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Hell, No, They Won't Go! With traded players like Kenny Anderson balking at reporting to their new clubs, general managers are left to ponder their options

March 02, 1998
March 02, 1998

Table of Contents
March 2, 1998

College Basketball [bonus Piece]

Hell, No, They Won't Go! With traded players like Kenny Anderson balking at reporting to their new clubs, general managers are left to ponder their options

The fans at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles gave center Isaac
Austin a standing ovation when he entered his first game as a
Clipper, against the Charlotte Hornets, late in the first
quarter last Saturday night. They cheered Austin, who was
acquired with guard Charles Smith from the Miami Heat in a trade
for guard Brent Barry two days earlier, mainly because they
thought he could help push their dreadful Clips toward
respectability. But given the events leading up to last
Thursday's trading deadline, Austin probably deserved the
applause just for showing up.

This is an article from the March 2, 1998 issue

If there was one thing the flurry of activity last week proved,
it was that a deal is not a deal until, like Austin, the traded
player puts on his new uniform and steps onto the court. Several
players who were dealt or nearly dealt, including guard Kenny
Anderson, center Rony Seikaly and guard Doug West, acted as if
they would rather hire Dennis Rodman as their fashion consultant
than report to their new teams. Anderson, who refused to join
the Toronto Raptors after they acquired him from the Portland
Trail Blazers, forced Toronto to send him to the Boston Celtics.
Seikaly, who chose not to report to the Utah Jazz after they got
him from the Orlando Magic--or, if you buy Seikaly's spin on
this, after the Jazz rejected him--wound up being shipped to the
New Jersey Nets when the deal with the Jazz was voided. There
were also a number of trades never consummated largely because
the principal players, including guards Kendall Gill of the
Nets, Penny Hardaway of the Magic and Damon Stoudamire of the
Raptors, scared off prospective new employers by declaring their
distaste for the teams. Gill threatened to retire rather than
play in Toronto; Hardaway let New Jersey know he didn't want to
play there; and Stoudamire made it clear he didn't wish to go to
Orlando unless Hardaway, who would have been dealt for him,
remained.

By the time the smoke had cleared, there were several irritated
executives around the league, including the Magic's John
Gabriel, the Raptors' Glen Grunwald and the Jazz's Scott Layden.
The message was unmistakable: No longer can it be taken for
granted that traded players will go quietly. "There's a wave
that will have to be stemmed of players suggesting that they
won't go certain places," says Nets general manager John Nash.
"When they sign, they know their contract can be reassigned, and
if they don't report, it's a breach of that contract."

Even though a player can be suspended and his salary withheld if
he doesn't report to his new team within 48 hours of being
dealt, an increasing number of players seem willing to play a
game of chicken with the teams that trade for them. "Some things
are more important than the dollar," says West, who initially
refused to report when the Vancouver Grizzlies acquired him from
the Minnesota Timberwolves last Thursday. His reason for not
acceding to the deal was understandable: He had endured so many
losses in his 81/2 seasons as an original member of the
Timberwolves that he was reluctant to go back to the bottom with
yet another expansion team. But West changed his mind and joined
the Grizzlies last Friday. "Most times you're powerless over
trades unless you have a no-trade clause in your contract," West
says. "Sometimes [threatening not to report] is the only way you
have of making your voice heard." (On Sunday, West announced
that he would enter in-patient treatment for alcohol abuse.)

Management, of course, isn't particularly interested in hearing
players' voices when it is making deals. "One day, and I can't
wait for the day, an owner is going to sue a player and his
agent for damages for killing a trade or not wanting to go
somewhere else," says Miami president and coach Pat Riley. "One
owner is going to win a lot of damages, because that's not
right. In your contract it says that within 48 hours, you go. So
if you're starting to blackmail people, then I think somewhere,
somebody is going to be sued one day."

Not everyone thinks the situation is that dire. "As far back as
I can remember, players have threatened not to report after
being traded," says Trail Blazers president and general manager
Bob Whitsitt. "But in most cases, when they've got a contract
and stand to lose money, they don't follow through. There's a
lot more rhetoric these days, with players saying, I will go
here, I won't go there, but nine times out of 10, it's just
talk."

A team can call a player's bluff, but even if it wins, it runs
the risk of having an unhappy and unproductive player on its
hands. That's a chance Toronto decided not to take with
Anderson. When Portland sent him, along with forward Gary Trent,
guard Alvin Williams, two first-round picks and a second-round
pick, to the Raptors for point guard Stoudamire and forwards
Walt Williams and Carlos Rogers, Anderson retreated to his home
in Los Angeles. Grunwald called Anderson. "I explained to him
how much we liked him as a player and how much we'd like him to
be part of our future here," Grunwald says. "I told him we have
a new arena coming and new ownership and a group of young,
talented guys."

Anderson's response? "He listened, but he didn't say much,"
Grunwald says. The Raptors executive took the hint and sent
Anderson, forward Popeye Jones and center Zan Tabak to the
Celtics for guards Chauncey Billups and Dee Brown and forwards
Roy Rogers and John Thomas.

Anderson, who didn't return SI's phone calls, apparently balked
at going to Toronto for the same reasons Gill threatened to
retire if he was dealt to the Raptors--players don't want to
play for a floundering franchise and deal with what they
perceive to be an unfavorable tax situation (page 118). But
Seikaly's situation defies logic. Utah acquired him by dealing
center Greg Foster, forward Chris Morris and a first-round pick
to Orlando, but, according to Jazz officials, Seikaly would not
report for reasons that remain a mystery to them. "His agent
[Steve Kauffman] never would land on anything concrete that he
wanted from us," says Utah owner Larry Miller. "He made
allusions to things, but he would never pin it down."

Seikaly's version of events is that after the trade Utah lost
interest in him because it thought a stress fracture in his
right foot would keep him on the sidelines for eight weeks. (As
it happens, the injury is expected to keep him out for four
weeks.) But since Seikaly never went to Utah to allow the Jazz
medical staff to examine him, his story seems far less plausible
than Utah's. "I don't know what Rony was thinking," says one of
his former Magic teammates, guard-forward Nick Anderson. "It
sounded like a good situation, a chance to play with a couple of
legends [Karl Malone and John Stockton] and maybe win a
championship. Maybe he just doesn't like the snow."

Owners and general managers don't have to worry about players
eventually trying to block trades for reasons as trivial as
that. As long as the choice is between reporting to their new
teams or finding another line of work, players will eventually
show up at their new place of business. They just might take a
little longer to pack their bags.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH NICE MOVES After resisting proposed deals, Anderson (7) and Stoudamire (3) eventually got their way and the highway. [Damon Stoudamire and Kenny Anderson in game]