Talent not enough for Wallace, Blazers
By Frank Hughes
Special to ESPN.com
I was wrong.
No, not about that Dallas Mavericks team. Yes, I admit, they were much better
than I, or most, expected.
No, I was wrong about the Portland Trail Blazers.
All season I have maintained that talent can overcome just about everything
I have waited and waited and waited, through Shawn Kemp's, uh, troubles, and
Rasheed Wallace's boorish, childish, immature tantrums and Arvydas Sabonis'
injuries and Detlef Schrempf pouting over having to actually work for $2.25
million and Rod Strickland being added to an already combustible mix.
I kept telling myself that all that is workaday grist of the average -- OK,
maybe not average, but not overly unaverage -- NBA season, and that once the
playoffs neared, this team, with so many veterans with so much postseason
experience, would right itself and focus on the task at hand.
Boy, was I wrong.
What the Fail Blazers' collapse has led to is more cynicism about today's
players, and that individual agendas obviously are more important than team
goals, even when $89 million is being put toward the team goal.
Which leads to just one conclusion: BLOW IT UP!!!!!
Hey, I don't blame you, Bob Whitsitt, not one single bit.
|Rasheed has plenty of ability, like his teammates, but the mix doesn't work.|
You tried something never before tested in the NBA, stacking a team with as
much talent as anybody has a right to organize, a roster filled with
All-Stars, Olympians and world-class athletes, damn the cost.
It was a good theory, anyway, but even Einstein had some stuff blow up in his
grill from time to time. Why do you think his hair looked like that?
But the experiment is over. The test tube is cracked. The potion is leaking
out all over the hot plate and making a really, really, really foul smell,
and in the Rose City, no stench should be that putrid.
Here is why: The lab rats' egos were too big.
This is the thing I absolutely do not understand. When all these players came
to this team, most voluntarily, they could see the roster. They talked to the
coaching staff. They spoke with Whitsitt. They knew coming in that minutes
were going to be scarce, that shots were going to limited, that the
production of seasons past were just that, things of the past. Sacrifice for
the team, was what they were told, all for one and one for all.
And I guarantee you every one of them went home and said to themselves, or
the 19 members of their posses: "I'm the best player they have. I am going to
be The Man. Not all for one. All for ME."
Well, not everybody can be The Man. In fact, very few people can be The Man,
although everybody wants to think of themselves that way.
Dale Davis is a nice NBA player, to be sure. But for him to think that he
deserves a maximum contract in this league is ludicrous. The guy can't even
score in the low-post except off offensive rebounds, for God sakes.
I hate to crack on Kemp because of all his own personal struggles, but he was
whining earlier this season about playing time, as well. I mean, Shawn,
c'mon, look in the mirror. Not happening, big boy, not happening.
Pippen complaining over a lack of a defined role in the offense? Scottie,
buddy, what have you done since your boy MJ retired? I don't know how the NBA
is going to do this in the future, maybe expand it to the Top 75 players of
all time, but if they kept it as the Top 50 players of all time, I have a
pretty good guess that Pip would be, well, reassigned.
And is it just me, or does it seem more than just a coincidence that Scottie
is now complimenting Michael -- and ripping Kobe at the same time -- because
Michael seems to be coming back to play next season? I'm going to start
calling him Dorothy Pippen because it's only a matter of time before he
breaks out in a rendition of, "I'm off to see the Wizards."
All of that is not even touching on the lunacy of Wallace. This
one-game suspension stuff is crap. You want to get his attention, fine him 10
games. I mean, nobody has that type of anger management problem, certainly
not over feeling slighted on a basketball court.
I read somewhere that Rasheed told another player, "I hate referees." This is
not life or death. Hate is a strong word. They're just doing their jobs.
Everybody in the league gets fouled occasionally without it being called.
Nobody is out to get Sheed.
But it goes back to ego. In his own deluded, demented, self-important mind,
the war is against him.
The irony is, Rasheed is the most difficult conundrum, because this team
obviously needs to change.
Well, beyond Mike Dunleavy getting fired in about a week.
No, this roster needs to change. Dramatically.
The most obvious place would be with Wallace, but he is too much of a talent
to let go. So you have to change someplace else. You need role players. You
need people who know that it is their place to come off the bench and shoot
three times and defend and then go and sit back down.
You need guys who are happy to be making $800,000, instead of everybody on
the roster feeling as if they should be making $9 million.
You need team players, not players who care only about themselves.
Earlier this season, Whitsitt made a snide remark to a reporter's question
regarding the addition of Strickland.
"I didn't major in chemistry," Whitsitt said then.
He better go get a crash course."
Mauer's Big Day
I recently was e-mailed a speech made by Charlton Heston to Harvard students,
the gist of which was modern-day political correctness is killing individual
thought because we have been programmed to think a certain way so that we
don't offend anyone.
In the speech, Heston urged students to fight back.
"I am asking you to disavow your cultural correctness with massive
disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous laws that
weaken personal freedom," Heston said. "But be careful. It hurts."
The speech reminded me of Ken Mauer, the NBA referee about whom I wrote a
month and a half ago, one of only two referees to fight the IRS in its tax
evasion charges against officials, and the only one to be found guilty.
Mauer disobeyed conventional wisdom and what the IRS wanted, and he became a
convicted felon. As Heston said, "Disobedience hurts."
But Mauer was partially exonerated this week when the presiding judge, a good
man named Donovan Frank, saw the case for what it really was and showed Mauer
the leniency that should allow him to get back his job.
Frank sentenced Mauer to five months in a halfway house, where he has to
serve 800 hours of community service working with children. He also has to
serve five months home detention.
But by structuring the sentence the way he did, Frank allowed Mauer to be
back in training camp this October, assuming NBA commissioner David Stern
grants Mauer the right to return -- which he should. After all, Mauer
actually got less of a sentence than some of the officials who plea bargained
with the IRS.
"I'm proud that I stood up for myself," Mauer said the night of his sentence. "At the same time, I'm relieved that it turned out this way. This is the
first decent day I've had in a year and a half. This summer is going to be hard, serving my sentence. But I'm going to turn
it into a positive thing. I'm going to help the kids, I'll get into shape.
"And hopefully I will get my job back and doing what I love next season."
Around The League
Detroit president Joe Dumars should know late next week who he wants to hire
In Phoenix next week for a camp for potential draftees, Dumars is going to
meet with Seattle assistant Dwane Casey, Rick Carlisle -- who was Larry
Bird's assistant in Indiana -- and Denver assistant John Lucas.
Frank Hughes covers the NBA for the Tacoma (Wash.) News-Tribune. He is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
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