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An Uphill Struggle
Tim Kurkjian
May 05, 1997
This year's lottery teams face obstacles great and small on the climb to respectability
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May 05, 1997

An Uphill Struggle

This year's lottery teams face obstacles great and small on the climb to respectability

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The Spurs used an astounding 24 starting lineups—11 more than the Bulls. Just as amazing, Cadillac Anderson was a starter in 48 games. Injuries limited David Robinson to just six games and Sean Elliot to 39, a big reason that the Spurs recorded the largest single-season drop in victories (39) in NBA history.

Next year the Spurs hope to make the league's largest single-season jump. They have a decent shot at the No. 1 pick, but they don't need Duncan and would be happy to add someone like Kentucky All-America Ron Mercer to a lineup of Robinson, Elliott, Avery Johnson and whatever free-agent power forward they can find in the off-season.

Such prospects are why G.M. Gregg Popovich, who cold-bloodedly fired coach Bob Hill after a 3-15 start and replaced Hill with himself, plans to keep both jobs next year. His top priority is finding rebounding help for Robinson—and a rabbit's foot to ward off injuries.

Denver Nuggets

Denver's season essentially ended 3½ months before it began, when center Dikembe Mutombo signed with Atlanta as a free agent on July 15. That loss and some bad trades (leading scorer Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf for damaged goods Sarunas Marciulionis?) drove the man responsible, former coach-G.M. Bernie Bickerstaff, to give up the coaching job, then later bolt for the Bullets. By season's end Denver was as awful as Vancouver and Boston. How bad? The Nuggets' minutes leader this year, by far, was Dale Ellis, age 36.

New G.M. Allan Bristow will begin a massive rebuilding project by hiring the Nuggets' seventh coach in eight years. The front-runner appears to be Atlanta assistant Bill Hanzlik, a defensive specialist who might bolster the Nuggets' woeful efforts on D. Denver will have a high draft pick and will be $5 million under the cap, but with standout forward LaPhonso Ellis already gone for most of next season after tearing his Achilles tendon late in the season, this team likely will be very bad for some time to come.

Philadelphia 76ers

Allen Iverson scored 40 points in five straight games in April; Philly lost all five. Need we say more? Yes. The Sixers shamelessly called two timeouts in the final minute of the blowout fifth game, against Washington, so Iverson could break the record for consecutive 40-point games by a rookie. That didn't sit well. Said Sixers part owner Pat Croce, "I was embarrassed."

Iverson is a remarkable talent, but he needs the guidance of a veteran coach. Croce, who fired his first-year tandem of coach Johnny Davis and G.M. Brad Greenberg after the season, was heavily wooing Kentucky coach Rick Pitino—going so far as to send flowers and fruit baskets to Pitino's hotel at each stop on the coach's current book tour.

Pitino's hiring would move this club in the right direction, as would trading forwards Derrick Coleman and Clarence Weatherspoon, though it remains to be seen whether either has value. The best hope might be to deal shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse, another tremendous talent, who definitely would bring the Sixers quality in return. His game simply doesn't mesh (does anybody's?) with Iverson's—both shot less than 42%, and they were first and third, respectively, in the NBA in total turnovers.

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