Archive for Sunday, June 28, 1998


June 28, 1998


Realtors always dwell on the merits of ``location, location, location.'' Living war heroes often insist they happened to be ``in the right place at the right time'' along with being tremendously lucky.

That's how a lot of pro basketball players find it after they are drafted, a la Kansas' Raef LaFrentz (Denver) and Paul Pierce (Boston). It helps to wind up with a club that needs your particular skills and which can allow you some time to develop. Superstar Michael Jordan, for all his potential, didn't have his chances for immortality weakened by the other personnel of the Chicago Bulls. Raef and Paul may also have fallen into good mixes.

University of Utah coach Rick Majerus made a significant point about Jordan in pre-draft discussion this week. The real key for players, Majerus said, is not how high they are drafted but how they might fit in.

``Whether you go No. 1 or No. 16, it's not important,'' El Chubbo said. ``The money is minuscule to what you can make later. What's important is which team drafts you. Michael Jordan was helped because Chicago never had a good low-post center that might have clogged the court and could have been an impediment to his career.''

Makes sense. Jordan and Scottie Pippen might have had trouble taking people into the post or jinking and corkscrewing to the hoop if there had been a Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Patrick Ewing clogging the key.

You draft a Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as Los Angeles and Boston did in 1979 and you have a pretty good idea they're going to fit in somewhere. But bear in mind that for all his promise, Michael Jordan was not considered surefire when he left North Carolina a year early to join the Bulls in 1984. Both Johnson and Bird slipped on NBA championship rings much earlier in their careers than Jordan. Better supporting people certainly helped their quests.

Even the people at North Carolina were moderately surprised that Jordan evolved into the awesome force he is. They were aware of his physical capabilities and knew about his flaming competitive zeal to succeed and excel. They didn't know, couldn't know, how driven Michael would become to be the best. No way to judge that when a kid leaves you after his junior year, then steadily emerges as The Man.

It wasn't until Jordan's seventh pro season that he led the Bulls to the NBA title (1991). You'd have to say he got it right. He was voted playoff MVP in '91, '92, '93, '96, '97 and '98 as Chicago copped its six titles in eight years.

But back to Majerus' point: Even a dominant personality and athlete like Jordan needs the right blend to evolve into a celebrated zillionaire.

There is little likelihood either LaFrentz or Pierce will have the first-year NBA success that San Antonio's Tim Duncan or New Jersey's Keith Van Horn enjoyed. Duncan had veteran David Robinson to spin off of and Van Horn shoehorned into an ideal blend with the Nets. Location, location, location; it's not likely the Kansas dandies will have that kind of luck.

Look at Jacque Vaughn, the KU whiz taken a year ago by the Utah Jazz. Players, coaches, about everyone you encounter, believe the able and intelligent Vaughn will be a top-notch point guard someday. But with the Jazz he's playing behind the incomparable John Stockton and steady Howard Eisley, both of whom are more experienced and much better shooters. Count on Jacque to refine his shooting. He must prove he can hit an occasional trey, as Stockton and Eisley did in the recent playoffs. And Vaughn will have to be nearly flawless at the free-throw line if he's to see a lot of service sooner rather than later. But suppose he'd been drafted by another team desperate for talent at the point. His rookie season would have been much more palatable.

So it will go with Pierce and LaFrentz. They could be looking at low-profile debuts despite their potential. Paul needs to get a lot better at protecting the ball outside the paint. Raef will be tested hard and often by guys who hear he is soft, and can be exploited. Raef will learn fast and he'll get plenty of chances with the struggling Nuggets. He was a little timid at KU as a freshman and sophomore; he wasn't the two final seasons.

Pierce -- give the kid time. He's only 20 years old and a lot better-prepared than any of the fresh-out-of-high-school twerps on various rosters. Rick Pitino uses a constant 10-man rotation at Boston and Pierce's skills should fit in well, even though spectacularly for a while.

  • It's interesting to note how listed heights of college stars change once the pros get involved and size factors in to contract talks.

Pierce long was called 6-foot-7 as a Jayhawk but the pro combines say he's 6-6. LaFrentz went through KU at 6-11; the pros label him 6-11-plus, a switch from the norm.

North Carolina's Antawn Jamison claimed a 6-9 level as a collegian; the pros are calling the 1998 player of the year 6-7-plus. Massive Robert Traylor of Michigan carried a 6-8 tab until he opted for the NBA. Guys there say he's under 6-7.

Kansas' Wilt Chamberlain was frequently called 7-2. He swears to this day he's over height for Uncle Dippy. Bill Russell often said his greatest fear was that some night Wilt would grab both the frail Russell and the ball and thunder-dunk them both.

-- Bill Mayer's phone number is 832-7185. His e-mail address is

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