Supposedly in transition, Bucks off to a surprisingly fast start


So what are the Milwaukee Bucks doing atop the Central Division, up there with the Chicago Jordans at 9-3?

Aren't the Bucks supposed to be in a painful transition period? Didn't they hold a summer garage sale in which seven players from last year's 31-51 team got traded or released? Don't they have a new coach? Didn't two veterans sustain career-threatening injuries?

Has to be Buck fever.

"By the end of last year, the older players weren't playing hard and the fans wanted a change," said coach Mike Dunleavy, lured from the Los Angeles Lakers by an eight-year deal that guarantees the, uh, buck always stops at his desk. "It had been the same way for so long, and people simply got tired of it."

For a team that didn't have a general manager, the Bucks got busy.

On June 24, the Bucks drafted two of Arkansas' best players -- swingman Todd Day and point guard Lee Mayberry -- and traded guard Jay Humphries and forward Larry Krystkowiak to Utah for guard Eric Murdock and forward Blue Edwards. Eight days later, guard Dale Ellis was dealt to San Antonio in a three-way deal that brought Portland center Alaa Abdelnaby to Milwaukee.

Then they made free agents of Jeff Grayer, Steve Henson, Lester Connor and Brad Lohaus. Then they signed center Anthony Avent, their 1991 first-round pick who played last season in Europe. Then they signed veteran point guard Sam Vincent, a free agent from Orlando. Then they brought back Lohaus, who couldn't land a deal elsewhere.

And most everybody picked them for last place.

Without Moses Malone, who is out with back surgery, and Vincent, who had a season-ending Achilles' tendon injury, the Bucks to turn over the team to Murdock, a second-year player who has done a terrific job.

"Even I didn't expect us to be this decent this soon," Dunleavy said.

The Bucks have done it with defense, limiting opponents to .427 shooting and forcing 21.5 turnovers a game. The Bucks are still a little soft inside, but getting the ball past guards Alvin Robertson (3.4 steals) and Murdock (2.5) is always an adventure.

Dunleavy uses a 10-player rotation with the understanding that "if you don't defend, you don't play," he said. "The guys understand that if they defend, they can play with anybody."

How long that continues depends on Robertson, who has been telling everybody he'll be the next to go.

"I know something's going to happen," he said. "Blue's been playing well, and they'll be giving more minutes to Todd. Even if I average 30 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, I won't get a new contract or extension. No way I won't be traded."

A new Bird in Gugliotta?

First, people couldn't talk about Orlando rookie center Shaquille O'Neal without mentioning Wilt Chamberlain. Now, Washington Bullets rookie forward Tom Gugliotta has people using the L-word.

"God, he's the closest thing to Larry Bird I've seen in a long time," New York Knicks coach Pat Riley said. "I hate to use that analogy, but the way he plays at 6-9 . . . "

Gugliotta then shot 0-for-8 against the Knicks, with seven turnovers. But Riley didn't back down. "I saw Larry go 5-for-27," he said.

Players on the line

Not a good week for B.J. Armstrong and Negele Knight. It looks as though Armstrong might be replaced in the Bulls' starting lineup by John Paxson, and Knight's hold on his job in Phoenix as backup to Kevin Johnson is slipping. Frank Johnson, out of the NBA for three years until catching on with the Suns last month, played 27 and 25 minutes in the last two games.

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