We love to jeer at crumbled cornerstone

November 20, 1994|By Bill Lyon | Bill Lyon,Knight-Ridder Newspapers

The player doesn't like the coach.

The player is 21. The coach is more than twice the player's age.

The player has one full year in the business. The coach has what amounts to a lifetime.

The player has a contract worth $73 million. The coach has a contract worth, well, certainly lucrative by most standards but a handful of M&Ms compared with $73 million.

So, guess who's gone.

Surprise.

This time, amazingly enough, it is the player who is shipped away and the coach who stays.

They are, respectively, Chris Webber and Don Nelson.

In the new order of sports, though, this scenario is an aberration. Almost always, when a player with one of those ludicrous contracts that are now in vogue becomes unhappy with a coach, it is the coach who should be calling realtors.

So Webber ends up with the Washington Bullets and Nelson retains his job with the Golden State Warriors, and what is intriguing and ironic is that Webber is now coached by Jim Lynam, who was one of the 76ers' think-tankers who preferred to draft Shawn Bradley over Chris Webber.

At least that is the conventional wisdom. Whether the Sixers ever really had a chance to negotiate a deal for Webber will remain a matter of uninformed conjecture. Or until Harold Katz comes clean.

Going for height:

"I'm a Webber guy," Lynam says. He also said, and continues to say, that he is a Bradley guy.

But then Jimmy the Kid has always been fascinated by extreme height and how it might be used to completely alter the way basketball is played. So far, these experiments have been less than grand.

The Bullets are paying Webber almost $30 million more than the 76ers are paying Bradley. And yet it is the Bullets who think they got the bargain and the 76ers fans who think they got fleeced. The Bullets contend they have a franchise cornerstone in Webber. The Warriors thought the same thing.

The Sixers, meanwhile, continue to wonder what, exactly, they have in Bradley.

So far, Matchstick Man has been mostly bust.

To the great and sadistic delight of the public.

Nothing seems to please us these days quite like failure, and the more spectacular the failure the better.

There is a perversity running through us, driving us to demand ruination of those with wealth or influence or responsibility. We are not satisfied until they have been run off. Consider how we have treated -- with the exception of Ronald Reagan -- our last five presidents, including the incumbent.

Shawn Bradley is paid to do nothing more mundane than make the occasional basket, seize the more occasional rebound and block and/or alter every shot attempted within reaching distance of his considerable wingspan.

Great expectations:

So far, alas, his most noteworthy accomplishments have been injuries.

But so many of our judgments are based upon perception and upon expectation. For example, Chris Webber's name is not to be found among the league leaders in either scoring or rebounding. His averages of 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds a game were enough to make him Rookie of the Year last season, and enough to convince at least two franchises that he is a cornerstone.

Actually, those numbers are quite modest. They hardly scream "franchise" at you. They are about half of Shaquille O'Neal, as one point of comparison.

Now what if Shawn Bradley were averaging 17.5 and 9.1?

That would be considerably above his current output. And yet that would be judged not nearly enough. He would still be found wanting. He would still be regarded as a failure. Same numbers )) on one player as on another, but one is a cornerstone, the other a flop.

Because more is expected from Bradley than Webber. Or, rather, "was" expected.

The Spectrum wolves have not only lowered their expectations, they have given up on Bradley. You have the growing feeling that he will never satisfy them.

And yet even this judgment could be premature. Shawn Bradley's victory could come yet. He could persevere and tame the wolves.

Which would be as rare in this new order as the coach staying and the player leaving.

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