Coach's Corner

Pity poor Sisyphus, condemned for an eternity, to push the rock up a mountain, only to have -- with the summit in sight -- the weight of the boulder overwhelm the struggling monarch, rolling the poor bastard back to the bottom of the hill, over and over again. I, for one, can relate.

My relationship history serves as a germane example, a blind man lurching about in the shooting gallery of life. Occasionally, I'd hit a target. Sometimes, the target bumped into me. Most often, I'd drift along, the sounds of near-misses ricocheting at my foot. Somewhere in there, years on the analyst's couch, and enough relationship experience to overfill a Woody Allen memoir -- the Marx Brothers stuck forever in a Bergman movie -- it's like an eight-cylinder automobile, capriciously hitting on six cylinders, or three, or one, as I lurch down the highway of life. Ten steps forward, 9.5 back. I understand Sisyphus.

I feel for the suffering fans of the Dallas Mavericks. Conceived in 1980, the Mavs, starting with the barest of cupboards, quickly became the most perfectly conceived expansion team in the history of sport. By '84, the team had on its roster a gaggle of players who would some day wear championship rings (not with Dallas) and others who would be stars for many years to come (not with Dallas). The '84 roster was comprised of names like Aguirre, Blackman, Perkins, Vincent, Harper, Donaldson, Ellis, Schrempf, and Wenning-ton. The '85 team -- only five years from the womb -- won the Midwest Division. Did a future ever look so bright?

In '86, another jewel, all-star rookie Roy Tarpley (the true beginning of the end) is added to the crown. Only a few feet from the summit, unknown and unseen by anyone, the boulder began slipping, oh-so-slowly, back down the hill.

The Mav front office, which previously could do no wrong, began making disastrous decisions. In a sickening sequence of events leading up to today, every decision the Mavs made turned to ash. First, they traded Dale Ellis, who would become the NBA's leading all-time three-point shooter, for a fellow named Wood. In '88, they traded Detlef Schrempf -- a player regarded as the second best (to Scottie Pippen) all-around player in the league, for Herb Williams. In '89, the original "Franchise Player," the Dallas Golden Boy, the first player chosen in the '81 draft, Mark Aguirre, was sent to the Pistons for an over-the-hill Adrian Dantley. To complete the dismantling of this once-promising team, Sam Perkins left for L.A. All this took place inside the dark maelstrom of Roy Tarpley's battle with drugs, a battle which imploded the team, draining Dallas of any positive motion for a decade.

The Mavericks did not die a quick death. Through the late Eighties -- as the team was being eviscerated -- they remained competitive. By 1990, nothing stood but a smoking shell. Since the start of the decade, Dallas has won a total of 136 games. That's 22 per season.

Up the hill they went. Jimmy Jackson of Ohio State, the fourth player chosen in '92, was promised to be the beginning. The next draft netted Kentucky All-American Jamal Mashburn. Next year, the second player chosen, the piece de la resistance to placing Dallas back on the NBA map, Jason Kidd. Jason, Jackson, Jamal -- the heavily hyped "three Js." The core for future excellence seemed complete.

Hidden behind the hype, early, ignored signs of trouble. Squabbling and backbiting became all too commonplace. Quinn Buckner was the first sacrificed at the alter of the Js. Mashburn and Jackson suffered injuries. Kidd quarreled petulantly with both and never played anywhere near as well as his press said -- and still says -- he is. Up the hill the Mavs went, but the rock kept rolling back.

When I read Jason Kidd had been traded... well, if the Cowboys decided to disband, choosing instead to spread the Mormon gospel across the globe, I couldn't have been more surprised.

What went wrong? It's interesting to note, all of the "Js" were drafted as underclassmen, Mashburn and Jackson both juniors and Kidd barely 19. Is the childish, unprofessional behavior of these young Mavericks confirmation of the deleterious effects of the tidal wave of underclassmen sweeping the NBA?

Had Kidd turned this sour this quick? No question he was a disappointment, but that bad? I don't know. What's clear is this: With the scrapping of Jason Kidd and the soon-to-come jettisoning of Jackson or Mashburn (or both!), the Mavericks are saying something terrible to all those fans who suffered through the dreadful 12-win seasons. They're telling fans, past and present, those years of hopelessness, rewarded only by high draft picks, were nothing but a total waste.

Again, the future is bleak -- a short-term, marginal improvement to respectable mediocrity. Then, after a few years, the slide into the lower intestinal tract of the NBA.

At the start of the '97 season, it's likely not a single Dallas first-round draft pick will remain on the team. "Management" should be shot for this kind of monstrous ineptitude. No fans deserve this kind of abuse. This team does not deserve your support.

Don't be fooled by an improvement in the win-loss column. The Maverick boulder is careening to the bottom of the mountain.

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