Sonic Training Camp -- Kemp's Absence Might Be Ominous

He's on the cover of the NBA Register and the Seattle SuperSonics' media guide. He's in Reebok commercials and on the side of a downtown Seattle building, far larger than life.

Yes, Shawn Kemp seems to be everywhere.

Everywhere, that is, except where he's supposed to be.

Last night, for example, Kemp was supposed to be at a media gathering that serves as the first official function of Sonic training camp. But he wasn't, stoking speculation that he intended to hold out in a quest for something the Sonics cannot provide - a contract adjustment.

Sonic president Wally Walker said he was informed of the "strong likelihood" that Kemp would not attend last night's affair. Kemp will be fined by the team, probably $1,500 to $2,000. Walker said there was a chance the All-Star power forward would skip today's opening workout of training camp, but was not certain.

"It's not a nonissue," Walker said, "but it's not a big issue unless he starts missing practices."

Veteran center Sam Perkins also missed the media function and will be fined, Walker said.

Nobody seems to know what's on Kemp's mind, except for friends and associates who have maintained that Kemp has talked about the possibility of boycotting training camp. Kemp is said to be miffed over falling from first on the Sonic payroll to sixth.

Nearly half of the Sonic roster - including Gary Payton, who signed a seven-year, $87.5 million deal, and newcomer Jim McIlvaine, who signed for $33 million over seven years - received significant raises through the free-agent market during the summer.

After making $4.8 million last year, including a $2.1 million signing bonus, Kemp is scheduled to make $3 million in the second year of a seven-year extension he signed in 1993. Kemp signed another extension, for a $14.6 million balloon payment in 2002-03, two years ago.

It is that latter signature that sabotages Kemp now. According to the collective-bargaining agreement between the NBA and its players, a player cannot even suggest altering a contract until three years after signing his latest extension. So even if the Sonics wanted to do something for Kemp, they would be forbidden from doing so.

"In that situation, you sign a deal, you honor it," said co-captain Nate McMillan, who will make $1.3 million this season. "Whether he has a legitimate gripe or not, it's on him. If the market passes you by, sometimes you just have to deal with it and move on."

Kemp skipped the first three days of camp to get his $14.6 million in 1994. Teammates expressed concern over the absence then, especially in light of an aborted trade that summer that would have sent Kemp to Chicago for Scottie Pippen.

This time, the concern is of a different nature. The Sonics are coming off a run to the NBA Finals fueled largely by improved team chemistry. Plus, evidenced by his popularity in NBA-sanctioned propaganda, Kemp could be on the verge of major marketing breakthroughs.

"I have tremendous respect for what Shawn's done," Sonic Coach George Karl said. "I don't think anyone's gained more respect for our success last year than Shawn. . . . He was immense."