Shawn Kemp discovered Tuesday that the NBA delivers bigger blows than Tom Hammonds.
Rod Thorn, the league’s vice president of operations, knocked Kemp out of the SuperSonics’ playoff opener against the Sacramento Kings with a one-game suspension and a $7,500 fine.
It was punishment for Kemp’s part in Sunday’s forearm fracas with Hammonds, the Denver Nuggets forward who received equal admonishment from the league. Additionally, both players were fined $1,000 for being ejected from the game.
Because the Nuggets did not make the playoffs, Hammonds will not be suspended until Denver’s first game of the regular season next year. That is the Nuggets’ next game. The Sonics’ is Friday.
“You always take the next game (away),” Thorn said. “If you’re going to take those kinds of chances, that’s what happens.”
Coach George Karl stood by Kemp and his belief that a fine would have been sufficient punishment for what he called a wrestling match. But Thorn said it was more than that.
“There were a lot of forearms and elbows,” he said. “It wasn’t normal pushing around. They were going after each other.”
For Kemp, who did not comment Tuesday, this is the first suspension in his seven-year career. Frustration finally spilled over in Denver, a result of continual pounding that Kemp takes.
“There are moments I’m angry about it (the suspension), but there are moments when I look at how Shawn gets beat up and is physically abused by less-talented players holding and grabbing him,” Karl said. “I respect what he has to go through to be successful.
“There’s no question it comes at the wrong time. But you’ve got to understand that Shawn is a man and his temper is going to be pushed.”
Nate McMillan or Sam Perkins will take Kemp’s place in the starting lineup Friday night at Key Arena, Karl said.
Rather than criticize Kemp for getting bounced from a playoff game, both players said they understand Kemp’s actions.
“When you’ve got guys shooting elbows at you and hanging on you and the officials aren’t calling anything, you forget about basketball and think about your manhood,” McMillan said. “A split second can cost you, like it did Shawn.”
Added Perkins, “If someone throws a punch at me, you automatically hit back. It’s a reflex. … You’ve got to defend yourself out there.”
Perkins hasn’t had to since his rookie season in 1984-85 when Bill Laimbeer, the notorious Detroit Pistons thug, tried to intimidate him. Perkins shoved him away with a hand to Laimbeer’s face.
Karl has talked to the Sonics about using their heads instead of their fists and forearms.
“I’ve addressed being aggressive with a brain,” Karl said. “We don’t need to get a negative reputation or atmosphere going with the referees. We need smart, physical, aggressive, tough basketball. We don’t want to be dirty.”
Another team might be concerned about the loss of its leading scorer and rebounder, but McMillan says the Sonics have a deep roster that can compensate.
“This team supports one another,” he said. “We draw strength off key guys missing.”
McMillan asked Kemp to have an active role this week in practice, wanting him to coach Ervin Johnson and help motivate other frontline players like Perkins and Frank Brickowski.
With their best low-post player unavailable, Karl said Perkins, Detlef Schrempf and Gary Payton will get more back-to-the-basket opportunities.
Kemp’s suspension might be a bit unsettling, but it was like a tremor instead of a quake to the Sonics.
“This team is together, this team is solid,” Karl said. “It doesn’t like what happened. But we’ll be ready.”
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Moore Seattle Post-Intelligencer