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If you have trouble understanding contract negotiations, there is only one rule of thumb to remember: Never believe the rhetoric.

A case in point is Dallas rookie Jim Jackson, who is now playing for the Mavericks after declaring he would never do so, no matter what. The sides publicly severed all ties. Now the Mavericks are back to planning their future around him.Even more surprising is how quickly they kissed and made up. Once Jackson decided to sign, he was not only paid the $2.6 million in salary for the year, but a $1 million signing bonus - for playing just 28 games.

By comparison, the Jazz's Karl Malone - a six-time All-Star - makes an average of $3.25 million per year, over an 82-game season.

You have NBA players who say they won't respect anyone. And there are players who won't even talk about opponents. But occasionally you'll get a genuine, heart-felt opinion, such as the one recently offered by Orlando's Nick Anderson.

Anderson said he wants to be just like Detroit's Joe Dumars. "My favorite player in the NBA is Joe Dumars," said Anderson. "He has the total package: points and assists as well as great defense. I want to be another Joe Dumars."

Dumars, who is undoubtedly the Pistons' most popular player around the league, also draws praise from his coach, Ron Rothstein. "He's a great person and a great player," said Rothstein.

Meanwhile, the Pistons' guard admits that though he is having a fine season, it has been a disappointing year in the win-loss columns. "If you had to put a logo on this team right now, you'd put Detroit, then a question mark," said Dumars.

Making plans for the playoffs? Here is the schedule for this year's first-round games, played under a 2-2-1 format: Game 1 will be either Thursday, April 29 or Friday, April 30; Game 2 is Saturday, May 1 or Sunday May 2; Game 3 is Monday, May 3 or Tuesday, May 4 or Wednesday, May 5; Game 4 is Thursday, May 6 or Friday, May 7; and Game 5 is Saturday, May 8 or Sunday, May 9.

AND THEN SOME: Milwaukee will retire Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's jersey in an April 24 ceremony at the Bradley Center. Other Bucks' luminaries will include Oscar Robertson, Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, Lucius Allen and Larry Costello . . . Philadelphia's Tim Perry on being stuffed by Shaquille O'Neal: "I was going to try to slam it until I saw how far up he was. Then I decided to try a little jump hook. Then it was like, `Don't cry; just go back to your huddle.' " . . . The NBA All-Star Game in Salt Lake City was the highest-rated and most-watched All-Star telecast in league history, with an estimated viewing audience of 40 million.

This column includes materials gathered from outside news sources.