Assault Charges Hang Over Bucks
ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) _ Sam Cassell and Gary Payton insist their legal problems played no role in their poor performances in the Bucks’ loss in their playoff opener.
Coach George Karl isn’t so sure.
``Any time that you’ve got a legal thing hanging over your head, there’s probably some anxiety to it and some worry,″ he said Sunday.
Karl wants his team to concentrate on the New Jersey Nets, not the fight outside a strip club in Toronto involving Payton, Cassell and teammate Jason Caffey. They’re accused of assaulting two men and two women outside a club after closing time April 11, while the Bucks were in Toronto to play the Raptors.
The players surrendered to police in Toronto and were charged with assault following the Bucks’ 109-96 loss on the road Saturday.
``They’re human beings. I don’t think it’s going to go away today,″ Karl said. ``Hopefully in a couple of days it will be fading into the sunset and they can be concentrating on a big game on Tuesday.″
Payton is charged with three counts of simple assault, equivalent to a misdemeanor. Cassell is charged with two counts and Caffey faces one count. They are to appear in court May 30.
``We’re not on trial for murder,″ Cassell said after practice.
General manager Ernie Grunfeld and Karl were told last week that the players would have to return to Toronto. They decided the three would fly to Canada with their lawyers after the opener. The rest of the team flew to Milwaukee, because Game 2 isn’t until Tuesday night.
Payton went scoreless through the first 3 1/2 quarters Saturday and Cassell scored 16. Caffey did not play.
Payton and Cassell returned to practice Sunday. Caffey, who has missed the last nine games with a sore back, didn’t participate.
``We’re professionals,″ Cassell said. ``You all don’t give the Nets no kind of credit. They played a tremendous basketball game.″
Payton said he wasn’t preoccupied with the case: ``I had a bad game and that’s it. I don’t worry about distractions.″
Karl thinks the team has handled the situation professionally.
``We’ve addressed the problem, and now it’s time to put it behind us and go to work,″ he said.
The Nets dismissed the notion that legal matters will undermine the Bucks.
``They are a veteran ballclub,″ Jason Kidd said. ``Whatever those guys are experiencing off the court is not going to affect the way they play.″
The Bucks might have cleared another distraction: the rift between Karl and forward Tim Thomas, who was benched the last three weeks after refusing to re-enter a game in Denver last month.
Thomas was the only Bucks player to have a good game Saturday, coming off the bench to score 25 points in 31 minutes on 10-of-14 shooting. Karl is now leaning toward starting Thomas.
On Saturday, the Nets jumped ahead 20-8, forcing the Bucks to play catch-up. Karl started rookie Marcus Haislip and Ervin Johnson and kept Thomas, Toni Kukoc and Michael Redd on the bench.
Thomas, who sat on the scorer’s table instead of getting in the huddle during timeouts, met with Karl before practice Sunday.
``Right now, it’s all about winning. It’s not about whatever’s going on between me and George,″ Thomas said. ``And I feel like I need to be out on the court. I don’t make the decisions, so I just have to be ready when my number is called.″