Former Howard University and New Jersey Nets coach Butch Beard will be hired by the Wizards as the team's lead assistant coach, according to Coach Gar Heard.

Beard held several management positions with the St. Louis franchise of the International Basketball League, which begins its inaugural season in November, and needs to finalize matters there before joining the Wizards.

Heard also plans to speak to former NBA players Tree Rollins and Clifford Ray today about joining his coaching staff. Heard will hire one of the two to coach Washington's front-court players.

Meanwhile, free agent guard Mitch Richmond said he remains optimistic that he and the Wizards can quickly agree on a new contract but after two negotiating sessions, little progress has been made.

Richmond's agent, Mike Sharpe, spoke with Washington General Manager Wes Unseld yesterday and there was little movement from the initial framework proposed by each side. Unseld and Sharpe agreed to speak later this week or early next week.

Richmond said he wants to remain with the Wizards yet he does not want to get into a lengthy negotiation. If the sides can't reach a common ground in the next few weeks, Richmond is expected to pursue options elsewhere, even if it means less money than the Wizards could pay him. Teams can negotiate deals during July but cannot finalize any transactions until Aug. 1 based on NBA rules.

The Indiana Pacers have joined the Sacramento Kings, Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors in expressing interest in acquiring Richmond either through free agency or through a trade, a source said.

All of those teams are hampered by salary cap constraints and could not pay Richmond as much as Washington -- a starting annual salary of $14 million -- based on free agency rules agreed to by the NBA and its players union in collective bargaining.

It is doubtful Richmond will be paid $14 million, but he wants at least $10 million annually over four years. It is believed he would settle for a three-year deal, which probably is what he will be offered since he is 34.

As far as the Wizards' other free agents, it appears Washington will not try to re-sign forward Otis Thorpe. A team source said the Wizards would like to replace Thorpe, 36, with a younger player. However, the source said bringing back Thorpe has not been ruled out.

The Wizards may not have that chance: A handful of teams, including the Heat, have expressed interest in Thorpe.

Washington also remains interested in re-signing free agent forward Randell Jackson, the undrafted rookie who started strong last season but tapered off to a point where he rarely played. The Wizards also plan to evaluate some backup point guards at the summer leagues, according to a team source. The Wizards still are considering re-signing Jeff McInnis, who rotated with Chris Whitney as the Wizards' backup point guard.

As for the rest of Heard's staff, he plans to hire a third assistant coach who would serve primarily as a back-court coach. The third assistant also may be used as a part-time scout. Heard did not indicate specific candidates but said he plans to have his staff completed by early next week.