Kemp quietly disappears from limelight

Sports commentary

Shawn Kemp finally got his wish on Tuesday. An unconditional release from his basketball career.

He may be the first to tell you that it’s a dream he’s had for years. It’s also something he’s been working at tirelessly since becoming a Portland Trailblazer.

Getting paid to do nothing. At that point, you know you’ve really arrived.

But, when you examine the situation in a little more detail, Kemp actually is doing something. He’s helping the Blazers become a better team simply by leaving.

By shedding Kemp’s mammoth contract, his perennially pouty behavior and king-sized can, the Blazers can now fill that roster spot with someone who actually wants to be there; not someone who feels obligated by contract.

(Afterall, the main reason he whined about minutes the past two seasons was that he didn’t like the media talking about how much money he made per minute played.)

Kemp is now a free man. He and General Manager Bob Whitsitt finally agreed to tear up his laughable contract in hopes of piecing together a winner in 2002-03.

To Kemp’s credit, he did forfeit nearly $25 million of the remaining $45 million on his contract to give the Blazers some salary-cap relief. Perhaps he finally realized that it’s not all about the money after all these years.

But don’t think Kemp is walking away empty-handed. For his trouble, he’s still going to get a nice chunk of Paul Allen’s cash. Here’s how the negotiations may have gone:

“Shawn, how does $20 million over 10 years sound? No, you don’t have to play or show up to practice or make any public appearances. All you have to do is tell us if your mailing address changes.”

There is no doubt that a part of Shawn Kemp will miss the game he was so close to dominating six short years ago. Labeled as the “best power forward in the league” after his coming-out party in the 1996 NBA playoffs, the Reign Man only had the sky left to shoot for.

But greed, cocaine and too many bacon double cheeseburgers inhibited him from reaching potential Hall of Fame status.

It all came unraveled the year after his former team, the Seattle Sonics, pushed Michael Jordan and the Bulls to six games in the Finals. Hoping to add some bulk to the front line, the Sonics picked up a lanky, unproven shotblocker named Jim McIlvane, and overpaid him to the tune of seven years, 40-some million.

When Kemp’s agent and ego agreed that he could not play on a team where he wasn’t the highest paid — especially when the player making more money owned career averages of six points and four rebounds — he demanded a trade out of town.

So, as often happens in professional sports, he got his wish, and wound up in the basketball wasteland of Cleveland — the lone All-Star on a non-playoff contender. Kemp even admitted years later that he wished he had stayed in Seattle. He lamented that he let all the contract negotiations and media scrutiny get to him.

He said he could have been more patient for the Sonics to “show him the money,” because he discovered that it wasn’t the money that made him happy; it was the winning and admiration from his peers.

Kemp conceded that he would have rather made a few million to play for a winner, instead of making many millions to be in the playoff hunt for only the season’s first two weeks.

But, at the time, it was all about the money, and Kemp was forced to watch his basketball window close ever so slowly. As of Tuesday, his career may be painted shut.

It’s a shame that Kemp won’t be remembered for the Reign Man years. His legacy will be more about his demons of greed and addiction than his exploits on the hardwood.

Lucky for him, he’s now got $20 million and all the time in the world to begin a new one.

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