THE TOLL IN TORONTO
Mention Toronto to NBA players and they're not likely to discuss
the team's new owners or recent player changes or miserable
record. No, they will probably bring up a five-letter
combination that's more terrifying to them than DNP-CD: t-a-x-e-s.
When Toronto was awarded a franchise five years ago, Revenue
Canada interpreted its tax code so that players who didn't
maintain a permanent residence in Canada would have to pay the
heavier Canadian taxes on roughly 50% of their salaries, based
on the fact that half their games are played there. But last
spring the tax code was reinterpreted, and players began to be
taxed for each day they worked in Canada, meaning for games and
practices. They then paid Canadian taxes on about 65% of their
This change wasn't a hot locker room topic until after Raptors
vice president of basketball Isiah Thomas resigned on Nov. 20.
That triggered a trade request by point guard Damon Stoudamire,
the franchise's cornerstone, damaging the team's credibility.
The extra burden of Canadian taxes combined with the Raptors'
dismal play prompted Kenny Anderson's refusal to report when he
was dealt to Toronto by Portland. (He was rerouted to Boston.)
Last week the NBA tried to calm players' fears about Canadian
taxes, which commissioner David Stern characterizes as
"overblown and, quite frankly, ludicrous." According to the
league, a Raptor who maintains a residence in a nontaxed U.S.
state has a 48.0% tax rate; a Knick who lives in Manhattan, a
49.1% tax rate. (An accountant who prepares taxes for dozens of
pro athletes estimates that the Raptor would be taxed at 44%,
the Knick at 45%.)
"You never hear people who get traded from Florida to New York
say, 'I'm not reporting because of the taxes,'" says deputy
commissioner Russ Granik. "But it's close to the same thing."
The league has begun lobbying Revenue Canada to change its code,
and Granik says he will contact the union to discuss ways to
educate players on Canadian tax laws. Raptors officials are also
planning to embark on "a road show," as team president Richard
Peddie calls it, to present their tax data to agents.
Still, reversing perceptions about taxes is only one step in
enhancing the appeal of the Raptors, who were 12-42 at week's
end. The sale of the team to the owners of the NHL's Toronto
Maple Leafs last month has raised another concern: Are the
Raptors doomed to be second-class citizens to their owners? "We
have a huge economic interest in making the Raptors a tremendous
success," says Leafs minority shareholder Larry Tanenbaum.
"We'll do what's necessary to ensure that."
More than anything, Toronto needs blue-chip players. Former No.
2 pick Marcus Camby has not lived up to expectations, and
18-year-old rookie Tracy McGrady looks like he's in over his
head. Veteran Doug Christie demanded a trade last week, and
though he withdrew that demand, he clearly wants out. The
Raptors could be more than $10 million under the cap this
summer, but they will be forced to overpay for talent, as the
Grizzlies did to lock up center Bryant Reeves.
A player willing to give Toronto a look would find a
world-class, racially diverse, well-kept city with beautiful
parks and golf courses. The Blue Jays have certainly had no
trouble luring top major league talent to Toronto. But SI
contacted 10 players who will be among the most coveted free
agents this summer, and not one said he is planning to visit the
MOTIVATION IN HIS MADNESS
Dennis Rodman was irritated. He had just been informed of the
deal that sent Bulls teammate Jason Caffey to the Warriors, and
he was taking the news as a personal affront. "It shows no
respect for this team," Rodman says. "We shouldn't be broken up
until we have a chance to win another championship. Why won't
[management] just leave us alone? But distractions are part of
the Chicago mystique, I guess."
He should know. Rodman blew off a Feb. 15 shootaround because he
lost his car keys, then skipped practice the next day without
explanation. Coach Phil Jackson fined him an undisclosed amount
and handed his starting job to Toni Kukoc. "It was all planned,"
Rodman says. "We were getting stale as a team, and I was getting
stale as a player. So I said, 'Let me cause some controversy.' I
got everybody stirred up, then said to myself, Now you've got to
Even though he is on pace to win his seventh straight rebounding
title, with 15.1 per game through Sunday, Rodman says that he
has had to battle more than ever to keep his competitive edge.
His warped style of self-motivation would disrupt any team but
"They know exactly what is going on," Rodman says. "Maybe the
first couple of years they said, 'Hey, what is this guy up to?'
But now they understand. When everyone else was asking, 'Where's
Dennis?' they all knew I was home relaxing. I really did lose my
keys, and the guys were all over me. It was so boring, it didn't
sound true. I should have said I was lounging in bed with three
Jackson responded testily to initial questions about Rodman's
absences. But even he wasn't annoyed by the Worm a few days
later. "Phil's got no problem with it," Rodman says. "He's got
to do the media thing and look pissed off, but we've got an
understanding. He knows I was trying to get my focus back."
"Dennis needed to get himself together," agrees Jackson,
grinning. "We fined him, and we moved on."
