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April 21, 2014

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J.R. MIA

NBA bad boy Isaiah Rider can barely get arrested these days, so to speak.

The NBA is abuzz this week with free-agent signings, trades and garden-variety rumors, but Rider's name has not been heard amid the cacophony. Though he's available to any team that wants him, the former UNLV star seems to have disappeared from NBA radar screens.

He has definitely vanished from the league's official website.

Since Rider was released by the Atlanta Hawks by mutual agreement March 17 in a merciful end to an awful eight-month marriage, there is no sign on NBA.com that the high-scoring guard has ever played in the league.

Rider has been deleted from the player directory, his stats are not posted anywhere and he is not on the league's official list of 131 free agents.

Seems a bit suspicious, considering that he averaged 19.3 points in 60 games for the Hawks and has scored 18.1 points a game for three teams over seven seasons.

Though the NBA and Rider have long had a contentious relationship, a league spokesman insists there is no backroom plot to blackball him or hope he goes away quietly.

It is simply that the website only lists players whose rights are held by a specific team. Because Rider wasn't on a roster at the end of the season and is an unrestricted free agent, he doesn't meet the criteria. At least temporarily, he has lost any affiliation to the NBA.

Believe that or not, but it doesn't explain why a player of Rider's ability is not getting more attention on the market. Those answers almost certainly lie in Rider's reputation for tardiness, incompatibility, strange behavior and marijuana use. He has a 1996 conviction for marijuana possession.

Especially after things fell apart so quickly with the Hawks, teams are hesitant to sign a potential problem like Rider, according to NBA front-office sources. Miami and Seattle are said to be showing mild interest, but that has been media talking, not the teams.

Most likely, Rider will have to settle for the so-called middle-class exception, a one-year contract for $2.25 million. But it's anyone's guess which team will give it to him or how long he'll have to wait.

Hawks president Stan Kasten is not surprised Rider isn't getting more nibbles. He told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last month, "This summer, (Rider) could have made $50 million, and I know, because I would have been the one who gave it to him.

"He was a borderline All-Star when he wanted to be, and when he was, we were a pretty good team. (But coach) Lenny Wilkens gave him more rope than anyone else, and he still managed to hang himself.

"It says something that (Rider) couldn't get it done despite playing for Lenny and (Hawks GM) Pete Babcock, the two most decent people to hold their respective positions in the league."

Team officials around the NBA have apparently taken note.

"There's no doubt that Rider can play, but you're risking your chemistry," an Eastern Conference executive said. "Some teams wouldn't want him at any price because of that."

A personnel official from a Western Conference club said, "Somebody will sign him, but it won't be us. We don't need the headache."

Phone calls to Rider's agent, Arn Tellem, weren't returned, and attempts to reach Rider at his home in Oakland, Calif., were unsuccessful.

It's clear that many teams have concerns over Rider's exit from Atlanta, and how marijuana use might have figured into the equation.

According to media reports, Rider allegedly smoked marijuana in his Orlando hotel room on a late January road trip. Six days later, after Hawks and NBA officials were tipped off, league security officers demanded Rider submit to urinalysis. He allegedly refused, and said he wouldn't agree to drug counseling.

After Rider wouldn't accept two express-mail letters from the league advising him to attend counseling, he was fined $10,000 a day for 20 days until he finally went to counseling. It brought his season fines to $400,000, including lost salary from previous suspensions, though still a fraction of his $5.4 million contract.

Having been benched by coach Lenny Wilkens in March, Rider continued to be tardy for games and practices, so Babcock threatened a three-game suspension for his next offense.

When he showed up late for a March 17 game against Boston, that was it. The Hawks intended to suspend Rider for three games, docking him another $180,000, but he requested his outright release and the Hawks granted it. They were that eager to get him out of their locker room.

"We knew his history extremely well," Babcock said then. "This isn't a surprise. We are disappointed."

Wilkens said tersely, "It didn't work. Period. That's it."

But Rider didn't go quietly. He cited Babcock, teammates Dikembe Mutombo and LaPhonso Ellis, and trainer Chris Tucker for going to the NBA and accusing him "unjustifiably and without proof of using marijuana."

Rider's problems in Atlanta began almost immediately. Last August, he was traded by Portland along with Jimmy Jackson to the Hawks for well-liked guard Steve Smith. Atlanta fans did not like the deal, nor did Wilkens, but everybody wore painted smiles and hoped for the best.

But that didn't last long. Rider missed the first day of training camp in Chattanooga, Tenn., saying he was fearful of flying on a small plane, among other reasons.

During the season, he drew two one-game suspensions for showing up late for games, lifting his career total to six team suspensions and four NBA suspensions.

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