With NBA free agency beginning today, Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin said last night that management will do what it can to re-sign free agents Mitch Richmond and Calbert Cheaney. Pollin did not mention bringing back the team's other prominent free agent, forward Otis Thorpe.
"We're going to try and sign [Richmond], absolutely," Pollin said shortly after Washington drafted Connecticut guard Richard Hamilton with the No. 7 overall pick. "We know we're going to be a lot better now. We know Tracy [Murray] is going to have a better year. Calbert is going to have a better year.
"We're not sure of anything but these are guys that we're obviously going to talk about."
As for Richmond, "I said all along I would like to come back to Washington," he said. "Hopefully we can get it done as soon as possible." Richmond's agent, Mike Sharpe, and Washington management might begin negotiations today. Teams can begin talks today, but cannot finalize deals until Aug. 1.
The Wizards can pay Richmond more -- up to $14 million annually -- than just about any other team. One Eastern Conference general manager said Richmond probably will be offered little more than half that on the open market.
Washington Coach Gar Heard reiterated last night that he wants Richmond re-signed, even with Hamilton, who plays the same position.
"He can't do anything but learn from a guy like Mitch Richmond," Heard said. "For us it would be great, it would be an apprenticeship to Mitch."
Richmond is among a group of all-star veterans -- along with Penny Hardaway, Vin Baker, Karl Malone, John Stockton and Charles Barkley -- who become free agents today. Almost all of those NBA fixtures are projected to re-sign with their current teams. However, Richmond and Hardaway could draw interest from other teams, particularly Hardaway, who recently opted out of his contract with the Orlando Magic.
Golden State is exploring measures to create salary cap space to pursue Richmond, who started his career with the Warriors, two league sources said. They are not believed to have the means to clear more than $6 million, though, one source said.
Those teams that do have significant cap space -- Chicago, Toronto and the Los Angeles Clippers -- are expected to pursue players younger than Richmond, who turned 34 yesterday.
Thorpe, 36, who started most of the season at power forward and was perhaps Washington's most consistent player, might not return unless he would play for about $2 million a season. Cheaney, who had career lows in scoring (7.7 average) and rebounds (2.8) last season, may not draw offers of more than $2 million annually on the open market, an Eastern Conference general manager said. The Wizards might pay more.
Washington's other free agents, John Coker, Randell Jackson and Jeff McInnis, may receive invitations to training camp. The Wizards are over the salary cap but have exceptions of $2 million and $1.1 million to sign free agents. The Wizards likely will try to land a center with one of those exceptions. Will Perdue, Olden Polynice and Greg Foster -- a former Washington Bullet -- are perhaps the best available free agent centers.