Free agent Mitch Richmond agreed to terms with the Washington Wizards last night on a contract that will make him the highest-paid shooting guard in the NBA next season, according to a source close to negotiations.
Richmond, 34, is expected to sign a deal next week that will pay him $10 million a season for two, three or four seasons. The Wizards can buy him out for $10 million after the second season or for just more than $5 million after his third season, according to a source.
Although Richmond sought a guaranteed four-year contract, he will be paid a minimum of $30 million, substantially more than his previous six-year, $19 million contract.
"Mitch is excited to get this done and looks forward to coming to camp in October enthusiastic and ready to play," a source close to Richmond said.
Richmond is on a cruise and was unavailable to comment. He is expected to sign the contract when he returns.
"I felt all along [Richmond] would be a part of this team," Wizards Coach Gar Heard said. "With him and with the acquisition of Ike Austin and Aaron Williams, we're headed in the right direction."
Richmond's contract is similar to the one signed last season by point guard Rod Strickland, who earns $10 million annually and has a $5 million buyout after the third year of his contract.
The Wizards have the option of buying both players out of their contracts after the 2000-2001 season.
Austin, who was acquired from Orlando last week in a five-player trade, and Williams, a free agent forward who signed a two-year, $2.3 million deal on Monday, have contracts that expire after the 2000-2001 season as well.
That gives the Wizards the flexibility to create a wealth of salary cap room in summer 2001 should management decide to take the team in another direction.
Wizards General Manager Wes Unseld declined to comment.
Reaching an accord with Richmond, a 10-year veteran and six-time all-star, is the biggest offseason move thus far by the Wizards.
Acquired from Sacramento along with Otis Thorpe in a preseason trade for Chris Webber, Richmond led the Wizards in scoring with a 19.7 points-per-game average. He also was the only starter to play in all 50 games of the lockout-shortened season. However, Richmond spent his first season in the Eastern Conference registering career lows in scoring, assists and shooting percentage.
Richmond wanted to reach a deal as soon as possible to avoid a last-minute showdown with management that could have left both sides unhappy. Coming to terms nearly two months before training camp allows Richmond and the Wizards to enter the season with peace of mind.
It also makes preparation easier for Heard, who expressed his desire for the team to re-sign Richmond at the June news conference announcing his hiring. At the June 30 NBA draft, team owner Abe Pollin also said the Wizards would do whatever it takes to sign Richmond.
Before Richmond agreed to terms, Heard said yesterday the nucleus of Strickland, Richmond, Austin and Juwan Howard is as solid as that of any team in the league.
Part of his optimism came after spending part of the day with Austin. Washington's new center squashed any concerns about his conditioning at a news conference yesterday when he showed up looking fit.
The 6-foot-11 center said he weighed 275 pounds, just three pounds heavier than his desired playing weight. Austin, who has had weight and conditioning problems in the past, said he weighed 290 pounds last season in Orlando, where he had a disappointing season.
"Since July 1 I've been going at it six days a week," said Austin, who turns 30 today. "I know nobody has been doing what I have been doing since July 1."
Austin said he has hired a chef who travels with him and prepares nothing but low-fat meals. He said he was embarrassed by his play last season, when he averaged 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds and plans to bounce back with the type of effort that made him the NBA's Most Improved Player in 1997.
"They know what I'm capable of," Austin said of the Wizards.
The Wizards' next moves are signing rookies Richard Hamilton and Calvin Booth and finding another front-court player with the $2 million exception the NBA affords teams that are over the salary cap.
Washington is believed to have interest in free agent forwards Dickey Simpkins, Corie Blount, Grant Long, J.R. Reid and Samaki Walker. With the team making three significant moves in a week, another acquisition could be made this week, a source said.
The team also is in negotiations with the agent for free agent Randell Jackson, a second-year forward it plans on re-signing.
Richmond was perhaps one of the most underpaid stars in the NBA, but now has Washington to thank for making him one of the wealthiest. Next season he will earn more than Reggie Miller, Penny Hardaway, Kobe Bryant, Steve Smith, Allan Houston and Allen Iverson -- some of the NBA's premier shooting guards. Contract talks never reached the point of acrimony, but Richmond and his agent, Mike Sharpe, pursued sign-and-trade deals that could have landed Richmond elsewhere.
They briefly hoped that the Miami Heat could orchestrate a swap that would have allowed Richmond to finish his career near his home in suburban Fort Lauderdale. Salary cap constraints limited Miami's maneuverability.
Washington entertained several sign-and-trade offers, but none was appealing enough to move Richmond. The Wizards were involved in passing sign-and-trade talks with Orlando for Hardaway and Indiana for Miller, but neither was possible because of salary cap restrictions.
Seattle and Golden State also made efforts to acquire Richmond, but neither could manufacture enough room under the salary cap to entice him.
Nearly three weeks into the free agent signing period, almost every team that started with salary cap room had exhausted its resources. That left Richmond with few options and could have forced him to sign a lesser contract.
It never reached that point, though, as Richmond agreed to a deal that has been on the table for more than a week. It was believed to be Washington's last offer.