Smith and White Lean Toward Abandoning the Clipper Ship

Times Staff Writer

These are not the best of times for free-agent Clippers Derek Smith and Rory White, both of whom are having contract squabbles with the National Basketball Assn. club.

Smith, the guard who led the team in scoring in 1984-85, then sat out most of last season with a knee injury and mononucleosis, said he has been contacted by several clubs, including Sacramento, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Detroit, but has yet to receive an offer sheet.

And while he's waiting, he intends to sue The Sporting News for a story in that publication on why he might have received no offers.

Meanwhile, forward White is thinking about leaving the Clippers to play in Europe next season.

The Clippers have reportedly offered White a non-guaranteed contract for $85,000, the same amount he made last season.

White said he has received offers from two teams in Italy, the best of which would pay him $160,000 to play in Turin.

"I'm going to take it unless the Clippers come up with a deal like that," White said. "They're not making an effort to sign me, so I'm looking forward to a chance to play in Europe."

Smith, who has said repeatedly that he will not play again for the Clippers, believes that he will not have to go abroad.

"I think the (NBA) offers are going to come," he said from his home in Louisville. "First, everyone had to know I'm healthy, and that question has been answered."

The Sporting News reported recently, however, that the Phoenix Suns had balked at signing Smith after a medical exam revealed that he has Epstein-Barr syndrome, which could result in relapses into mononucleosis.

Smith and his agent, Ron Grinker, denied that Smith has Epstein-Barr syndrome and said that they plan to sue The Sporting News, or the doctors who filed the report.

"We have no choice," Smith said. "The article was very bad and very unprofessional. The Phoenix Suns and The Sporting News are going to have to answer some questions."

According to Smith, he is healthy and working out every day, strengthening his knee. "It's like nothing ever happened to it," he said.

Smith played in just 11 games last season, suffering torn knee cartilage Nov. 13. He later came down with mononucleosis.

The Clippers have reportedly offered Smith a $5-million, seven-year contract, but Grinker said: "It didn't mean anything."

Smith said: "I don't want to play for the Clippers. I haven't talked to anyone in the organization since I left last April. I've said it and I mean it. They can match any offer sheet, but I'll sit out.

"They have no interest in signing me. They want me to go out and prove my worth. They want to save bucks. What I've asked is for the Clippers to open their eyes and tell the truth. They labeled me as the player on the team."

Smith, who left school one semester short of graduating, said he would rather return to the University of Louisville to complete his degree requirements than play for the Clippers next season, or stay at home with his infant child while his wife, Monica, returns to law school.

The Clippers think otherwise. "I think when everything is said and done, he'll be back," said Alan Rothenberg, the team president. "We've made it crystal clear--we expect to have Derek back next season. We intend to match any offer."

That won't be enough, Smith said. "I've put everything down on paper, and the negatives outweigh the positives, three to one," he said. "They destroyed the common path and relationship we had, and it hurt me. They've done everything to destroy the relationship we had.

"They would be stupid to sign me. No money they can give me will make me happy. Money is not important. All I want to do is to do my job.

"Every team in the conference has improved themselves through the draft except for the Clippers. I can't think of anything positive to say about them.

"We've had such a turnover at the top that the team has no opportunity. I've played four years in that type of situation. It's unfair to me and my body to go out and play in a situation like that. I've been used to playing on winning ballclubs."

"I know I don't have to play basketball unless I want to. My wife is applying to law schools. She already went to one year here (at Louisville). I'll sit out and let my wife get on with her thing. I know Derek Smith can handle (not playing). We're going on with life as if we're going to be right here in Louisville. There are a lot of things I can do here."

Can Smith afford not to play basketball?

He has earned a reported total of $500,000 in two seasons with the Clippers. He made $375,000 in his first season but only $125,000 last season, which is a large part of his argument.

He claims that the team still owes him $175,000 in bonus money from last season. Clipper officials dispute that.

His contract called for him to receive $250,000 in bonus money if he played 2,000 minutes last season. Smith didn't play 2,000 minutes.

Smith maintains, however, that Grinker reached a verbal agreement with the Clippers to modify the bonus by taking out an insurance policy and that the team still owes him at least $175,000 of the $250,000. He said the payment was due July 1.

The Clippers say they never agreed to modify the bonus.

Said Arn Tellem, the team's attorney: "We don't owe him one cent. He didn't play 2,000 minutes. There was plenty of discussion, but no verbal or written agreement was ever reached. His claim has no factual or legal basis. He never earned the bonus."

Grinker said he reached a verbal agreement with Carl Scheer, the Clippers' former general manager. He also said that Scheer prepared a memo and a letter in which he agreed to pay Smith the bonus money.

Said Scheer, who was fired after last season: "I can only tell you the truth. There was a verbal agreement to pay the $175,000, but it was never put into writing. Something was prepared for the attorneys, but it was never sent.

"My position is there is at least a moral obligation to pay him. There was a verbal agreement to pay that bonus, but it was never reduced to writing."

Smith said: "It's something I know I'll never get. They owe me money. But it's not like I'm going out to my mailbox every day, looking for it."

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