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No regrets

Decision to leave N.J. a matter of health for Mourning

Posted: Thursday December 15, 2005 2:46PM; Updated: Thursday December 15, 2005 6:00PM
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Playing more than he has in four seasons, Alonzo Mourning helped Miami weather the loss of Shaquille O'Neal early this season.
Playing more than he has in four seasons, Alonzo Mourning helped Miami weather the loss of Shaquille O'Neal early this season.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

A year has passed since Alonzo Mourning forced New Jersey to trade him, yet bad blood remains between Zo and the Nets. For his part, Mourning says he was goaded by suspicions that the Nets loaded up his minutes in an attempt to break him down physically during his comeback last season from transplant surgery. Had he been compelled to retire before playing 10 games last season, he notes, his salary would have come off the Nets' cap a year ahead of schedule. "I felt as though they thought I was going to quit, and they would never admit that " said Mourning. "They knew if I would have stopped playing, the money would have come off and they wouldn't have been affected by the salary cap."

Nets president Rod Thorn strongly denies that his team was trying to hurt Mourning. "I don't know where this is coming from," says Thorn. "This guy is way off-base. It is totally, absolutely untrue."

Mourning points to a six-game stretch early in his comeback that included four games in which he played 35 minutes or more. But he also admits that he refused offers from coach Lawrence Frank to take him out of games, in part because he wanted to prove to the Nets that they couldn't break him. "I guess I had a point to prove," Mourning says.

Shortly after he stopped playing in December 2004, citing health concerns, Mourning was packaged by the Nets in a trade with Toronto that netted them Vince Carter. Mourning then agreed to a $9 million buyout on his remaining contract with Toronto that cleared him to sign with Miami for the veteran's minimum.

The hardball negotiating tactics hurt Mourning's reputation among GMs around the league. "I lost a lot of respect for him," says one rival team executive, echoing similar feelings held by many of his peers.

But Mourning thinks they fail to understand the context. He believes that his illness has bestowed him with an obligation to do for kidney research and organ transplants what Lance Armstrong did in the fight against cancer. Mourning demanded a trade or buyout in the belief that new owner Bruce Ratner had taken the Nets out of title contention by allowing forward Kenyon Martin to sign a free-agent deal with Denver in a cost-cutting move. Mourning says he took the extreme step of coming back to the game for no reason other than to win a championship, and that he didn't want to accept a buyout from New Jersey that would essentially have rewarded the Nets for their decision to dump Martin.