The Charlotte Hornets and Seattle SuperSonics completed a long-rumored trade yesterday that is a first step toward making both the Hornets and Sonics serious contenders to end the Chicago Bulls' title reign.
The first part of the deal sent unhappy Kendall Gill to Seattle for Eddie Johnson, plus Dana Barros and a first-round draft choice.
The key player was Gill, 25, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who averaged 16.1 points in three seasons with the Hornets. He is considered one of the rising young stars of the NBA, but he grew disenchanted with the Charlotte management, feuded with teammates and said he would leave the team as a free agent after next season.
"We do not want to jeopardize our franchise because of a player who does not want to be in Charlotte," said Hornets president Spencer Stolpen.
The Hornets, led by Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Gill, pushed the New York Knicks hard in the playoffs last season and were considered one of the threats to the Bulls in the Eastern Conference this season.
They still may be, because NBA sources say the Hornets will now ship the No. 1 pick they received in the deal to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, along with Barros and ex-Bull Sidney Green, for All-Star shooting guard Hersey Hawkins.
The deal for Hawkins is said to be pending a physical for Barros.
So Charlotte, which was a poor perimeter shooting team last season, would be adding a career 19-point scorer and one of the league's best three-point shooters in Hawkins, as well as Eddie Johnson, a 12-year forward with a career average of more than 18 points.
"I've been a part of winners being built in Phoenix and Seattle, and that's what Charlotte is looking at," said Johnson, 34, a former Sixth Man of the Year.
The '94 draft pick Charlotte would trade originally belonged to Philadelphia. And the 76ers, who are rebuilding, are said to be eager to get it back because they figure to be high in next season's lottery.
L Meanwhile, Seattle and Charlotte both expect to contend now.
Although there's some question whether the Sonics can win with Gary Payton at point guard, they have now added Sam Perkins, acquired last season, and Gill without sacrificing any of their nucleus.
And the Hornets, though also vulnerable at the point with Muggsy Bogues, get an outside threat to complement powerful inside players Larry Johnson and Mourning.