In his seemingly unending search for a true point guard, Bernie Bickerstaff dodged the draft and traded for a proven veteran.
Bickerstaff sent former first-round draft picks Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf and Jalen Rose to Sacramento and Indiana on Thursday in separate trades that brought the Denver Nuggets veterans Mark Jackson, Ricky Pierce and Sarunas Marciulionis."We brought (draft prospects) in, and the decision we ultimately made was that we needed a veteran player playing point guard more than we needed a young player at that spot," said Bickerstaff, Denver's coach and president of basketball operations.
"I don't have any reservations that (Jackson's) a true point guard and he'll get it done. The guy's very, very intelligent."
When Thursday's trades were complete, Denver had sent Abdul-Rauf to the Kings for Marciulionis and the 37th pick in the June 26 draft. Rose and Reggie Williams went to Indiana for Jackson and Pierce.
Denver and Indiana also swapped first-round picks in the draft, with the Pacers moving to No. 10 and the Nuggets dropping to No. 23.
Bickerstaff said he may select a point guard at No. 23, but his real search began when he selected Chris Jackson with the No. 3 overall pick in 1990. Jackson changed his name to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf a year later and stirred a national controversy last season with his refusal to stand for the national anthem.
But Abdul-Rauf's anthem stance - or non-stance - didn't play as much of a role in the Sacramento trade as did his inability to fill Denver's need for a pass-first-shoot-later point guard.
"We're pleased with the job Mahmoud did while he was here," Bickerstaff said. "Sometimes you just need a change."
The Nuggets tried improving their point-guard situation through the draft again when they selected Rose with the No. 13 overall pick in 1994.
No longer willing to wait for the 6-foot-8 Rose to blossom into a Magic Johnson-type player, Bickerstaff sent him to Indiana, which also was looking for a change despite back-to-back 52-win seasons.
"Unfortunately we gave up a guy who has excellent potential," Bickerstaff said, "but the decision was we need people now that will make us a better basketball team. It was about an immediate need."
Bickerstaff can hardly be blamed for being impatient. Denver's playoff experience since Abdul-Rauf arrived has been limited to two appearances as the Western Conference's eighth seed.
In contrast, Jackson has 64 games of postseason experience in leading the Pacers, the New York Knicks and even the Los Angeles Clippers to the playoffs a combined eight times in nine seasons. Pierce has 94 games of playoff experience.
"Obviously it's got to be done on the floor, but I think we've got people who are about winning," Bickerstaff said. "Winning is what's important."
With young players such as Rose, Abdul-Rauf, LaPhonso Ellis and last year's No. 2 overall draft pick, Antonio McDyess, the Nuggets were loaded with raw talent, but sometimes short on desire.
In Marciulionis and Pierce, they will get that desire as well as strong perimeter shooting and the ability to get to the foul line.
"Ricky Pierce practices an hour before (game time). Marciulionis, you have to make him get out of the weight room," Bickerstaff said. "Those kind of things are contagious and infectious in young kids."
While Marciulionis and Pierce likely will be role players off the bench, Jackson will start at the point, where he will focus on getting the ball to high-flying forwards McDyess and Ellis.
"I think Mark will do a great job," Pacers president Donnie Walsh said. "I thought, of all our players on the team last season, he played as well as anyone. He kept our team together through a lot of trying times. It isn't easy to give him up."
For Bickerstaff, parting with Abdul-Rauf might have been a little easier. In addition to the flag flap, Abdul-Rauf's occasional fasting periods (he converted to Islam in 1991) left him near 140 pounds at times.
But that didn't stop him from having his best season, leading the team with a 19.2 scoring average.