The NBA : Davis, Suns Will Have Tough Time Recovering

Star guard Walter Davis has probably played his last game for the Phoenix Suns.

Davis is the central figure in the drug scandal that led to the indictment of three current and two former Suns. Also indicted were the team photographer, the manager of a nightclub that was a team hangout, a restaurant owner and a waiter at another team hangout.

Suns’ guards Jay Humphries and Grant Gondrezick and center James Edwards underwent drug tests after they were indicted Friday. The test results came back negative Monday. They would have been banned from the league if they had tested positive.

They will be subjected to more testing by the league and could also be banned if they are convicted of any drug-related crimes.


Humphries and Edwards are scheduled to be arraigned next week.

Edwards’ attorney said that he will ask for a change of venue if the case comes to trial because he doesn’t think he can get a fair trial in Phoenix, considering the negative publicity surrounding the case.

Davis, whose testimony before the grand jury led to the indictments, has been suspended without pay by the Suns after admitting that he has used cocaine within the last year. Davis, who underwent treatment for cocaine and alcohol abuse in December of 1985, was readmitted to the treatment center in Van Nuys.

Under the terms of the NBA’s drug policy, however, Davis will be reinstated if he completes the treatment program. He will be banned from the league if he has another relapse.


Said Jerry Colangelo, the Suns general manager: "(Davis) didn’t commit murder and he hasn’t been indicted or charged with anything. But I’m very concerned about Walter Davis as a human being. Right now he’s in rehab and we’ll deal with this one day at a time.”

Davis was implicated in eight of the indictments, but hasn’t been charged with any crime. He was named in the indictments as being present during or having knowledge of illegal drug transactions.

Also implicated were rookie center William Bedford, who also testified before the grand jury, and former Suns Don Buse, Johnny High, Curtis Perry and Alvin Scott.

If the cases come to trial, Davis is sure to be called to testify and defense lawyers are likely to attack his credibility.


“Does (Davis) have any credibility?” asked Reggie Turner, Edwards’ agent. “Last Monday he goes on TV and says that he doesn’t do drugs and Friday he checks himself into a rehab center?”

Davis had become a spokesman for an anti-drug campaign in the Phoenix area. And his “comeback” from drug abuse had been heavily reported in Phoenix and elsewhere in the NBA. Now Davis is being attacked in the Phoenix media.

Joe Gilmartin, sports editor of the Phoenix Gazette, has labeled the current scandal “Waltergate.”

Norm Frauenheim, columnist for the Arizona Republic, has written that team officials, fans and the media share the blame along with Davis.


Clipper Coach Don Chaney said: “Walter Davis has been a role model for kids. It’s disappointing to see a guy like that go down to drugs.”

Said John MacLeod, who was fired as coach of the Suns in February: “I don’t know what (the Suns’) attitude toward (Davis) will be when he comes back. I thought he was going to shake the darn thing. I was shocked.”

Davis’ performance on the court this season gave little indication that he was reinvolved with drugs.

He was having one of his best seasons before the current scandal hit, averaging 23.6 points, 11th in the NBA. He scored 33 points in his final game last Wednesday. He averaged 28 points in his last 10 games, including 34 in a game against the Clippers here earlier this month.


Davis, 32, reportedly has a year left on his contract. If Davis returns next season, how would the three teammates who were indicted as a result of his testimony react to him, assuming they are found innocent of the charges and rejoin the team?

It’s also doubtful that another team would take a chance on a two-time drug loser, so the Suns might have a hard time trading him.

Colangelo has also come under fire for his handling of the scandal. He was scouting college players in Hawaii when it broke, and he didn’t return immediately. He has been criticized for not taking a stronger role in the case and some in the Phoenix media have called for him to resign.

“I don’t worry about my job,” Colangelo said. “My attitude is that the ownership has the right to do whatever they want.”


The image of the Suns has also taken a beating among the fans in Phoenix.

Already disenchanted because the Suns haven’t made the playoffs for the last two years, the latest scandal is sure to hurt attendance.

Attendance at the Suns’ final game last Saturday against the Clippers was announced at 10,578 but the arena was less than half full. There may be more empty seats next year.

“This franchise has been here for 19 years,” Colangelo said. “And our credibility speaks for itself.”


The scandal may also hurt MacLeod, who is reportedly being considered for several coaching jobs, among them the Clippers’. He was the coach at the time the illegal drug transactions involving the Suns players are alleged to have taken place.

There was a report in a New York paper that MacLeod has been dropped as a candidate for the New York Knicks job.

“I’ve never had anything to do with drugs,” MacLeod said. “I’m not a druggie. I just happened to be the coach of the team. I shouldn’t be tainted. My feeling is that I have a very good reputation in the league. I don’t think (the drug scandal) is going to prevent me from getting another job.”

The careers of Gondrezick and Bedford are also likely to suffer.


Gondrezick, a fourth-round draft choice from Pepperdine last June, was a fringe player who probably would have had trouble making the team next season.

Bedford, the Suns’ first-round draft pick, had played sparingly after undergoing knee surgery during training camp and had been criticized for lack of effort in the games in which he did play. He wasn’t indicted, but his testimony implicated his teammates. How will they react to him next season?

One more sealed indictment in the case has yet to be released by Phoenix court officials.