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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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When their best player, guard Mitch Richmond, expressed unhappiness with his contract early in the season, management said they would take care of him. Unfortunately, the Kings were already over the cap and couldn't do much.

Richmond, a five-time All-Star and the fourth-leading scorer in the league this season at 25.9 points per game, wouldn't mind a trade to a contender, but dealing their only star would leave the Kings without a recognizable player or a reliable scorer. It also would exacerbate the shaky situation at point guard, where the Tyus Edney era lasted about 40 games. Bobby Hurley isn't the long-term answer at point, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf is a shooter, not a playmaker.

Interim coach Eddie Jordan is expected to get a two-year contract, but unless the Richmond situation works out for the Kings, Eddie Jordan will need Michael Jordan if Sacramento is to make the playoffs.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers' run at the postseason ended on April 16 in Washington, on a night when Reggie Miller went 3 for 13 from the floor, 7'4" center Rik Smits pulled down five rebounds, forward Dale Davis heaved up a free throw attempt that slammed into the backboard and missed the basket entirely, and point guard Mark Jackson—the NBA's assist leader for '96-97—finished with no assists. It ended as so many Pacers games did this year, with coach Larry Brown, head buried in hands, wondering why another group of players had quit on him.

A replacement for Brown will be part of the rebuilding process. Bird met with team president Donnie Walsh over the weekend. Dunleavy also is on the preliminary list of potential successors to the peripatetic Brown.

A trade of Smits might be in the offing too; he'll want $10 million a year when he becomes a free agent after next season. The Pacers will look for a scorer for the front line, another point guard and, maybe, a free-throw-shooting coach for Davis (.428 from the line).

Cleveland Cavaliers

Pick a game, any game. All were the same when the Cavaliers were involved: slow, boring and dominated by defense. Only five times this year did both the Cavs and their opponent top 100. Fans hate the style, and with Cleveland missing the postseason for the first time since 1991, they have reason to expect changes.

With seven free agents and two first-round draft choices, the roster will be revamped. As for the coach, Mike Fratello's Sominex strategy sparked much talk that he'd be gone, but over the weekend sources close to the team said owner Gordon Gund was considering granting Fratello an extension. Fratello dislikes the slow-down game but believes it was the only way he could win with the talent at hand. If he survives, look for him to increase the tempo—much to everyone's relief.

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