They played together, stewed together and watched from the bench together. By the end of the season, Kelly Tripucka and Rickey Green were clearly not in the Jazz's future.
When the players met for the last time, Tripucka told Green, "When this is all said and done, we might be on the same team."See ya in Charlotte.
Thursday, the Charlotte Hornets took Green in the expansion draft and traded former Chicago center Mike Brown for Tripucka as the Jazz cleared out at least two-thirds of the unhappiness on their bench. They'll still be paying a little less than half of Tripucka's $1 million salary for three years and are in the market for a point guard - and wouldn't Jon Sundvold have fit perfectly? In any case, says Coach Frank Layden, "We had to move these two players."
Green leaves after eight seasons in Utah, leading the franchise in games played (606) and representing the team's climb to respectability. If the expansion draft was a cold send-off for him, Green welcomed the change. "There comes a time when everybody has to move on," he said.
Waived by three other teams, he came to the Jazz from Billings of the CBA in December 1980 and stayed, becoming an All-Star in 1983-84. He held off the first challenge from John Stockton by regaining his starting job for the second half of the 85-86 season, but he was permanently moved out last season when Stockton took the whole league by storm.
Green, who will be 34 in August, struggled to accept his reduced role, became less effective in less time and became the unofficial leader of the unhappy benchmen. Allowed George Andrews, Green's agent, "(the Jazz) probably figure they can find someone who's more suited to a short-time role."
In Charlotte, Green will compete with Muggsy Bogues, the 5-foot-3 point guard the Jazz wanted to draft last June before he went to Washington. He'll also play with former Jazz guard Dell Curry, who'll be sharing time with Tripucka. "There's room for both of them," said Charlotte Coach Dick Harter. "They can play together. You can't have too much scoring."
Harter had plenty to do with Tripucka's arrival in North Carolina. Playing all their angles, the Jazz started lobbying with the Hornets to take K.T. as soon as Harter, a former Detroit assistant and Tripucka backer, became the coach.
The original plan, as agreed by Jazz president David Checketts and Charlotte's Carl Scheer Wednesday night, was for the Hornets to take Sundvold from San Antonio in the expansion draft and trade him for Tripucka. But Miami foiled that by taking Sundvold, a dependable veteran who can play either guard position, with the No. 9 overall choice. With Checketts having left town, Layden actually canceled the trade at one point Thursday morning after the Hornets gave him a choice of three players they'd drafted - Indiana's Clint Wheeler, Detroit's Ralph Lewis and New York's Sedric Toney, all free agents.
NBA general counsel Gary Bettman stepped in to arbitrate the deal, requiring Charlotte to offer players who had contracts - Phoenix's Bernard Thompson . . . Portland's Michael Holton . . . Brown. Layden settled on Brown.
And the Hornets went away claiming they had the two best players of the day, Curry and Tripucka. Curiously, both Miami and Charlotte steered away from well-known players. The likes of Randy Wittman, Walter Davis, Jerry Sichting, Cedric Maxwell and Robert Reid all went unclaimed, with Tripucka the only high-priced player selected. And the Hornets got a break on his salary, with the Jazz agreeing to help play him. "It doesn't matter how they make the deal, as long as I get my money," said Tripucka. "I'm sure the Jazz wanted to get something for me, but they don't deserve it for the way they treated me for two years."
While Tripucka sounded less than thrilled about the expansion idea early this week, Charlotte should be just the ticket for a shooter who needs long stretches of playing time. "I'm no savior or anything," he said from his New Jersey home, "but they said I'm the main man. They want me to be the leader and help things along."
Because Brown spent all of April on Chicago's bench, the Jazz came away with little in return for Tripucka, acquired basically straight across for Adrian Dantley in August 1986. Tripucka was the Jazz's starting small forward in his first season, playing the role Marc Iavaroni took over last year, and requested a trade last summer. Checketts would later say, "We should have pulled the trigger when we had even the slightest offer for Kelly."
By waiting, Tripucka and the Jazz had to go through another season of frustration. Moved to guard, Tripucka opened the season on the bench before management suggested and Layden agreed to try to showcase him for a trade by playing him. Tripucka played decently in December and January, including a Dec. 26 game against the Lakers when he made 5 of 5 three-pointers and scored 21, but his promotion hurt Darrell Griffith and Bobby Hansen.
The experiment ended when Tripucka was sidelined for six weeks by a calf injury. When he returned in late March, Tripucka's alleged lackadaisical play angered Layden, who turned to rookie Bart Kofoed as Hansen's backup in the playoffs.
"It's just too bad people (in Utah) never got to see me play," Tripucka noted of the two-year career interruption. "Nobody will ever have the answer why this all happened, right from the start . . . I'm just going to try to forget about it."
Tripucka, Green and Curry will make only one Salt Palace appearance next season with Charlotte in the Atlantic Division, but the Hornets will spend the 1989-90 season in the Midwest Division.