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Minimal Pay, Maximum Play In forward Lee Nailon, the Hornets have the league's best bargain

March 04, 2002
March 04, 2002

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March 4, 2002

Minimal Pay, Maximum Play In forward Lee Nailon, the Hornets have the league's best bargain

Like a double-teamed player who has surrendered his dribble,
Hornets forward Lee Nailon was in a precarious position last
summer. After a rookie season in which he averaged a mere 3.9
points, ended up in coach Paul Silas's doghouse and was left off
the postseason roster, Nailon had little bargaining power when
his contract came up. Charlotte offered him the cheapest deal it
could while retaining his rights: one year for $615,850. Only
$48,573 of that would be guaranteed if he was released before
opening day.

This is an article from the March 4, 2002 issue Original Layout

Nailon's next best option was returning to Europe, where he
played in 1999-2000 after being drafted by the Hornets with the
43rd pick and failing to reach a deal with the team.
Recollections of his time with Adecco Milano--the 10-hour bus
rides to games and the two-a-day practices, the language barrier
and the late-arriving paychecks--bounced around in his head.
Although he could have earned more money overseas, Nailon
accepted Charlotte's offer. "When training camp started," he
says, "I had to kick ass and show I was serious, that I was done
playin'."

Having stopped playin', Nailon started playing. Through Sunday
he was averaging 12.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 28.2 minutes
while shooting 49.0% from the field. He had also made 41 starts
before Jamal Mashburn returned from an abdominal injury on Feb.
18. "I'm not saying I'm an All-Star," says Nailon, 27, who
participated in the game between rookies and sophomores over
All-Star weekend, "but it feels good to know I can play in this
league."

A back-to-the-basket player at TCU, where he once scored 53
points in a game, the 6'8", 241-pound Nailon had to adjust to
playing outside, especially on defense. When his man would flash
from the paint to the wing, he says, "I'd be down low and
thinking, Now where the heck are you going?" Nailon still gets
points in the post and has a velvety lefthanded jumper, but 18
feet is the extent of his range. While most small forwards
regularly shoot the three, Nailon had attempted only two shots
(and made one) from beyond the arc at week's end. "Because of
the sets we run I'm never out that far," he says, "but I'll be
working on three-point shooting this summer."

Aside from his scoring, Nailon--never regarded as a workhorse
during his rookie season--has won over the Charlotte coaches
with his commitment to improving. "He's one of the first ones at
practice and one of the last to leave," says Silas. "That's the
thing I love most."

Nailon's dubious distinction as the NBA's best bargain is
certain to end when his contract expires. Other teams aren't
permitted to sign him until July 16, and the Hornets have the
right to match any offer. But rest assured that the phone number
of Nailon's agent, Larry Fox, is already on the speed dial of
several G.M.'s. For now, Nailon is driving a Suburban and living
in a modest Charlotte home with his wife, Marti, and their
daughters, Leasia, 2, and Leeah, 1. "I'm looking forward to what
might happen, but I haven't treated myself to anything yet," he
says. "That would be like saying, 'I'm comfortable.' Well, I'm
not."

COLOR PHOTO: ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES