For the Seattle SuperSonics, playoff gut checks and questions about their psyche have become annual rituals, but the doubts are coming from within now. And they are impossible to ignore because Shawn Kemp's voice is delivering them.
Kemp, Seattle's star power forward, is angry that summer vacation apparently has started early for some of the SuperSonics. As if tonight--when the Chicago Bulls could complete a sweep in the NBA finals on Seattle's home floor--wouldn't be soon enough.
"It's like you work your butt off in the 100-yard dash and go 90 yards and just give up," Kemp said. "You're supposed to try your heart out. If you don't, you feel like you just gave it to them. That's how I feel right now.
"When someone is fighting in your own backyard, you're not going to let them leave clean. You've got to scratch them up and beat them up and do whatever you have to do. They might win in four, but they shouldn't come in and kick our butt and win the fight too. I feel like they came in and kicked our butt, and that's what makes this all so tough.
"When you lose it's one thing. When you get your butts kicked its another. We didn't put up enough of a fight. I feel like we didn't challenge those guys the first three games. We just gave it to them."
With Ervin Johnson having recorded only one more rebound, seven, than fouls, six, while playing all of 20 minutes, the SuperSonics figure to change their starting center.
"Probably," Coach George Karl said.
Frank Brickowski is one option, although he hasn't had much more success staying in games. He has lasted 21 minutes and been kicked out of Games 1 and 3 after run-ins with Dennis Rodman. Sam Perkins, the other option, would at least provide an offensive spark.
This change comes amid reports that defensive specialist Vincent Askew is unhappy with his playing time. He played only 10 minutes Sunday, and none in the second half, then skipped Monday's media session. Tuesday, he was fined $10,000. He attributed his absence to a schedule mix-up.
"As you move up the playoff ladder, my philosophy is that you try to play your best players and you try to keep your best players on the court as much as possible," Karl said. "And what happens then, normally, is your role players' minutes are diminished and sometimes their role is diminished. I think Vinnie and Ervin are both feeling that type of mentality. I understand their disappointment and I hope they respect my position."
Chicago Coach Phil Jackson, whose contract expires July 1, has floated the possibility that he will sit out next season if he is unable to work out a new deal. It's the only real bargaining chip he has, considering that every job is filled except the Milwaukee Bucks'.
"You have to have an option in life," Jackson said. "But that's not really the intent of it. The intent is that I want to be back coaching here and this team and this situation next year."
Jackson's base salary is $866,000, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Bulls' last offer on a new deal was $1.65 million annually, the paper said.