A two-tier salary structure is rapidly developing in the NBA, with stars receiving so much money that little is left under the cap for role players. As a result, most teams now have vital contributors who are making the league's minimum wage for veterans: $247,500. Many of these players walked away from multimillion-dollar contracts they deemed unsatisfactory to sign one-year deals, gambling that if they put up big numbers, they would earn a richer payday in 1997-98. "A lot of people have hit the gold mine," says Raptors guard Hubert Davis, "and a lot of them have found out there's no gold out there."
Our all-bargain five:
? Rex Chapman, G, Suns. While his former club, the Heat, lavished fortunes on other players, Chapman got lost in the shuffle. In Phoenix he has worked his way into the starting lineup, averaging 10.9 points in 25.2 minutes per game.
? Walt Williams, G, Raptors. He turned down $2.8 million from Miami to test the open market, then found wallets closed. Now Williams is Toronto's second-leading scorer (16.5). "He was one [free agent] who truly got burned," says the Bulls' Michael Jordan.
? Jerome Kersey, F, Lakers. After signing center Shaquille O'Neal, Los Angeles had gaping holes to fill on its bench. The Lakers took on Kersey, who earned $4 million last year but at 34 wasn't attracting much interest, and he has emerged as a ball hawking starter.
? Tyrone Corbin, F, Hawks. The 34-year-old Corbin has replaced Grant Long, whom Atlanta dealt to Detroit. But as a sometime starter he has delivered far more than his trademark defense, averaging 11.2 points. "Sure, I'd like to make more money," says Corbin, now with his eighth team, "but I was never one of those guys who thought he was going to play in the NBA."
? Oliver Miller, C, Mavericks. Often out of sorts or out of shape, Miller may not be a bargain at any price (though he did turn down at least $5.4 million from his old team, Toronto). But in a league where decent big men are scarce, and on a team torn by dissension, Miller has performed admirably. He's second on Dallas in rebounds (5.7) despite playing only 20.3 minutes.