CLEVELAND -- He remembers the day the guy tried to break into his BMW in front of his home in Rome and his bodyguard broke the thief's arm like it was nothing. He remembers when he'd ask the man who was there to protect Il Messaggero's $10 million investment to turn back the coat of his suit and show him the automatic weapon he carried.

"Kidnapping was a big concern in Italy," Danny Ferry said, not referring to himself specifically, but any famous person in the public eye. A year ago he was all over the place, both hailed and vilified for taking the best offer available. Then Dave Feitl, who's now starting for Akeem Olajuwon in Houston but then was just trying to forget the NBA, outscored him. Then he got booed. Then he went to the European playoffs. Then he came home.

That was then. This is now. This, now, is what Danny Ferry always wanted, an NBA career. So he's willing to take the very public lumps that have come in his rookie season, the beginning of his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a 10-year plan that will pay him at least $14 million over the next five years and could go to $34 million with various incentives.

Combine that with the $26.5 million Cleveland is surrendering to John "Hot Rod" Williams, and the Gund Brothers, Gordon and George III, are shelling out major dollars for a team that's been hit horribly by injuries, lost 11 in a row and has freefallen to rock bottom in the Central Division.

The Cavaliers traded much of their future -- guard Ron Harper, No. 1 picks in 1990 and 1992 and a 1991 No. 2 to the Clippers for the rights to Ferry and Reggie Williams, who lasted about a month. And they had to wait 10 months before Ferry, the college player of the year at Duke in 1989, actually suited up.

But General Manager Wayne Embry said that Larry Bird was worth the wait and David Robinson was worth the wait and Danny Ferry will be worth the wait. So far he's shooting 44 percent and averaging 8.3 points.

He looks suspiciously like a normal rookie. The Cavaliers say the book isn't finished yet.

"With the trade and everything, I think that places a little more expectation on me," Ferry said last week. "I really try to keep my distance from that. I've always done that. When I came from DeMatha {High} and went to Duke, I was player of the year in high school the year before and there were a lot of people who expected a lot of me.

"I just tried to fit in, really. I came to a team that had so many good players and we went 37-3, but there was some criticism about how I did. I really didn't listen to that."

So this too, the son of the basketball man says, shall pass.

His coach, Lenny Wilkens, says you can't make an evaluation of anybody in one month.

"What I start to see is what a player has to improve on, what he has to work on," Wilkens says. "Then you wait for a period of time to see. What kind of progress has he made? How quickly is it being made? And I won't do it after a month for anybody. I can't make that judgment at this point in time. The only judgment I can make is that I think he's going to be a good player."

"I knew it would take Danny some time to break in," says his father, former Bullets general manager Bob Ferry. "It did in college. He was player of the year in high school and then he sat on the bench most of his freshman year {at Duke}. But one of his better abilities is knowing the game. Just like he had to learn the college game, he has to learn the pro game."

The jury of NBA types agrees.

"Don't start thinking Michael Jordan or Julius Erving," Indiana President Donnie Walsh said. "He's not that kind of guy. But he's going to be a guy that in two or three years, everybody in the league is going to want on his team. He makes other players better. He passes the ball. He knows how to play.

"And he's not soft. He plays physical enough. In fact, I don't understand what's wrong with him." Aches Are Pains

He is struggling with tendinitis in his left knee, the kind of chronic injury that requires hours of ultrasound treatments, exercises and therapy just to keep up. You play, but it hurts like hell and you don't feel like yourself.

That has slowed Ferry more. He needs every drop of quickness he can get to handle people outside defensively and beat them to spots on the floor offensively. When he has the ball, he can't just look over or shoot over most defenders as he did at Duke. There are any numbers of bumps and tricks and systems that can take the smoothness out of a shot.

"With Dad being with the Bullets, I had an idea of what the NBA was about, but I had never gone through it," he says. "I knew they played a lot of games. I knew that there was a lot of travel. I knew the game was more complicated. I knew there was going to be a transition. But I never had gone through it."

"It isn't always an easy transition," Wilkens said, "because when he came here, he had two guys playing ahead of him {Williams and Larry Nance} at the same position I think he's comfortable at. We were starting to work it where he was getting into the rotation, but with John hurt he's getting a little more time.

