IF DAVID CHECKETTS were the general manager of the New York Knicks, he'd love the latest collective bargaining agreement between NBA players and owners. He'd be looking at free agents and planning to expand his payroll to $11 million in the next six years.
But Checketts pulled out of the running for the Knicks' vacancy last summer and is still with the Utah Jazz, one of those small-market franchises that may struggle to compete as a result of the agreement. Teams with more money will be able to go after free agents with no fear of having the other team match the offer, and the Jazz will not only face the danger of losing their players to free agency, but will have to work hard - again - to make ends meet with rising player salaries."If the franchise goes back to losing money, then we're really in danger," he said.
In other words, just when you thought the Jazz would stay in owner Larry Miller's hands and in Utah forever, along comes this anti-little guy ruling to raise the issue for the future.
Miller voted against approving the agreement at the Board of Governors meeting in New York, but was obviously overruled.
"It's going to be very hard for us to compete," said Checketts. "I don't think the small-market concerns were addressed."
Unlike many teams, the Jazz have no players whose contracts are up and are immediately eligible - seven-year veterans, to start with - for true free agency. Mark Eaton could be the first of their top-line players to test the new market when his contract expires in 1990.
But can they ever win a championship when teams like the Lakers and Knicks will always be bidding for the best players? Can they bring in enough money - in a 12,444-seat arena, mind you - to meet the payroll?
Funny, how Checketts thought he might be running out of challenges in Utah. "It's not hopeless," he said, "but it's a lot harder."
Said Eaton, the Jazz player representative, "Obviously, they're going to have their work cut out for them."
But Eaton has to look at things as an NBA player in representing his teammates, and he likes the agreement. Of the truer free agency, he said, "I thought it was going to be a real stickler, a really hard thing to get."