Final buzzer set to go off for Mashburn
Saturday, September 25, 2004
The Jamal Mashburn-New Orleans Hornets saga is coming to an end, as Mashburn's troublesome right knee pushes him further out of the Hornets' plans and possibly into retirement.
That's a double blow to the Hornets because the franchise can't realistically hope to trade him for young talent and won't have his offense to count on every night, a problem for a team that struggled to score last season.
Barring an exam that shows major improvement, Mashburn likely will be placed on the injured list next week, the precursor to sitting out the season and maybe the first step to his departure from the NBA.
Obviously, if Mashburn couldn't walk around Disney World without experiencing pain and swelling this summer, it's unlikely he can run and jump well enough to be a productive NBA player this winter and spring.
Mashburn says he has no cartilage in his knee, and there's no remedy for bone-on-bone, other than tolerating the pain. Anyone who has walked on such legs -- or knows someone who has -- wouldn't recommend it.
Good riddance, you say? Maybe. Depending on whom you ask, Mashburn is independent or standoffish, selfish or a go-to player. He isn't going to be the life of anyone's party; teammates he truly considers friends were few and far between.
But isolation, at best a misdemeanor, became a felony when applied to Mashburn. Last season, when he rehabbed in Miami away from the team, teammates complained and steamed behind his back.
The act that cast a shadow over the playoffs, and stained Mashburn's four-year playing career with the Hornets, came in Miami. Mashburn, who was not on the postseason roster but traveled with the team, was banished for detrimental conduct. His allegation, that the organization had misdiagnosed his injuries, was more than the team was willing to stomach.
Still, new head coach Byron Scott and new general manager Allan Bristow offered an olive branch upon their appointments: Mashburn was welcome to return, the slate would be wiped clean; he'd be given every opportunity to fit into Scott's uptempo attack and would be a valuable commodity in the half-court set.
After all, love him or hate him, 21 points a night, which is what Mashburn averaged with the Hornets, is 21 points a night. Most NBA players don't score that much in two or three games, let alone average it.
Those 21 points will have to be replaced.
He won't be around to kick or blame this season, and possibly never again.
The problem for the Hornets is that Mashburn's salary -- he is owed almost $20 million over the next two seasons, not including an option for a third year -- counts against the salary cap. If Mashburn cannot play, the Hornets have an insurance policy that will absorb most of the financial blow, but the team won't have that cap space to spend on other players unless majority owner George Shinn decides to exceed the cap and pay the NBA's stiff luxury tax in the process.
Mashburn, an All-Star forward, is scheduled to have another MRI exam next week. But unless the knee is substantially better, which seems unlikely, he will land on the injured list. He could stay there all year, he could return, he could be traded, he could retire. Who knows? No one will close the door. Each side will talk about the importance of Mashburn healing and continue to raise the possibility of a comeback with the Hornets.
But the fact is, both sides know such a resurrection is unlikely.