The on-again, on-again battle between Utah Jazz Coach Frank Layden and star forward Adrian Dantley escalated when the DeMatha High School graduate was benched in a victory over the Dallas Mavericks Friday.
The battle began when Dantley asked for -- and received permission -- to miss two practices to return to the Washington area on "personal business." Upon joining the team in Dallas for the game, Dantley learned he wouldn't be playing, allegedly for breaking a team rule that bans participation after missing practice the day before a game.
According to Dantley, he was unaware that such a rule existed and, after returning to Salt Lake City, he and his wife Dinitri tried in vain to find it listed in the team's handbook. In addition, Dantley pointed out that center Mark Eaton had missed a practice earlier in the season to attend his sister's wedding but was allowed to play in the next day's game.
Layden, in addressing the apparent contradiction, said the practice Eaton missed came before an exhibition game, but in any case was different from the situation with Dantley. "There are exceptions to the rule on not playing, if a player has to get treated for injury or if he gets caught in a snowstorm for example," said Layden. "I think a sister's wedding is a very good reason, too. Last season, Adrian missed a game against the Celtics to go to his great-grandmother's wedding, but this time he offered me no reason for this absence other than 'personal business,' and I didn't think it was appropriate for him to leave for two days after we had lost a game to the Cleveland Cavaliers."
In addressing the issue whether a hard-and-fast written rule existed, Dinitri Dantley said on Monday that while she was listening to Layden's pregame radio show, the coach allowed that he didn't intend to play Dantley, the NBA's third-leading scorer at 27.4 points a game, "unless it came down to the difference between winning and losing."
"If there was such a rule, it would stand to reason that it would stand up across the board with no wishy-washy stuff, like it coming down to a particular situation," she said.
But Layden says he'll make whatever exceptions he sees fit. "I don't give a spit how Adrian Dantley feels, I don't care if he cares or not or if he likes me or not. I'll make 10 exceptions to the rule if I wish," Layden said Monday. "There's a feeling that he's gotta like me and I've gotta like him but that's just not true. We don't miss any paydays around here, so when it's time to play I can expect him to do that."
The two have seemed on a collision course since Dantley held out for all of the preseason and the first six games of the regular season in an effort to get his contract renegotiated. At the time, Layden, who also serves as the team's general manager, said the Jazz "wouldn't be held hostage" by Dantley.
With Dantley's late start, along with the drug-abuse relapse of forward John Drew, the Jazz, surprise winners of the Midwest Division a year ago, have started slowly. Entering last night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the team was 22-26 and 7 1/2 games behind division-leading Denver.
There are those who say that this latest row was a way for Layden to punish Dantley for his early season absence, a charge that the coach doesn't totally deny. "When he was holding out, he and his agent (David Falk of ProServ) were making out like he was Larry Bird, that we couldn't play without him and things like that. When he did get his money, he took on a greater responsibility," Layden said. "But he came off of the pedestal then and I told him things would never be the same between us. He was our captain last year but he's not now and he never will be again."
On the advice of Falk, Dantley has chosen not to respond to the latest salvo from his coach. According to one source close to Dantley, "he's biting his lip so much that it's bleeding." Dantley listened to Layden's statement on making exceptions, then said, "That tells you something right there, doesn't it?" Dantley added that he wished to discuss the situation but he had been advised not to.
Asked why he had given Dantley permission to leave if he really didn't want him to go, Layden said he thought the player might have departed anyway. "I'm not harsh, I never fine someone, but I have to protect myself," Layden said. "You can't allow things like this on any level; if you do, guys will stop coming to practice all together. I wonder what other coaches would have done; I think the same thing."
But another NBA head coach, who didn't wish to be identified, said he never would have taken the steps Layden did. "What would it have proved?" he asked. "Sure there are rules, but he had given his permission for him to go. If he didn't want him to, he should have just said no and if Dantley did it anyway, he could have suspended him."