All week Juwan Howard and Alonzo Mourning had been spending time together at agent David Falk's offices on Wisconsin Avenue just inside the District line. Now they can spend all next season together as teammates on the Miami Heat, an NBA team with an open checkbook.
Mourning yesterday reached agreement in principle to re-sign with the Heat on the same day Howard also reached agreement with Miami, leaving the Washington Bullets after two seasons.
Each player agreed to a seven-year deal, but Falk declined to divulge other details or the financial terms. But league sources said Howard will earn $98 million and Mourning $105 million, average annual salaries of $14 million and $15 million, respectively.
"We are working out final details," Falk said. "It's a much more complex environment. The new collective bargaining agreement was mailed out Thursday afternoon" after the NBA and its players' union signed a labor contract. The deal modifies the standard player contract and the rules governing the ceiling on team payrolls.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Lakers have offered Orlando center Shaquille O'Neal a seven-year, $95.5 million contract. Leonard Armato, O'Neal's agent, said his client will not make a decision before Monday.
The New York Knicks, who are about to obtain Charlotte forward Larry Johnson in a trade, are on the verge of signing guards Allan Houston of Detroit and Chris Childs of New Jersey, league sources said. Houston will receive $56 million over seven years, Childs almost $24 million over six years.
Mourning's deal will make him the first player in team sports history with a contract in excess of $100 million. Falk said the Hornets, who traded Mourning to the Heat last season, offered the former Georgetown University star a contract extension in excess of $100 million two years ago. But Mourning, who lives in Potomac during the offseason, rejected it on Falk's advice, Falk said, "because I told him the rules were going to change."
Falk declined to say how many years the extension would have covered. But the agreement with the Heat provides a deal "worth 50 percent more than it was two years ago," since it is a shorter contract for more money, Falk said. With Howard and Mourning in tow, the Heat likely will abandon attempts to sign guard Gary Payton, who a source last night said is set to re-sign with the Seattle SuperSonics for nearly $70 million over seven years. Instead, Miami most likely will re-sign guard Tim Hardaway. Under the Larry Bird exception, the Heat can exceed the salary cap to re-sign any of its players.
The beginning of this summer's free agent signing period was delayed twice until the six-year, $5 billion deal between the league and the players' union was finalized. Now, the first three players among the 150 free agents to agree to terms since the marketplace opened at 5 p.m. Thursday are all Falk clients. Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan agreed to a one-year, $30 million deal Thursday night; when guard Lee Mayberry agreed to a five-year, $6 million deal with the Vancouver Grizzlies last night, teams had committed $239 million to Falk's clients.
Meanwhile, the Lakers' offer to O'Neal is all the money they have available under the salary cap without renouncing the rights to forward Elden Campbell. It includes an escape clause after three seasons in order to recoup the money he is losing by not re-signing with Orlando.
The Lakers' offer averages $13.6 million annually. The Magic's offer is unclear, although it has been reported to be in the $16 to $18 million range per year. Under the Larry Bird exception, Orlando can exceed the salary cap to re-sign its players. O'Neal would start at $8.53 million per year, with room created by the trade of center Vlade Divac to Charlotte. CAPTION: Shaquille O'Neal, reportedly offered $95.5 million by the Lakers, works magic Friday vs. Australia's Mark Bradtke. (Photo ran in an earlier edition) CAPTION: Juwan Howard (left), Alonzo Mourning team up in Miami, averaging salaries of $14 million and $15 million, respectively. (Photo ran in an earlier edition)