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A two-tier salary structure is rapidly developing in the NBA,
with stars receiving so much money that little is left under the
cap for role players. As a result, most teams now have vital
contributors who are making the league's minimum wage for
veterans: $247,500. Many of these players walked away from
multimillion-dollar contracts they deemed unsatisfactory to sign
one-year deals, gambling that if they put up big numbers, they
would earn a richer payday in 1997-98. "A lot of people have hit
the gold mine," says Raptors guard Hubert Davis, "and a lot of
them have found out there's no gold out there."

Our all-bargain five:

--Rex Chapman, G, Suns. While his former club, the Heat,
lavished fortunes on other players, Chapman got lost in the
shuffle. In Phoenix he has worked his way into the starting
lineup, averaging 10.9 points in 25.2 minutes per game.

--Walt Williams, G, Raptors. He turned down $2.8 million from
Miami to test the open market, then found wallets closed. Now
Williams is Toronto's second-leading scorer (16.5). "He was one
[free agent] who truly got burned," says the Bulls' Michael

--Jerome Kersey, F, Lakers. After signing center Shaquille
O'Neal, Los Angeles had gaping holes to fill on its bench. The
Lakers took on Kersey, who earned $4 million last year but at 34
wasn't attracting much interest, and he has emerged as a ball
hawking starter.

--Tyrone Corbin, F, Hawks. The 34-year-old Corbin has replaced
Grant Long, whom Atlanta dealt to Detroit. But as a sometime
starter he has delivered far more than his trademark defense,
averaging 11.2 points. "Sure, I'd like to make more money," says
Corbin, now with his eighth team, "but I was never one of those
guys who thought he was going to play in the NBA."

--Oliver Miller, C, Mavericks. Often out of sorts or out of
shape, Miller may not be a bargain at any price (though he did
turn down at least $5.4 million from his old team, Toronto). But
in a league where decent big men are scarce, and on a team torn
by dissension, Miller has performed admirably. He's second on
Dallas in rebounds (5.7) despite playing only 20.3 minutes.
--William F. Reed

COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Miller has given Dallas lots of bang for the buck. [Oliver Miller in game]