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CLEARLY, STOCKTON'S NOT IN IT FOR THE MONEY

Published: Sunday, July 14 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

John Stockton is the Anti-Free Agent.

No bidding is allowed. No bargaining is taking place. No agent is doing the paperwork. No outrageous sum of money is being considered.Stockton, the NBA's career leader in steals and assists, will be signing a three-year contract with the Utah Jazz whenever he gets around to it.

It'll be worth about $15 million - modest by today's standards and much less than Stockton could command on the open market - but it will be plenty for a Dream Teamer who tries to be as regular as anyone else, an All-Star who still drives his wife and children to his games in the family van.

"I'm not leaving Utah," he insists. "If that turns around and bites me, then that's the way it goes. I'm staying here. I like it here. This is where I'm comfortable, my family's comfortable, and I love the team and the coaches. We'll work it out."

Stockton acts as his own agent, having left David Falk more than eight years ago. He started discussing a new contract with the Jazz in February, did some more work after the playoffs and then shut down the process during the 10-day moratorium that expired Thursday.

"It'd be kind of a joke for me to say `Yeah, I'm going to check my options.' I'm not," Stockton said. "To me that's like lying. For me to say I'd go play somewhere else would be a lie. So why do it?"

By flatly stating that he's not leaving, Stockton has removed any leverage he might have had to demand a more lucrative contract.

Gary Payton, who arguably supplanted Stockton as the best point guard in the Western Conference last season, will be signing Monday for more than $80 million, and Shaquille O'Neal's new contract could end up being worth more than $100 million.

Stockton might be worth $40 million for five years to Miami or New York, but he's choosing to forsake the bigger money.

"Certainly you should be paid what you're worth, whether its the NBA, or a doctor, or a lawyer or a guy that's sweeping the streets. You should be paid what the market says you're worth. But I'm comfortable, my family's comfortable and money is not the only issue to me. You can make a lot of bad decisions based only on money."

"What's fair is fair, and I don't need to be the highest-paid guy or to be paid what Karl (Malone) is being paid or any other guy."

What interests Stockton is winning, and Utah has consistently done so since he arrived there 12 years ago.

The Jazz got closer to reaching the NBA Finals than they ever had last season, but they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to the Seattle SuperSonics by four points.

"It was three four-point games. I don't have to be reminded of the margins, but it didn't happen and I'll move on," Stockton said Friday as the Dream Team prepared to play Australian in the fourth stop of their pre-Olympic exhibition tour. Stockton had five points and five assists in 20 minutes of the 118-77 victory.

Stockton says the loss in Game 7 doesn't gnaw at him - he's been through too many playoff losses in his 12-year career to lose sleep over any of them - but it annoys him that the Jazz didn't get a shot at the Chicago Bulls in the finals.

"They smoked us twice during the season series, but we lost the season series to San Antonio and Seattle, too," he said. "One thing about a long series is it gives you a chance to figure out how to beat a team.

"I'm not saying that it would have been easy, but our chance was in a long series. I think we could have. I would have liked to give it a shot."

He'll be back with Utah next year for another shot, and nobody's mega-millions will make him decide otherwise.

"John has always been a very loyal person, and everybody here has known that about him for a long time," said coach Jerry Sloan. "To me it says a lot about who John Stockton is and what he's about."

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