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NBA Notes : It's Time for Aguirre to Ride Out of Dallas

February 05, 1989|JERRY SULLIVAN | Newsday

Dallas Coach John MacLeod says it's no time for panic, but it's hard to hear him above the din. He's standing in the middle of a burning movie theater, urging calm while the other patrons trample one another on a frenzied dash for the exits.

Panic is precisely what's happening in Dallas. Seven months ago, they were seven minutes from the finals. Now they're in chaos. Despite having played more home games than any team in the league, they're only one game over .500. They suffered the worst home defeat in franchise history, 118-93, against the Los Angeles Lakers Sunday on national television. They were 4-11 in January.

One of their star players, Roy Tarpley, is back in drug rehab. Another, Rolando Blackman, is on the injured list. A third, Mark Aguirre, is asking to be traded. He was even kind enough to provide a list of teams.

So finally, Dallas is attempting to do what should have been done long ago. They're trying to trade Aguirre, whose selfish manner and deteriorating play are threatening to tear the franchise asunder. Only now, they're doing it from urgency and weakness rather than strength.

Dallas reportedly turned down a deal that would have sent Aguirre and Sam Perkins to Detroit for Adrian Dantley and John Salley. The Mavericks apparently tried to insert Bill Wennington into the Perkins slot and were promptly rebuffed.

"We've had a rough time here," MacLeod said recently. "But I still say this is not the time for panic. This is the time to stay together, to pull tighter and get through."

MacLeod might be outwardly tranquil, but he's got to be simmering inside. His methods have been questioned by the media and by members of his organization. He's been criticized for overbalancing the offense and not exploiting the scoring skills of Aguirre and Blackman.

Of course, it's hard to feel compassion for an organization that smugly elected to stand still after reaching the conference finals. Certain the team was on the verge of greatness, and unwilling to change it, the Mavericks gave Miami the 20th pick in the draft to protect Steve Alford, Jim Farmer, Uwe Blab and Wennington from expansion.

Alford and Farmer are now gone. Blab has played 56 minutes all season. MacLeod says Wennington has been "super," but that assessment is questionable.

"If I had to do it over, yes, I would have changed," MacLeod said. "But at the time, everybody thought it was the correct move."

The correct move now is to ship Aguirre out of Texas before some disgusted fan takes a chainsaw to him. Two nights ago, with his team still reeling from Sunday's embarrassment, Aguirre complained of sore ankles at the last minute and sat out the Mavericks' home loss to Utah.

"With Tarpley in rehab, he's got them by the throat," one league source said. "And he flaunts it. ... The kid's a jerk and everybody knows it. The only reason he hasn't been traded before is the owner (Donald Carter)."

Oddly enough, trading Aguirre to Detroit might actually make the Pistons a happier team. Aguirre is a good friend of Isiah Thomas, while Dantley and Thomas are the Iran and Iraq of pro basketball. Plus, Detroit no longer considers Dantley a supreme postup scorer and Aguirre, a 24.9-point career scorer before this season, is nearly four years younger.

"It's so frustrating," Dallas General Manager Norm Sonju said, "because this year and the next were supposed to be the years when we could sit and have fun going for it all. To be in this situation is just unbelievable. ... But we're committing to getting this thing corrected, because it's certainly not correcting itself."

The announcement of the Western Conference All-Star reserves has demonstrated, once again, how foolish it is for the league to mandate the inclusion of three centers on the teams.

A basketball team has two forwards, two guards and one center. The fans select the first team on that basis. So why must the coaches, in selecting the backups, be compelled to add at least two centers?

There often aren't three All-Star centers in a conference. After Houston's Akeem Olajuwon, there was no clear-cut All-Star center in the West. Utah's Mark Eaton was a worthy choice, but Portland's Kevin Duckworth made it by default.

It would have made more sense to include Phoenix's Tom Chambers as a center, because he often plays the middle in the Suns' attack. That would have kept Duckworth off and freed a spot for Denver's Fat Lever, a victim of the system.

Here's an alternate look at the Western team:

Starters: Chris Mullin, Golden State, and Karl Malone, Utah, forwards; Akeem Olajuwon, Houston, center; Magic Johnson, Lakers, and Clyde Drexler, Portland, guards.

Reserves: James Worthy, Lakers, and Alex English, Denver, forwards; John Stockton, Utah, and Dale Ellis, Seattle, guards; Tom Chambers, Phoenix, and Mark Eaton, Utah, centers; and Fat Lever, Denver, wild-card choice.

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