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TERRY CUMMINGS : Since Milwaukee Traded Three to Get Him, He Has Been Playing Like a Million Bucks

January 27, 1985|MIKE KUPPER | Times Assistant Sports Editor

Cummings, who grew up in Chicago and starred at DePaul, worked hard at escaping the Clippers. He reiterated a previous demand to be traded at the Clippers' media day last fall and got his wish the very next day.

He has no qualms now. "I don't really feel that bad about it because I put so much into what I'm doing," he said. "I felt like it was being done in a desert. The Clippers are still in an early franchise situation. In my two years there, the club was just brand new in the league. Everything was pretty unsettled, and the people who seemed to run the team didn't care. I wanted to get back to the Midwest, but I also wanted to be with an established team. This has worked out great. I'm very comfortable here."

Cummings probably can thank the Clippers' move to Los Angeles for his move to Milwaukee. The Clippers needed a hometown draw in Los Angeles, and Johnson, who attended Crenshaw High and UCLA, fit the bill.

That the Bucks would trade Johnson at all surprised some people. He has been one of the league's premier small forwards, and the Bucks could trace much of their recent success directly to him.

His very stardom, however, made him expendable.

The Bucks are hampered by a small arena and limited television market, which keeps revenues down. In addition, the Milwaukee fan isn't as willing to pay high ticket prices as the L.A. fan is.

At the start of the 1981-1982 season, Johnson renegotiated his contract so that it increased in value with each subsequent year. This season, for instance, Johnson's salary is $900,000, but it will escalate to $1.5 million. Simply, he became too expensive for the Bucks.

"We knew when we renegotiated that there would be a time when we couldn't afford Marques' contract, and that I would have to make a move," Nelson said. "When the time came, it all made a lot of sense."

Indeed it did. Although Cummings' price will zoom in the future, the Bucks have him now at bargain rates. He still is playing under the terms of his rookie contract with the Clippers, which means he is making $450,000 this season and will make $600,000 next season, the last of the contract.

By then, if Cummings is as fast a learner as Nelson figures he is, the Bucks may have trouble affording him. "The way I judge whether a player is a superstar is not just how well he plays but whether he makes the team's other players better," Nelson said. "Terry is doing that here already. That's one of the big reasons we have been successful this year."

Cummings also believes he has made a difference. "Every team that's going to be good has to have a power forward, but I'm much more than that," he said. "I play as well outside as inside. I have a finesse game, as well as a power game. . . . I've always pushed myself to be good, but now I'm pushing myself to be good in an all-around game.

"I've rediscovered the fun in basketball, and it's not just the winning. I feel very happy, very relaxed."

If there is a cloud in this apparently vast, bright sky, it is a heart problem that at one point was considered a threat to Cummings' career, if not his life. Even that, however, appears to be under control and does not seem nearly so scary as it once was.

Cummings has arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat. In his first two pro seasons he missed eight games because of it, and the Clippers kept oxygen and heart-monitoring machines close at hand during practice and games. Cummings has been taking Amiodarone, an investigational drug, for about the last 18 months, however, and his problems have decreased.

"I haven't had any trouble recently at all," he said. "I just have to keep up with my medication and take care of myself. It's really just a matter of doing what I'm supposed to do."

At training camp, the Bucks allowed Cummings to skip one of the twice-a-day workouts, but that was largely precautionary, Nelson said. Nelson is careful, however, not to overwork Cummings.

"I started out with the philosophy of playing him 36 minutes a game and making sure those minutes were broken up by rest times," Nelson said.

"Actually, that's pretty close to what we normally do with most starters. I play him the first eight minutes of a quarter, give him two or three minutes off, then play him the rest of the quarter and make sure he's in there the last seven, eight minutes of the game.

"He's been playing about 33 minutes lately, but that's just the way it's worked out. He should be right around 36, but he has played as many as 44-45 minutes and as little as 28. But if I take him out and things start going haywire out there, I don't hesitate to put him right back in."

Although Cummings said that he was comfortable with his medication, two Milwaukee doctors suggested that Amiodarone had a slight reputation in the medical world for potential side effects, particularly regarding the lungs and eyes.

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