O'Neal king, but Williams to reign, too

August 11, 1992|By Bob Burns | Bob Burns,McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Jerry Reynolds -- the guy who works as general manager for the Sacramento Kings, not the veteran forward who agreed to restructure his contract with the Orlando Magic -- knew the numbers would be maddening.

But Reynolds nonetheless had a hard time digesting the news, three days later, that Shaquille O'Neal will earn $42 million over the life of his seven-year contract. The Magic signed the league's top draft pick to the most lucrative deal in NBA history Friday after several players, the other Jerry Reynolds included, agreed to restructure their contracts so Orlando could somehow squeeze the 7-foot-1, 300-pound center under the salary cap.

"We knew it could be high, but I don't think anybody thought it would be that high," Reynolds said of the contract that will pay O'Neal $3.5 million in his rookie season. "It's ridiculous, that's what it is. He'll be making approximately a million dollars more than Larry Johnson made last year as the No. 1 pick."

With team president Rick Benner away on his honeymoon, the Kings most likely will not sign top pick Walt Williams for another two to four weeks, Reynolds said. Williams, the seventh overall pick, is reportedly seeking a five-year contract worth about $2 million annually.

Reynolds does not think O'Neal's bonanza will have a pronounced effect on the Kings' negotiations with Williams.

"It's hard to say," Reynolds said. "But Shaquille is an exception. His contract is a blip, so to speak, a one-shot thing. What it will impact is Alonzo Mourning."

Charlotte used the second overall pick in the 1992 draft to select Mourning, an outstanding defensive center at Georgetown who is not generally put in O'Neal's class as an all-around talent.

"Mourning's agent will say, 'Hey, he should get 20 percent less than O'Neal,' and that will still be 50 percent more than Charlotte wants to pay," Reynolds said.

From a management standpoint, the published report that sixth overall pick Tom Gugliotta will play next season in Europe for more than $1 million was more encouraging to Reynolds. Washington was unable to offer Gugliotta more than $500,000 next year because of salary-cap restrictions.

"The sixth pick obviously isn't getting huge numbers, wherever he goes," Reynolds said.

O'Neal is the only player drafted ahead of Williams who has signed a contract, though Adam Keefe (No. 10, Atlanta) and Robert Horry (No. 11, Houston) have come to terms with their respective teams.

But the Bullets ran into problems with Gugliotta when they re-signed veteran Harvey Grant to a six-year deal worth $17 million. The Kings already have indicated that if they are forced to choose between signing Williams and signing restricted free agent Dennis Hopson, they will take Williams.

"For us to sign Walt Williams, to get room to sign him, Dennis is one of the guys whose contract has to be redone," Reynolds said. "What happens with Walt will dictate what we can do with Dennis."

The Kings are about $700,000 under the established salary cap of $14.5 million. Orlando performed its own brand of magic in managing to sign O'Neal and still stay within the confines of the salary cap, slicing $1.8 million from the old payroll in 15 days.

Four veterans -- Terry Catledge, Greg Kite, Scott Skiles and Reynolds -- agreed to restructure their contracts. The Magic passed on its rights to Sean Higgins. Sam Vincent was traded to Milwaukee.

"If you ask the players why they were willing to do all this, the reason is very simple," Orlando general manager Pat Williams said. "They want to play with Shaquille. It's truly an amazing saga of teamwork and timing. We got to the number we needed to sign Shaquille literally by the amount of skin there is on a seedless grape."

But the Kings' Jerry Reynolds wonders where the Magic will come up with the extra cash to pay O'Neal $42 million.

"They already sell out all their games," Reynolds said. "Maybe they'll put a Shaquille tax on the beer. Or use smaller cups."

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