NBA Fines T-Wolves for Secret Deal

ByABC News

N E W  Y O R K, Oct. 26, 2000 -- NBA commissioner David Stern came down hard onthe Minnesota Timberwolves for their secret salary agreement withJoe Smith, taking five first-round draft picks away from the teamand fining them $3.5 million.

Possible suspensions for owner Glen Taylor and general managerKevin McHale have not yet been decided, the NBA said in a statementWednesday.

The penalty is one of the stiffest in league history andreflects how seriously the NBA considered this offense.

Stern also voided Smith’s contract, making him a free agent.

Losing Larry

Under an arbitrator’s ruling announced Monday, Stern had theright to void Smith’s one-year, $2.5 million contract. Stern wenteven further, voiding Smith’s last two contracts and therebystripping Smith of his Larry Bird rights, which would have allowedhim to sign a lucrative extension with the Timberwolves nextsummer.

“They don’t have the ability to do that. They’re definitelytrying to rewrite the arbitrator’s ruling,” said Smith’s agent,Dan Fegan.

The NBA also asked the players’ association to “imposeappropriate discipline” against Eric Fleisher, Smith’s formeragent. A hearing must be held to determine which Timberwolves’personnel had knowledge of the secret agreement.

Although 28 other teams are free to negotiate with Smith, itseemed he was ready to re-sign with Minnesota if Stern voided hiscurrent one-year, $2.5 million contract.

But He Likes It There

Now, Smith has no financial incentive to remain in Minnesota. Hewould have to play there for three more years to regain his Birdrights.

“I like it here, I’ve been here two years, and a month oftraining camp, and it would hurt both of us if I just up andleave,” Smith said after an exhibition game in North Carolina onTuesday night.

Smith made a big financial blunder earlier in his career when heturned down an extension from the Golden State Warriors worth tensof millions of dollars. He went on the market as a free agent anddrew little interest before signing with the Timberwolves for $1.75million prior to the 1998-99 season.

The Timberwolves said they were “assessing the ruling” and hadno immediate comment. The players’ union did not immediatelycomment.

NBA arbitrator Kenneth Dam found that Smith and the Timberwolvesentered into a separate, secret agreement that guaranteed Smith alucrative long-term deal beginning with the 2001-02 season.

The league has long suspected that such secret agreements exist,but no team had ever been caught like the Timberwolves.

“This (penalty) reflects the seriousness of a finding ofcircumvention,” NBA attorney Joel Litkin said.

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