Magic's retirement may put 3-year cap on L.A. talent search
The Lakers also have lost significant maneuverability in their salary cap, a problem that could persist for three more years.
Despite retiring, Johnson is guaranteed $2.5 million this season, $2.5 million next season and $14.6 million for 1994-95.
Before Johnson had decided to return to the Lakers, general manager Jerry West already had obtained a medical exemption from the NBA and used half of Johnson's salary ($1.25 million) to sign free-agent center James Edwards. But, according to Washington Bullets general manager John Nash, this will be a one-time exemption.
"The Lakers brought up the issue at our last league meeting," said Nash, "and the Board of Governors ruled that Magic's medical situation would only pertain to this season. I'm sure the Lakers will try to raise the point again next year."
As things stand, the Lakers will have only a $140,000 exemption to find a replacement, hardly the money needed to attract a star. West, then, must hope for the quick development of rookies Anthony Peeler and Duane Cooper, who will back up starting point guard Sedale Threatt. The consensus around the NBA is that the New Jersey Nets got snookered in their deal with the Atlanta Hawks by swapping Mookie Blaylock for Rumeal Robinson.
Atlanta sources said Robinson, a point guard who looked for his own shot first, was less than loved by his teammates last season. Blaylock is coming off a solid season with the Nets (13.8 points, 6.8 assists), but, as a No. 1 pick in 1989 (12th overall), was unhappy with his $575,000 contract.
But the bottom line was that the Nets could not afford to keep playmaker Kenny Anderson and his $3 million-a-year contract on the bench. Last season, the former Georgia Tech star averaged only 17 minutes as a backup to Blaylock and fellow rookie Tate George.
Coach Bill Fitch refused to cave in to front-office pressure to give Anderson more playing time, one reason he is unemployed this season. New boss Chuck Daly has turned the offense over to Anderson.
"He's played quite well," Daly said. "He's made some mistakes, and has to learn to pull up in the lane. But you hate to take away a kid's spirit. I'm not going to harness him."
Said Anderson: "Even if guys get a little flustered with me when I run a certain play, that's something I've got to do. If we come together and all get on the same page, we'll be tough."
And what about Robinson?
"I wasn't really unhappy at Atlanta," he said. "I liked the guys there, but I got negative press right away. They were saying it was my team, not Dominique Wilkins' team.
Wilkins, for one, apparently won't miss Robinson a bit.
"Rumeal was always his own first option," Wilkins said. "A point guard should be the second or third. You adapt, the game doesn't adapt to you. But Rumeal wouldn't adapt."
Relationships are strained to the breaking point between Seattle SuperSonics coach George Karl and center Benoit Benjamin after a preseason blowup. During a practice session, Benjamin got in a scuffle with power forward Shawn Kemp.
"I asked them why they weren't hitting players on the other teams like that," Karl said. "Benoit told me that if he'd play more, he'd hit more people. I told him he'd get more minutes when he got in shape, and he told me to kiss my butt, and I tossed him out of the gym."
Not surprisingly, Benjamin is on the trade block, but, so far, remains an unhappy Sonics starter.
"Benoit doesn't understand how the game is played," Karl said. "The game is played much faster, and he's still relying on a fall-away jumper. He just hasn't worked to develop anything new."
Ex-New York Knick Gerald Wilkins said he is happy to be a Cleveland Cavalier, even if it means splitting playing time at shooting guard with incumbent Craig Ehlo.
"I knew I wouldn't be back in New York this season," said Wilkins, a Knick for seven years who was not re-signed as a free agent. "I was dealing with a general manager [Dave Checketts] who had hundreds of deals on the table. I never trusted them, and they proved me right. They stayed at arm's length and never said they wanted me back.
"But, personally, I needed a change, and I feel I have a real opportunity with Cleveland whether [coach] Lenny Wilkens starts me or uses me off the bench."
Bullets coach Wes Unseld said he was upset by the way a number of players reacted in helping push Magic Johnson out of the league because he is HIV-positive.
"The league sought medical advice on AIDS, and when the players were told there was little or no risk of infection, they didn't want to accept it," Unseld said. "Heck, I'd rather run head-on into Magic than one of my picks."
But some players still doubt that the fear of AIDS caused him to quit.
"I don't think a few voices out there would take him away from the game he loves," Knicks guard Rolando Blackman said. "Being the guy he is, Magic wouldn't quit because some guys are talking about him."