DELUSIONAL

Pistons third-year shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse is worried
about a lockout, extended negotiations on a new collective
bargaining agreement and other labor strife that might delay the
payoff he expects to receive as a free agent this summer. "It
was a tough situation, having to deal with the rookie salary
cap, because it meant being underpaid for three years," he says.
"The owners wanted us to prove ourselves. I have. Now it's time
to reap the benefits of free agency."

Yet after averaging 15.8 points and shooting 43.5% from the
floor this season, Stackhouse is headed for a rude awakening
come contract talks. He figures he'll sign for around $11
million a season; general managers around the NBA put his value
at closer to $5 million. "He's not one of those top-tier free
agents," says the Nets' John Nash. "He can score, but he hasn't
proven he can shoot the ball consistently. We have Kendall Gill,
who'll make around $5.5 million and is similar in that he isn't
a pure shooter. Would I trade him for Stackhouse? Probably not."

Stackhouse wouldn't dream of comparing himself to Gill. Though
most general managers project Stackhouse as a backup, he
believes he's just two notches below Kevin Garnett, the
Timberwolves' $20.8 million-a-year franchise forward. "If you
look at my numbers over the past three years, they compare to
anyone's," Stackhouse, 23, says. "Michael Jordan makes
what--about $33 million? Tell me I don't deserve a third of what
he makes. I'm not saying half, I'm saying a third."

With the 76ers, Stackhouse averaged 20.0 points over two
seasons, but he also shot only 41.1% and turned the ball over
3.7 times a game. Stackhouse still fails to grasp the concepts
of ball movement and spacing, and it's widely known that he
favors his right hand. "I'd challenge him to go left," says
Hawks guard Steve Smith, "and you know what? He'd start trying
it. The more he couldn't get his shot or the more he'd lose [the
ball], the harder he'd try."

The Sixers sent the 6'6" Stackhouse packing to Detroit in
December after indications that he wanted at least $11 million a
year to re-sign. In return Philadelphia received third-year
center Theo Ratliff, who has blossomed into a dependable shot
blocker and will likely command a better deal than Stackhouse
this summer.

In his defense, Stackhouse has had five coaches in three
seasons. "And I haven't played with a point guard since I came
into the league," he says. "People will best see my talents when
I'm with a distributor." Like Jason Kidd? "Exactly. The Suns
would be a great situation. That's definitely a viable option."

But sources in Phoenix say that the Suns have no interest in
Stackhouse. The Kings, Nuggets and Raptors will have plenty of
cap room, but officials on those teams aren't excited about
acquiring him either. Stackhouse would rather re-sign with the
Pistons, but they, too, are lukewarm about a new deal. As one
Detroit source says, "We are quite certain we can live without
him."

A Secondary Role
MULLIN'S PAYOFF IS THE PLAYOFFS

The last time Chris Mullin was in the playoffs, his teammates
included Tim Hardaway, Chris Webber and a relatively obscure
second-year guard named Latrell Sprewell. That was with the
Warriors in 1994. Now Mullin returns to the postseason as a
Pacer, but he's no longer a primary weapon. His job is to score
a dozen points in about 25 minutes a game and spread the floor
for Reggie Miller and Rik Smits. "I could have stayed at Golden
State and piled up some numbers, but what good is it to score 18
a night when it doesn't matter?" Mullin, 34, says. "I didn't
want to finish as some old washed-up guy. I wanted to be more
satisfied than that."

Since his request for a trade was answered last summer, Mullin
has remained silent about the Warriors, prompting speculation
that one of the conditions of his relocation was that he not
disparage them. "Not true," Mullin says. "I never said anything
for eight years. If I did say something, it would be the longest
press conference in the world. So many things were overlooked on
the floor. We had no discipline, no plan, no direction. Near the
end it was more like a circus than a pro team. I had never
thought I'd dread going to practice, but I did."

Mullin still thinks about the many nights he scored 25 or more,
but a deep playoff run is his only goal now. "When I played at
Golden State, Rod Higgins backed me up," he says. "He was so
helpful, so at ease with his role, I always felt he was a big
part of the team. I'd like to give these guys that same kind of
feeling."

Line of the Week
BO OUTLAW'S TRIPLE DOUBLE

Magic forward Bo Outlaw, April 17 versus the Nets: 46 minutes,
10-11 field goals, 5-8 free throws, 25 points, 13 rebounds, 10
assists, 5 blocks. Outlaw played the role of spoiler in a
121-109 win that postponed New Jersey's clinching of a playoff
spot.

For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to
www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH GOLD DIGGING Stackhouse, who thinks he'll earn $11 million next season, will be lucky to get half that. [Jerry Stackhouse in game] COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES LOOKING UP Instead of ruing his backup role, Mullin relishes abetting the Pacers' playoff drive. [Chris Mullin in game]

NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND

The Wheels of Justice

Shortly after referee Dee Kantner ejected Nuggets forward Danny
Fortson for throwing a punch at Rockets forward Othella
Harrington in an April 14 game, Denver general manager Dan Issel
left his seat to check a replay of the incident. Convinced that
Fortson had not slugged Harrington, Issel sought out crew chief
Dan Crawford in the parking lot after the game and pleaded
Fortson's case. (Fortson's $1,000 fine would later be revoked
after the league reviewed the tape.) Asked how he knew which car
was Crawford's, Issel said, "I just looked for the Cadillac.
Refs always rent Cadillacs."

AROUND THE RIM

Raptors interim coach Butch Carter went only 5-27 after taking
over on Feb. 13 but he will keep his job next season for two
reasons: He has instilled much-needed discipline off the court
and inspired rookie Tracy McGrady (11.2-point average over the
season's last 11 games....

76ers president Pat Croce on forward Joe Smith, who becomes a
free agent this summer and who sought a $15 million-a-year
extension last summer: "I don't think he's worth superstar
money. Neither does [coach] Larry Brown. That doesn't mean it
has to be all or nothing. So the question is, where do
negotiations start above nothing?"...

Talk about an incentive to get fouled. In the Magic's season
finale against the Hornets, Nick Anderson needed to attempt two
free throws to reach 125 for the season, thereby earning a $1.05
million bonus. Anderson was 4-for-4 from the line against
Charlotte....

Celtics general manager Chris Wallace has seen high school power
forward Korleone Young play twice. What did Wallace like most
about the 6'7", 220-pound Young, who has declared himself
eligible for the NBA draft? "His upside after four years of
college."...

Keep an eye on the Hawks-Hornets tango in the first round of the
playoffs. Charlotte's Anthony Mason walked up to Atlanta forward
Cadillac Anderson at halftime on April 10 and said the Hawks had
no heart. When Atlanta won, Dikembe Mutombo responded by
pounding his chest. Last Friday the Hawks finished off the
Hornets with a four-game sweep of the season series.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)