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The NBA
Jackie MacMullan
April 20, 1998
Turning the Page
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April 20, 1998

The Nba

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INFREQUENT FOULERS

PLAYER TEAM

FOULS

MINUTES

FOULS PER 48 MINUTES

Wesley Person, Cavaliers

100

3,047

1.58

Muggsy Bogues, Hornets/Warriors

55

1,470

1.80

Kevin Johnson, Suns

50

1,184

2.03

Joe Dumars, Pistons

98

2,274

2.07

Rex Chapman, Suns

99

2,211

2.15

FREQUENT FOULERS

Felton Spencer, Warriors

168

787

10.25

Jim Mcllvaine, Sonics

234

1,199

9.37

Don Reid, Pistons

174

928

9.00

Eric Montross, 76ers/Pistons

127

691

8.82

Darvin Ham, Wizards

112

613

8.77

Turning the Page

Shawn Kemp still studies the Seattle box scores. He's not yet ready to dismiss the team that drafted him out of junior college nine years ago and then made him a star before trading him to the Cavaliers in a three-way deal last September. "They have a real good chance of winning the championship," Kemp says of the Sonics. "That's tough to think about. It's like, now it can happen because I'm goneā€”like I was the problem."

It's undeniable that the Sonics have had better chemistry since Vin Baker replaced Kemp at power forward. Kemp must live with that. He must also live with the wrath of many fans, especially in Seattle, who see him as the symbol of what's wrong with pro sports. He began earning that distinction by staying away from training camp in October 1996, shortly after untested free-agent center Jim McIlvaine signed a seven-year, $35 million contract with the Sonics. Though he was earning $3.7 million, Kemp griped throughout the year, was rumored to have undefined personal problems and after the season proclaimed that he wouldn't play for Seattle again.

Only now is the criticism of Kemp waning. Only now, as he leads Cleveland to the playoffs in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, are his basketball skills coming back into focus. "That black cloud was just stuck there," says Kemp, 28, a five-time All-Star. "And I felt it, too. When people get booed or named the villain, like I did, they say it doesn't bother them. It bothered me."

Shortly after acquiring him, the Cavaliers tore up Kemp's contract and signed him for $107 million over seven years. (The Sonics, who were over the salary cap, were limited in how they could rework his deal.) Since then, he has been the epitome of professionalism. "He's the first one to say in the huddle, 'That was my fault. I'll do better,' " says Cleveland coach Mike Fratello. "When the whole package is going, when he's putting it on the floor and passing, Shawn's close to unstoppable."

Just as he did in Seattle, though, the immensely talented Kemp continues to reveal raw edges. While he led Cleveland in scoring (18.0 points) and rebounding (9.2) through Sunday, he also had a league-high 15 disqualifications and was turning the ball over a woeful 3.3 times per game. Still, says Fratello, "The bottom line is, we wouldn't be in the playoffs without him."

Kemp has assumed the role of elder statesman on the Cavs, who give significant minutes to four rookies. "I try to talk to the young guys and relax them," Kemp says, "but I don't try to separate myself from them because of my age. I want us to all have the same identity."

That would have been impossible in Seattle, where coach George Karl and guard Gary Payton grew tired of Kemp's divisive effect on the team. By the time Kemp left, he and Payton were no longer on speaking terms. "From the first day I met Gary, I could yell at him and he could yell at me, and we wouldn't get mad," says Kemp. "The worst part was how that changed. I saw Gary at the All-Star Game, and we talked it all out. It was me, Gary and Vinny. We're cool now, and I'm glad about that."

Kemp's new teammates, most of whom knew him only by his press clippings, understand they'll go only as far as he can take them. "After everything you've heard, you expect this selfish guy, but he's all team," says veteran guard Scott Brooks. "In fact, he passes a little too much for my taste."

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