It has been five seasons since the Dallas Mavericks had a winning record, yet No. 2 pick Jason Kidd has gotten their fans excited. In Detroit, there's a feeling the Pistons could begin a turnaround with the addition of No. 3 pick Grant Hill. Though no one expects miracles in Minnesota, the Timberwolves have improved with the signing of No. 4 pick Donyell Marshall.
And somewhere in the Washington Bullets' offices, there's a No. 5 jersey with the name "Howard" stitched on the back. But it
doesn't look like Juwan Howard, the No. 5 pick of the draft, will be in uniform any time soon.
Howard is one of three top-10 draft picks who have yet to come to terms. Top pick Glenn Robinson, who is seeking a contract worth $100 million from the Milwaukee Bucks, and No. 8 pick Brian Grant of the Sacramento Kings are the others.
Howard reportedly is seeking a six-year deal worth $24 million; the Bullets are standing firm on their 10-year, $30.7 million offer.
The Washington Post reported that Howard would fly to Washington to visit the Bullets this week, but his agent, David Falk, said yesterday that was news to him. Falk said that he was encouraged by reports that Bullets owner Abe Pollin would be willing to meet with Howard, but he's unaware that such a meeting has been set.
"If Mr. Pollin invited Juwan to meet with him, Juwan would meet anywhere he would like," Falk said. "I think he would find Juwan to be a fine young man. But if Mr. Pollin wants to sit down, I don't think it will be to discuss the contract."
Contract negotiations would take place between Falk and Bullets general manager John Nash, but neither has spoken to each other about Howard for nearly a month.
"John Nash and I speak frequently, but we haven't discussed or entered into any negotiations in regards to Juwan," said Falk, who represents the Bullets' Rex Chapman and Calbert Cheaney. "In no way have there been any talks between us about a contract."
Nash declined to comment yesterday.
"Rather than confuse the negotiations further, I'm not going to have any public comment on where we are," Nash said. "There's already been too much said on both sides."
Falk reiterated that his client is seeking a salary that would slot Howard between the contracts of Marshall (reportedly $4.7 million a year) and No. 6 pick Sharone Wright (reportedly $3 million per year). In that regard, Falk has found the lack of talks baffling.
"There have been times when I've hung up the phone and wondered if I was talking to the Houston Rockets, the Phoenix Suns or the New York Knicks -- and not a team that won 24 games last season," Falk said. "It's been both surprising and frustrating. None of us has been successful in accomplishing what we've been hired to accomplish.
"I think when the situation reaches these stages, when a player's out of camp, it's counterproductive to everything everyone wants to accomplish," Falk added. "It's counterproductive to the players, to the fans, to Nash and to Pollin."
The situation is unlike last year when Cheaney, the No. 6 pick, was signed quickly to a six-year deal worth a reported $18 million. Nash has said previously that the current salary structure is out of whack, particularly the money being sought by rookies. Coaches, general managers and veteran players have called for a rookie salary cap.
Falk, meanwhile, said he is following the pattern that has been established.
"Juwan has prepared his whole life to put himself in this position, and he wants his fair market value -- the value that's already been incontrovertibly established by Sharone Wright and Donyell Marshall," Falk said. "The Bullets had a positive feeling in the summer. Their experts and personnel have projected him to have outstanding potential in the NBA.
"No. 5 is not a casual pick, and it was not my judgment to draft him five," he added. "They drafted him five, and now they have to pay him what's been established as the salary established for the No. 5 pick."