Brent Barry has done his part.
Barry revealed this week that when the NBA invites him to defend his championship in the Slam-Dunk contest at this year's All-Star game in February, he will decline.
"I'm going to stay home," he said. "I'm going to leave it alone."
Nobody can accuse him of trying to make a career out of zero-footers, of taking the shortcut to stardom in a game of one-on-none.
Nobody can say Brent Barry has bought the hype.
Now, is it time for the Clippers to do their part?
To start playing him for more than 15 minutes of a 48-minute game?
To bite their tongues on some of the bad plays while waiting for the brilliant ones?
So goes the most intriguing NBA question in these parts since Brian Williams showed up the other night at courtside.
In one corner, you have those who believe the Clippers are the last team in a position to ignore a young, entertaining guy with all-star potential.
In the other corner, a coach who wants to win games.
In the middle, a player who wants to play so badly, he was shooting baskets at the Sports Arena Friday at 5 p.m., alone, 2 1/2 hours before the Clippers' 102-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
He didn't enter the game until late in the third period, well after backup guards Terry Dehere and Eric Piatkowski.
How little is Barry used these days?
"It's the end of the world as we know it," blared a song over the loudspeaker during one timeout Friday.
Barry played after that.
Last year, he averaged 24 minutes a game, with nearly twice as many assists as turnovers.
This year, he is playing nine fewer minutes, and his assists and turnovers are equal.
On Friday, though, he seemed like a different player during most of the fourth period, scoring eight points, with one assist and no turnovers.
That is, until he threw up an air ball in the final minute that Portland turned into a three-point play.
In this whole messy deal, there are only three truths:
--Barry is the most well-known player in this town other than Shaquille O'Neal, and potentially the most exciting.
--Fitch is the best NBA coach in this town, period.
--There has to be a way both men can win.
Which brings us back to the dunk contest.
Barry winning that silly thing as a rookie last year was the worst thing to happen to his career.
"The unforgivable sin," Fitch said with a smile.
With a couple of leaps, a good rookie became perceived as a superstar rookie. And the good rookie may have started believing it.
"Winning that dunk contest didn't help Brent gain 20 pounds, or lift 20 pounds more in the weight room," Fitch said Thursday afternoon. "What it did, it made him a marked man."
Fitch pointed to the just-completed practice.
"The only time you knew he was out there was one time he dunked it," he said. "A great dunk."
He also point to Barry's three-point shot in the final second that tied Phoenix in a game the Clippers eventually won in overtime.
"It was great, but that took, what, a couple of seconds?" he said. "How about the rest of the game?"
Barry is a man of moments.
Fitch hasn't lasted 24 years as an NBA coach by being a big fan of moments.
"And I haven't even mentioned defense," Fitch said. "You need to ask Brent about defense. It would be a short story."
Barry won't admit to being affected by outside pressure.
But he did admit that between last year's contest and this season, something happened.
"There are some adjustments that I needed to make, and didn't make," he said. "It's like Halloween--you don't go out in the same costume every year, or everybody knows who you are."
Last year, Barry was dressed as Pete Maravich.
This year, a cute little novelty who gets old fast.
"When you put me in right now, it's a roll of the dice, you don't know what will happen," Barry said. "I need to realize, this is your job, and your job can continue for a long time if you are willing to keep working at it."
Is it easy to maintain these thoughts when you are being badgered by your head coach?
No. But that's life.
The truth is that most of the young Clippers dislike playing for Fitch. The truth is also that it doesn't matter.
He has won. They haven't. They should shut up and play.
The fans who rip Fitch for not being more tolerant of Barry's mistakes are the same ones who rip their bosses for babying a fellow employee.
With Barry's recent decision to slam the dunk show, with his good closing kick Friday, it is clear. He is shutting up and playing.
It is now expected that Bill Fitch will not only keep his eyes open, but his mind.
* CLIPPERS LOSE: Led by Kenny Anderson's 25 points, the Portland Trail Blazers earned a 102-98 victory at the Sports Arena. C6