Bullets await Howard decision Heat will force arbitration

no date set for hearing

August 09, 1996|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,SUN STAFF

The Washington Bullets may have to wait indefinitely for arbitrators to decide whether they have a legitimate claim to Juwan Howard after extensive pressure by NBA attorneys failed to get the Miami Heat to renounce its disputed contract with the All-Star forward.

"As of today [Thursday], there has been no movement on Miami's part," said Chris Brienza, NBA director of media relations. "So, it appears, we will have to go the arbitration route."

Presently, no date has been set, and the league and Heat still need to agree on two more arbitrators to rule on all the issues involved.

According to NBA sources, the Heat has ignored a possible $5 million team fine and one-year suspension of coach Pat Riley for his alleged role in circumventing the league salary cap by pursuing the case.

Only last year, Miami Heat co-owner Mickey Arison was charged with tampering and fined $1 million for luring Riley away from the New York Knicks.

Jeffrey Mishkin, the NBA's chief legal counsel, has now accused the Heat of reaching agreement on a $112 million contract with center Alonzo Mourning prior to signing Howard July 13 to his seven-year $100.8 million deal.

If this was the case, it would not have left room in the cap for the Heat to guarantee Howard a $9 million salary this coming season.

League sources say that Riley, in his dual role as club president, took part in the negotiations with Howard and David Falk, his Washington-based agent. Falk, who also represented Howard in his Miami deal, is currently vacationing in Europe and has yet to comment.

The NBA voided Howard's contract with the Heat, again designating him a free agent, with subsequent approval from the players union. This opened the door for the Bullets to re-sign the 6-foot-9 forward, who led the team in scoring last season. The Bullets reportedly signed Howard to a contract slightly higher than his Miami agreement.

Heat management has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Last week, Riley even hinted of a possible conspiracy between the NBA and the Players Association, which supported Howard's return to free agency to give him more bargaining power.

As Riley told the Miami area media, "Maybe there is a party going on, and we're not invited. But we have earned Juwan Howard, and the position we're in."

The Heat has since issued no new statements concerning Howard. Last Friday, however, the team was granted a temporary injunction in state court, which, in essence, would not allow any new contract Howard might sign to abrogate his pact (( with Miami.

The NBA acted quickly to move the case to federal jurisdiction.

When, and if, arbitration takes place, three separate issues must be resolved:

Did the Heat circumvent the cap in first signing Mourning?

Did the Heat miscalculate bonus money for forward P. J. Brown and guard Tim Hardaway that was not counted correctly against the cap.?

Did the Heat add an illegal performance clause to Brown's contract?

Presently, only one arbitrator, New York University law professor Daniel Collins, has been selected to rule on Brown's contract.

Howard is not the only player who remains in limbo while attorneys haggle. The contracts of guards Rex Chapman and Walt Williams both were renounced by the Heat to provide more cap room for Howard. If the Heat loses its argument, Riley likely will try to re-sign both players.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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