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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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Dallas Mavericks

On April 6 against the Lakers, the Mavericks were outscored 27-2 in the third quarter, setting a league record for fewest points in a period. Dallas went 0 for 15 from the floor and committed nine turnovers. Scarily, one former Maverick said, only half jokingly, that it might not have been the worst quarter in the Mavs' 24-58 season.

As another horrible campaign came to a close in Big D, new G.M. Don Nelson said, "I'm truly excited about the future of the team." For the near term, that future will include coach Jim Cleamons, who'll be retained against the wishes of Nelson. (He wanted former Sacramento coach Garry St. Jean.) Nelson must hope that Cleamons learned a lesson from his tumultuous first season: Find a system that fits your players instead of forcing the players to conform to your system.

The spotlight will be on 7'6" center Shawn Bradley, who arrived in the massive February trade with New Jersey. Bradley had a solid final month, but there remains a gigantic question as to whether he can play in this league. Point guard Robert Pack also figures prominently in the plans, but he's always hurt. Without a high pick in the June draft (Dallas sent its lottery choice to Boston for since-traded center Eric Montross), the future is far off.

New Jersey Nets

Upon being fired as coach by the Nets after last season, Butch Beard said, "They can bring in Pitino, [John] Calipari or whomever, and it won't change a damn thing." Butch the prophet. Beard won 30 games in '95-96; Calipari, his $15 million replacement, won 26. The Nets were the same terrible-shooting team (42%, lowest in the NBA) they've been for years. Calipari's club lost more games (56) in one season than his UMass teams did in seven (53). He alienated some players by openly showing disgust with their play—folding his arms, stomping his feet, rolling his eyes on the sidelines. He alienated many fans by calling a local writer "a f———Mexican idiot." (The NBA fined Calipari $25,000 for the remark.)

The Nets' trade with Dallas may yield little in the long run. Sam Cassell, a free agent, knows competitive Charlotte needs a point guard. Shooting guard Jimmy Jackson, whose game lost its explosiveness after his severe ankle injury two seasons ago, probably will be traded to give Kerry Kittles more playing time. Forward Chris Gatling, a New Jersey native, says he doesn't like playing so close to home.

The Nets have lots of room under the cap—a good thing, because they must sign some free agents to have a chance. But that will leave the franchise with the same mix as last year: an overhauled roster, a coach trying to learn on the job and little hope of going far.

Toronto Raptors

The 30-52 Raptors made significant progress in their second season, improving by nine wins from '95-96. They made even more headway just after the regular season ended, when savvy G.M. Isiah Thomas pulled a power play and came away as majority owner. Thomas had threatened to leave if his ownership group wasn't allowed to purchase a controlling interest, and key players such as Damon Stoudamire and Walt Williams were ready to go with him. Given that ultimatum, current ownership had no choice but to yield.

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