This is amazing. An entire week has passed without the sports pages of the daily newspapers decrying the fact that Kevin Johnson has been snubbed by Dream Team II.

It's easy to understand why KJ gets so much favorable press. He is approachable. He is intelligent. And he is always willing to expound on his philosophy as to what the Suns must do to win games.

In fact, KJ is more at ease during press conferences than J. Fife Symington III or Paul Johnson. And why shouldn't he be? KJ's nearly $2 million annual salary is probably ten times the combined incomes of the state's governor and the city's mayor.

KJ cares deeply about what's going on. The problem is that he seems to care more about personal honors and achievements than he does about the Suns winning an NBA championship.

For most of this season, KJ has complained aloud about his not being chosen for the so-called Dream Team II. First, he was rankled because the NBA picked Tim Hardaway of the Golden State Warriors. Now he is upset because--with Hardaway injured--it has chosen Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons.

KJ should relax and smell the flowers.
His status as a star means that he can pretty much call the shots as to how many minutes he plays. There are times when he should be pulled because his presence on the floor is disruptive rather than a catalyst for victory. But Paul Westphal rarely embarrasses KJ by pulling him out.

For a long while, KJ admitted to everyone that he had a chip on his shoulder. He would not, however, elaborate as to the root cause of his discontent.

Now he reveals to us that he performed selflessly last season so that Charles Barkley could feel at home in his first year with the club.

KJ forgets about many details of that injury-riddled season. For example, his own performance in the championship series against the Chicago Bulls was so abysmal that one Chicago writer dubbed him the Bulls' sixth man.

KJ assures us, however, that he has retaken the reins. He is stepping forward to take full charge of the offense. What this means, to those of us who watch him regularly, is that KJ gets all the first opportunities to score. Everyone else will get theirs only after KJ determines that he is covered too closely.

To those who do not watch him play regularly, KJ's numbers are impressive. He scores more than 20 points per game and averages close to ten assists.

But basketball box scores do not reflect a player's real value to a team. What kind of points are they? And what kind of assists are they? There is a vast difference.

Watch Charles Barkley or Oliver Miller pass the ball to an open teammate and you can understand what a real assist is. Watch KJ drive under the basket and rifle the ball from two feet to Mark West and you know what an assist should not be.

I hesitate to say this, because there seems to be unanimity among basketball writers covering the team that KJ is doing a grand job.

I think he has been terrible at times and dreadful at others. In fact, I would place virtually every defeat the Suns have suffered at KJ's feet because of his inability to perform as a true point guard should.

Why beat around the main subject? KJ has remarkable skills as an athlete. He has great speed, strength and agility. But he has no real basketball sense. He never really sees the floor. He doesn't seem to understand the concept of spacing. He can't sense how a play is about to develop.

All KJ can visualize is himself driving to the hoop or himself leaping into the air and taking a shot with the clock running down.

Sit there for five minutes some night and watch Kevin Johnson play. This is what you will see.

KJ dribbles the ball across the center line. There is a slight smile of satisfaction on his goateed face. He has the ball. Everyone else must now wait to see what he intends to do next.

Barkley moves to a position near the left corner and faces KJ expectantly. He wants to post up his man.

Dan Majerle is on the wing, hoping for an attempt at a three-point shot.
A.C. Green jogs slowly in an arc from the corner. He is looking for a defender to block if Majerle or Barkley makes a cut to the basket.

Miller is moving from the inside out, to where he can catch a pass from KJ.
All four of the other Suns are on the floor--waiting for KJ.
Common sense or strong coaching would seem to dictate that KJ would give up the ball as quickly as possible, that he would put it in motion and quit dribbling. The ball always moves faster in the air.

But that is not KJ's style. So before the possession is over, he is liable to do any one of several highly predictable things.

1) He will dribble to just inside the three-point circle and take a jump shot.
2) He will drive up the middle, taking on three defenders in a suicidal dash for the basket. If the shot misses, he will crash to the floor and glare up at the referee, who will refuse to call a foul.

3) He will drive up the middle and at the very last second throw a pass to Miller, Barkley, Green or Majerle. But KJ will have driven so far into the basket by the time he throws the pass that all his teammates will be looking up at the basket, expecting him to shoot.

4) The ball will be stolen from him by the other team's point guard, who will then score an easy basket. This always causes a frantic reaction on the part of KJ. He regards this as an affront to his honor. He must gain a measure of revenge. Then KJ hurries frantically up the floor at top speed to try to make up for his turnover and even the score with the opposite point guard.

Most nights, the Suns win because they have one of the strongest rosters in the league. But they don't win because of KJ. Most nights, alas, they win in spite of him.


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Tom Fitzpatrick