Pitino's practice policy comes under scrutiny

August 12, 1997

When Rick Pitino took the Celtics' head job back in May, he said he was so eager to get going that he wished practice would start the next day.

He wasn't kidding.

Already this summer, Pitino has had no fewer than three camps or workout sessions and has two more scheduled for the last two weeks of August. Yesterday, the NBA Players Association said it was investigating the way in which players were compensated for appearing or, in some cases, docked for not appearing at what are supposed to be voluntary sessions.

And the NBA, which in May told its 29 teams that it would not allow them to hold organized practice sessions or scrimmages in the summer, has reminded the Celtics at least once of its position.

"Teams are not allowed to have organized practice sessions or scrimmages between the end of the season and the beginning of training camp," Jeffrey Mishkin, the league's vice president for business and legal affairs, said yesterday. "You can bring in one player and work him out. You can open up your facility for all the players. But we've told the teams they can't have coaches running workouts like a real practice or scrimmages."

Two weeks ago, the Celtics had most of the team in for workouts at Brandeis. Reporters were prohibited from entering the building to watch.

At those workouts, Pervis Ellison apparently was conspicuous among the no-shows. Efforts were unsuccessful yesterday to reach his agent, Bill Strickland, who was on vacation.

Asked if the league would monitor the Boston situation in the next two weeks, Mishkin said, "They are on the honor system, like all of our teams." However, if the league got a report that the Celtics were working out in a practice-like situation, he said, it would intervene.

Pitino, the team's coach and president, and general manager Chris Wallace also were on vacation yesterday.

The Players Association, meanwhile, is watching the Boston situation, too, but for an entirely different reason. The union is concerned that the sessions are cutting into the players' vacation time (although, for the Celtics, that period extends back to April).

But the incentives are another matter. According to sources, there is a clause in some of the latest Boston contracts - the ones negotiated by Pitino - that deducts money from a player's base salary if he does not attend the summer sessions.

"Is this an allowable amendment?" asked union attorney Ron Klempner. "Can you pay a guy who does attend and deduct money from someone who doesn't, if it's supposed to be voluntary?"

A source said yesterday that the amount of money deducted is so insignificant - in one instance, $ 2,500 - and the players are so eager to get back to work for Pitino that there really is no issue.

As for players who have no such language in their contracts, Klempner said there was "no justification whatsoever" for their attendance. However, the union may be misreading the desire of several Boston veterans to get back to work under a new regime.

In Sunday's Globe, Dee Brown said he had no problem with the workouts.

"We won 15 games last year," he said. "Why wouldn't you want to get a head start?"

Yesterday, his agent, Herb Rudoy, said Brown was not being paid extra to attend.

"There's nothing in his contract, nothing at all, that says he should be paid," Rudoy said. "He 100 percent wants to be there. To him, it would be irrelevant anyway. He's so excited he wants to get back."

The NBA allows teams to award bonuses to players for attending summer camps, as long as it's not construed to be salary-cap circumvention. Mishkin said the league also has no qualms with the so-called "deduction clause" in several Boston contracts.

That issue, however minor in terms of money, soon may be headed to arbitration if the union decides to file a grievance. That possibility was under discussion yesterday.

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