After watching an overweight John Williams miss almost two complete seasons under medical suspension, the Washington Bullets understandably have had few kind words for their absent veteran forward, once viewed as a key to their rebuilding plans.
Last week, Williams finally served some purpose when the Bullets used his exempted salary to allow them to acquire Rex Chapman from the Charlotte Hornets. Chapman, 23, on the injured list with a bruised heel, is considered the team's shooting guard of the future.
"We couldn't have made this [Tom] Hammonds-for-Chapman deal without the $900,000 salary exemption we got on Williams," Bullets general manager John Nash said.
Chapman had what the NBA refers to as a "poison pill" contract. He is making $940,000 this season, compared with Hammonds' $825,000. Last September, however, Chapman, a former University of Kentucky star, signed a four-year contract extension with the Hornets worth an annual average of $2 million.
"From the salary-cap standpoint, we had to match the $2 million," Nash said. "Fair or not, that's the way it works. We used Williams' money to make up the difference. And now all we've got left in the cap is $8,000."
Nash said he received some inquiries involving Williams before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, but nothing approaching his value when in playing shape. And the Los Angeles Lakers, who might believe they could motivate him to play well in his hometown, were not among the bidders.
Get smart: The best explanation offered for Don Chaney's surprising dismissal last week as Houston coach was repeated accusations by NBA rivals that the talented Rockets often beat themselves with mental mistakes.
Chaney's departure was guaranteed after the Rockets lost to the last-place Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 17. Team owner Charlie Thomas said, "When I walked out of The Summit that night, I felt like I never wanted to see another game, and I wondered how many of our fans felt the same way."
Rudy Tomjanovich, the former Rockets assistant who replaced Chaney, said: "We want to get to where people don't say we're a dumb basketball team. That's embarrassing. I've heard that in Houston and on tape of a visiting television game. They said, 'If we just stay in the game these guys aren't very smart and they'll crater.' "
But Carroll Dawson, a former Chaney aide who did not want to be considered as a replacement, said: "Rudy will be trying to solve the same problem that Don had. The problems haven't changed."
The persistent problem for Houston has been the decision-making and questionable shot selection of backcourt starters Kenny Smith and Vernon Maxwell and backup Sleepy Floyd.
Said Floyd, a former Georgetown star who is shooting 37 percent: "It's not that we're not trying our best. Nobody wants to win more than us. The only difference this year is in the standings."
But All-NBA center Hakeem Olajuwon disagreed, suggesting Chaney, who won Coach of the Year laurels last season, had lost his authority.
"It didn't work out," Olajuwon said. "If you let people slack off, they take advantage. . . . We all know we are deceiving ourselves
"Shack" watch: Lottery-bound teams, including the Bullets, are keeping a watchful eye on Louisiana State center Shaquille O'Neal, almost certain to be the No. 1 pick if he chooses to skip his senior college season.
And that's just what he intends to do, according to former Tigers teammate Stanley Roberts, now with the Orlando Magic. Said Roberts: "I talk to him on the phone a lot, and he tells me he's coming out. He doesn't want to gamble on getting injured before turning pro."
New towers: In the mid-1980s, Houston boasted twin towers Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson. Now, the New York Knicks may try the same experiment with Patrick Ewing, 7 feet 1, and newly acquired James Donaldson, 7-2, who left few friends in Dallas after being traded for reserve forward Brian Quinnett.
Knicks coach Pat Riley said: "I've always liked his game because he's a very powerful player. He sets good screens, takes up a lot of space, and he's an offensive force."
L The Mavericks thought Donaldson was only a disruptive force.