When the Knicks sacked Don Nelson last March after only eight months on the job, they owed him $3.7 million on a three-year, $5 million deal. But New York ceased paying him in October after learning from Hornets ownership that he had made some disparaging remarks about then Knicks forward Anthony Mason when Charlotte coach Dave Cowens called soliciting his opinion last summer. New York informed him that by making such comments he had violated his contract. ( Charlotte acquired Mason anyway.) The Knicks, who declined to talk about the specifics of the case, and Nelson settled their dispute just before the holidays. Nelson's take is now only $3.2 million. "I'm going to kill Cowens," says Nelson. "That phone call cost me $500,000."
Nelson tells SI he is also being sued by another of his former clubs, the Warriors, who hope to retrieve the $1 million buyout they paid him when he resigned under pressure in 1995. Nelson says Golden State is claiming that once he was hired by the Knicks he was no longer entitled to the money. In a prepared statement Warriors counsel Robin Baggett confirmed the club was "in disagreement over coach Nelson's obligation to repay certain monies."
"It's a disgrace," Nelson says. "Teams don't want to pay up, so they try to get you to make a bad deal. Either that, or they drag you into court so you can ring up some legal fees."
Last summer when the Lakers cleaned house to create salary-cap room to sign center Shaquille O'Neal, there was concern that their bench would be too thin this season. It hasn't been because help has come from two surprising rookies—big man Travis Knight, out of Connecticut, who has provided limited yet valuable minutes backing up Shaq, and poised point guard Derek Fisher, the 24th overall pick out of Arkansas-Little Rock. In a Dec. 29 win against the Sixers, Knight had 13 points and 10 boards in 24 minutes, and Fisher had 12 points in 15 minutes. Five nights later Knight, playing 25 minutes because O'Neal was out with a sprained right ankle, scored 12 points as the Lakers beat the Kings 100-93.
Lakers general manager Jerry West grabbed Knight after the Bulls, who had picked him 29th in the draft, released him when he wouldn't agree to go overseas to develop his game. The success of Fisher and Knight has cut into the playing time of the Lakers' third and most celebrated rookie, 18-year-old Kobe Bryant. "He's a sensational prospect." West says. "It's scary to see what might be out there for him." The Kings got a frightening glimpse in the Lakers' win last Friday when Bryant contributed 21 points in 22 minutes. Our L.A. spies tell us the 6'6" Bryant has been spending extra practice time working on his ball handling skills and that West is grooming him to be the Lakers' point guard.
Line of the Week
Warriors guard Latrell Sprewell, Jan. 3 against the Sixers: 50 MIN, 13-26 FG, 39 points, 11 rebounds, 9 assists. In leading Golden State to a 122-114 overtime win, Sprewell evinced only one weakness—going 1 for 8 from beyond the three-point line.
Around the Rim
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