The NBA's free agent signing period opened yesterday with little player movement and two players hitting the jackpot by staying with their current teams. Meanwhile, the options for Washington Wizards free agent guard Mitch Richmond may have dwindled, and first-round draft pick Richard Hamilton remained unsigned.
Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, the reigning two-time league MVP, signed a four-year, $66.5 million contract that will allow him to finish his illustrious career where he started. New Jersey Nets forward Keith Van Horn agreed to a six-year contract extension that will pay him $73 million. Both players received the maximum salaries allowed by the league's new collective bargaining agreement.
The Philadelphia 76ers re-signed free agent starters Eric Snow and George Lynch. The Indiana Pacers traded veteran forward Antonio Davis to Toronto for first-round draft pick Jonathan Bender in a deal that was agreed upon June 30.
While few players changed uniforms, a flurry of activity is expected over the next few days.
Atlanta Hawks guard Steve Smith is believed to be headed to Portland in exchange for guard Isaiah Rider. Orlando Magic free agent Penny Hardaway visited the Phoenix Suns and could be sent to that team in a sign-and-trade deal in exchange for forward Tom Gugliotta.
The Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors and Los Angeles Clippers, the only teams with a surplus of room under the salary cap, did not make any moves, but their decisions are expected to trigger moves by other teams.
The Golden State Warriors, who just a few days ago were exploring measures to clear enough room under the salary cap to make a bid for Richmond, apparently do not have the means or intentions to make an aggressive push for the Wizards' leading scorer last season.
Two sources familiar with Golden State's situation said the team would have a hard time clearing enough salary cap room to bring Richmond back to where his pro career began in 1988. The Warriors hoped to get $6 to $7 million under the cap to lure Richmond, but almost every measure the team has to create that space has been stifled, the sources said.
The Seattle SuperSonics also are believed to be exploring ways to create cap room to sign Richmond as a free agent. To circumvent the problem, the Sonics have been in discussions with Washington about trading for Richmond, according to an NBA source. It is believed the Sonics are willing to part with guard Hersey Hawkins.
The Miami Heat also is actively pursuing a trade for Richmond, although such a deal would have to involve three teams since Miami is well over the salary cap.
For a trade to occur, Richmond would have to agree to a contract with Washington. As of now, the Wizards have not been offered enough in return to want to trade Richmond, the league source said.
Washington has offered Richmond a three-year deal averaging $10 million annually. Richmond has asked for a four-year deal, with a first-year salary of $12 million.
It is believed the Wizards' offer includes a team option to buy out Richmond's contract in his third year. However, a league source also indicated that Washington's offer might be similar to the contract signed last season by point guard Rod Strickland.
Strickland is paid an average of $10 million for four years. The team has the option to buy him out for $5 million after three seasons.
The Wizards also are pursuing sign-and-trade options for free agent guard-forward Calbert Cheaney. Washington has spoken to the San Antonio Spurs about trading Cheaney for free agent center Will Perdue. A source in San Antonio said the Spurs plan to re-sign Perdue. The team is said to favor free agent forwards Jud Buechler (Detroit Pistons), Shandon Anderson (Utah Jazz), Lamond Murray (Los Angeles Clippers) and Detlef Schrempf (Seattle) over Cheaney.
In other Wizards news, Hamilton did not sign his contract yesterday, the first day that teams are able to sign rookies, because some minor provisions have to be finalized, a Wizards source said. There is no timetable as to when the deal will be consummated although Hamilton is expected to be under contract before the team opens training camp Oct. 4.