1. Archive

Time for Williams to make moves

Pat Williams should enroll in a management seminar soon, so he is prepared for the NBA draft lottery.

The media have tried to help the Orlando Magic general manager with tips like: stop signing proven mediocre talent to long-term contracts, and stop signing unproven, promising talent to short-term deals.

Continued events show we're talking over his head, so here is more basic advice.

+ + +

Dear Pat:

1. Winning is important.

2. Winning with your current group of veterans is unlikely.

3. Taking financial care of your younger players could prove beneficial over the long haul.

4. Start unloading your veterans while they still have value.

We offer these pointers in the hope they will help you _ because your plans for building a winning ballclub aren't working.

You and coach Matt Guokas promised to make Orlando competitive within five years. Now, in Year Three, the Magic has the second-worst record in the NBA.

Yes, injuries have taken a toll. Through Saturday night's contest against the Charlotte Hornets, a 130-110 loss, Magic players had missed 119 games because of injuries. Starting small forward Dennis Scott has missed 35 of the past 38 games.

The fault, Pat, lies not in all the injuries.

Heaven knows there have been enough bad management decisions in three years to last a lifetime.

Because you hastily signed half the players on the roster to long-term deals, you limited the team's potential. The onus is on you to unload some of those mistakes while there's time.

Your next big decisions include signing the team's No.

1 pick in the June draft and figuring what to do with center Stanley Roberts.

You could be drafting Shaquille O'Neal, if he decides to leave school early, or Christian Laettner, or Alonzo Mourning _ all big-money players. O'Neal probably will command $4-million to $5-million in his rookie year.

You should be thinking about where all that money will come from.

Let's start with Roberts. He signed a one-year contract worth $550,000 and will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.

You gambled that Roberts, who reported to training camp weighing more than 300 pounds, would need the entire season to round into shape. You gambled that Roberts' performance would enable you to offer him the standard 25 percent raise _ take it or leave it.

You gambled wrong.

Roberts is no David Robinson, but he is superior to Greg Kite, who is making $700,000 this season and will earn $905,000 in 1992-93.

You should know that Roberts' agent said the top 20 starting centers in the league average $2-million a year, and that he considers Roberts to be the Magic's starting center (he averaged 17.6 points and 9.3 rebounds during a recent six-game stretch). So draw your own conclusions about Roberts' asking price.

You should be able to sign your rookies _ the real future of any expansion club _ to long-term contracts, especially in today's market. The contract of Nick Anderson, who signed a four-year deal at $725,000 a season, has become obsolete, especially since he is now the team's best player. That was a good contract, Pat.

You signed rookie forward Brian Williams to a two-year, $1.9-million deal, giving him the option to become a restricted free agent after next season. If Williams develops, the Magic might not be able to afford him.

You should acknowledge your mistakes: Scott Skiles (four years, $8-million), Jerry Reynolds (four years, $6-million), Terry Catledge (six years, $9.6-million), Jeff Turner (four years, $4-million) and Kite (four years, $4-million).

Those decisions are over and done with. Let's see what kind of general manager you really are, and work some trades.

It can happen if you want it. Denver general manager Bernie Bickerstaff traded overpaid veterans Orlando Woolridge and Blair Rasmussen and saved enough money so the team could draft Dikembe Mutombo, who made the All-Star team in his first season.

A report appeared in several newspapers that Orlando could have traded Skiles and Reynolds for Pooh Richardson in a three-way deal. That would have enabled the Magic to free up money under the salary cap for the upcoming draft while acquiring a talented young point guard.

Two words to live by, Pat.

Fiscal responsibility.