EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ralph Sampson, the first player selected in the 1983 NBA draft, has turned into a job-hunting free agent. The 7-foot-4 center will have an opportunity to sell himself to the Washington Bullets "early next week," general manager John Nash confirmed yesterday.
Nash and Bullets coach Wes Unseld played down the significance of Sampson's undergoing a physical by the Bullets medical staff and then getting a private tryout.
"You've got to remember that we're 'capped out' [over the salary cap] and we have 16 players under contract," said Nash, asked to comment on reports in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post.
He said that four players injured or suspended -- forwards Bernard King, Mark Alarie and John Williams, and rookie guard LaBradford Smith -- have guaranteed contracts.
Unseld said, "If we think he can help us, We at least have to take a look at him."
The Bullets could sign Sampson, 31, for the league's $130,000 minimum salary. He recently reached a settlement with the Sacramento Kings on the final two years of his $2 million-per-year contract.
Sampson, a native of Harrisonburg, Va., has been considered damaged goods since suffering a knee injury playing for the Houston Rockets in the 1986-87 season.
He was named Rookie of the Year after the 1983-84 season. He and Hakeem Olajuwon made up Houston's "Twin Towers," leading the Rockets to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics in 1986.
New Jersey Nets coach Bill Fitch, who coached Sampson during his best years in Houston, said: "Ralph will never be like he was back then. You can't give a guy two new knees.
"But if he's healthy, he can help somebody playing 10 or 15 minutes a night. His experience would help a young team like the Bullets. If I had a free look at Sampson, I'd take it."
After his trade to Sacramento from the Golden State Warriors in 1989, Sampson spent the past two years in coach Dick Motta's doghouse, appearing in a total of 51 games. Last year, he averaged 3.0 points in 25 outings.