Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard expressed concern yesterday that no one in the team's organization has seen or heard from guard Richard Hamilton, the seventh overall pick of the NBA draft, in more than two weeks.
Heard said no one in Wizards' management knows the status of Hamilton's right ankle, which he sprained when he was with the Olympic qualifying team in Puerto Rico three weeks ago, or whether Hamilton is working out. A Wizards' source said Hamilton, who remains unsigned, has not returned phone calls. An employee at the University of Connecticut said Hamilton, who entered the draft after his junior year, has not returned to school.
"The best thing for him to do is to sign and start working out with our strength guy," Heard said of Hamilton, a 6-foot-6, 180-pound guard. "The longer he waits, the more it could hurt him."
Meanwhile, the Wizards intensified their search for front-court players, one day after trading two forwards in a five-player deal to obtain center Isaac Austin from the Orlando Magic. The Wizards have had discussions with the agent for free agent forwards Corie Blount and Aaron Williams, who are at or near the top of their wish list, according to a team source.
Hamilton fired his agent, Al Irby, last week. Hamilton agreed on a three-year, $5.9 million deal in July, before he fired Irby. That is the most the seventh overall pick can earn based on league rules.
Hamilton and rookie center Calvin Booth, the team's second-round pick, are unsigned but Booth's agent has had discussions with Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld. Booth participated in Washington's minicamp and played with the team in a summer league in Boston. Hamilton did neither.
Both Blount, who spent last season with Cleveland, and Williams are 6 feet 10 and also can play center. Williams, who played with Seattle last season, has been described as having athletic ability similar to that of power forward Ben Wallace, who was one of the four players dealt to Orlando in exchange for Austin.
"We've talked to Washington and there's definitely interest on both players' part," said Mark Bartlestein, who represents Blount and Williams. "There is a great opportunity with the Wizards. They made a terrific trade and they're in need of athletic power forwards. It could be a perfect fit for what they need and vice versa."
The Wizards are over the $34 million salary cap, but they have two salary cap exceptions -- one for $2 million and another for $1.1 million -- available to spend on free agents. They also can sign players to minimum-salary contracts, which are based on a player's NBA tenure. Blount and Williams probably could be obtained for the exceptions, Bartlestein acknowledged.
Washington also has expressed interest in free agent forwards Samaki Walker, Chucky Brown, J.R. Reid and Dickey Simpkins. Bulls free agent forward Mark Bryant, a player in whom the Wizards had a strong interest, signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers yesterday.
"We need some guys who can do the dirty work as far as rebounding and running the floor," Heard said. "We're not looking for somebody to score points. We've got enough guys who can do that."
Washington needs to acquire size up front since it lost forward Otis Thorpe to free agency and Terry Davis and Wallace, both forwards, in the trade to acquire Austin. Lorenzo Williams is the only power forward under contract, but because of his string of injuries over the past three seasons the team is not counting on him to make a major contribution.
Wallace, whose inclusion in the deal was crucial for Orlando, likely will not be able to play until after Christmas because he is scheduled for wrist surgery next week to repair tendon damage. He injured his right wrist nearly two years ago but did not realize the severity of the damage until this summer, when his wrist routinely "locked up on him," according to his agent, Steve Kauffman.
The Magic was aware of Wallace's injury before the trade.
Interestingly, Tim Legler is on a cruise and may not even be aware that he has been dealt, according to his agent, Warren LeGarie.
"I left him a message," LeGarie said. "This was a little on the unexpected side."
Heard said the acquisition of Austin and likely re-signing of guard Mitch Richmond makes the Wizards a much stronger playoff contender than they were just a few weeks ago.
"We're a lot better team than when I got here," Heard said.
Wizards Note: Point guard Rod Strickland's trial on drunken driving charges, scheduled for today, was continued, according to city prosecutors. A new court date will be determined today.
The D.C. Superior Court granted Strickland a continuance so he could participate in a basketball clinic today in New York for his charitable foundation, The Young Athletes Organization.