CITY OF INDUSTRY, CALIF., SEPT. 18 -- If the moratorium prohibiting NBA teams from signing draft choices and veteran free agents is not extended when it expires Oct. 1, then "there are going to be some people working extra hours between the first and the ninth," NBA executive vice president Russell Granik said today as the league meetings opened.
Oct. 9 marks the last date a team will open training camp for the 1987-88 season. Attendance at the camps is likely to be sparse unless teams are able to come to terms quickly with draft choices and free agents. And there is the matter of teams interested in other clubs' unsigned players.
"With a draft choice, you probably feel a little comfortable knowing that you can talk with them on Oct. 1 or 2, but with other teams' veterans, it's different," said Boston Celtics General Manager Jan Volk. "The player doesn't know who might be interested in him and the team can't call him to tell him that they want to talk to him when the moratorium ends because that's considered tampering. You just hope that everyone else is dealing with it fairly and following the rules."
The moratorium between the league and the NBA Players Association was signed during last season's finals between Boston and Los Angeles as a means of bridging the time between the old collective bargaining agreement, which expired at the conclusion of last season, and any new pact that might have been reached. No new contract has been agreed to, which has led to some interesting situations regarding the moratorium.
For example, the New York Knicks were fined $5,000 when three of their draft choices appeared on court at the same time and were determined to be working out during a camp run by new coach Rick Pitino. Other teams have lost draft choices to European leagues because they haven't been able to discuss salaries or the career possiblities with their teams.
"A guy calls and says, 'I think I can make your team,' " said Volk. "If I say, 'Yeah, I think you can, too,' another squad could complain to the league that I was negotiating, subtly talking about guaranteed contracts, and that's illegal under the moratorium."
Such a conversation would normally be considered trivial, but, according to another general manager, the combination of the moratorium and the lack of news regarding the negotiations between the league and the players association has led to a kind of paranoia throughout the league.
"People are afraid of violating the rules," the general manager said, "but it's hard to say that you're violating something when you're not sure what the great evil is that you're trying to protect yourself from."
On the surface, it would appear that Houston Rockets General Manager Ray Patterson would be one of the most concerned men in the NBA. The Western Conference team has four free agents to be re-signed: starting forwards Ralph Sampson and Rodney McCray and starting guards Robert Reid and Allen Leavell. Emerging from a meeting here today, however, Patterson gave the impression of a man without a care.
"There's just no need to worry. We have a club that at least 17 other teams in the NBA would like to have and it will remain the same," he said. "No matter what happens with the collective bargaining, I can't see us not signing the same guys.
"So we have four important free agents. We'll sign them. We can do it in a day, we can do it four hours before the start of the first game."
One of the last to sign a contract before the moratorium was New Jersey's Darryl Dawkins. The veteran center, who played in just six games last season and has totalled 96 games over the last three because of back problems, earned $858,000 last year. His new pact calls for a base salary of $225,000 -- if he makes the team. It includes a number of incentives -- some more reachable than others.
If Dawkins averages 25 minutes a game, he'll get $250,000 from the Nets. If he gets 500 rebounds, he'll pocket an extra $250,000. That amount would be raised another $250,000 if he were to grab 800 rebounds. In his 12 previous seasons, the center has never gotten more than 693 rebounds in a season . . .
NBA Commissioner David Stern held a brief news conference today, expressing confidence his league will be able to avert a strike. He said, as a fan, he's "fascinated" by the negotiations between the NFL and its players union, but that there's no comparison between football and basketball.
"We're just different from the other sports in terms of where we are and what our relationship is with our players," he said. "We just have a different dynamic than they do."