In what would be a surprising and somewhat ironic reunion, the Sacramento Kings have expressed interest in signing Washington Wizards free agent guard Mitch Richmond, whom they dealt to Washington before last season as part of a trade for forward Chris Webber.

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Kings are exploring ways to create enough room under the salary cap to lure Richmond back to where he established himself as one of the game's premier shooting guards. Richmond played with Sacramento from 1991 to 1998.

The Kings seemingly have the ability to free up enough money to pay Richmond a beginning salary of roughly $6 million with guaranteed annual raises, according to the source. Although Sacramento could not match what the Wizards could pay to re-sign Richmond, the Kings could add an additional year or years to a contract as an added enticement.

Richmond, 34, has said he would like to be paid around $10 million annually for four years but said he would accept less to go to a playoff-caliber team and if Washington offered significantly less than he wants.

Richmond has said he wants to return to the Wizards, and new coach Gar Heard and majority owner Abe Pollin have said they want to re-sign Richmond. Richmond's agent, Mike Sharpe, spoke with the Wizards last week and may speak with management again this week.

Richmond and Sharpe previously have said they want to give Washington every opportunity to re-sign Richmond. However, they do not want to get into a prolonged negotiation with the Wizards, as was the case with point guard Rod Strickland last season.

Strickland and the Wizards did not reach a contract agreement until two days before the season-opening game and, according to several players, that set back the team and Strickland from the outset. The Wizards struggled through most of the abbreviated 50-game schedule, winning 18 games.

Richmond had one of the worst seasons of his career, averaging 19.7 points--his lowest career total--albeit a team high. His .412 shooting percentage also was a career worst.

Even so, Richmond could be paid a starting annual salary of $14 million because he has played in the NBA for 11 years. League rules allow teams to sign free agents to maximum salaries in the collective bargaining agreement based on tenure in the league.

The Golden State Warriors, for whom Richmond played from 1988 to 1991, and the Miami Heat also have made inquiries regarding Richmond, a source said. Neither team is believed to have the same flexibility under the salary cap as Sacramento.

If Washington were to lose Richmond via free agency it would have nothing to show for past trades involving forward Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks, who were dealt to Golden State in 1994 for Webber, who in turn was traded to Sacramento for Richmond and forward Otis Thorpe, a free agent who probably will not be back with the Wizards next season. The Wizards provided themselves with some insurance at shooting guard if Richmond were to leave by selecting Connecticut's Richard Hamilton last Wednesday with the seventh overall pick of the draft.

CAPTION: Mitch Richmond's 19.7 points per game led the Wizards but was the lowest mark of his career.