THE NBA / MARK HEISLER : Knicks Doing Their Best to Make Bianchi’s Move Look Worse

If Knick General Manager Al Bianchi thought he’d thrown anyone off his trail by firing Coach Stu Jackson, he couldn’t have been enchanted by the firestorm in the New York tabloids.

To which, Bianchi responded:

“Al Bianchi says this is a good basketball team. The media, or whoever is in the opposition, says it’s not a good basketball team and nobody can coach it. We’ll see.”

The Knicks promptly lost at home to Orlando in the Magic’s only road victory to date.


So he’s not a prophet. The odds are he won’t be a general manager long, either. Bianchi has this season left on his contract and could only hire new Coach John MacLeod for that long.

It shouldn’t have been impossible to build a team around Pat Ewing but Bianchi’s record includes: letting Bernard King leave, a clash of egos hastening former Coach Rick Pitino’s exit, trading Rod Strickland for 10-years-older Maurice Cheeks, and letting Johnny Newman leave.

Last summer, Bianchi stood pat, amid speculation that he was afraid to make a mistake for which he could be fired.

A kinder analysis would be that previous mistakes had run him out of talent he could afford to trade.


Whatever, the Knicks are clearly unreconstructed. A scout in a coma could tell you their forward tandem is ponderous. They have a choice of backcourts between one led by Mark Jackson, who can’t take a 20-foot shot without endangering courtside photogs, or one led by Cheeks, 34 and no longer a gazelle.

With the Knicks floundering up to preseason expectations last week, Bianchi hired MacLeod by telephone.

The next day, Bianchi called Jackson in. Jackson’s car wouldn’t start, so he had to borrow a ride to get fired.

MacLeod is throwing out the entire offense. He spent his first practice--with Bianchi assisting on the floor--working on such fundamentals as the two-handed chest pass.


Maybe better chest passes will do it. We’ll see.

Pooh vs. Mussy: These are two Timberwolves, who, as ABC’s Keith Jackson might say, don’t like each other very much.

Everything should be terrific in Minnesota, which has surpassed expectations, except that Coach Bill Musselman’s Samurai style and slow-down offense are wearing thin, General Manager Billy McKinney lost a power struggle and resigned, and star Pooh Richardson is leading an insurrection.

Musselman sneered publicly at McKinney’s optimistic projections. Last week, McKinney conceded that he was powerless and departed.


After playing 21 minutes in a recent loss, Pooh, who learned public speaking at UCLA, said:

“I can play the game, so let me play. If you’re not going to play me, don’t dress me. . . . I’m tired of keeping my mouth shut. I don’t care. I couldn’t care less.”

Leading scorer and former Laker Tony Campbell complained personally to owner Marvin Wolfenson, announced that he, too, had “had it up to here, man,” and noted further, “There’s some nasty steam coming off Pooh.”

Musselman replied--accurately--that Richardson is leading the league in minutes played.


“Pooh’s young,” said Musselman, still coach at week’s end. “He has to grow up.”

Musselman is 50. He has to lighten up, but don’t bet on it.

Add Timberwolves: Musselman’s son, Eric, is one of the team’s assistant coaches.

Eric is sometimes known as “Musselboy.”


Somebody must be happy with something in this league, so how about top draft pick Derrick Coleman of the New Jersey Nets?

The highest-paid rookie ever--$15 million for five years--is averaging 16 points a game and is sixth in the league in rebounding, despite missing camp and coming off the bench for five of 17 games.

Says Pacer General Manager Donnie Walsh: “Derrick Coleman is the best power forward to come in the game since Karl Malone and Roy Tarpley. He’s got skills, besides being big and strong. He’s not just a guy who gets rebounds.”

The Houston Rockets, who have raised underachievement to an art form, have added a quality point guard in Kenny Smith and still aren’t going anywhere.


Akeem Olajuwon did get into a fight at practice last week with thought-to-be-worthless No. 1 draft pick Dave Jamerson. During a free-throw drill, Olajuwon pointed at Jamerson, who is six inches shorter and told him, “Don’t talk to me!” several times, then punched him in the shoulder.

Said Jamerson: “Akeem thought I was disrespectful of him.”

Said Akeem: “You’ve got to teach rookies.”

If you could bottle maturity, the Rockets would buy a freighter load.


NBA Notes

More prophecy: Detroit’s Vinnie Johnson, angry at the Utah Jazz for cutting brother Eric, announced before the game in Salt Lake City, “I’m going to go out and get 35.” He missed by 24. . . . Once-promising Cleveland, which lost Brad Daugherty and Larry Nance for long stretches last season, has lost Mark Price for the rest of this one. Bad luck or not, Coach Lenny Wilkens may take the fall. The Cavaliers refused two teams permission to talk to Wilkens last summer but won’t extend his contract, which runs out this season. Said Cavalier owner Gordon Gund: “I’m not going to comment.”

Said Portland’s Terry Porter, after victories at Miami and Orlando: “We can say something with a good road trip to those who think we just took advantage of the schedule (the Trail Blazers played 11 of their first 15 at home). We’re not flukes. We’re for real.” . . . Perfect selflessness, almost: Michael Jordan, No. 1 or 2 in minutes played for four seasons, is down to 36 a game, courtesy of Coach Phil Jackson. Jordan is coming out firing. He averaged 14 points a first period while the Bulls ripped four consecutive opponents including a 155-127 rout of Phoenix. Said Jordan: “Until we play this way against Detroit, I’ll be a little skeptical. If we play this way against the Pistons, then I’ll be convinced.”

Rising Suns again?: Phoenix was off to a slow start but the deal for Xavier McDaniel is a coup. Seattle gets Eddie Johnson, a 31-year-old bench forward, plus two bottom-of-round No. 1 picks? Said a Laker official: “I’m shocked--and worried.” . . . The plummeting SuperSonics are still shopping Dale Ellis and everyone else on the roster. No one is interested in the troubled Ellis, who hasn’t played this season because of a nerve injury and is openly hated by his teammates, so K.C. Jones may have to play him. Could be like watching Eric Dickerson run off-tackle while that Colt offensive line he ripped steps adroitly aside. Says Ellis: “I’m not talking to nobody about nothing. Everybody’s done me wrong so I’m not going to be talking to anybody.” Some no-comments are better than others, don’t you think? . . . Remember Utah’s 2-5 start? Suggestion: If Commissioner David Stern asks if you want your team to open in Tokyo next season, as the Suns and Jazz did, say no.