Sun, Nov 07, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Alonzo Mourning drives up his worth

AMERICAN BASKETBALL Nets President Rod Thorn publicly acknowledged for the first time that center Mourning had asked to be bought out of the final three years of his contract

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , CHICAGOAP, PHILADELPHIA

Nets center Alonzo Mourning, right, shoots over Bulls center Tyson Chandler during the second quarter of their game at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois on Friday.

PHOTO: EPA

Alonzo Mourning has made no secret of his desire to play for someone other than the Nets. But he played plenty for the Nets on Friday night.

The Nets' president, Rod Thorn, publicly acknowledged for the first time on Friday that Mourning had asked to be bought out of the final three years of his four-year, US$22.6 million contract, which he signed before the start of last season.

"But the only way we're going to do it is if it makes sense for us," Thorn said before Mourning helped the Nets, who squandered a 27-point first-half lead, to a 111-106 victory in two overtimes over the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Friday night.

"And with what has been talked about so far, it makes no sense for us and I'm not going to do it," Thorn said.

Playing 26 minutes in the Nets' second game of the season, Mourning scored 17 points, including the tie-breaking basket in the second overtime, and added five rebounds and six blocked shots.

Coach Lawrence Frank was effusive in his praise. "My man had a kidney transplant and he's playing 26 minutes through fatigue," he said. "I would say that's pretty incredible."

Not to Mourning.

"I know what I'm capable of doing," Mourning said. "I still have a ton of room for improvement."

The 34-year-old Mourning, who retired after having a kidney transplant Dec. 19 but then decided to attempt a comeback, is owed more than US$17 million. His contract is guaranteed, but it is also uninsured because of his health.

"Because of his condition, he's essentially an untradable player," Thorn said.

Thorn would not comment on what figure Mourning was seeking in a buyout. A team official in the NBA with knowledge of Thorn's discussions with Mourning and his agent, Jeffrey Wexler, said Mourning was asking for more than $14 million, but Mourning said Friday that he had asked for less than that.

"I have made it small," Mourning said, referring to the figure he is asking. "They want it smaller."

The Nets, according to the NBA official, would be much more willing to buy out Mourning at a figure closer to US$6 million, in which case US$2 million would count against their salary cap each year until the contract expires after the 2006-2007 season.

With the score tied at 103-103 in the second overtime, Richard Jefferson, who played 57 of a possible 58 minutes, fed Mourning for consecutive baskets -- a lay-up with 1 minute 24 seconds remaining and a slam dunk with 48.7 seconds left -- to give the Nets the lead for good.

Mourning met with Thorn before the start of training camp, a meeting Thorn described as amicable. Mourning said he and Wexler had had several conversations with Thorn since then.The Nets seem discouraged by and disappointed in Mourning's decision to ask for a buyout after they gambled on him before last season. Mourning had missed the entire 2002-2003 season because of kidney problems. He played only 12 games last season.

"This organization has treated him like gold," Thorn said. "We've gone above and beyond what most organizations do for any player."

But Thorn added that he did not think Mourning's play would be affected by his desire to have his contract bought out.

Amare Stoudemire scored 29 points, Shawn Marion had 24, and Joe Johnson 22 to lead the Phoenix Suns to a 108-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night in Philadelphia.

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