- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
All summer, people wanted to know. Not just the media types, but teammates and buddies. They would call him up, guys like Gary Payton, all asking the same question with the same tone of incredulity. Sixteen million? Are you kidding me?
And Magic power forward Shawn Kemp would offer the same cryptic response: "You can't always believe what you read." Still, what they'd read seemed pretty astounding. To gain unrestricted free agency Kemp had agreed to a $30.5 million buyout from the Trail Blazers, sacrificing some $16 million left on his deal. "Money never was the reason I played," Kemp said after a recent practice, sweat streaming down his magnificent shar-pei brow. "If you're a player, you want to play—not take all that money and sit on the bench."
Kemp will get his wish in Orlando because, in an economic twist, the team that is paying him $1 million a year needs him far more than the one that was paying him $20 million a year ever did. His willing swap of money for minutes does little to diminish the potentially inspirational, Behind the Music aspect to the saga of Shawn Kemp, who after appearing in each All-Star Game from 1993 to '98 has fought a losing battle with his weight and last season served a suspension for violating the league's drug policy. "It would be a great story," says coach Doc Rivers, "but let's be honest. I'm hoping he makes it back because it helps this team. I'm not Mother Teresa here."
Why such anticipation for a 300-plus-pound 32-year-old who may not be able to play effectively for more than 10 minutes a night? Two syllables: DeClercq. As in Andrew DeClercq, the hardworking but overmatched power forward slotted as the team's starting center. The rest of Orlando's big men? Steven Hunter, the second-year 7-footer expected to be a contributor, is out until January with a torn right knee ligament, and Pat Burke and Olumide Oyedeji are some of the best NBDL players in the NBA. The best interior defender last year was 37-year-old Horace Grant, who almost retired before deciding to play this season.
Last season the Magic finished 25th in the league in boards, and its top re-bounder was forward Grant Hill, the guy with the Microsoft ankles (you can never count on them to run properly) who played in only 14 games. That's where the 6'10" Kemp comes in. He's big, he's talented and, in the East, he could be a viable center—if he can get in shape. He arrived at camp far more husky than Orlando would have liked (the team has since hired him a personal chef, at his request), but he has surprised the coaching staff with his heady play and leadership. After one early practice Kemp told the team, "I've been to the Finals, and we need to work harder." Says Hill, "He's been outspoken, and that's been good. He's a very smart player."
If Kemp rejuvenates his career, his gamble will seem exactly that: smart. Should he fall off the weight wagon again, the numbers on the scale won't be the only ones that fail to add up.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]