Contract talks between the Washington Wizards and Mitch Richmond have stalled, and the free agent guard and his agent have contacted at least seven other teams to inform them that Richmond is available. Mike Sharpe, his agent, also has asked Wizards management to begin exploring sign-and-trade deals.
Negotiations have not reached an impasse and remain amicable, Sharpe said, but no future talks are scheduled. Richmond, 34, is believed to be asking for a four-year deal worth at least $11 million in the first year with annual raises, but said he would accept a shorter-term deal with a larger base salary.
"The negotiations have come to a point where we've begun to seek other alternatives," Sharpe said yesterday. "We have told other interested teams before this that Washington had the first and best chance. Now we will let them know that we are exploring our options."
While the situation with the team's leading scorer remains unresolved, Coach Gar Heard completed his coaching staff yesterday. Former Howard University and New Jersey Nets coach Butch Beard will be Heard's lead assistant, joined by former Orlando Magic assistant Tree Rollins and former Sacramento assistant Mike Bratz.
The Seattle SuperSonics, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, the Magic and Sacramento Kings have been in contact with Sharpe about acquiring Richmond since the free agency period began July 1, Sharpe said. Richmond spent seven seasons in Sacramento before he and forward Otis Thorpe were dealt to the Wizards in exchange for forward Chris Webber last year.
Richmond said if he couldn't reach an accord with Washington, he would prefer to join a team expected to be a playoff contender.
Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld declined to comment.
Heard reiterated yesterday that he wants Richmond, who led the team with 19.7 points per game last season, to re-sign with the Wizards. He also said that even though he would like matters to be resolved quickly, he knows that negotiations could take a while.
"The best situation for him is here," Heard said. "When it's all said and done, he's going to be here. I never look at it like he's not going to be here. I'm not even thinking about that. Hopefully, they can work out everything. I hope it doesn't take all summer but if it does, as long as we have him when camp opens October 4th, that's all that matters."
Richmond said he will know where he will be playing well before then.
"I won't wait around another month," he said.
Richmond was the fifth-highest-paid player on the Wizards last season, earning a prorated share of $2.5 million because of the lockout-shortened 50-game season. Juwan Howard, Thorpe, Calbert Cheaney and Rod Strickland earned more than Richmond.
Salary cap rules allow the Wizards to pay Richmond as much as $14 million per season. Only a portion of the teams that have inquired about Richmond can clear half that much room under the salary cap. However, any of the interested teams could arrange a sign-and-trade package in which the Wizards would sign Richmond, then deal him for another player or players. A team source said Washington has received several sign-and-trade proposals, but none has been especially appealing.
If Washington and Richmond cannot work out a deal, the sign-and-trade scenario would be the next best option for both parties. Richmond could get the salary he desires and the Wizards would receive compensation.
If Richmond leaves via free agency, Washington would have nothing to show for trading Tom Gugliotta and three first-round draft picks to Golden State in exchange for Webber, who was dealt for Richmond and Thorpe. Thorpe, also a free agent, is not expected to return to Washington.
By drafting Connecticut guard Richard Hamilton, the Wizards gave themselves some protection in case Richmond does not return. Heard has said that Hamilton, ideally, would be Richmond's backup.
Meanwhile, Hamilton, the Wizards' first-round draft pick, continues to negotiate with the team over a three-year contract offer, slightly below the maximum of $4.92 million the NBA has set for the No. 7 draft pick. An accord is expected to be reached this week.
The Wizards also offered second-year forward Randell Jackson a contract on Friday, and they have the right to match any other offers for the 6-foot-11 forward.
Jackson broke into the starting lineup as an undrafted rookie but finished last season as a seldom-used reserve.
CAPTION: Agent for Wizards' Mitch Richmond, right, says he and free agent guard "are exploring our options."