Heat gets Howard for $98 million Seven-year deal lures Bullets free agent

July 14, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

They pulled out all the stops to keep Juwan Howard in Washington -- from buying half-page newspaper ads to hiring an airplane and band in a public display of affection toward the All-Star forward. But in the end, the Washington Bullets would not match the reported seven-year, $98 million offer the Miami Heat dangled in Howard's face.

No, that's no misprint. In a deal that probably will cause a %J domino effect in the signings of other high-profile free agents, the Heat lured Howard to Miami with a contract worth $14 million a year -- possibly more with incentives. The Heat, which went into the free-agent market with a league-high $13.1 million to spend, is expected to hold a news conference announcing the signing tomorrow.

Miami's offer was $20 million more than the seven-year, $78 million offer the Bullets made to Howard during Thursday's opening of negotiations. Howard, who is represented by agent David Falk, was said to be upset by the offer. The Bullets apparently increased their offer to $89 million over seven years, but in the end decided not to spend as much money as Miami was willing to pay for one player.

According to a source, Washington had the lowest initial bid of five teams vying for Howard's services.

"We wish Juwan well," said Bullets general manager Wes Unseld. "We're sorry to lose him, but we'll be going on to improve and become a better team. We offered Juwan what we thought would be great for him and what would have allowed us to build a team."

With Howard's departure, the Bullets never really found out how effective a forward combination he and Chris Webber could have become over the course of a full season. At one point last season, Howard said the two former college teammates at Michigan had the potential to be one of "the best forward duos" in basketball. But Webber was hurt much of the two seasons that the two were Bullets teammates, and they never played a full pro season together.

After a solid rookie season, Howard came into his own last season, averaging 22.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.4 assists and being named to the All-Star team. On a team riddled with injuries to key players for much of last season, Howard was able to keep the Bullets in playoff contention until the final week.

Howard's leaving can be seen as a legacy of former Bullets general manager John Nash, whose hard stance during negotiations led the forward to hold out the first month of his first season in Washington. Howard said he was insulted by the negotiations, and believed Nash doubted his ability.

Eventually, the fifth pick of the 1994 draft signed an 11-year deal worth $36.6 million, with an annual pay less than that of the No. 6 pick, Sharone Wright of the Philadelphia 76ers. That deal was only done after the Bullets agreed to a clause that allowed Howard to escape after the second season to become an unrestricted free agent.

That's what Howard did, going to Miami, where he will play for coach Pat Riley and alongside All-Star center Alonzo Mourning, who has not yet signed. The Heat could try to sign Mourning to a one-year deal with the promise of a long-term deal next year, then use the salary-cap savings from that move to pursue free-agent point guard Gary Payton.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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