Cassell, who says his doctor in Houston believes he has torn ligaments in his ankle, is clear on what he needs to do: rest and get completely healthy, rather than try to play at half speed. "I'm going to get myself right," he says. "I don't have anything to prove to anybody."
The New Labor Deal
Remember the new collective bargaining agreement, the one in which there are only minute details left to be worked out? When the deal is finally done, SI has learned, it will be accompanied by a side letter that could bind a first-round pick who leaves school after his freshman year to the team that drafts him for five years (including two option years), rather than the four provided by the new agreement. Players who jump to the NBA from high school will be bound to their clubs for up to six years.
That side letter will only go into effect, however, if the NCAA, the NBA and the players' association can agree on the details of an incentive plan to encourage players to remain in school. Negotiations are in their infancy, though league attorney Joel Litvin, union deputy counsel Hal Biagas and NCAA representatives—among them Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton, former North Carolina coach Dean Smith and Virginia AD Terry Holland-met in Chicago on Feb. 4 to discuss the possibility of offering loans to players who agree to stay in college instead of jumping to the pros.
The need for such incentives became more apparent than ever after the rookie pay scale was instituted in 1995, and the number of underclassmen declaring for the draft increased significantly. "Players started coming out even earlier, because they wanted to complete their rookie-scale obligations as quickly as possible," Litvin says. "That was not an optimal situation."
At the Chicago meeting the NCAA discussed offering personal loans of $20,000 to $25,000 a year to potential first-round picks to keep them in school, with the NBA and the union splitting the cost The union didn't like that idea, correctly pointing out that such a small sum would not serve as a deterrent to players who have a chance to become instant millionaires.
The union also believes that players who earn their degrees should not have to pay back the loans. "If a student-athlete stayed in school for an additional three years, should he then be asked to pay back $75,000 after generating an untold amount of revenue for his school?" asks Biagas. "Our thought was if he committed to staying in school for those three years, perhaps there should be some loan forgiveness."
All the parties involved say they are a long way from nailing down the particulars, and they will meet again within a month. The league would like to have the new rules in place by the June 30 draft, but there are many issues to iron out. What would happen, for instance, to the player who stayed in school four years, accrued more than $50,000 in loans, suffered a career-ending injury and was then saddled with debt he could not repay? "That's a fair question," Litvin says. "We haven't gotten that far yet."
The Struggling Spurs
Mr. Robinson's New Neighbor
When the Spurs acquired veteran guards Steve Kerr and Mario Elie, David Robinson was hoping they would spark an offense that labored to score last season. What he didn't count on was Elie's attempting to light a fire under him by publicly saying the Admiral didn't play with enough passion. If that criticism has a familiar ring, it should: Former Robinson teammates Antoine Carr, Doc Rivers and Dennis Rodman have also said as much.