Is Travis Knight the Next Jack Sikma?

July 13, 1997

Two deals last week gave credence to the truest of all NBA truisms: You can't coach height.

Starting next season, Bryant "Big Country" Reeves will become Bryant "Big Payday" Reeves, collecting an average of $ 10.888 million over the next six years from the Vancouver Grizzlies. We are not making this up. We presume it's US dollars.

Starting this season, Travis Knight will receive $ 2 million a year from the Celtics, with 20 percent bumps each year over the next seven years.

Both are 7 feet tall. Knight was a rookie backup center/power forward for the Lakers last season. Reeves has somewhat established himself as an NBA center. Somewhat. Over the past two years, he anchored a team that won a total of 29 games.

Words like "flabbergasted" and "astounded" circulated around the NBA as the numbers came down. What on earth was Vancouver thinking? And, while we're at it, did Rick Pitino get advice from M.L. Carr before pulling the trigger on Knight?

Knight is an excellent addition; no one could quibble with that. The Celtics needed height; he is tall. He runs the floor. He can block shots and rebound. But he's also, well, Travis Knight. Did one year of logging 16 minutes a game behind Shaq turn him into a player who can command a seven-year, guaranteed deal?

"It's a gamble, that's for sure," said player agent Steve Kauffman. "But I think it's a good gamble for the Celtics. I probably saw Knight play 25 times last year, and in almost every game, he did something good that you noticed."

Knight benefited from playing with Shaq, who would command double teams, freeing up Knight to float in for rebounds. Names like McIlvaine and Koncak and Montross come to mind. It would have been one thing to give Knight a three-year deal. It's quite another to have him on the books through 2004.

While this isn't a Dana Barros deal - there was no demonstrative need for Barros - it's close. The Celtics' payroll already is bloated with average players making above-average money for many, many years. And if Knight turns into McIlvaine, the Celtics have no out. If Knight turns into Jack Sikma, he can opt out after three years.

What this deal also does is effectively shut the door on any big-time move next summer (assuming, of course, that players like Barros, Dee Brown, Dino Radja, and Greg Minor remain on the team). But looking at Reeves's astonishing contract, Pitino may have come to the conclusion that he won't have enough money to get an Antonio McDyess or a Kevin Garnett. If Reeves is worth almost $ 11 million a season, what's Garnett worth? Or, for that matter, Antoine Walker?

The Celtics will have to open the vault in the next few years for Walker, Ron Mercer, Chauncey Billups, and Eric Williams. These are the players they are building around, and Knight is merely a component, albeit a long-term one. Pitino knows how long-term deals can handcuff a franchise. He has made his own bed with Knight.

