It was an idea that seemed well-founded. Instead of paying enormous salaries to unproven players like Shawn Bradley and Glenn Robinson, install a rookie salary scale that would not reward the league's kids until they had three years under their belt.

But less than three years after the owners and the players agreed to the plan, it has gone bust in a number of ways. It has not helped teams keep franchise players or helped the league's out-of-whack economics.Of the 13 lottery picks in 1995, only three have remained with the team that drafted them. And two of those three - Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and Vancouver's Bryant Reeves - signed such huge deals that their franchises must find creative ways to keep competitive rosters intact.

Last week, the No. 1 pick from that draft, Joe Smith, and the No. 7 pick, Damon Stoudamire, were dealt for the sole reason that the teams that drafted them simply were not prepared to pay $100 million to keep them, or that no matter what amount of money they offered in the off season, the players would bolt anyway.

"It's really a sad state of affairs," Golden State general manager Garry St. Jean said recently. "You have a guy for three years, and you barely have a chance to evaluate him and he's gone."

In the Warriors case, they simply did not feel Smith was worth the financial commitment.

The former players association executive directors Charles Grantham and Simon Guordine helped put together the current deal. But the owners actually created the problem by giving up the right of first refusal during labor negotiations in 1995.

Instead of a team having the right to match another team's offer to their free agents, a player can now bolt.

"The flip side to the deal is that players can feel like they are sort of serving just an apprenticeship and the dynamics about how players feel about their teams change," said NBA deputy commissioner Russ Granik. "I felt at the time that the owners gave up a lot by giving up a right of first refusal."

While some players have benefited greatly - Garnett's $126 million deal is the sterling example - the structure has created a league of disparate salaries, a National Basketball Association of haves and have-nots.

There is a good chance the collective bargaining agreement will be reopened in April by the owners, who have the unilateral right to do so. There is an even better chance that the current rookie scale will be up for intense debate and, possibly, change.

The Balk Move

Eric Montross, Sam Cassell and Jim Jackson might have substantial arguments to make about not reporting to the next team they are traded to. Playing for four different teams apiece over the past year, they have been at the system's mercy.

If Montross (Celtics, Mavs, Nets, Sixers), Cassell (Rockets, Suns, Mavs and Nets) and Jackson (Mavs, Nets, Sixers and Warriors) held out for a clothing stipend to accommodate climate changes, maybe people would understand.

But what happened prior to Thursday's deadline - Kenny Anderson refusing to report to Toronto and Rony Seikaly failing to show in Utah - has the league worried and perhaps thinking about amendments to its current trade-and-report procedures.

"If it becomes more and more prevalent, that's a definite concern," said NBA's deputy commissioner Russ Granik. "When our players don't report on trades, it's a little disturbing."

Section 10 of the uniform player contract states that if players fail to report in the 48-hour window after a trade, they can be suspended without pay. Orlando was apparently prepared to exercise that clause in Seikaly's case before the Jazz voided the deal.

Anderson's situation was even more troubling. Soon after he was traded for Damon Stoudamire, he steadfastly refused to play for Toronto. Rather than deal with the ramifications of a disgruntled player, the Raptors settled for the Celtics rookie Chauncey Billups to run their team instead.

Though the Raptors gained an improving forward in Gary Trent and another promising rookie in Alvin Williams from the Portland deal, Toronto General Manager Glen Grunwald essentially found himself taking Boston's unwanted baggage off his hands and giving up much more than the franchise could have had for Stoudamire, one of the most coveted players of the last two months.

There are several well-documented tales of agents and players going into conniptions when informed of a potential trade led to the demise of several deals, including one in which Stoudamire was supposed to go to Orlando in a three-way deal that would have sent Anfernee Hardaway to the Nets.

"There were a lot of rumors out there, so we don't know what all was true," Granik said. "We'll take some time to digest what's happened before we make any recommendations."

Still, imagine Seikaly in 20 years, answering his grandchildren when they ask him whether he ever had a chance to play with John Stockton and Karl Malone. And he has to explain to them that he was worried about guaranteeing the last two years of his contract instead of competing for a title.



Trading places

Of the 13 NBA Draft lottery picks in 1995, only three have remained with the team that drafted them.

No. Player Original team Current team

1. Joe Smith Golden State Philadelphia

2. Antonio MyDyess LA Clippers Phoenix

3. Jerry Stackhouse Philadelphia Detroit

4. Rasheed Wallace Washington Portland

5. Kevin Garnett Minnesota Minnesota

6. Bryant Reeves Vancouver Vancouver

7. Damon Stoudamire Toronto Portland

8. Shawn Respert Portland Toronto

9. Ed O'Bannon New Jersey Dallas

10. Kurt Thomas Miami Dallas

11. Gary Trent Milwaukee Toronto

12. Cherokee Parks Dallas Minnesota

13. Corliss Williamson Sacramento Sacramento