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WILLIAMS BOWS OUT WITH THE CLASS SHOWN OVER 17 SEASONS

For the majority of his 17-year NBA career, Buck Williams was the epitome of preparation, consistency and class.

So it was no surprise the three-time All-Star and likely Hall of Famer opened his retirement press conference Wednesday with a prepared statement jotted down on a neat sheet of paper.

"I have so many priceless memories," Williams said Wednesday at the Garden as Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy and GM Ernie Grunfeld looked on. "It's been a tremendous journey, but the time has come for me to move on and do other things in my life. I feel proud to leave the game with dignity."

Williams, 38, held his head high and didn't shed a tear in announcing his retirement after 17 durable seasons.

Williams, an old-school player who grew up out of poverty and worked endlessly on the court, talked about leaving the game while there "is still something left in the tank."

He retires as a Knick but his best years came with his two previous teams -- the Nets and the Blazers.

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 13 points, 10 rebounds and 55 percent shooting over a total of 1,307 games -- fourth all-time in games played. He's one of only seven players to amass 16,000 points and 13,000 rebounds.

Cavs run Pistons ragged

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The new fan-friendly NBA was clearly on display. Maybe too clearly. The basketball bordered on awful.

Cleveland shot just 44.3 percent and turned the ball over 18 times. Yet, the Cavaliers won the ragged exhibition. What does that say about Detroit?

Litterial Green scored four of his five points down the stretch and the Cavaliers hung on for an 86-82 victory before a crowd that appeared smaller than the 14,575 announced in the 21,454-seat arena.

"I know we won, but I really don't know much else," Cleveland coach Mike Fratello said. "We'll go home, look at the video tape in the morning, and go from there."

The video was certain to be ugly.

Oh, they tried hard to make it look like the NBA. Hooper, the Pistons' mascot, was doing his thing. Automotion, the Pistons' dance squad, looked peppy. And the players, mindful of the hurt caused by the long lockout, tossed T-shirts up into the stands between the introductions and the opening tip.

But it disintegrated so quickly once the game began that the fans were booing after the Pistons missed their first 10 shots while falling behind 17-0.

"We can't afford another performance like that start," newcomer Loy Vaught said. "That's something that can never happen again. Nobody expects to get blindsided like that."

Bulls cut new players

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- Martin Muursepp and Bubba Wells only had a short stay on the Chicago Bulls' roster.

The Bulls waived the two forwards and guard Curtis Staples and signed 7-4, 325-pound center Priest Lauderdale. Chicago now has 18 players on its roster, which must be pared to 14 by the start of the season.

Wells and Muursepp came to Chicago just last week with Mark Bryant as part of the Bulls' sign-and-trade deal with Phoenix for Luc Longley. Staples was a rookie free agent out of Virginia.

Lauderdale was Atlanta's first-round draft pick in 1996, and he played one year with the Hawks before being traded to Denver. In 39 games with the Nuggets last year, he averaged 3.7 points per game and 2.6 rebounds.

In two NBA seasons, he's averaged 3.4 points and 1.9 rebounds.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf says Michael Jordan told him in June he had no intention of returning for another season.

"Michael never said anything to me other than, 'I'm done playing. This is it,' " Reinsdorf said.

Jordan announced his retirement Jan. 13 during a news conference held on the floor of the United Center.

Reinsdorf said he chatted with Jordan on the plane ride back to Chicago after the championship.

"He said he never was so tired in his life. He said it was his hardest year and he felt he had to carry the team in the Finals more than he'd ever had," Reinsdorf said. "He was totally exhausted, mentally and physically."

Around the rim

Kobe Bryant is close to signing a six-year contract extension worth about $70 million with the Los Angeles Lakers, close to the maximum allowed under the new collective bargaining agreement, according to a published reports. . . . Nets guard Kerry Kittles tore knee cartilage and may be headed for surgery and an absence of a month or longer. Center Rony Seikaly may miss a similar amount of time with a sprained ankle.

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