The mystery of John Lucas continues.
The talented Golden State Warrior and former Maryland guard went through a tumultuous season of missed games and practices. And now, his future as a professional is very much in doubt.
The Warriors have apparently given up on Lucas, 27, deciding not to exercise an option in his contract, thus making him a free agent. But Lucas' behavior this season has caused most teams to take a hands-off approach with him.
"Who needs another headache?" said one NBA general manager. "If he skipped on Al (Warrior Coach Attles), he'll skip on anyone. The kid has talent, but the way he's handled himself this season makes you wonder if something is seriously wrong with him. When a player with such good character all of a sudden takes a turnaround, something is wrong."
Lucas categorically denied speculation that he has a drug or an alcoholic problem.
"It's nothing like that at all." Lucas told The Washington Post. "There are just some things going on that people don't understand and that I'd rather not comment on. Yes, I want to continue playing basketball. I'll just wait and see what happens. I know I can still play and people around the league know I can play."
Whether Lucas will get the chance remains the question. He missed six games this season, none with an excuse that was acceptable to the Warriors, and he was fined a sum believed to be near $30,000.
"We'll spend a lot of time with John over the next several weeks trying to map out a game plan to solve his problems so he is mentally and physically ready to play," said Lucas' attorney, David Falk, of Washington. "We'll define the problem and solve it. Right now, I just don't know what the problems are, but obviously something is wrong to have caused John to act like he has this season."
Lucas had an up-and-down year, playing brilliantly at times and lapsing into states of careless complacency other times. He averaged 8.4 points and seven assists in 66 games, his lowest scoring average ever and his worst season for assists since his rookie year with Houston in 1976-77.
Lucas missed four games without being excused between Nov. 7 and Jan. 24. After being suspended, fined, lectured and booed, the situation seemed to improve, but suddenly he pulled his disappearing act again Feb. 22.
Lucas later said his 2-year-old daughter had an earache and he took her to the hospital. The Warriors accepted that excuse, but on March 18, with the team facing perhaps its most important game of the season, against Houston for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Lucas failed to show up and didn't notify anyone.
The Warriors immediately suspended him. When they made the announcement to the sellout Oakland Coliseum crowd before the game, it was met with cheers.
"He's never told me why he didn't show up for the Houston game," Attles said. "I can't figure John out anymore. I think he's lost a lot of confidence in his game, even though when you talk to him you can't tell it.
"I hate to say it, but it could just be a case of John not being able to deal with someone else coming in and being the star. Everything was fine with John until 'World' (Lloyd Free) arrived. Then his game started going bad and all this other junk started.
Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry said he always liked Lucas as a player, "But he's the same type of player as Kevin Porter, so we really don't need a player who does the things he does. Like everybody else, though I wonder what's going on in his mind and why he missed all those games. It doesn't look good."
"I think it's natural for teams to be leery of John at this point," said Falk. "I think any team that signs John will have to be convinced beyond any doubt that John will be ready to play, and that's understandable. We plan to have him ready."
The Warriors started the season as if they were going to be an NBA power. Newly acquired Bernard King and Free added the scoring punch and leadership the team needed and rookies Joe Barry Carroll and Larry Smith provided the rebounding and inside strength. But the uncertainty over Lucas and injuries to Free caused the Warriors to slide at midseason and they never recovered.
Free, who averaged 24 points a game, dislocated his thumb Feb. 22 and missed 13 of the last 18 games. The Warriors did not make the playoffs.
"We can't blame John for our problems," Attles said. "But his situation certainly disrupted things. He was just the last person we ever suspected any trouble from. That just shows you what kind of league this is. sAnything can happen."