Rodman has even begun mulling over his on-court future after the
Bulls. "Detroit wants me back there, but I'm not going," Rodman
says. "The Lakers--now that makes sense. They could pay me $3
million, with incentives. Wouldn't that be great? To win a
championship in Detroit, Chicago and L.A.? Nobody has done it. I
don't need any more motivation than that."
The Austin Deal
CAN THE CLIPPERS KEEP HIM?
Center Isaac Austin prepared himself for the inevitable: The
Heat, who would be unable to pay him big money as a free agent
this summer because of salary cap restraints, would unload him
before the trading deadline. Still, when the deal was closed,
Austin was thrown for a loop. He wound up with the Clippers,
who, unlike other suitors, had never called him to gauge his
interest in re-signing.
The Clippers didn't contact Austin, sources say, because they
hoped to trade him to the Suns for point guard Steve Nash (an
offer that Phoenix declined). Meanwhile, two general managers
from winning teams told SI they did not deal for Austin because
they believed he would sign with the Jazz or the Suns.
"Utah doesn't have enough cap room, and while I'd like to play
with Karl [Malone], what happens when he retires?" Austin says.
"As for Phoenix, I went to school there, and I like it, but
we're going to listen to everybody."
What kind of chance do the Clippers have compared with, say, the
Suns? "I can't answer that," Austin says. L.A.'s only hope is to
make him an overwhelming offer. When Miami rescued Austin from
Turkey last season, he signed for $320,000. This year he earns
$384,000. Austin will be 29 in August, and if he signs a
long-term contract this summer, it could be his last. "Money
isn't everything," says his agent, Paco Belassen, who will be
asking for about $8 million per, "but in Ike's case, it's more
pertinent than it is to others who have made millions for years."
Line of the Week
GARNETT FILLS THE VOID
Timberwolves forward Kevin Garnett, Feb. 20, versus the Rockets:
47 minutes, 12-24 field goals, 1-1 free throws, 25 points, 17
rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks. On the night the T-Wolves learned
that Tom Gugliotta would be sidelined for the rest of the year
with an ankle injury, Garnett ignited a 100-95 overtime win by
making clutch baskets and guarding everyone from Clyde Drexler
to Hakeem Olajuwon.
For more NBA news from Jackie MacMullan and Phil Taylor, go to
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN No way out Christie, feeling trapped on the rebuilding Raptors, asked to be traded, then rescinded his request. [Doug Christie]
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO He's b-a-ack After skipping practice, the Worm lost his starting job but regained his fire. [Dennis Rodman]
NOTE FROM THE UNDERGROUND
Brownout in Beantown
After Dee Brown was shipped to Toronto last week, you can be
sure he didn't send Boston coach Rick Pitino any going-away
gifts. Sources say that Brown was one of the few Celtics who
dared to speak up to Pitino about the way he disparages his
players. In fact, a few weeks before the trading deadline, the
two men engaged in a shouting match that ended with Pitino's
tossing Brown from practice. While the coach notified the other
Celtics involved in the Toronto deal--Chauncey Billups, Roy
Rogers and John Thomas--that they were about to be traded, Brown
found out from reporters.
AROUND THE RIM
It turns out that veterans on the West team in the All-Star Game
were bothered by Kobe Bryant's gunning. Karl Malone describes
how Bryant waved off his screen to take on Michael Jordan
one-on-one: "The guy told me he's got it. Like I told Coach
[George] Karl, 'Hey, when younger guys tell me "Get out of the
way," that's a game I don't need to be in.' I was ticked."...
The Hornets turned down the Spurs' offer of Will Perdue for
If the Heat hadn't succeeded in dealing Isaac Austin to the
Clippers, one of Miami's backup scenarios was to ship him to
Denver for Johnny Newman and a first-round pick, most likely the
one the Nuggets acquired from Phoenix in the Antonio McDyess
The Nets could have landed Christian Laettner for Kendall Gill,
but, sources say, New Jersey had concerns about moving Keith Van
Horn from power forward to small forward to make room for
Laettner. The Hawks have Laettner and Alan Henderson at the
four-spot, and both are free agents this summer. Henderson, a
sixth man who averaged 20.3 points and 9.2 rebounds as a starter
while Laettner was out with the flu, is the one they want to
Clyde Drexler did something Larry Bird failed to do, and Jordan
probably won't--become a member of the
6,000-assists-and-6,000-rebounds club. John Havlicek, Magic
Johnson and Oscar Robertson are the only others in the club;
Jordan is almost 1,000 assists shy....
Coach Larry Brown of the 76ers told other teams his only
untouchable player is rookie Tim Thomas.
NEW JERSEY AT NEW YORK
Madison Square Garden
The surprising Nets, led by All-Star center Jayson Williams and
rookie phenom Keith Van Horn, are all the rage in Gotham. Even
actor Bruce Willis crossed the Hudson to attend a New Jersey
game last week. The surging Knicks, who outmuscled the Nets
89-88 on Jan. 7 at the Garden, would rather die hard than let
their neighbors snatch a win on their home floor.