January 8, 1998 in Sports

No Longer Star-Crossed Kemp Takes On Sonics For First Time Since Trade

Associated Press

The Seattle SuperSonics have the best record in the NBA, and Shawn Kemp has one of the most improved teams.

They don’t seem to miss each other much.

The reunion is tonight, when the Sonics come to Cleveland to take on Kemp and the new-look Cavaliers. Kemp, who demanded a trade and severed ties with his Seattle teammates last summer, is trying to hold down the emotions that could reverberate like one of his rim-rattling dunks.

“If I go out there and try to be extra aggressive and try to score more points, then I play right into their hands,” Kemp said Wednesday. “They are a defensive team. Expect me to play the exact opposite role.”

Kemp made the All-Star team five times in eight years in Seattle, blossoming with Gary Payton into one of the league’s best guard-forward highlight shows.

Unhappy with his salary and looking for a change, Kemp demanded a trade last summer. His teammates reportedly were irked when he didn’t return any of their calls. Kemp says he still hasn’t talked with any of them.

“First of all, if you’re doing something with an organization, and there’s players involved, then that means there’s feelings involved,” Kemp said. “And I would never go through a player to an organization.

“So what I basically did was distance myself from a lot of people. That way, I could make the decision myself… . The decision was going to come from myself or my family. It wasn’t going to come from some coaching staff.”

As the revamped teams meet tonight at Gund Arena, both seem better off. Seattle (27-6) has the best record in the league, with Payton feeding Vin Baker instead of Kemp.

“I hate to say it, but everything has been so perfect,” Hersey Hawkins told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “There have been no problems with guys being upset about something, egos getting in the way, no arguments, no fights.”

Cleveland (20-11) is one of the surprise teams of the league because of the quick success of Kemp and four rookie teammates.

“They’re fun to watch,” Houston’s Clyde Drexler said before the Cavs beat the Rockets 100-70 Tuesday night.

The Sonics haven’t missed a beat. Baker, who came from Milwaukee in the three-team trade involving Kemp, is having a better year than Kemp. Baker is averaging more points (19.7 to 17.8), is shooting better from the field (.540 to .466) and has fewer turnovers. Kemp has the edge in rebounding and foul shooting.

“From what I know, everybody is happy with the trade,” Seattle coach George Karl said. “Shawn is happy, we’re happy and I think Milwaukee is happy.”

While Kemp is still adjusting to Eastern Conference style and making too many turnovers - a whopping 111 in 30 games - there is no denying his influence on the Cavs. Cleveland has scrapped the mundane style of past years, and fans are gradually catching on.

But like Kemp, Cleveland fans seem to be downplaying the significance of the Sonics game. Some 5,300 tickets were still available Wednesday.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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