For Magic Gm, Signing Top Pick Won't Be Easy Task Pat Williams Has A Deal To Make. Shaquille O'neal Will Deliberate. Orlando Fans Eagerly Wait.

Posted: May 24, 1992

Pat Williams would have to be considered a lucky man, particularly after the events of last Sunday, when the Orlando Magic came away from the NBA draft lottery with the first pick and the right to select LSU superman Shaquille O'Neal.

Williams was also the man on the dais when the Sixers got the lucky envelope in 1986, an experience that Williams probably remembers less than fondly now.

To rehash some hash that has been rehashed enough already, the Sixers traded that pick - Brad Daugherty - to Cleveland for Roy Hinson. Daugherty, you are probably aware, is working the Eastern Conference finals right now, while the Sixers are just another team on the outside of the playoffs.

Ancient history, sure, but Williams may need some more good fortune to keep last week's lottery luck from turning sour once again.

Sure, Williams is on top of the situation from a marketing and promotion standpoint. He always is. Just in case, Williams put three telephone operators on duty last Sunday.

After the first pick fell to the Magic, the phones started ringing with Orlando fans who felt a sudden urge to buy season tickets. According to the team, some people even drove to the Orlando Arena and were knocking on the

windows Sunday night.

Call the Magic these days and the song "Love Shack" is the music of choice while you're waiting on hold.

Williams will have more up his sleeve, of course, but he also better have a contract to pull out of his hat when the time comes.

O'Neal, for various reasons, is going to be very difficult to sign. His agent, Leonard Armato, has indicated that it might take a 10-year, $50 million commitment to get it done, give or take $10 million.

For another thing, Shaq and his handlers apparently have little perspective on the whole matter.

(It was reported that David Robinson's father called O'Neal's father, offering to impart any wisdom his family might have acquired during the blitz of attention that followed Robinson's entry into the NBA.

O'Neal's father said something along the lines of, "Thank you, but we're talking about the Shaq here.")

It is an open secret that O'Neal would prefer to play his basketball in Los Angeles, where he has taken an apartment. And there is some suspicion that Armato will try a stranglehold on the Magic to force a trade.

O'Neal can sit out the coming season and re-enter the draft next season, if he wants, although that would mean forfeiting the approximately $3 million that he would earn in is first year.

He can opt to play in Europe. The Magic would retain his rights after the first season, but if Shaq played two seasons overseas, he would once again be open bait in the draft.

Williams is talking a good game so far, promising the fans that O'Neal will be in an Orlando uniform next season. The words coming out of Armato's mouth are not so comforting, and O'Neal has thus far been mum.

"My duty and my job is to outline for the 20-year-old young man all the options that are available to him," Armato said. "Our initial impression of Orlando and the people is favorable. But it is my responsibility to outline for him the nature of the collective bargaining agreement and the different possibilities that exist outside the NBA, as well as the various marketing opportunities that flow from the various media outlets."

It is not a lost point that Orlando is one of the smallest markets in the NBA, and the endorsements available are minuscule compared to those in a market such as Los Angeles.

Even if Williams and the Magic get past the perceived reluctance by

O'Neal to play in Orlando, the matter of clearing enough room to get him signed is very serious.

The Magic has given several long-term, high-paying contracts to players in the last two seasons. Those might well haunt Williams as he attempts to open enough space below the salary cap to entice O'Neal to sign a contract.

Terry Catledge is operating with a six-year, $9 million deal; Greg Kite has a four-year, $4 million deal; Jerry Reynolds has a four-year, $5.6 million deal. Additionally, the Magic has tied up big money in Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson and Scott Skiles.

"They've got a problem," said one Eastern Conference general manager. "I think you're going to see a fire sale down in the Orlando area."

The Magic will have to either trade players away for next to nothing or simply cut them and eat the contracts. Either way, it doesn't make Williams' recent fiscal policies look very sound.

Then there's the matter of Stanley Roberts, the tubby center who played with O'Neal at LSU. Roberts had a decent second half of the season for the Magic, and he's a restricted free agent.

Needing all the salary-cap room they can muster for O'Neal, Williams and the Magic would be in poor position to match an offer sheet given Roberts by another team. In the center-poor NBA, some team (some local team?) is going to take a chance on Roberts. And despite protestations to the contrary, Roberts, after playing one season in O'Neal's shadow at LSU, has no taste for an encore.

All in all, a summer fraught with peril for Pat Williams and the Magic. By November, we'll probably know just how lucky they were to get that lucky ping- pong ball.

DE END IN DETROIT. As the Detroit Pistons franchise continues to unravel just two years after winning its second title, general manager Jack McCloskey is being blamed for everything except global warming.

McCloskey, stung when management gave business director Tom Wilson veto power over his basketball decisions, is looking for another job. In Minnesota, team president Bob Stein says the Timberwolves have interviewed McCloskey and are interested.

But before McCloskey leaves Detroit - the latest in a long line of glory- days exiters that includes Rick Mahorn, Vinnie Johnson, James Edwards, Chuck Daly and Brendan Suhr - he should get at least one small hurrah for putting together a team that wasn't bad for a while.

"If they're going to put all the blame on me, then I guess I should get all the credit for the two championships," a bristly McCloskey said last week.

McCloskey drafted Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and John Salley. Among the trades he made were those to bring in Bill Laimbeer, Johnson, Mahorn and Edwards.

When the team began to age, however, McCloskey wasn't able to revive it. He traded for Orlando Woolridge and Brad Sellers, brought in guard Darrell Walker and dumped the mess in Daly's lap. McCloskey steadfastly hung with the idea that center William Bedford would one day be a player, and he compounded one mistake by giving Woolridge a large contract extension that pushed him ahead of players who had done more for the franchise.

Late in the season, Laimbeer blasted McCloskey publicly, saying the general manager was destroying the team.

Jack McCloskey deserves better. Maybe he'll find more favorable working conditions in Minnesota.

In Detroit, where Ron Rothstein takes over for Daly, the Pistons may be in for an even longer building process than the Timberwolves.

SORTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE. What was the last team to go from the lottery to the conference finals, as the Cavaliers have done this season? The 1988-89 Phoenix Suns. They were 28-54 the year before. With the addition of a full season from Kevin Johnson and a trade for Tom Chambers, the Suns went 55-27 and lasted until a conference final loss to the Lakers. . . . Pat Riley wasn't surprised at all by the Knicks' turnaround this season. "I would have only been surprised if we had a bad year," he said. "I know the value of a great low-post center." . . . Will Larry Bird be back with his back? Well, Bird makes $3.75 million next season, guaranteed. He's slotted to get $4.25 million the following season (1993-94), but that is not guaranteed. However, if he plays 40 games next year, then half of the '93-94 salary is guaranteed. If he plays 60 games, it's all guaranteed. "I don't think anyone can answer that except Larry," Red Auerbach said of Bird's return. "But I would think that if he goes through the whole summer injury-free, he'll be back. But that's just my feeling."

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