Pistons give Thomas offer he can't refuse

January 05, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

CHICAGO -- Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson has turned the future of his NBA franchise over to 32-year-old Isiah Thomas, the person primarily responsible for the team's glorious past and prosperous present.

Details of their Monday night meeting won't be disclosed by Davidson or Thomas until tomorrow, but Davidson is thought to have given Thomas a $55 million package that includes part ownership and total control of basketball operations when he retires, probably after this season.

Two sources confirmed the value of the package but weren't sure how it would be paid. Davidson, who could not be reached for comment, probably considers part of it back-pay for Thomas' 13 seasons, which include three straight trips to the NBA Finals and back-to-back championships in 1989 and 1990.

If Thomas receives stock, he would own part of a franchise valued at $132 million last spring by Financial World magazine. Some in the Pistons organization say the team is worth $200 million.

Thomas' new role will be demanding, but $55 million is a staggering sum for a player at the end of his career. Davidson's relationship with Thomas is more father-son than player-owner, though, whichpartly explains why he would make such an offer.

The only comparable deal in the NBA was Magic Johnson's final three-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, signed in October 1992.

Johnson was guaranteed $14.6 million for 1994-95, even if he didn't play. Johnson retired barely a month after agreeing to the contract.

Last fall three young players -- Chris Webber of Golden State, Larry Johnson of Charlotte and Anfernee Hardaway of Orlando -- signed long-term contracts worth anywhere from $65 million to $95 million. But that was for playing, not for a front-office job.

Had Davidson not taken care of Thomas, sources say Thomas would have agreed to a trade to the New York Knicks, whose search for a veteran point guard has shifted back to Dallas' Derek Harper. Thomas insisted he didn't want to leave, but he also said, "I would not stand in the way if the Pistons wanted to progress in another direction."

But neither would he leave without a fight.

Thomas hasn't played since Dec. 21, when friends say he got the feeling his standing in the organization had changed. Thomas was said to be suffering from a strained arch and dislocated toe, but others claim he simply refused to play until he could get some straight answers from Davidson, whose two-week vacation kept him away from the Palace until last Sunday.

That led to Monday's meeting and Thomas' new deal.

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