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  •   Bullets Look at Webber

    By Richard Justice
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Wednesday, November 9, 1994; Page F01

    The Washington Bullets, stalled in increasingly bitter negotiations with top draft choice Juwan Howard, have discussed a trade that would bring them another member of Michigan's Fab Five — Chris Webber — sources familiar with the discussions said.

    Like Howard, Webber is involved in a nasty holdout, after exercising a one-year escape clause in his contract. He's seeking around $45 million over seven years, and at the moment, the Warriors haven't come close to signing him.

    They've now begun attempting to gauge his value on the market, and the Bullets, who put their 2-0 record on the line in Philadelphia tonight, have expressed a strong interest, according to sources. It's unclear who the Bullets have offered, but the Warriors have expressed an interest in forward Tom Gugliotta and a 1995 first-round draft choice. Contrary to a report on ESPN last night, Howard's name hasn't come up in the deal.

    Sources familiar with the discussions are skeptical it can be completed because of salary cap considerations. At the very least, the Bullets probably would have to include a second player, instead of a first-round pick, simply to open a salary slot large enough to satisfy Webber's demands.

    Webber is a restricted free agent, meaning he could sign an offer sheet with another team but the Warriors have the right to match it and keep him. Once he was under contract with Golden State, the Warriors could then trade him to another team. The key to a deal with Washington would be whether Webber is willing to play for the Bullets, and the Bullets believe having Howard's rights could be an incentive since the two are close friends.

    The Warriors have discussed trades involving Webbber with other clubs, and the Los Angeles Clippers are considering presenting him with an offer sheet, according to sources. The Bullets are attempting to gauge Webber's interest in playing here before further pursuing the trade, sources said.

    Webber, a 6-foot-10, 250-pound center-forward, was the first pick of the 1993 draft. He was selected by Orlando and traded to Golden State, where he averaged 17.5 points and 9.1 rebounds. He had trouble with Warriors Coach Don Nelson and didn't like playing center. Now that the Warriors have acquired Rony Seikaly, Webber would no longer have to play center. But his problems with Nelson seem to persist, and the Warriors are tired enough of the negotiations to begin considering a trade.

    The Bullets' interest in Webber surfaced last night as the National Basketball Association's 5 p.m. deadline for restructuring contracts passed. Now the Bullets can't create a larger slot for Howard unless they deal a player to make room. General Manager John Nash said they won't make such a move.

    The Bullets have offered Howard a 12-year deal that could be worth $41.6 million. The first 11 seasons are fully guaranteed at $35.9 million, and there's a $750,000 buyout for the 12th season. Howard was also offered an unconditional escape clause after the third season, which would allow him to test the market as a free agent.

    Howard rejected the deal because the first-year salary of $1.309 million is about $691,000 less than the players drafted around him. The Bullets have countered that the total package is nearly double what the sixth pick of the draft, 76ers center Sharone Wright, received. Howard was the fifth pick.

    "The deadline has no significance as far as I'm concerned," Nash said. "I guess people don't believe you when you tell them in the summer what you're going to do. To some extent, we've damaged our credibility by revising the offer, by increasing it over 20 percent. We've negotiated against ourselves, and maybe that's caused Juwan's representative to believe we would compromise on re-doing contracts."

    Howard's agent, David Falk, said: "I've never been in a negotiation where one side expects the other side to accept an offer because they say it's fair. There has to be some measurement for the fairness, and the market that has been established over 20 years says the Bullets are asking Juwan Howard to play for $700,000 less. He'll never make up the money he'll lose in the early years unless he's a complete bust, and Juwan doesn't believe he's a bust. He's willing to put his money where his mouth is."

    Asked about the possibility that Howard could sit out the season, Falk said: "It's against everything I believe in. I keep hoping the Bullets will do the right things ... Juwan is clearly an asset."

    Bullets Notes: The Bullets were unhappy that guard Rex Chapman was left off the all-star ballot. "It's a travesty," Nash said, "but I think he'll make it anyway when the coaches pick the remainder of the squads {fans vote on the starters}."

    Chapman shrugged and said: "I think it's bull. What are you going to do? You've got to go out and play and figure that stuff will take care of itself. I was disappointed last year I wasn't on it. ... "

    Scott Skiles, Gugliotta and Don MacLean are the Bullets on the ballot, which is selected by a panel of basketball writers and broadcasters and league officials.

    © Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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