For the latest fashions in the NBA, check out Phoenix and Golden State in the Western Conference semifinals. Great athletes, interchangeable players, little point guards and a wide-open style.
Just when the game was growing so big that everybody figured there would be no room for traditional-sized point guards or the 6-foot-7 forward, everything's changing. If Twin Towers were the rage of the late '80s, No Towers is the look of the '90s. Just look at Ralph Sampson, on the Golden State bench.The Suns and Warriors are two of the five most-improved teams in NBA history and Sacramento made a late run after changing to the same style. The way NBA teams copy each other, this stuff could catch on in a big way.
"Teams are saying, `We're going to have a bunch of athletes, shooters, passers, guys who can really run the floor - if we don't have big guys, we may be better off,' " observed Jazz general manager David Checketts.
In the old days, teams like Dallas waited and waited until they found a center in James Donaldson and finally made a move. That's not the case anymore. "The reason is, there aren't any big guys out there," Checketts said.
In this summer's draft, in fact, possibly only one true center could be taken in the first round.
The running game also sells tickets, especially when accompanied by victories. "We needed something to sell," Phoenix Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons has said. "Sure, if we had this record and walked the ball up the court every time, (the fans) would still like us. But now they love us. We're winning and it's exciting."
The Jazz want a quicker look next season - as they work on a new contract for Mark Eaton, they'll have to decide just where he'll fit into their future. "One of the things every team needs is some flexible players," says Coach Jerry Sloan, who adds, "The ideal team would be big, small and in between."
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COMING BACK: The Jazz are not the only proud team trying to recover from a first-round playoff sweep. In their rebuilding process, Kevin McHale says the Celtics need more weapons, starting with Larry Bird, who made stinging comments this week about the efforts of some players.
"We were a better team than this for years because we had five guys out there who all looked to score," McHale said. "Whatever you would try, we'd get the ball to somebody different who just kept scoring. Now, we've just got to get back to that."
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ASSISTANT COACH?: Marc Iavaroni has had a good three-plus years with the Jazz, considering Philadelphia once traded him for a third-round draft choice and San Antonio sent him to the Jazz with Jeff Cook for Jeff Wilkins. Not re-signing Iavaroni would allow the Jazz to possibly add a younger player and avoid dealing with ProServ attorney David Falk, one of their supposed rivals, but they'd lose Iavaroni's good influence.
Iavaroni plans to be a player-coach in Italy when his NBA career is over; howabout making him a Jazz assistant?
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AT RANDOM: Nice postseason (1-9) for the Midwest Division, huh? . . . In the old days, when the Jazz never made the postseason field, Darrell Griffith refused to watch the playoffs on TV. This year? "Same situation," he said. "It's rough." . . . Karl Malone said before the All-Star break that he was having more fun than ever. After Game 2 of the playoffs, he said he was talking to the media again because he'd decided to start having fun. So what happened in between? "I went through a little drought where I wasn't having a lot of fun, for a number of reasons," he said. "Athletes have their moments when they're not in a good mood." . . .
The Suns' Fitzsimmons is an unusual kind of interim coach. Assistant coach Paul Westphal will definitely take Cotton's place; the question is when. "I'm here until whenever," Fitzsimmons told the L.A. Times. "I think at the right time, I'll move back upstairs full time. But nothing is etched in stone as to when." . . . Don't tell Malone about this: In 1991-92, Bird's new contract calls for him to receive $7.07 million - a $2.2 million salary and a $4.87 million deferred signing bonus . . . Red Auerbach says of the Pistons, "We've always had bad guys in the NBA and they always get theirs. If they had to play Karl Malone six times a year, their attitude would change." . . .
Somebody actually counted: Minnesota's Billy McKinney and Bill Musselman, hired well in advance of the Timberwolves' first NBA season, combined to fly 242,878 miles while scouting NBA, CBA and college players this season. "I'm tired of watching," Musselman said . . McHale, on the no-Bird season: "It was just a long, long, hard, difficult year. Not a lot of things went right injury-wise, not a lot of things went right on the court. What a long, strange trip it's been." . . . Phoenix and Sacramento are fielding rookie-free agent teams to join the Jazz for summer-league play in Salt Lake City in early August. Seattle, Milwaukee and Minnesota are also considering entries . . . Malone, on his sudden fame: "It's exciting to be known everywhere you go. It also was earned - it wasn't just given to me."