience. "We apologize for the turmoil." General partner Robert Wussler, the other owner closely involved with team affairs, also appeared on the tape and spoke in similarly conciliatory terms.
It was a perspicacious move. But can the Nuggets live up to their promises? Off the court, things are much better. Former co-managing general partner Bertram Lee, who last season embarrassed the franchise when he was evicted from his downtown Denver apartment for nonpayment of rent, is no longer active with the team. The revolving door to the general manager's office has apparently stopped with Bernie Bicker-staff in place. And the addition last spring of Tim Leiweke as senior vice-president for business operations has been a success. His work with the community has drawn plaudits even from the organizers of Denver United for Nuggets Credibility (DUNC), an organization of disgruntled season-ticket holders that was formed near the end of last season.
But the Nuggets' success on the court is much iffier. They won only 20 games last season, a league low, and in giving up point guard Michael Adams (to Washington), sometimes explosive forward Orlando Woolridge (to Detroit) and steady frontcourtman Blair Rasmussen (to Atlanta) in trades, the Nuggets lost an average of 64 points per game. And guard Chris Jackson, who took the Islamic name of Mahmoud Abdul Rauf over the summer but will go by his old name on the court, was as uninspired in exhibition play as he was as a rookie last season. Furthermore, Temple's Mark Macon, one of the other backcourt young bloods Denver is counting on, was a holdout and missed the exhibition season. The best thing to happen to the Nuggets in a long time, though, was the drafting of center Dikembe Mutombo of Georgetown, who looks to be better than advertised, particularly on offense—he had 27 points last Saturday night in the Nuggets' 109-101 home court victory over the Rockets. But Mutombo's thin supporting cast is questionable.
In short, Denver coach Paul West-head will have a tough time meeting fan expectations. He says that he has received neither a vote of confidence nor a win-this-many-by-this-date ultimatum from Bickerstaff.
"I don't have a guarantee, either," says Bickerstaff. "There are no guarantees in this business."
With 4:52 remaining in the second quarter of last Friday night's opener at Detroit, Bucks center Moses Malone converted the 8,000th free throw of his 15-year NBA career. Consider: Moses has made more free throws than any other active player has even attempted. Going into this season, for example, Magic Johnson had shot 5,649 free throws (making 4,788 for an .848 percentage), and Larry Bird 4,309 (making 3,810 for an .884 percentage). Malone has tried 10,416 for a career percentage of .769, an excellent mark for a hardworking, rebounding center.
Just as amazing is the fact that Moses has committed an average of only 2.5 personal fouls per game and has fouled out of just five games, all of them in his first two seasons.