The Washington Bullets' tampering charge against the New York Knicks, who tended a six-year, $17.061 million offer sheet to veteran forward Harvey Grant, will be reviewed by NBA special master Merrell E. Clark Jr. in New York today, with a ruling likely by Thursday.
At issue is whether the Knicks made the offer before July 1, the earliest date a restricted free agent such as Grant may be approached by another team.
The Bullets contend Grant's agent, Jim Sexton of Memphis, Tenn., was contacted by the Knicks before July 1. The Knicks deny the charge.
If the Knicks are found in violation, their offer sheet could be voided. They also could be subject to a substantial tampering fine by NBA commissioner David Stern.
But if Clark decides the Knicks played by the rules in their pursuit of Grant, who averaged 18 points and 6.8 rebounds last season, the Bullets will have until 6 p.m. Friday to match New York's offer.
"At the moment, we will probably take all the time possible before matching," said general manager John Nash, who will be joined at the hearing by Bullets owner Abe Pollin and team attorney Michael Jaffe. The Knicks will be represented by club president Dave Checketts and attorney Ken Munoz.
The fight over Grant has put the Bullets in a vulnerable position in their efforts to sign Tom Gugliotta, their No. 1 choice (sixth overall) in the 1992 NBA draft. In what Nash characterized as his final offer, the Bullets made a five-year proposal worth $10.725 million to the 6-foot-10 North Carolina State forward.
Gugliotta's agent, Richard Howell of Atlanta, seems to be playing a high-stakes game of poker. In seeking a more lucrative contract, Howell could be risking losing a significant sum and leaving Gugliotta with the limited option of seeking a better deal in Europe.
If the Bullets, because of time restraints, are forced first to sign Grant, they will far exceed the $14 million salary cap. They then would be able to offer Gugliotta only $500,000 under a special cap allowance for signing draft picks.
To make room in the cap for their present first-year offer of $1.345 million to Gugliotta, Nash said the Bullets would be forced to renounce five veterans. They are believed to be guards Ledell Eackles ($975,000), David Wingate ($250,000), Haywoode Workman ($250,000), Andre Turner ($130,000) and forward Mark Alarie ($550,000).
Wingate, who is reportedly seeking a three-year deal worth $2.5 million, and Alarie, who missed all of last season after knee surgery, are unrestricted free agents.
A Bullets front-office source said Howell might doubt the team's willingness to match the Knicks' offer to Grant, which would leave more money for Gugliotta.
Howell also had hoped better to judge Gugliotta's worth in the market by waiting to see if the four players selected ahead of him -- Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner, Jim Jackson and LaPhonso Ellis -- first would reach an agreement.
But agents representing these lottery picks are waiting to see the size of the contract the Orlando Magic will offer 7-0 LSU center Shaquille O'Neal, the first player selected.
Howell also represents Washington's second-round choice, guard Brent Price of Oklahoma, who, like Gugliotta, elected to bypass the Bullets' three-day mini-camp at Bowie State that ended yesterday.
All 14 players who attended the camp will participate in the round-robin tournament with rookies and free agents of the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and Minnesota Timberwolves beginning today at The Palace at Auburn Hills, Mich.
The coaches are more interested in watching the progress of free-agent forwards Tony Massenburg, the former Maryland player, and Michael Smith of Brigham Young, a No. 1 draft pick in 1989 who was released by the Boston Celtics last fall.