Lakers' Jackson: Games 'great release'

NEW YORK -- NBA players aren't ready to turn in their cards.

If commissioner David Stern is considering gambling restrictions in the wake of the Washington Wizards' troubles, he'll find plenty of objection within the league.

"I'm not in favor of that at all," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Jackson said card games are a "great release" for players and haven't seemed to be a problem on his team, a sentiment echoed by coaches and players on several teams.

And forget keeping the card games but banning the wagering.

"Guys wouldn't want to play," Memphis forward Zach Randolph said. "They're too competitive."

Players can relax, at least for now. Stern's preference is to leave the decision to the clubs, who are given broad rights to make rules regarding player conduct.

"Historically this has been a team issue, and we have teams that currently ban gambling during team activities," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said.

The New York Times reported last week that there were indications the league was considering new gambling restrictions for players.

At least two teams banned gambling on the team plane following the Wizards' troubles, which started with a card game. Now, authorities are investigating Gilbert Arenas, the guns he kept at the Verizon Center and the Dec. 21 spat between Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton that prompted Arenas to take the guns out of his locker.

Arenas was suspended indefinitely by the NBA last week, pending the outcome of the investigation. Crittenton has been excused by the team from practices and games while the legal process plays out.

Players counter the problem's not gambling, but rather individuals' behavior.

"I don't think it's necessary," New Orleans center Emeka Okafor said. "For the most part, people act in an adult manner, and if this situation had never happened, you would never hear anything about it. For the most part, they're gentlemen games. There's nothing really big at stake, just guys having fun."

The fun got out of hand on Washington's team plane, so coach Flip Saunders banned card playing on Dec. 21, the date of the locker room confrontation between Arenas and Crittenton. There are conflicting reports about what happened between the two players, but their dispute began during a card game on a trip home from the West Coast two days earlier.

The New Jersey Nets instituted a similar ban last week, but a number of teams questioned over the weekend said they have no policy and see no need for one.

"We haven't had any problems like that," Minnesota coach Kurt Rambis said. "I don't feel like we have to go out of our way to step up new rules to circumvent the rules that we already have. I feel comfortable right now, if something comes up then we'll address it, but right now we're not even close to that."

Stern didn't seem terribly concerned with the issue 15 months ago.

On a conference call to discuss his findings after leading the investigation into the NBA's referees operations following the Tim Donaghy betting scandal, former federal prosecutor Lawrence Pedowitz noted his concern with players gambling.

Asked about it during a subsequent call, Stern said Pedowitz would have difficulty owning a team "because players of all sports have been playing cards in the back of buses and planes forever." He allowed he would be concerned if the stakes got too high, but added anything he considered would be in conjunction with the players association, which likely would expect any restrictions involving penalties to be collectively bargained.

Players insist the stakes aren't exorbitant, especially in a league where they make millions.

"I haven't seen guys lose big money," said Detroit's Charlie Villanueva, who has played for three NBA teams. "Guys don't really bring money like that. They don't bring $50-60,000 to play with. If anything, it's like an IOU."

For now, the league is still too focused on its investigation into what happened in the Wizards' locker room to think about any changes that will come from it. And while the league absorbs another public relations hit, players and coaches don't think card games caused it.

"If it's not card playing, it could be something else," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Problems are going to come when people don't treat teammates with respect, when you don't live up to obligations, things like that.

"You're not going to be able to ban all the things that could possibly upset teammates."