Doin’ all right. Just all right. Adrian Dantley isn’t thrilled about the way things are going, but neither is he complaining. Every day is a dip in strange waters. He plays, he scores, sometimes he scores a lot. “Not comfortable,” he still says, “just not . . . comfortable.”
The trick of a trade is thinking that you go, you play and — bingo — you fit in. It almost never happens. Dantley was Mr. Everything in Utah for seven years, and with the Detroit Pistons he is . . . what? Eight games are gone, five are losses, and no one is sure yet. Even when he’s scoring, Dantley’s small- forward game is not what it was in the West. Even when he posts up — always his forte — the results are different.
The talk before he arrived was that getting along with Isiah Thomas would be the hard part. Come on. Dracula could have gotten along with Isiah Thomas.
“That’s not the problem at all,” Dantley said as he dressed before a recent practice. “Isiah and I get along OK. We talk. There’s no question that this is Isiah’s team. I knew that before I got here, and I know it now.”
So what is it? Dantley — twice the NBA’s leading scorer — says the stage cues are different here. What he used to do left, he now must do right, and he still isn’t sure where to go on the court, or when the passes are coming, not 100 percent. The moment’s hesitation makes him feel like a ballet dancer a quarter-beat behind the music.
“I don’t know,” he said, looking off, as he often does when speaking. “I guess this happens when you go to a new team.”
Call it the trick of a trade. Looking for the right mix Now, some of you might look at Dantley’s numbers in this young season and wonder why he’s not smiling more. A 24.4 scoring average? Leading the team? “Just numbers,” he said, waving them off.
Understand this. Dantley is a meticulous man, the type who likes to know exactly how long it will take him to drive from home to work, every day. Routine. Discipline. His life is a neatly packed suitcase, and getting traded after seven years was like letting the cat jump in and thrash around the dress shirts. New home. New city. New team.
New role. No more “just give it to A.D.” He’s had productive games. Isiah Thomas has had productive games. But can both guys star in the same game at the same time and win? That’s the goal. That’s the question. Thomas is at his best commandeering the offense, working the ball around, making the assists. Controlling things.
But Dantley’s best game is control, too, another type. In Utah he was the scorer, “the guy you go to three or four times straight,” he said. He shook his head. “That’ll never happen here.”
Something has to give. Pistons coach Chuck Daly knows it. Dantley is out there to score, but not at the expense of Thomas and the others. “I’m like a chemist now,” Daly said Monday. “I have to mix the elements. People don’t want to hear that it takes time.”
But it does. Look around the league. Most of the big names traded in the off-season have been slow catching on with their new teams. Washington’s Moses Malone is still searching for the every-night groove he had in Philadelphia. And Kelly Tripucka, at last glance, was averaging 6.8 points a game in Dantley’s old spot. Six-point-eight?
“I’m not struggling,” Dantley said, allowing a rare grin. “Six points. That’s struggling.” Up, down and around Call what Dantley is doing, well, something else. A little of everything. In the past six days he’s endured: a terrible shooting night against Phoenix, a so-so night against Atlanta, a big scoring night against Boston. His mood has swung with his performance, so that he whispered, “I don’t know what they want . . . ” on one night, and grinned and declared, “I’m adjusting” on another.
Such are the ups and downs of change, and anyone who has ever moved to a new block, or been transferred by the company, can empathize with what Dantley is going through. He is quiet, sometimes withdrawn, and that makes a new environment far more overwhelming. His wife had to give up her law practice in Utah after the trade. Their new baby has already had two homes. Dantley has been hampered with a bad ankle since training camp, which clips his conditioning, and you know how obsessed he is with conditioning.
“Doin’ all right,” he calls it. Just all right. He is used to doing better. There is promise in Dantley’s past. It will take time and brains to lug it into the Pistons’ future.
He tied his shoe, pulled up his sock and headed for another practice.
“Everything,” he said, “has not been as easy as I thought it would be.”
The tricks of a trade rarely are.