Deal must get done

You have to believe that the Radja situation will get resolved and that he will play in Greece. All sides want it to happen. It's in everyone's best interest for it to happen. It's like haggling over the price of a home you've already agreed to buy. I won't believe he's not going until the season starts and he's still here . . . There were a lot of shaking heads last week at Brandeis among Celtics returnees who made the proper decision to "attend" rookie camp. For many, it was their introduction to Pitino and a style that is unlike anything they've ever witnessed. "It was very professional," Williams said of the three days of drills. "It almost felt like it was veterans camp. I can imagine what it's going to be like when the real deal comes. That's going to be really intense." Mercer said Pitino wasn't any different than he had been in Lexington the last two years. "He's basically the same coach," he said. "He doesn't play any favorites, and he makes sure you do the little things. If they don't learn it now, they will soon." . . . PGA note of the week: When Garry St. Jean flew to California Thursday to take the job as Warriors general manager, he was registered at the hotel under the assumed name of golfer Billy Andrade. It was P.J. Carlesimo's idea. Hey, St. Jean's new job is only a Tiger Woods drive away from his old one in Sacramento . . . With St. Jean out of the Milwaukee GM picture, it now looks more and more as if Bob Weinhauer will assume the post. Weinhauer was an assistant coach for the Bucks last season after being a front office type in Houston. If he does take the job, Chris Ford likely will add another man to his staff . . . Brent Scott, who played for the Celtics in the rookie summer league games in Atlanta, is weighing three offers overseas against trying to get a spot on an NBA roster. Scott played only 55 minutes for the Pacers last season after three years in Europe. He also was coming off a productive season for the US Basketball League's Atlantic City Sea Gulls, for whom he averaged 21.9 points and 11.4 rebounds. Scott is Rice University's all-time leading scorer, ahead of Ricky Pierce . . . The 76ers are checking into free agent center Duane Causwell, who has played his entire, uninspiring career in Sacramento. Causwell, a first-round pick of the Kings in 1990, played collegiately at Temple. He was plagued by injuries in Sacramento and simply never grew into the center the Kings hoped he'd be . . . Speaking of underachieving Sacramento centers, the Nets checked into the possibility of acquiring Olden Polynice. Don't look for it to happen . . . If you're wondering who Bruce Bowen is, you're not alone. He played a minute for Miami last season after toiling in La Belle, France, and in the CBA. He's a 6-foot 7-inch forward out of Fullerton State whom both Miami and the Celtics are trying to sign. The Celtics do have a need to beef up the position; currently, Williams is the only small forward, although Minor and Mercer could play there as well . . . Chris Dudley was in Motown last weekend, and everyone is thinking he will play for Detroit next season. The current plot has the Pistons trading Otis Thorpe to Vancouver, who can handle Thorpe's bloated contract. Detroit would then trade a draft choice to Portland for Dudley, who by then will have re-signed with the Trail Blazers under terms conducive to the Pistons. If it happens, it will be a big boost for Detroit, which has played without a real center since the retirement of Bill Laimbeer. It also could spell the end of Terry Mills, who is a free agent and thinking big thoughts while teams are showing little interest.

Presumed commitment

With many teams having only the $ 1 million exception to offer a free agent, that spot is now being seen by hopeful players as the first of a multiyear (wink-wink) commitment. Players could sign for two years and then take what's known as the Early Bird exception, which would vault their salary to the NBA average in years 3 and 4. Then, presumably, year 5 would be the Big Hit. That is a path Rick Fox might have to take, but if he does, he could land a spot on a good team, such as Atlanta, Indiana, or Utah. While down-the-road deals are expressly prohibited, there are teams (Phoenix, Orlando) that have a history of taking care of their players. No one believes that Rex Chapman re-upped with the Suns for $ 326,750 without some "assurance" that Jerry Colangelo will take care of him next summer, as Colangelo did for Danny Manning and A.C. Green. Oh, and Hot Rod Williams, too. He re-signed for one year and $ 4.3 million . . . Derek Strong is weighing a similar situation with Orlando, except that he played for the minimum last season and is eligible for only a 20 percent raise. He would have to rely on the largesse of the Magic down the road as well. Orlando does have a history (Horace Grant, Brian Shaw) of doing that and would like to have Strong back. The risk, of course, is that if Strong gets hurt, plays horribly, or the Magic have a management shuffle, all bets are off . . . Eric Fleisher, a player agent and part owner of the Timberwolves (he represents Garnett, Stephon Marbury, and Dean Garrett), was scheduled to be in Minneapolis this weekend to hear the multi-zeroed pitch for Garnett. The Wolves would like to do what the Grizzlies did for Reeves, but Fleisher to date has said it makes no sense unless he gets a Godfather offer. Given what Reeves got, one has to figure that Garnett won't even look at anything less that $ 20 million a season. Several teams are trying to clear cap room next summer for Garnett, McDyess, and others - Chicago is one of them - and may have money to make it interesting. The Timberwolves have rid themselves of Stojko Vrankovic, which they were elated to do. (One of the true locks this season was Stanley Roberts passing his Minnesota physical, even though he is in appalling shape.) They also have the chance to buy out Roberts in the next week, although given their uncertain center situation (Garrett played for the minimum last year and is a free agent), it might make sense to keep Roberts for the final year of his contract . . . Dominique Wilkins may yet wind up back at Panathinaikos as a European player (he was born in France). Agent Kauffman is also considering two other European offers for Nique, whose NBA options appear closed . . . The Denver Nuggets were hoping to sign point guard Chris Whitney, but he instead chose to stay with Washington. Word has it that Denver GM Allan Bristow, the shy and retiring type, was not pleased by the decision.

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