The battle over Harvey Grant took a new twist yesterday when the Washington Bullets accused the New York Knicks of tampering in offering the 6-foot-9 forward a six-year contract worth a reported $17.1 million.
An NBA "special master," or arbitrator, will review the Bullets' charges in New York on July 14. That is only three days before the deadline the Bullets have to match the Knicks' offer to Grant, a four-year veteran and a restricted free agent.
Bullets owner Abe Pollin would not elaborate last night on the tampering charge under advisement from team legal counsel Dave Osnos.
L "We can't make a statement before the hearing," Pollin said.
But the issue in dispute is whether the Knicks violated the terms of the bargaining agreement by discussing a contract with Grant and agent Jim Sexton before July 1, the first day a restricted free agent may receive an offer sheet.
Knicks president Dave Checketts issued a quick response to the tampering charge.
Said Checketts: "The New York Knicks in signing the offer sheet have acted completely within the rules and procedures set forth by the bargaining agreement between the NBA and the Players Association.
"The Bullets' charges of an impropriety are totally false, and we will defend our position aggressively. The special master hearing is scheduled July 14, and we expect to bring the matter to a successful conclusion quickly."
To which Pollin responded: "I don't care what the Knicks say. Let the arbitrator decide who is right."
A Knicks source said the tampering charge had no basis because Sexton was heading for a vacation in Hilton Head, S.C., when the Knicks called July 1 and revealed the terms of their offer sheet.
The $17.1 million package also includes the offer of a $3.75 million loan at 10 percent interest and a 15 percent surcharge on the balance of the six-year contract if the team that eventually signs Grant chooses to trade him at any time.
According to a USA Today report yesterday, most of Grant's money would come at the end of the contract.
He would earn $1.625 million the first year, with $1 million payable by July 20 and $2.112 million the second year. In the fourth year, it escalates to $3 million, topping out at $4.02 million in the sixth and final season.
Grant, who earned $474,000 last season when he averaged 18.0 points and 6.8 rebounds, had tried to get a contract extension before training camp last fall. Sexton said that when the Bullets would not agree to a four-year deal worth $7.2 million, negotiations ended. Bullets general manager John Nash would not comment.
Nash has been trying to sign first-round draft choice Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State before having to match the Knicks' offer to Grant.
The Bullets reportedly have close to $1.8 million in their salary cap for the 6-foot-10 forward, but Gugliotta's agent, Richard Howell of Atlanta, was still negotiating with Nash yesterday.