The salary gulf between veteran guard Ledell Eackles and the Washington Bullets remains more than $5 million, but there has been little movement the past five weeks by either team management or Eackles' agent, Ed Sapir of New Orleans, to close the gap.
Bullets general manager John Nash has labeled Sapir's $8 million demand for a four-year contract totally unrealistic, and Sapir said he views Nash's counteroffer of $2.1 million over three seasons as "insulting."
Eackles, who averaged 13.5 points last season as a backup to shooting guard Jeff Malone, remains the Bullets' lone holdout. Training camp will open in 15 days.
With Malone sent to the Utah Jazz as part of the three-team June trade with the Sacramento Kings that brought forward/center Pervis Ellison to Washington, Sapir said the Bullets must treat Eackles as a starter -- a role in which he averaged 25.3 in eight games.
Since Sapir has not replied to phone calls and letters dating back to early August, Nash has retaliated by threatening to take the team's most recent offer off the table.
"We need to know where Eackles stands, or we may have to acquire another shooting guard," Nash said.
"As a possible solution, I've asked them to consider a one-year contract. This would give Ledell a real opportunity to prove his worth, but, again, I've had no reply."
Nash said he prefers keeping his contract offer to Eackles a club matter. Sapir, though, was happy to reveal the Bullets' figures to explain his bargaining stance.
"What you have to understand is that Nash's offer is only slightly better than the one we got last October from [former Bullets general manager] Bob Ferry," said Sapir, who said that is the reason he hasn't returned the Bullets' phone calls.
Sapir said Ferry was prepared to renegotiate the last year of Eackles' initial two-year contract after the former University of New Orleans player averaged 11.5 points as a rookie.
"Ledell was making $225,000 going into last season, and Ferry was prepared to raise him to $400,000," Sapir said. "But he also wanted to extend the contract three more years, paying Ledell $450,000, $500,000 and $550,000 through 1993. We didn't think that was in Ledell's best interests, so I rejected it."
Sapir said Nash has now offered Eackles a three-year contract. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard would receive $625,000 this season, with his salary escalating next year to $675,000 and $725,000 for the 1992-93 season.
"It's insulting," Sapir said. "If I factor in the $175,000 raise Ferry offered last season and subtract that from the difference in his offer and Nash's, it amounts to $350,000. Spread that over three years, and Nash's offer is only $115,000 a year better than the one we got from Ferry a year ago."
Ferry yesterday confirmed that he offered Eackles a contract extension last season but could not recall the salary figures.
As a restricted free agent, Eackles, 23, has the opportunity to sign with any other National Basketball Association team offering a better contract. But Sapir said this not a legitimate option.
"The players in this situation really have very little freedom of movement," he said. "Look at the record. Teams have matched almost every offer, including this last one for [John] 'Hot Rod' Williams."
Sapir was referring to the Cleveland Cavaliers power forward who last month signed a seven-year, $26 million offer sheet from the Miami Heat. The Cavaliers recently matched it, but now are reportedly attempting to trade Williams.
"It's no secret that Ledell wants to play for the Bullets and [coach] Wes Unseld," Sapir said. "We just want him to be paid fair market value, but Nash is trying to play hardball with us even though he has room to maneuver with the salary cap [raised from $9.2 million to $11.8 million this season]."
Eackles has visited the Bullets team office in Landover several times in the past month and talked amicably with Nash and Unseld. But he has left contract negotiations to Sapir, a judge who employed him as an assistant to the clerk of courts while Eackles was attending college.