July 21, 1996 in Sports

East Bids Farewell To Shaq

Stephen A. Smith Philadelphia Inquirer
 

He stands 7-foot-1, weighs 300-plus pounds and has been an enormous pain for opposing teams - excluding the Bulls - throughout his NBA career.

So when Shaquille O’Neal decided to jump ship on the Orlando Magic and take a reported $120 million, seven-year contract offer from the Los Angeles Lakers, tears weren’t exactly flowing within the Eastern Conference.

“Can’t say I’m upset,” New York Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld said. “I didn’t think they’d lose him. It’s very hard to lose a franchise player and recover from it, and I didn’t think the Magic would let it happen. I still can’t believe it.”

Yet sources around the league say the deal was in the works for months. They say Shaq’s Los Angeles-based agent, Leonard Armato, clearly wanted him in L.A. because of the entertainment opportunities. They note that it was Armato who planted the idea in Shaq’s mind that Brian Hill was a poor coach, a point Armato himself appeared to be trying to make to NBC’s Jim Gray in an interview during Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals.

“I really couldn’t tell you the reasons behind it,” said Grunfeld. “I recognize it puts us in a favorable position, but I liked our chances anyway. I just like them better now.”

Spending spree

The question these days is, can anyone afford to have a team?

While no one begrudges Michael Jordan his $25 million, the trickle-down effect has been alarming: $112 million for seven years to Alonzo Mourning, $98 million for seven years to Juwan Howard, $56 million for seven years to Allan Houston, $42 million to Dale Davis, $35 million to Antonio Davis, who isn’t even a starter.

“Personally, I wouldn’t want to pay all this money,” said New Jersey Nets GM John Nash, who was in the same position with the Bullets last season. “The salaries are far too high. Where’s the money coming from? That’s what I’d like to know.”

One former player now in management concedes that not all players deserve that kind of money, but Shaq, he says, is one who does.

“Other than Jordan, I think Shaq is the best player in the league,” Toronto Raptors GM Isiah Thomas said. “Look what he does for the league, in terms of the media, in terms of marketing for himself and the league, as well as his play. He’s one of those guys who truly understands what the entertainment aspect of this league is all about, and he delivers.

“I’m very happy for him. I think he deserves it. But I’m also happy he’s gone from our conference. Very happy.”

The victims

The star players will get their money, but there might not be enough to make fading stars or not-quite stars happy. Reggie Miller said he was insulted by the Pacers’ $6 million-a-year offer; as the league’s second-best shooting guard, he said he deserves less than Jordan but more than Houston, whose deal with the Knicks is worth $8 million a year.

Nets forward Armon Gilliam might have a hard time finding any takers. The Nets don’t seem interested in retaining him, and a number of other teams are extended far beyond the salary cap.

Walt Williams is in the same boat. Acquired by Miami in a midseason trade with Sacramento, Williams had his rights renounced by the Heat so they could free up money for Mourning, Howard and Tim Hardaway. And forward Kevin Willis, who went from Miami to Golden State in the Hardaway trade, has not been re-signed by the Warriors, even though they can exceed the cap to retain their own player.

“Willis might well be in Europe next season,” a league GM said. “For a lot of players, that might be the only option, if they want money in their pockets.”

Got to give it up

On the Sixers’ front, no colossal problems exist, but a small one is brewing around rookie point guard Allen Iverson.

Apparently, a few players are upset with the number of shots the No. 1 draft pick has been taking in Doral-Arrowwood Summer League games.

“I know one player who’s ready to kill him,” a team insider said. “You’ve got guys out here trying to make the team. He’s already on it and he’s shooting all the time. They’re ticked off.”

Iverson shot 14 of 31 Friday night and committed 11 turnovers.

“That’s 42 times he kept the ball for himself,” the insider said.

Brown-out

The Nets didn’t want P.J. Brown as much as many Nets fans did. Or at least they didn’t want him enough to match the five-year, $36-million deal Miami gave him.

“We think P.J. is a good player,” Nash said. “But we think he’s a bench player on a good team. We’re not trying to sign players who were on a team that won just 30 games to long-term contracts. We’re $3.3 million under the cap now and we’ll have more in two years, when we expect another free-agent blitz to occur.”

Travelin’ man

Expect former Sixer-Laker-Spur Lloyd Daniels to be in an NBA uniform next season. Several teams laud his offensive skills, and some feel he has finally learned enough people skills to survive in the league.

“He might end up with us,” Nash said. “If not, he’ll definitely be with someone by the start of the season. Too many people like him.”

Kobe sparkles

Word is, Kobe Bryant has looked great in Los Angeles summer league games, consistently scoring around 20 points per game.

“He’s got to learn the ropes, obviously,” one West Coast scout said. “But he’s the real deal. People are saying he could very well be another Jordan in a few years. He’s got the total package. And you can’t deny that, considering who he’s with.”

Lakers GM Jerry West isn’t known as the best talent evaluator in the business for nothing.

Around the league

The Detroit Pistons not only struck out in efforts to land Juwan Howard and/or Dikembe Mutombo, they were blind-sided by Houston’s departure for the Knicks. “They ignored Houston,” a league source said. “(GM) Rick Sund was telling people he would wait because Houston wasn’t going anywhere. Guess they learned differently.” … Temple’s Derrick Battie has impressed in several tryout camps, but it’s not certain whether he’ll land in Europe, the NBA or the CBA … Former UMass all-American Lou Roe is trying out with John Calipari’s Nets after a dismal season with Detroit. … In Saturday night’s late game at the Doral Arrowwood Summer League in New York, Kerry Kittles scored 23 points in New Jersey’s 115-104 victory over New York. Lloyd Daniels and Mark Strickland added 18 points each for the Nets. Jean Prioleau had 25 points for the Knicks.

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