The Washington Bullets are down to their final hours of trying to sign first-round draft choice Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State before having to match the New York Knicks' $17 million contract offer to veteran forward Harvey Grant.
The business of signing the two forwards is tightly entwined. The Bullets have until a 6 p.m. league-imposed deadline today to re-sign Grant. The Knicks' $17 million offer to Grant was upheld Wednesday by an independent arbitrator who found the Knicks innocent of tampering charges brought by the Bullets.
"I'm working on finalizing Grant's contract right now," Bullets president Susan O'Malley said yesterday morning.
But the Bullets probably will hold off until the final hour in presenting the pact to Grant, hoping to first sign Gugliotta, whose agent, Richard Howell, has rejected a five-year offer of $10.7 million.
Team owner Abe Pollin spoke twice with Howell yesterday trying to end the stalemate, without success, the Bullets said.
General manager John Nash had two phone conversations with Howell yesterday without any sign of progress, he said.
"I'm not even angry anymore," said Nash, who added that he cannot create any more room in the team's $14 million salary cap for Gugliotta, the sixth player chosen overall, without "devastating the team."
"I just have some philosophical differences with Howell," he said. "He believes the fifth and seventh players picked in the draft will eventually sign for a lot more than I do. But we don't have the luxury of waiting around because of the Grant situation."
Howell did not return phone calls yesterday and has said he will not "negotiate through the media."
If Gugliotta, a 6-foot-10 forward, is not signed before Grant, Washington will have only the $500,000 salary cap exemption to offer Gugliotta for his rookie year.
But if Gugliotta signs first, the Bullets are allowed to go over the salary cap to re-sign Grant, because he is a veteran.
If he doesn't sign by 6 p.m. today, Gugliotta's only option would be to try to work a better deal with a professional team in Europe.
But in an interview with Bullets broadcaster Charley Slowes on WTEM-AM, Gugliotta said, "I haven't had any offer from Europe as yet."
He added, "My goal is to become a Bullet" and he viewed the prospect of playing in Washington as "a very good situation."
Gugliotta, who lives in Huntington Station, N.Y., said he understands how people might perceive him as "being greedy" for rejecting the Bullets' $10.7 million offer.
"But I'm not a greedy person," he said. "I made my thoughts known when I met with the Bullets coaches and media in Washington [last month]. It is just the situation that I'm caught up in."
But with the clock ticking, Gugliotta will have to decide today if Washington or Europe will be his home this coming basketball season.