Wizards lose Hughes to Cavs

Washington is unable to re-sign its No. 2 scorer

5-year deal surprises club

Pro Basketball

July 09, 2005|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Guard Larry Hughes, a driving force in the Washington Wizards' first playoff appearance since 1997, is headed to the Cleveland Cavaliers after agreeing to a five-year deal reportedly worth $65 million to $70 million.

Because of NBA rules, neither Washington nor Cleveland could comment publicly on the pending signing until the new collective bargaining agreement takes effect later this month. But "I'm confirming that he's not coming back to Washington and plans to sign a deal with Cleveland," Hughes' agent, Jeff Weschler, said yesterday afternoon.

Led by Hughes, guard Gilbert Arenas and forward Antawn Jamison, the Wizards went 45-37 to earn a playoff berth this spring. The Wizards beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round for the franchise's first series victory since 1982, and the 45 victories were the most since 1979, when the team lost in the NBA Finals.

Hughes, 26, averaged a league-high 2.9 steals a game, earned first-team All-Defensive honors and was the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 22 points a game. He also averaged 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists.

Washington president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said Hughes, an unrestricted free agent, would be the team's first priority during free agency after the team lost to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

So the Wizards were surprised to get the news of Hughes' departure.

"Today Larry Hughes' agent informed us that Larry is not retuning to Washington," Grunfeld said in a statement. "He rejected our final offer, which we regarded as very fair and very meaningful."

The team's initial offer to Hughes was reportedly between $6 million and $8 million a season, falling short of the $10.2 million and $13.8 million that Arenas and Jamison are scheduled to earn respectively in 2005-06. The Cavaliers, determined to find a guard to pair with LeBron James, shrugged off their failure to sign Seattle's Ray Allen and Milwaukee's Michael Redd and moved on to Hughes, the next best guard available despite missing an average of 19 games over the past five seasons.

Cleveland will be the fourth team for Hughes, who was drafted eighth overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1998 after his freshman year at Saint Louis. He played for the Sixers until the team traded him to the Golden State Warriors during the middle of his second season.

Hughes signed with the Wizards as a free agent after the 2001-02 season. After he deferred to Michael Jordan and Jerry Stackhouse during his first season in Washington, his role demanded him to become more of a scorer, with his scoring average increasing from 12.8 in 2002-03 to 20.4 over the past two seasons.

With Hughes' departure, Arenas and Jarvis Hayes are the only guards among the seven Wizards under contract for the coming season. Former Maryland player Steve Blake is a restricted free agent, and his former Terps teammate, Juan Dixon, is an unrestricted free agent.

"We have a lot of outstanding players on this team, including All-Stars Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, and we will add players that will continue to make us a very competitive ballclub," Grunfeld said in the statement. "Our goals remain the same, which is to be a perennial playoff contender."

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