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Disgruntled Maxwell Out for Year : Pro basketball: Slighted by backup role, Rocket guard put on indefinite leave of absence and won’t return for playoffs.

From Associated Press

The Houston Rockets placed Vernon Maxwell on an indefinite leave of absence Tuesday, saying the volatile guard wouldn’t return to the court this season.

The team would not elaborate on why Maxwell was put on leave or say whether the guard will be paid for the rest of this season. Maxwell, who played only 16 minutes during Game 1 of the Rockets’ first-round playoff series with Utah and missed Game 2, did not immediately return phone calls.

“We want only the best for Vernon, and we understand that this is in his best interest,” Rockets Vice President Bob Weinhauer said.

Houston, attempting to defend its NBA title, is tied 1-1 in its best-of-five series with the Jazz. They play tonight.

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Maxwell argued with Coach Rudy Tomjanovich after Game 1 and complained of a hamstring pull Friday. He was sent back to Houston for treatment Saturday, just before the Rockets’ 140-126 victory in Game 2.

Maxwell did not attend practice with the team either Monday or Tuesday, and the club said he was receiving treatment for the hamstring.

There has been widespread speculation, however, that Maxwell’s injury was not severe enough to keep him away from practice. The Rockets have declined comment on Maxwell’s health.

Maxwell has had problems both on and off the court since punching a fan in Portland in February. The NBA suspended him for 10 games, and before he returned, the Rockets traded forward Otis Thorpe to the Trail Blazers for guard Clyde Drexler.

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Then last month, Maxwell and Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon were diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia. Both players missed eight games.

About that time, Maxwell began expressing his displeasure about losing his starting job to Drexler.

“In the back of my mind, I was frustrated,” Maxwell said last month. “But I don’t want to cause any more turmoil at this time. I just want to finish up the season and then just get out of here.

“I don’t really consider myself being a guy to come off the bench. I feel like I’ve worked hard enough to get where I was.”

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“If I can’t get out there as a starter, I would rather go to another team because I worked too hard to get where I was to be demoted like that.”

With Maxwell gone, Houston will have to continue through the playoffs with only 11 players. NBA rules prohibit roster moves after postseason play begins.

Tomjanovich said Mario Elie was likely to get more playing time in Maxwell’s off-guard spot beginning tonight against the Jazz at The Summit. Forward Carl Herrera is also expected back from a shoulder injury, freeing Elie to play more in the backcourt.

Tomjanovich said gauging the effect of Maxwell’s absence isn’t easy.

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“Vernon hadn’t shot the ball very well since coming back from the suspension,” he said. “But he really, really works hard on defense, and when he came back I think our defense did pick up some.”


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