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The princes of payroll

Blazers stake big lead on the NBA salary chart

When the NBA and NBA Players Association negotiated a collective bargaining agreement in 1999, it signaled the beginning of the end to runaway spending by team owners.

The new deal put a ceiling on individual salaries for veterans, included a pay scale for rookies and helped protect the owners from themselves.

Via a grandfather clause, Minnesota's Kevin Garnett and the Los Angeles Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal will be eligible for 5 percent annual raises when their contracts expire. That could keep them more well paid than players restricted to maximum contracts under the current labor agreement.

But soon we'll see the younger stars bound by today's rules Ñ Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Jermaine O'Neal and so on Ñ holding most of the game's biggest paychecks, though at more reasonable figures.

Portland has the largest payroll for 2002-03 at nearly $106 million, considerably more than the $90 million doled out by the Blazers last season.

New York is second this season at $94 million, more than $20 million ahead of Dallas, which will pay its players about $73 million.

The NBA luxury tax will kick in at 'somewhere in the lower $50 millions,' says a league official. The amount will be determined after the season.

Teams will be taxed dollar for dollar for spending over the threshold. If the figure were set at $53 million, for instance, Portland would be assessed a tax of $53 million.

The Blazers are paying three salaries in the top 10 this season: Scottie Pippen ($19.7 million), Rasheed Wallace ($16.2 million) and Shawn Kemp. The Blazers bought out Kemp's contract during the summer, agreeing to pay him about $14 million this season and $16.5 million next season. Kemp also is being paid $1.03 million this season by his current team, Orlando.