By STEVE BUFFERY and ESPN.com
RAPTORS LOSE HUFFMAN CASE
It was a good thing his team won in dramatic overtime fashion on Sunday night, because Raptors general manager Glen Grunwald was already having a bad week.
An independent arbitrator ruled last Friday that the Raptors must pay former centre Nate Huffman the remaining $2.56 million US on his terminated contract.
The Raptors ended Huffman's three-year deal in January 2003 after he had been with the team only a few months, saying he had not fully disclosed his medical history before signing the contract. A grievance was filed on Huffman's behalf by the NBA Players' Association, and Roger P. Kaplan was jointly approved by the union and the league as the arbitrator. Because the outcome of arbitration cases is binding in the NBA, it's believed the Raptors have no appeal route.
In a release yesterday, Grunwald said: "We are disappointed in the decision and are considering our options."
One league source indicated that the Raptors could respond by suspending Huffman without pay, which would take the case back to Kaplan.
The reasons for the decision have not yet been provided.
After emerging as one of the best centres outside of North America -- with Israeli club power Maccabi Tel-Aviv -- Huffman signed with Toronto in the summer of 2002. But the 7-foot-1, 240-pounder underwent surgery on his right knee shortly before the start of the season and wound up playing only seven games with the Raptors, averaging 3.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 10.9 minutes.
The Raptors then took the rare step of terminating Huffman's contract, insisting that they would have never engaged in contract talks with Huffman if they'd known the condition of his knees. Had they won in arbitration, the Raptors could have established a precedent for teams seeking to void guaranteed contracts based on pre-existing medical conditions.
Since his contract was terminated on Jan. 16, 2003, Huffman has not been paid. Rehabilitating in his native Michigan, according to agent Bill Duffy, Huffman is scheduled to undergo another knee surgery this month and still holds out hope of making a comeback.
"We're thrilled," Duffy said. "It's obviously our job to protect Nate, and we feel he did nothing wrong. He was forthright with his condition (when he signed with Toronto) and the union stood up for him. This kid's career has been in limbo waiting for a resolution. He'd like to resume his career, so we plan to get him healthy and get him back playing."