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A Tiny Comfort Zone in Dallas

Two recent members of the Heat suited up for the Mavericks on Tuesday night, plus two former Suns and four players Coach Jim Cleamons actually had in camp this fall.

No, Cleamons isn’t getting his new roster faxed to him each night by GM Don Nelson, who’s back in Dallas manning the phones, but it’s close.

News flash: Nelson’s working on a deal to dump his seventh Maverick in a week, Derek Harper!

At this point, it hasn’t been determined if Nelson is showing off, has gone crazy, has a master plan or just enjoys watching those former Mavericks go skidding down the interstate.

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One thing you have to give him, he has certainly solved their old dissension problem.

“That locker room must really have been bad that Don was talking about,” mused Clipper Coach Bill Fitch before his crew played Dallas on Tuesday night.

“Probably be a very quiet locker room in Dallas for a while.”

You could have held a prayer vigil in there before the game. The five Mavericks Nelson dispatched to New Jersey--all starters at some point this season--were long gone. All four of the Nets he acquired had been Unavoidably Detained, as they say in the biz.

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Cleamons, hanging on for dear life, said he didn’t know why his reinforcements weren’t there. All he knew was they hadn’t been traded anywhere else--yet.

“My speculation would just be the mere fact of the travel, the time differences and everything,” he said. “If they came, I wouldn’t expect a whole heck of a lot. We’ll be happy to get ‘em on Thursday. . . .

“Nothing surprises me. Certainly this is not a surprise. The trading deadline is coming down. I knew some things were in the wind.

“So we’re just going to coach and play. It’s a big deal, but it’s not a big deal. You got to play with the hand that’s dealt you.”

It’s not a big deal, it’s just the job Cleamons waited for all his life. He signed to coach the three Js, Jason Kidd, Jamal Mashburn and Jim Jackson, only to see his GM quit. Then one of the co-owners, a Realtor, took over and traded the priceless Kidd. Then the Realtor hired Nelson and went back to real estate. Nelson then traded Mashburn and Jackson, along with Eric Montross, George McCloud and Sam Cassell, or in other words, just about everybody Cleamons had started this season.

At this point, Cleamons is clean out of Js and his own Maverick career expectancy is being timed with a stopwatch.

Of course, no trade can be evaluated for years, etc. On the other hand, we publish daily so. . . .

This isn’t a salary dump by Nelson, who is locking himself into more than he’s giving up. Ed O’Bannon’s contract will run out in the summer of 1998, but Shawn Bradley has four more seasons at $28.7 million, Robert Pack has four at $15.4 million and Khalid Reeves has two at $3.9 million.

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Nelson is committing himself to Bradley, who has already frustrated three coaches at two organizations. That roar you heard was 28 other GMs laughing.

“Shawn Bradley is obviously the key guy for Don,” said Jerry Reynolds, the Sacramento King personnel director. “If he can become a top-five or -six center, it’ll be a major trade.

“Of course, there’s nothing right now to indicate he is.”

If this is a disaster of a debut for Nelson-the-GM, as is widely suspected, it was a long time in the making before he got there. The three Js had one good season together, 1994-95, when Kidd was co-rookie of the year, Jackson averaged 26 points and Mashburn 24.

Last season, Mashburn blew out a knee. Jackson, who had suffered a heel injury, came tiptoeing back. Kidd shot 38% again.

In the process of letting the Mavericks run around like wild men, putting up 2,039 three-point shots (278 more than the next-highest team, almost three times the Nets’ total), Dick Motta--then coach and head of the basketball operation--said privately he wasn’t sure which of the Js to build around, if any.

Turned out he didn’t have to worry about it. The Ross Perot Jr. syndicate bought the team and Motta became the first to go.

On the bright side, the Mavericks don’t have to worry about Kidd and Jackson feuding over pop singer Toni Braxton any more, (or as Fitch noted, “Eve wasn’t the only temptation”). They may be thin on talent now, but that old dressing room is quiet as a crypt.

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“You put Gatling and McCloud and Montross and Jackson and Cassell on the floor, you got a starting five that could probably be in the playoff picture in the West,” said Fitch. “And they were. . . .

“What surprises me is the reason [Nelson gave]. I didn’t realize they were having that much difficulty, to clean house. . . . That’s new to all of us. . . .

“See, I like Montross. Montross is the type of guy I’d like to work with. . . . We were interested in him when they were talking to us earlier in the year. . . .

“Gatling, the games he’s played against us, he’s been all-league. Jackson, who knows?”

No one knows anything at this point, except the trade deadline isn’t up until Thursday and Nelson is still taking bids on any of them, or the whole lot.

* HOME COOKING: Malik Sealy had 23 points for the Clippers, who defeated the outmanned Dallas Mavericks, 87-69--their fifth victory in a row at home. C5

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Nelson’s Moves

Since Don Nelson was hired on Feb. 7 as general manager of the Dallas Mavericks, he has:

* DAY 1--Waived overweight center Oilver Miller. Eight days earlier, Miller said, “I don’t care any more” after a Maverick loss.

* DAY 5--Hired former Maverick vice president of basketball operations Keith Grant as a consultant.

* DAY 7--Fired equipment manager Ben Carter, replacing him with assistant equipment manager Chad Lewis.

* DAY 8--Traded forward Jamal Mashburn to Miami for guard Sasha Danilovic, forward Martin Muursepp and forward Kurt Thomas.

* DAY 11--Traded guards Jim Jackson and Sam Cassell, swingman George McCloud, forward-center Chris Gatling and center Eric Montross to New Jersey for center Shawn Bradley, forward Ed O’Bannon and guards Robert Pack and Khalid Reeves.


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