When Jerry Stackhouse entered the NBA in 1995, the comparisons to Michael Jordan were inevitable -- both were high-flying 6-foot-6 guards who entered the league early after impressive careers at North Carolina. And both were drafted by bad teams.
But that's where the comparisons end. While the incredible ability of Jordan came to surface immediately, the jury is still out on whether Stackhouse is going to be an impressive professional player. That -- and Stackhouse's impending free agency at the end of this season -- is why the Philadelphia 76ers traded the shooting guard and his former North Carolina teammate, Eric Montross, to the Detroit Pistons on Thursday for Theo Ratliff and Aaron McKie.
On paper, the deal doesn't seem fair -- two lottery picks (as amazing as it now seems, Montross, playing on his fifth team, was one) for two late first-round selections. But it does make sense in that Stackhouse was unhappy playing alongside a point guard, Allen Iverson, whose mind-set was to shoot first. Stackhouse had told Sixers management that he would not return when his contract expires at the end of the season. For the Sixers, trading the third pick of the 1995 draft now assured them of getting compensation.
The big question is, can Stackhouse play? In the open court, he is an incredible talent, but Stackhouse has never proved himself to be a consistent shooter (41.1 percent for his career before this season). At least he goes to a team that has two proven scorers (Brian Williams and Grant Hill) who are accustomed to playing an unselfish style of basketball.
If Stackhouse is able to put aside his contract status, and if he proves effective in helping Detroit win, it would benefit him financially when he becomes a free agent next summer. At least Stackhouse and Hill can sit around and discuss playing under the weight of being compared to Jordan.
As for Ratliff, he said he was happy to get out of Detroit because he wasn't being used much in the offense. If he thinks that was bad, wait until he witnesses Iverson's show.
Baker a boon to Sonics
Hearing Vin Baker's solo verse in the singing of the national anthem (along with the choir from his Connecticut church) before last Sunday's game, definitely didn't conjure up memories of Luther Vandross. But Seattle fans don't mind, because Baker has helped the Sonics to the league's best record (going into play last night).
Baker, replacing All-Star forward Shawn Kemp, has been a perfect fit for the Sonics. Though Baker and the man he replaced have put up similar numbers over their careers (Baker averaged 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds coming into this season, Kemp 18.7 points and 10.7 rebounds), they are totally different players.
Kemp thrilled crowds with his acrobatic dunks, but Baker is a more fundamentally sound player with an array of low-post moves that makes him a more consistent scorer than Kemp close to the basket. He has blended in well with a team that was hurt by Kemp's unhappiness last season.
"These guys fit their roles very well," Los Angeles Clippers coach Bill Fitch said of the Sonics. "I don't think there's a team in the league that plays to its roles any better, whether it's from [All-Star guard Gary] Payton to the last guy on the bench."
What's so scary about Seattle is that the team is not yet healthy. Reserve guard Nate McMillan, recovering from off-season knee surgery, participated in full-contact drills last weekend for the first time since the playoffs last season. Jerome Kersey is also out, recovering from a stress fracture in his left foot.
Said sharp-shooting forward Dale Ellis, "When we get Jerome healthy, I think we can put [the bench] up against any team in the league."
No crying over dunk contest
There was little league backlash over the announcement last week that the Slam Dunk Contest was being eliminated during All-Star Weekend, showing how boring the event has become.
It used to be that the league's top leapers (Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Spud Webb) would perform, but lately the biggest names were content with watching from the sidelines.
"At some point in time, you knew it had to come to an end or had to be changed," Jordan said. "The energy of it, the fun -- right now it's not there."
Considering the amount of air time dunks get on the nightly sport shows, it's still one of the most exciting aspects of basketball.
Since some of the league's better players find it beneath them to participate, why not open up the dunking competition to everyone? Have state and regional contests, and bring the best dunkers to All-Star Weekend to participate.
And if a Kobe Bryant or a Brent Barry would like to go against the amateur dunkers, great.
"I'm glad I won it when I did," said Bryant, who said he had even more dunks to showcase. "Hopefully, I'm not going to be the last dunk champion. I am right now. But I think the dunk contest will come back."
Around the league
Not only did Toronto Raptors center Oliver Miller guarantee a win over the Boston Celtics on Wednesday, but he also guaranteed a triple double. The Raptors lost, 88-83. Miller's line: 10 points, eight rebounds, four assists. Maybe the triple double the 325-pound Miller got came later that night at a burger joint.
The San Antonio Spurs are the first team in NBA history to have three former Wooden Award winners (college basketball's top honor) on its roster: David Robinson (1987), Sean Elliott (1989) and Tim Duncan (1997).
Man of Steel? Shaquille O'Neal has missed 80 games (and counting) in his six-year career. The games missed over the first six years by some former great centers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 30; Bill Russell, 35; Wilt Chamberlain, 10; George Mikan, 2; Moses Malone, 26.
The New Jersey Nets have an immediate opening for a cheerleader, made possible when Jack Haley -- Dennis Rodman's former chaperon -- was activated last week after Chris Gatling went on the injured list with a stress fracture in his right leg.
After winning their first game under Don Nelson, the Dallas Mavericks had lost six straight going into yesterday's game against the Sacramento Kings. The Mavericks, who rebelled against the triangle offense under former coach Jim Cleamons, apparently embraced a slowdown, four-corners offense that Nelson installed during a recent 68-66 loss to Utah. The teams combined for the fewest field-goal attempts (116) and wound up with the fifth-lowest scoring game in NBA history.
Game of the week
Detroit at Philadelphia, tomorrow: This will be the second meeting in three days between two teams involved in Thursday's major trade.
"They're still the champs now, but they won't be the champs in June." -- Lakers guard Eddie Jones, on the Chicago Bulls, just before Los Angeles was crushed by the defending NBA champions, 104-83, on Wednesday.
"This ain't like the old days when you'd hear on the public address system, 'Will the lady who lost her five kids come and get them -- they're beating the Nets.' " -- Nets forward Jayson Williams, on the improved play of the team.
Jerry Bembry can be reached via the Internet at Jeryol.com
Jerry Bembry's power rankings
(Last week's rankings in parentheses)
1. Seattle (2): Great chemistry.
2. L.A. Lakers (5): In midst of five-game trip.
3. Atlanta (4): 3-0 on recent West Coast trip.
4. Houston (3): Willis picking up slack for Olajuwon.
5. Miami (1): Just 6-5 against teams with winning records.
6. Chicago (--): Big win over Lakers.
7. Cleveland (7): Kemp has blended in well.
8. Orlando (10): Seikaly stepping up.
9. Phoenix (8): Will miss the injured K.J.
10. Indiana (--): Bird has made an impact.
25. Golden State (27): Signs of life without Sprewell.
26. L.A. Clippers (25): Worst defensive team.
27. Dallas (26): Nelson's not the answer.
28. Denver (28): Winless on the road.
29. Toronto (29): Just two home wins.
Pub Date: 12/21/97