Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens has tried to light a fire under Laettner. "I want him to be aggressive all the time," Wilkens says. "We need him to take charge." Some wonder whether Laettner, whose wife, Lisa, gave birth to the couple's first child over the summer, has rearranged his priorities. Entering preseason camp, Laettner admitted he hadn't run for three weeks because he'd been too busy attending to his daughter, Sophia.
Considering that Laettner will be a free agent after this season, his uninspired play is even more puzzling. He says he wants to stay in Atlanta, but last summer he turned down the Hawks' offer of a seven-year extension because it called for annual increases of only 20% above the $5 million he earns this season. For a guy playing for a new contract, he has looked surprisingly complacent.
Line of the Week
Bulls forward Scottie Pippen, Jan. 10 against the Warriors: 31 minutes, 5-12 FG, 3-6 FT, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists. With his team insisting days before that Pippen, recovering from surgery on his left foot, could be "a couple of weeks away," he made his surprise season debut in Chicago's otherwise drab 87-82 victory. Pippen had earlier vowed he would never play again for the Bulls; sources say he's now likely to stay with the team for the rest of the season.
Around the Rim
Steve Nash, the Suns' second-year point guard, has drawn interest from a multitude of teams—among them Dallas, Golden State, New York, Orlando and Sacramento—but Phoenix wants to hold on to him. With Kevin Johnson, who makes $8.0 million, planning to retire after the season, the Suns will have money available to sign Nash to an extension. His initial asking price: $6 million to $7 million a season....
Charles Barkley met with Rockets management early last week to express his frustration with the state of the team (which was 17-15 through Sunday, following three straight losses). According to sources, Sir Charles said that depending on the destination, he might not refuse a trade. But the Houston brass assured Barkley that they want him to stay and that changes will be made. Expect the Rockets to part with Clyde Drexler, who has clashed with Barkley and whose contract is up this summer....
Detroit was in the hunt for Vernon Maxwell before he signed with Orlando, but the team that had the real inside track—if it wanted him—was Chicago. The Bulls talked to Maxwell in November, but management didn't think that he would help the team win the title....
Billy Hunter, executive director of the players' association, has expressed skepticism at commissioner David Stern's assertion that almost one third of the league's 29 franchises are losing money. Preparing for what promises to be a summer of labor unrest, the union plans to randomly audit five franchises.
For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to www.cnnsi.com.
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