Even Mitch Kupchak isn't sure.
"I can't predict what will happen," Kupchak said yesterday. "I have wracked my brain trying to, and I just can't."
Kupchak, 27, after five years with the Washington Bullets, is a free agent.
"You can't predict what happens in the NBA. If ever there was a predictable owner, though, it is Mr. Pollin (Bullet owner Abe Pollin). He has been very loyal to his players and doesn't make any uncalculated moves. h
"Whatever he does," Kupchak said, "will be an economic decision."
The Bullets will have three options in dealing with Kupchak, who is expected to present them with an offer sheet today or tomorrow. They could match the offer, believed to be for $900,000 a year from Jerry Buss and the Los Angeles Lakers. Such an action would keep Kupchak a Bullet and is considered unlikely because of Pollin's thirft and austerity.
If the Bullets exercise their second opinion and choose to match the offer sheet in the allotted 15 days, Kupchak will be considered to have entered into a binding contract with his new team and the Bullets will lose him without any compensation. This option seems unlikely, too. For the Bullets, it is neither economical nor logical.
Which leaves the third option: a trade. "I would be surprised if the Bullets don't match the offer I get and then trade me. I'm not so naive as to think this might not happen," Kupchak said.
This is the most economic option the Bullets have and, therefore, is the one they're most likely to exercise. "Let's just say we are aware of the possibility of a trade," Bob Ferry, the general manager of the Bullets, said.
So far, under the right of first refusal, no team has lost a free agent without getting something in return.
Speculation around the NBA suggests that the Bullets have been talking about a deal involving Kupchk with the New York Knicks for center Marvin Webster or with the Cleveland Cavliers for forward Mike Mitchell. Ferry is leery of talking about any possible deal because, "Until we get an offer sheet from Mitch, we really don't have to do anything,"
Before the Bullets can work out any deal with another team, they would have to match the offer sheet. A team acquiring Kupchak in a subsequent trade would be responsible for his new salary.
The Knicks have openly expressed interest in Kupchak, while owner Ted Stepien of the Cavaliers has shown interest in just about every free agent, including Kupchak. This summer, the Cavaliers have already picked up, at great expense, free agents James Edwards and Scott Wedman. They offered Otis Birdsong $900,000, but the Kings matched the offer and traded him to the New Jersey Nets.
The Bullets will have no first-round draft pick next year and, if the team is to follow the rebuild-through-youth program that Pollin seemingly wants, they would certainly have an interest in obtaining a high pick.
"Where I play next year is very important to me," Kupchak said. "I understand that I could very well end up somewhere other than where I want to be. I didn't want it to come down to this, but I realized a month ago that it could."