To move forward, Bullets need to sign free agent Grant, plus No. 1 Gugliotta


With draft day behind him, Washington Bullets general manager John Nash began focusing on his top two priorities:

* Signing No. 1 choice Tom Gugliotta of North Carolina State before minicamp opens July 11.

* Re-signing veteran forward Harvey Grant.

The first task could prove easier than the second. Grant's agent, Jimmy Sexton, of Memphis, Tenn., said the New York Knicks, who released Kiki Vandeweghe on Wednesday, are making overtures to Grant, a restricted free agent who would fill their void at small forward.

Nash has made it clear the Bullets will match any Knicks offer, but said he must first come to terms with Gugliotta, the versatile forward who was the sixth overall pick in Wednesday's draft.

With top choice Shaquille O'Neal figuring to get a record rookie contract of close to $4 million for joining the Orlando Magic, Gugliotta's opening bid is expected to be in the $1.5 million to $2 million-per-year range.

Nash said he would like to model Gugliotta's contract after the four-year, $6.95 million deal forward Doug Smith of Missouri received from the Dallas Mavericks as the sixth pick in last June's draft.

"We'd take into account the increase in the salary cap [from $12.5 million to $14 million], and would escalate Gugliotta's contract at a greater rate than Smith after the first year," he said.

Gugliotta will be represented by agent Richard Howell of Atlanta, who also represented former Bullets forward Tom Hammonds.

Nash then would attempt to find room in the team salary cap to re-sign Grant, who averaged 18 points and 6.8 rebounds last season.

"We're already capped out at $14.7 million," said Nash, noting the team has exceeded the new cap by $700,000. "We need to create room in a hurry so that we can hold meaningful negotiations with Gugliotta and get our ducks in a row."

To free up money for Gugliotta and Grant, Nash and coach Wes Unseld must release or trade some of the 14 players under contract. The 14 include forwards Bernard King (knee) and John Williams (medical suspension), both of whom missed the 1991-92 season.

On the Bullets' endangered list are small forward Ledell Eackles, shooting guard A.J. English, forward Mark Alarie -- now an unrestricted free agent -- and reserve point guard Andre Turner.

Eackles has never been a Nash favorite because of his conditioning problems. An acrobatic shot-maker, the 6-foot-5 swingman has proven his ability to score when given significant minutes, but has been a defensive liability.

Alarie, 28, sat out last season after arthroscopic knee surgery. He must prove to the Bullets and the rest of the league that he is capable of playing again.

The salaries of those four players total slightly more than $2 million, more than enough to sign Gugliotta for the first year of his contract.

The Bullets also might be able to again salvage half of Williams' $1 million contract if he is unable to meet the team's weight requirement (260 pounds). Williams, who recently enlisted in a diet workshop, reportedly was 293 at his last weigh-in in Los Angeles.

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