The New York Knicks, substantially under the salary cap and seeking frontcourt help, last night tended an offer sheet to Washington Bullets forward Harvey Grant that team sources said was worth $12 million over six years.
The Bullets have 15 days to match the offer, and general manager John Nash said he is "prepared to match any reasonable offer" to retain Grant, a restricted free agent who averaged 18 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. Nash said, however, that the Bullets had not received the offer sheet as of last night.
As a formality, the Bullets tended the 6-foot-9 forward a qualifying offer that would raise Grant's salary to an estimated $600,000, but they obviously will have to sweeten the pot.
As per club policy, Knicks president Dave Checketts did not reveal the financial terms of his offer to Grant, a four-year veteran who was the Bullets' No. 1 draft pick out of Oklahoma in 1988.
"But for our team, and our needs, the offer makes sense," he said.
Grant was unavailable for comment.
A team source said New York will play "hardball" with the Bullets by front-loading the bid to Grant by offering $3 million in the first year.
The Knicks could free up as much as $2 million in their salary cap with several anticipated roster moves. They were still $500,000 under the revised $14 million cap following last week's acquisition of Dallas Mavericks guard Rolando Blackman.
They will have another $880,000 by deciding not to re-sign backup center James Donaldson, plus an additional $795,000 saved by letting guard Gerald Wilkins leave.
The Bullets' contract negotiations with Grant had been put on hold pending the signing of Tom Gugliotta, the team's first-round draft pick. The Bullets hope to have the 6-10 forward under contract before mini-camp opens July 11.
The guessing is that it will take a little less than $2 million a year to sign Gugliotta. Nash freed approximately half that amount in the team's salary cap yesterday by electing not to give a qualifying contract offer to four-year veteran Ledell Eackles, who would have been guaranteed a minimum of $975,000.
For all intents and purposes, this ended Eackles' bittersweet relationship with the Bullets, who chose the University of New Orleans product on the second round in 1988.
At his best, the robust 6-5 swing man could be an explosive scorer.
Intent on proving his worth, Eackles, filling an emergency role at small forward, averaged 22.8 points in the final month of last season.
All too often, Eackles, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, spent the first half of the season playing himself into condition after reporting to camp out of shape.
And he continually tried the patience of coach Wes Unseld by missing practices and team flights, and with bizarre injuries, including a burned shooting hand after playing with a New Year's Eve sparkler.
Nash also chose not to re-sign guard Haywoode Workman.
It is also unlikely that the Bullets will try to re-sign unrestricted free agents Mark Alarie ($550,000) and Andre Turner ($130,000).