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Tuesday, June 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Brief reunion: Karl evaluates ex-Sonic Kemp

DENVER — Denver Nuggets coach George Karl said he can see a different Shawn Kemp — not just a slimmer version of the former All-Star, but a wiser one.

"He seems clearer, stronger," Karl said Monday after Denver's three-day camp for free agents. "His words are older. They have some wisdom to them. It's the most grounded I've seen him."

The 36-year-old Kemp, who reportedly ballooned to 340 pounds in recent years, has been out of the league for the last three seasons but wants to play again. Kemp said he hired a trainer and dropped 75 pounds, helping reduce his body fat to 11.5 percent.

Given his past relationship with Karl, he wouldn't mind making a comeback with the Nuggets. Karl coached Kemp from 1991 to 1997, when both were with the Sonics.

"He challenged me a few years ago to become one of the best players in the league, and I accepted the challenge," Kemp said. "That's one of the reasons why I wanted to come here. I knew he [Karl] wouldn't take it easy on me. He hasn't taken it easy on me since I've been here."

Former "Reign Man" Kemp also has pushed himself. He lost the weight the old-fashioned way — hard work.

"I started jogging, jogging and jogging," Kemp said. "I ran this weight off."

In scrimmages over the past three days, Kemp held his own against younger post players and blocked a shot by 6-foot-11 Geoff Husted with authority.

"I ran better than most of the big guys here," the 6-10 Kemp said. "I'm a little more advanced than I thought I was."

Kemp averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game during his 14-season career with the Sonics, Cleveland, Portland and Orlando.

Karl said he thinks Kemp can be productive on the court.

"Older players kind of have a sense and know-how to win basketball games," Karl said. "I think Shawn is in that category. He's an old pro now that isn't going to probably get the slam dunks and the great lobs. He understands he can help a team as a role player — 10, 15 minutes off the bench. If he can continue to regain some of his talents, then maybe more [minutes]."

Kemp's biggest nemesis in recent years has been himself. Last year in King County, Kemp pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor for attempted possession of marijuana and served five days of house arrest. In 2001, he checked himself into a rehabilitation clinic to treat cocaine abuse.

Kemp was featured in a story by Sports Illustrated in 1998 detailing athletes with out-of-wedlock children. The article said he reportedly fathered at least seven children by six different women.

Kemp acknowledges his past might be an issue to a potential employer.

"You have to see it in a person's eyes and hear it in their voice and feel it from them before you become a believer," Kemp said. "That's what most of these teams are going to do — talk to me and feel it from me."

It wasn't all love and roses for Karl and Kemp with the Sonics, but Karl said, "I think he's done a great job of getting in shape. He went through five practices at a very hard level, and survived. He had moments where he was very impressive.

"He's got to regroup and regain some of the special-ness that he had. Can he do that? All those things have got to be answered over a two-month period, not a two-day period."

Ailing Wade, Payton miss Heat practice

MIAMI — With the start of the NBA Finals against Dallas drawing closer, the Miami Heat practiced without guards Dwyane Wade and Gary Payton because they were ill.

Wade was with the team for meetings before practice before leaving to see a physician because of a flu-like virus he has been battling since Friday. He briefly was hospitalized hours before Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals because of dehydration, but played and scored 14 points in the win over Detroit.

"He's fine. We sent him back to the doctor to get some more medication," Heat coach Pat Riley said. "Another checkup. ... We feel like he'll be OK."

Ex-Sonic Payton went home suffering from a migraine. He reported in the morning and conferred with the team's medical staff before departing.

"He'll be fine," Riley said of Payton.

Game 1 of the best-of-seven Finals is Thursday in Dallas.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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