Kemp eager to return to game
By Marc J. Spears
Denver Post NBA beat reporter
Word of a slimmer Shawn Kemp recently seemed like stories of the Loch Ness monster or the Tooth Fairy. But late Friday night at a downtown Denver hotel, I confirmed the stories were true: The once 340-pound Kemp now looks like the all-star he was years ago.
After a two-season NBA hiatus full of drama, during which he was too overweight to play, the 36-year-old is about 70 pounds lighter and focused on ending his hoop career the right way, possibly with the Nuggets.
"What made it not fun was carrying around two bodies," Kemp said. "You can play at a high weight. You often feel like you can do things mentally, but physically you can't do it. That's what was going on for me. The instincts and all that were there, but I couldn't get the job done. Athleticism, conditioning, that is not a problem now."
Kemp was a six-time all-star, a three-time All-NBA third-team selection, a member of Dream Team II and was arguably the best player - yes, better than Michael Jordan - in the 1996 NBA Finals. But this weekend, "The Reign Man" was starting from scratch at the Nuggets' free-agent training camp that ends Monday.
"It's humbling, but it's fun," Kemp said.
How did this former NBA great go from one of the league's most popular players to free-agent camp?
The New York Post reported Kemp had a drinking problem while playing for Seattle in the mid-1990s.
During the lockout in 1998, Kemp reportedly went from 260 pounds to nearly 320 pounds. His scoring average dipped to 6.8 points his last season with Orlando three years ago.
In spring of 2001, Kemp checked into a rehabilitation clinic for cocaine abuse.
In April 2005 he was arrested in the Seattle area for having small amounts of marijuana and cocaine in his car.
Kemp knows his past will affect his NBA future and blames only himself.
"I'm a player with a history," he said. "Most teams, regardless to what the sport is, it scares them. ... It scares them simply because they don't want to wake up in the morning and read something, look and hear something. And that is what the situation is now.
"The only thing I can say to teams is I've been playing basketball all my life, man, and the time I took off, I learned more in those two years than the previous 10."
Nuggets coach George Karl, who coached Kemp in Seattle, sees a difference.
"Shawn always had a good heart," Karl said. "He just now seems a little more clearer, little more matured and more together."
Dallas has interest in Kemp and his agent, Tony Dutt, said three other teams do, too. But Denver could be the best fit.
The Nuggets have three free-agent big men in Nene, Francisco Elson and Reggie Evans and are exploring a trade for forward Kenyon Martin, who was suspended in the playoffs for conduct detrimental to the team. And Denver badly needs a veteran leader.
"I know which (teams) need big men and which ones doesn't," Kemp said. "The teams I work out for this summer will definitely need big men. Denver's one of them."
Kemp would have the makings of a solid support system in Denver. Nuggets director of player personnel Mark Warkentien recruited Kemp to UNLV and worked with him in Seattle and Portland. Nuggets assistant Tim Grgurich played a big role in developing Kemp's game in Seattle. Kemp's longtime attorney, Scott Boatman, lives in Denver, and assistant coach Scott Brooks and guards Andre Miller and Earl Boykins are former teammates.
Kemp said if Karl wants him, there is a "strong possibility" he can play for Denver. Karl said he could better evaluate Kemp at the end of the camp.
"George - and I wouldn't say that about very many coaches - but as far as just him, man, I can work for him," Kemp said.
From the short time I saw Kemp in Saturday morning's scrimmage, he was agile, played great defense, looked strong, rebounded well and ran smoothly. Karl said Kemp shot jumpers initially - to his chagrin - but moved into the post.
Financially there is little risk involved should the Nuggets sign Kemp. They would have to pay him $744,551 for a one-year deal, with the NBA paying the other $433,797 since he has played 10 years.
If Kemp is just 60 percent of what he was, you've got a quality backup who is more than worth the risk. And, best of all, the former No. 40 would have a positive ending for his book that is in the works, "From 40 to 340 and Back."
"To make this happen now would be the biggest accomplishment of my life," he said.
He was one of my favourite players back in the day. From that picture, he does look bigger then his all-star days. But instead of fat, it looks more like muscle. Denver would be a good fit, playing for George Karl again. Good luck to Shawn.