Washington Bullet Mitch Kupchak said yesterday he has been offered a seven-year guarantee contract for between $850,000 and $1 million a season by another NBA team, believed to be the Los Angeles Lakers.
"I don't want to leave Washington. I never did," said Kupchak, 27, a 6-foot-11 center/forward who is a free agent. He would not confirm it was the Lakers who made the offer. "I love it here and I love the people and that's why I said I'd take less money to stay here. But the Bullets countered with an offer that was so low I just couldn't take it. If I signed for what they offered, I'd be the lowest paid free agent in the league."
Kupchak said he offered last week to sign a long-term contract with the Bullets for $100,000 a season less than what he was offered him elsewhere. It also has been learned that the Bullets' best offer has been $600,000 a year, but that the length of the contract does not match the other offer. Elvin Hayes, traded to Houston last week, was the highest paid Bullet ever, at $450,000 a year.
"My parents and my agent thought I was crazy for offering to sign with the Bullets for less, but I don't like this free agent stuff," Kupchak said. "I just want to play ball in a city I like and in a place where I like the people and they like me. That place is Washington, but it doesn't seem to be working out. I don't blame (Bullet owner) Abe (Pollin) or (general manager) Bob (Ferry) or anyone. It's just economic, I guess. I don't understand why they don't have the money to pay me, but if they say they don't, I believe them."
Kupchak said he will probably present an offer sheet to the Bullets next week. They will then have 15 days to match the offer or lose him.
Kupchak said he wouldn't be surprised if the Bullets signed him and then traded him, presumably to Phoenix or Los Angeles, to get something for losing him.
That's the route Kansas City took with Otis Birdsong. The Kings matched the $900,000 contract the Cleveland Cavaliers offered Birdsong and then traded him to New Jersey for Cliff Robinson.
Pollin had declined comment on Kupchak. Yesterday, Ferry said: "I wouldn't rule out anything right now. All you can do is the best you can under the circumstances. We don't want to lose Mitch, but technically we can't do anything until we get an offer sheet from him. The money he is commanding is staggering. I know he's not trying to hold us up, though, because he's not that kind of person. It just appears that we may have to take other routes to rebuild our team. A lot of money can solve a lot of problems."
Kupchak and Larry Wright were the Bullets' first-round draft choices in 1976. Kupchak, from North Carolina, signed a four-year guaranteed contract with a two-year option. If the Bullets had exercised both option years, the second would be in effect for the upcoming season. But because Kupchak was coming off a back operation and didn't have a good year two seasons ago, the Bullets didn't exercise the option by last July 15, the deadline.
Kupchak came to camp last summer without a guaranteed contract and had to make the team. He played for $122,000, with $61,000 of it deferred. Although he averaged only 12.5 points and seven rebounds a game, Kupchak played it all 82 contests and became one of the most sought-after of all the free agents. Because he is one of the most recognizable and talented white players in the league, Kupchak is a valued commodity in the NBA.
Still, Kupchak said he wanted to work out a new contract before he became a free agent, but the Bullets were hesitant about doing so until it was practically too late.
A month before the 1980-81 season ended, Kupchak said Pollin told him he wanted to sign him to a long-term contract, so Kupchak could play out his career with the Bullets. But things didn't progress to Kupchak's satisfaction.
When the season ended, Kupchak said his mind was made up. "I wanted to remain a Bullet, no question," he said. "I told Mr. Pollin that. He wanted to sign me right then, but with the advice of my agent (Larry Fleisher) I told him I wanted to see what my market value was and after doing that, I'd come back and he (Pollin) could make me an offer for less than that, and I'd stay.
"I thought I was giving the Bullets a break by not expecting them to match any other offer because I wanted to stay so badly and I knew they wanted me. A week and a half ago I got the offer, which is consistent with what the other top free agents are getting.
"I want to stay here so badly that even though some people thought it wasn't the right thing to do, I told the Bullets I'd sign with them for $100,000 a year less, a total of $700,000 over the term of the contract.
"I expected a flat yes or no because there wasn't any negotiating to do," Kupchak said. "But Mr. Pollin said he wanted four or five years to think it over.
"He called me last Tuesday and said he couldn't accept my offer and make me a counter offer that is so much less than the other one that there just isn't any way I can accept it.
"I know Bob and Abe want me, but they just can't pull it off," said Kupchak. "The economics just don't make sense to them.
"The funny thing is if they had offered me in September or October or November what they are offering now, I would have jumped at it."
Kupchak added that the money in the proposed contract offer from the other team was firm from the start; he didn't have to negotiate for it. He did negotiate for the seven years.
"I'll be 34 then and ready to retire," he said.
"This is teh best I got. It's with a contender and it's nice weather. I don't want to leave here, but if I do I'm going to give my new team all I have. I'll play as hard as ever and they'll get their money's worth. I'll give everything I have and I'll learn to love the city like I love New York, where I grew up; Chapel Hill, where I played in college, and Washington, where I live now.
"I like Mr. Pollin a lot and I would never try to hold him up. What I was offered is the market value. A lot of teams, not just one, were willing to offer it. Abe is the one who's different."