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The NBA / Gordon Edes : Tripucka Stuck in Utah: Can't Get In--or Out

December 29, 1987|Gordon Edes

Kelly Tripucka, the forgotten member of the Utah Jazz, made his first start of the season last Saturday against the Lakers and scored 21 points, including all five of his three-point attempts.

Tripucka, whose woes were detailed in a front-page story in the (Salt Lake City) Deseret News, reportedly was inserted into the starting lineup only after a pregame meeting between owner Larry Miller, General Manager David Checketts and Coach Frank Layden.

"I guess Kelly Tripucka still can play," Laker Coach Pat Riley said innocently after the game.

Tripucka, a two-time All-Star who was obtained from Detroit before last season in a trade for Adrian Dantley, would like to go elsewhere but has three years left on a contract that is paying him $971,000 a season. That apparently has discouraged interested parties, including the Clippers, who reportedly offered a second-round draft choice--on the condition that the Jazz pick up half his contract. Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor said Monday that no such offer was made.

Utah has gone so far as to tell Tripucka's agent, Bob Woolf, to try to make a deal on his own for the 6-foot 6-inch swingman, who is 28.

"How could you ever think this would happen to me?" Tripucka told Kurt Kragthorpe of the Deseret News. "How could you ever describe a scenario like this? I'm sitting here, and I don't even feel like a professional athlete anymore.

"That's the worst part, being from my background, being the way I am. This whole thing has just been a complete and total nightmare."

Layden, however, was less than sympathetic after Saturday's game. Perhaps he was mindful of Tripucka's postgame interview in Cleveland, when he referred to the Jazz as "they," as in, "I'm glad they won." Or it could be he was wondering if it were true, as someone asked him, that Tripucka's New Jersey-based family had cheered for the Nets on Utah's last visit there.

"If he wants to play somewhere else, he'd better start playing good here," Layden said. "No one wants him. Let him come here and establish his worth. If he does that, then there's no holding him back. Then it's good luck. In the meantime, let's see him help us win."

James Worthy, for one, figured it was no accident that Tripucka started against the Lakers. "In the six years I've been in the league," Worthy said, "when a player all of a sudden starts playing, that usually means they're showcasing somebody. Maybe that's the deal."

Add Tripucka: Layden, of course, is the one who insisted that Utah trade Dantley, who is helping the Pistons to the best record in the league this season. But when asked if maybe he could find more playing time for Tripucka, he shot back to reporter Kragthorpe: "Let me ask you this: Are we keeping an All-Star on the bench? We want to win like anybody else. As much as I hated Dantley, I couldn't keep him out of the lineup."

Add Layden: Last week, Layden kept Mel Turpin out of the lineup after the Jazz backup center missed a shootaround in Cleveland. He dressed Turpin, a former Cavalier, for the game, however, and during a third-quarter timeout, Turpin began jawing with fans. When Layden told him to knock it off, Turpin went to the end of the bench and threw down a towel, whereupon Layden sent him to the dressing room.

Layden, recalling the incident Saturday: "He got mad and threw down his towel, just like a little boy, so I sent him to the corner. The only thing was, the corner was in the locker room."

Second add Layden: The Utah coach, who complains bitterly of teams playing zones, was hardly mollified when referee Earl Strom called an illegal defense on the Lakers, and said: "One out of 20 isn't bad."

Layden, seeing laughter on press row, strolled over and barked: "Welcome to the big leagues. Big . . . joke, isn't it?"

Add end Layden: A big Dodger fan, he was asked about the Dodgers' plan to move Steve Sax to third base.

"The beginning of the end," he groaned. "Too close to the dugout."

The last time Layden was here, he said he gave Dodger Manager Tom Lasorda an Italian gold coin and told him to keep it in his back pocket for good luck.

That night, the Dodgers took a 5-0 lead into the seventh inning against Atlanta and lost.

The next day at the hotel, there was an envelope awaiting Layden. Inside was the gold piece and this cryptic message from Lasorda: "Take your lucky coin and shove it."

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: After the Pistons beat the Knicks on Christmas Day, ending New York's two-game winning streak on the holiday, Detroit center Bill Laimbeer said: "That's all we ever heard last week. Watching CBS, all the promos, telling about how well they play on Christmas. Christmas Miracle I and Christmas Miracle II. You can take only so much of that and you get mad."

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