"I think in the beginning Danny was a little too hard on himself, because he wants to be good. He probably was his own worst critic at the beginning. What I'm trying to get him to do is to relax and play basketball, and do the things he's capable of doing."

What he goes through now is the nights of promise, like the 21 points he had the other day and the zero-for-six nights. Against Washington last month, he was five of 10 from the floor and grabbed four rebounds, but he fouled out in 19 minutes.

He's playing power forward almost exclusively since Williams went down in November with a sprained ankle. With Ferry a little gimpy, it makes sense to put his 230-pound frame down low as much as possible.

Wilkens, as he did with Williams after the forward signed his megacontract, is doing his best not to make Ferry feel he has to do more than he's capable of doing. But someone has to pick up the slack for Cleveland with guard Mark Price out for the season and Williams injured and out.

His father, who acknowledges he isn't the most objective person you can talk with on these matters, says the benefits of playing now outweigh the pressures.

"Any time you get injuries it puts a little pressure on everyone in the organization to win," Bob Ferry said. "It's difficult to win without those players. In the other sense, he's getting more playing time. I get to see a lot of the games on TV. It looks like he's improving like any rookie, with the playing time."

"I'd rather be winning," Danny Ferry said, "working my way into it. Hopefully it wouldn't be slowly. I'd be playing a fair amount with the players that we have. I was on that route when the people started to fall. . . . I was playing well. I was real positive about all that stuff. It's real frustrating. You want to win."

This was illustrated after the Bullets swamped the Cavaliers on their home floor. Craig Ehlo's young daughter wishes Ferry a happy birthday. A man sidles over and offers him condolences on the tough night.

"I played like crap," Danny Ferry said. He says it the next day too. Denies Father-Son Plot

He heard about the Nov. 16, 1989, trade of his NBA rights from a Washington television station that called his apartment at about 3 in the morning. He was soon to be in the NBA and away from the Clippers, and the rumors swirled about Bob Ferry's machinations behind the scenes.

Both Ferrys have maintained that they didn't plot or plan, work the gears to get Danny Ferry to Washington. His father's former boss, Abe Pollin, has said sure, we tried to get Danny. How much they pulled will always be at best speculation.

The father and son didn't talk about it, the son says.

"It was best for me not to know," Ferry said. "He didn't talk to me about it at all. It was something that was best for me not to know. And it was something that he didn't really want to get involved with. If it was going to happen, he wanted Wes {Unseld} and Mr. Pollin {to do it}."

The Clippers, it is fair to say, have showed some of the worst a franchise can offer since moving west from Buffalo.

Still, they did take Ferry with their second pick in the 1989 draft. They never indicated to him that they were going to do this, so he was surprised when his name was called, just as Pervis Ellison was shocked when the Kings, sight unseen, took him with the first pick.

Soon afterward, the Ferrys were in Italy, being wined and dined. Free house. Free car. If the Clippers didn't understand . . . well, they should have understood.

"When they showed me what was there, the trip we took, the money they offered me, knowing that I put myself in a good position when I didn't want to come back to the NBA, business-wise it was a very good decision. And I didn't fit exactly into the Clippers system either, I didn't think. There was a lot of rumor about me being traded. There was a lot of dissension about whom they should pick. So I didn't feel real welcome there either."

The Cavaliers ultimately envision a team that passes the opposition to death. Price outside, Ferry and Brad Daugherty inside, whipping the ball around to the open man, scoring in transition or battering teams with a 6-foot-10, 6-11, 7-0 skyline. For now -- "unequivocally," Wilkens says -- he's a power forward, which means he gets his time when he can.

"There's nothing he can do about expectations, nothing I can do about expectations," Wilkens says, "because I don't make them, I don't create them. But you have to go out and play and learn from every situation you're in, make mental notes, any notes that help you the next time. That's the knowledge he wants to store right now."

Danny Ferry is thinking about the future. When he can play small forward and run and be instinctive and not be a rookie, but the player from which the game flowed and others benefitted.

"I'm going to have to know the defensive system very well," he says, "just to cut down the margins of error. I'm not going to be as quick as most three-men and I'm not going to be as athletic as most three-men. But I can still do it because I'll be bigger and be able to use my body. Once I learn to play better position on this level. I'm still figuring all that stuff out."