Larry Johnson should be happy. After a back injury limited him to 51 games two seasons ago and had many thinking he was washed up, Johnson returned last season to average 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds and once again earn a spot as an Eastern Conference All-Star.
So what are Johnson's thoughts on the coming season?
"I'm not in the right frame of mind to play basketball," the Charlotte power forward said last week, a day before the Hornets opened training camp.
What has upset Johnson is the off-season trade of Hersey Hawkins to the Seattle SuperSonics for Kendall Gill. In case you've forgotten, Gill's complaints about being overlooked on the offensive end while playing with Charlotte and his stormy relationship with coach Allan Bristow prompted his trade to Seattle after the 1992-93 season.
Johnson is upset that the Hornets never consulted him about the trade, complaining that "I thought I had a say-so." Teammates are hoping that the bad blood between Johnson and Gill from an on-court altercation in 1993-94 does not carry into games.
"They don't have to go home with each other," Alonzo Mourning said. "They just have to work together a couple of hours a day."
Gill is a talented 6-foot-5 forward, and had he accepted his role as the third option behind Mourning and Johnson, the Hornets would have been on the verge of breaking through as an Eastern Conference power. Instead Gill went to Seattle and found himself in the same role and at odds with coach George Karl. He left the team briefly last season after a bout with depression.
Gill's a more aggressive player and a better defender than Hawkins, which will help playing against Eastern Conference shooting guards such as Michael Jordan, Reggie Miller and Glen Rice.
But even if he is a model citizen, the Hornets are still in trouble as they'll start the season with Rafael Addison at small forward (Scott Burrell is out until December, recovering from a torn Achilles' tendon) and Michael Adams at point guard (Muggsy Bogues is recovering from knee surgery).
Charlotte doesn't appear to have gotten any better by drafting George Zidek. So if the team plans on staying afloat, Johnson and Gill need to get along.
"We're going to get along for six months or fight or get traded," Johnson said.
Barkley not happy either
As the wheeling and dealing began after the lockout was lifted, Phoenix Suns forward Charles Barkley looked on with interest.
"I always said that I would like to have Dennis Rodman on my team," Barkley said before the start of training camp last week. "I would love to have Vernon Maxwell on my team, too. . . . Just because a guy is a nice guy doesn't mean he's a good player."
Barkley's point was that the Suns needed to make some changes to compete with San Antonio and Houston in the Western Conference. But he didn't expect the deal that saw good friend Dan Majerle traded to Cleveland for John "Hot Rod" Williams.
If Barkley was the most popular player in Phoenix, then Majerle was a close second. And yet Majerle, an All-Star starter last season, was showing signs of deteriorating skills.
Once known as "Thunder Dan" for his reckless drives to the basket, Majerle, 30, seemed more and more content to launch three-pointers. Last season with the more shooter-friendly three-point line, Majerle hit 36.3 percent from beyond the arc -- less than the three years previous.
Phoenix is ready to turn over the shooting guard job to Wesley Person, who actually started at that position last season.
With many of the players upset, the Suns had a team meeting on Saturday to discuss the trade. Barkley made it clear that his remarks to shake things up didn't mean to trade Majerle. Team president Jerry Colangelo's response: "He can't have it both ways."
Around the league
Rex Chapman has never been known as a strong defensive player, but the former Washington Bullet is earning raves from Miami Heat coach Pat Riley. "We've had guys with reputations of not playing defense," Riley said. "Some of these guys can play defense, and one of them is Rex Chapman." . . . Riley was welcomed in Miami, but some of the New York Knicks seem happy that he is gone. "He had a lot of guys on this team brainwashed," forward Charles Oakley said.
Quote of the week
From Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson, on whether there is anything that is surprising about Dennis Rodman?
"Basketball-wise, no. The fact that he has a pressurized ring in his ear, yes. He needs a special tool to get it out."